“What if I should discover that the poorest of the beggars and the most impudent of offenders are all within me; and that I stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I, myself, am the enemy who must be loved — what then?” C.G. Jung.
When you are able to be both creative, devoting your time, interest and energy to building up and supporting society and the world AND ALSO, vitally devoting your interest, time and reflection to yourself, annihilating your past old, worn-out views and attitudes about and to yourself that you were required to adopt, replacing and adding to the old view, new understanding, in careful and controlled ways, qualified by positive feelings, it will enable you to lead a more fulfilled and happy life. “The enemy within”, an out-dated viewpoint of yourself, is transformed into a new understanding of that very view, through devotion to self. You are invited to go on a journey with me to learn more about this by reading my article below
Complementary Pairs: Creating ~ Annihilating, Qualified by Devotion
Sonia and her partner David have been together for many years. Although they’re happy on the whole, they tend to argue most days, often several times a day. After years of this, Sonia has taken to avoiding David’s company whenever she can. She always finds a reason to be busy with something in another room. She doesn’t want to end their relationship; she actually likes being with David in many ways, but she doesn’t know how to change their problem. The problem is that David always thinks he “knows best” – about everything. For example, he interferes with their helper in the house, instructing her on how to wash, when to wash and what to clean – repeatedly – even though Sonia knows his viewpoints are often ill informed and incorrect. Her best approach is to argue with David, or to keep quiet. He even does this with her. He has this annoying habit of asking her to do something and then proceeds to give detailed instructions. And if the same task comes up, he provides the detailed instructions all over again. If she is going to speak to someone, he starts suggesting in detail what she should say. David challenges Sonia’s approaches on a daily basis. One of his annoying habits is to ask her questions, “Why did you do this? Why did you say that to this person? Why didn’t you do this? What are you doing that for? Why would you think this? If she replies to his questions he’ll respond with another question, “Why?” No matter what her reply is, he shoots it down and tears up her responses. Her replies are always “wrong”. But, Sonia is only able to justify her thoughts and behavior, to argue, or to become silent. But, the worst problem she has with David is his habit of being contrary. No matter what she has to say, his view is always opposite. If she ventures a view on a current political event, he overrides it forcefully “proving” to her that she is totally wrong, then lectures her according to his view. If she tells him about something she read that moved her, he launches into an argument that invalidates the approach she likes. For every word, every thought and every action of hers, his is immediately the opposite, a contrary view that consistently annihilates her views.
Sonia has reached the point where she feels that her energy is depleted. She feels so drained at being continually challenged. She can’t take it anymore. It’s enough. David has just annihilated yet another view that Sonia finds very interesting. He listened to it for a while, but halfway into her explanation he forcefully interrupted her with his usual confidence in his own views, “I have the complete opposite view,” he said. “This is how I see it and in my opinion, it is the right view.” Sonia felt crushed. After a few attempts at pointing out why she finds it interesting, she fell silent.
How could Sonia change this situation? How could she change the way David interacts with her…? There is a way. A good way. But first, you are invited to go on a journey with me and at the end of traversing this article, we will see how Sonia can and did change things, every step qualified by devotion to self and experiencing positive feelings as she took each step.
Mary-Anne loved music and decided to devote her life to being a concert pianist. As a young child she already practiced for hours and hours. There was no need for her parents to remind her to practice. Whenever she was at the keyboard, she felt happy. She thought about music all day, mentally rehearsed the finger placing’s on the keyboard and reflected on different interpretations, accompanied in her mind by all the intricate technical theories that chased in tandem through her mind. Schoolwork felt like an intrusion, which she reluctantly did. Even friends came second. She dreamed about playing in concert halls and enthralling her audiences with the beautiful sounds the composers had created throughout the centuries.
Devotion is to dedicate your time, attention or yourself entirely to a particular activity, pursuit, cause or person or end. Alex Lickerman tells us that “whether we realize it or not, at every moment we stand devoted to something -something which we cherish above all others, whatever it is, it’s the thing to which we orient all our resources, all our interest, and all our hope”, whether it is money, work, another person, an ideal, or our own comfort. And, whatever we may choose to focus on in life strongly affects our capacity to be happy.
Money is Jonathan’s object of devotion. Not the natural importance of money; it is the most important focus in his life. He started early in life first working weekends in the local supermarket, and as he got older, working weekdays after school. His passion was to see his bank balance growing in his savings account and money also meant being able to buy all those latest phones and devices as they became available. Jonathan studied finance at university and quickly rose up the ranks at work. He works eighteen hours a day with promotions and increases following hot on their heels. He is already into his third marriage – there’s not much time left over for relationships. But happiness continues to elude him. He always wants more and more money. For him, it is never enough. This limits the height to which his happiness can rise.
Even though the word “devotion” might lead us to conclude that we are referring to noble ideals and pursuits, as we see, we can also dedicate our devotion to lessor than ideal objects.
When Carl Jung referred to discovering and becoming aware of our own depths he poetically called this “the throb of creation.”
Steven has a thriving counseling practice. He’s quietly reflecting on his work with Michelle. She’s been working with him for a few years now and will be coming to her last session with him later in the day. Steven smiles to himself as he reflects on Michelle’s journey. During this time she has learned how to consider herself – a function that was unavailable to her previously. She had spent her life only considering others. She’d sit on the phone for hours with her friends, listening to their problems at work. Patiently supporting them through their break-ups with their boyfriends – even though she’d planned on reading that book she’d bought four months ago. Someone always needed her, needed her advice and help. Although Michelle felt frustrated at times, she felt appreciated and needed and she always ended up feeling happy. If she didn’t take one of those phone calls, she was overcome by feelings of guilt and badness. But her counseling sessions with Steven had helped her to see that considering herself was just as important as considering others. This could also bring her happiness. Slowly, step-by-step, she had learned to also experience happiness through self-consideration – without feeling guilty or bad. Michelle’s changed ability to feel, think, and behave in self-considerate ways simply did not exist for her before. But now, it is as if something new has come alive in her that didn’t exist before, she is able to consider both others and also consider herself. Steven feels a sense of quiet satisfaction. He never fails to experience a feeling of wonder at how qualities that were formerly non-existent in clients develop into conscious functions in their personalities. Not a day goes by without him reflecting on how fortunate he is to be in this profession – doing exactly what he loves doing and helping people at the same time.
Creativity is a wide, interesting, pleasing, yet vitally important function for people. According to Professor Antonio Damasio, at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, our organisms in their entirety and thus, our selves as conscious beings, bring a concern for our life processes into existence. This permits people to seek well-being. This, in turn, leads to complex, rich social behavior, to culture, and eventually civilizations. For him, feelings play an essential role in our creativity such that our emotions and cultural responses include, “yearning to alleviate the suffering of others and taking pleasure in discovering a means to do so; delighting in finding ways to improve the lives of others ranging from the offer of material goods to playful inventions that result in happiness.”
Creativity in this sense is about a function that is qualified by devotion to others – building them, helping them to change, to transform and so live happier, more productive lives. It’s about helping others to find solutions and to find relief from distress. For example, you might work in organizations that promote disadvantaged children or you might help refugees or homeless people. You might be in a job that involves designing training courses to help people to function more capably in their jobs. On a smaller scale, you might volunteer your time for a worthy cause, or help a friend move. You might take the time to be caring towards others, letting others know you are there to support them when they are going through a rough time. Make donations of clothes. It is a way of experiencing positive, rewarding feelings of usefulness, feeling appreciated, needed and happy and bringing feelings of greater well-being to others and yourself.
In order to build others, we need to be harmonious and in agreement with others, positive and helpful – mindful of the feelings of others. It is a great and necessary quality to have. We are hard-wired to function like this. For example, during evolution our brains evolved the function for empathy – being able to “stand in the shoes of another” and imagine situations and emotions from the point of view of another. Caring about the survival and well-being of those close to us and that of our social groups, ensured better chances for everyone in the past. This continues to be so in the present. Creative abilities and endeavors have also led to finding cures for disease, medications for mental illness, have given rise to scientists, healers, medicine, artists such as painters, musicians and designers, and philanthropists – all in service of survival and advancing feelings of well-being, itself a requirement for maintaining life.
But, even when creativity appears to be devotion to self, it is often more about solving the problems we have with others so that our devotion, or focus, is actually riveted instead on the problem and how to resolve it, but not on ourselves. For example, your partner criticizes something about your behavior or attitude – perhaps, you sometimes leave the lights on. This may lead to an argument about wasting electricity and thus the cost. You feel unhappy, angry and defensive and your thoughts revolve around his unfairness. You think about the times he’s also left lights on but how he always brushes this off. You might feel bad and mentally attack yourself for your negligence. You might resolve to switch them off in future – to avoid his verbal attacks. But you are not being creative towards and for yourself. You are not devoting time to focus on and being interested in developing an essential change in your attitude and behavior. There is no devotion towards yourself and no positive, rewarding feelings when you try to remember to switch off the lights. Your time and energy are devoted to the problem.
Creativity has long existed; developing and being refined over tens of thousands of years. But, if being creatively devoted to others is your only source of experiencing satisfaction, peace, and happiness, you may be neglecting yourself and suffering when it comes to yourself.
Annihilation is destruction and elimination of anything, considered undesirable. It can include invalidating others and crushing them, showing relentless negativity, cynicism or rejection. Some children experience ongoing criticism. For example, a parent always demands immediate explanations from you, but you find it hard to “think on your feet.” You need to reflect a bit first. Feeling under pressure, you might grasp for some answer you think might be acceptable, but it’s not your best answer because you haven’t had time to reflect and your parent shoots it down – criticizing you relentlessly. Some of you might have had the experience of a parent who thought their views are always correct. For example, you were constantly bombarded by their advice, their take on things, how you should behave and think, and their rules for life. When you made any attempt to think for yourself and give your opinion – even though it might have still been the view of a young, growing child or, as a teenager beginning to use your developing capacity for thinking about different approaches and scenarios to managing life – your views were constantly rejected. You had no voice. You were decisively defeated. Because they were the authorities (and often authoritarian) in your early life, you were powerless to change their behavior – other than defending or keeping quiet or, perhaps rebelling. Often you might have even given up and “become” the person they thought you should be so that you became “disguised” to yourself.
But mostly, when you’re young, you don’t know how to deal with people who annihilate in these ways. The reward for these adults will be feelings of satisfaction and even happiness. After all, you are “learning” from them and being pointed in the right directions – in their view. Their reward could also include the righteous feeling of being able to maintain, what in their view, is correct – their ways of thinking, their own beliefs. They devote all their energy and interest toward annihilating your capacities, your views. They are often motivated by the view that “I know better.” Theirs is a view that they consciously or unconsciously have come to value above all others.
Some of you continue to experience annihilation in your present lives. For example, you have a boss who constantly finds fault with everything you do, aggressively criticizing your work and finding fault. Or, you might have a supervisor who thinks you’re too slow, not thorough enough, picking on you day after day and breaking you down. Or, when you approach your boss or an organization you might find that your ideas are regularly dismissed and criticized. According to them, you have not properly understood what you are proposing, or they might tell you it will not work – whether their views are properly informed or not.
But, It’s not only other people out there in the world that attack us. Early experiences of being annihilated could continue relentlessly tearing you apart from within. In the present. In your own mind and thoughts. You learned from the “authorities,” your parents, teachers, or other adults that “this is who I am. My views, needs and interests are wrong.” Now, the voice of your own imagination might have a go at you. Instead of your imagination functioning creatively to build you up, support you and alleviate your suffering, it turns on you. Your story-telling brain conjures up fantasy scenarios in the theatre of your mind. “Attack, demolish and defend.” For example, you imagine your boss viciously criticizing you while at the same time, you imagine a colleague standing up for you, defending you – the imaginary scenario repeats again and again. Or, while you are reading something that inspires you, you imagine your partner tearing it apart when you speak about it – including his imaginary contrary arguments against it. You also imagine your own defensive arguments as you attempt to stand up for your view, together with the usual failure to convince her or him – as usual. Or, you imagine a friend unfairly judging your behavior, pulling you apart, while your fantasy brings in another friend who valiantly attempts to explain your actions – again in vain. This scenario might also repeat and repeat in your mind, with no resolution. Attack, demolish, defense follow you in both your outer and inner world.
Taken altogether, it is no wonder that we view annihilation and destruction as one of the worst manifestations of human behavior – especially if we are the targets of it. No wonder we prefer the pole of creativity. After all, it’s natural to want to rather build up others, to listen to and understand their views, and to encourage and support them. We want to rather devote ourselves to seeing others grow and develop into their best selves. The rewards of happiness and satisfaction we feel when we see their appreciation, see the happiness they experience as they overcome their vulnerabilities are well worth the time and effort we devote – even though we don’t get to that book!. We have seen how contributing to society and the world makes this world a better place; it feeds into the centuries-old needs for the safety and security and well-being that a better world brings.
But what if there is something magic beneath this terrible function of annihilating? What if it carries within it something that has great value? Even though you might fight against this possibility with every fiber of your being, there is indeed a value – which could open the way for you to at last leave the negative, damaging side of annihilation behind, together with its suffering.
APPROACHING “THE ENEMY WITHIN”
Psychologically and symbolically annihilation refers to transforming, becoming different, altering and changing from one state to another, putting an end to something, or setting something aside. For example, as a natural part of human development, you change over time, putting an end to youthful functioning as you grow and mature. As a function of reversal, annihilation is when you change your mind, reverse an earlier decision or when you change a direction or adopt a new orientation. It is replacing one thing with another. For example, instead of routinely seeing yourself as flexible and your friend as too rigid, you might change your ideas about yourself and realize that in fact, you make compromises too easily and need to set up some boundaries. This could reverse the view you have of both yourself and your friend.
Annihilation by others might have been experienced as unfeeling and pitiless, tearing us apart. But, death and rebirth, as the co-existence of the functions of creativity and annihilation are often the subjects of myth and religion and ritual that lead towards our being able to change. Many rites of passage include a “death phase” preceding a “new life” – a new attitude. Psychologically, this is the experience of being freed from negative and harmful ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. These are “dematerialized” or demolished and free up new positive and facilitative ways of functioning. In this sense, “annihilation” opens the gates to being able to live a full life according to your talents and strengths, according to what you want or don’t want, and according to what you like or don’t like. But, it is not others we need to change. It is ourselves we need to change and transform. You need to be the hero in your own life. According to Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, it is the hero who transforms her- or himself.
Functions of destruction that make way for the new are not only found in psychological development; their reach extends right down to the cellular level of living organisms and plants as a normal operation in the maintenance of life. Unwanted or worn-out cells die and are replaced by new cells, benefitting the health of the whole organism. Controlled cell death is essential for normal human development and good health throughout life. On a cellular level, these functions of death and life are called apoptosis and mitosis. For example, apoptosis (the controlled death of cells) helps the developing embryo to fashion many aspects of its physical form. Human embryos start off with webbed fingers but as the embryo grows, the cells forming the web, which connects the fingers, are programmed to die. If they didn’t do this, you would have webbed hands. Similarly, tadpoles lose their tails in the process of becoming a frog by means of cell death. We also see this function when deciduous trees lose their leaves in autumn. In fact the word apoptosis is from the Greek meaning “falling”. Importantly, the cellular processes of apoptosis (death of cells) and mitosis (division of cells, to make new cells) developed evolutionarily to function in a careful, controlled manner because the operation of removing cells is just as vitally important to the health of an organism as growing new cells is. This same mindful care, functioning in a careful, controlled manner is required when humans transform an old “worn-out” psychological approach by replacing it with a new, updated one. This approach found in cellular death and renewal is just as necessary if we are to maintain the psychological health of the whole person during this process.
Professor Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist from the University of Toronto, using the analogy of myth, explains that the functions of annihilating and destroying are part of the natural function of adapting. A rigid, old approach is modified by means of bringing understanding to it so that it can consciously function positively, with new insight, in your present life. This is how you overcome the antagonistic parts of the old approach, and how you transform it. Until you are able to do this, it is as if the once life-giving parts of a function have come apart – been torn apart. For example, the capacity to trust others may have “come apart” for you while growing up – you might have been disappointed, let down or neglected again and again while growing up. And, by trust being thus dismembered, you might have become excessively self-sufficient, believing that if you are to get (or do) what you want or, what you like, you can only rely on yourself. Consequently, when you see others who are able to allow themselves to be dependent – receiving financial or emotional support – you only know its antagonistic side – they are now seen as incapable or weak. The idea of “trust in others” has become inaccessible to you. Looking at “tearing apart” or “dismemberment” in this way – coming to understand what the role of annihilation actually stands for, we can change its meaning – bring new understanding to it.
THE HERO TRANSFORMS SELF BY MEANS OF DEVOTION TO SELF
Replacing the damaging existing view you have of “annihilation” with a new view and new understanding needs the assistance of our feelings. According to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, your conscious feelings developed evolutionarily in order to inform you about risks and dangers and included fears, anxieties, jealousy, disgust and joy, so as to make you aware of what you want and don’t want, when to approach, and what needs to be avoided. Feelings show you the way towards behaviours that will guide you toward physical, emotional and mental well-being. Significantly, this works because your feelings are always accompanied by, and coloured by valence, that is, by feelings of the “goodness” or “badness” of the state of your bodies, and your interpersonal and social conditions.
Jordan Peterson tells us the fascinating story of how rats can illustrate the way to proceed, using our feelings as a guide. When a rat is placed in an unfamiliar cage, it immediately freezes. If nothing dreadful or unpleasant happens it starts sniffing and looks around the cage, getting information about this new terrifying place it’s in. Step by step it begins to move around the cage growing more and more confident. It explores the cage for what is interesting to the rat. What feels good or bad for it – not the cage’s objective qualities. Is there food, any hostiles or friendlies? Voluntary exploration creates new mental patterns and images in the rat’s brain as this initially unknown and seemingly dangerous cage is transformed into something familiar and known.
Similarly, when you embark on changing the function of annihilation from a formerly experienced destructive function only, to something that is positive and useful, you are changing the wiring in your brain, as you develop a new understanding of annihilation. You are initially shifting from your old, familiar experiences and ideas of destruction toward a new, but as yet unfamiliar understanding of annihilation. And while you are navigating and exploring this unfamiliar territory, you need to “sniff” your way along that is, you need to move gradually toward the future you visualize – taking minor steps, guided by your feelings. In the same way that dying and renewal of the cells in your body follow a program of care and control, to ensure the health of your organism, so must the activity of both changing your former way of understanding annihilation and your development of a new understanding of it, be careful and controlled. According to Peterson, gradual steps, or sequential stages, are a series of operations in the present that lead to an envisioned future, which “…may be conceived of as links in a chain (with the end of the chain anchored to the future desirable state).”
This is how he encourages us to proceed: As you step into the unknown and begin to explore what is unfamiliar to you, you “sniff” that is, you take a very small or minor step. This step MUST be accompanied by a positive feeling of promise or satisfaction. Together with these feelings, a feeling of hope arises. If anxiety or hopelessness are felt, the step is too big for you. For example, Susan began having romantic feelings for a long-standing friend. She wanted to tell him but telling him that she “has feelings” evoked a high level of anxiety in her – it felt too loaded for her. She devoted her time and energy, and interest to thinking about another smaller step that she could take. She decided to tell him instead, “I’m beginning to feel attracted to you.” Saying it that way felt satisfying for her. She’d be saying something, and it didn’t feel threatening. Note that her choice of words may not be somebody else’s choice. The small step you take needs to be what will give you a feeling of satisfaction!
HOW DOES A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF ANNIHILATION POSITIVELY CHANGE YOU?
We have seen that our feelings inform us and guide us towards well-being. We have also seen that in unfamiliar territory, we need to take minor steps that ensure positive feelings such as promise and satisfaction, which result in hope. We have also seen that the dismantling of a former view needs to be as careful and controlled as building a new view is. Turning carefully toward yourself, you safely bring an old viewpoint to an end – fully devoting your interest and energy to doing this and every step you take MUST be accompanied by positive emotions.
This is the hero’s journey – transforming self – not trying to change the other person. In order to understand what positive, healthy “annihilation” is, you turn to yourself and begin the process of putting a stop to your own old, worn-out attitudes, beliefs, habits and behaviours, many of which were imposed on you in childhood. Just as controlled cell death is essential for normal human development and good health, so is the disassembling and replacing of your worn-out views.
John and his partner Paige visit a local coffee house a few times in the week in the middle of the day, taking a short break and enjoying the opportunity to talk with each other. They used to drink coffee. One day they ordered wine. This was also pleasant. Soon, they were always having a glass of wine there. John couldn’t imagine having coffee there anymore. Even if it was still morning. One day, Paige said, “Let’s go for a coffee.” An instant, silent protest rose up in John but, something in him wanted to be able to have coffee instead of wine, even though the very thought brought up a host of negative feelings. But, instead of going along with his acquired habit, he turned his mind towards picturing himself in the coffee shop drinking a foamy cup of coffee, relaxed, talking and feeling satisfied. His full interest was devoted to this image in his mind, turning it over and moving into the possibility. It felt good and satisfying. Suddenly he found that he’d turned his view around completely. His former view had been completely obliterated. He went to his partner and simply said, “Yes, coffee with a small cake sounds great!” It was authentic and the coffee and cake and their usual good conversation were just as good as he’d imagined it. John had annihilated his old habitual view; he’d devoted his interest, energies and time to reflect on a forgotten enjoyment, he’d put the “scattered parts” of his previous coffee-only view together again. But, he now also had a new understanding, “It’s possible and enjoyable to choose my refreshments. It doesn’t have to be a case of “either/or” be it coffee, wine, tea, fruit juice or water. That felt good!
Mary’s story …
“I always bowed under the pressure of my boss wanting me to work late – over weekends, even needing me to be available when I was on holiday! I began to devote my time and attention fully to my work situation and realized that I was still carrying an old, childhood view that ‘other people are allowed to regulate my life.’ I began to regulate my own work time. I began to leave work at reasonable times. It felt very satisfying to be responsible for how I worked and for how long. Interstingly, my boss accepted these changes. I feel like an adult now, accountable to both my job and myself. My anxiety has begun to go down. It’s still a work in progress but I feel more and more confident, taking it a step at a time otherwise, my anxiety flares up again”.
Mary is in the process of putting together an early shattered view that “I have the capacity to regulate my life appropriately” together with her new understanding that “the way I do something and and the pace I do it at, is actually acceptable and correct.” She is in the process of annihilating and putting to a stop the past, worn-out view she learned at home.
As we come toward the end of this journey, having travelled through devotion, creativity and annihilation, we can now answer the questions posed at the beginning of this article. How could Sonia change her situation? How could she change the way David interacts with her…? And further more, we can now add, how could her negative experiences be approached without attempting to change David? How could she become an intrepid, fearless “hero” who transforms herself?
Sonia began to devote her time, her interest and energies to reflecting on her situation. She remembered that her mother always believed that she knew better than anyone else. She always had the best solutions. She was more intelligent. Even if someone was an expert in a particular field, she spoke as if she understood that field, not realizing that simply having some of the vocabulary didn’t mean that she understood the depths and complexity of that field. Sonia’s father had also been a problem. He often questioned her. He would ask her why she wanted to do this or that. In fact, his conversations were defined by questions. And for him, all Sonia’s answers were wrong, or were mocked. “Nothing I said or did was correct or good enough in my parent’s eyes – both mother and father always knew best.” But, as she continued to reflect, Sonia also remembered that when her father argued with her mother, he frequently went into victim-mode, turning her into the aggressor. “That was an eye-opener for me” she recounted, “David does exactly the same to me!”
What Sonia came to realize was that she had internalized her parent’s view of her. As an adult, she viewed herself in the same way. “Even though I protest, I always cave into the requirements of others. I defend and behave as if others are always right!”
But she reflected some more on why it was that both her father and David used the language of ‘victims’ when they were angry and contrary. A victim is someone who is harmed, killed, cheated, tricked or deceived by another and made to suffer from destructive or injurious actions. It is also when someone is a prey or target, the aim of an attack or exploitation. Sonia felt horrified as she realized that the function of annihilation had again crept into the equation, but this time, with both her mother and herself being turned into the aggressors. Could she unconsciously be doing this? Or was this actually merely her father’s and David’s problem?
But as she devoted more time to this, looking back over the years, she was shocked to realize that there was something to this! “I became aware that I have always considered that my approaches are correct and that David’s are wrong, inappropriate, unjust, inaccurate, improper – never correct in my view. I always had the right approach – in my view. Here was my mother’s approach and voice, blatantly evident in my own. “I am always right. I always know better! A put-down time and again. Nasty, judgmental thoughts always running through my thoughts, coming out in subtle comments, sometimes openly hostile, but also disguised in ‘helpful’ suggestions, telling David how I thought he should behave or proceed. It was so invisible to me. Lying beneath my view that ‘others are always right and others always know better’ was another insidious view – the model I’d learned while growing up – the model from my parents towards the world, toward other people repeating and repeating in myself – in my thoughts, my speech, my actions, my attitudes and my beliefs – ‘I am always right and I always know better lay beneath!’ During my years of growing up, I’d learned the entire pattern with all its processes, all the nuances involved in ‘knowing better, being better.’ David was indeed a victim. He was experiencing my ‘all-knowing’ criticisms loudly and clearly. He really couldn’t do anything right because I ‘knew’ better! I felt embarrassed, mortified. It’s not that he was totally innocent but I realized the degree to which I was contributing to our unpleasant conversations.”
This is also “the enemy within” to whom we need to be kind. The enemy whom we need to love. This enemy is then us, who offends and annihilates – often those who are the closest and most loved in our lives. The enemy is yourself – attacking you from within and others without. When the function of healthy annihilation has been dismembered and shattered, it functions destructively in all contexts!
Being right and knowing better don’t exist in a vacuum. Rightness is associated with a sense of morality and justice, with what is correct, fitting, appropriate and proper, often according to one’s reasoning and with what one perceives is true. It is the ‘correct version’ and requires conforming to accepted standards of social or professional behavior. There is a sense of it being supported by, and connected to having a moral or just law on one’s side – even if these are outdated, belong to past traditions and are no longer appropriate. This connection to morality and lawful justice that is, support by these “authorities,” is what contributes to the power of “being right” and “knowing better.” Being right is generally accompanied by putting wrongs back in order, by sorting out problems and finding remedies and solutions to invalid assumptions, and righting nonconformity to “accurate, morally right or lawful approaches.” Thus, one feels that one is within one’s rights and allowed, one is even entiled to apply ‘authorized’ corrections. But, while there is truth for some of society’s principles of right and wrong, there are also valid different truths for different societies and for individuals. Your version is not the standard by which everything should be measured or judged.
How did Sonia go about the process of transforming herself? She began the process of carefully dismantling and annihilating her inner viewpoint that “others know better than I do.” She began to stand up for her own viewpoint and actions. For example, she’d quietly, but clearly say to David, “I did this or that in exactly the way I considered was correct.’ Interestingly, he refrained from arguing then. She also stopped answering all his questions, choosing which ones to reply to. She is beginning to see that the old view of herself that believed that “others know best” and her ongoing defense against this has merely caused her to suffer. This is an old, worn-out view belonging to her parent’s approach to her that needed to be understood, updated and transformed.
At the same time, Sonia began to consciously observe her thoughts and views about David. She realized that he has valid approaches that are different to hers – her’s are not the yardstick against which he needs to measure himself. She stopped correcting and advising David and dismantling his approaches. She stopped righting his “wrong” approaches and views. It was a difficult, humbling experience at first. But she valiantly kept returning to apply her changes with kindness and a loving attitude toward herself. Checking that every step she took was accompanied by positive feelings of satisfaction. She gives herself time by taking small careful and controlled steps. She is carefully “annihilating” her old approach in a healthy way, step-by-small-minor-step, accompanied by positive feelings of promise and satisfaction. Her habit of attempting to annihilate David’s verbal attacks, using the same argumentative defenses she attempted as a child, is being brought to an end and a new understanding is being built. David’s approach to her is also changing positively since she started believing in her own views and believing in his. Her relationship is steadily improving.
This is the enemy within that you need to be kind to, that you need to love. It is a part of yourself that was brought to a stop in your youth. It is your old worn-out way of understanding “annihilation”.
When you are able to be both creative, devoting your time, interest and energy to building up and supporting others AND ALSO, vitally devoting your interest and reflection to yourself, annihilating your past old, worn-out viewpoints and attitudes about yourself that you adopted, that you had no choice in adopting, replacing them with a new understanding, in careful and controlled ways – replacing the old function with a new understanding of it, such that each step is accompanied by positive feelings such as satisfaction, promise and hope, you will be able to lead a more fulfilled, happy life. “The enemy within”, an out dated version of a function, is transformed into a new understanding of it. The hero is you and it is you who is transformed.
Bring some magic into your life! Ideas developed by Leslie Zimmermann.
MA in Research Psychology, Cum Laude (Witwatersrand University, South Africa),
Post-graduate Diplomate, Accredited Analytical Psychologist (Switzerland)
Member: SAPC (South African Psychoanalytic Confederation)
Member: IAAP (International Association for Analytical Psychology
Member: SAAJA South Africa
Leslie Zimmermann is an accredited Jungian Analyst trained in the philosophy and psychology of C.G. Jung in Zürich and is based in Johannesburg. She offers a range of services, which she integrates, to meet the needs and aspirations of people. In a word, her work is in the service of wholeness. Wholeness includes both our vulnerabilities and our strengths, becoming conscious of our own unique mix of these, honoring our own unique way of functioning and with this knowledge and confidence, contributing as only we each can in our own way, to this evolving world we find ourselves to be a part of.
Besides having a Diplomate qualification in Analytical psychology, which qualifies me to write about the theory and practice of dream interpretation, I also have an Honours degree in Applied Psychology and a Masters degree in Research psychology, which qualify me to write about theories of human development, personality, abnormal psychology, social psychology, neuropsychology, sociology and ethics. Also, theories and knowledge pertaining to sleep and dreams from a symbolic perspective including neuropsychological and biological systems.