An Essay On Inner And Outer Transformation By Means Of A Different Way Of Making Decisions And Choices| Leslie Zimmermann | Accredited Jungian Analyst | Johannesburg

Nowhere are we closer to the sublime secret of all origination than in the recognition of our own selves, whom we always think we know already. Yet we know the immensities of space better than we know our own depths, where – even though we do not understand it – we can listen directly to the throb of creation itself. C. G. Jung.

How could you creatively find solutions in your own everyday lives and relationships? How could you find greater well-being in body and mind? How could you understand something about the “the throb of creation” in this sense? And how could you, as an agent in your own life – to whom your life matters – creatively take part in realizing your own depths? Some of the answers to these questions can be found in the stories of people who have gone before us, psychologists, neuroscientists and theorists, opening some of these doors by doing research over many years. Standing on their shoulders, I have also woven in some of my own thoughts and innovations on how you could make changes that could shift you toward a different way of living your life – a flourishing life.

Sean’s Story

Sean is recognized as quick and intelligent at work and he’s satisfied with his job – on the whole. Sometimes he feels a bit bored but then he takes on some extra work and that helps. His only complaint is that he feels he could earn more but he doesn’t know how to go about doing something about this. He’s often wondered whether he should change his job. He’s a bit anxious that if he asks for a bigger increase than usual they’ll just say no. Worst-case scenario, they might let him go. And then, the job market is depressed at the moment. What if he can’t find a job? What if they pay him even less in a new job? What if he can’t afford the repayments on his car if he earns less? At about this point in his thinking, Sean would typically just stop thinking about it. “At least I have a job. And my salary’s not that bad. And if I feel bored, well, at least it’s a job.” So, instead of speaking up, he’d just keep quiet and carry on. He’d leave it for another day – only to go through the same old reasoning process the next time he felt dissatisfied.

His friends think Sean has done well in life. In fact, they are secretly envious of his success. Not all of them are able to afford his lifestyle. Some of them have to keep quite a tight budget. Strangely though, just out of the blue his friends think, he seems to be uncertain about things and instead of managing some of his situations as he usually does, he falls apart.

What no one realized, because he kept it well hidden, was that Sean actually suffered from anxiety quite often – especially when he felt helpless. He’d learned over the years that he had to do everything for himself. He’d had little support while he was growing up. His parents had both worked full-time jobs and were always too tired to help him or advise him when they came home at night. Weekends were their time to relax, which made them even more unavailable. He’d had to figure out most things himself, which he did quite well because he was clever enough. But, there were always some things he couldn’t manage alone and then, the feelings of helplessness and anxiety would overwhelm him. He still suffers strong anxiety to this day when he feels helpless. For Sean, the better alternative now is to simply opt out when this happens. Better to say nothing and keep the façade going…

How had this come about? If Sean’s parents had helped him to find creative solutions to his bigger, more difficult problems while he was growing up, he would have learned how to do this from them. He would have gradually learned how to do this for himself as he matured. It would have been that simple. “Oh really!” you might think. “You can’t blame everything on your parents. Sean should pull himself together now. Just sort it. After all, he’s an adult now.” But, if it were that easy, we’d all be able to effortlessly “fix” our vulnerabilities once we’ve grown up. We’d all be happy, well-functioning humans. But, it’s not as straightforward as that. Your own experience, and my experience as an analytical psychologist have witnessed this – time and again. Instead, to become that person you yearn to be is a hero’s journey of traveling, step by step, from your current, familiar “not knowing” towards something that is “yet to be known.” Sean’s journey needs to take him down the road of discovery where he will find that part of himself who can manage uncertain situations, instead of being overwhelmed by debilitating feelings of helplessness.

What Sean needs on his journey toward flourishing is supportively expressed by António Damásio when he writes, “The enrichment [of minds] came to include the ability to invent and produce intelligent creations, a process I like to call “creative intelligence” and that is a step up from the smarts that enable numerous living organisms, including humans, to behave efficiently, quickly, and winningly in everyday life. Creative intelligence was the means by which mental images and behaviors were intentionally combined to provide novel solutions for the problems that humans diagnosed and to construct new worlds for the opportunities humans envisioned.”

Toward your own journey of discovery and change

How many of you quietly struggle with a pocket of vulnerability, despite being well-functioning, or even high functioning in many areas of your lives? How many books have you read, and how many conversations with friends, or courses have you been on to try to remove this vulnerable “spot?” In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth’s problem illustrates how stubbornly these vulnerabilities, lying deep in our past can be. “Out, damn’d spot” she says as she washes her hands. But this not just a soup stain, or a coffee stain she’s attempting to wash away, it is blood, psychological blood, a psychological demon, and it will not be removed by mere physical hand washing. Similarly, we try all manner of ways and means to remove that inner, psychological vulnerability – reasoning, reading, courses, detachment from the problem, ignoring it, revengeful actions, or bad decisions that damage our relationships. But these don’t remove it.

Just how deeply and almost unreachable “what we did not learn” and “what we find difficult to access” is expressed by Carl Jung when he writes, “Being inside or contained in something also suggests darkness, something nocturnal and fearful, hemming one in.” With respect to this he notes that the mother-symbol can also point “to a darker background which eludes conceptual formulation and can only be vaguely apprehended as the hidden nature-bound life of the body.”

By “nature-bound,” and thus, unconscious with respect to his conscious personality, his aware mind, we can understand that in Sean’s case, he would need to seek and find and develop his innate, but as yet unavailable capacity to manage uncertainty in order for it to become a part if his conscious personality, if it is to become something more than merely being an innate possibility, if it is to become a function he has conscious access to. In short, he needs to make that, which is unfamiliar into that, which is familiar.

To seek this part of himself, to interlace it with the cloth of his being, is to embark on an amazing voyage during which a whole pattern, with all of its processes, becomes a conscious, readily accessed function. It would involve how to feel – that is, having the kind of emotions that are facilitative when faced with uncertainty, how to think and behave in complementary ways, how to articulate himself in a corresponding style, harmonizing his attitudes and beliefs to this pattern – if he is to change the structure of his vulnerability. At present, all of this is unavailable to him. It lies within his organism’s innate dispositions, it is merely “nature bound” – inaccessible, inapproachable, a dusky, shadowy part, concealed in darkness. What is unconscious really is unconscious.

Jung puts it this way. We are all born with unconscious, innate dispositions that is, all available human-specific possibilities – and their potential patterns with their processes, each one of us filling these out in a singular manner. This is an evolutionary adaptation. These possibilities fall on a continuum that includes their entire negative and all their positive eventualities. He writes that, these human-specific possibilities “exist in the form of a kind of aptitude, disposition or capacity, capable of being represented in the person’s psyche as an image.” Neuroscience further clarifies that represented images are at base, neural images, neural maps, which are then experienced in “translated” form as images in our minds, in the form of verbal words or otherwise. Neuroscientifically, innate dispositions are firing potentials that have the possibility of representation. Similarly, Jung compares dispositional potentials to “the axial system of a crystal, which … performs the crystalline structure of the mother liquid, although it has no material existence of its own. This first appears according to the specific way in which the ions and molecules aggregate.”

With respect to our innate potentials, and comparing this to failures in parenting while growing up, Jung writes that the patterns and processes “of the relationship of mother and infant include all the possible interactions that promote healthy psychic functioning: such as, feeling loved, safe, and secure.” But, he adds, “Where the individual mother fails in this or that respect, in her personal relationship with her infant, a loss is felt.”  He notes that when this happens, homeostasis, the imperative to survive and more than this, experiencing flourishing, “make an inner demand for fulfilment. The demand is felt as a longing and as an aching inner emptiness a hunger and thirst that cannot be fulfilled” (Jung, 2001).

Here, Jung is telling us how to recognize what the failure was. This is how we can know what we want and what we need to develop, as a new function, in our conscious personality. We recognize it by what we yearn for.

David Whyte writes, “Longing has its own secret, future destination, and its own seasonal emergence from within, a ripening from the core, a seed growing in our own bodies; it is as if we are put into relationship with an enormous distance inside us leading back to some unknown origin with its own secret timing indifferent to our wills, and gifted at the same time with an intimate sense of proximity, to a lover, to a future, to a transformation, to a life we want for ourselves, and to the beauty of the sky and the ground that surrounds us.”

In Sean’s case, he longs to feel certain about his own ways of functioning, his own views, values, standpoints and arguments. He yearns for the ability to be able to contain the “not knowing” – the uncertainty of outcomes. He longs to feel like an agent in his own life, who has the capacity to creatively come up with choices and solutions, to be able to weigh up possible consequences and to reflect on how he could manage the various outcomes – to his advantage. Instead of feeling helpless and incapacitated, he wants to be able to manage the difficulties and disappointments in his life.

Neuroscience also gives us the thumbs up for the journey we embark on when we want to change our old ways of functioning. Specifically, this view notes that we can change our old, acquired ways of functioning because this is an evolutionary adaptation. It thus tells us that if we work on, and modify an old, out-dated, learned way of functioning, success is possible. With regard to this, Damasio writes, “The acquisition of new knowledge is achieved by continuous modification of … dispositional representations.” Change is possible because whatever we acquire by learning is “obtained under the influence of dispositions that are innate.” He adds that these innate dispositions are already “available to newborns” that is, we are so constituted from birth. Understanding the neuroscientific view of “dispositions” explains why it is a herculean feat to modify an old pattern. With respect to this, in the language of everyday parlance, we understand dispositions as, a person’s usual temperament or frame of mind. But underneath this definition, neuroscientists tell us what this means, what lies beneath from the perspective of brain functioning. Notably, “…a dispositional representation is a dormant firing potentiality which comes to life when neurons fire, with a particular pattern, at certain rates, for a certain amount of time, and toward a particular target which happens to be another ensemble of neurons” (Damasio, 1994).

But, while this is a support for change, it also tells us that a transformation will require some work. It requires that we modify an acquired neural pattern that has in all probability been reinforced countless numbers of time over the years.

So, how could Sean go about actualizing and achieving what he yearns for? How is he to attend to the failure in parenting that he experienced? What can he do about the loss he experienced?

In answer to these questions, even though Sean is not in therapy, there is a way that he could proceed, that could help him to change. It is a way in which anyone could proceed, whether you are in or out of therapy or, even if you have never been in therapy.

As the business of change and transformation are an essential part of my work, I felt inspired to place these views, this research, and these theories into a format that could empower and facilitate change and thus, contribute toward transformation. The process below is about making a small, minor choice, decision, or change of attitude that is different to your usual way of doing these. Some of the features I have added below reflect my own innovations. These are the steps of asking yourself “what do I want” and the need for your decision or choice to reflect self-care.

A process toward change – experiencing the “throb of creation”

  1. Make a small, minor new choice or decision – Adapted from the writings of Professor Jordan Peterson
  • Check the list of emotions below to locate the emotion that was triggered in you
  • Now, look at the examples of decisions or choices you might usually make when you experience this emotion.
  • Note which of these responses is your usual approach. If your usual response is not listed here, note what it is.
  • Now, ponder on “what new, different, but minor decision, choice or behavior you could take or, what new, small attitude you could have, that will result in a feeling of satisfaction, feel promising, or give you hope.
  • If you feel anxious when you think of this decision, it’s too large for you to take at this moment. Stop and ponder again – think of a smaller step to take.”
  1. What do I want? – Leslie Zimmermann
  • Because hunger is also a need, a yearning, you approach your decision, choice or solution from the perspective of, “What do I want?” Thus, what do I want to do? What do I want to say? What kind of lifestyle do I want? How could I think differently about this?
  • For example, if you find that you are often treated as if you don’t matter, meaning, people feel they are “allowed” to upset you, they feel they are “allowed” to ignore you, they feel they are “allowed” to be nasty towards you, they feel they are “allowed” to say what they like to you, without holding back, there’s a strange reason they do this to you. For instance if, while you were growing up, your views and interests were ignored, if you were bullied or a sibling regularly attacked you and no adult stopped this – no matter how these actions hurt or angered you – you could eventually come to believe that you don’t matter. Now, as an adult, when you interact with others, you will act such that the way you feel, the way you think, the way you speak and your overall posture will give others the message that “I don’t matter” and they will then treat you as someone who doesn’t matter! What you DO know is, “I don’t like this!” Wanting others to treat you differently will not work on it’s own. So how do you change this? You change it by turning towards yourself and then YOU start treating YOURSELF as a person who does matter! For example, if you are emotionally suffering and in a negative body state, you matter sufficiently to think kindly about yourself and to settle your body-in-distress. Amazingly, doing this will change how you feel, how you think, how you speak, how you behave and will be seen in your facial expression and posture, all of these acting in concert to reflect to the world that “I matter.” This is “what you want” and this is what you will then start receiving from others over time.
  • Or, perhaps you want to read sometimes instead of always being driven by “busyness.” Perhaps the step of reading is too big a step at the moment. Ponder a while longer. There might be a minor step you can take in another area until you are able to start reading. You possibly need “space” for yourself within your busyness. An idea might then arise such as, making the ‘space/time” to sit in your garden sometimes while you have a cup of tea or coffee – without your mobile phone. This would be what you want for now – the beginning of making space for yourself, so that you are able to begin living your life differently.
  1. Your decision or choice needs to reflect self-care – Leslie Zimmermann
  • Because a return to well-being is an act of self-care for your body, brain and mind in terms of being able to flourish, make your decision or choice by asking yourself, “Will this decision reflect care for myself? Or will it reflect harm toward myself? For example, if you feel anxiety, this is self-harm because your body will be out of balance. Therefore, you need to make a choice whereby you feel satisfied instead. This is self-care as your body will remain in a balanced state of homeostasis and thus well-being and your mind will be at ease. If you make a choice that is revengeful, although it might feel good on one level, it is likely to be accompanied by an emotion of anger. This is harmful to you, as anger will put your body out of balance, out of homeostasis, so that in your body and in your mind, you will experience a feeling of unpleasantness – of suffering. This is distress. This is harm that you have then inflicted upon yourself. The way you can tell whether your decision is one of self-care or that of self-harm is by noting the emotion you induce inside yourself when you consider that decision or choice. If it is self-care, your body and thoughts will feel pleasant and you will experience well-being and satisfaction. If it is self-harm, you will experience negative emotions and thoughts – your body and thoughts will feel unpleasant, and you will experience suffering.

HOW YOU CAN CHANGE BY MAKING A SMALL, MINOR NEW, DIFFERENT DECISION, OR CHOICE, OR FIND A NEW SOLUTION

BELOW IS A LIST OF COMMON EMOTIONS AND TYPICAL REACTIONS TO THEM

These typical reactions to emotions are taken from research, studies and theories by Professor Mark Solms, Antonio Damasio, and Jaak Panksepp and include Jennifer Lerner’s review of studies on emotions and decision-making, covering a period of 35 years.

ANGER

When a goal is hindered or frustrated, do you often or sometimes,

  • Blame someone else
  • Find it difficult to argue your point
  • Have a tendency to become aggressive, irritated, frustrated or annoyed
  • Make disadvantageous decisions and choices that sometimes damage your relationships, your job or your finances
  • Experience that anger from a powerful person makes you fearful
  • Find that anger enables you to take control and exercise dominance
  • Experience anger as a loss of composure
  • Other
  1. Instead of your usual response, ponder on what new, minor decision, choice or behavior you could take or, what new, small attitude you could have, that will give you a feeling of satisfaction, feel promising or give you hope. If you feel anxious when you think of this step, it’s too large for you to take at this moment. Stop and ponder again – think of a smaller step to take.
  2. When you decide or make a new, small choice, ask yourself, “What do I want?”
  3. When you decide or make a new, small choice ask yourself, “ Is this self-care or self-harm?

FEAR AND ANXIETY

When you feel fear do you often or sometimes,

  • Sense more risk than usual in future situations
  • Make more cautious decisions so as to avoid risk
  • Feel pessimistic
  • Feel less certain
  • Feel you have no control
  • Cope less well in uncertain situations because you remember helplessness in past similar situations
  • Have a tendency to flee the situation
  • Keep quiet instead of responding
  • Other
  1. Instead of your usual response, ponder on what new, minor decision, choice or behavior you could take or, what new, small attitude you could have, that will give you a feeling of satisfaction, feel promising or give you hope. If you feel anxious when you think of this step, it’s too large for you to take at this moment. Stop and ponder again – think of a smaller step to take.
  2. When you decide or make a new, small choice, ask yourself, “What do I want?”
  3. When you decide or make a new, small choice ask yourself, “ Is this self-care or self-harm?

WORRY

When you feel worried do you often or sometimes,

  • Passively agree when you bargain or negotiate
  • Other
  1. Instead of your usual response, ponder on what new, minor decision, choice or behavior you could take or, what new, small attitude you could have, that will give you a feeling of satisfaction, feel promising or give you hope. If you feel anxious when you think of this step, it’s too large for you to take at this moment. Stop and ponder again – think of a smaller step to take.
  2. When you decide or make a new, small choice, ask yourself, “What do I want?”
  3. When you decide or make a new, small choice ask yourself, “ Is this self-care or self-harm?

SADNESS

When you feel sad do you often or sometimes,

  • Blame your situation on life outcomes
  • Feel your situation is not under your control
  • Experience that you tend to weigh more alternatives than usual
  • Find it difficult to wait so you perhaps accept less money for something you’re selling
  • Tend to proceed with or, process situations more carefully than usual
  • Feel lonely
  • Cry frequently
  • Think about loved ones and past relationships
  • Feel distress when you are not with loved ones
  • Other
  1. Instead of your usual response, ponder on what new, minor decision, choice or behavior you could take or, what new, small attitude you could have, that will give you a feeling of satisfaction, feel promising or give you hope. If you feel anxious when you think of this step, it’s too large for you to take at this moment. Stop and ponder again – think of a smaller step to take.
  2. When you decide or make a new, small choice, ask yourself, “What do I want?”
  3. When you decide or make a new, small choice ask yourself, “ Is this self-care or self-harm?

DISGUST

When you feel disgust do you often or sometimes,

  • Feel disgusted by behavior you feel is disgusting, or by foul or contaminated things such as food
  • Have a tendency to distance yourself from the offensive thing or person
  • Have a tendency to reject the offensive thing or person
  • Find that you tend to dismiss choices
  • Find that you tend to discard things, cast aside, or leave people when they disgust you
  • Other
  1. Instead of your usual response, ponder on what new, minor decision, choice or behavior you could take or, what new, small attitude you could have, that will give you a feeling of satisfaction, feel promising or give you hope. If you feel anxious when you think of this step, it’s too large for you to take at this moment. Stop and ponder again – think of a smaller step to take.
  2. When you decide or make a new, small choice, ask yourself, “What do I want?”
  3. When you decide or make a new, small choice ask yourself, “ Is this self-care or self-harm?

DISAPPOINTMENT

When you feel disappointment do you often or sometimes,

  • Feel guilty and feel that you need to do something to repair the situation or relationship
  • Do you have a tendency to give in when you’re bargaining or negotiating
  • Do you tend to be more cooperative than usual
  • Other
  1. Instead of your usual response, ponder on what new, minor decision, choice or behavior you could take or, what new, small attitude you could have, that will give you a feeling of satisfaction, feel promising or give you hope. If you feel anxious when you think of this step, it’s too large for you to take at this moment. Stop and ponder again – think of a smaller step to take.
  2. When you decide or make a new, small choice, ask yourself, “What do I want?”
  3. When you decide or make a new, small choice ask yourself, “ Is this self-care or self-harm?

REGRET

When you feel regret do you often or sometimes,

  • Refrain from taking extreme risks
  • Other
  1. Instead of your usual response, ponder on what new, minor decision, choice or behavior you could take or, what new, small attitude you could have, that will give you a feeling of satisfaction, feel promising or give you hope. If you feel anxious when you think of this step, it’s too large for you to take at this moment. Stop and ponder again – think of a smaller step to take.
  2. When you decide or make a new, small choice, ask yourself, “What do I want?”
  3. When you decide or make a new, small choice ask yourself, “ Is this self-care or self-harm?

SURPRISE

When you feel surprise do you often or sometimes,

  • Attribute the cause for advantageous or favorable events to others
  • Do you have a tendency to experience less certainty
  • Think that advantageous or positive results can’t be controlled or determined
  • Other
  1. Instead of your usual response, ponder on what new, minor decision, choice or behavior you could take or, what new, small attitude you could have, that will give you a feeling of satisfaction, feel promising or give you hope. If you feel anxious when you think of this step, it’s too large for you to take at this moment. Stop and ponder again – think of a smaller step to take.
  2. When you decide or make a new, small choice, ask yourself, “What do I want?”
  3. When you decide or make a new, small choice ask yourself, “ Is this self-care or self-harm?

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

About Leslie

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.

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