Healing in the West, Heart, Connection

This blog will cover the west, the final direction to discuss in the four directions healing process. Read the blog “The Defeat Story and the Transcending True Self,” and the following direction blogs before reading this one, if you haven’t already.

The west is the heart. Here we heal through connection. The attachment wounds live here and are healed here. In the west we also dive into the deep sea of the psyche to discover and awaken the true self, archetypes, wounds, gifts and all aspects hidden from ego that are asking for acknowledgment. The west is where psychological depth work is helpful to integrate the aspects of self through differentiating them. Uncovering, acknowledging, and expressing all that wants out from the unconscious happens here. This is the direction of the heart. Honoring feelings. Going with the flow of inner wisdom. Being in relationship of all kinds, romantic, therapist, healer, friend, mother, father, sibling, pet, teacher, co-worker, etc. Through being in relationship with others outside the self and aspects within the self, we heal. The heart is purified in the west which is connected to water. Water cleanses and renews. Forgiveness, acceptance, letting go and surrender all happen in the west.

In the therapy world we know that 90% of healing happens through the relationship of therapist and client, not from the skills learned or the narrative developed. True, it is vital to have physiological healing from trauma, anxiety, and stress as the foundation of all healing. After that, different narratives and skills work for different people to initiate healing. Yet healing through connection is the most powerful form of healing, for everybody.

It’s hard to talk about this using logic because it is mysterious as to why outside of the scientific understanding of mirror neurons and other brain development factors understood through the attachment theory lens. Science may show us the physiological foundation of how connection keeps the psyche healthy or corrupts the psyche. Beyond science, you could say that love makes the world go round or that connection is what we are all after and why we are here, underneath it all.

What gets broken in relationship can only be healed in relationship. This is not to say we cannot heal tremendously by healing ourselves in solitude or within. I have healed drastically through connection with self and I believe this is a vital relationship to nourish. At the same time, attachment wounds begin during the early brain development years of childhood and set the psyche up for adulthood. The attachment with the parents, siblings, family and peers is most important for developing into a healthy adult in terms of being able to experience secure attachment.

Secure attachment means that you can experience intimacy and connection with another that feels safe and nourishing. Most people have an attachment wound because most of us were born with some level of dysfunction in childhood. Addiction, abuse, neglect, personality disorders and mental illness, poverty, harshness, and ignorance from family and culture show up on a spectrum for every child.

What you experience as a child is much more intense than how you would experience the same thing as an adult. It’s best not to compare and say things like, “others had it much worse,” even if you are a privileged white male or other form of privilege. Abuse, neglect, addiction, harshness, personality disorders, mental illness, death, physical illness, ignorance, and loss can show up in every category of human. It’s important to take care of yourself without judgement.

Insecure attachment can show up as ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized. If your parents or care takers, one or more, did not attune to your emotions and show affection and love but gave you structure you could depend on (meals, bedtime, clothing, schooling, shelter, etc) than you are likely to experience avoidant attachment.

If your parents or care takers, one or more, attuned to your emotions and showed affection and love but you had little or uncertain structure to rely upon, you are likely to experience ambivalent attachment.

If your parents or caretakers, one or more, lacked in providing both structure and emotional attunement or if there was abuse, you are likely to experience disorganized attachment.

An instructor of mine used the metaphor of a cup of liquid. The cup is the structure. The liquid is emotional attuning and expression of love an affection. If you had the cup and no liquid you may avoid intimacy and feel uncomfortable around it. If you had the liquid in a cracked cup, you may constantly doubt that you are loved and feel ambivalence all the time, needing constant reassurance and filled with anxiety. If you were abused or received no liquid in a cracked cup, you may avoid intimacy sometimes and other times enter connection with high anxiety and insecurity, doubting and spinning in your mind.

These are tendencies and you may not experience what I am describing here but what I share is based upon scientific research you can look up if you are interested. Attachment theory is what you would want to research to understand more.

Attachment wounds tend to show up mostly in romantic unions because they most mirror the parent child relationship. In a romantic relationship you have the opportunity to heal the attachment wounds of the past. This is done through recognizing how you are projecting mom, dad, brother, sister, uncle, grandfather etc, onto the partner and then pulling back your projection. Once you own your reaction instead of blaming and accusing, you can work through the issues in therapy or with your partner through dialogue and connecting.

Romantic relationships are not meant to be walks into sunsets. That’s all a bunch of brainwash. In fact, real love with a partner only first begins once the projections start falling and you can see the other for who they truly are.

In the beginning, we project our ideal mate onto the partner. This ideal mate lives inside of us as our inner counterpart to the conscious self. Our unconscious self is the ideal mate to our conscious self. In a sense, we all look for ourselves in a partner when we are unable to love past projection. Projection is not bad, it just is and it is how we fall in love. It is how we get into relationships. It’s the honey moon stage. But once the honey moon is over you see your ideal beautiful mate is not the person you believed them to be. Do you still want to love them. Do they still want to love you?

If you both still want to love each other and are willing to own up to your projections and take responsibility for healing through the intimacy, then you move on to the next stage of intimacy.

Many life long couples never do this. Instead, they may always live with not feeling close to their partner and fall into the same roles their parents fell into, repeating history. This work is only for the brave and for those who want to heal, experience deeper intimacy, and true love. By true love, I mean love that is true and not the sunset walk. I mean love that is based upon a commitment to love one another through the storms and once the projections fall for who each other really is. This should not feel like a life sentence in jail. You should enjoy being with your mate. If you don’t, you are not with the right person. If you enjoy each other but hard issues get in the way, you can heal the issues if both are willing.

Some couples have it easier too and just get along or mutually don’t make a big deal out of the conflicts and are not on the path of healing and evolving in a therapeutic way. Other couples love and enjoy each other so much that they are willing to work on their issues that show up intensely in romantic union due to both people being really intense. Sometimes one partner is willing and the other is not. The spectrum always exists and we each have our own relationship karma to experience.

I don’t want this entire blog to be on romantic attachment. I am somebody who has spent very little time in romantic relationships and I have healed my attachment wounds without it because the few times I was in a romantic union, the mate was not willing to work on his stuff or we were not in love or timing was off. I have healed largely through friendships and family relationships.

I know that when the right man is by side, I will experience attachment healing as well but I don’t want to make it the only way. Our culture over-values romantic relationships as the be-all end-all. But for many, they don’t want that form of relationship. Or they want a different version of it. Point being, however you connect with others is valuable and healing in the west happens through connection.

As far as healing through the self goes, this is done through depth work. Discovering you. Within the psyche many aspects of self dwell. Individual aspects and archetypes such as the wounded self, inner child, the protector, the mother, father, shadow, trickster, on and on. If you take the time and effort in therapy or on your own to discover and integrate these inner aspects you will experience deep healing from the attachment wounds of childhood. You will become more whole, balanced, and blossom into your true self.

This work can be done through Jungian and archetypal psychology and you can use astrology, tarot and other maps of the psyche to understand your inner landscape. This work is my favorite and I would place myself in the west, if I had to pick a direction. The work of each direction is equally needed to heal but the west is where I love to play.

The spiritual lessons dwell in the west too. Forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, acceptance, redemption, and tolerance all stem from attachment wound healing and we can also surrender to spirit to heal and learn these soul deep lessons.

Relationship with spirit, in my opinion, is as vital as the parent child attachment. You can translate this transpersonal relationship to meet any belief. If you are atheist, spirit is nature or the larger cosmos. If you are religious, spirit is god or the gods and goddesses. If you are spiritual but not religious spirit may be the universe or the divine, source creation or whatever word works best. This relationship is not metaphorical. We are a small part of a larger force.

There is a ton of proof for how healing occurs when surrendering to a higher power. People in AA know this well. I know this well, as surrendering to the transpersonal has healed me via miracle and also healed alongside me, carrying much of the burden of my human life, helping me out in ways more powerful than any human could provide.

I am probably on the far end of the spectrum and in a smaller category of people who have healed attachment wounds through connection with self and spirit more than with human beings. This being said, you can heal through connection with pets just as much as people. And with nature too. Let’s not box ourselves in. Connection is expansive.

The spiritual lessons are simple to understand in the mind but hard to achieve. Can you accept the injustices that have happened to you? Can you forgive your abuser? Can you have compassion for the short comings of others? Can you have tolerance for those more ignorant than you? I have found in my own life that focusing on soul lessons has brought me the most inner peace and well being.

We cannot control what happens outside of ourselves. Safety is largely an illusion. Back in the day, nature was the attacker. Today, the attackers have grown due to systemic illness in humanity and also, well, nature has a dark side that just is. We are constantly faced with being treated badly, being abused, neglected, becoming ill, getting into accidents, on and on. Life is filled with tension, injustice, power struggles and pain.

Healing in the west from the suffering of the psyche in response to the pain of life is about healing the heart. Forgiveness sets the heart free from karma and rage. Acceptance allows the heart to metabolize and release trauma. Compassion allows the heart to connect with others, as does tolerance. The spiritual lessons are pragmatic in nature, for they allow us to experience more peace, self love, love for others and the big U.

Unconditional love, the lesson of all lessons.

These lessons are tall orders and perhaps why we have spiritual practices, religions, and mystical tools to help us heal, transcend, transform, and grow. Spiritual bypassing is a thing too to be wary of too. For instance, true forgiveness comes from experiencing suffering, anger, sorrow and working your way through empowerment and into acceptance before forgiveness is genuinely felt.

Spiritual bypassing would be mentally saying you forgive while stuffing all of your painful feelings into the shadow because you judge your own feelings and glom onto spiritual morality to keep you feeling good and safe. This is common and the reason why societies scapegoat groups of people and demonize corrupt leaders. Unless we process our own feelings stuffed into the shadow we will project our feelings onto the other. This is the collective level of connection that needs healing.

I would say healing in the west is the most complex of the directions. I could write on and on about it but feel this blog is already too long. I will end it with mentioning water. Water flows. Water cleanses. Water drowns. Water purifies, Water is our feelings. Our feelings form connection. Connection is why we are all here. Being an individual within the collective, connected to self and the other in harmony, is the healing of the west. This occurs from healing the past and being able to show up with loving awareness in the present. May it be so for us all.

The Archetypes in the Collective Shadow and Self-Parts in the Personal Shadow

Understanding from a Jungian perspective, depth perspective, internal family systems perspective (all of which root to the indigenous shamanic perspective), the psyche is made up of many “parts”. Integrating these self-parts brings healing. Each system of thought may have its own specific map and set of methods but they all stem from the fundamental idea that the psyche is made up of many aspects and that the conscious self, or ego, is only a tiny portion of the entire psyche.

Ego is our aware self-part, the part of the psyche that is literally conscious of self on a basic level of knowing you are a person. The unconscious contains the aspects of the psyche we are not aware of and do not identify with as a result and yet the workings of the unconscious deeply effect our conscious lives.

Jung made a distinction between the personal and the collective shadow. Shadow is another word for the unconscious. A poetic and metaphorical word, as Jung was quite the poet in my opinion!

Shadow refers to what cannot be seen. Many people think the shadow is the negative or “bad” traits of the personality, such as the desire to harm, steal, self-destruct, cross boundaries, take selfishly, etc. Although such traits may exist in the shadow or as a shadow personality, the shadow is a neutral term. The shadow is simply what is hidden from the conscious self.

The personal shadow contains what the ego represses in order to be liked and valued, or in order to survive. Hence, the personal shadow contains personality traits the ego thinks will cause shame and also wounds and feelings the ego could not process consciously, stemming from childhood trauma, abuse, or anything too harsh.

The spectrum of what gets relegated to the personal shadow by ego is different for each person because we all have our temperaments and that factors into the mix just as much as the events that take place. Nature and nurture.

The collective shadow is not personal. It is the root of the personal. If our individual selves are the flower, the personal shadow is the seed and the collective shadow is the soil. To understand, think in terms of all of life living symbiotically and interconnected at all times. We are always attached to every living cell of the universe and we would not exist as individuals without the collective holding us here.

Ancestral patterns, wounds, and karma live in the collective shadow and so do the archetypes. The archetypes are the collective instinctual drives we all share in common. Jung took this a new level and defined these archetypes as have their own sentience. We do not create the archetypes. The archetypes are our human foundation.

This concept is hard to grasp and requires the right brain to do so, which is of equal value to the left brain. The ancient and indigenous cultures engaged their right brained skills and understood the archetypes as the many gods and goddesses that ruled each particular collective human function (agriculture, fertility, truth, sexuality, mothering, fathering, morality, etc).

It is important to understand that no matter how you connect to the archetypes, the relationship is cultivated by the imagination or right brain. The imagination does not mean what is being imagined is false (though it might when turned to fantasy). Imagination allows us to communicate with levels of sentience that are not detectable by the five senses. Just as real but cannot be seen, touched, heard, tasted, or smelled.

In tarot, archetypes are imagined as the 22 major arcana. Jung imagined his own list of major archetypes. Internal family systems imagines its own essential model of archetypes living in the psyche. Astrology imagines planetary archetypes to map out the psyche.

I am not here to convince you that archetypes are real, sentient, or needed to heal. If you think this is all bullocks, no worries mate. If you feel drawn to this information than this concept and understanding of the psyche may be very healing for you. I also find it to be fulfilling spiritually and creatively to connect with the archetypes and I do so daily though using tarot, astrology, painting, and journeying.

Healing using archetypes involves becoming aware of the archetypes. Becoming aware brings the archetypes into conscious life. Integration means to bring what is unconscious into conscious life through bringing conscious life to the unconscious. Say that ten times fast!

Much of who we are is collective and not individual. As westerners we tend to avoid the collective level of reality culturally speaking and also psychologically speaking. When you take your ego into the unconscious to integrate with the archetypes you transform into a more balanced, healthy, fulfilled, and happy person. Nature makes it so. By reconnecting with your natural roots, you will experience well-being.

For example, integrating with the Animus (the masculine archetype of the conscious feminine ego) will make a feminine identified ego take authority over her life, set healthy boundaries, make good decisions, partner with an equal who values her, differentiate herself from family, and contribute her ideas to the world as a unique person.

If her Animus is not integrated and lives unconscious and ineffectual in the collective shadow of her psyche, she may see men who do not value her as holding all of the power, she may lack boundaries and give too much of herself away, she may feel lost inside, she may be overly critical and judgmental of her partner, she may be filled with unconscious “shoulds” that she projects onto those she loves as if they are be-ll end-all truths.

In this woman’s personal shadow may live a lonely and desperate character who feels not good enough to be loved and valued by others. Let’s call this character the disempowered girl. This disempowered girl is a mirage living in the woman’s personal shadow, made up of repressed energy from childhood trauma. 

The Animus is sentient and an essential foundation of this woman’s psyche. The disempowered girl is not sentient. The disempowered girl is a character made up of a narrative made up of repressed feelings that never integrated with the woman’s ego.

The disempowered girl emanates the negative vow, “I am bad” (understood through the lens of  cognitive-behavioral work). The disempowered girl is the wounded inner child when understood through inner child work but the inner child is also the child archetype.

Jung used the term “complex” to describe when an archetype becomes the center sun that personal shadow characters orbit around. The sun being the archetype and the planets being repressed energy in the personal shadow make up a galaxy of dysfunction.

In in this example, the child archetype would be the sun and the disempowered girl would be the negative narrative orbiting around it. The child sun would want to integrate with the conscious ego through expressing curiosity, following wonder, experiencing innocence, play, and newness but it’s pulled the disempowered girl into its orbit.

The woman, in her waking ego life, feels shame all of the time and she is too scared to try anything new and express curiosity. She judges herself and others unaware that she is doing so. She sticks to a rigid routine to feel safe, all because of this complex.

But I don’t want to get too far into complexes. My point of this blog is to share the distinction between sentient archetypal aspects that make up the fundamental nature of the psyche and the self-parts in the personal shadow that are living as characters after being repressed by the ego long ago.

I have done a lot of work on myself and with clients on engaging with the self-parts in the personal shadow, treating these parts as valuable, giving them love, acknowledging their existence and letting them express so that they may be released. This work is effective. Using tarot is a potent way to unearth these parts, as are dreams and noticing what causes big reactivity in relationships.

When you suddenly become conscious of a self-part in the personal shadow and give the part love, acknowledgment, and freedom to express, the part will often dissolve. Dissolving means integrating because when the part is released from the shadow it has integrated with the conscious present ego self.

Sometimes the part dissolves all at once and other times the part dissolves slowly over years. I have parts that have taken twenty years to integrate and sometimes a switch in treatment is what brings healing.

Sometimes it is best to not treat the personal shadow part as a character that needs acknowledgment, love, and expression. It may be more effective to use the mindfulness practice of radical acceptance and not attach to the repressed energy as a character. This would look like allowing the expression of the repressed energy to exist with conscious radical acceptance while at the same time not engaging with the part as a character, essentially ignoring it, over and over.

So, if the disempowered girl living in the personal shadow of the woman expresses through her conscious ego as a perpetual feeling of shame, the practice is for her to allow the shame to present with radical acceptance, over and over, while she ignores the shame at the same time.

I like to use the example of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” where the main character overcame his severe delusions that showed up as a group of friends that did not really exist. He did this through a very mundane practice of mindful radical acceptance. By learning to accept the appearance of these friends while at the same time not engaging with them at all, he found integration. He healed.

Sometimes you will need to attach and lovingly engage with the self-part in the personal shadow. You will need to treat this self-part like a parent or therapist and give this part love, listening, honor, and expression. Maybe you’ll need to give this part a job or a role to fulfill. In this way, it is the relationship between ego and self-part that creates healing and integration.

Other times you may need to use radial acceptance and mindfulness to heal from a chronic issue, pattern, or block. You may need to heal by not identifying with what is in the shadow while radically accepting the conscious emotional expression of this shadow part without identifying with it.

We are not our wounds. We are not our thoughts. We are not our feelings.

Integrating the archetypes into conscious life, on the other hand, is necessary. You don’t want to not identify with your most fundamental human instincts. Well, unless you are a radical Buddhist monk. Otherwise, you want to integrate the archetypes so that you live with more health, balance, freedom, and happiness.

How do you know the difference between a self-part in the personal shadow and an archetype?

Usually the self-parts in the personal shadow leak through conscious life as chronic issues, negative narratives, and repeated feelings, whereas the archetypes tend to seize the ego and come on strongly as potent feelings or character traits, instincts or impulses.

For instance, in the personal shadow may be an “ugly girl” who was teased as a child and felt rejected by her classmates. This may show up in the adult woman’s ego as a chronic insecurity narrative where she is always trying to lose weight, look prettier, shop for new clothes, and improve herself because she never feels pretty enough.

The archetype that pulls the “ugly girl” into orbit may the lover, our instinctual desire to sexually merge with another. The lover archetype would seize this woman with erotic desire, feelings of love, seduction, a crush, a need to merge with another. Now we have a complex (usually there are more parts but for the sake of example, I make it simple).

The complex blocks integration of the lover with the ego of the woman because the “ugly girl” in her personal shadow shows up as the insecurity narrative in one form or another and she never allows herself to feel beautiful enough to merge with another. The lover remains shadowed and the “ugly girl” remains in the driver’s seat of her conscious life.

Does this woman need to engage with the “ugly girl”, listen to her, love her, and let her express all her wounds and pain? Does this woman need to give radical acceptance to the insecurity she feels while ignoring the chronic narrative of insecurity at the same time? Or does this woman need to do a little of both?

Intuition guides us and so does trying out different methods. I am naming only two methods and using only one framework of understanding the psyche. The important thing to keep in mind is to not compare yourself to others and do not treat any healer or therapist as a god who knows more than yourself. Results are real and methods work. Healing also may happen without any method. Keeping the mystery alive after all of this explaining! Do what works for you.