Like waking from a years-long coma, to escape a narcissistic relationship is to be resurrected. The spell breaks, and you see the world with new eyes. Life regains its vibrancy, hope seeps back into your heart, and for the first time in a long time, you dare to dream of a better future.
Then the honeymoon ends, and the night sets in. You find yourself in a world that has moved on without you, while the aftershocks of your ordeal rise to the surface. Emotional flashbacks, nightmares, or even panic attacks seem to come from nowhere. For a time you struggle with recovery, having good and bad days, occasionally reaching a point of clarity and focus. Other times you find yourself thrust into the fog of despair and confusion. The crushing loneliness feels like it will never end.
Eventually, you start having more good days than bad, and the flashbacks taper off. It seems like the worst is over. This is a time to reflect, to understand what happened. You come to terms with the knowledge that recovery will be a lifelong pursuit, but you draw comfort from the fact that your efforts are starting to pay off. You are growing, and you are healing. You look ahead with newfound clarity, and the realisations hit you one by one. You find that your earlier innocence has given way to an emerging sense of vigilance and wisdom. You are maturing and discovering confronting truths about your world. Your eyes are opening.
Something new is also emerging inside you, having appeared soon after the spell broke. You grow curious about this ‘strange other,’ but also unsettled. It trembles your foundations and brings with it an ominous warning. You get a sense that nothing will be the same again. That you are standing on a precipice. Far from fleeing, however, you find yourself drawn inside, toward a boundless realm filled with opportunity. You eventually get on with your life, but you cannot help occasionally peeping inside the dark, mysterious cave. It whispers to you, sends ripples through you, and draws you in with its allure. If you go too far inside, however, you quickly feel unnerved and return your consciousness to the outer world of distraction and form.
What you may or may not have realised by now is that you are being called to undertake a journey; one that you were born to embark on before narcissism corrupted your world. Somewhere along the line, what began with promise and hope descended into a dystopian, claustrophobic maze without end. Yet you have emerged, ready to take the first step toward your evolution. You look around, and notice that outside you is a life not yet fully lived, while inside you are the ashes and rubble of narcissistic abuse.
So far, you have exposed the narcissist while taking steps toward healing and recovery. You have begun to make sense of the past. That mysterious presence inside you is now pointing toward the future, and deep down you know that the fight is not over. Ahead of you remains an unknown path which you feel you must take. Yet will you answer the call? The fact that you have picked up this book means your answer is yes. Perhaps you are already on the path without being conscious of it. Maybe you are wondering what this path is, and what form your journey is supposed to take?
Joseph Campbell called it the ‘monomyth,’ or ‘hero’s journey.’ The tale has been told in countless forms, wherein a protagonist goes on an adventure, overcomes numerous obstacles and challenges, and then returns transformed. From Achilles, Hercules and Odysseus, all the way to Superman, Iron Man and Wonder Woman, there is no shortage of hero stories in our culture, and no sign of this phenomenon slowing down. Something about them resonates deep within us, and for good reason. That these stories are so ubiquitous can numb us to their significance and distract us from their purpose, which is to awaken the hero within ourselves. Yet why go on a journey, suffer, and then return transformed? What is the point? And how does this relate to our modern life?
One common thread in all hero stories is adversity. Without it, there would be no need for heroism. In every version of this myth, something is wrong with the world. There is an evil that must be faced and conquered. Tyranny has gripped society, and the people face terrible hardship or even death; unless someone steps up and does something about it.
Enter the hero.
In most cases, the hero is thrust into the situation by chance, or is ‘chosen’ by destiny. In any case, they hear the call and know they must answer. The hero is also not yet ready to face the challenge, but knows on an instinctual level that they have the potential to rise to the occasion — if they are prepared to suffer through adversity. Whether in a story or the real world, answering the call always comes with potential danger. Heroes are not celebrated for nothing. They take real risks and own the consequences.
For us, narcissism is the tyranny we must conquer. For reasons that we will explore later, it descended upon us and corrupted the natural order and harmony of our world. Overcoming it requires facing enormous challenges. The target of narcissism must shed their identity, descend into the belly of the whale, fight numerous demons, and then return ready to face the world from a higher state. A part of you may dread this, but another part of you may feel excited to rise to the occasion. That is your inner hero awakening.
Humans have always been destined to take the unexplored path. In doing so, they can sufficiently test the potential of their True Self and integrate it in a way that serves others. Routine, doctrines, ideologies; they all distract from this. The hero inside us is the pioneer who leaps into the unknown and discovers riches that they can share with the world. The hero’s journey is an attempt to remove the training wheels of security, and with that, to discover one’s strength. Without an outer journey, there can be no inner. The two are entwined.
Many people choose not to take the hero’s journey, remaining in their routine, content to live out their lives in the simplest way. There is nothing wrong with this. Sometimes the sacrifice is not worth it, other times a hero’s journey is not required. Some of us, however, are destined for more. The target of narcissism, much like a conventional hero, is thrust into the underworld against their wishes. Maybe they were ‘chosen.’ Who knows? In any case, tyranny found its way to their doorstep, and they now have no choice but to undertake the journey in order to transcend their predicament. Going ‘no contact’ is not enough; the target of narcissism has internalised the abuse and must transform their True Self through and through if they are to thrive.
Recovering from narcissistic abuse is not where our journey ends. The hero’s journey is there to guide us toward self-actualisation and to ensure we have the best chance of leading a fulfilling life. There is no one size fits all. Everyone’s path is unique, and must be adapted to their true nature. Breaking free of the narcissist is one thing, transcending them and growing to your highest potential is another. The remnants of narcissistic abuse remain inside you and continue to hold you back. The outer journey here is to carve out a life worth living, which is carried out in conjunction with an inner journey into the Self. This book supports that endeavour by providing you with a complete map of the journey as well as the steps to get through it.
In ‘PART I: THE ORIGINS OF SELFHOOD,’ we start at the very beginning by mapping out the Self, which reveals the required pieces for an enriching life. Furthermore, the hidden realm of the unconscious is laid out, along with how it weaves the threads of our reality. By understanding the nature of the psyche, we come to know how power is lost, regained and expanded in our relationships. The core elements of the Self are also laid bare, including the archetypes which shape us and the energy forms that empower us. Ideally, this initial phase is managed by a good-enough parent, wherein the Self thrives as a result. What begins as a divine Utopia during infancy leads to growth and prosperity in adulthood — unless the process is interrupted, of course.
‘PART II: THE AGE OF NARCISSISM’ details the fall from this garden, so to speak, where abuse and dysfunction infect one’s life and lay waste to their soul. This can happen to us at any time, from the very beginning in our narcissistic family of origin, or later in the context of a narcissistic romantic relationship, friendship or social group. During this dark period of tyranny, the narcissist’s ego hijacks and enslaves the True Self in the context of a narcissist regime. Shame, trauma and guilt consume your consciousness, while the True Self is imprisoned deep within your soul, waiting to be freed. Here the roles and dynamics of the narcissistic family are explored in detail, along with how this blueprint infects all levels of society, including business and local community. This allows you to understand how the tyranny of narcissism developed and spread in the first place. Most importantly, it enables you to determine your place in this landscape so that you can map your way out.
It is at this point that we find ourselves now, having broken free of the narcissist’s spell. Yet this moment is not the end of our journey, nor is it the beginning. Rather we are resuming our original journey by going deep within ourselves to restore the five developmental forces of the Self: security, vitality, tenacity, divinity and wisdom. ‘PART III: THE HERO’S JOURNEY’ outlines the process of shedding the layers of narcissistic abuse and actively developing the five forces from our core.
Such a venture is not to be pursued lightly. It requires the heart of a hero, a person willing to take the treacherous journey to the edge of their faith and courage — and then further. This modern-day spiritual journey requires that you travel away from home — i.e., your routine and comfort zone, and into the depths of your being. There you will meet with formidable opponents such as toxic shame, rage, despair, confusion, the inner critic, the saboteur, emotional flashbacks, your abandonment wound and, of course, fear. Facing and moving through these ‘demons’ will be essential to your success. It is on this path that you will also meet with a mysterious figure; a certain someone who has been there the whole time, waiting for their saviour to arrive. You are that saviour, and you are the mysterious figure.
As you will soon discover, this enigmatic ‘other’ is your divine essence which feeds your actualisation and growth. Tapping into it opens you to a world not only of torrential grief, but also abundant potential. For reasons beyond your control, this divine presence was imprisoned long ago, left alone in the depths of your soul as the narcissist took control of your consciousness. It is this powerful being who you will bring back from your journey, and it is their superhuman qualities which you will integrate so that your sense of Self will be complete. Only then can your evolution truly begin.
As it is with all heroes, inside you exist the blueprint and resources to actualise into the person you were meant to be. Hero energy lies within all of us, having been gifted to us by our ancestors, who underwent their own journey into the soul in order to conquer the challenge of their day. We are here because they faced their demons and won. We are products of countless generations of successful evolution. What is needed from us now is the readiness to pay our ancestors homage by also taking on the mighty struggle. We must be willing to be torn apart and put back together, to be pushed to our limits, and to emerge anew. This is not wishful storytelling, but a genuine alchemical and psychological process. You should not take hero stories literally; they merely point toward a necessary human undertaking. This process leads to a cosmic expansion of your consciousness, the evolution of your mind, body and spirit, and the discovery of unimaginable wonders.
Just like any hero who ventures into the underworld, you will have help along the way. While this can and probably should take the form of a therapist, support group or set of friends, assistance will also come from unexpected places. As you plunge into the depths of your Self, you will discover resources you thought only others possessed. You find that every courageous act brings with it unexpected rewards, as periods of pain and frustration lead to an eventual revelation or breakthrough. With each minor victory, you learn that your capacity to tolerate pain and intensity is limitless, and that inside you is an organism which is self-regulating, supportive and wise beyond imagination. The more you learn to trust this organism, the further you will progress.
As already stated, healing from narcissistic abuse is not a goal in itself; we do it so we can free our inner resources and channel them toward a higher purpose. It was narcissistic abuse which side-tracked us and put us in this position, and it is the hero’s journey which gets us back on course. Only when the road is sufficiently travelled will you truly know yourself. When all is said and done, you will return with ‘the gold.’ That is, you will be in possession of a fully actualised Self with limitless resources that you can channel in incredible ways. What you choose to do with this gift is the focus of ‘PART IV: THE RETURN,’ wherein you take what you have gained and learned and apply it to your daily life, except this time on your terms. By aligning your outer situation with your True Self, you will finally have a sense that you are living with meaning and purpose. That gnawing feeling of emptiness gradually fades, and your relationships cease to be dysfunctional and abusive. The tyrannical grip of narcissism shatters forever, and an age of prosperity and hope can emerge.
The narcissist’s dystopian world is perilous, yet you nonetheless possess the capacity to overcome it. Narcissists exist in every society, always seeking to dominate and control. Narcissism is a part of human nature, and as a consequence, so is malignant narcissism. Its sorcery is boundless.
Lucky for you, so is the power of your True Self.
A fully developed Self is the antithesis of narcissism. It is formidable, wise and self-sustaining while functioning at an enlightened level of consciousness. For you to obtain such a state, your path must run through the fire of daily life, with one empowering experience lighting the torch for the next, and so forth. As the raw power of the Self radiates out into everyday situations, it feeds your evolution with its uncanny qualities. We were all supposed to have this divine companion along with us on our journey, before we were separated from it by trauma, shame and dysfunction. Reuniting with our core, however, requires that we first go back, to the moment in time where the flame of the Self was lit — when we entered the world and laid eyes on our first higher power to help us with the process of self-actualisation.
Self-actualisation is an unfolding toward a higher state of being, driven by an unceasing flow of life energy. We are hardwired to explore and learn about our surroundings as well as look for our place in society. How we actualise depends on our personality, our environment, our DNA, our influences, and what resonates with our True Self.
We pursue actualisation in countless ways, such as public service, research, literature, art, sports, philosophy, study, business, politics, philanthropy or raising a family. Once something resonates with us, we immerse ourselves in it and absorb it like a sponge, and so begin a process of deepening our relationship with the world, deepening our maturity, and most importantly; deepening our connection with our True Self. In doing so, we move into our spiritual centre and direct it toward a higher purpose, hence emulating all other life forms.
When we consider the theory of evolution, we see that all living beings originate from a single ancestor, where life is connected through one mammoth-sized family tree. Some species evolved quicker than others and left their cousins behind, with humans making the most significant leap, elevating us to the dizzying heights of today. While consciousness and the rational mind dominate our current age, we cannot forget the heritage of our mammalian and reptilian ancestors that remains within us, and serves us in ways we take for granted. Our emotional brain enhances learning and allows us to bond with others and experience pleasure. Our ancient reptilian brain controls our heart rate, breathing, body temperature, balance, and much more. While life forms can evolve in countless ways, at the core of each one is a blueprint shared by all. From the single-celled organism to the mighty blue whale, life has a great deal to teach us about not only physical growth, but also our actualisation.
Take a tree, for example, which we can characterise in three ways:
Figure 1: The tree, like any living organism, originates from a single point (Earth), growing from nothing to a higher state (Heaven) while playing out a creative role in its environment. Binding this process together are the opposing life and death instincts.
Using the tree as an analogy, we see that humans are bound to this same process of development. We too must be supported by a source of nurture, must have a higher state to aspire towards, and so long as we are alive, must direct our life energy toward a creative purpose which contributes to our world. If any of these three elements are missing, we fall into ill health and despair.
This dark, heavy state plagues us all on occasion, and lies at the core of every living being. Sigmund Freund, in his book ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle,’ proposed that ‘the goal of all life is death,’ of which he is correct to a degree. In reality, the goal of all life is death and rebirth. This is the endless cycle of the universe, where life is born, dies, and is replaced by new life forms. This process is balanced by opposing drives which constantly work together to achieve balance. Freud called one the life instinct, and the other the death instinct. The life instinct is there to compel us to survive, pursue pleasure, love and care for each other, cooperate with others, reproduce, and self-actualise. The death instinct, in comparison, has a magnetic pull toward a desolate state which the life instinct must overcome. We all experience this when we struggle to get out of bed, or get caught in negative thinking, or procrastinate, or fall into apathy and depression. Behind these inhibiting acts of self-sabotage is the death instinct, continually working to return life to its original, inorganic state. However, so long as our basic needs for food, shelter and connection are met, and as long as we have a higher power to aspire towards, the life instinct can thrive, despite the pressure of the death instinct. What Freud referred to as the ‘pressure toward death’ is then overcome, and our journey can progress. The only remaining concern we have is to determine which direction this so-called life instinct should take.
A unique aspect of our divine purpose compared to other life forms is our ability to choose a higher power to model ourselves after, which we do through worship.
The definition of worship is: ‘adoration for a deity.’ Yet this does not fully capture it. Another way to define worship is: ‘the act of channelling our actualisation through another person or entity.’ This involves a complete surrender of your defences, the exposure of your most vulnerable parts, and the identifying with someone or something which you believe can lead you to a higher state of being.
Furthermore, before we can begin the path toward self-actualisation, we need to secure help. While a tree can anchor itself in the soil and grow toward the sun, humans need the support of other humans to grow to maturity. The world is complex and full of danger, and our True Self has infinite potential while our body and conscious mind are limited, especially early in life. We start off helpless while overwhelmed with options and possibilities in an ever-expanding civilisation. Along with nurture, we need to have life presented to us in a structured way. We also need initiation into the world, which we gain by imitating specific role models within our ‘tribe.’ For this reason, we feel an instant pull toward people who we believe can show us the way forward; people of higher power who ‘have it all worked out.’
Regardless of whether you are religious or not, you have already given yourself over to a higher power. The second you came out of your mother’s womb, you were a frightened, vulnerable baby, with a desperate need for care and security. From this precarious position, anyone who cared for you became larger than life. These family figures were also vulnerable and uncertain in their own way. Still, from your infantile perspective, they were magical beings from a divine realm, possessing qualities and abilities that were beyond your comprehension.
Consider that your experience back then was immensely different from now. For one, you did not possess the conscious mind you now take for granted. Rationality and knowledge were non-existent. There was no analysing and making sense of the world. Instead, you experienced the world energetically. An example which demonstrates this mode is a superhero movie, or any movie with a compelling protagonist. These transcendental characters are portrayed as supremely gifted, and hence morph into someone other-worldly. An underdeveloped mind views its parents precisely this way. Relative to a baby, consider the herculean strength of your father as he picked you up without effort. Imagine for a second the nurturing softness of your mother’s body and the intoxicating way her breast milk would have nourished your fledgling body. These paragons really would have been something to behold for a child.
When you reached your ‘terrible twos,’ you entered the narcissistic phase of childhood development, and your grandiosity peaked. You believed you were indestructible, and that the world revolved around you. Your vocabulary consisted mostly of ‘I,’ ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ You roamed your environment shamelessly while there was always somebody taking care of your every need. Eventually, you hit barriers. As frustrating as it was, there was a gap between your perceived capabilities and your actual power. You realised that without someone to support you and cater to your needs, you would get nowhere. Due to your lack of real-world ability, you had no choice but to delegate power to your guardians. You noticed that food, clothing and toys appeared like magic, and you took for granted that they would keep coming. Where things came from and who made them did not cross your mind, nor did the thought that you would one day have to provide for yourself. Personal power would come later in life as you grew and developed. Meanwhile, your guardians reigned over your life. You allowed them to feed you, shelter you, clothe you, help you go to the bathroom, manage your bedtime and tell you where it was safe and unsafe to play. It was a given that they ran the show. This act of surrendering your personal power is called infantilisation.
Infantilisation is a state of helplessness, a survival mode in which a child entrusts their guardian to look after their well-being. It is like a warm blanket that slips over someone and sheds them of their willpower as soon as they are in the presence of any figure of perceived higher power. When infantilised, a person unconsciously hands over the wheel for their life. It is like having your ego surgically removed and then being ‘remote-controlled’ by the ego of another person. Here you have no agency except when the other person says so. In childhood, this is normal and expected. Whether the higher power is nurturing and loving, or neglectful and abusive, is irrelevant. The primary concern is survival, and therefore any higher power is better than none.
Infantilised and with no capacity to influence outcomes in the world, the child reverts to using a crude psychological mechanism to establish a sense of control. Much like a binary switch, on one side is a state of absolute worship, and on the other, a total rejection of it.
Having no capacity to protect or care for oneself is terrifying. You will appreciate that for the child, abandonment equals death. This vulnerable position would have brought you face to face with the death instinct, which activates the fight/flight response that a human being experiences in the face of annihilation. When the death instinct arises, a child is gripped with terror. Life becomes black and white, meaning you lose the ability to see the finer aspects of a situation. To act swiftly (fight) or escape (flight) are the only two options.
While some situations terrify more than others, the child can never feel entirely at ease. They still lack the capacity to reason or act their way out. They remain acutely sensitive to stressors at all times, and it takes little to activate their fight/flight response. Also, at that age, the child cannot comprehend that their guardian could have stress in their life, have bad moods, or still be dealing with unresolved trauma. The child only knows that anger and neglect equate to danger.
To deal with the terror of being alive, we reverted to a binary view of the world. We abstracted our experiences to maintain tight psychological control, switching between a state of absolute loving, or absolute loathing. We adored anything that we perceived as ‘good’ with all our heart, such as our family or favourite toy. On the other hand, we hated anything that we saw as ‘bad’ or that frightened us, which also included our family members when they were abusive, neglectful or unpredictable.
This polarised state can be represented on a continuum, with a ‘neutral’ mode in the middle:
Figure 2: The love/loathing continuum. Children, as well as people polarised by fear, will alternate between the two extremes of the scale to regain a sense of control. With loathing, one aims to psychologically annihilate a source of threat, whereas with love, they aim to merge themselves with a source of nurture and power.
For a child, neutrality is not an option. Life is black and white, all or nothing. When your guardian mirrored you, catered to your needs and made you feel safe, you loved them with all your heart. This would have brought you closer to the life instinct; that warm feeling of safety and confidence which propels you toward self-actualisation. When your guardian became angry at you, neglected you or failed to sufficiently cater to your needs, this aroused your death instinct instead, and you directed all of your rage toward them. This polarised state is why babies and children can turn to anger so unexpectedly, and then be instantly appeased and made calm again.
What Melanie Klein referred to as splitting gave you somewhere to direct the intense emotions which you could not process in your underdeveloped mind. It was vital for you to create a ‘tyrant’ figure and focus your rage toward them. You did this to preserve what came to be a ‘divine being,’ a loving and perfect figure who would never abandon you. Furthermore, by having a perceived tyrant to rage against, you could ‘empower’ yourself against the terrifying prospect of being abandoned or annihilated. In the child’s mind, a person remains the divine being until they let the child down, after which they become the ‘tyrant.’ In reality, your guardian was a person whom you experienced in polar opposite ways.
A word such as ‘annihilation’ might seem extreme to an adult, but in the child’s mind, it is a real possibility. The more abusive or neglectful a guardian is, the more overwhelming the terror becomes, and the more a child must split to cope. When situations feel frightening, the child clings tighter to any sign of the divine being, thus helping assuage their dread and fear. In the child’s mind, this will save them from annihilation and keep them safe. The split keeps the child sane.
The split is also why we are so strongly affected by heroes and villains in movies and popular culture. By identifying with and worshipping the hero, we vicariously experience a sense of power, whereas the villain becomes the dumping ground for our repressed negative emotions and fear of helplessness. The split is why we fantasise and project ideal situations and outcomes in our minds. It helps us cope with the unpleasantness of life. It also explains how parents often continue to hold tremendous sway over their children well into adulthood, turning with one snide remark an otherwise independent and robust person into nothing more than a helpless infant.
A fascinating effect of the split is the uncanny ‘quality’ it gives the people we project it on — above all our parents. The tyrant and divine being are not something we simply made up, but a natural consequence of intense loving and loathing. Regardless of whether one chooses to believe in this phenomenon or not, nobody can deny that they have experienced this polarised state. We have all adored our heroes and role models to the point of obsession, or have found ourselves despising our loved ones or people in the media to the point of utter disgust.
As already explained, a higher power is a critical requirement for life. Losing it for even a second throws us into chaos and disarray. This is what gives parents such power. Like the soil nourishing a tree’s roots, or the sun shining above, our guardians play a fundamental role in our physical and spiritual growth which permeates the deepest corners of our psyche. Helping them with this tremendous, life-creating responsibility are archetypal energies based on Heaven and Earth. The three Abrahamic religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity speak of a shared patriarchal figure, Abraham, who embodies the masculine blueprint. The most celebrated matriarch of all is Mother Nature, or Gaia; the personification of the Earth and the nourishing force behind all of life. One represents profound wisdom, the other embodies boundless abundance. One provides structure, guidance and purpose, the other demonstrates the art of channelling life energy. These masculine and feminine energies manifest in the psyche in the form of two archetypes separated by gender; the great father and the great mother. Each can be seen as a collective pool of traits, abilities and energy forms which came from our ancestors, all of whom undertook the challenge of being a father or a mother. The immense capacity of these archetypes to nurture and support life was passed on from one generation to the other, until it was time for our parents to embody them.
First of all, these archetypes are not limited to a person of the corresponding gender. A man can embody the great mother and vice versa. Fathers can be affectionate and nurturing, and mothers can provide guidance and wisdom. Secondly, no person can be perfect in their endeavour to live up to these God-like figures. Nonetheless, they exist in every human being as latent energy waiting to be released. From the point of our conception, these archetypes looked to express themselves through our guardians. When a parent recollects the moment their first child was born, they tend to describe a momentous shift. This is, in fact, the great parent archetype awakening within them. They sense themselves presented with a significant responsibility which calls on them to leave youthful pretence behind and transform into the formidable figure their child needs them to be.
At its best, the great parent archetype brings out superhuman qualities in the parent, along with the ability to create a safe container for the child to grow and actualise. The guardian becomes wise, empathic and supportive, able to attune to the child’s needs by drawing on the abundant powers of the great parent. In the worst case, however, when the parent is traumatised, wounded or caught up in their ego or in addiction, the great parent archetype transforms into the tyrant. The parent’s posture stiffens, their face permanently hardens, and their gaze sharpens. They use a combination of anger, disapproving stares, emotional coldness and shamelessness to enforce the image of authority and control. Some parents alternate between the two extremes in a split moment, lovingly channelling the great parent until frustration tips them over the edge, from which they grow rigid and angry, unconsciously channelling the tyrannical parent. Other times we project the tyrant onto our parents regardless of whether it is justified, as captured in the teenager who screams “I hate you!” when they fail to get their way.
The split also works the other way when adults are overwhelmed and insecure. When you were angry and uncooperative, your guardians experienced you as the ‘bad child,’ and when you were submissive and loving, they experienced you as the ‘good child.’ Many parents even call their children ‘good girl/good boy’ and ‘bad girl/bad boy’ depending on the child’s behaviour, which is the parent’s split in action.
Figure 3: The split dynamic between a child and their guardian/s. The figures which arise are enigmas, uncanny ‘spirits’ from the unmanifested realm. When the energy of the great or tyrannical parent expresses itself through our guardian, however, it becomes quite real. The great mother represents yin energy, a source of nourishment for the True Self via the Earth realm. The great father represents yang energy, a north star or lighthouse that leads us to our self-actualisation.
In childhood you looked to the great mother for yin energy, a passive force which regenerates and sustains the soul. The great mother held you safely in her womb, then nurtured you once you were born, caring for you and helping you feel secure. Through the yin energy of the great mother you were able to rest in being, and so align yourself with the harmonious flow of life energy. Later, you connected with the great father; a figure who could provide structure and protection. His role was to help you channel yang energy, an active force for penetrating and impacting the world.
These two enigmatic, gender-based archetypes dominated your psyche, and you yearned for them as the figures who would shield you from the terror of being a vulnerable child. Your later expectations of them depended on your experiences with carers in your life, which began with your guardians, then extended to older siblings, extended family, teachers and any other adult of perceived higher power. Each person contributed toward your idea of what the great mother and great father archetypes encapsulate. For example, if your father was short-tempered and angry, you would form a picture of men as being more tyrannical than benevolent. If your mother was emotionally closed off, you might see women as callous and difficult to please — a source of shame and rejection. Such experiences remain firmly planted in your psyche for the rest of your life as paternal complexes, which the Jung Lexicon defines as “a group of emotionally charged images and ideas associated with the parents.” These are activated and projected onto anybody you perceived as more powerful than you, which helps explain why we often feel fear and uncertainty around people of high status or beauty. Their apparent perfection associates them in our minds with the frustration and pain of trying to obtain the love of the great parent. These deeply entrenched complexes can humble us and trigger fear and shame which takes on a life of its own, crippling us and rendering us helpless. They also influence every one of our relationships moving forward, and as much as it can feel like it is the person who is triggering these emotions, it is in fact our split activating, along with emotional flashbacks of past experiences with the great mother or father.
Due to your precarious position, you had no choice but to split and project onto your guardians the archetype of the great parent. The alternative was unthinkable; the tyrannical mother or father could annihilate you. As a result, you infantilised yourself and worshipped your guardians. In your developing mind you looked up to them, hoping they would use their power to support you, inspire you and mirror back your divine nature. When you ran out to explore the world, you looked back on occasion to make sure they were still there watching over you. In turn, you observed them and imitated their actions. You shared your smallest successes with them. Their approval was everything, and their disapproval crushed you.
Because they were ‘perfect,’ their word was gospel. Consequently, their anger and disapproval could never be their fault; it had to be someone else’s. To blame the great parent would be to risk destroying them and losing your source of nourishment and safety. So you focussed your rage and negative feelings toward the tyrannical parent instead. How your guardian handled their alternating position as the great parent and tyrant would play an enormous part in your growth and future relationships. Such is the power of the split. Such is the power of anyone we worship.
This early tendency to externalise our source of higher power gives others a license to set us free, or imprison and control us. Behind our surrender lies the enigmatic great parent, setting the stage for every relationship we will have, running deeper than we could ever imagine. Society feeds off our split in numerous ways. Celebrities project an image of perfection, and we unconsciously see them as a higher power. Monarchies maintained a firm grip over nations for centuries in the same way by projecting divinity and high status. Dictators, through fear and cult of personality, also capitalise on this phenomenon. On a smaller scale, the split is responsible for the halo effect, which is when we exaggerate a person’s goodness and wisdom based on their appearance and body language, becoming putty in their hands while doing our best to please them. A lesser-known but common form of the split is when we meet someone who reminds us of our parents in particular ways, wherein we feel ourselves unconsciously drawn to them in a childlike way.
Whoever can project the illusion of high status and grandeur potently enough can awaken our inner child and therefore hijack our personal power. The woman or man of stature, strength or undeniable beauty, the celebrity, the politician, the charmer, the social media influencer; anyone can activate our split and gain our worship, or at the very least our curiosity. It is easy to forget the intended purpose of the split, which is to maintain psychological health long enough for us to come of age. Easy to lose sight of is our divine purpose, which is self-actualisation. The goal is not to forfeit our personal power to others, but rather to use worship as a launching pad for our growth, with the result being the constellation of a competent and fully developed Self.
We can only pursue actualisation when our basic and higher needs are sufficiently met, and it is the role of a higher power to provide a structure for those needs. The higher power is not the destination, but rather the lighthouse which guides us while we come of age. As children, our guardians are our higher power, while family is our vessel through life. The purpose of family is to love, empower and care for us, and to give us a sense of belonging. It is intended to remain in place until we are old enough to differentiate and follow our chosen path. The result of an ideal upbringing is a battle-tested, resourceful Self which can hold its own in the face of any challenge. Rather than relying purely on others, we draw on the Self as a source of yin and yang energy which sustains and energises us from within.
Developing the True Self is a dynamic process, where foundational emotions flood our system and shape us in unique ways. Learning to work with these energies is critical to confident living, as is understanding how they can turn against us when incited in a dysfunctional manner. Anyone who has suffered narcissistic abuse knows that love can entrap you, or set you free. Shame can be a force which crushes you, or it can be a loyal friend wh0 instils in you the humility and discipline to achieve your goals. Like Icarus, pride can be your downfall, or it can awaken your potential. When used to set boundaries, hate can empower and release you from perpetual people-pleasing and resentment.
While our life is a series of stories told to us by the outside world, beneath this stream of consciousness are the foundational emotions which empower the stories. Our beliefs, how we view ourselves and the world, the limits we adhere to; this is merely the tip of the iceberg. To fully grasp the Self, we need to dive below the realm of ego, to a place where personality is shaped by energy, a process which begins when we attach to a mother figure.
Before the seed of their Self can fully develop, a child must establish roots within the mother. Like an umbilical cord, the attachment between mother and child is sustenance for the True Self, helping the child regulate their emotional baseline and sense of safety. A secure attachment involves a continuous, attuned connection between mother and baby through the use of touch, proximity, eye contact, sound making, facial expressions and the mirroring of emotional states. The child’s grasp over the Self relies entirely on this relationship, and any extended break in the connection can disrupt their development.
Nobody can be flawless in their mothering. Breaks will occur when the mother is distracted, fatigued or stressed. Yet the attachment bond is durable, and can sustain temporary disruptions. As long as the mother is attuned and available most of the time, the child can maintain trust in the relationship. If the mother can be sufficiently present, the child will develop a strong sense of Self, remaining in touch with their emotional world and having confidence in their ability to connect with and influence others. From there, they can channel the flow of their life energy, which opens them up to a state of abundance and feeds their evolution and growth. Giving potency and form to this flow are the five developmental forces of security, vitality, tenacity, divinity and wisdom.
Figure 4: The five developmental forces of the Self.
The developmental forces emerge at various phases of the child’s development, with each one accompanied by a governing emotion. Fear is the first to arise during the prenatal stage, where the child draws security from the womb and gauges the safety of the outside world via the mother’s bodily state. After birth, a push-pull dynamic of love and hate establishes itself as soon as the child identifies their love objects — i.e., the mother and father. When the parent meets the child’s needs and is warm and attentive, the child loves them openly and the bond can deepen. When the parents do not meet the child’s needs or are cold and neglectful, the child’s hate bubbles up in the form of rage to compel the parents to engage the child how it wants. Pride and shame arise next, coming into play when the child’s ego emerges, where the child gains the ability to ‘conceptualise’ the Self. Here the child begins to experiment with pride and grandiosity, hungry to grow in social stature and to influence the world around them. Where they hit roadblocks, shame brings them down a peg and reminds them of their limits.
These five, interconnected forces are crucial to empowerment, where each one impacts the rest. If any one is compromised, the remainder will suffer, and compensation strategies must come into play to re-establish homeostasis. For example, a lack of tenacity leaves a person in a flaccid and passive state, making them reliant on the whims of others to get what they need. A lack of pride leaves a person doubtful about their place in the world, and shame seeps in to fill the void, halting progress behind a wall of hesitation and despair. A lack of any of the five forces impacts not only a person’s relationships, but also their belief system, their physical body, their capacity to assert themselves, and their self-esteem. How these forces develop can be the difference between a life of perpetual suffering and frustration, or one of prosperity and abundance.