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Committed Relationships: Use Them to Grow Towards Self-Understanding and True Love
By Gabriella Kortsch, Ph.D.
Society generally considers that relationships owe us happiness and bliss ever after. While happy couples do exist, divorce statistics indicate a great majority simply is not happy after the first glow dims.
Relationships Free of Dependence
This less appealing reality actually holds the key for a true loving relationship that is free of dependence on the other. Jung wrote: "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed." In a nutshell, transformation is what relationships are all about. We remain in relationships while the going is good, but often break off at the first sign of trouble. If the person we love turns out differently than our initial estimation of them, we feel they led us to believe something about their character that was not true, or, that we simply can not trust our judgment.
Relationships Based on Complementarity Rather Than on Need
But the crux of the matter is quite different. It is precisely at this problematic point in the relationship that we have the chance of creating a relationship based on mutual complementarity rather than on need; a free relationship between two people who want to be together, rather than two people who need to be together. So how do we get there?
A very important step in this process is becoming aware of ourselves; gaining insight into ourselves. Another step involves filling our own "holes", our needs, rather than hoping to fill them through others. Clearly this is easier said than done. It literally means growing into wholeness - a lifelong process.
Filling Our Needs
Our needs get us into most relationship problems. We seek out people, consciously or unconsciously, that fulfill our needs, rather than filling our needs ourselves. Whenever we obsess about someone, feeling that we can not live without them, we should examine what it is that is missing in us very carefully, what we feel others are "giving" us, and why we feel that we need them for our very survival. This element is being shown to us through the relationship, the obsession, the need, the desire to control and possess. If we could only become aware of this, we might still suffer, but we would have finally found the real road to freedom from this kind of dependent need. (See also my July 2006 Newsletter - I Need You…I Need You Not).
Jungian Transformation Motifs
A. The Shadow
Most individuals are unaware of the shadow, an unconscious part of the psyche which has not been lived out. C.G. Jung believed that the more people truly know themselves by looking into themselves, the more society as a whole becomes conscious. Children are often taught not to show - or even feel - their objectionable and aggressive urges. Although they must be taught not to act out these urges, they often wind up repressing all conscious knowledge of these negative aspects until they are buried so deep that they manage to forget their existence. Thus, they believe their chosen conscious attitude is who they really are.
But the negative aspects have not disappeared - they have moved into the unconscious where they can cause all kinds of trouble when the shadow forces its way into outer behavior. You might, for example, say the opposite of what you meant to say. Often, unrecognized aspects of the self are what you notice in other people: these are projections.
The best clue to the existence of shadow aspects is the level of emotion you have about another person's behavior. Until the content of the projection becomes conscious, projections continue to occur in a compulsive manner accompanied by intense emotion. But of course as long as it is a projection, you feel that the problem lies with the other person, never realizing that precisely because of your strong emotional reaction to the other person, the problem - or issue to be resolved - lies with you (whether or not the other person's behavior is acceptable is immaterial to this).
B. The Anima and Animus
Jung felt that everyone has a psychological contrasexual reality represented by the opposite sex. The anima (Latin term for soul or spirit), the feminine figure in a man's psyche, represents unconscious qualities. The flesh and blood women in his real life are a source of information for a man about those things for which he has no eyes.
The animus is the masculine figure in a woman's psyche, symbolizing new creativity or potential within, as well as - on the negative side - rigidity, obstinacy, absolute convictions, or a sense of personal worthlessness.
We are always attracted to an outer man or woman who somehow embodies not yet lived out or realized (and therefore projected) aspects of our own anima or animus. We actually fall in love with ourselves via the projection, i.e. with bits of ourselves we have not yet seen, and so we feel we need the other person because they are able to express what we cannot.
Since all of this is unconscious, it generally takes a falling away of the rosy glasses and a return to reality to force us into pain and frustration, making us begin the process of self-awareness, understanding, and thereby the process of growth towards the incorporation of these needs and then to fulfill them ourselves, and move towards a degree of wholeness from whence we can approach relationships very differently, and with a far greater measure of inner freedom.
Eight Suggestions for Improving Your Relationships: a Plan to Follow
- Realize that attraction, love, chemistry, and emotion, come about due to the psycho-emotional and spiritual makeup of your inner man or woman precisely in order that you may work on these and develop further. It is your psyche's way of helping to make you whole. That is why relationships are of such enormous importance in personal growth and development.
- Always watch any kind of "affect" (emotion, both negative and positive) … it gives strong clues to where you need to work on something (even if it proves the other person is a heel). But if you were "whole", your affect would not get involved. (See also my June 2007 Newsletter - The Mirror of Relationships).
- Analyze arguments, NOT from the point of view of how egotistical, horrible, jealous, or domineering, etc. your partner is, but from the point of view of what the argument is telling you about YOURSELF. The other may indeed be all those things, but it is much less important to dwell on their failings than on your own possibility for growth by observing your reactions to whatever is occurring.
- Use that knowledge to change, grow, and learn that you always have a choice in your reaction to any situation.
- Become very aware of yourself at ALL times…watch the times you would like to prevaricate, or at least, tell things in a way that is not 100% the real way, and try to discover why…are you afraid you will not be accepted or loved if you show your real self?
- Particularly watch those relationships that have an imbalance of power … if you are top dog … ask yourself what you get out of it … if you are on the bottom ... why you are willing to be there … the answer to all of this serves your growth … remember, it takes two to tango!
- Develop a sense of self by filling your own needs rather than by trying to fill them through others. Love yourself first!
- Observe yourself in a love relationship on the basis of this article.