Trauma and Splitting: the Work of Individuation

We’ve all suffered what I think of as wounds of overwhelm. It’s easy to understand this in reflecting on what it’s like for infants and toddlers working so hard to find their own legs, so to speak. Jung and others have noted psyche utilizes dissociation as a defense against more serious psychological damage, and the good news is we are also wired to heal from problems secondary to the splitting solution, as well as the original trauma(s) itself.

Check out this observation from Donald Sandner and John Beebe: “Jung contended that neurosis sprang from the tendency of the psyche to dissociate or split in the face of intolerable suffering. … Such splitting ‘ultimately derives from the apparent impossibility of affirming the whole of one’s nature’ (Jung 1934, p. 98), and gives rise to the whole range of dissociations and conflicts characteristic of feeling toned complexes. This splitting is a normal part of life. Initial wholeness is meant to be broken, and it becomes pathological, or diagnosable as illness, only when the splitting off of complexes becomes too wide and deep and the conflict too intense. Then the painful symptoms may lead to the conflicts of neurosis or to the shattered ego of psychosis. The way back, the restoration – perhaps always partial – is the work of individuation.  …” (see Source: Sandner/Beebe on Dominant Harshness and Vulnerable Woundedness Complex Split page)

Donald Kalsched’s formulation of Psyche’s Self Care System takes this to another level in pointing out the role and workings of the archetypal protector complex. This complex, personified, is the voice of “never again” as in never again will we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to insult and injury.

Back to “This splitting is a normal part of life. Initial wholeness is meant to be broken, and it becomes pathological, or diagnosable as illness, only when the splitting off of complexes becomes too wide and deep and the conflict too intense.” It is helpful to recognize psyche has been dealing with the totality of human experience from the beginning. Through what Jung designated the collective unconscious, we have incredible resources available via the self care system. These resources both allow the initial split to occur, in the service of survival, and then guide us in healing of this same split. In recognizing the fact of the trauma, we can turn our attentions towards creating the conditions which support accessing these resources in re-remembering the fact of the symbolic dismemberment. In truth, we have already suffered it through at the time of the wounding.

Can we bare to embrace the lost scenes and witness them with all the attendant joy and sorrow? Joy related to walls of defenses coming down, allowing direct access to huge split off energies, and sorrow as the direct experience of the original scenes, which, by virtue of having necessitated the split in the first place, are understandably painful. In my experience, however painful the emotional facts are, the joy of release aspect as if trumps the reality of the suffering; the home coming/coming home of the lost soul essence is experienced as a most important/valuable recovery of self.

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