Ego-Self Axis Separation-Reunion and Trauma

Edward Edinger has summarized Jung’s formulation as follows:

“The Self is the ordering and unifying center of the total psyche (conscious and unconscious) just as the ego is the center of the conscious personality.

The current working formula … is first half of life: ego-Self separation, second half of life: ego-Self reunion.

The process of alternation between ego-Self union and ego-Self separation seems to occur repeatedly throughout the life of the individual both in childhood and maturity. Indeed this cyclic (or better, spiral) formula seems to express the basic process of psychological development from birth to death.” (Edinger, Edward, Ego and Archetype, pp. 3-5.)

Trauma experiences, here represented by the experiential state image, overwhelm the ego. It is as if the traumatic injuries are 220 plus voltage, and the first half of life ego is only wired for 110 volts. The ego symbolically gets shocked/knocked out of the boat, and drowns. During this unconscious-to-ego phase of the episode, something of the experience comes in, lodges in the body, in total psyche, now separate from ego consciousness. Back to the container problem: how can the 110 wired ego relate to the 220 plus voltage trauma episode? How might we understand the impact and long term effect on individual development? From the psyche perspective, Donald Sandner observed:

“Death and rebirth are the mythological symbol for a psychological event: loss of conscious control, and submission to an influx of symbolic material from the unconscious. Personality growth is usually thought of as cumulative, a gradual expansion through time as ego consciousness gains experience and wisdom. But often it turns out to be only a pursuit of illusory ideals. Then there is cessation of growth, stultifying depression, or, more ominously, severe illness. At that point no halfway measures will do; a thoroughgoing transformation is necessary for the individual’s survival. Like the sun, the ego must prepare itself for a plunge into the darkness of the unconscious underworld, there to experience rejuvenation.” (Sandner, D., Navaho Symbols of Healing: A Jungian Exploration of Ritual, Image, and Medicine, 1979)

It seems the ego owes its recovery/resuscitation to psyche’s capacity to split off unbearable trauma. (see “Working with Trauma in Analysis,” by Donald E. Kalsched, in Jungian Psychoanalysis: Working In The Spirit of C.G. Jung, edited by Murray Stein, and the King Within, by Robert Moore and Doug Gillette.)

Of note, the scenes, affects, and energies of repressed traumas are not diminished by time/space. (see Jung on Abreaction). While the ego is now protected from direct awareness of the intensity of the core emotional impact of the trauma, these un-integrated trauma complexes contribute to chronic core over-stimulation issues and generate sedation and exhaustion strategies. They become psychological drivers of compulsive behavior and addictions.

In the service of developing ego strength and adaptation to life demands, the first half of life dynamics favor repression of emotionally overwhelming experiences. This condition reflects Edinger’s Ego-Self Axis Separation state.

In the mid-life passage, a developmental imperative initiates a shift in the dynamics, now in the service of re-membering that which was dismembering at the time of the original wounding. This corresponds to Edinger’s Ego-Self Reunion.

In the service of recovering wholeness, the ego is challenged to open to the return of the repressed. In view of the ego’s 110 voltage wiring, and the 220 plus capacity of deeper consciousness, opening to the Self is experienced as death to the ego. (see Edinger on Mortificatio post below, and Stein and Stein on Midlife, Psychotherapy, and Initiation, in Betwixt and Between.)

18 Comments on “Ego-Self Axis Separation-Reunion and Trauma”

  1. Heidi Wolfson Says:

    I am interested in utilizing the above image in my dissertation. Are you the copyright holder? If so, may I please have your permission to use it? If not, would you be so kind as to direct me to the rightful owner? Thanks in advance.
    Heidi Wolfson

    • This is my image and you have my permission and hearty support for weaving it into your dissertation. I am curious about your work and the interface. For me, Edinger’s conceptualization of the ego-Self axis offers so much support for embracing all of the mid-life passage work. Say more about your focus?

  2. Thank you for your clarity and simplicity. I am a layman and I get it!

    • Great to hear that Fred – and – congrats on your work and website – looks very intriguing and complimentary to my calling for the “Dance with the Couple Complex.”

  3. […] want to begin an exploration of the idea the magnitude of the midlife shift in dynamics from ego-Self axis separation to ego-Self axis reunion represents a metamorphic level transformation. For ego consciousness, encounters with the Self are […]

  4. […] the conceptualization of the ego-Self axis, such wounds symbolically knock the 110 voltage wired ego out of the boat of consciousness, and […]

  5. […] For me the quote captures the serf’s unconsciousness of his true relationship with the master (ego in relationship to Self). At the time of the dream, it remained in large part an unsolved mystery. Now, in contemplating […]

  6. I first ventured on what I thought was an original anthropological insight into the universiality of religiosity which proposed an original oneness experience prenatally that after identification with being a separate individual (which begins around 1 years old) all efforts, cultural initiation rites of passage, joining of clubs, faith communities, marriage etc were attempts to regain that original blissful state of experiential oneness or union . Then a friend said “Wow! This sounds like Carl Jung!” So I explored Jung and Edinger and found compadres….this whole understanding is incredibly satisfying and I so encourage you all to continue on this journey and search

    • I say yes, Paul, to you and our mutual discovery process. And I am thinking “original” is the only we each get it. That being said, it is wonderful these days to have these tools to help in our explorations. While we have the evolutionary forces of the eons behind us, it isn’t like we pop out fully evolved!

  7. So true Chuck…I was especially fascinated by the vacillation idea where the ego-self separates and rejoins. I found it fit nicely into my insight…each new personal and culturally mandated type of union (like at a bar-mitzvah when a boy enters manhood in a faith community, or like in Campbells analogy to the the boys who must fight and defeat the fake gods to become a warrior, or even marriage) brings a heightened sense of completeness and wholeness (at least for a time)….what is sad is that in western caucasoid culture we are stripping the people of these connections to ritual re-union and myth and I believe we are seeing this in the increase in anxiety. depression, bi-polarity and so on,,,,anyway thanks for the blog, and for now I am going to read what some others have gotten from it…

  8. […] conditions which allow us to access core emotional wounds, so that we may heal. For me, this is an ego-Self reunion state […]

  9. […] the role of Self without any explicit cross referencing to Jung’s original work with Self, ie: ego-Self axis. I find this fascinating and exciting, in that it suggests to me an intersection of depth […]

  10. […] concept of the ego-Self Axis is crucial to understanding the mid-life transition as an initiatory process. As Stein and Stein […]

  11. Laura Lewis-Barr Says:

    Thank you for this. I’m looking to bring Edinger’s work to my Quaker community. I also love the work of Von Franz and have been inspired to create stop motion films on Jungian themes.

    • chuck bender Says:

      Thanks for engaging with me. And yes, the Ego-Self Axis formulation is so very helpful in getting what is really so difficult about the mid-life and second half of life work. And, I am very interested in your work including the stop motion films projects! So much creativity!

  12. […] so well. For me, these dreams helped bring me into a more conscious relationship with the Self (see Edinger on the ego-Self axis). In recognition of the Jung’s spirited and courageous engagement with the unconscious […]

  13. John McConville Says:

    I just came upon your blog entry, Ego-Self Axis separation-reunion and trauma. I am doing a dissertation on contemplatives and aging.
    I would like to be able to use this information in my dissertation and would like to get your permission, if you are willing.

    • chuck bender Says:

      Sounds like a wonderful dissertation John! I am very happy you might be able to use that entry. It does seem the Ego-Self Axis concept is so helpful in understanding our core trajectory. Best to you in your work.

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