Impediments to Soul-Making

Impediments to Soul-Making

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El Abrazo de la Noche, by Daniel Valcarce

The soul’s tendency to pathologize, to fall apart, is absolutely crucial to soul-making. In our culture, with its positive thinking, extreme fitness advocates, diet fads, and pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstrap philosophy, you would think we were the healthiest and most blessed people in the world. But it’s just the opposite. We fall apart just like every other human being. Our culture views pathology as evil in some sense, to be shunned. Let’s be truthful, however. Pathologizing is as much a part of our lives as waking and sleeping. We see ourselves as failures if we fall into calamity of some sort, be it ill health, financial ruin, or a bout of depression. In reality, pathologizing occurs in all of our lives at one time or another.

In depth psychology, much wisdom is gained from the study of pathologizing. Psychologist Erik Erikson once wrote, “Pathography remains the traditional source of psychoanalytic insight” (Identity and the Life Cycle, p. 122).  James Hillman said, “The insights of depth psychology derive from souls in extremis, the sick, suffering, abnormal, and fantastic conditions of psyche” (Revisioning Psychology, p. 55). We all experience these extreme states; it is part of the human condition.

Hillman defines pathologizing as

…the psyche’s autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective ( ibid. p. 57).

Hillman’s idea is that we begin to “see through” our suffering to what it is trying to say about the soul through the pathological event, and what the soul itself is saying. This is a phenomenological approach, taking the image of the pathological event as it appears, and allowing it to bring forth what is behind the event. Archetypal psychology looks for a god behind the pathology, an autonomous being of the psyche that demands to be recognized.

Since the inception of modern psychology, there have been roadblocks thrown in the way of allowing pathological images to speak. These are impediments to the soul-making process. The following ideas, which I borrow from Hillman’s book, Revisioning Psychology, form impediments that stand in the way of the crucial necessity of the soul’s pathologizing nature.

The first such idea Hillman deals with is Nominalism, or as he calls it, “nominalistic denial” (p. 58). In the early days of modern psychology, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was stylish to attempt to classify psychological disorders in a rational and orderly manner. This is when many of the familiar psychological terms were coined, such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, claustrophobia, psychopathology, etc. In an attempt to classify illnesses in an objective, rational manner, the subjective person who suffered was ignored. Such an approach may work for the objects of scientific study, but the study of the soul is an entirely different thing. Hillman writes,

Labels like “psychopath” or “manic-depressive,” while bringing intellectual clarity also seal off in closed jars the content of what is named, and the person so named is relegated to a shelf marked “abnormal psychology” (ibid. p. 61).

The second “style of denial” Hillman deals with is that of nihilism. The point here is that, in the “language game called psychopathology,” diagnoses of abnormal psychology, since they now consist of empty, meaningless words, are simply thrown out. “There are no neuroses, only cases;  no cases, only persons in situations…” (ibid. p. 62). Hillman points the finger at existentialism, and, in particular, at philosopher, Karl Jaspers. Jaspers’ critique of psychopathology resulted in the rejection of it as a viable field by many of his followers because they didn’t take the time to “sort it through.”  Hillman names Michel Foucault and Ronald Laing as two thinkers who completely deny there is any value at all in psychopathology. They would even do away with psychiatry altogether.

The third impediment to soul-making is the idea of transcendence. Here, Hillman directs his critique at humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology idealizes man, “sweeping his pathologies under the carpet” (ibid. p. 64).

Unlike the terms of professional psychopathology, these resonate with a positive glow: health, hope, courage, love, maturity, warmth, wholeness; it speaks of the upward-growing forces of human nature which appear in tenderness and openness and sharing and which yield creativity, joy, meaningful relationships, play, and peaks. We find the same one-sidedness in its goals, such as freedom, faith, fairness, responsibility, commitment. Besides the fact that its notion of growth is simplistic, of nature romantic, and love, innocent–for it presents growth without decay, nature without catastrophes or inert stupidity, and love without possession–besides all this, its idea of the psyche is naive if not delusional” (ibid. p. 65).

Hillman further criticizes humanistic psychology for being “shadowless, a psychology without depth, whose deep words remain shallow because transcendence is its aim” (ibid.). Hillman has the psychology of Abraham Maslow, et al. in mind here.

Attention is also turned to the transcendent teachings of the East, that have so pervaded our culture since the 1960’s. Eastern teachings, many times, view human pathologizing as “evidence of the lower, unactualized rungs of the ladder. Meditate, contemplate, exercise through them and away from them, but do not dwell there for insight” (ibid. p. 66). This attitude says that

Psychopathology in and for itself is not an authentic expression of the soul’s divinity. Divinity is up at the peaks, not in the swamps of our funk, not in the sludge of depression and anxiety…” (ibid.).

Hillman admits that his take on Eastern teachings derives from the manner in which they are taught by Westerners. In their native soil, they are “rooted in the thick yellow loam of richly pathologized imagery–demons, monsters, grotesque Goddesses, tortures, and obsenities” (ibid. p. 67). He says,

The archetypal content of Eastern doctrines as experienced through the archetypal structures of the Western psyche becomes a major and systematic denial of pathologizing (ibid.).

The soul’s pathologizing is a natural occurrence. To deny it, is to deny soul.

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5 thoughts on “Impediments to Soul-Making

  1. I loved this post – it was such a refreshing reminder of the value in suffering – in going into and being with the dark, even though it can be very challenging and painful. OUr roots need to go into the mud and work there. That is where the transformation happens, Thank you – I am enjoying your blog!

    Best,

    Margaret

  2. Finally, someone is addressing the pathology of psychology. Let’s do keep in touch zetiticus as I’m building work around structured belief systems and mythology’s influence on culture change.

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