Is Trauma the Mother of Growth?
Mark Hunziker, July 9, 2014
Each of the articles in this issue point to some of the typological effects of conflict and struggle. Jeffrey Lauterbach shows us how exclusion from the wealthy culture that surrounded golf in his day seems to have had a formative influence on amateur golfer, Francis Ouimet, and how the intense pressure of a match with the golf icons of the era demanded further development. And Diane Goodman observes how, when divorce occurs, it pushes partners to use their less-preferred functions. Are such conflicts required for us to grow psychologically?
Without necessity nothing budges, the human personality least of all. It is tremendously conservative, not to say torpid. Only acute necessity is able to rouse it. The developing personality obeys no caprice, no command, no insight, only brute necessity; it needs the motivation force of inner and outer fatalities. (CW 17, ¶ 293)
It certainly seems, anecdotally, like many people grow from experiencing and surviving painful challenges—usually in childhood but often at midlife as well. Typologically, they’ve been ‘forced’ to become relatively advanced in the integrating of less-preferred function-attitudes and shedding the archetypal energies that carry them when unconscious. But does it have to be this way? All of us want our children to grow to be self-aware and highly individuated adults, yet we do everything in our power to shield them from trauma. And certainly not every highly-evolved, self-aware person has led a traumatic life.
Are “outer fatalities” a requisite for growth? And what does Jung mean by “inner fatalities?” Are these too necessarily traumatic and potentially catastrophic? If not, what gentler and more positive ways of facilitating development of personality exist? What has been your experience?
Amedeo Modigliani, “The Young Apprentice” (1918-1919). Courtesy: Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris.
I think the main way a benefit to society is possible is just keeping the individual psychologically healthy, and not “falling into” the unconscious so to speak. As long as their conscious standpoint is not exaggerated to the point where an excess of repressed energy accumulates in the unconscious, there’s not any reason an eruption needs to happen.
I think in some sense it is tautology that “growth” can be seen as involving a “conflict” but is it always painful for the individual in question? I think that is a separate story and really depends on our attitude towards things. I definitely think many examples abound of those who face significant *challenges* and grow in the sense of expanding their personality to include what was formerly foreign, but without necessarily feeling this process to be disagreeable.
Still others welcome such a thing as if life is nothing without it – the so-called lovers of trauma.
So it’s safe to say that not just the existence of opposites is relevant to this story, but also one’s perception of the existence of opposites.
Jung/von Franz seemed to suggest that doing one’s inner work is a big deal in terms of ensuring the world at large is harmed less based on one’s projections, and so forth, which sounds reasonable to me.
Society is also a certain macro-consciousness, really, built out of many individuals, combining in complex ways, and it too has a shadow, an unconscious, and is subject to the collective unconscious’ movements so to speak, so presumably there’s some truth, despite the whole not being exactly the sum of the parts necessarily, to there being a big residual benefit if every individual works on his/her own set of opposites.
An interesting idea suggests itself here perhaps, and is a little dark a view: how can it be that individuals can be full of opposites plaguing them, and eating them away, while society somehow does not feel the effect? Because society depends on a cancellation effect: as long as the tumultous energy produced by one individual cancels that of another, society appears unaffected. We see society cave in when this no longer happens – sometimes arguably when individuals are all in sync, and throw their projections on another part of the world. But in a micro sense, this is happening on the individual level at all times.
The ego is a strange thing though, so to the extent the individual identifies entirely with her societal position, as many seem to border, the opposites may be ignored as long as this cancellation effect continues to preserve the illusion of one fulfilling one’s role and society going on functioning properly.
Dan’s point, challenging the necessity and benefits of psychological development, raises an important distinction. As I understand it, Jung was convinced that development—“individuation”—is indeed a psychological imperative for every individual. But this does not necessarily mean that it is advantageous for society. In fact, in the “Schiller’s Ideas” chapter of Psychological Types, he argues that these two interests are intrinsically in opposition—that the interests of the human community are best served by individuals who focus exclusively on what they naturally do best (by exclusively developing and using the strengths of their superior function), even though individually we are each better off with a more fully developed and balanced personality.
This perspective seems right to me, insofar as “society” here means the status quo cultural paradigm and its institutional framework. Whether or not a lack of psychological development in individuals would serve the long-term interests of ‘humanity’ is a whole ‘nother question—one which we don’t (and never will) have a neutral standpoint from which to objectively answer. Who can say, for example, whether the products of Einstein’s life will ultimately have been a benefit or detriment to our species?
I believe trauma, or at least conflict is necessary for growth, but that doesn’t mean that growth is necessary. Consider Albert Einstein, most likely an INTP. He apparently had little trauma, and little typological growth throughout his life, but neither mattered. He had a perfect life, for him as an INTP (no personal obligation and free reign to think and theorize with little accountability), and contributed to the greater collective. He grew as much as he needed – to become a physicist. Who cares that he never got good at the violin?
I think the best childrearing should fully recognize their type and support that development. Mainly the dominant functions, and of course a necessary amount of auxiliary. This is easy because kids will develop regardless. However we all know how frequently parents (SJ type in particular) try to mold their kids into their own image, often with disastrous results. NT’s are the most likely to take the path of developing them as individuals.
But developing young personalities is easy if you have the keys, i.e. know who they are. For an INTP, give them lots of room and a good computer. For ESFP’s, give them plenty of hands on and social activities. And with both, require them to learn how to function in the world as necessary. For both of these that means, for example, learning how to do their homework on time (and well, to do it), because neither cares. The INTP is against the Te system, and the ESFP would rather have fun and has trouble focusing on a non sensory activity.
I should like to add credit to John Beebe’s 8 Function Model for making the bridge between type and archetype. Which must include the shadow/Trickster function, and how necessary it is for seeing through many kinds of trauma coming from a crisis of the third function where Puer/Puella archetypes ‘live’. Type and archetype is but one of many ways of working with and untying the ‘Gorgon knots’ of trauma.
Trauma’s reach is outside of type, but type and archetype are instrumental in how we each process traumas great and small. One woman’s trauma is another’s hiccup. FI/Hero/Heroine superior functioning people tend to hold on to the past in great detail due to their ability to “track power” in others and to correspondingly find themselves lacking. Past events have a chain reaction as if designed by forces outside of them to make them feel small and insignificant. In this schema there is often a third function crisis with an over-identification of Puer/Puella (eternal boy/girl) features, what Jung refers to as “the task the patient will not do” – reach for maturity.