From Single Story to Multiple Realities

A Nigerian writer and speaker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, gave a TED talk called The Danger of a Single Story. Ms. Adichie grew up reading English stories about blonde, blue-eyed children who ate apples, discussed the weather, and played in the snow. In Nigeria, people ate mangos, no one discussed weather that varied little, and there was no snow. Ms. Adichie didn’t know people like her existed in books, so until she discovered African literature, she had only a single story about stories.

Later in life, Ms. Adichie’s college roommate in America was curious about her “tribal music” (a Mariah Carey tape) and wondered how she had learned to speak such good English (the official language of Nigeria). Ms. Adichie, in turn, came to believe Mexicans were the poor immigrants she read about in the U.S. press. Both she and her roommate had been caught in a single story about a people.

I have, perhaps like many of you, been caught this past year in a single story about Donald Trump and his inconceivable rise to the presidency. This story has made me grieve and fear for America…and then slowly realize there must be more to the Trump story than the unmitigated disaster I had constructed.

What I discovered has little to do with my opinion about Donald Trump. I cannot envision softening my opposition to pretty much everything he is and stands for. I sought instead to burrow around and behind the “Donald” story: what did some people who voted for him feel and think? I didn’t have to go very far.

My sister-in-law who lives in the South and is gay, voted for Donald Trump! She felt government had stagnated and he would get things done. Even if, she said, his administration did away with the Marriage Equality Act, of which she and her partner have been beneficiaries, there was promise of an overall better, more effective government. She was willing to forgo personal interest for what she hoped would be a greater good.

Our son voiced his opposition to Hillary Clinton. Trump had “called her out” on her thirty years of public service: she had not been the effective voice for change in the past she now claimed she would be as president. Why had she pandered to Goldman-Sachs with a series of very profitable speeches she refused to make public? Why hadn’t she listened to State Department counsel against her use of a private email server? We should, he thought, clean house and try a new approach: Trump.

One man was almost awe-struck by the “brilliant campaign” Trump conducted, implying the capability of effecting needed changes in Washington. Another said that despite Mr. Trump’s tendency to impulsivity, presidential decorum was no guarantee of wise governance. He cited Clinton era legislation that resulted in incarcerating huge numbers of African American men and George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

My husband, an avid historian who for the first time since reaching voting age did not cast a vote for president, holds out hope for an overthrow of a Washington culture dominated by lobbyists working for special interests. (According to Wikipedia, the number of working lobbyists is estimated at close to 100,000; the industry brings in $9 billion annually.)

The stories I heard are not venerations of Donald Trump. They are stories of concern and care for our country. They express ideals that transcend personal interest and ego—unlike some of the public service they find so disheartening. They hope Mr. Trump will serve as a catalyst for change. I expected to tolerate these stories. I did not expect to be touched by the paradox of multiple realities and shared human values.

I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. Psychoanalytic clients, after all, arrive in our consulting rooms with loss, confusion, and wounding, sometimes hardly daring to hope against hope that psychotherapy will help. Jung says:

…the patient who comes to us has a story that is not told, and which

as a rule no one knows of. To my mind therapy only really begins

after the investigation of the wholly personal story. It is the patient’s

secret, the rock against which he has been shattered.*

We help our clients tell their secret stories and create new ones. Now we are called to live into a new story about shaping our nation. Let’s take our eyes off Mr. Trump, if we can. Donald Trump is not a single story or even the story.

Let’s attend to stories about a country where people engage in matters that matter. They bring their daughters home from college to join the Women’s March in Washington, send their housekeeper’s daughter to camp, organize an online music event to benefit an environmental defense fund, open a synagogue to the homeless at night, and use vacation time to work for Habitat for Humanity.

There are multitudes of stories, and as Ms. Adiche points out, the stories that get told and who tells them shows where the power lies. I think it lies with us. Each of us has the power to forge a new human story.

*Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books, 1989, p. 117.

Deb Stewart is a Jungian Analyst in private practice in Brooklyn NY

dbrstewart@gmail.com

 

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Hillary and Donald, “Nasty Woman” and “Deplorable” Man: A Glimpse at the New Archetypal Couple

hillary-and-donald

What has Jung and Jungian thought got to do with it—do with helping us comprehend the post-value, post-truth universe that we now inhabit and the leaders, who have come forth to guide us through it?

By the time you are reading this, the people of the United States of American may have elected their new president. They will have chosen from the two candidates the one whom they hope might lower their anxiety, or at least not engender it soaring to the brink of breathless panic. I have seen more than one-person momentarily cease breathing, and sink into agony at the thought of the candidate winning the election that has not garnered their passionate embrace.

The American people have desperately embraced the convenient and comforting “truth” from one or the other candidate that helps them find some solace in the increasingly confusing universe where truth as inspiration can no longer be easily located. For most of us these two figures have become elevated to archetypal principles united in enmity, and in that sense have begun to redefine what it is to be “human.”

For those of us who can put our dreams into words, we know that each of the aspiring leaders has very little chance of helping us create a society that considers the individual, allows personal self-worth, a deep respect for diversity, individuality and the possibility for a safe economic future for all. It is difficult to imagine that either one understands (or has the slightest interest in developing within themselves or in society) a space, for each individual that would support and respect the need for an internal life. An internal life by definition facilitates the reception of the creative unconscious, and the internal play of affects and ideas that generate and authorize private imaginations, creatively informing work and giving continuing resource to interpersonal relations.

Rather, Hillary and Trump are defined by what it takes to survive in an amoral universe. Trump has co-opted the lowest form of the masculine, and Hillary (G-d bless her heart) has co-opted a form of the feminine that we all hope can survive this wild and dangerous masculine energy. Stepping back from what I see as an archetypal possession, and gaining some much needed reflection and perspective, it is clear that for now, and in the near future, we will have to rely for hope and generativity on the simple humanity that remains in each of us.

It is clear why certain people would have more or less sympathy, or to be more precise, be drawn into an archetypal identification with one or the other of these personalities. Trump, as several have said before (Stewart, 2016), is identified with an archetype, and embodies the sheer force of power, a raw amoral life force, the pure force of survival. He embodies a godlike singular titanic energy that explodes truth as we know it, and creates his own truths over and over again. He cannot be seen as contradictory to the truth, as he is truth itself and is positioned to re-define it at a moment’s notice. As an energetic source, we experience him as emotionally and frightening near, riveting and engulfing. When he explodes which is his normal form of communication, his energy and his reality penetrate deeply. His explosions annihilate individuality, but in return for this sacrifice, identification with this world-creating force brings hope to some. Absorbing this godlike power, the recipients can imagine that they can also create new worlds and become gods to and for themselves.

Others are offended at the arrogance and destructiveness of such an identification. The latter group moves quickly to contain this contaminating, usurping energy. They rush to psychiatric diagnosis, to make mythological comparisons, or to make comparisons to historical personages who have who have also developed their personalities into cults. They believe the unleashing of this torrential impersonal titanic force on our country will result in an Armageddon at best! They are correctly terrified by its destructive, amoral and unconscious energy.

Hillary, on the other hand, presents as identified with persona, and as such she embodies a concretization of Jung’s concept, “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.” (Jung, v. 7, §305). There is little evidence of a creative, reflective and independent part of her personality involved in “sorting out and becoming aware” of her “masks and identifications” and differentiating “what is unduly pressured by conformity, from what is emergent and true… the work of individuation.” (The Book of Symbols, p.724 as quoted in Berry Tschinkel 2016, p.7)

She presents as a hard working public servant, serious, prepared, and a representative of diversity in all its many colors. The active, vital and creative connection she has with her persona, what motivates, and generates who she is can only be imagined, (perhaps intuited), but it cannot be experienced or accessed directly. With her humanity, and affects inaccessible, she has become the symbol of the pre-fabricated aspects of the ruling elite, untrustworthy, designed to deceive, and seduce others to believe in their ideas, all the while conspiring to obfuscate their true and uninspiring motivations. It is also easy for another large part of the population to appreciate her devotion, a life of hard work and experience and cling to her as the only possible hope for a kinder, gentler nation.

We have had many leaders that embody the possibility of society and a humanity in which the creation of an inner informing life is primary. Their presence and their words have always inspired each of us to remember the better parts of ourselves. They are inspiring because they demonstrate and illustrate by example how each of us needs to proceed to access the most sacred and informing parts of what it is to be truly human. The following quote from Nelson Mandela is a perfect example:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made mis-steps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Mandala reminds us that he both lives his life and has a profound reflective perspective on it. There is the persona that he presents to the world, it is a mask, but like the masks used in ancient ritual it is not used only to limit accessibility but also allows the sacred and transcendent meaning to emerge through it, and touch us all.

It is most important now to try to remember him and all of the people both famous, and not-at- all famous who embody this most human possibility. We are all in dire need to remember that this is still possible for us as we proceed forward in this most chaotic and dangerous of times.

Joan Golden-Alexis, Ph.D. is a Jungian psychoanalyst and psychologist in New York City. Her practice consists of individuals as well as couples. (drjgolden@earthlink.net)

References:

Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS), The Book of Symbols: Reflections On Archetypal Images, Taschen Books, 2010.

Berry Tschinkel, S., Colette, A beautiful dreamer, a transformative persona

ARAS Connections, 2016 Issue 3, (For a fuller discussion of persona as a dynamic component of the transformational process involved in individuation).

Mandala, N., Long Walk to Freedom; The Autobiography of Nelson Mandala, Little, Brown & Company in 1994.

Stewart, D, Icarus Aloft, PAJA Blog, June 7, 2016

Image Credit: Tina Fineberg/AP, US News February 26, 2016