General Musings

Authenticity and a Theory of Love: Wisdom Is A Process of Mind

Wisdom is synonymous with self-awareness, a state of mind where one is conscious and accountable for their behaviour and who epitomises an authentic person with good sense and judgement. It is clear that our environment impacts on how we develop perceptions of ourselves as individuals living in a world external to our subjective experiences, thus it is not only biological or genetic factors that play a role in our understanding, but social interaction, family and the culture we are a part of amalgam to potentially disturb our genuine capacity to perceive things as they are. While consciousness is a state of mind where an individual is receptive to external properties, the fact is our knowledge of existence and responsiveness to our surroundings is dependent on how we interpret experiences. Our mental state enables us to interpret experience from a first-person point of view and I have long questioned the authenticity of these explanations. I favour the believe that a combination of mind and brain activity together enables our conscious mental state – both physical and non-physical – that is self-awareness is a product of our experiences over time and constructed into a narrative through memory, and our brain a physical tool to conceptualise external experience along with epistemological influences, all pooled into a totality where we become conscious of ourselves. There may be some with biological, genetic or physical dysfunctions that impair the cognitive capacity to become self-aware of our own personhood, including intellectual disabilities or brain damage, but there are also those who experience trauma or difficulties either during their developmental stages in childhood or due to their environmental or social influences that challenge an adequate capacity to translate experiences accurately. Their behaviour and responsiveness exemplifies this failure, particularly with the choices that they make and how they approach relationships with others.

Freud – notwithstanding some of his ideas that I consider objectionable – nevertheless provided a metaphorical clue as to the workings of the psyche that enabled an enhanced appreciation of the network of memories and emotions. This network is layered in a triptych of three areas of the mind, namely the Ego or our individual experience of the external world, the Id or our instinctual drives and the Superego or our conscience and moral ideals.[1] The ego acts or applies behaviour to the external world, the superego functions to evaluate those actions and inhibits together with the ego the instinctual responses with moral and behavioural injunctions. The Id is representative of basic drives that motivate function and being intense seeks an immediacy to satisfy tensions as instinctual drives do and therefore being automaton conflicts with the Ego and the Superego as they prevent the fulfilment of these impulsive drives. Management of these instinctual drives that almost coerces immediate relief can lead one to hallucinate in order to fulfil, to sublimate so that the drives are socially acceptable, or repress to inhibit the drives entirely so as to manage the spontaneity of the overwhelming sensations. Whilst we can easily think of sexual drives, there are other survival instincts that displace these tensions using defence mechanisms so as to avoid feelings of anxiety. If we experience a trauma-related incident such as a car accident, our instinctual drives immediately repress the shock and distress as it seeks to circumvent the anxiety and tension quickly. This repression is due to an additional three layers of mind, namely the conscious, the preconscious or subconscious, and you have the unconscious. The Id is entirely unconscious as it is purely instinctual whereas the ego is conscious since it is mostly about our interaction with the external world, however it is also partly subconscious since, as mentioned above our experiences or memories with the external world can be repressed and partly unconscious as we could be completely unaware that we have even repressed these experiences or of even having them. The superego is also categorised under all three levels of consciousness and communication between the three consists of conflicting forces all trying to manage one another. This is where we develop mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, neurosis and other emotional and behavioural problems.

It is through the identification of the Id’ defence mechanisms that will enable causal reflection of the effect it is having on our behaviour, particularly repressed memories or inhibited drives that remain at subconscious level and ultimately impact on our emotional well-being. Reflection of the reasons why some experiences become repressed through an awareness of our self-defence mechanisms requires a combination of factors including intellectual – since language and our understanding of the world enables us to articulate experiences – as well as biological or physical [including genetic]; philosophical insight, or the superego being a repository of moral demands, is especially important and why I consider philosophy a language. Moral awareness and our freedom to understand why we may fear or adhere to particular moral points of view is an essential factor to explain why we may repress or inhibit thoughts and experiences.

psyche

The Triune Brain Model also involves three areas of the brain that attempts to explicate similar behavioural processes. This evolutionary model consists of the Reptilian or the part of the brain that is instinctual, automatic and responsible for survival instincts, Mammalian that expresses emotions and sensory perceptions, and finally the Neommalian is the thinking brain that involves cognitive processing and informative perspectives.[2] These explain the frontal lobe system [thinking brain], the limbic system [feeling brain] and the autonomic nervous system [sensory brain] or the Triune Brain.[3] In a trauma-related situation, the autonomic nervous system shuts down other mental processes as the brain attempts to survive until the threat ceases, where it thus restores the other two processes to enable the individual to deal with the shock afterwards. However, sometimes this shift or return does not adequately occur, holding the survivor in continuous anxiety as they avoid the sensory and emotional feelings of the experience and propel confusing and intrusive thoughts.

Physical reactions and how the body can convey emotional communication can be see by those who experience PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. With stress hormones including glucocorticoid continuously increased following the trauma-related incident along with the amygdala – located as part of the limbic system – that contributes to emotional behaviour and identifies threats and risks continues to be activated long after the shock or distress of the trauma. In addition to this, the hippocampus is effected by the constant elevation of glucocorticoid and the interruption results in the exasperation of its function, which is the area of the brain that forms new memories into a past-tense experience and therefore the individual is unable to correctly consolidate the experience. The result is a person increasingly wound-up and feeling threatened that they become paranoid, anxious and in a state of constant panic with intrusive thoughts and memories amplified. The survivor thus attempts to manage the confusing sensations that the avoid reminders relating to the incident that they lose their concentration, unexpectedly become emotional and sad, and have trouble sleeping, exposing how physical reactions effect the brain and body becomes representative of these reactions. When one thinks of depression or anxiety – the former alters the mood to one feeling low and sad whilst the latter is tense and restless – notwithstanding the chemical imbalances, exhibits the same physical reactions related closely to past memories and emotions. All of them are recoverable mostly through communication or psychotherapeutic treatments that expose how conscious awareness of the memories that are impacting on the brain and the body can result in the management of the emotional and physical reactions that are attempting to convey the problem that language or semantics is unable to articulate. It is not simply just chemical imbalances of the brain but rather the imbalance itself is directly a result of the conflict between our external experiences and inability to effectively make synaptic connections fused with our failure to put the experience into words.

It is the reason why communication is the key to stimulate the eventual clarity of these experiences and why our bodies, dreams and our emotions or moods – whilst appearing to impair or disrupt our functioning – are essentially indicators that unidentified experiences are repeatedly attempting to communicate an error through the rigidity of our embedded self-defence mechanisms. The awareness of these barriers enables the process to function with more clarity, that our consciousness of the defence-mechanisms inhibit the experience to transform into ‘past-tense’ enable the brain modality to restore or re-frame the trauma and enable a proper consolidation between mind and brain. To put it simply, it is to become honest to oneself about the trauma and while preventing self-defence mechanisms from influencing and suggesting alternatives to acknowledge the experience or even the inadequacy of the mind to articulate how the experience affected them, one is able to consciously command the ebb and flow of this natural process. Happiness thus becomes continuously restorative, where access to ‘past’ memories awakens the individual to the ‘present’ and they are no longer caught in a continuous loop where they confuse past with present.

A hidden matrix of experiences is hidden within the psyche, the subconscious becoming a repository for memories that are stored when one is incapable of dealing with or understanding the experience [age or trauma-related] until the opportunity to reactivate these memories by raising it to a level of consciousness, enabling the individual to articulate how these experiences may have impacted them. Signals that there is an emotional imbalance needn’t be expressed linguistically, but the body and physical reactions such as sleeplessness, excessive fear, a very low mood, panic etc &c., all expose that the mind is attempting to talk and convey the subconscious issues that may have been repressed through primitive self-defence mechanisms. The theoretical models of the psyche – such as Freud’ structural model or the Triune Brain model – exemplify an effective neuroanatomical explanation of our mental peculiarities that enhances our understanding of this subjective repository, in turn enabling a better management of our emotions and past memories. In addition to these triptych models, our own control of these experiences vis-à-vis the brain can render us capable of appreciating and applying our day-to-day actions correctly. This includes our relationships.

“Immature love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love follows the principle: ‘I am loved because I love.’ Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’” What you love in the person is represented by who they are: to say “I love through you the world and back into myself.” 

It is why human intimacy and relationships play a defining role in our existential well being since how we approach relationships with others is representative of the clarity and authenticity of our emotions and ultimately our frame of mind. Erich Fromm stated that our impediment is despair and as a consequence the individual forms symbiotic attachments with others to treat the feelings of despair. This despair is the awareness of our sense of isolation and separateness from the world around us, something we seek to avoid by forming false connections. “Immature love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love follows the principle: ‘I am loved because I love.’ Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’”[4] What you love in the person is represented by who they are; to say ‘I love through you the world and back into myself.’ Immature love is the same with New Age theories of well-being that attempt to treat the emotional discomfort and distress at surface level through incorrect mindfulness teachings that merely manage the feelings rather than getting to the core of the issue. For Fromm, mature love is the union between two people who have both individually achieved an understanding of this despair by overcoming the isolation and separateness to the world around them through love; they no longer expect love but have learnt to give love and not simply to one object but to all. Achieving this maturity, the two individuals together preserve this integrity by decidedly supporting and retaining both their individuality with mutual affection. The triangular theory of love[5] functions in a similar manner, where mature love is correctly applied only when three forms of love are applied together at the same time; passion or our instinctual, sexual drives is amalgamated with intimacy or feelings of closeness and togetherness with another person, along with our commitment, the latter moral in nature. A mature form of love must have all three. Otherwise, the form of love that has just commitment but does not have intimacy or passion is considered ‘empty’ while ‘companionate’ contains both intimacy and commitment, but has no passion.

Love is metaphorically exemplified Biblically and while the following quote from Jung is certainly true: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making darkness conscious,”[6] the path towards building the confidence to face the darkness [the darkness being repressed memories] needs to be guided correctly. That is, the path towards the transcendence to conscious self-awareness requires an understanding of morality [the superego’ moral intensity initiates the fear that has a profound impact on our behaviour] and therefore attempting to ascertain why we have fears and doubts first requires an understanding of our moral position. When one thinks of the biblical notion “You must be born again”[7] it is metaphorical of having to change the process of how we think; to develop a clean slate by transcending all that we have been taught of and learnt of morality, to think rationally and philosophically as to the correct method of moral consciousness. To no longer have a conception and apply moral acts only through imposed or external properties directed outwards to within, but to transcend any countervailing factors and use the mind as an apparatus to draw rational inferences both with past and present experiences and apply a moral system from within outwards. It is a system or a process of thinking through self-awareness or to put it simply, it is wisdom. The bible contains the parables and moral substance that has simplified an understanding of love and moral well being by leading a person to the ‘short and narrow’ path towards this transcendence to individual, moral consciousness.

As God is infinite, to love God is to love all and whilst we clearly are incapable of grasping God or the infinite, it is symbolic that all things are interconnected. Our existence is representative of God’s grace, thus our capacity to give unconditional love or to give mature love. Righteousness, such as punishment of wrong, is not substantiated through an absence of love, on the contrary justice and human rights is an extension of – deliberately and intelligently – or the very application of love. Since I believe love to be moral consciousness, the application of moral consciousness to the external world of an autonomous moral agent is ethics [the act of righteousness]. As this act of giving love is unconditional, it is eternal in its permanence but only achievable when consciousness itself is fundamentally free from irrational interferences that possess an individual in a number of ways including external institutions to our very own subjective emotions that all crucially impact on our behaviour and opinions. This moral agent is a rational agent and features prerogatives and characteristics that are analogous to the attributes associated with God, perfect in nature and free from evil, avoiding the collision of moral judgements with irrational objectives. This freedom from evil is an authenticity, whereby freedom being a voluntary conception of moral consciousness and acceptance of our own accountability that heightens consciousness over environmental influences and institutional clouts. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[8] The Holy Spirit is the authenticity, the very inspiration that enriches and enables us to comprehend and interpret our experiences that ultimately renders morality and love to become accessible. If we were to assume that our capacity to give authentic love is to love God – that is to love all – the following makes more sense: “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”[9] That authenticity – what is true, leads to the light – what is clear and known. Faith in God is a practical stimulus that manoeuvres and motivates moral thoughts toward an alignment of what is good and loving with our subjective thoughts and objective behaviour to and with the external world, where we become in control of our environment and our mind. It is a vigilance and accountability towards our behaviour and this authenticity enables genuine and eternal feelings of happiness. It becomes our capacity to give true love.

 

 

[1] See Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, Martino Publishing (2010)
[2] Pat Ogden, Kekuni Minton, Clare Pain, Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy, WW Norton and Company (2006) 5
[3] Susan Hart, Brain, Attachment, Personality: An Introduction to Neuroaffective Development, Karnac Books (2008) 12
[4] Irvin D. Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy, Basic Books (1980) 8 – see Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving.
[5] See Robert J. Sternberg, The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment, Basic Books (1988)
[6] Roger Brooke, Pathways Into the Jungian World: Phenomenology and Analytical Psychology, Psychology Press (2000) 181
[7] John 3:1-21
[8] John 3:8
[9] John 3:21

 

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