For centuries Western societies have framed the cultural definition of mental health. The universal acceptance of English as the language of science has created the psychological norms as to what constitutes healthy individual adaptation. Further, the ability of United States and Western Europe to dominate, with English spoken as the key to business institutions, has enabled us westerners to dominate the economic zeitgeist or ‘spirit of the times’. This has amounted to a monopoly on universities’ curriculum, on collective banking and global markets 1 with a western bias.
But now that is breaking down, as the recent dominance of Western societies is being challenged the world over. We shall now evaluate on individual and collective levels what have been the prevailing sociological trends that have captivated both psychological man and his economics since the Enlightenment. And we shall point out how they are breaking down in the face of the equalizing effect of globalization and the universal internet. We are searching for an answer to the dilemma facing modern man and need to take him out of the illusion that the ego is the center of the psyche; the answer is more comprehensive than the narrow view propagated by academic psychology and economics.
When we survey Western models of treatment of the pathological psyche, the academic and treatment focus is concentrated on building ego strengths. The assertions and conclusions that are research based are backed up by empirical studies and a medical model of pathology. Accordingly, psychotherapies emphasize statistically relevant truths. They are called ‘evidenced
Most psychotherapies are designed to build a healthy ‘executive function’ of the ego through cognitive strategies.2 Healthy ego functioning is perceived by mental health professionals as the focus
of treatment. The norm is treating maladaptive behaviors that are the result of poor ego development, such as confused ego identity, low ego esteem and unhealthy defense mechanisms. This is appropriate for ego development in youth and early adulthood. But this treatment focus 5 on ego building falls short when it is applied to the whole life cycle and to other cultures.
The underlying assumption is fallacious, because the ego strength model that is important to survival at the youth and young adult stages of the life cycle in the US and Western Europe, is increasingly not applicable universally. As this model is applied to the life cycle, it is irrelevant in mid-life, retirement and old age development. How adaptive would it be for a 46 year old man to start an identity search for the first time? Although mid-life crises at this age create the desire to find a new identity, isn’t it based more on existential searches for meaning; rather than finding higher status, a new wife or occupational niche? For a woman aged 65, is it adaptive for her to concentrate on her health concerns to lengthen her life and beauty to the exclusion of finding the meaning and purpose of those culturally defined desires?
I propose that this cognitive ego based intervention model is unsound for the healthy psyche, putting too much emphasis on youth and western societies without including the rest of the life cycle and the diversity of cultures in our world– especially when ego energies wane and spiritual energies wax, as in later life. The approach of the prevalent ego psychology ignores the symptoms of psychic disturbances due to crises of a spiritual nature – on which it is silent and ignorant.3
The value system of this Western psychological treatment approach supports the beliefs that individualism is the end-all and purpose of man in society. This view is supported by the clichés that ‘time is money’ and one has to develop his/her ego potential and dominate over others or else lose to competitors, ‘you have to take your chances, you may not get another one’ and to be successful one has to possess the conscious attitude of the all-important and ‘youthful’ approach to life.
These views as applied on the world stage imply metaphorically that capitalistic, imperial dominance of one country over another, usually through military means, is the answer in the global competition for limited commodities and resources. This view is an anachronism based on Social Darwinism. To perceive that one nation state can dominate others – exploit them – is no longer pragmatic in a global society where the rights of sovereign states are supported by international law and the United Nations. To survive today, we must learn global cooperation or else we shall extinguish our existence by war, famine and disease thus ending humanity as we know it on earth.
When the ego fails to serve our survival needs, when chaotic losses enter into our lives, the ego breaks down – and all the support which that psychic structure has given us fails. Futile attempts to
find reasons why bad events happen to us fill the case notes of many psychotherapists. The suffering ego may cause us to avenge those 6 who are the ‘reasoned’ causes of our pain. We have borne witness to the attacks on Afghanistan and then Iraq by former President Bush’s administration in retaliation for 9/11 based on a faulty assumption that we could destroy militarily those who tried to kill us. And 17 years later we are still fighting Isis and the Taliban, al qaeda and getting no where.
That outmoded path only perpetuates conflict. Profound self-examination is called for by our leaders and individuals in our society. For that to happen, psychological insight into our spiritual roots is needed so that assertive, not aggressive interventions may do for individuals and nation states instead of hurting our people and our sovereignty. Thus a
spiritual journey awaits us and our leaders – and humility is called for, not ego-bound self- righteousness. Reflecting on observing ourselves and learning to be receptive to intuitive guidance is the answer – even when doing so may on the surface seem to humiliate us and defy reason.4
This new paradigm can go a long way to creating a new world view to support the survival of humanity. But these changes need to occur on both an individual and national
level to be fully implemented. Carl Gustav Jung in his last work The Undiscovered Self, points to the problem:
“Our (collective) psyche is profoundly disturbed by the loss of moral and spiritual values that have kept our life in order. Our consciousness is no longer capable of integrating the natural afflux of concomitant, instinctive events that sustains our conscious psychic activity. This process can no longer take place in the same way as before, because our
consciousness has deprived itself of the organs by which the auxiliary contributions of the instincts and the unconscious could be assimilated. The organs were the numinous symbols, held holy by common consent.”5
Historically, conscious spatial perceptions in the West were structured according to guarding and protecting land and property rights. This had psychological implications creating vigilance and
mistrust toward our competitors. We still have the view that land we bought with money is our possession. And thus we develop a collective defensive attitude based on protectionism, exploitation of resources and imperial power. In the last Iraq war, these assumptions came to light as we intruded on a sovereign country to kill a terrorist regime, to democratize them and to prevent the expansion of their apparent nuclear capability. Also global warming phenomena has heightened our appreciation that we are accelerating carbon emissions to our own destruction and must cooperate internationally to curb these emissions.
On a macro-level ‘manifest destiny’ is just a global form of egocentric narcissism. And the underlying, covert rationale for these
actions was the motive of taking resources that did not belong to us. On a individual and national/collective levels the self-study of our unconscious as it influences our conscious make-up will help guide us thorough the labyrinth of concepts that have been identified by theoretical psychiatrists like C. G. Jung, E. Erickson and R. Assagioli; and astrological psychologists like Bruno and Louise Huber.
If we study our horoscopes, our dreams and recognize in humility our shadowy sub-personalities; we can navigate through relationships with mutual respect and awe at the wondrous majesty that is human kind. But if we ignore this process, we are doomed to perpetual conflict as we project our own ego’s as individuals and nations on a global stage. That would result in a mere repetition of the colonialism and social Darwinism of the past. We must not neglect to respect and seek justice for the cultural diversity of all peoples in this world of ours. My book Dreams and Astrological Psychology (Hopewell Publishing, Knutsford, UK, 2014 , is avaiable onAmazon.com) paves the way for a syncretic methodology of these concepts so that we can become our own psychologists and thrive in the 21 Century.
Note: This is an excerpt from my book listed above with minor modifications so references are not included here but are in my book.