Experiencing My Fragmented Self

A Carl Jung’s mandala representing the wholeness of the Self.

Before I got myself interested by consciousness exploration, I thought about my self, the representative of my personal identity and traits of characters, as a monolithic block made of a dense and uniform material with clear boundaries. However, and thanks to psychedelic-induced states, I soon realized that this picture was actually far from my reality. Indeed, in altered states of consciousness, the raw complexity and chaotic nature of my psyche appeared clearly. I experienced the thoughts, emotions, and needs of a multi-layered, multi-parts, multi-archetypes, self. And these parts appeared quite out of sync sometimes, potentially competing with one another, and showing either their childish, their mature, or their dark sides. Not to mention their very dynamic nature, changing quickly from one corner to another, like a flashlight moving in a pitch-black room from one object to the next.

At the beginning, I was puzzled after experiencing this fragmented nature of the self. I felt like the concept of a solid ground representing it was falling apart, and thought I was discovering the real chaotic and schizophrenic nature of my messed-up psyche. And it didn’t feel like “me”.

We are complex creatures

But I was simply experiencing firsthand the true nature of my subconscious. In her book, Romancing the Shadow, Connie Zweig describes it as “a dynamic, fluid, multiply intelligent world populated by myriad characters that may quickly appear on center stage or retreat from moment to moment. Each of these parts or characters has a personal history, and each has a wound to bear and a gift to give”.

And very interestingly, some of these parts are also leftovers of defence mechanisms from our past. These defenses have been built-up to prevent conscious access to childhood traumatic experiences. In the past, these defences protected us from unbearable emotional suffering from our infant brains not yet fully developed to endure life’s adversity. Some parts are also the result of attachment dynamics from the dependent infants we were towards our caregivers (the “unacceptable parts” of ourselves had to be repressed in order to get approval and love from our caregivers), and later on toward the community and the society at large (via social conditioning, in order to feel accepted by our peers). In that case, layers of adapted behaviours were weaved around our pristine selves to foster feelings of safety, being accepted and loved. However, all these subconscious parts, whether coming from traumas or past conditioning, persist in adulthood, and continue to protect and drive our behaviours in ways that might become dysfunctional and unproductive for our adult selves. 

When our evolution brought order

From a neuroscience perspective, this chaotic, highly dynamic, and repressed nature of our subconscious is filtered out, ordered, and orchestrated by higher brain functions, in which the DMN (default-mode network, mainly active when we think about ourselves, others, or when we remember the past and plan for the future) is involved. Hence my initial perception of my self as an ordered monolithic block.

Psychedelics lower the barriers of our consciousness and bring our awareness to our subconscious parts at work behind the scenes. It has also been showed that psychedelics reduce brain activities in the DMN. Carhart-Harris argues that reaching a psychedelic state consists in reaching a primitive state of consciousness that preceded the development of modern, adult, human, normal waking consciousness. He explains that primitive states are characterized by elevated entropy in certain aspects of brains functions, whereas the DMN acts as a strong entropy inhibiter to deliver high-level functions, metacognitive operations such as self-reflection and mental time-travel, functions which way be exclusive to humans. These capabilities characterising us came throughout the last stages of our evolution, but with the cost of repressed traumas and childhood conditioning, since it takes much longer than any other mammals for human beings to reach cerebral maturity. And since it takes longer for our brains to fully develop and become independent, the likelihood to get exposed by life’s adversity when growing up is high. Hence the evolutionary need to come up with efficient mechanisms in our brains to repress emotional reactions to adversity, and therefore ensure our survival until we reach sexual maturity, and are able to mate.

Experiencing the bright and the dark of my subconscious

Here are some examples of subconscious parts of my psyche that were repressed (i.e., part of my own shadows), and which were strongly brought back to my consciousness during ayahuasca ceremonies. One example was about my playfulness, which I realized had been kind of lost for some reasons years ago. During more than two hours on ayahuasca, I simply had a blast of fun with myself, with all the thoughts that came up, or with anything my close environment would bring to my awareness. I lost myself in laughter until a point when I was asked by a facilitator not to disturb the other participants! But deep inside, I didn’t give a shit, since I realised that I had been repressing for so long my strong need for playfulness. And I finally gave myself the permission to fully express it, and in particular by bypassing an authoritative figure from my past who prevented me to do so.

Another, and darker, example consisted in acknowledging my violent inner aggression. It manifested itself several times on the shaman of the ceremonies, on which I projected the image of the leader at the top of the hierarchy that I wanted to destroy. Violent pictures in my head would come up with blood, mutilation of limbs, or killing, as manifestations of my disgust for some forms of authorities, and the expression of a dark side of mine willing to take power over.

Under the influence of psychedelics, it also seems sometimes easier to feel and think more clearly about my life challenges. More tuned into my intuitions and body feelings, and with a lowered consciousness getting access to subconscious material from repressed parts of my psyche, it seems that inner resolution processes are naturally in action, and converging towards a more balanced and nuanced perspective of these challenges, and on the way to move forward.

It’s all about integration babe

The aim of my work now consists in acknowledging and integrating all these parts of my psyche. I am basically going through the individuation process as proposed by Carl Jung. It is about gradually bringing the fragmentary aspects of the self closer to its totality, towards a whole and integrated self. And what could it look like in the future?

I don’t know.

Maybe feeling whole with a complete acceptance of my bright and dark sides, fully embracing the complex, multi-archetypal, nature of my psyche? Feeling that I belong to something greater than myself as being part of our collective unconscious? Fully integrating the fact that I am a dangerous man with powerful inner aggression, that could be used to protect and destroy life, either coming from love, or from much darker egotistical and childish motives? Knowing that every instant of the present moment is in sync with the needs and desires of my pristine self, without the negative influence of my past traumas, and freer from sterile social conditioning?

It is about building up a much more nuanced, mature, masculine, and complete sense of self, consciously getting access to a wide range of archetypes, and experiencing the richness of existence via the prism of my truthful self.

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