Borderline Personality Disorder According to Jungian Psychology
by Gerald Schueler, Ph.D. © 1997
A Jungian Model of the Psyche.
A model of the psyche based on Jung (1990) is shown in the figure below. This model is a dynamic one. The central archetypal Self is at the center of the psyche. The Self looks outwardly at the conscious ego, which interacts with the physical world through the filter of the persona. It looks inwardly at the archetypes of the collective unconscious through the shadow and through the filter of the anima or animus. The shadow is the complement of the persona.
In this model, psychic energy flows between all components of the psyche. Jung (1973) called this energy libido. Normally the libido is tuned to specific psychic functions, however, it can be redirected or "canalized" into other channels by the use of symbols.
"I have called a symbol that converts energy a "libido analogue." By this I mean an idea that can give equivalent expression to the libido and canalize it into a form different from the original one." (Jung, 1973, p. 48).
Thus symbols can help us to become conscious of the unconscious, and to be aware of the various unconscious processes going on in our psyche. The model shown above is called transcendent because the Self transcends the personal ego. According to Jung's individuation process, normal growth is for the ego to develop and mature during the first half of life. During this time, the ego individualizes itself from the unconscious Self. The goal of the psyche during the first half of life is to develop a strong ego-personality. During the second half of life, the ego assimilates the Self, by becoming consciously aware of it (Edinger, 1974). If done properly, this assimilation process, called individuation, gives meaning to the ego as well as a sense of fulfillment.
Jung's Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.
Jung (1978) taught that the human mind or psyche is complex and is composed of parts, much like the physical body. He coined the word "complexes" for various unconscious parts of the psyche. Complexes are the focal and nodal points of psychic life (Jacobi, 1973). He also divided the unconscious into two distinct regions, the personal and the collective: Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes (Jung, 1990, p. 42).
Behind the personal unconscious lies the collective unconscious which contain the archetypes. The archetypes represent the structure of a "psychic world" whose reality is seen through its effects on the conscious mind (Jacobi, 1973).
The structure of the psyche is similar to that of the physical body. According to Jung (1990), the archetype is "a psychic organ present in all of us" (p. 160). Archetypes are structures, not images. They allow for the periodic creation and dissolution of images.
When we find ourselves in a grave psychic situation, archetypal dreams will often come to us that will suggest possibilities of progress that would not otherwise have occurred to us (Jacobi, 1973). Activation of an archetype usually is accompanied by an alteration of the conscious situation, a new form of compensation, which in turn, leads to a new distribution of psychic energy and a corresponding reordering of the psychic situation (Jacobi, 1973).
Jung (1976) says, "The archetypes are the numinous, structural elements of the psyche and possess a certain autonomy and specific energy which enables them to attract, out of the conscious mind, those contents which are best suited to themselves." (p. 232). Symbols, not words, are the language or expression or form used by the archetypes to communicate.
Adjacent to the ego on the inward side, is the archetype called the shadow. Jung (1978) taught that the shadow is the most accessible of all of the archetypes.
The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. (p. 8)
The persona is that part of ourselves that we like , and with which we want to be identified. The ego is that part of ourselves that we are fully aware of. The shadow is that part of ourselves that we do not want and are not aware of. It contains all of our repressed fears, ungodly characteristics, and our forgotten actions. It contains those parts of ourselves that we fail to acknowledge and often project onto others. The contents of the shadow are charged with emotion and thus can affect the ego. "By "shadow" I mean the inferior personality, the lowest levels of which are indistinguishable from the instinctuality of an animal" (Jung, 1978, pp. 233-234).
The healthy psyche is able to balance the ego and persona with the shadow, much like the body can maintain an balance temperature and acid-alkaline ratio.
The more refined our conscious personality, the more shadow we have built up on the other side. This is one of Jung's greatest insights: that the ego and the shadow come from the same source and exactly balance each other. (Johnson, 1991, p. 17)
Jung's individuation process, a maturing of the psyche during the second half of life, involves deliberately becoming aware of the shadow and assimilating its contents.
The Borderline Personality.
When the libido is concentrated on or around the ego, a narcissistic self-absorption occurs. When the libido is concentrated on worldly or external objects the ego is drawn into involvement with those objects. However, when the libido is withdrawn from the world and from the ego, and is concentrated in the deep unconscious parts of the psyche, it exerts an attraction upon the ego which pulls it into these darker realms. Introverted psychic energy, or indrawn libido, saps the ego's strength and draws its attention onto the shadow. When the ego becomes aware of this inner attraction, it becomes "a borderline self that is affected by an invisible power and afflicted with a sinking sense of doom" (Washburn, 1994, p. 206). The healthy ego can remain separated from the shadow and its contents through repression. The borderline has no safety zone, and constantly feels threatened by the dark forces lurking in the shadow. It feels as if it is slowly being pulled to its doom, certain annihilation, because the boundary between consciousness and all of the repressed contents of the shadow is not functioning properly. The borderline has "not developed a coherent self that can stand unsupported" (Nelson, 1994, p. 384). The borderline suffers from Adler (1985) calls annihilation anxiety. The borderline ego feels itself on the border with the shadow, on the edge of a great abyss from which there is no escape.
The borderline ego's annihilation anxiety is an anxiety of total self-dissolution. It is the primal fear of becoming psychotic, of ceasing altogether to exist as a singular subject of awareness. (Washburn, 1994, pp. 208-209)
The constant fear of inner engulfment and annihilation make normal relationships impossible. The borderline first sees another person as being all good, or even a savior as they seek to save themselves through the other person. When their unrealistic demands are unmet, the borderline feels betrayed and the other person becomes all bad. They cannot see other people as mixtures of good and bad because this would dash their hope for a savior (Washburn, 1994).
Peters (1996) views the borderline personality as a rite of passage. He argues that many behaviors that we in the West consider pathological, are understood as necessary transitional crises in other cultures. The borderline ego, for example, is caused from "a lack of meaningful sacred myths to guide the formation of identity" (p. 211). Our myths and rituals are models that cultures use to describe reality as well as models for acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors. But we in the West have lost such models, and as a result, a small but increasing percentage of our population suffers in confusion. A number of typical BPD characteristics such as fasting, altered states of consciousness, body mutilation, and the use of psychoactive drugs are typical found in rites of passage. Furthermore, BPD behaviors such as body fragmentation, dismemberment, and mutilation also occur in transitional crisis experiences which are considered normal developmental stages in other cultures, such as in shamanic rites of passage. Altered states of consciousness that result from loss of boundaries, typical of the BPD, are seen as pathological in traditional psychiatry but are typical of the transitional stages found in tribal rites of passage. He concludes that the borderline syndrome, "like other chronic psychiatric disorders, is less prevalent in cultural contexts with meaningful rites of passage" (p. 212).
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