“The animals follow the natural law only….With man things are very different. He is not at one with himself. He is subject to two laws that do not by any means always coincide. Consequently he is inwardly divided.” Esther Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 202.
By around the age of three, most children’s egos are strong and consolidated enough to think of themselves as separate individuals. This is when memory begins. We do not leave Epoch I behind at this point but we do begin to adjust our responses to our instinctual needs according to the demands of our environments.
Thus we grow into a more mature form of self-awareness I call Epoch II Ego Consciousness. During this time we gradually lose our allegiance to the natural law as we obey the human law to prove ourselves and become responsible members of our families, groups, and society.
Most of us experience spurts of increased self-awareness during the normal developmental stages; for example, adolescence when we begin to assert our independence, young adulthood with its task of finding meaningful work, marrying and parenting.
During these critical junctures we acquire new needs and desires which challenge the status quo. Conflicts between what was and what is coming into being strengthen our egos to a certain extent, and many people lead happy, productive lives without looking very deeply into their unconscious selves. Or we may not be happy at all, yet do not seek help or change in any meaningful way because lethargy, habit, pride, and fear of the unknown prevent us from stepping too far out of our familiar comfort zones.
Moreover, we may grow in some areas of our lives, yet maintain one-sided, either/or attitudes in others. We might continue to open to new insights and ways of thinking in our work and relationships, yet we might think, “I know my religion is correct. To question its beliefs is dangerous,” while ignoring secret doubts. Or we automatically agree with our political party and assume the other is wrong without weighing the issues. Or we avidly uphold unjust laws that violate human rights while fighting the enactment of new ones that would right these wrongs.
Certain qualities are common in Epoch II. Among them are
dualistic thinking and with it, a sense of being separate from others;
a primary emphasis on self-preservation and need-satisfaction, that is, self-centeredness and selfishness; ‘the will to develop our individuality;’
an outer-referential focus on society and its rules and conventions;
resistance to and bias against otherness, including other people, other ways of thinking, other belief systems, and the unknown or disowned otherness of our own psyches, i.e. our unconscious selves;
anxiety about our self-worth;
conflict between our longing to lapse back into the unconscious maternal matrix and the pressing need to prove ourselves.
Masculine Values. A primary feature of Epoch II is the ego’s preference for masculine values which gradually supplant our Epoch I condition of pure enjoyment in the Mother’s paradise of dependency and the innocent pleasures of simply being. During Epoch II the healthy ego of either gender flexes its wings, struts around the nest, and begins to assert its will power, independence, self-discipline, competition, achievement and ambition.
Repression. Developing these qualities has advanced civilization in many valuable ways. But because of our dualistic thinking it has also had some nasty repercussions. This is because of repression, a second major feature of Epoch II self-awareness. If “the way I (my ego) am” is the good, right way, then I will develop bias, prejudice, suspicion, hostility, fear, and aggression toward anything that conflicts with the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ of my upbringing.
Shadow. The third major feature of Epoch II Ego Consciousness is the development of a shadow. This unconscious complement to the ego is composed of everything we don’t know or like about ourselves. As long as we refuse to acknowledge these disowned aspects of our psyches they influence our attitudes and behavior without our awareness. Becoming conscious of our personal and collective shadow is one of the most critical and potentially life-enhancing challenges we face today.
The majority of Epoch II egos restrain their shadows and repressive tendencies without causing undue damage or harm. But some obsess over the “masculine” qualities so highly prized during this phase that they become inordinately repressive to “feminine” otherness, both figuratively and literally. Unwilling to consider opposing points of view or budge from entrenched polarized positions these egos become so self-righteous and closed-minded that they gravitate, like the Sky God onto which they project these qualities, toward agitation, divisiveness, domination and war.
“Egos like this might be strong enough to keep growing, and often are well-intentioned. But as long as they put their consciousness in service to repression, and as long as they cling to their position as the sole “deity” within the psyche, they will not recognize their imbalances. The most powerful and repressive of these Epoch II egos are the major culprits in the dangerous dramas playing out on the world stage today. In their psychological ignorance, many of them fervently believe they are God-centered; but in truth, they are firmly entrenched in Epoch II egocentricity.” J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 44.
In empowering our ego and masculine qualities we are obeying the evolutionary imperative to see and use all of our human potential. But if we stop there, vast amounts of our psychological inheritance, including our instincts and many aspects of our feminine sides, remain buried in a dark, pre-conscious reservoir.
This effects every aspect of our lives, especially our relationships and spirituality. In the West and Middle East our separation from the human mother is accompanied by a rejection of the archetypal Great Mother. Fortunately, this doesn’t destroy her.
Why? Because the Sacred Feminine is an archetypal reality in the psyche and the ego has no control over it. If this were not true, humanity would never have projected her onto ancient Goddesses and she would not be re-entering our awareness today.
Next time I’ll have more to say about this repressed archetype and how our acceptance of her has the potential to heal the divisive schisms threatening our world today.
Image Credits: Elephant Quote: Depth Psychology Alliance. Jung Quotes: Courtesy of Lewis Lafontaine.
Jean’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are also at Amazon as well as Kobo, Barnes And Noble, and Smashwords.