Another Way of Knowing
"If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come."
- Arapaho saying
Both psychoanalysis and humanistic counseling echoes the Western bias toward individualism. Rogers contributes many helpful departures from the apparent limits of psychoanalysis. Among the many ways Rogers departs from Freudian constructs, “personality change” is not one of them. What if the change needed is less within the individual and more within one's immediate surroundings?
As Masson (1988) illuminates, Rogers readily ignored socioenvironmental factors to beneficial change. As Davidson (2000) pointed out in critiquing humanistic psychology, “growth occurs indirectly through the pursuit of communal concerns that transcend the individual.” Humanism may not be as reductive as psychoanalysis and behaviorism, but it still reduces mental health to what is ostensibly easier to alter—the less powerful self. By emphasizing individual change at the exclusion of social change, we limit ourselves to knowing half the wellness picture.
In contrast to this Western bias toward individualism, this blog aims to present a more balanced view. In fact, it is a Native American paradigm informed by my Native American heritage. Similar to Asian constructs, this paradigm is commonly illustrated by a circle, the same diagram used in the previous blog entry.
Traditional Native American lore understood nature as commonly divided into four complementary aspects, like the four seasons in the year or the four stages in life. The four-part cycle aims to illustrate these corners in dynamic tension and natural balance with each other. From this indigenous perspective, this illustrates just about every cycle in nature.
One such cycle is touched upon in Freud’s structure model of the id, ego, and superego. From this nature-based perspective, life has two complementary and sometimes contradictory forces: to move inward and to move outward. For example, each healthy life form seeks to preserve itself (inward focus) and remain in relative equilibrium with its immediate environment (outward focus). This suggests an inward facing “ego needs” dimension in tension with an outward facing “social needs” dimension.
What Freud labeled the id from a Eurocentric perspective, we Natives could recognize as the natural self-apart-from-others asserting freedom. Since traditional Native culture lacked a rigid morality code (lest a greater sin was committed if imposing upon nature-in-balance), this “ego needs” dimension lacked that curious repressive element. Traditional tribal cultures were too much like fish bowls to hold lifelong damaging secrets, even those we kept from ourselves. That’s what teasing was for, starting intimately within the extended family. Continual intimate contacts compelled us to deal with self-conscious matters.
What Freud labeled the superego appears close to what traditional Native culture recognized as the natural self-as-part-of-others, as recognizing oneself as an integral part of the tribal group. In this view, the morning (represented here in yellow) was that period while transitioning from an individual to social focus. Midday (red) was that period when focusing almost entirely on “social needs.” Evening (black or dark grey) was that period to transition away from the larger group and toward the individual, or to spend time exclusively with those most intimate with the individual. Nighttime (white) was that period focused on “ego needs” while sleeping alone, or with one’s most intimate other who respected the need for solitude. Then cycling again the next morning.
What Freud labeled the ego appears close to what our elders called “centering.” The needs of the individual needed to balance out with the needs of the group, as the needs of the group needed to strike a balance with each individual group member. Such balancing occurred not only on a circadian scale but also at ultradian and infradian intervals. A need for solitude followed by a need for social bonding could emerge frequently throughout the day, and become more prominent throughout the year. As mirrored in the seasons of the annual calendar cycle. What modern psychotherapy pursues as change primarily within the individual, this perspective appreciates wellness as being equally individual and group maturity. Wellness is is not merely personality change but is fully psychosocial—or biopsychosocial, since even these Natives understood how “empty stomachs have no ears.”
What Maslow and humanist psychologists regard as self-actualizing, I would see as the natural pull toward a psychosocial equilibrium with an emphasis on neglected individuality. Maslow’s later emphasis on a transpersonal psychology I see as recognition of this universal need to integrate the self-apart-from-group with the self-as-part-of-group in its higher potential.
I don’t take their views as gospel, but as Davidson (2000) remarks, “seeing [humanistic psychology] as providing points of departure for the development of ways to study and promote human growth and development.” I just happen to view it as an ongoing dynamic cycle between ego and social needs, or dispute whether sustainable human growth and development is happening at all.
Understandably, I am drawn toward a family systems approach and a feminist approach to counseling. In the process, I do not dismiss the wealth of insight delivered to us by these impactful pioneers. Indeed, part of their impact, I see, stems from taking measured steps to counter the excesses in modern industrial and post-industrial social constructs. I appreciate how Freud, Rogers, and all these other pioneers laid a foundation to improve our collective understanding of what it means to be well.
I look forward to the opportunity, starting with this blog, to continue improving our shared understanding of wellness. I look forward to showing how this cycle diagram, and the nature-centric insight upon which it is based, can help deepen our understanding of the human condition, and its persistent needs. As long as problems persist in this world, I think it helps to encounter another way of knowing.
Masson, J. (1988). Against therapy: Emotional tyranny and the myth of psychological healing. New York: Atheneum, p. 243.
Davidson, L. (2000). Philosophical foundations of humanistic psychology. The Humanistic Psychologist. 28(1-3), 7-31.