Psychiatry’s Necessary Shadow
Andrés Ruiz

The functioning of the human psyche is such a challenging field because of the combination/intermingling of the functioning of the physical brain and the functioning of the psyche itself.

For you computer literate folk, the brain can be thought of as the underlying system board of the human mental apparatus — some of us being akin to PC compatible, others Apple, others Android, etc. What’s found in the underlying physical system effects everything else, both what’s possible and what’s likely.

Our conscious minds are a bit like the computer display/sound/input mechanisms (keyboard, mouse, touch screen, etc.) by which we interact with the external world. These aspects of our psychology are increasingly, though not perfectly well understood.

What’s so often missing, however, is an understanding of what amounts to our system B.I.O.S. (Basic Input Output System). This system is subconscious, instinctive, and evolved to protect the lives of our ancient, preverbal ancestors by automatically programming them with an aversion to repeating any experience that caused them massive pain or fear.

In our modern lives, this invisible system, which has now generalized its pain avoidance function into monitoring both our physical and emotional experiences, does not differentiate between physical and emotional pain. It seems to be triggered by our autonomic responses to such pain which are nearly identical regardless of whether the pain is physical or emotional.

Whenever we suffer pain or fear sufficient to trigger this system, it lays down a set of internal responses which cause us to lock away the aspects of our personalities that seem responsible for the pain — those aspects together with their sensitivities and skills are no longer available to us (we lose our ability to experience or express empathy and compassion for instance, or in another type of example, the ability to judge who is worthy or our trust and who is not).

We are also programmed to unconsciously avoid any situation or circumstance which resembles the one in which we suffered experienced the original pain or fear.

When life presents us with situations which would demand those aspects of our personalities that we can no longer experience or express, we react with discomfort (of whose cause we are not aware), then anger, likely even rage directed at the people or circumstances that are asking that expression of us.

Further complicating our lives is the reality that the aspects of our personalities which are locked in internal exile seem to have an existence of their own. They do not like being locked up. They often create urges within us which drive us into precisely the types of experiences where we would express them if we were healthy.

For some people, these types of challenging experiences cause a personality shift in which they switch into an earlier constellation of personality traits — they temporarily BECOME who and what they were when they suffered the pain and fear which created their dysfunctions — knowing nothing more than they knew at 3 years old, for example, and exhibiting the behaviors and maturity of a 3 year old. If they were beaten into silence in the midst of a tantrum they may immediately demonstrate enraged, unreasoning 3-year-old tantrum-like behavior when these personality shifts are triggered (using a body with adult strength and size).

People with internally-exiled personality traits, tend to feel a constant ache in the vicinity of their solar plexus (heartache) an ache which is relieved when they become emotionally attached to someone (a love interest, or even a celebrity figure or strong political leader) who demonstrates the personality aspects to which the person with heartache no longer has access. Such attachments can also be formed with inanimate objects which symbolize their missing personality aspects — weapons, for example.

Popular culture is filled with images of people relieving that ache in relating to other people and, when those relationships come apart (which dysfunction-based relationships often do) suffering a “broken heart.”

Finally, a wide variety of chemicals have the effect of temporarily releasing internally exiled aspects of a person’s psyche, allowing them to be expressed freely. We see this in people who demonstrate a marked personality shift when under the influence of their chemical of choice. This coupled with the tendency of internally-exiled personality aspects to act as tricksters and create urges to pursue behaviors which would allow them to be expressed is the underlying cause of most addictions, the dysfunction being the cause of the addiction, rather than the other way around as we so often believe.

Addictive behaviors can, however, ADD new dysfunctions as they bring those pursuing them into situations where they experience MORE pain and fear.

This ancient, invisible (even to much of psychology) part of the human psyche, a part which, though it protected our ancient ancestors is so ill adapted to our current existence that its misfiring is responsible for much of our current species-wide psychological dysfunction needs a great deal more study.

Finally, it is quite possible to REprogram the misfirings of this mechanism and, thereby, erase the dysfunctions it causes by identifying the original painful experiences and using simple experiential, imaginative exercises to present the psyche with alternate possibilities for those experiences. In this way missing pieces can be recovered and reintegrated into the psyche in ways which restore the personality to completeness and minimize or even remove long standing behavioral dysfunctions.

If you’ve ever had a behavior, especially a behavior that’s embarrassing or creates negative consequences for you, but which you always repeat in a particular type of situation (then later wonder why you do that over and over again) you’re experiencing one of these types of dysfunctions.