By Maya Kirpalani
The ultimate goal of self-development is self-actualisation, which is the harmonious blending of all aspects of man’s total personality
Sunita Mittal, a young brilliant executive in her mid-thirties, shared her state of grief in one of her counselling sessions with me. ‘‘I have a knotted pain in my heart… it is full of tears and now it has turned into ice. But I will get over this trying phase soon.’’
Disowned and rejected several times by her husband, whom she loved, trusted and still does, Sunita is a calm, heroic figure that believes in herself and in God. Although she weeps uncontrollably and unabashedly, her grief has not left her bitter, cynical or resentful. Instead, she is a stronger and gentler human being, closer to God and to the suffering of humanity. Interestingly, Sunita’s husband did return to her, only because she dared to understand, endure and believe in their love, which, in his case, had been masked by fears and phobias.
Sunita’s case is just one example of people who go through various kinds of life crises and come out richer in soul and spirit instead of being broken in body and heart. Spiritual consciousness with psychological maturity is necessary to view life as a great teacher. Not all those who suffer from nervous breakdown have a poor education. Yes, academic degrees do provide a certain leverage to assess and battle against life’s problems, but more important are the determinants of a strong heart and spirit that make a person stand steadfast, authentic and noble in the path of life.
What really makes a person what he is? Psychologists have noted that it is not objective reality that determines behaviour, but objective reality as it is perceived or assigned meaning to by the individual. Individuals who have found a meaning in their suffering are known to cope better with their life environment than those who get angry and blame destiny for their misery. Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, arose out of his experiences when he was kept a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He pioneered logotherapy, which affirms that man’s deepest desire is to search for meaning and purpose. This was in opposition to Sigmund Freud’s conviction that instincts and urges were the driving forces of humanity’s life. Frankl noted in the concentration camps that those prisoners who had a reason to live—for a near and dear one, family or a friend—continued to nurture hope in their hearts of coming out alive and some did so, as against those who felt helpless and hopeless and eventually died or got sick.
In the mid-1950s, psychologist Abraham Maslow made an intensive study of healthy, self-fulfilling, self-actualising individuals. These were figures of the past as well as some who were living at the time. His research revealed that self-actualising people possess the following characteristics: they show a high degree of self-acceptance and also accept others for what they are; they are able to face and accept reality as it is; they are concerned about their own needs, but also recognise and respect the needs of others; they refrain from responding in mechanical or stereotyped ways and are able to respond to the uniqueness of people and situations; they are spontaneous and creative; they can form profoundly intimate relationships with at least a few special people; and they can resist conformity and assert themselves while responding to the demands of reality.
Psychological maturity involves the awareness that one needs to move into a higher level of functioning, rather than waste energies to make others conform to our point of view. Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’’ Therefore, the responsibility lies in each one of us to take the initiative to be an example to others, especially to the youth and children of our country.
What kind of an example? One which conveys that no matter how arduous the path of life may be, the next curve down the road may well bring you what you are looking for in great glory! Be patient, for it is persistent self-effort, determination and conviction in your ideals that will bring you the rewards sooner or later. Have faith in yourself and trust the Higher Wisdom to unravel your problems in the human web of relationships. Be gentle and kind to others, however sad your soul, for you have the power to light a candle in another’s heart, however defeated or traumatised you may feel. Pay attention to the NOW, for it is the peaceful awareness of the moment that will help you to make a bright future. Last but not least, never stop loving and praying. Love is the universal healing force that cements and builds the whole world. Prayer helps build up faith to illumine the dark recesses of our mind and unleash positive forces.
Psychological research has confirmed that when children are raised with unconditional love, respect and firm limits, they grow up to be responsible and self-reliant individuals. In such homes, parents provide a listening ear and use dialogue to resolve conflicts with their children in a non-judgemental and accepting atmosphere.
Personal growth is enhanced when individuals can learn to be honest with their own lives. According to Carl Rogers, who developed the client-centred therapy, the goal of the individual is to become his real self. Estrangement happens when he falsifies his values in order to preserve the positive regard of others.
Carl Jung echoes this view in his distinction between the public and the private persona. According to Jung, an individual’s ego identifies more frequently with the public persona. Therefore, he becomes a reflection of society instead of an autonomous human being, with low consciousness of his genuine feelings. The ultimate goal of self-development for Jung is self-actualisation, which is the harmonious blending of all aspects of man’s total personality. For Jung, the energy by which the work of the personality is performed is called psychic energy. A psychologically mature person is able to harness his psychic energies into creative outlets, through direct expression or through sublimation.
However, when psychic energy is blocked, ‘dammed up’ or repressed, it gets settled in the unconscious. Ultimately, when these unconscious processes break through the repression into the ego, the individual begins to behave in a highly impulsive and dysfunctional manner. Extreme acts of rage and violence are examples of this.
The human organism is complex. Much is left to be understood in the human psyche. Attaining psychological maturity and spiritual awareness in our daily actions, thought and deeds, requires constant effort and vigilance to never slacken.
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