The Inner Child is for Children

Freud introduced to the world the dichotomy of conscious and unconscious. He surmised that the unconscious was responsible for most behavior. To understand a person’s overt, conscious behavior, he developed tools (psychoanalysis) to try to get a better understanding of the person’s unconscious. Dream analysis, as outlined in The Interpretation of Dreams, was one of these tools. For example, if I dream of being sad after the dream-death of my father, Freud would see me to have an unconscious desire to see my father die (or go away forever).

Many unconscious desires developed in early childhood. Thus dream interpretation includes sessions on early childhood experience. A dream-death, may not reflect a current desire by my unconscious to see my father dead, it may be a latent wish from my childhood. When my grandfather died when I was young, I noticed that he went away forever and I unconsciously associated going away with death. Subsequently, I was jealous of my Father’s relationship with my mother and I wished him to go away forever. Thus I wished him dead and thus I dream about his death today. In this way, childhood experiences shape my unconscious.

As a healthy adult, I work to come in close contact with my unconsciousness. This is a journey to find my true self because, as all the authors we read imply, only my unconscious represents my true self. In that sense, Hesse’s Damian is a journey of character to get more in touch with his unconscious, his true self. The bulk of the book is the story of a boy, Emil, growing from 10 years old to his early 20’s. Because of his family situation (they have money), he has the opportunity to meet a fascinating cast of characters that help him to come closer and closer to himself as he realizes, and then breaks through, the constraints society puts on the individual.

Although, I was by no means destitute growing up, I felt jealous of Emil. Through luck and opportunity not available to most people, the characters he finds himself surrounded by help him to find who he truly is. I certainly didn’t meet such interesting people growing up and I feel like I’ve only recently started the journey that Emil started when he was twelve.

Of course, Emil’s journey didn’t have to exist in reality. Those characters could be the manifestation of his psyche during an inner journey that Emil might have taken. This journey would have been very similar to the experience of psychoanalysis. However, whether or not the journey existed in reality, Emil (and the author) has been given an opportunity that most people don’t get. For most people, reality intrudes; you have to work; the kid’s have to be fed.

If finding one’s self is seen as a gift, it becomes a responsibility to follow through for those given the opportunity. I’ve been given this opportunity and I intend to strive beyond the predetermined definitions of me that society has given me to find my true self. However, there’s more to journey than discovering what you’re not (e.g. whatever society tells you to be). It involves a process of discovering who you want to be. So there’s a reactive and a proactive aspect to the journey.

Our readings in this course are filled with characters that react to society and determine that they are going to define themselves in their own terms and of characters who fail because they don’t make this discovery. In Undine Goes, Bachmann describes a character that observes her place in society, but takes it as a given and fails to break out of the cycle of dependency she finds herself in. Again and again, she finds hope in a new relationship with a man, Hans. Again and again, she discovers the same bare truths about Hans. Again and again, she ascends the mountain to be with her Hans, her Sisyphusian rock, who then treasonously turns his back on her and rolls back down the hill.

In contrast, Bachmann’s Charlotte in A Step Towards Gomorrah realizes her plight and schemes to release herself from it. She doesn’t like being defined by her marriage and her husband. Scheming, she constructs her own alternative reality outside the bounds of society. She creates her own kingdom. Her failing is that she doesn’t realize her kingdom. It only stays in her head and her husband comes home the next morning; the alarm clock is set.

In general, the readings have not dealt as well with the proactive aspect of the journey to self. This is why the end of Damian is so unappealing. After having discovered himself and begun to define himself outside the constraints of society, Emil joins a cult. What!? He gives himself over to the covenant with Damian and his mother. Similarly, Charlotte can’t realize her newly found kingdom.

The problem these characters run into is simply this: your own personal kingdom is a lonely place. It is meaningless to create an alternative (social) reality unless you can convince other people to live in that reality. For example, I have imagined an alternative form of marriage that involves 3 consenting adults, public nudity and cinnamon. The details aren’t important, but the fact the other people are involved requires that I get those other adults to consent to my alternative reality.

This means that there is an unexpected twist to the proactive leg of the journey to the self. Once the bonds of society are broken and an alternative vision of reality is created, to truly realize myself, I have to build consensus in the community to see my reality realized. This problem is what Nietzsche tackles in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In his various journeys to and from the mountain, Zarathustra attempts to create his own ministry. He wants to tell the people about his idea of the Ubermensch. He soon discovers not everyone is willing to hear his story, that some think he’s talking about something else and that without apostles most people that can hear his message, won’t hear it.

Communication, a process of consensus building, is the biggest challenge to those that want to sell their version of reality. For example, the ideas in this paper occurred to me very easily. The writing of the paper is much more difficult.

But is it even possible to communicate? Was Zarathustra’s journeys up and down the mountain, like Undine’s, like Sisyphus’, in vain? The answer from Kafka in The Metamorphosis appears to be “no” to the first and “yes” to the second question. Gregor’s situation screams of the inevitability and inescapability our ascribed social definition. Just as Gregor can’t break free of his buggy existence, we are stuck too, like insects in a hive. What’s terrible about Gregor’s story is that he’s able to have an internal dialog; he is aware of his predicament and can do nothing about it. Kafka’s message is that Nietzsche was deluded. He admits that we’re free to realize the bounds society puts on us; we’re even free to imagine some alternative reality for ourselves. Its in the critical final leg in the journey to self, the reaching out to the community, the consensus building, that is impossible. Zarathustra can speak, but he won’t be heard.

I’m an optimist and I don’t believe the journey to my self is delusional. Also, I don’t think that the above analysis reflects Kafka’s true intentions. I think he’s trying to communicate something entirely different. It is curious that the main character, Gregor, dies (and is forgotten!) three fourths through the story. Main characters don’t die if there’s no significance in it. Perhaps this strange turn of events is Kafka telling us to avert our eyes. He wants us to ignore the tragedy of the Gregors in the world, those that see their fates as predetermined by society, and to see opportunities, like the one given Gregor’s family is given after his death. After all, even if all of our lives are preordained, isn’t it much more fun to think that they’re not.

Aesthetically, I’m turned off by Freud. He’s right that the unconscious is an important part of who we are. He’s also right that the modern sense of self can be seen as a conflict between external forces and the unconscious. I’d also agree that childhood experiences determine the shape of the unconscious and that we need to get in touch with the unconscious. I do not like how the conversation seems to end there with Freud, as if expressing the unconscious, discovering the true self, is enough. I don’t like how adults, encouraged by Freud and others of his ilk, conduct their lives as a search for their inner child, as if being a child is the ideal state of being.

I relish being an adult because to me, to be an adult is to be on a journey to self, but to have the courage to reach out and to create the world in your own image.

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