Much corporate greed, corrupt officials and institutionalised racism can be ascribed to the pathological narcissism that typifies consumer culture but there is more at work than this and it deserves exploring. Anxious accumulation of stuff you don’t need is for more than the vain attempt to fill an inner vacuum. It is also a pressure bandage over a form of psychic hemorrhaging endemic in western society that is little discussed. Borderline Personality Disorder.
We’ll be helped by looking at the different ways people manage the transition between what the Gnostic tradition calls ‘hylics’ and ‘psychics’. The Gnostics were entirely disinterested in race, creed or gender. According to them, whoever your god happened to be, there were three distinct types of people, that represented specific stages of consciousness.
The first was the ‘Hylic’, from the Greek word hyle meaning, ‘matter’, but also the hyle, the covering on a grain of wheat, the dry husk that is winnowed away as chafe.
The Hylic person is what we might call narcissistic. They value the hyle, the covering, the glamorous image, the route of least resistance..
”One may say of him that he lets himself live, rather than that he lives. He takes life as it comes and does not worry about the problems of its meaning, its worth or its purpose. He devotes himself to the satisfaction of his personal desires and ambitions.” R. Assagioli.
He may make religious observances, but its a form of going through the motions. He finds it almost impossible to reflect upon things because he only has one point of veiw. There is not enough Self for inner diversity. I cannot talk to me. And because there is no substantial sense of self neither can there be any real sense of other. He is ‘One Dimensional Man’.
”People recognise themseves in their commodities. They find their soul in their automobile, their hi-fi set, their split-level home, kitchen equipment.” H. Marcuse.
Sometimes the hylic person can seem very dynamic and motivated. They can seem brave and fearless, but its often that there is not enough sense of self to guage risk or comprehend loss. The stakes are only realised across the threshold into the second larval stage, the ‘psychic’, which is characterised by the awareness and acceptance not just of others in their own right, but of the inner other, the otherness of oneself personified by the Unconscious. The world is no longer what I know of it.
But this expansive transition poses a problem. The threshold from hylic to psychic, or if you prefer from pre-reflective living to ego identity, is hampered and characterised by shame, the inevitable experience of oneself as another’s object. Part of the deal with self-knowledge is that it come’s with other people’s perspectives.
”Shame is by nature recognition. I realise I am as the other sees me. J. P. Sartre
So the hylic has to give up his omnipotence, allow for deflation and being one-amongst-many and weather the shame which…
”..forces into awareness some aspect of oneself that one had not realised, thereby enlarging identity. ” P. Wright.
But the feeling of healthy shame that allows us to grow can be felt as crushing if the child’s world is already imbued with shame, particularly at its efforts to be its own person, and so the hylic child might well shy away from this developmental hurdle preferring to stay in part fusion with mother and collective dogma, like Pinnochio’s wish to be a real boy despite his predeliction for a grey area between truth and falsehood.
Its said of the narcissist that he’s a pathalogical liar but that’s paying him the compliment of knowing better. Sifting truth from fiction requires ego strength he doesn’t have. I recall my five year old brother proudly announcing to my mother that he’d taken ten pounds from her purse but that it wasn’t stealing because he had swopped it with the boy next door who’d done the same. He was aggrieved not to get away with it but learned an important lesson in mine and thine which served to tip him into the real world.
Surviving the crisis of this transition is a real accomplishment. The origin of the word ‘Hag’, comes from the German for hedge and describes a person who can straddle the garden hedge so to speak and have a foot in two worlds, both the cultivated garden of ego consciousness and in the wilderness beyond. The hag was therefor the wise woman of the village. She knew stuff. She understood dreams. She read signs and had….companions.
But straddling the fence is an art form few of us make first time around or in a single bound. We get stuck in the hedge one way or another and wind up feeling that we don’t belong in either world, especially if your welly is wedged in some thorny privet and you’re all hooked up on barbed wire from which you are hemorrhaging like a bitch.
Bear in mind that if you are all caught up in the hedge you are also liable to be at the mercy of whoever, or whatever, may happen by, a situation in which paranoid anxiety might be an appropriate response not to mention the millenial apathy of borderline disorders which is bound to accompany hedge phenomenon typified by the long snooze of Sleeping Beauty, who’s got terrible hedge trouble.
The story of Sleeping Beauty is useful because it reminds us what is at the back of borderline entanglements, Thetis, the dark mother and more importantly, the uninvited guest at the princess’ earlier celebration. Whereas the narcissist idealizes himself, because that is all he has, the borderline personality, who has been at least partially initiated into the world by her ejection from the nest, defensively idealises others and lurches from crisis to emotional crisis as the shadow of each returns to roost , sinking into listlessness as each ideal crashes down..
Collectively we do this with royalty and celebrity. We project onto them our inner nobility and ideals which is not only bound to disappoint but has an enervating, depleting effect on consciousness which requires further shoring up. We also do it with partners upon whom are foisted impossible expectations that must both fail and prevent intimacy.
”Transforming this deadness requires the recovery of the imagination..” S-Salant
from the idealised other…
call it taking back your power.
for me it was cutting through the family myth that my mother was the one true artist in the family and realising that I am an artist in my own right, though not without much shaming for ‘failing’ to pursue my ascribed career.
”Healing requires recapturing the earlier mytho-poetic state in its imaginal essence.” ibid
taking refuge in the garden, regressing to find meaning in the stuckness, compulsiveness and addiction that attends pathological shaming not just for being other but for being the wrong kind of other..
The borderline person has issues with real or imagined abandonment because they really have been…
”the borderline is in limbo between two ways of experiencing the world. They have been prematurely thrust out of magical space.” ibid.
and so they get all caught up in the hedge because they were not really big enough to jump it when they were made to try.
Hedge splayed Borderline is a bit of a mess because there are always two things going on at the same time. He’s excrusiatingly aware of the Other whilst ignoring them entirely. I hate you don’t leave me.
which can be wearing…
but he has at least tackled the hedge.. and you might say that a plaguing preoccupation was preferable to cut-off disinterest.
The narcissist never makes it from the garden. He has no empathy because nothing and nobody really exists beyond the hedge unless they are inferiors there to enviously attack him.
and though he gets to be right all the time and way more presentable than the chaotic ball of contradictory twine, the borderline does at least know that he can be really shitty, as well as not. The urgent bit is that he’s emotionaly bleeding from all the stabbing of intrusive otherness and is trying to staunch the gash without looking at the wound, which is trixy..
He might spend a life-time needing billions of dollars and endless stuff or just whatever drama he can manufacture to jam into it instead. Ongoing fueds, petty hatreds, some scandal. Sometimes, when animals are disembowled in a fight or by some mishap, they stuff their wounds with clods of earth and leaves. We do it with aspiring to be someone other, someone more successful, with more stuff, to stuff.
Most of us have to have several goes at the Hedge, if we try at all, before we can have a foot easily in both civilised and wild parts of themselves like the Hag who still had a way to go herself. See, the wily gnostics went further still, to the very great annoyance of those for whom the reality of the Gods was quite scary enough,
an’ got even more poetic…
show him the instuments!
…because there was also a third stage, the ‘pneumatic’, a stone stile in the hedge, going nowhere, doing nothing, a still point around which both native and cultured species grew. Marigolds and lettuce on one side, honeysuckle and ragwort on the other, all happening about an axis which is neither.
The first time it occured to me that the gods themselves were satellites of consciousness, my hand went involuntarily to my mouth, as though I had just commited a great blasphemy..