Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving Enhancing and Accessing Expertise: Finding the Personal Community of Thought and Feeling in Our Own Self

Enhancing and Accessing Expertise: Finding the Personal Community of Thought and Feeling in Our Own Self

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The shadow provides rich insights into the flaws and failures of other people in our life – especially as they relate to our own flaws and failures. This psychic function also helps us reframe the various forces operating on us from outside. The shadow is of particular value when we are assessing outside forces that each of us initially and habitually (fast-thinking) consider to be evil or at least of little positive value. Stephen Sondheim speaks to this function (or actually writes verse about this function) in his musical, Into the Woods, which focused on our unconscious life (the woods). One of his characters near the end of this musical declares that “witches can be right” and “giants can be good.” Our shadow can help us with this critical process of discernment regarding the witches and giants in our own life and work.

Our shadow can help us identify the positive side of getting fired, or the valuable lessons we can learn from a failure to successfully complete a project. We can even gain insights from our shadow function regarding such ugly matters as divorce, bankruptcy, and illness. What are we to find out about ourselves from these “soulful” challenges to our sense of self-worth and life ambitions? We don’t need an expert from outside our self to pose important and painful questions that require our reflection and self-honesty. The shadow that lingers in the pit of our stomach and in the nightmares of our night will provide these points of inquiry at no cost (other than some pain and suffering on our part).

Multiple Voices

The shadow constitutes only one of the many voices to be heard at each of the tiers. We must make sense of the ways in which the multiple voices are manifest—and ways in which we can make most effective use of these voices as sources of personal expertise. At this point we introduce another psychoanalytic source—the object relations theorists (who come out of the psychoanalytic camp and its focus on unconscious processes in the human psyche). They are seeking to make sense of the multiple voices operating in the unconscious domain of our psyche.

According to those offering an object relations perspective, our internal space is filled with competing voices and images (psychic objects). They often are aligned with our polarized perspectives regarding those people who are “right” and “good” and those who are “wrong” and “bad.” There are no gray areas or middle grounds. People are all right or all wrong. They are all good or all bad. This is a powerful psychological outcome called “splitting.”

We now know that many of these polarized people (representing primitive “objects” in our unconscious mind) were installed in our psyche during the early years of childhood. They often focus specifically on the multiple (and often contradictory) roles played by the person who served as the “mother” during our infancy. Therapists who embrace this perspective believe that their patients should attend to these competing infantile voice and images in order to determine which are helpful and still valid in their adult life. The purpose of therapy is often directed to divorcing the powerful influence of these internal objects so that a client can more clearly and consistently attend to the real world in which they live and work.

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