Self Help Sanctum

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The Conflict Within

The term schizophrenic is often (wrongly) used to describe people exhibiting multiple personalities. In fact the human psyche is complex and we all house numerous, and often conflicting, traits under the umbrella of a single individual.

The psychologist C G Jung used the term "shadow" to represent our repressed characteristics. He describes it thus: "Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."

Our weaker characteristics are omnipresent and seek to express themselves. Although most times their dominant counterparts win the day, occasionally the shadow self takes control; eg a usually introverted person may go through a phase of making numerous casual friendships, and a usually cautious person may take an almighty risk.

From a spiritual perspective we all emanate from that great oneness variously known as God, Spirit, source etc. Although we individuate (adopt unique characteristics) in order to gain experience and grow, we never cease being part of the whole and carry within us the potential to be all things. This is what allows us to evolve throughout our incarnation, but can also lead to some traumatic inner conflicts; eg:

introversion - extraversion
safe & steady - risk taking
arts - science
intellect - emotion
material - spiritual
academic - practical
generous - stingy
conformist - rebel
etc etc etc…

These dimensions are not either/ors; they are spectra on which each of us sits at one particular point, sometimes near the center, sometimes at the extremes. Usually one end of the scale is dominant, and most of the time this dictates our life path. But our position on the spectrum is not a fixed point; rather it is an average representing the current state of the tumultuous inner activity of the soul.

In most people this average is usually pretty constant, but on occasion it can shift into unfamiliar territory. Though this may give rise to alarm it is a natural occurrence and should be treated as an adventure as previously undiscovered potentials are explored. On rare occasions the balance of power may shift as previously repressed factors replace their opposites as our dominant characteristics. Often this occurs after life changing events, eg the loss of a loved one, a brush with death, or a mind-opening Spiritual experience.

Sometimes, our "average point" lies close to the center of a spectrum, ie two conflicting traits are closely matched. This can lead to paralysis by indecision. In such cases it’s as well to recall the tale of Buridan’s donkey, which, placed mid-way between two stacks of hay starved to death because the unfortunate creature couldn’t decide which to start eating first.

Life presents many choices, each carrying its own pros and cons. Often such choices can seem equally attractive, particularly where each appeals to a different side of a closely balanced character trait. In such cases weigh the facts, and listen to your gut; ie listen to your head and your instinct.

Weighing the facts involves listing the advantages and disadvantages of each option, often assigning a numerical weight to each. But remember one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Even in a seemingly objective analysis the merits and de-merits need to be weighed against your unique preferences and circumstances (eg family responsibilities).

Listening to your gut is simpler. Just imagine yourself in the scenario of following each choice, which feels better?

Hopefully head and heart will concur; if so, go for it. If not, try to find where the conflict lies and which side of the conflict is most important. If in doubt it’s probably best to follow your gut. If still unsure, then err on the side of caution. In any case, be sure to make some decision even if it’s on the toss of a coin. Whatever you decide, it’s better than procrastination.

Having conflicting traits isn’t a mental disorder, it’s perfectly natural. Recognize the huge range of potentials co-existing within the self, both exposed and hidden, like an iceberg the hidden part is far greater than the visible. Allow the hidden traits to have their day and enjoy the journey into previously unknown territory. The lifelong quest for self-knowledge is the key to understanding any potential inner conflict and being able to cope with it.

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