Yin and Yang Images: Identifying, Disidentifying and How They Challenge Us

Like our friends above, there are definitely times we choose to Stay in one Place for a bit

Watching the scenes above, one can realize how there are definitely times we find ourselves having chosen (or at least having wanted to chose!) to Stay in one Place for a bit - and other times when we just Have to Move... (Speaking of which, please note that you can pause, speed up/slow down the cycle of images above, turn captions on/off with the buttons.)

All of us deeply need both, I suggest. Life requires us to embrace how we are active as well as passive, to include both male and female aspects of ourselves; be logical yet also in touch with our feelings, be able to take time to talk as well as time to listen; to teach and to learn. We need both the Yang and the Yin sides of ourselves. The whole world moves through cycles of Yin as well as Yang realities. If we ignore either of them (and, crucially, what Way we Balance the one with the other...) that lack of balanced intention will likely be costly.

Unfortunately, over all these years of being a therapist I have found that the more we fail to "notice" how we can be conditioned (by our parents or some worldview's beliefs) into similar either/or polarizations of ourselves and others ("I am bad etc., that other person is good and so on") the more we become set into habits... routines of action or of personality which control us. One is caught in a pre-scripted form of life journey. We then are living at least partially on an "Autopilot" set of (quasi-robotic) programs - like an array of rituals, of part-selves we can call Personas. We hear people speaking of this overly automated living as someone being a "sheeple", "stupid", dumb or say Mindless. It's ironic - as we may also partly realize we need to be more Mindful. The distinction between those two, however, is more than a bit slippery...

Global Social Culture (particularly the European/Western version!) does require us to move our bodies - the unending grind of the daily rat race; of coffee, stimulants and Work - oh yes, to work and to earn and thus Win the Game of Life… So given this manic type style of our world these days, it's particularly important to be able, at certain times, to just Stay Put, be Focused. It is then while reflecting at those times that one may be able to recognize crucial aspects to the inherent entanglements we carry with us. As John Muir put it: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

For instance, it may sound strange, but we are each a composite of facets of self, Personas that we accept - parts, moods and so on that we ‘own’ as well as other parts we disavow, deny - ‘disown’. It’s like a similar spectrum from what we consciously 'believe we know’ all the way out to what we fail to realize that we do ‘know non-consciously’. There is an amazing spectrum of aspects, facets and complexities that you juggle (i.e. hopefully Mindfully) as you move through life - the Yin of Who You Are/Who Others Are - and it is in counterpoint to the Yang of What One Does/What Others Do! This challenges us to be able to focus beyond just oneself as a moving body, be able to be "bear the Yin side of things", to be Still and concentrate in awareness: to Identify with what Matters and has deep Meaning to us.

In complete contrast, at other times, it's crucial that we also be able to Move in consciousness or awareness (let alone the need to move in our bodies...) We do not usually think about or feel this too clearly, however - so the idea of moving in awareness may not be easy to conceptualize. We sometimes call this movement Getting or Understanding Something. You may also recognize it as that feeling of relief you can have when your world is making more sense again. You realize you had been overly stuck, identified with some troubling, preoccupying aspect of your life. The point here is that we do need both: a Stillness (of Identity and Identifying - the passivity of Yin) as well as Movement (the Detachment, the Disidentifying - the countering aspect of action, of Yang). Our life becomes off balance when we have too much of either Yin or Yang. Imagine being nothing but a Worker - obsessed with a manic Yang type life (we used to call this being Type A, now it is supposedly the norm in order to get a job)... On the other hand consider what it can feel like when you are so caught into being overly passive - so Yin oriented - thus perhaps feeling defeated, habituated to an avoidant life of chilling out. Be "too Yin" and you won't even be able to Do an Attending to your Key needs... unable to put Yang Intent into finding food, love and purpose for your mind and body!

So along with that Rat Race, a lot of our other ongoing problems - both as individuals and as a whole world - relate to staying caught, identifying self, other, our own or another group as Just This Problem which Cannot be Moved or Resolved. We see self, another, a group, society, a situation or an 'unstoppable process which is impacting us' from an ineffective perspective - one which really isn't working. Being (perhaps underneath where we do not notice it) too overly passive - Yin - we have identified ourselves with some position such as: "I am always losing things... I am too selfish (or too unselfish), too nasty/too nice... I am someone who wants love way too much... being a Powerful male means I have to always be Unemotional, etc." Staying stuck in these kinds of self positions (beliefs, feelings, judgements and so forth about myself) means that I have perhaps Far too much 'sunk myself down' into the place of seeking just the stillness of the butterfly - like somehow having become stuck... as if glued to that one flower... So, in other words we also do need to detach - i.e. to lift off, to move: sometimes as quickly as the shooting star - other times more slowly(!) At issue is a Noticing of what we had 'not noticed': accepting our need to also move - say into a new relationship towards self or other; into embracing a new perspective, style of learning or of experience...

There's a deep, substantial reason that Eastern disciplines of yoga, spirituality and meditation put a decided emphasis on Detachment. In our now globally oriented world of frantically Doing This and Doing That the wisdom of "doing some detaching" is under-emphasized. Corporate Profit wants us identifying with this activity, those next gadgets or that new pill or to be hankering after that vacation resort...

An alternative then - to this being either too Yin or too Yang - is what Dr. Roberto Assagioli, an Italian psychiatrist and contemporary of Freud who founded Psychosynthesis taught. We can in fact work at achieving more of a balance of both: being in some ways Attached/Identified as required yet also learning to be flexible, to be more Detached/Disidentified as we intuit the situation needs. If you start to look for them, you will realize that there are many unnoticed Yin as well as Yang aspects to our world and ourselves and that we often fail to perceive our need to balance them. We can then find a dialogue of Yin with Yang in life - a Flow in which we learn - as we go back and forth between these two.

Such balancing - say between being Focused Here/Now and being open to Where next to Focus - facilitates our growth as we realize we are reaching beyond the polarization of being either Stuck or Unable to Stop. If you can only be Depressed or Manic, for instance, your life will not feel too peaceful either way. Learning to be more inclusive, more whole - mindfully engaged yet also able to detach - allows you to bridge core splits you were trained to accept as Just How Things Are.

We do that polarizing of self in innumerable ways. I can Identify myself as "This or That", as Bright or Dumb, a Downer or overly Hyper, as Good or Bad, Good Looking or Ugly. Of course we can also be stuck in between and feel say, Numb, Dispirited, Vacant or like Nothing... That sense of an in- between position may have happened through one's half-hearted attempt to find balance; ending up with a sense of absence of self instead of true presence. Attempting to Disidentify - to detach self - while also redefining self is inherent in any personal growth. "Attaching" oneself to and clarifying an enhanced sense ourselves is quite the juggling trick if we have not yet really "Detached" from where we have been Stuck! The problem, in other words, is that while feeling and believing these 'self identifications'... say having No Doubt that we are Madly in love with that Marvellous Person (or else feeling like we Hate their guts and so on) we are also Caught by them... These beliefs, feelings, scripts and self perceptions become our habits and addictions to people, to objects, to activities or to any one of the wide range of other "places" where we may set our sense of Identification... All this means that the celebrity with their Ferrari is just as caught (perhaps more!) by this pattern as we can be - believing ourselves to have little/great worth, be powerless/invincible, Deeply Unimportant/Crucially Important etc.

To move beyond this polarizing tendency one needs to embrace both the steadiness of identifying and the movement of disidentifying. One does inherently imply the other: the Journeying (the Yang moving through life) and the finding, again and again of an evolving Home Identity (the Yin stilling of self) as we live. You can see this echoed in the symbol for Yin-Yang called the Taijitu - it shows the two as entwined, that there is a small dot of white (representing active Yang) that is there in the black passive Yin part of the symbol (as well as the reverse). This is really the essence of the sub- personality exploration/development work I depict briefly on this other page. As we do this we can find more and more Balance, the mindfulness of seeing the many sides of any situation. But when addicted or habituated - being more Continually Identified to something or Always Disidentified from some part of our world or our life - we have missed that crucial juggling: finding how to both Attach as well as Detach as needed...

This is complex, though. Detachment - being able to detach - is crucial, but it's also a double edged sword. It can allow us to gain perspective - to move, say, from the Victim self any of us can feel to more of a Balanced Observer / Inner Tao type position of Grace. It allows us ultimately to 'put aside' (disidentify from) aspects or facets of self or of other people we realize are limiting a truth we realize needs honouring - say being too self centred or else too 'other centred'. But all the same, detachment taken too far can also mean that we do not honour our own or another's pain. Thus aloof or cynical we have flipped from being controlled by such pain to being caught by an overly dominant self: through a potentially abusive or disdainful personal stance.

Those two extreme types of roles or scripts (Victor and Victim) are examples of forms of "sub-personalities" - Personas as Dr. Carl Jung called them. These two in particular I see as a more base (less integrated) duo, cross linked to each other, a pair of part-self identities that form a reactive, Dinosaur Brain type layer of the Autopilot self. Autopilot is our general set of either/or scripts; they are roles and schemas we use to manage our lives while less than fully awake: "I put myself on Autopilot and gave that usual sales pitch of mine and it went over smoothly (etc)". I call this overall system the Autopilot as it is like an automatic driver for many parts of our lives! It is described by Dr. Ellen Langer as the areas where we are following a script without full attention. She calls it Mindlessness.

This New Yorker article provides an excellent overview of how pervasively these scripts can automate our lives. Those two (Victor and Victim) Persona styles I call our Pushing and Negating forms of sub personalities. They are our most out of balance aspects and are a major source for the creating of our dilemmas - as they love drama! An example would be in Borderline Personality Disorder type dynamics, for instance, where one switches from depressive self pity (Negating) to a form of manic self entitlement (Pushing) unable to keep one's balance, thus feeling - as DBT would put it - an "emotional dysregulation". To challenge the controllingness of such Personas (in oneself or in others) is to enter an intense learning environment! To strive for harmonious daily balance means risking dealing with their ambiguity: not being controlled by our fear of either identifying with OR disidentifying from these base Persona types. One's search for balance in these areas means finding whatever it is we need to move towards or stay away from: be more caring for, more detached from. Indeed, being alive on a chaotic planet means ongoing work with our own and/or with other people's such Personas, harmonizing and re- integrating their chaotic tendencies.

Take a look at my piece of art on the right. Can you Identify with some comparable parts of self struggling within you? Art is helpful in this way. Making drawings of your own sub-personalities can give you interesting insights into what they are about...

Autopilot Aspects: styles of automatic, awareness compromised self. As I look at that picture I suspect when I made it I was struggling a fair bit (!) - feeling invaded/violated. I was probably feeling victimized (maybe by an external dominator) but there was certainly an internal tyrant aspect of self at work as well - as you can see in the picture. The picture shows a small sample of how we can feel, think of ourselves and be automated in our lives. A key to what we fail to notice are the paired dominated vs. dominating base layer elements of the Autopilot self. They are a key source of our misery - both in us as well as between us. Their conflict (tyrannizing/dominating and feeling victimized) leads to a next level attempt at reconciliation: the Inner Balance layer of the Autopilot, where we try to reconcile our biologically ingrained tendency to be up for Conflict by attempting to learn to Cooperate. There you end up with two further Yin/Yang choices: a range of Dreaming or else of Bridging type Personas.

So these four: Pushing and Negating, then Bridging and Dreaming elements of self (the Autopilot self, that is...) lie festering in their fearful, enraged, addicted, grandiose or at least routinized process within us, leaving us feeling half alive. Sometimes only later do we realize we have been Anxious, Depressed, Controlling or simply Avoidant within those Identifications for moments or years...

The way that the Bridging sub- personalities work is across a range: teaching, indulging, rescuing, placating and mediating for example. Our Dreaming sub- personalities are now too often mistaken in practise as 'loving yourself'. Real love for self includes taking balanced initiative - meaning active being balanced with passive. This is often disliked by the Bridging styles (of Rescuer, Pleaser and so on that many of us have) as being too much 'like the Pushy Tyrant'... So this indulging aspect tells us to "just take one more cookie", have one more addictive sexual fantasy, accept one more instance of giving up constructive initiative (as it might be too much like the assertiveness of the active aspect of self...) etc., etc. In this set of definitions, the rescuer is another Autopilot self aspect - as the 'rescuing' is done from a position of Reactiveness to those other two primary sub- personalities. So there is quite often a merry (!) go round between a range of these autopilot aspects: victim, tyrant/abuser, rescuer and avoidant dreamer for instance.

Of course this can also be either 'within oneself' or between people in relation to each other. Interpersonally, the rescuer actually perpetuates conflict as, in my experience, it is always biased towards the victim. If bias is actually transcended, then you are no longer 'rescuing', you're in the Fair witness or Balanced Observer position.

Many, many family battles are enacted in this way. The Abusive parent victimizes a child and the other parent becomes a rescuer who passively/aggressively beats up on the abuser, becoming themselves abusive which then triggers a reaction in the first parent. The child or children react and learn the patterns and the 'merry-go-round' (!) is off and running. These conflicts continue, feeding on unawareness. The pattern of Blame becomes big here... It's only finally as we find some perspective and commit ourselves to aiming for balance rather than a further polarizing of situations that we can change the pain and unhappiness.

There is a whole potential Cast of Characters that we can have in these ways. The 'out of balance' Autopilot aspects that can be within us include helpful as well as destructive "sides" of ourselves: the judge, the cynic, the manipulator, the airy idealist, the aloof disengaged hermit etc. Similarly, sub- personalities page.

One's whole marriage, for instance, can be focused around that 'rescuing' of a partner (or, of course, around the 'being abused by' or the abusing...) These 'sub- personalities as compulsions' explain why any two people can go from love to hate to pity and then around again: their sub-personality positions have shifted. How person X will relate to person Y will shift as 'who' they are Identifying as 'self' shifts... Consequently we go back and forth, back and forth. (Follow links from this google on 'borderline personality disorder' - you'll see depictions of this taken to extreme.)

A person may live their whole life under the cloud of their sense of rage or victimhood from one of these - from an internal tyrant, victim, judge or cynic just as unhappily as from an actual external abusive or deeply neglectful parent, partner or boss. Indeed, we can certainly also project that aspect of ourself on another and you can imagine how the 'drama' goes from there.

Each of us can have a whole range of these tendencies. We then react to ourselves or a partner or a stranger, our family or a whole ethnic or definable category of people on the basis of one of these Autopilot scripts. How many bigoted name-callings are based in this? Think of the scorn, the dismissal - the Unawareness eventually - in how people try to Right Wrongs because 'those other people' are angry, are wimps or are seen as stupidly rescuing others. Gays, the poor, the disadvantaged, the sick etc. are pigeonholed... like people of 'that religion' or 'that ethnic group over there' who are ____ (insert assumption made in that unawareness). This is why we are not a peaceful planet, folks. We feel controlled by our need to rescue reactively, to abuse - reactively, to submit, victim-wise, again reactively.

Feeling abused (or wanting to abuse) we feel pain. I found myself depicting that as below \/ ... We want to move away from that, deny it, rationalize or numb ourselves to it. We don't Want to Identify with that pain - so we can't work it through... We end up depressed, anxious, confused or having any other of a myriad of other unhappy responses - all because we're caught in the Autopilot and it's automation of awareness...

Perhaps you can identify (as explained above) with this figure, with having a sense of 'things', the world, your life being out of control?

To change these painful internal and external discords we need to allow more harmony into our lives. At times that means more harmony between people, but even more fundamentally it means reconciling you and you (!) - between your sub- personalities.

On the Resources page I write about finding what I can whimsically call our Detached Enthusiastically Initiating & Observing Self (D E I O S) - i.e. one's Higher Self. It's with the assistance of that place of balance from within us that we are able to move beyond the polarizations of our scripted sub- personalities. The fanciful depiction below is a way of picturing those aspects of self - the range of colours and types of elements is meant to represent the 'variety' of sub-personalities we can have - yet all within the oval field of 'normal consciousness'. The whole of this picture below would fit, in other words, within the Field of Consciousness - element #4 - shown in the pink 'egg' diagram a third of the way down that Resources page (as linked above).

There is a background to this image that I've put in that hopefully conveys a centring - a moving into coherence 'upward' - towards heightened consciousness and the Higher Self. This is to point to the truth that there are important aspects of the whole that will be finally drawn from each of these sub-personality elements: a 'too aggressive' side will be the eventual backbone of our assertiveness and a 'too passive' part of self will mature into a balancedly detached patient aspect of the whole. Some of my poetic attempts - after that pink egg diagram - may convey some of this more clearly.

L o v e  I s

S p o n s o r i n g

A l l  Y o u r  S e l v e s

B e y o n d

A n y

O n e

A u t o p i l o t  S e l f ' s

V i c t i m h o o d  ( o r  e l s e  t h e i r  

A b u s i v e  p r o c e s s  o f  D o m i n a n c e . . .)
Y o u 

O                              p
   e      n
Y o u r

S e l f  t o  S p i r i t,

Y o u  h e a l  t h a t  A u t o p i l o t,

W a t c h i n g  

f o r

M e a n i n g

L a y e r s

H e r e

O n  T h e s e  P a g e s

A n d  D a y s .
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