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Toward a Sustainable Myth of Self

Authors:
  • Rocky Mountain Humanistic Counseling and Psychological Association

Abstract

The self has come under considerable attack in postmodern times. Amidst many deconstructions and reformulations of the self, various myths of self have lost their sustainability. This article reviews various theoretical perspectives on the self along with many postmodern challenges to the self. It is proposed that the self is a socially constructed entity which can be conceptualized from a variety of perspectives; however, not all myths of self are equal. In particular, premodern and modern myths of self are inadequate for postmodern times. Building from an existential-integrative perspective, we propose Schneider's paradoxical self as a promising myth of self for postmodern times.
Toward a Sustainable
Myth of Self
An Existential Response to the
Postmodern Condition
Louis Hoffman
Sharon Stewart
Denise Warren
Lisa Meek
University of the Rockies
The self has come under considerable attack in postmodern times. Amidst
many deconstructions and reformulations of the self, various myths of self have
lost their sustainability. This article reviews various theoretical perspectives on
the self along with many postmodern challenges to the self. It is proposed that
the self is a socially constructed entity which can be conceptualized from a
variety of perspectives; however, not all myths of self are equal. In particular,
premodern and modern myths of self are inadequate for postmodern times.
Building from an existential–integrative perspective, we propose Schneider’s
paradoxical self as a promising myth of self for postmodern times.
Keywords: existential psychology; postmodernism; self; myths; personality
theory
The self maintained a secure, even sacred, place throughout the history
of Western thought. Despite widespread disagreement about what con-
stituted the self and the essential nature of the self, few questioned its exis-
tence. Contemporary times challenged this privileged place of the self.
Behaviorism and its offshoots replaced the focus on self with behavior
(Polkinghorne, 2001). Technology and pluralism brought metaphors of
multiple selves (Gergen, 1991, 1996). Postmodern analyses quickly followed,
questioning whether a singular, essential self was a healthy construct
Journal of Humanistic
Psychology
Volume XX Number X
Month XXXX xx-xx
© 2008 Sage Publications
10.1177/0022167808324880
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hosted at
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1
Author’s Note:An earlier version of this article was presented at the 114th Annual Convention
of the American Psychological Association in New Orleans, LA, in August, 2006.
doi:10.1177/0022167808324880
Journal of Humanistic Psychology OnlineFirst, published on November 11, 2008 as
(Zweig, 1995). The influence of Eastern thought, particularly Buddhist
philosophy, introduced recognition of no-self as an ideal (Mosig, 2006).
Cultural analyses provided examples of cultures which did not have a tra-
ditional conception of self, but rather understood what is referred to as the
self in Western thought in terms of roles which are much more fluid over
time (Cross & Gore, 2005; Sue & Sue, 2003). In the end, the necessity of a
self conception, so basic to Western psychology, is now in question.
It is hard to imagine Western psychology without a conception of the
self. The self is intertwined with diagnosis, personality, assessment, and
treatment. So implicit is it in psychological language that it would appear
to require a significant restructuring of psychology to remove the idea of
the self. Yet, history and convenience should not be the sole argument for
retaining the concept of the self.
This article uses a broad array of resources to elucidate the challenges to
the self in postmodern times. This analysis concludes by developing an
existential-integrative perspective on the self. Several assumptions are
worth noting at the outset. First, consistent with postmodern theory, we
assert that the self is best understood as socially constructed. Second, dif-
ferent constructions of the self may be more appropriate and psychologi-
cally healthier for some cultures and individuals than others. In particular,
we are focusing on the self in Western culture in this paper. It would be
inappropriate to turn any conception of the self into a metanarrative force-
fully applied across cultures and individuals indiscriminately. Third, we
maintain the position that myths of self are valuable, particularly for those
individuals living in Western societies.
Language Issues
Language is relevant to psychological well-being as well as a staple of
some approaches to postmodernism. At the same time, language is devoid
of an absolute meaning; instead, it is more important to understand the local
meaning of words and how they are used differently. Murphy (1996) high-
lights multiple ways language is used in modern and postmodern para-
digms. Modern paradigms assume that language is describing something
real with an absolute meaning. In this paradigm, accurate definitions of
words are essential. Postmodern linguistic theory views language as expres-
sive or related to internal perceptions and feelings. Language is socially
constructive and therefore not used in a consistent manner over time or
2 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
across people. In this paradigm, it makes little sense to debate definitional
issues; however, it remains important to clarify how terms are being used.
Given this assumption, it is important to clarify how certain terms, such
as self and its relation to personality, are defined in this paper. We under-
stand the self as the social and/or personal construction which implicitly
assumes some level of boundaries and distinctions between the self and the
world, including other beings. Self boundaries remain intact despite the
possibility of shared aspects/qualities (spiritual, collective unconscious) or
the ability to transcend these boundaries (transpersonal, transcendent, or
prepersonal experiences). Personality is defined as patterns of internal
experiences (thoughts, beliefs, and emotions) and behaviors which tend to
maintain consistency over time. Personality is secondary to the self and
often flows from it. Changes in personality tend to occur gradually.
The myth of self is a phrase relied on regularly in this paper. The use of
myth relies on the ancient Greek understanding of myth, revitalized by
Rollo May (1991) in The Cry for Myth. According to May, myth is not
something which is false, but rather something that cannot be proven true.
Myths provide deep, sustaining meaning and help provide direction in life;
they are healthy, growth facilitating, and necessary. In referring to myths of
self, we are not making a metaphysical statement about the existence of
self; rather, we are referring to various social constructions of the self which
can provide the aforementioned type of sustained meaning.
A Brief History of the Self
Zedek (1998) states, “Any effort to summarize a 4000-year history and
tradition cannot help but prove inadequate” (p. 255). Certainly this is true
of the history of the self along with descriptions of how the self was domi-
nantly understood in various periods and theories. Any such attempt in an
article of this length requires significant over-simplification. We acknowl-
edge the limitation of not being able to address many nuances of the self
across history; however, it is still necessary to highlight historical develop-
ments in how the self has been understood.
The Premodern Self
The premodern self was intricately tied to the development of dualism.
Originating in Platonism, dualism distinguished between the material self,
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 3
or the body, and the soul, which is understood as a purer or more essential
aspect of the self. The soul, as understood in Platonic thought, has a non-
material, metaphysical basis. In this conception, the physical body is deni-
grated, and the soul is idealized. Religion, primarily Christianity, served as
the gatekeeper and carrier for many philosophical ideas, such as the con-
ception of the self, throughout the premodern period. As such, this distinc-
tion between the soul and the material self is deeply embedded in much
Christian theology, which took an increasingly negative view of the mater-
ial body. Self-denial was a common theme and often encouraged. Some
religious individuals took this to the extreme stating that self-esteem or any
self-focus is sinful and should be discouraged. Conversely, the soul, or the
immaterial and immortal aspect of the self, should be embraced.
In contemporary interfaith dialogues, it is interesting to note that the con-
cept of emptiness has been pointed to as a central concept of convergence in
the Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist dialogues (Abe, 1990; Altizer, 1990;
Borowitz, 1990). Within each of these religions, various traditions have an
emptying or self-emptying religious process. In Christianity, the idea of
Kenosis was also applied to Christ as his self-emptying through the cruci-
fixion (Abe). In Buddhism, the Sunyata, which literally means emptiness, is
seen as the ultimate reality, including the reality of the self (i.e., no-self). In
Jewish mysticism, the idea of emptying is less direct, but nonetheless still
present (Borowitz). Each of these very different religious traditions share a
concept of emptying applied to God or Ultimate reality and the self.
The Modern Self
The modern period questioned many assumptions of premodernism,
which, in turn, questioned premodern assumptions about the nature of per-
sons. Two broad approaches to understanding the self were important in the
modern period; however, it should be noted that it is not possible to cover
all the modernist notions on the self in this article. Instead, we focus on two
of the more influential views that typified the central tenets of the modernist
self. The dominant view of the self was one of reductionistic materialism or
physicalism. It assumed the self is contained within the biology of the indi-
vidual, calling into question metaphysical aspects of the self. Within this
purview, many variations occurred, such as behaviorism and cognitive
theory. Freud developed an alternative biological position. Often misrepre-
sented, Freud’s theory is a biological or drive model in which the self is
contained within the biology. The unconscious, although often conjuring
metaphysical associations, is located within the body for Freud. Freud’s
4 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
theory expanded the conceptualization of the self to include the uncon-
scious along with behavior and conscious aspects of the individual.
A second modern perspective of self attempted to rectify modern
assumptions with religious values. The idea of a soul understood meta-
physically was important for most Western religions. Modern reductionism
and materialism challenged this position. There were a variety of attempts
to rectify this discrepancy, many of which emphasized some type of paral-
lelism between metaphysical and biological aspects of the self.
Psychophysical parallelism, which maintains there is a parallel between
what occurs in the mind and the brain, is a common way to save the idea of
the soul (Brennan, 2003). Several different forms of psychophysical paral-
lelism developed from the 17th through 19th century. Many of these
approaches adhered to a position that there was no interaction between
physical and metaphysical aspects of the person; they simply were parallel
to each other. Others, such as Descartes, advocated for an interaction
between the physical and metaphysical aspects of the person.
Although not a modernist viewpoint, Wilber (2000b) adds a more com-
plex, contemporary alternative to psychological parallelism. In describing
aspects of the self, he states that they
. . . cannot be reduced to material dimensions (because, unlike matter, they
do not possess simple location). Nonetheless, feelings, mental ideas, and
spiritual illuminations all have physical correlates that can be measured by
various scientific means, from EER machines to blood chemistry to PET
scans to galvanic skin response. (p. 75)
For Wilber (2000b), this alternative is not claiming a metaphysical par-
allel to brain and physiological functioning; rather, the relationship is more
complex. Functions of the self cannot be reduced to a singular place in the
brain, but rather are the result of a complex interaction of various parts of
the brain beyond its mere material makeup.
A recent alternative way to reconcile materialism and religion is eluci-
dated in the concept of nonreductive physicalism (see Brown, Murphy, &
Malony, 1998). The basis of this argument is to develop a physicalism
which does not necessitate a metaphysical mind or soul to explain our
higher functions without reducing these same higher functions through
reductionism (Murphy, 1998). Murphy states,
Science has provided a massive amount of evidence suggesting that we need
not postulate the existence of an entity such as a soul or mind to explain life
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 5
and consciousness. Furthermore, philosophers have argued cogently that the
belief in a substantial mind or soul is the result of confusion arising from how
we talk. We have been misled by the fact that “mind” and “soul” are nouns
into thinking that there must be an object to which these terms correspond
. . . . when we say a person has a mind, we might better understand this to
mean that the person displays a broad set of actions, capacities, and disposi-
tions. (pp. 18-19)
Emergent properties, often associated with that which makes people
human, have typically been characterized as part of a metaphysical mind or
soul. Nonreductive physicalism states that these properties emerge from com-
plex actions and interactions arising within the physical make up. The whole,
through complex interaction, becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
Modernism maintained a consistent view of the self as a material reality.
Increasingly this was understood in physical terms, leading to metaphors of
machines and later computers to illustrate human functioning. The essen-
tial nature of the self, although understood differently, was largely unques-
tioned. The late modern period, however, reflected a shift away from the
focus on the self. Polkinghorne (2001) notes academic psychology shifted
to focus on behavior instead of the self. This deemphasized the necessity of
the self in psychology and understanding what it means to be human,
paving the way for the postmodern rejection of the self.
Changing Conceptions of the Self in Postmodern Times
Postmodern Themes
. . . there is nothing that is written about periods, places, or cultures that can-
not be discredited. One can always find strong emanations of the past in what
is “new.” (Gergen, 1991, p. ix)
Modernism represented a period of history when cultures remained
fairly isolated. There was little doubt that this played a role in the narrow-
ness of the modernist epistemology and worldview. The height of mod-
ernism brought with it great confidence in human potential, confidence in
the role of humanity (particularly White humanity) in the order of all living
things, and belief that science and technology would save the world from
wars, sickness, and even death. Myths of the fountain of youth, manifest
destiny, utopia, and other grandiose themes abounded. Modernism made
attractive promises but, in the end, modernism failed. Postmodernism
6 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
emerged with the flurry of anger that so often accompanies the disillusion-
ment of fallen heroes and broken ideals. In response to the idealism of mod-
ernism, postmodernism began with a reactionary pessimism that, over time,
opened doors toward a theory able to integrate hopeful optimism with tem-
pered pessimism. The myriad of postmodern theories today reflect every-
thing from exuberant sanguinity to dreadful cynicism while, at their best,
bringing together modulated versions of both dispositions.
Danger often ensues when individuals take on a modern or postmodern
outlook without critical examination of potential consequences. It is
assumed that modernism and postmodernism reflect different ends of a
continuum; however, these theories are paradigmatically different, not
opposite extremes. Extremes such as absolute relativity, scientific material-
ism, and logical positivism can all be located in broader conceptions of
modernism and postmodernism, but focusing on these more extreme exam-
ples prevents people from grasping the diversity within each paradigm. This
is a difficult distinction for many. Western thought wants to place things in
opposites or dualities. Continuums demonstrate this difference in polar
extremes. However, opposites can also be seen as categorically different or
the complete negation of the other. In this view, there is not a gradual tran-
sition between extremes but the choice of one option which is implicitly
assumed to be the opposite of the other. The difference between modernism
and postmodernism cannot be conceptualized as merely being opposites.
Instead, they are paradigmatically different but not necessarily to such an
extreme as to fully negate the other viewpoint. Postmodernism embraces
many aspects of modernism, such as modernist epistemology, by placing it
in a different context and changing its deeper significance (i.e., placing it as
one of many ways of knowing instead of the way of knowing). To under-
stand distinctions and similarities between these theories, alternative ways
of conceptualizing and categorizing difference are needed.
Anderson (1995) states that the transition from modernism to postmod-
ernism “has to do with a change not so much in what we believe as in how
we believe” (p. 2). It is the nature of knowledge and truth (i.e., epistemol-
ogy) that is changing. Modernism believes there is a knowable absolute
truth that can be known through science and reason (see Hoffman &
Kurzenberger, 2008). Postmodernists disagree about whether some forms
of ultimate truth may exist but agree that this truth cannot be definitively
known. This reflects a radical and important shift. Throughout the premod-
ern and modern periods there was agreement by the majority of authorities
that truth, even ultimate truth, existed and could be definitively known. The
postmodern shift represents the first major change in the history of Western
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 7
thought which called the assumption of knowable truth into question on a
large scale.
Modernism utilized a foundational theory of knowledge which begins
with knowable ultimate Truth (Hoffman & Kurzenberger, 2008; Murphy,
1996). From this perspective, all knowledge is built from that which can be
certainly known. The well-known example of Descartes demonstrates the
epistemology and methodology of this perspective. Descartes began ques-
tioning everything he could question and came to the conclusion that he
could not question that he was thinking, which means he exists (i.e., “I
think therefore I am”). This statement, often cited as the beginning of mod-
ernism, asserts that all knowledge must be built from this basic foundation
of knowledge. Descartes began with rationalism, but his theory evolved into
a more scientific approach which combined rationalism and a form of
empiricism (i.e., knowing through the senses). These two ways of knowing
were the privileged epistemologies of the modernist period. The primary
methodologies of logic (a rationalistic method) and science (application of
reason to empiricism) were elucidated from these ways of knowing.
Postmodernism began as a reaction against privileging modernist episte-
mologies and methodologies. The early phase of postmodernism decon-
structed modernism and the second phase began developing alternative
epistemologies and methodologies (Hoffman & Kurzenberger, 2008). The pri-
mary epistemological position demonstrates an epistemological pluralism
(Hoffman & Kurzenberger) and a metaphysical holism (Murphy, 1996), which
does not privilege any one way of knowing. As an alternative, postmodernism
suggests that multiple epistemologies and methodologies should be utilized
regardless of the assumption of whether or not ultimate truth exists.
Quine and Ullian (1978) developed a web theory providing the basis for
a postmodern theory of knowledge. Although their formulations are impor-
tant, their approach remained limited in that it privileged modernist ways of
knowing (Murphy, 1996). Quine and Ullian’s theory conceptualized knowl-
edge as being similar to a large web of knowledge. Each point of connec-
tion represents a piece of knowledge, which is not an ultimate truth, but
rather the current understanding which is subject to reformulation.
Knowledge, like a spider web, is interconnected and most dependent on the
connection points closest to it. If any connection point is changed, it
impacts all the other points in the web. The closest points are impacted
more than the distal points. In this view, points of knowledge should con-
tinually be reexamined and reconsidered.
The common critique of postmodernism and the web theory of knowl-
edge is that it appears to relegate all ways of knowing as equal (i.e., absolute
8 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
relativism). However, this represents an oversimplification and misunder-
standing of postmodernism rather than a valid critique. Although some
postmodern approaches embrace extreme relativism, this is not essential to
postmodernist thought. Postmodernism is pluralistic, embracing many dif-
ferent viewpoints and approaches, but is not necessarily relativistic, stating
that all viewpoints are equal. Furthermore, absolute relativism is based in a
personal constructivism, whereas postmodern thought is rooted in social
constructivism. The social or cultural factors limit relativism by locating
truth in a complex relational matrix.
In summary, at least five major themes emerge in a postmodern theory
of knowledge. First, truth, regardless of whether there is ultimate truth, can
only be understood locally or to a limited degree, often portrayed in post-
modern theory as bound by language. Second, truth, if and where it exists,
is best approximated using multiple epistemologies and multiple method-
ologies. Third, if ultimate truth exists, there is less of it than the modernists
would portray. Fourth, truth should continually be reexamined in light of
new information. Fifth, truth is interconnected and interdependent. It could
be noted that this is a broader and more inclusive definition of postmod-
ernism than what is typical. This is intentional; we maintain postmodernism
is best understood as a variety of approaches that share many common
values instead of narrowly focusing in on particular requirements to be
considered postmodern.
General Postmodern Themes in Relation to the Self
It has been argued that a coherent self in the postmodern era is under
unprecedented attack and in danger of annihilation (Zweig, 1995).
Adjectives applied to the postmodern self include empty,multiple, and sat-
urated (Messer & Warren as cited in Bracken, 2003). These descriptors
stand in contrast to the modern view of an autonomous, boundaried, stable
self. Postmodern thought encompasses a variety of ideas about the self that
generally center on the idea that the self is socially mediated. The individ-
ual self is situated in culture providing a framework for understanding
personal experience and guiding behavior.
Threats to the self are inherent in the extremes of postmodernist theory.
The more moderate positions argue for a plurality of selves appropriate to the
context and environment (e.g., Martin & Sugarman, 2001; Neimeyer, 1998).
The real postmodern challenge may be to a modern conceptualization of a
permanent, autonomous self. The postmodernist self is a more holistic, com-
plex, nuanced, and adaptive self that is actively engaged in the world.
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 9
Challenges to the Self
The Self and Pluralism
Culture provides a lens through which experience, behavior, and the self
are interpreted. It involves, among other things, shared language, symbols,
and values. Therein lays another threat to the postmodern self. To the extent
that a culture becomes less coherent or weakened through input from other
cultures that is integrated by its members, the culture becomes less func-
tional as an interpretive and evaluative lens. May (1991) believes that expe-
rience and the self are evaluated, directed, and interpreted by shared aspects
of a culture’s myths. The loss or weakening of that culture may leave the
self rudderless and without structure.
Exposure to other belief systems is also viewed as potentially under-
mining to the self in the postmodern era because other belief systems may
challenge values that contribute to the framework through which the self
and experience are interpreted and given meaning (e.g., Gergen, 1991).
Challenges to values may result in the perception of truth as relative and
fluid. Exposure to varied cultures offers parallel belief systems which may
cause questioning of those values integrated into the self concept by way of
our personal myths (May, 1991).
The Self as a Social Construction
One broad theoretical orientation in psychology allied with postmodern
thinking is called, variously, constructivism, constructionism, and con-
structive (Raskin, 2002). Radical constructivism holds that human reality is
created by interpretation of objective reality and that there is no actual
objective reality. Social constructivists argue that an individual’s identity is
constructed by social interaction, but the person actively constructs that
identity. Nonetheless, according to Raskin, social constructivists aver that
there is no internal self. What is perceived as the self is actually a configu-
ration of positions taken within a social network. Another form of con-
structivism is critical constructivism. Critical constructivists believe that
there exists an independent first order reality that constrains, but does not
create, individual, or second order, reality. Second order reality is created
by an individual’s active interpretation of and influence on experience in
the context of social interaction (Mahoney, 1991). Language holds a criti-
cal place in constructivist theory in that selfhood and reality are said to be
coconstructed through shared language (Gergen, 1991).
One line of thought is that, because a sense of self is culturally con-
structed, a homogenous social environment is required for its existence.
10 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
Proponents of this view see personal identity as intrinsically social and
founded on relations with others (Greenlaw, 1994). These theorists believe
that the requisite cultural homogeneity is eroded by technologically facili-
tated exposure to other cultures and contexts. For these writers, language
and its consensual meaning is critically important for the development of a
self concept. According to Gergen (1996), “To the extent that there is
homogeneity in context of expression . . . the underlying psychological
source is enhanced” (¶ 10). The expanded vocabulary of the self, both from
other cultures and from the mainstreaming of terminology in the field of
psychology, is thought to create a potential for confusion in the culturally
based meaning of words used defining the self.
The Self and Fluidity
Lifton (1995), drawing on Greek mythology, introduces the Protean self:
We know from Greek mythology that Proteus was able to change his shape
with relative ease from wild boar to lion to dragon to fire to flood. What he
found difficult, and would not do unless seized and chained, was to commit
himself to a single form, a form most his own, and carry out his function of
prophecy. We can say the same of Protean man, but we must keep in mind his
possibilities as well as his difficulties. (p. 130)
Proteus is not the typical mythic figure. In the West, it is more common to see
myths of stability as can be easily illustrated in movies and literature. People in
the United States have been inundated with images of the unwavering cowboy
or hero who perseveres by sticking to his or her values and commitments.
Although admirable in many situations, there is also the image of the tragic hero
who loses everything because he or she is unwilling to adapt or change.
This second side of the Protean myth is as dangerous as the first. May
(1991) illustrates:
But this addiction to change can lead to superficiality and psychological
emptiness, and like Peer Gynt, we never pause long enough to listen to our
own deeper insights. Lifton uses the myth of Proteus to describe the
chameleon tendencies, the ease with which many modern Americans play
any role the situation requires of them. Consequently, we not only do not
speak from our inner integrity, but often have a conviction of never having
lived as our “true selves.” (p. 105)
The tragedy is in the inability to balance the stability and fluidity of the
self, as illustrated in constrictive and expansive potentialities (Schneider,
1999). Proteus and the lonely hero are equally tragic.
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 11
In mainstream psychology, theorists across different domains fall prey to
both tragedies. Many view the self as a dynamic, adaptive structure which
is naturally in a constant state of change (e.g., Markus, & Nurius, 1986). At
the same time, research from a number of theoretical orientations inquiring
into the nature of the self concluded that adults direct more attention and
more quickly process information that is self-relevant and congruent with
internal representations of the self. Individuals tend to interpret ambiguous
information or fill in missing information in a manner consistent with their
internal representations (e.g., Bowlby, 1973; Treboux, Crowell, & Waters,
2004). In other words, they construct the self in a consistent manner.
Results from studies such as these suggest that people have some stability
of self-representations that are likely to be resistant to change or dissolu-
tion. However, self-representations are not equivalent to the self and could
refer to a perceived self instead of a real self. Additionally, although some
self-representations remain stable and resistant to change, others readily
change. As Gergen (1995) states, “We have paid too much attention to such
central tendencies, and have ignored the range and complexity of being.
The individual has many potential selves” (p. 142).
Another challenge to the self represented by postmodernist thought is
the question of whether the self can change or grow in any real or purpose-
ful way. Social constructivism argues for a nonagentic self constructed by
culture and social discourse with language as a “matrix of meaning
making” (Neimeyer, 1998, p. 135). One could argue, as does Lyddon
(1998), that accepting this to be true is tantamount to an abdication of any
personal responsibility because the individual is at the mercy of social cur-
rents and circumstances as well as the extent of one’s facility with lan-
guage. This begs the question of what this means for adherence to culturally
accepted norms of behavior or legal systems which infer agency and con-
fer responsibility (Neimeyer). The constitution of the self through social
discourse also begs the question of how current technologies, which may
replace or minimize person-to-person discourse, influence the self (see
Gergen, 1991). The advent of television, voice mail, e-mail, and the Internet
allow exchanges of language without any live discourse. How social must
the discourse be to have meaning in the construction of the self?
The Self and Masks
Gergen (1995), in his early writing, challenged the conception that a sta-
ble, coherent self is necessary for psychological health. As Gergen points
out, nearly all psychological research and assessment is based on the
12 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
assumption that it is normative for individuals to develop a “firm and con-
sistent sense of identity” (p. 137). If this is normative and healthy, then
inconsistency is seen as bad. Gergen states,
My research over the past few years has led me to question both of these
assumptions very seriously. I doubt that a person normally develops a coher-
ent sense of identity, and to the extent that he does, he may experience severe
emotional distress. The long-term intimate relationship, so cherished in our
society, is an unsuspected cause of this distress because it freezes and con-
stricts identity. (p. 138)
This statement not only calls into question prominent psychological
assumptions, but also many cultural and religious values. For instance, this
could be interpreted to mean that the constrictive nature of marriage may
interfere with optimal psychological health. Furthermore, could it be that
multiple marriages or relationships over a lifespan, each fitting the current
conception of the self, may be healthier? This protean idea of the self chal-
lenges many religious views of marriage and young children’s need for
stability and consistency.
Gergen is not necessarily advocating for this extreme position and nei-
ther are we. However, this has some important implications. For example,
in premarital counseling, the assumption of a stable, coherent sense of iden-
tity pervades. The supposition is that if the couple is currently a good fit,
they will remain a good fit. This works for couple where both individuals
are less likely to engage in personal change and development, given exter-
nal influences do not change this propensity. However, for many couples, a
greater risk is inherent. Premarital counseling should attempt to explore the
likely trajectory of growth and change in the individuals. To do this, a dif-
ferent approach to psychological assessment is needed as well as interven-
tions designed to promote sharing in the growth process and, perhaps, to
moderate growth in divergent directions.
In the marriage example, Gergen’s (1995) concern centers on three inter-
related issues. First, he believes many couples focus on their spouse for ful-
fillment of their needs. Second, the inability to appreciate or tolerate
differences in the other causes spouses to pressure the other for consistency.
Finally, the idealization process naturally brings about several extreme
states of emotion that do not last and are difficult to tolerate. The concep-
tion of the self and the spouse in their relationship often develop during
periods of intense passion and idealization. When these break, there is the
natural tendency to shift to extremes of anger and sadness. If the couple is
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 13
not prepared to withstand these challenges, it may lead to the dissolution of
the relationship.
For Gergen (1995), the healthy resolution of this problem is to become
more comfortable with different experiences and different masks. If indi-
viduals can seek out and learn to appreciate a broad range of experiences
and emotions, they are better able to tolerate differences with their spouse
or others with whom they choose to maintain long-term relationships.
Additionally, they will learn to adjust and appreciate different sides of
themselves. Their appreciation for diversity within themselves and others
replaces the need for a stable self.
This self, who is more prone to adjust within the context, is comfortable
playing many different roles. The stable self is replaced by an intersubjec-
tive self, which is created anew in different contexts. According to Gergen
(1995), this does not threaten the depth of being, but rather creates it in a
more pluralistic, diverse context. Stated differently, “The mask may be not
the symbol of superficiality that we have thought it was, but the means of
realizing our potential” (Gergen, p. 144).
Gergen’s Saturated Self
Gergen’s (1991) most significant contribution to the literature on the self
is The Saturated Self. In this book, he develops an important postmodern
thesis stating that social saturation threatens the self. Social saturation
means that the technology of this age facilitates interpersonal interaction so
that people may engage in more relationships than before. Pluralism is one
part if this new matrix. The potential threat is predicated on the belief that
personal essence is based on social context and a multiplicity of relation-
ships means the self is under constant construction and reconstruction with-
out opportunity for introspection.
It is not necessarily the exposure, in itself, that is dangerous, but rather
the rapid rate of exposure, not allowing time for introspection and integra-
tion. In The Saturated Self, Gergen (1991) takes a more cautionary agenda
than in his previous article advocating for multiple masks (1972/1995; the
original version of this article was published in 1972, almost 20-years prior
to The Saturated Self). Although he recognizes that this progression into
multiplicity of experience is inevitable at this point, he appears more reti-
cent about the consequences of these changes.
Regardless of how an individual feels about the modern self, it is
not likely that this construction can exist in a meaningful way for most
people in contemporary life. Modern stability is quickly overwhelmed by
14 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
the postmodern plurality. Although a rigid defensive position is possible, it
may not be able to maintain psychological health. This does not necessitate
a discarding of the self or moving to the extreme of no-self or many selves,
but it does call for some necessary reconstruction.
Buddhism’s No-Self and the Middle Path
A central concept in Buddhist philosophy is that of no-self, or anatta.
Buddhism teaches that personal identities are the individual’s creation and
the source of suffering. Gaskins (1999) writes, “The Buddha taught that
what we recognize as a self of permanent essence is actually an ever-chang-
ing configuration of physical or mental energies or processes that is only
meaningful because of . . . [particular contexts]” (p. 206). Here, the dis-
tinction between the self and personality is illuminating. In Buddhist per-
spectives on reincarnation, what continues on into the next life is an
enduring pattern, not the self, which is an illusion. In comparing this with
the definitions above, this is more consistent with the idea of personality.
Most Western interpretations of reincarnation assume that it is the self, not
the personality, which endures.
The creation of a self not only divorces people from their natural state, but
also from the reality of the moment because the meaning-making self filters
and interprets experience rather than being in experience. Part of the mean-
ing-making function of the self is evaluative. This evaluative quality leads
individuals to desire (crave) those things, qualities, and characteristics that
are valued more highly resulting in unending craving and discontentment.
Gaskins (1999) states that enlightenment and freedom from suffering in
Buddhist philosophy is the dissolution of the false structures which encum-
ber the natural human state, accepting and returning to the original state of
impermanence. Dissolving the distorted boundaries between the individual
and existence—a return to anatta—is the path to freedom from suffering to
happiness and contentment. Anatta frees people from craving and the
expectations, wants, and evaluations that form as a result of creating an
independent self.
The Buddhist conception of self is often misinterpreted in Western cul-
ture (Hoffman, 2008a). These misconceptions arise out of misunderstand-
ing the current state and the Buddhist ideal. In the Buddhist view of self,
the ultimate goal is to reach an understanding that the self is an illusion or
empty. This often is viewed as a cognitive understanding or assent to the
idea that the self is not real. The Buddhist conception, however, goes much
deeper than the cognitive realm. A better analogy is that the Buddhist seeks
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 15
to achieve a letting go of the illusions of the self at an experiential level. It
is the experience of no-self.
Additionally, many Buddhist perspectives do not advocate that the
no-self ideal is something that individuals should directly seek to accomplish.
In other words, denying oneself will not yield the experience no-self. It is
helpful, if not necessary, to maintain a conception of the self along the way
(Epstein, 1995; Hoffman, 2008a). Using the analogy of the middle path, the
journey to no-self avoids the extremes of excessively holding on to con-
ceptions of the self and the extreme of denying oneself. According to
Epstein,
When asked the ultimate narcissistic question by another follower—“What is
the nature of the self?”—the Buddha responded that there is neither self nor
no-self. The question, itself, was flawed, the Buddha implied, for it was being
asked from a place that already assumed that the self was an entity. (p. 65)
The middle path, for the Buddha, attempted to avoid the extremes of nar-
cissistic or grandiose conceptions of the self that held firmly to the idea of
a real self and the opposite extreme of a self-deprecating, empty self
(Epstein, 1995). Epstein continued, stating,
If Buddha had answered that there was a Self, he would have reinforced his
questioner’s grandiosity, that is, the idealized notions of possessing something
lasting, unchanging, and special. If he had answered that there was truthfully
no Self, he would have reinforced his questioner’s sense of alimentation and
hollowness, a despairing belief in personal nothingness. (p. 65)
There is an inherent sense of paradox in much of Buddhist thought,
which parallels Schneider’s (1999) paradoxical self. Both see the dangers
apparent in the extremes, along with the wisdom of a middle path. Another
way of conceptualizing the no-self is through the idea of impermanence
(Eckel, 2002). Eckel states, “To be wise . . . is to see that the self changes
at every moment and has no permanent identity” (p. 60). In this conception,
the idea of no-self emphasizes that the self is in a constant process of
changing or becoming, so there is no permanent self, but instead a fluid,
ever-changing self.
Zweig’s No-Self
Zweig’s (1995) idea of no-self integrates the Buddhist viewpoint into a
psychological perspective. Similar to Gergen, Zweig focuses on pluralism
16 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
to argue for a social construction of self that appears to be moving in
the direction of no-self. However, Zweig focuses more on psychological
pluralism than cultural pluralism in her discussion:
This relativizing of beliefs about the Self in our time goes far beyond a mere
nod of the head to cultural pluralism: Many theorists are calling into question
any idea of a Self as a stable, continuing entity apart from its own descrip-
tions of being. (p. 149)
Here, Zweig provides an important distinction about the stability of the
self. Although self-descriptions may remain stable, as demonstrated by psy-
chological tests, the actual self or construction thereof is more fluid. The
apparent stability of the self may be more because of limitations of lan-
guage and conceptualization than a reality.
As Zweig (1995) illustrates, this development can be seen across several
psychological orientations toward an understanding that the self is socially
constructed. Within these constructions, trends toward a more relational
understanding of self along with views of a less essential self or no-self are
appearing with greater frequency in psychological theory.
Existential Perspectives on the Self
Existential and humanistic perspectives on the self share with postmod-
ern thought the basic premise of inherent impermanence in our existence,
or no-thingness. The ancestral existentialist philosophers such as Lao Tzu
and Pascal foreshadow the postmodern view of the self as mutable, fluid,
and endlessly constructed and re-constructed. The self is seen as a process
rather than a stable entity and is a product of consciousness (Bugental,
1978). Lao Tzu and Pascal both spoke of the infiniteness of existence
(Schneider & May, 1995). Pascal also spoke of the paradox of infinite pos-
sibilities inherent in no-thingness (Friedman, as cited in Schneider & May),
which confers on people the freedom to transform or create who they are in
any moment, unconstrained the moment before (Schneider & May).
Existential thought allies this freedom with responsibility for the individ-
ual’s creation. Existential theorists believe that the terror and awe of both
infiniteness and nothingness—both states of nonbeing—fuel the striving to
be and, often, the form which being takes (Schneider, 1999, Schneider &
May). Paul Tillich’s (1952) The Courage to Be is a classic example of this
paradox in existential thought. Although he focuses more on the courage to
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 17
be in the face of nonbeing, he also points toward the connection with the
ground of being, or infiniteness. For many existentialists, the allure of the
being/nonbeing paradox is the foundation for striving to be (see Sartre,
1943/1956, Schneider, 2004; Tillich).
At this point in the article, we begin building an argument for an exis-
tential answer to the problem of self. This begins with an overview of
humanistic psychology, of which existential psychology is often considered
a subset. However, the distinction between an existential and a humanistic
viewpoint is also necessary. In agreement with Rollo May, we believe the
humanistic view of the self has severely neglected the potential for evil, or
the daimonic. Although humanistic and existential psychology agree on
much regarding the nature of the self, this distinction makes it important to
speak of an existential perspective on self.
Humanistic Psychology and the Self
Foundations of the Self in Humanistic Psychology
Early humanistic psychology developed three important conceptualiza-
tions of the self which are important for our conversation. First, beginning
with Maslow and Rogers, it emphasized the self as being, or becoming
(Polkinghorne, 2001). The self is always in process or flux, ever changing
rather than stable. This point is shared with many of the postmodern view-
points; however, postmodernism tends to describe the changes in terms of a
fractured or divided self, or in terms of multiple selves interacting with each
other. Humanistic and existential perspectives favor the idea of a fluid and
changing, but integrated self. The integration of the self, as should be evi-
dent, is necessarily an ongoing process that adjusts to the fluid nature of the
self. Although this difference may be viewed as a semantic one, we disagree.
This distinction influences the way one experiences oneself and what the
individual does with that experience. Fragmented and multiple selves are
more chaotic, less integrated, and less centered. For most, this self experi-
ence can be chaotic and often incoherent. Furthermore, the assent to the idea
of multiple selves does not encourage one to make sense of the inter-rela-
tionships between the selves or how the multiple selves share responsibility.
Second, the self is experienced; it is not merely a cognitive construct
(Polkinghorne, 2001). In contemporary psychology, the focus is typically
on self-concept (i.e., how a person understands or defines themselves) or
self-esteem (i.e., how one feels about or appraises oneself). Neither of these
approaches the deeper conception of how a person experiences oneself.
18 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
Gendlin (1962/1997) discusses this in terms of one’s felt sense of oneself.
The felt sense is often a preverbal and presymbolic experience recognized
within one’s body. Contrary to many postmodern theories that emphasize
the necessity of language in self understanding, this suggests another realm
of experiencing oneself beyond words. Furthermore, it suggests that there
is a real self and that this real self can be experienced directly. Gendlin
(2003) understands this as contradicting postmodernism; however, we
would disagree and even purport that it could be understood as postmodern.
In our view, postmodernism does not deny the possibility of a direct form
of knowledge or experience, but rather views this as always incomplete and
lacking in definitiveness. Gendlin approaches this through what he refers to
as focusing. If focusing is understood as an ultimate truth, then it would
conflict with the understanding of postmodernism presented in this article.
However, we believe the rather ambiguous, incomplete, and subjective
nature of the truth obtained through focusing is quite postmodern.
Third, the self is an agent, or has the ability to act. This, according to
Frie (2003) and Frederickson (2003), is the biggest challenge to integrating
postmodern perspectives on the self with psychotherapy approaches, such
as humanistic and existential, which emphasize personal responsibility.
Without a clear, boundaried self, there appears to be no base from which to
act. However, as we will discuss shortly, there is the possibility of a cen-
tered self that does not necessitate clear boundaries.
Contemporary Developments
Polkinghorne (2001) uses four theories to develop possibilities for a con-
temporary humanistic view of the self that takes into consideration the chal-
lenges of postmodernism. This development adds several themes to the
humanistic view. First, consistent with postmodernism, it does not necessi-
tate a “real me” or an essential self and recognizes that what is viewed as
self is dependent on a point of view or perspective. Second, it advocates for
a whole person understanding of the self that includes emotions as well as
cognitions and ideas about the self. In other words, it integrates the con-
ceived self, the interpersonal self, and the experienced self as part of a
larger whole self. The language of multiple selves in humanistic psychol-
ogy is more metaphorical than the language used in postmodernism. Third,
the humanistic view implies integration, centeredness, or connectedness
that is not part of the postmodern viewpoint: postmodernism sees these
selves as more distinct. Each self is part of the larger, whole self. Similarly,
Polkinghorne discusses Gendlin’s advocacy for a real self beyond the
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 19
cultural constructs that is able to experience the self in connection with the
world. Fourth, building on Ricoeur, Polkinghorne maintains that humanis-
tic psychology can be blended with a narrative understanding of the self in
which the self is redefined and understood in process.
Sleeth (2006, 2007a, 2007b), in a series of articles, develops a perspec-
tive on self, or the self system, which incorporates transpersonal psychol-
ogy into a humanistic perspective. Although there is debate in the field
about whether transpersonal psychology is distinct from humanistic psy-
chology, it appears evident in these articles that Sleeth’s theory extends
beyond typical humanistic understandings of the self through seeking to
incorporate spiritual aspects of the self. Krippner (as cited in Sleeth, 2007b)
stated that an “individual’s sense of identity appears to extend beyond its
ordinary limits to encompass wider, broader, or deeper aspects of life or the
cosmos—including elements of the divine” (p. 47). In referencing this to
the self, Sleeth confuses identity, which is more akin to what we have
referred to as a self-concept, with the self, which is rooted in experience
and agency. Feeling connected with something beyond oneself, even to the
degree of understanding it as part of one’s identity, does not necessarily
make it part of the self.
In general, Sleeth’s perspective highlights the distinctiveness of human-
istic and transpersonal theories through accenting different aspects of self
more than developing a convincing humanistic perspective. Although
humanistic psychology, in general, opens itself to the incorporation of spir-
itual ideas, it does not necessitate them as in transpersonal psychology.
Therefore, humanistic psychology remains more adaptable in working with
multiple religious and nonreligious views whereas transpersonal psychol-
ogy privileges perspectives with certain spiritual beliefs. Nonetheless, two
aspects of Sleeth’s discussion are consistent with contemporary humanistic
understandings of the self. First, along with Polkinghorne, Sleeth recog-
nizes the importance of respecting the complexities of the self. Second,
Sleeth advocates for a holistic understanding of the self.
Rollo May: Myths and the Self
May (1991) believed in the importance of myth to add structure and
vitality to daily existence. He also saw myth as the narrative form of sym-
bolism that unites members of a culture through communication of shared
themes of existence, belief systems, and meanings (May, 1975). According
to May, a significant problem in contemporary times is the loss of myths
and concomitant loss of values. On a cultural level, the loss of myth results
20 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
in cultural fragmentation that is a primary source of problems in living for
the members of that culture who tend to embody the cultural dysfunction
(May, 1969). May blamed a loss of myth for the increasing alienation,
meaninglessness, and mechanization he observed in human existence.
May (1991) understood a person’s life story as their own personal myth
that guides and informs individual experience and development, thereby
playing an important role in forming self and identity. Identity, the inter-
pretation of the self, is a personal myth made up of individual values, expe-
riences, and relationships including material from the cultural mythology:
May’s use of the term “self,” however, is not to be confused with the splin-
tered and defensive fragment of personality referred to by the Freudians as
the “ego,” or by the Jungians as the “persona.” Rather, the existential “self”
is that indivisible point of centered integration presumed to exist as some
level of the personality, from which we can objectively observe our own
behavior in the world. (Diamond, 1996, pp. 102-103)
May’s distinction of the self as “centered integration” lacks the clear
boundaries of the self that is typical in most portrayals of the modernist
self, allowing for a real self while at the same time leaving room for the self
to be socially constructed. This allows for a distinction between the con-
ceived self (i.e., self-concept) and self experience, while recognizing that
they are also indelibly related.
There is also a social aspect to the personal myth derived not only from
relationships with others but also from the cultural context. May believed
myths provide a sense of belongingness and imbue existence with meaning
while allowing the individual to make sense of their experience. Without
myths, people are restricted in their capacity to exercise their inherent free-
dom to choose the form and nature of their existence and more vulnerable
to neurotic guilt and anxiety. May (1969) wrote,
Psychotherapy reveals . . . the immediate situation of the individual’s “sick-
ness” and the archetypal qualities and characteristics which constitute the
human being as human. . . . It is the latter characteristics which have gone
awry. . . . The interpretation of a patient’s problems . . . is also a partial inter-
pretation of man’s self-interpretation of himself through history in the arche-
typal forms in literature. (pp. 19-20)
Archetypes in the Jungian tradition are principles that make sense of
experience (Storr, 1983). The literary expression of archetypes in myth is,
according to May, the expression of themes shared by humankind of struggles
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 21
for identity and affirmation. The loss of myth for individuals means a loss
of the ability to organize experience, with a corresponding diminution in
meaning-making ability as well as the loss of sustenance and comfort as
people confront universal struggles of human existence.
Myths of self provide important meaning for individuals that help them
survive difficult times. Whether they are acknowledged or not, myths exist.
However, when not acknowledged, they often lack the coherence and inte-
gration to be sustaining. From an existential perspective, the reality of the
self may not be as important as the myth of self. Individual myths should
be assessed pragmatically as well as in comparison with an individual’s val-
ues. Myths also have an integrative capacity; they can serve as a point to
integrate the experienced self with the socially constructed, interpersonal,
and even spiritual aspects of the self in a centered manner.
Sartre’s Existence and Essence
Sartre’s philosophy gave rise to two tenets of existential psychology: The
self is in constant evolution and existence precedes essence. Sartre
(1943/1956) described a human being as being-for-itself and a material object
as being-in-itself. Being-in-itself is something complete, the initial conceptu-
alization, or essence, of which is brought into physical existence. Being-for-
itself refers to human beings as products of freedom in the consciousness
inherent in each person and exercised in the choice each person makes as to
who they are to be. Who people are, in Sartre’s thinking, is their essence.
“Existence precedes essence” refers to the idea that human beings are without
predetermined form or limitations: They exist. The form individuals choose
for themselves follows and constitutes their essence. Sartre (1946/1948, p. 28)
said, “Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.
What people make of themselves is essence. The freedom to choose what
to make of one’s self is accompanied by responsibility for one’s existence.
Sartre (1937/1988) viewed the choices that become the self as the result
of a stream of reflective acts of consciousness. Sartre posited two kinds of
acts of consciousness: first and second degree. First degree acts of con-
sciousness are the awareness of objects excluding the self and are, in
Sartre’s language, nonreflective. A second degree act of consciousness
reflects on the self and through reflective activity, gives form to the self that
is reflected on. An unending series of second degree acts of consciousness
form the ego or the Me. Despite the human experience of a constant Me
across time, Sartre believed that each reflective act gave birth to a new self
different from that created by the previous act. Thus, in Sartre’s view, the
22 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
self is impermanent because it is unendingly changing, a constant project
(Schneider & May, 1995).
Sartre also acknowledged the social nature of the self. He believed that
the self that is created truly exists only to the extent that others acknowl-
edge its existence. Accordingly, individuals are aware of a self only in the
instant that others are aware of them (Danto, 1975). In Sartre’s (1946/1948)
thinking, however, for consciousness to be directly aware of itself makes
that consciousness into an object which is an affront to the dignity of people
and is never the case. He states, instead, that in the Cartesian phrase “I
think, therefore I am,” the “I think” (the cogito) refers to not only the imme-
diate sense of self but that of others as well, and it is in the other’s recog-
nition of the self that the self is attained.
The Shadow, the Daimonic, and the Self
Jung’s idea of the shadow, along with May’s conception of the daimonic,
adds a vital dimension to discussions of the self (Diamond, 1996). Too
often, these discussions build idealistic pictures of inner beauty and poten-
tial without considering the potential for evil. This does not heed
Whitmont’s (1991) warning, “The shadow cannot be eliminated. . . . When
we cannot see it, it is time to beware! . . . It becomes pathological only
when we assume we do not have it; because then it has us” (pp. 18-19).
The shadow has been defined as “that part of the personality which has
been repressed for the sake of the ego ideal” (Whitmont, 1991, p. 18-19).
For most theorists, the shadow remains largely or entirely in the uncon-
scious. According to Jung, there is both a personal shadow along with a col-
lective shadow (Jacobi, 1942/1973; Zweig & Abrams, 1991). The collective
shadow connects with the potential for evil inherent in the human condition
(Zweig & Abrams). Although May felt Jung’s contribution of the shadow
was an important development, he believed its definition was too con-
straining (Diamond, 1996). Instead of attempting to broaden Jung’s termi-
nology, he introduced a new term, the daimonic, which was borrowed from
ancient Greek thought. The daimonic is “any natural function which has the
power to take over the whole person” (May, 1969, p. 65).
Both Jung and May believed that the shadow or daimonic could be
destructive or instructive, a force of evil or a force of creativity (Diamond,
1996). Consistent with psychoanalytic thought, they believed that which is
repressed will find expression. When these forces, which represent the indi-
vidual’s dark side or disavowed aspects of the self, are not dealt with, they
will find another way to exert themselves. For both Jung and May, it is
better to integrate them into our self-conceptions utilizing their energy
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 23
constructively as a creative force. Diamond, however, identified an impor-
tant distinction in that May was concerned that the shadow or daimonic not
be used to avert responsibility. May emphasized that the roles of choice and
responsibility, no matter how small, were always present; the daimonic
could not be used to abdicate responsibility or claim one was merely
possessed by external or unconscious forces.
One danger in moving toward a conception of multiple selves or no-self
is the difficulty of dealing with evil. If there is no self, then it is easy to dis-
regard the potential for evil inherent in every person. If multiple selves are
conceived of, it becomes easy to relegate evil to particular selves, of aspects
of the self, to avoid taking full responsibility for evil acts. Furthermore,
when the potential for evil is not owned, it becomes easier for it to be
projected onto other people or groups. Keen (1991) states,
In the beginning we create the enemy. Before the weapon comes the image.
We think others to death and then invent the battle-axe or the ballistic mis-
siles with which to actually kill them. Propaganda precedes technology. . . .
Instead of being hypnotized by the enemy we need to begin looking at the
eyes with which we see the enemy. . . . We need to become conscious of . . .
“the shadow.” The heroes and leaders toward peace in our time will be those
men and women who have the courage to plunge into the darkness at the bot-
tom of the personal and corporate psyche and face the enemy within. Depth
psychology has presented us with the undeniable wisdom that the enemy is
constructed from denied aspects of the self. (pp. 198-199)
When the self is no longer a container for individuals to own their poten-
tial for evil, the temptation to project evil onto the other increases. This sit-
uation is particularly hideous when connected with racism, sexism, and
homophobia. For many, hate begins with the inability to tolerate aspects of
the self and ends with the projection of this intolerance onto others who
represent difference. The problem of evil therefore becomes one of the
stronger arguments to maintain a myth of self.
Schneider’s Paradoxical Self
The paradoxical self, according to Schneider (1999), is a function of
positions on a continuum between contradictory polarities of constricting
and expanding capacities across six spheres of consciousness. A constricted
consciousness is narrow in expression and experience. An expansive
consciousness is enlarging of experience and expression.
24 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
The paradoxical principle conceives of the psyche as a constrictive/
expansive continuum (Schneider, 1999). In other words, the self paradoxically
encompasses the capacity for expansion and the capacity for constriction.
Positions on the continuum reflect the individual’s capacity to expand or
constrict their experience. The center (or centric) position reflects integra-
tion of the polarities, which means enhanced conscious experience, self-
awareness, and the ability to flexibly shift from one polarity to the other.
Only part of the continuum is available to consciousness. The extremes of
the polarities represent potential annihilation, either through constriction
into nothingness or expansion into chaos.
In Schneider’s model, six spheres of consciousness form a hierarchy of
depth with physiological consciousness at the surface level followed, suc-
cessively, by environmental, cognitive, psychosexual, interpersonal, and
(deepest) experiential consciousness (Schneider, 1999, 2008). The spheres
of consciousness also reflect the degree to which one is free to choose.
Freedom of choice increases with depth. Thus, experiential consciousness
at the core of the spectrum relates to the “being level or ontological free-
dom” (Schneider, 2008, p. 38). Different configurations of positioning
along the continuum within each sphere of consciousness are associated in
Schneider’s model with specific psychological dysfunction. Optimal, adap-
tive functioning is the extent to which an individual can integrate the polar-
ities and admit into consciousness the previously denied part of the self.
Integration of the polarities, or centering, refers to the capacity to fluidly
and adaptively experience the poles of the continuum that have been denied
(Schneider, 1999). This development frees the individual to exercise expe-
riential freedom in the creation of self and meaning.
The paradoxical self, as a myth of self, offers the most promise of
those we have explored through its ability to adapt while maintaining a
coherent view of self. It is able to balance the polarities of an absolute,
stationary self with the opposite extreme of no-self without relegating
the final, ontological reality to the metaphysical realm. It can balance the
tension between the potential for good and the potential for evil; stabil-
ity, fluidity, and adaptability; individualistic needs and collectivist
needs; the innate, the personally constructed, and the socially con-
structed; and between the subjective and the intersubjective. Although
adaptable enough to pull in many of the various perspectives discussed
above, it should not be turned into an oppressive metanarrative or ideal
which is forced on all people.
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 25
Toward an Integration
Implications of Whitehead’s Process Philosophy
Alfred Whitehead, the founder of process philosophy, delineated a new
way to understand reality. Cobb and Griffin (1976) provide a summary of
process thought:
Process thought by definition affirms that process is fundamental. It does not
assert that everything is in process; for that would mean that even the fact that
things are in process is subject to change. There are unchanging principles of
process and abstract forms. But to be actual is to be a process. Anything which is
not a process is an abstraction from a process, not a full-fledged actuality. (p. 14)
Whitehead (1929/1978) believed that most philosophers erred in focusing
on either the substance or the flow/flux; however, “in truth, the two lines can-
not be torn apart in this way” (p. 209). Substance and change are connected;
however, most measurements of material or substance assume stability.
Similarly, most abstract concepts and processes assume stability. It is easier
to understand, discuss, and study entities that are stable. Because of this, the
human tendency is to reify abstractions of process turning them into objects.
This process mentality can be applied broadly to a variety of realities,
including the self. The tendency is to conceptualize the self in a reified
manner which focuses more on stability than flux. The idea of the self in
process does not negate the possibility of aspects of stability; instead, it
negates the necessity of stability. Consistency in measures of psychological
inventories identify that, for many, aspects of the self or personality remain
fairly consistent over time. But, again, this tendency is not a necessity.
Existential thinkers such as Becker (1973) identify the need for defenses
against some realities of life. For example, to live in constant awareness of
the fragility of life causes many people to retreat from life into a form of
living death. Similarly, the awareness of the constant flux of the self and the
surrounding world can create overwhelming anxiety. The myth of the sta-
ble self provides security that helps people cope with the world. When
overly reified, this becomes a constricting force preventing people from
engaging in free, responsible living.
Quantum Physics Applications
At first glance, quantum physics appears to have little to do with the self.
However, two themes are relevant for the current discussion. First, Newtonian
26 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
physics, which represented the utopia of science’s promise, was the dominant
mode of thought in the modernist period. Physics was the quintessential mod-
ernist science maintaining that some things are stable over time and defini-
tively known. Quantum physics called these assumptions of Newtonian
science into question (Ford, 2004; Wolf, 1981). This played a major role in
the transition from modernism to postmodernism. Quantum physics demon-
strated that truth is more complicated than it appears. Geertz (1973), the
influential anthropologist, points out that the Newtonian view of people
emphasized simplicity and laws which governed human behavior. The world
of quantum physics, by contrast, calls into question the simplicity along with
many of the laws thought to govern human behavior and selfhood.
A second, more direct implication pertains to the interrelatedness of all
things. According to some perspectives in quantum physics, things are not
as separate as they appear; all things are related (Wheatley, 2001; Wolf,
1981). The boundaries placed between different objects are more arbitrary
than once was believed. These quantum physics approaches focus on the
world or universe as a holistic, interdependent system in which distinctions
between self and world are not as absolute as previously believed. This calls
into question even the materialist distinction between the self, others, and
the world. Although it does not deny that the possibility of the self as a dis-
tinct agent acting in the world, it emphasizes,as did the Gestalt psycholo-
gists, that the distinct is part of the whole; boundaries are not so absolute as
in the modernist or Newtonian views.
Jung and the Collective Unconscious
In contrast to Freud, Jung identified the ego as the conscious personal-
ity and then developed a more complex understanding of the self which
incorporated the ego, archetypes, and the collective unconscious as aspects
of the self (Hall & Nordby, 1973; Jung, 1964). According to Jung, the
unconscious, which is made up of personal and collective levels, was in
existence far before the conscious and it remains more primary (Jacobi,
1942/1973). Jacobi asserts that it is difficult to distinguish between the
realms of the unconscious; however, regardless of their realm, they exert
their influence. Although consciousness is also important in Jung’s theory,
to view it as primary is a mistake.
The collective unconscious presents challenges to previous conceptions
of the self. According to Jacobi (1942/1973),
The collective unconscious consists entirely of elements characteristic of
the human species. . . . The contents assigned to the collective unconscious
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 27
represent the suprapersonal foundation both of the personal unconscious and of
consciousness; it is neutral in every respect; the value and position of its con-
tents are defined only when they come into contact with consciousness. (p. 35)
Accordingly, the collective level of the unconscious plays a primary role
in the self’s composition and organization. The self, in this view, cannot be
contained within the material makeup of the body. Instead, the collective or
universal aspect of the self is foundational to the self; there is an intercon-
nected quality in human beings. It is also important to note that Jung
believed in the wisdom of the unconscious in contrast to Freud who viewed
the unconscious with greater suspicion.
Transpersonal Psychology, Spirit, and the Self
Transpersonal psychology focuses on the role of the spirit or the spiri-
tual in the self (Cortright, 1997, Sleeth 2006, 2007a, 2007b). It is interested
in a variety of transpersonal experiences or experiences which transcend the
boundaries of the self or the personal (Daniels, 2005). Similar to Jung, this
calls into question the distinct boundaries of the self. Although going
beyond the self or beyond the personal suggests there is a self, it concur-
rently suggests that elements of the self extend beyond the traditional
boundaries of the self. The spirit, which is neither individual nor contained
within the material self, is yet part of the self.
Wilber (2000b), whose integral studies influenced transpersonal psy-
chology, conceptualizes the soul as “the great intermediate conveyor
between pure Spirit and individual self” (p. 106). This suggests a spiritual
realm beyond the self in contrast to a personal self which is more contained.
Elsewhere, Wilber (1998) questions the traditional idea of the real self, as
the real self assumes some essential boundaries. The self is more of a wit-
ness (active voice) than an entity; a witness not contained within bound-
aries, but in a state of no boundaries. Wilber (2000a) also speaks of a
spiritual self which is one with God or Brahma. Wilber (1998) states,
The Self is “not this, not that”. . . . The Self is not this, not that, precisely
because it is the pure Witness of this or that, and thus in all cases transcends
any this and any that. The Self cannot even be said to be “one,” for that is just
another quality, another object that is perceived or witnessed. The Self is not
“Spirit”; rather, it is that which, right now, is witnessing that concept. The
Self is not the “Witness”—that is just another word or concept, and the Self
is that which is witnessing that concept. The Self is not Emptiness, the Self
is not a pure self—and so on. (p. 276)
28 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
In response to these seemingly inconsistent ideas of the self, Wilber
(1998) states, “Because the real self resides neither within nor without,
because the subject and object are actually not-two, the mystics can speak
of reality in many different but only apparently contradictory ways” (p. 25,
emphasis added).
Cultural and Gender Issues
Western psychology emerged during a period in which individualism
was largely assumed. For much of Western history, collectivist ideas were
given very little consideration. Psychologists today, however, are remiss to
not take into consideration collectivists ideas, particularly when working
with or considering individuals from collectivist cultures (Sue & Sue,
2003). Sue and Sue state,
In many non-Western cultures, identity is not seen apart from the group ori-
entation (collectivism). The Japanese language does not seem to have a dis-
tinct personal pronoun I. The notion of the atman in India defines itself as
participating in unity with all things and not being limited by the temporal
work. (p. 108)
Cultural competency and sensitivity in therapy and psychological theory
mandates that therapists develop the flexibility to work with clients with a
variety of conceptions of the self. The practice of therapy often assumes a
particular view of the self. As therapists often are unfamiliar with the
diverse conceptions of the self, they may assume a certain understanding of
the self and impose it on clients without recognizing they are doing so.
An Existential-Integrative Ending
The Need for a Myth of Self
As a practicing psychoanalyst I find that contemporary therapy is almost
entirely concerned . . . with the problems of the individual’s search for myths.
The fact that Western society has all but lost its myths was the main reason
for the birth and development of psychoanalysis. . . . I speak of the Cry for
myths because I believe there is an urgency in the need for myth in our day.
Many of the problems of our society . . . can be traced to the lack of myths
which will give us as individuals the inner security we need in order to live
adequately in our day. (May, 1991, p. 9)
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 29
A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative
patterns that give significance to our existence . . . myths are our way of find-
ing this meaning and significance. (May, 1991, p. 15)
May’s (1991) The Cry for Myth demonstrates the dangers inherent in
trying to live in a world without myth. He credits the lack of myth for many
of the personal and social problems in contemporary society.
Postmodernism, although bringing many benefits, has played a devastating
role in the destruction of myths. The early phase of postmodernism focused
on deconstructing destructive modern myths and metanarratives, but only
recently has begun attempting to build new mythologies which can replace
the meaning systems it deconstructed (Hoffman & Kurzenberger, 2008).
Premodern and modern myths of self were fraught with problems in
addressing pluralism and the postmodern world. Consistent with other early
postmodern deconstructions and re-constructions, the initial reformulations
of the self were extremist, often calling for getting rid of the idea of the self
altogether. However, more tempered alternatives, such as Schneider’s para-
doxical self, provide alternatives to radical deconstruction of the self.
The self is too integral a myth in Western society to be completely aban-
doned. Even if a psychologically healthy alternative of no-self exists, it
remains dangerous to move toward this ideal too quickly. The loss of this
myth and resulting impact of meaninglessness for many is too risky. The
myth of self sustains many people helping them survive what would other-
wise be an unlivable life.
An Existential-Integrative Perspective
We have suggested that Schneider’s (1999) paradoxical self, although
not the only healthy alternative, is a strong myth of self for postmodern
times. As illustrated in the review of conceptions of the self, the paradoxi-
cal self is sufficiently broad to integrate diverse perspectives, from religious
to quantum physics, and sufficiently flexible to allow for different cultural
viewpoints. In this section, we develop several points of integration across
theories of the self.
Whitehead’s process philosophy emphasizes the idea of realities in
process. Applied to the self, process philosophy suggests the self and what
influences it are fluid. Although bringing a different understanding to the
idea of fluidity, Schneider (2004) integrates this idea into an existential
perspective:
30 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
The fluid center is any sphere of human consciousness which has as its con-
cern the widest possible relationships to existence; or to put it another way,
it is structured inclusiveness—the richest possible range of experience within
the most suitable parameters of support. The fluid center begins and unfolds
through awe, the humility and wonder of living. (p. 10)
Both conceptions of fluid reflect a potential for expansion, growth, and
development. Although existential psychology has often been associated with
the search for an essential self, it has been frequently misperceived as advo-
cating that this essential self is a stable self. As illustrated in the writings of
Sartre, May, and Schneider, the existential view of self is one of fluidity.
Schneider’s conception of awe points toward what is beyond the self.
Existential thought has maintained a tenuous relationship with religion;
sometimes collaborative while at other times antagonistic (Hoffman,
2008b). In essence, existentialism is definitively neutral in its stance on reli-
gion. By using the concepts of awe and mystery as the basis for spirituality
in existential thought, a broader framework is established for working with
a variety of belief systems. However, it is important for existential thought
to engage with the religious and spiritual dimensions in a manner respect-
ful of the client’s beliefs.
Jungian and transpersonal psychology, along with religion, suggests
there is a metaphysical reality that is beyond the self, but also part of the
self. Similarly, quantum physics emphasizes the interrelated or intersubjec-
tive nature of the self. This forms another potential paradox within the exis-
tential integrative framework. The self is independent and boundaried while
also being interrelated or interconnected (Tillich, 1957)
Finally, cultural and gender issues are an important, but largely
uncharted territory in existential thought. Despite the breadth and compre-
hensiveness of existential-integrative psychology, it remains weak in its
engagement with issues of diversity. Although partially rectified in
Schneider’s (2008) Existential-Integrative Psychotherapy, which incorpo-
rates several perspectives on cultural diversity, sexual orientation, and
gender issues, it is imperative that existential-integrative psychology con-
tinue to address this issue.
As primarily an illustration of the need for discussions about diversity,
existential philosophy and psychology have been decidedly individualistic
in their focus throughout much of their history. Although, as discussed ear-
lier, there has been a tipping of the hat to relational, social, and cultural
influences, this lacked the necessary depth to be a force in a postmodern,
pluralistic world. The individualist focus provides a challenge in applying
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 31
existential psychology with diverse individuals, particularly those from col-
lectivist cultures. As Serlin (2008) indicates, this is also a limitation when
working with women.
The paradoxical self, if developed and applied appropriately, has poten-
tial to address this weakness in existential thought. The individualist and
collectivist tendencies can be understood as polarities within the paradoxi-
cal self. The tendency in Western culture is to err to the extreme of the indi-
vidualist, whereas the tendency in Eastern culture is to err to the side of the
collectivist impulse. Balance can be, and often is, achieved by Western and
Eastern individuals. The optimal balance or integration for psychological
health, however, may be culturally determined.
Krippner and Achterberg (2000), in their review of the research litera-
ture, demonstrate that there is a strong foundation for the assertion that
what is healing, in both physical and psychological realms, is at least par-
tially determined by culture. Hoffman and Kurzenberger (2008) further
develop this conception maintaining that mental illness, psychological suf-
fering, and various forms of healing vary across culture and historical
epochs. For example, perceptions of depression as a mental illness change
the way an individual experiences depression as opposed to when it is expe-
rienced as a normal aspect of human experience. From an existential per-
spective, a major aspect of the epidemic of depression and antidepressants
in Western culture is directly tied to the resistance to existential depression
(i.e., normal depression), therefore creating a neurotic depression.
The nature of the self entails various existential givens (Yalom, 1980).
In introducing the idea of paradox, these givens often are in the form of
paradox, such as the polarity between the individualist and collectivist
pulls. Although the paradoxical self warns against the dangers of the
extremes, it does not necessitate a specific answer to this paradox. In other
words, it does not necessitate a certain stance in relationship to the individ-
ualist-collectivist paradox. Finally, integrating the cultural understanding
suggests that different stances, as long as they avoid the extremes, may rep-
resent psychological health for different individuals, and which stance rep-
resents optimal health may be partially, or primarily, culturally determined.
Although we do not mean to suggest that the individual cultures emphasize
a boundaried self and collectivist societies emphasize a no-self, there are
inherent differences within these two approaches in understanding the
boundaries of the self and how the self is related to culture.
The paradoxical self, from an existential perspective, can also address
the challenges which postmodernism often refers to as multiple selves.
Another way of conceiving experience labeled as different selves is to
32 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
construe this process as encompassing different aspects of the self which
are activated in particular interpersonal settings; the self and these aspects
of the self are also fluid or changing over time. Although this conception
may be more a way of labeling experience than describing an ultimate real-
ity, we have maintained throughout this article that such ideas and language
do matter. The assumption that language and conceptions of reality have no
real impact on one’s experience is naive and serves to cut off aspects of
experience. Additionally, this perspective fits better with May’s conception
of the self as centered integration. Centered integration does not necessitate
clear or specific boundaries; it allows for the self to be conceived in differ-
ent ways. It allows for different and permeable boundaries. Yet, it does so
without removing a fulcrum from which one could impact the world, or
agency.
The integrated center, which incorporates the various aspects of the
paradoxical self and its relation to the existential givens, is the root or
source of agency. Rationally, many theorists want to place clear boundaries
around this agent, but it is not necessary. The self can remain somewhat
ambiguous with permeable boundaries without discarding the will and
intentionality. However, it is more doubtful that we can retain the will and
the accompanying responsibility without any conception of the self.
Last, it is necessary to address the paradoxical tension between self and
no-self. In many ways, these represent the extremes of individualism and
collectivism. Individualism often focuses excessively on the self; con-
versely, collectivism de-emphasizes the self. Although collectivism and the
de-emphasis on the self do not necessitate the conception of no-self, they
do move in this direction. No-self can be seen as an extreme of the self lost
in the collectivist system. All of the major world religions include some
warnings against excessive self, or excessive self-focus. This excess can
also be understood as being represented in extreme personality styles, such
as anti-social and narcissistic personalities. The dangers of no-self are eas-
ily illustrated in representations in religion and psychological health. The
major world religions all stress levels of personal accountability and devel-
opment, even if the goal in mind is to eventually achieve the recognition of
no-self. The lack of self, similarly, can be seen in the extremes of depen-
dent personality patterns, in which the sense of self is attained through oth-
ers. Partially represented through the collectivist-individualist tension, the
extremes of self and no-self both carry psychological and emotional liabil-
ities. This is not to say that the Buddhist goal of no-self is a pathological
end; however, consistent with Buddhist thought, it does suggest that short-
cuts to no-self have high costs and may be dangerous.
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 33
Conclusion
To me, the reality of life is paradox. When we are doing what’s most impor-
tant, being our most honest, working at healing ourselves, it’s paradoxical.
No one falls into the neat categories we like to place them in to make
navigating our world easy. (Baker-Fletcher, 1998, p. 91)
What is the ideal for mental health, then? A lived, compelling illusion that
does not lie about life, death, and reality; one honest enough to follow its own
commandments: I mean, not to kill, not to take the lives of others to justify
itself. (Becker, 1973, p. 204)
The self is not an easy thing to locate, define, or describe. Maybe this is
why after more than 100 years psychologists still intensely debate its exis-
tence. We hold no delusions of grandeur that we have solved the problems
of the self; however, we hope that we have provided a solid argument to not
throw away the concept of a coherent or integrated self too quickly.
We have maintained that the self is a social construction which can be
conceived of in many different ways. No one view of the self, or myth of
self, is best for all people. Myths of self should be evaluated in terms of
their pragmatic benefit and their fit to the individual’s culture, beliefs, and
value system. Healthier myths of self are adaptable and able to facilitate
growth and development. In this manner, healthy myths of self balance the
constrictive and expansive, individualist and collectivist, and other needs of
the individual. Additionally, we have advocated for Schneider’s (1999)
paradoxical self as an important myth of self because of its adaptability and
ability to reconcile many of the different tensions inherent in the human
condition.
Referring to the self as socially constructed and as a myth in no way is
intended to suggest that there is not a real self or that this real self cannot
be experienced. Rather, it indicates that the self is something that cannot be
definitively known; it cannot be isolated from its surroundings and studied
in a reductionistic manner. The self may be at one time distinct and yet
indistinguishable; this may be the ultimate paradox of the self. But even the
extremes of no-self cannot abdicate some responsible agent even if that
agent is part of an impermanent larger whole. Indeed, the self is so complex
that it is unknowable in the ultimate sense, which is part of why different
cultures and individuals experience the self so differently. Even if it is our
life mission to study the self, in the end we will fall short of complete
understanding. It comprises us, yet is undeniably beyond us.
34 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
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Louis Hoffman, PhD, is a core faculty member at the University of the
Rockies. Additionally, he maintains a private practice in Colorado Springs
and provides training in existential psychology through the Depth
Psychotherapy Institute. He coedited and contributed to the books Brilliant
Sanity: Buddhist Approaches to Psychotherapy,The God Image Handbook
for Spiritual Counseling and Psychotherapy: Research,Theory,and
Practice, and Spirituality and Psychological Health. Dr. Hoffman may be
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Sharon Stewart earned her Master’s degree psychology in 2001. She com-
pleted her predoctoral internship at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in
Germany and continues to work there as a volunteer psychotherapist.
38 Journal of Humanistic Psychology
Denise Warren, a graduate student from the University of the Rockies, is
currently completing her doctoral internship with Denver Options, Inc. in
Denver, Colorado, serving the brain injured and developmentally delayed
populations while integrating existential therapeutic approaches. Her dis-
sertation concerns the effects of brain injury on the marital relationship.
She hopes to continue serving a diverse population in a post doctoral
position, and apply existential therapeutic approaches to help persons
with brain injury adapt to the enormous challenges of living with the out-
comes of their injury.
Lisa Meek is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of the
Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her professional interests are in the
areas of teaching, psychotherapy and assessment.
Hoffman et al. / A Sustainable Myth of Self and the Postmodern Condition 39
... 342). Similarly, Hoffman, Stewart, Warren and Meek (2008) pointed out that the self is a process, constantly changing rather than stable. While Robbins (2002) defined the self as a combination of personal and social influences, Holler (2015) emphasized that the concept of self is a vehicle of change and development and is also an effective and open concept about how individuals can help and serve themselves and others. ...
... In this section we present our participants' views of about the definition of selfdevelopment. Eight participants stated their opinions in the 'involving an action' category, the details of which are presented in Participants' statements about this point show parallelism with the views from the literature (Çelik, 1996;Hoffman, Stewart, Warren & Meek, 2008;Li, 2014;Pedler, Burgoyne & Boydell, 2001) that self-development is an active and mobile process. This activity and mobility involve a behavioral change, adding some positive features, lasting throughout life (Avidov-Ungar, 2016). ...
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... In the sphere of philosophy or social theory, there is no common consensus on the definition of the self. Hoffman et al. (2008), in this regard, expressed that the self is a process, constantly changing rather than stable, and Holler (2015) emphasized that the concept of self may be a tool of change and development (as cited Sincar et al., 2020). Robbins (2002), also, defined the self as a combination of personal and social influence. ...
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... Sleeth (2007) argues that although the concept of the use of self within counselling psychology is widely recognised, there is no one single theory that establishes its validity in therapeutic sessions or allows researchers or therapists to measure its impact (Sleeth, 2007). Hoffman, Stewart, Warren, and Meek (2008) illustrate that this difficulty in measuring the use of the self's value stems from the fact that the therapist's self is ever changing and adapting to the situation it faces within the client. Hoffman goes on to say that this in turn has led some psychologists to even question the true existence of the self. ...
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After providing a narrative overview of the text’s research findings, Chapter Seven turns toward the self as a psychological construct and its controversial history within the discipline. Several criticisms of the self are addressed before bringing the findings into mutual encounter with the psychology of self as envisioned from a holistic developmental perspective: existential-humanistic self-development theory (EHSDT). The chapter also includes considerations of culture, as both creativity and selfhood have been studied and critiqued on a cross-cultural basis. These considerations provide support for a perspective on learning and becoming that revolves around the notion of self-cultivation.
Chapter
Existential therapy?s solid evidence-based foundation has not been adequately articulated to date. One challenge to this task is the lack of a singular or unified existential approach. Despite this, there remain shared themes that are common across the approaches to existential therapy. A second challenge is that many existential therapists resist Evidence-Based Practice in Psychology (EBPP), viewing it as excessively restrictive. However, EBPP is more inclusive than previous approaches to evaluating therapeutic effectiveness, such as the empirically supported treatment movement. We maintain that EBPP fits well with existential therapy and supports its practice. This paper identifies three pillars of existential psychology as its (1) relational focus, (2) emphasis on working with emotions and experience, and (3) meaning-centered approach. Each of these pillars have a strong foundation in empirical research, clinical competencies, and ability to be adapted to individual and cultural differences, which have been identified as the core of EBPP (American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Evidence-Based Practice in Psychology 2006). While few outcome studies specifically on existential psychotherapy exist, there is extensive research supporting the core practices that comprise existential therapy practice.
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This article explores how the key concepts within Gestalt Equine Psychotherapy (GEP) and Humanistic Play Therapy (HPT) can be compatible modalities for working with children. The connections between GEP and HPT can be seen in their philosophical framework of viewing the self as an embodied, relational process, and the belief in the importance of play and experimentation within the therapeutic encounter. Both approaches emphasize the importance of the therapeutic relationship and trust that the child is able to self-direct his or her own growth and learning. Both GEP and HPT can draw from neuroscience research to provide evidence of the importance of authenticity, congruence, and coherence within both the therapist and the child in building the therapeutic relationship. Through the use of a case example, this article will demonstrate how HPT and GEP can become an integrated approach in supporting the developmental process of the client.
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This book presents a new English translation of two seminal works by Jean-Paul Sartre, the most dominant European intellectual of the post-World War II decades. The volume includes Sartre's 1945 lecture "Existentialism Is a Humanism" and his analysis of Camus's The Stranger, along with a discussion of these works by acclaimed Sartre biographer Annie Cohen-Solal. This edition is a translation of the 1996 French edition, which includes Arlette ElkaÏm-Sartre's introduction and a Q&A with Sartre about his lecture. In her foreword, intended for an American audience, acclaimed Sartre biographer Annie Cohen-Solal offers an assessment of both works. It was to correct common misconceptions about his thought that Sartre accepted an invitation to speak on October 29, 1945, at the Club Maintenant in Paris. The unstated objective of his lecture ("Existentialism Is a Humanism") was to expound his philosophy as a form of "existentialism," a term much bandied about at the time. Sartre asserted that existentialism was essentially a doctrine for philosophers, though, ironically, he was about to make it accessible to a general audience. The published text of his lecture quickly became one of the bibles of existentialism and made Sartre an international celebrity. The idea of freedom occupies the center of Sartre's doctrine. Man, born into an empty, godless universe, is nothing to begin with. He creates his essence-his self, his being-through the choices he freely makes ("existence precedes essence"). Were it not for the contingency of his death, he would never end. Choosing to be this or that is to affirm the value of what we choose. In choosing, therefore, we commit not only ourselves but all of mankind.
Chapter
This chapter describes the religion and mental health from the Jewish perspective. Along with the terms Jews and Jewish, Israel has been used to designate Jewish people even long before the establishment of the modern state with that name because Israel connects Jews to a specific group. There are some issues which are related to psychiatric treatment, like Jews frequently may suggest about themselves some variation of “Jews are like everybody else, only more so.” However, the clinician may encounter Jewish persons who subscribe to the possible reality or myth of such distinctiveness. Such persons may evidence a considerable element of denial, guilt, or shame with regard to emotional fragileness on their part. To need a mental health professional and, especially, to be emotionally ill may be viewed as a horrendous embarrassment for the individual, the family network, and, in rare circumstance, the extended community. One additional factor which impacts Jewish persons in treatment is the long history as a minority community. Regarding any preferences for a specific treatment theory or technique, a pharmacological repertoire, family systems theory, and psychotherapeutic models are all potential therapies that may be recommended. Trust between the patient and caregiver is far more essential than a particular prejudice favoring one theory of intervention over another.