Thursday, 21 February 2013

Free Will - Holy Cow Or Illusion?

“Man is created free, and is free, though he be born in chains.” This is the concept of the autonomous modern man as formulated by Friedrich Schiller. Free will is the trade mark of progressive societies and promotes the individual who is creating his own life able to do what he wants without any limitations from outside – authorities or social expectations.

On the Dispute Around Free Will

Yet there is massive doubt about the existence of free will which comes mainly from the world of natural science. Any process in nature which includes man takes place in a chain of cause and effect without any interruption. When such a chain is not evident it becomes the object of research till the gap is filled. One event causes the next, and free will is not needed in the observation and description of the processes (although its existence in talking about it would be the product of a causal chain at least). In addition to that, some of today’s prominent brain researchers like to state that free will is just an imagination of higher brain centers, mainly the prefrontal cortex. It labels decisions which are made up by deeper and unconsciously working systems as decisions from free will, “long” after the choice has been made. Basically, we do not know why we decide but name our decisions as free after it has been made.

From another corner, spiritual teachers and traditions like Advaita argue against free will with another argument: The all knowing and all controlling divine intelligence has created every event in the universe up to the tiniest detail, so everything is already determined whatever has happened so far and will happen in the future. Similar to the insights of modern brain research, free will is an illusion and self deception.

So free will is under attack from the supporters of natural sciences as well as from the devotees of teachings from the East. Should we leave the question to the scholars and students in the academic or spiritual fields? It does not seem irrelevant for our self-concept and for our image of other people whether our will is free or not.

On the Biography of Will

When we consider our upbringing, we might realize that at some point in time consciousness about our own free will arose. As a newborn baby, we had other troubles to handle – building up the first contacts and care about our safety and basic nurturing. We were so much part of a development guided by biological processes without knowledge of alternatives. Of course, we discovered quite early that our behavior had an impact on our environment. Later, this impression became stronger, and as soon as we could master the word “No!” and the sentence “I do not want!” we were clear about our own will.

As grownups, it is obvious: We can decide what we want – whether we take the red or the green apples from the shelf, whether we take a car or public transportation, whether we are friendly towards someone else or not. Yet, are these decisions as free as they seem to us? Who is it really who decides for the green or the red apples? Our previous experiences, our expectations, the momentary state of hunger, the placement of the product in the shop, … Is it really my choice to be friendly to a person with whom I just had a conflict? But what is in the way when I am free in fact?

As mentioned above, brain research has stated that the conscious decision making center is located in the prefrontal cortex. It is the last step of the process of decision, when everything is clear already. Procedures running deeply in the unconsciousness make the decision after surveying the pros and cons, and the neocortex gives its final consent as if it would say; „Well, I have no idea why just this decision came about, but I can herewith state that the whole thing was a thoroughly rational and conscious decision and I can name all the relevant reasons for it.”

So we never know and cannot even know whether the reasons for a certain decision we have in our mind are really those which have actually lead to the decision. Yet we act as if we were fully in control. This is why some people call humans rationalizing (inventing reasons) and not rational (reasonable) animals.

About the Necessity of Free Will

Why then is there an institution which pretends to be a free will? I think it fulfills mainly two functions: One is about having a feeling of self when we act which helps us in planning our future. Also developing creative ideas is supported when we give us the feedback of having achieved something of high value by ourselves. So we are motivated to keep on doing so. We experience ourselves as the center of our world, as the navel point around which everything turns.

The other function of an (probably illusionary) free will can be found in the social fabric, in forming groups and societies. Social interaction works only when the participants are able to hold on to rules and to apply them freely according to the relevant situation. Additionally, individual acts of free will should lead up to forming a common will. The participants always presuppose that they themselves and the others as well can use something like a free will. We feel ourselves and we make others responsible for what is done by us or them. When we make a mistake, the excuse is hardly ever that we do not have a free will but probably that we were not in full mastery of our will in the given situation.

We also assume that we can evolve and improve in our ability to choose. It supports our self-esteem to realize that we have grown in managing fears and that we have improved in certain skills, when looking back. We attribute these steps in learning to ourselves and not to anyone else or to some unconscious processes within ourselves. So the assumption of a free will is the basis of our feeling of self-esteem.

Our daily life is full of connections which do not make any sense without accepting the idea of free will. It is only on the level of wisdom that we start to understand that the free will is not just an attribute which is adhered to our being like the earlap to the ear but a function which we use under certain circumstances and which we imply in respect to other people.

On the Abdication of Free Will

We only start to declare free will as obsolete when we dive into spiritual realms. Apart from the findings of modern brain research which we might find interesting but which do not have much impact on our experience of reality, spiritual experiences can open up to deeper insights about the reality of reality. We can get a sense of how tiny we are in the huge stream of life or existence, while we like to inflate ourselves as giants with all our vanities and how much effort we invest in these endeavors. We, the origin of our life, the all creating and recreating center of our world – what a hardship, what a drag! How superfluous would it appear when we realize that we are held and carried by a power far beyond our imagination? When we start to surrender to this power independent from our will, then the idea of a free will is an unnecessary aspect which mainly serves our resistances against surrender.

So it seems indispensable that we make ourselves clear that we live on different levels of consciousness which become effective in different degrees according to the actual situation and which are growing and evolving throughout our whole lives. When we start to trust our experience, we always find an answer to the question whether there “exists” something like a free will.

As long as we are oriented to the outside in our perception, thinking and acting, oriented in past and future we suppose without question that we can use our free will. When we are totally in the moment and connected to the flow of life, we do not need a free will. Rather, we feel integrated and aligned with what happens which follows a higher intelligence. It does not need our contribution to find its optimum over and over again.

We become a sage when we have passed through the levels of reflection, when we have tasted from the waters of common sense thinking and philosophical argument, when we have understood the pros and cons concerning the idea of free will, and when we have gained some insight in the development of consciousness. Ultimately, leaving behind all illusions without disdaining or devaluating them, we can enjoy the luxury of the sage who can let go of all concepts which have proven to be illusions. Some ballast less to carry on our way …

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Breathwork and Developmental Trauma

The common understanding of trauma refers to a single experience of shock which was so terrible that the inner balance gets severely affected over a longer period of time – a traffic accident, the sudden death of a family member, a violent assault etc. Such events are called mono traumas and are connected to the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When working in therapy with such cases, it is important to resolve the shock state which is stored inside and to complete the fight/flight-reaction which was disrupted by the trauma.

When such traumatization happen frequently, for instance like abusive violations or aggressive attacks, we talk about sequential traumatization. In the therapy of such cases, the focus has to be on establishing a stable therapeutic relationship, connected with building up inner strength and a reliable access to resources before the resolution of the traumas can start. Then the work can focus on freeing the feelings which have been blocked around the traumatic situations.

The relatively new term of developmental trauma addresses ongoing experiences of neglect and frustration of needs in early childhood. It is closely connected to the extensively documented concept of attachment disorders. Unsecure attachment causes chronically malfunctions in the autonomic nervous system and interferes with the development of the brain, the hormonal system and the memory. These different forms of unsecure attachment (avoidant, ambivalent, disorganized) develop in an atmosphere of ongoing and repeated miscommunication between the child and its caretakers. This is exactly the atmosphere for creating developmental traumas.

There do not have to be single significant traumatic experiences but uncertainty, threat and distortion happen very often or constantly. Many studies have shown that traumatization caused by human relationships have a much deeper impact as traumatization by natural sources (like natural catastrophes). It seems that we humans are so strongly designed as social beings that our healthy emotional and physical development depends to a high degree on a loving and stable social environment, especially in the early phases of growing up. Developmental traumas can cause physiological, emotional, social and cognitive disabilities.

For the unborn and the baby are totally depended on the grownups for their survival. They have nothing to give in exchange for what they get except their love. Is the safeguard of this survival in danger, panic breaks out. And a baby does not have more that total defense, tensing up, freezing and inner withdrawal as mechanisms to survive the panic. The ultimate defensive reaction is rigor and numbness. When the traumatization has happened before birth, it is the only possibility of reaction. In this state, dissociations, splits in consciousness and loss of body perception happen easily. When someone has difficulties in gaining access to feelings and emotions up to palsies can have their origin in such early childhood grievances.

When this inner state of stress becomes chronified, it can be seen in slighter symptoms like a rigid gaze, deficits in concentration, disability to listen or different health problems. Trivial reasons can trigger a shock reaction: the breath is held, all irrelevant actions stop. The total awareness goes to the outer senses, especially to hearing and looking. Such symptoms can be active throughout a whole lifetime and intensify in situations of stress. These persons do not even realize that they have adopted this reactive behavior at one point in time for protecting themselves, but they assume that this is just the way they are.

A further result of this kind of traumatization is the delay, deceleration or even inhibition in developing the Social Engagement Systems resp. the smart vagus system according to the polyvagal theory. In these cases, even low degrees of stress in social situations can lead to intensive emotional reactions which impede any empathic clarification of the situation. When the stress mode passes another level, blocking is the only possibility. Socially compatible reactions are no longer accessible in this state. It is not possible to regulate the emotions, they flood the consciousness without any respect to the situation and the involved persons.

A nervous system which predominantly switches between sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system without using the newer and more intelligent vagus systems comes into deregulation and overstraining. Various health problems can result from that. The sympathetic system does not know about relaxation, and the parasympathetic system can only relax in exhaustion.

Researches in the US estimate that three million newborn babies per year are affected by developmental traumas (which are 70 % !) so that this distortion is one of the most crucial health issues in the world. This category is not yet contained in the current diagnostic classifications (DMS IV, ICD 10). So symptoms with a developmental trauma background get often wrongly diagnosed, e.g. as Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or as bipolar (manic-depressive) illness. The standard treatment is medication instead of working therapeutically on the developmental deficits.

Breathwork and Developmental Traumas

Many elements for a successful treatment of developmental traumas are part of the basic repertoire of integrative breathwork when applied with all the skills from a profound training. These elements which will be discussed in the following sections and they can be used as a checklist if there is any need of further training to work efficiently with breathwork in cases of developmental trauma.

Vegetative Regulation

Developmental traumatization causes ongoing deregulations in the whole area of the vegetative nervous system. This can lead to over activity on the one side (chronic tension and nervousness) or lack of drive and motivation (passivity, depression). Sometimes there is a constant shift between these poles. These clients cannot react in a relaxed way to challenges from the environment.

By relaxing the exhale and by strengthening the inbreath, improved vegetative regulations can be built up and trained. The breath “education” which means the restoration of the original breathing functions on the level of the vegetative nervous system consists in opening the space for the new, smart vagus when the rhythmical and regular change between sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system on a low level of arousal is established. When the breath is flowing deeply and relaxed, this is an indication of a well regulated nervous system. In this state, the skills for social engagement and the openness for inner feeling are accessible. Additionally, self-confidence and self-esteem are strengthened on the organismic level.


When we breathe consciously, we open the way for inner perception, for strengthening the inner sense and for feeling body sensations. As breathworkers, we guide the client to feel the body all the time during the breathing process, to feel sensations and emotions. With eyes closed, the attention can easily stay with the inner universe.

Dissociation is a central mechanism of traumatization which is the splitting off of the awareness from the physical level. It is as if the consciousness would emigrate to a secure place so that the threating situation to which the body is exposed can be observed from a safe distance. When the traumatization goes on, the ability to feel the body and its signals can get lost totally.

The simplest way to reconnect body and consciousness is by giving the attention to the breathing. By this, one can dive consciously into the permanent stream of the organismic process in which a lot of information comes up from the inner world and its memory. The therapeutic value lies in establishing the trust in this channel of information and to help to relieve the dissociation, the split between body and consciousness. Thus, the tendency to step out of the present experience is reduced and the awareness for the demands of the momentary situation is strengthened. To feel the breath consciously and to connect to the body by doing this is a practice which can be done anytime and everywhere.

Yet we have to be aware of dissociative flashbacks which can happen during a breathing process when it becomes difficult for the breather to keep the attention with the breathing and to slip into unconsciousness. Although this state of unconsciousness can have different reasons it is important to clear whether it has to do with tiredness or exhaustion so that the body reacts with a need for sleep to the lying position or whether it is an unconsciously directed evasion into a parasympathetic state which can be the result of an early traumatization. Especially when this drifting off happens at the point of entering a deeper level of inner experience the assumption is close at hand that it is a protective reaction to safeguard the original traumatizing experience.

Bottom-Up and Top-Down

We work „bottom-up“, when we aim at the root of the distortion and let the healing happen until it can be experienced on the “upper” level. When we work with conscious breathing, we reach deeply into the preverbal area. As soon as we focus on our breathing, we access realms of experience which took place beyond or long before the cognitive processing was possible, and which have left their traces way under the regions of language.

Working top down is secondary, yet equally important. It is less represented in breathwork. The rule is often told: Let the breath do its work, that is enough. Talking during or after the process is unnecessary and can disturb the inner process. Still, the rise of deep emotions must be balanced with the ability to integrate them. We should not neglect this aspect. Working top down means to provide a frame of understanding for what happens or what has happened. When the client is able to understand the inner experience she can relax on the cognitive level as well. It is also important to stabilize healing which has happened on the physical and emotional level by changing cognitive patterns which could inhibit the integration and consolidation of what has been healed.

Filling Up the Container

Developmental traumatization causes a permanent alert state in the organism which has to run on an emergency program. There is a lack of time and space for regeneration for mending the damages and for filling up the resources. Often not even sleep provides this function of regeneration as it is restless and disrupted. This leads to irritability, hypersensitivity and lack in stress resistance. Small incidents can cause strong emotional reactions and alterations in the mood.

Breathwork sessions should ideally lead towards a state of deep relaxation either after processes of intensive emotional discharge or after a calm and smooth course. Clients often report after a session that they never before felt as relaxed as now. This is the state in which the depleted energy containers get replenished.

To be able to relax better also in daily life with the help of mindful breathing is one of the pleasant side effects of breath therapy as well as the use of conscious breathing for coping with sleep disorders. This helps to improve the energy balance sustainably because the body gets the required amount of regenerative phases.

Anchoring in the Present

Traumatization is an experience in the past with impacts on the present moment. In the present we know that we have survived the trauma and that we are stronger and more capable than we were as children. So it is important that we keep the consciousness in the present moment when elements of the trauma experience emerge. So the original experience can be relived in a secure framework.

The breath offers an excellent way to return to the present moment again and again. As therapists, we encourage the breather to notice the flow of the breath in every moment, even when tough and dreadful memories and intense feelings come up. The breath acts as safe fundament of the re-experience of the trauma situation. We help the client to establish a bridge between the bad experience of the past and the safety in the present. This way, a new imprint in the brain is established.

Conscious breathing can easily be connected with grounding exercises which play an important role in anchoring in the present. The energetic contact to the floor strengthens the internal safety, the feeling of being carried by the huge mother earth.

Working with Catharsis

Developmental traumas create complex patterns which go back to unfinished fight-flight-reactions. When a baby is frustrated in its needs it starts to react with irritation, then with anger and with aggression and finally, when there is still no adequate response from outside, with resignation, withdrawal and blocking. In these cases, the potential of activation of the sympathetic branch cannot be completed in its natural course. It is halfway stuck. Before the aggressive energies can be expressed and outlived, they meet a massive barrier which turns into a prohibition: I am not allowed to be angry because I would lose the love of the people who care for my survival.

By intensifying and deepening the breathing, often body impulses arise to the surface which urge towards expression in order to complete unfinished cycles of aggression. So it is helpful to trust these impulses and express them so that the blocked energy can be set free. This can be connected with screaming, kicking, pushing etc. and has to take place in a very safe environment, including the therapist. She needs a deep rooted trust in the power of the feelings so she can give all the safe holding the client needs in this process. She has to act like a parent who holds the helplessly angry child with the message: Yes, you are allowed to be angry now and you are allowed to express this feeling with all its strength, and I love you with all of this feeling.

But we have to be cautious to force the breath, because accessing the sensitive trauma moments to quickly can overwhelm the client and cause retraumatization. It is crucial in time to slow down the breathing when the root of the problem is approaching so that the experience can be integrated carefully step by step.

Healing and invasive body contact

A form of traumatizing neglect can be found in the lack of body contact between the baby and its caretakers. Newborns feel contact and love mainly via the body. They perceive on this channel what a relationship they have to their most important contact persons. When this channel is not used they lack of indispensable information and they do not know whether they are wanted or not, whether they are accepted or rejected. So they feel totally unsecure in a no man’s land where there is threat and danger any time possible. This is the cause for developing a constantly active vigilance and sensitivity for the smallest sparks of contact which often get charged up with unconscious interpretations like: When I smile, my mother takes notice of me.

Breathwork is a form of body therapy, so it provides different forms of body contact. As proven scientifically already, empathic touch can ease pain, relieve stress and release happiness and attachment hormones. Touch is one of the most important ways of communication for empathy and acceptance.

When working with clients with developmental trauma who suffer from lack of touch, it is crucial to be aware of the enormous importance and significance of body contact as well as of the huge insecurity connected with it. Touching in a tiny way can have a big impact which should be perceived clearly and exactly and processed verbally. So it should be clarified again and again how the body contact is received so that any overflow or invasion of contact signals is omitted.

Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness therapy is gaining positive recognition as helpful tool with different problems, mainly stress disorders and diseases related to that. It is based on the Buddhist meditation practice which, of course, uses the awareness of the breath as one of its key methods. This is an assignment from mindfulness therapy: When learning mindfulness skills, it is usually recommended that we start practicing mindfulness of the breath, then mindfulness of the body, before moving on to mindfulness of thoughts. 

When we work with the conscious breath, we practice mindfulness therapy. We keep our attention on the breath (as therapists and as clients), observe the inflow and the outflow, whatever sensations and impulses come from inside. Thus we connect to the experience of the present moment and pay less attention to the thoughts. The world of mental constructions withdraws to the background. This is a valuable tool to be able to cope with the challenges of life more calmly and even-tempered. For someone suffering from developmental trauma, this is a considerable aid for improving one’s quality of life.

The Therapeutic Relationship

As mentioned above, developmental traumatization predominantly results from an atmosphere of unsecure attachment. So the relationship between breathworker and client has a crucial role in healing. As a client with this burden comes with an unsecure attachment pattern, it is important that the therapist can offer the specific remedy in a new form of relationship with consistency and safety which the client missed during childhood. The therapist should be able to cope with typical pendulum movements in opening and closing, in trusting and mistrusting which are common for unsecure attached clients. As soon as they notice that they are accept whether they are open or withdrawn, they can relax more in contact and start to build up a new internal model of relationship step by step.

As congruent relationship experiences have occurred very rarely in the history of these clients, they have a high expectancy in the therapist. They notice immediately when something is wrong and they react highly sensitively to that, often without mentioning. When e.g. the therapist answers the client’s question that she is not tired (because she wants to be an attentive and present companion), although she is tired, it creates mistrust in the client, which can be so subtle that not even the client is aware of it. So there is no possibility of clearing it up unless the therapist becomes aware of the change in the relationship atmosphere.

Many of the elements which are needed by clients with developmental traumas for an effective healing process are part of the basic repertoire in breath therapy. And a lot of additional learning can take place to improve the professional skill by looking more accurately at the backgrounds of the distortions and problems with which the clients come to the session. We can trust the merits and healing power of the breath and we can work together in enlarging its possibilities. For this it is important that we encounter new concepts and insights.


Laurence Heller: Healing Developmental Trauma. How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books 2012
Bessel van der Kolk: Developmental trauma disorder: Towards a rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories. 10.12.2012  7.1.2013, 8.1.2013
Wilfried Ehrmann: Entwicklungstraumen und Atemtherapie. In: ATMAN Zeitung 1/2013

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Inbreath Society

Breathing in means taking up energy and strength. We blow up our rib cage in order to impress the people around us. The chin goes up and the back gets hollow. We create space for ourselves. So we are ready to face any challenge. The inbreath activates sympathicus, the branch of the autonomous nervous system which is responsible for stress. On the exhale, we relax and go into the parasympathetical mode. 

When we are able to practice this simple rhythm, our organism stays in balance on a basic level. When a system gets overstrained to the disadvantage of the other, imbalance is created. In our society which is oriented towards achievement and which is demanding the maximal output from people, this imbalance is an integral part of the economic system. 

The working environment is shaped by the inbreath mode, and the outbreath mode is advised to leisure time. But the art of shutting down the internalized achievement expectations as soon as we close the office doors behind us is managed by not too many people. Most people take the stress with them and limit the regenerative effect of their free time. 

Our organism is not set up for performing high efficiency over longer periods of time without relaxation; for doing so, it has to go back to its resources. Then the leisure time mainly has to serve for filling up the containers which have been depleted by work and the stress around it. Instead of evolving our creativity we merely regain the strength needed for the pressure which is dominant in most working areas. 

Also mentally, the working environment plays a dominant role with most people in our culture: What is to do, what has to be managed, what is expected from me, what do I have to fulfill? Is there not anything, I might have forgotten? And what happens, if I really forgot something of importance? These are the topics of the inbreath person who is steered from the outside – unfinished business from the past tortures the mind as well as worries when looking ahead into the future. 

Compulsive thinking keeps the tension system in a permanent activation state. It forces the breathing to only focus on the inbreath and to neglect the outbreath, or to just use it as a bridge for the next inbreath. So the pressure of the inbreath continues during the outbreath. The function for relaxation inherent in the outbreath is taken away. In this way, the inbreath-type person is formed as characterized above, tailored for a materialistic society and culture which is run by squandering resources. 

Outbreath means surrender 

When breathing out, the muscles and tissues relax, we give energy away and sink inside. We give up control and become vulnerable, be it just for a moment. We surrender to what happens now, become receptive, open for new impressions. The perceptive field opens up on the outside and on the inside. 

 On the outbreath, we access our creativity. For as soon as we stop to monitor and control the outside world, it comes up to us with its ideas. At the same time, our inside world becomes active and starts to share. We invite new impulses and use the next inbreath for taking in the energy needed for implementing our ideas. 

How about an exhale society? 

 When the outbreath becomes more vital than the inbreath, we tend to be receptive before becoming active. We give our primary attention to what comes from the outside and from the inside. The inbreath serves as support of what comes to us in the outbreath, and gives us the strength to carry on with our ideas. 

In an outbreath society, the pole position is not filled with achievement and control, but with listening and observing. We are not stuck in the past with our doubts and justifications, nor are we anticipating the future with our worries, but we are more aligned with the present moment and its needs and possibilities. Our actions do not come from the pressure of internal or external expectations but from relaxation. 

For becoming outbreathers, we have to learn to exhale. Confucius has written, that the first thing a man has to be taught is how to breathe. Today, 2500 years later, we have to say that the first thing we have to learn and to practice as modern people is the outbreath. We are used to take the outbreath as a prolonged alienated inbreath, so our outbreath is loaded and constricted by pressure as if we would want to press all the air out of our lungs. 

Instead, when we learn to let the air free with the exhale by relaxing all the muscles which take part in the breathing process, then we experience how the air leaves us by itself, and no action from our side is required. We experience what happens when we allow what wants to happen by itself, and how we can be present with that. 

We change the direction: We stop to only react to problems the world presents to us, but start to feel which world we would like to have and invite the ways in which we can support this vision. We practice trust as we trust our outbreath by surrendering to it, trusting that the inbreath will come by itself so that the cycle of life moves on.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Animus and Anima

Carl Gustav Jung has developed the model of animus and anima almost a hundred years ago to better understand the male and the female and their relationship. The idea is that every man has hidden female aspects (anima) and every woman a hidden animus. We choose our partner for relationship who expresses our own unconscious parts so that we want to become whole in the relationship. But this way is bound to fail as soon as it becomes clear that the relationship partner cannot fulfill our expectations. On the one hand these projections are loaded with wounds and irritations we experienced as children, on the other hand we are confronted with archetypes which we tend to mistake for real persons. 


Anima is the female side in the unconscious realm of the male, the archetype of the female. It is seen as intuitive, receptive, empathic, and moody.

The anima can confuse a relationship when the man expects the woman to be like the archetypical image inside himself which no real woman will ever manage. Rather it is the task of the man to develop these aspects by himself; otherwise he would go astray and acquire a narcissistic personality disorder. Furthermore it has to be taken into account that the anima archetype is superposed by the archetype of the mother. So the first step is to clear the anima from the mother projections which opens the way for the man to configure his own female pole. The positive side of the anima for the male is the guidance towards the inner world, towards opening up for sensations, feelings and fantasies. In this way, the male can develop the receptive principle.


Animus represents the male aspects in the subconscious of the woman, the male archetype. It is described as rational, decisive and dominant. Similar to the male, the archetypically modeled role expectations of the woman put pressure on the relationship. They are loaded by the inner images of the father and the imprints from other male members of the family. It is important for the woman to develop the qualities, which are provided by her animus. According to Jung, they consist of entrepreneurial spirit, courage, as well as the soul guidance to inner transformation.

The wholesome benefits

C.G. Jung‘s intention in describing these archetypes was to help people towards wholeness. As depth psychologist he focused on the rise of unconscious material to consciousness. So he wanted to help men and women to find themselves, to become complete and thus to be able to resolve their relationship problems. As soon as a projection onto the partner is discovered, a new inner space for a loving relationship is created. Additionally, everyone feels better with oneself when all the parts of the psyche get their place in one’s consciousness and identity.

Putting it into mechanical terms, this model could be misunderstood in a way as if every man would have to come as close to the archetype in order to be a “genuine man”, and vice versa for the woman. This would mean that every man would find the same anima inside of himself, and every woman a generally obligatory animus.

Yet the archetype is not an ideal but according to Jung a figure from the collective unconsciousness. It symbolizes central human experiences which exist in all cultures, as, in our case, the encounter of man and woman. There is a whole range of phenomena so it is easily misguiding to link it to certain specific characteristics. Any description of an archetype with regard to the contents is flawed.

So dealing with animus and anima can only have a healing effect when we start from a respective individualized formation of the archetypes as they appear symbolically masked in dreams or fantasies. In this search, the archetype helps more as a guideline than a goal to reach. The goal is inner wholeness, coming to oneself in the particular form of the individual and not fitting into a predefined patter.

Even a gestalt from a dream as impressive as it might be, is not to be copied. Rather, one’s own form which is hidden in that dream experience, its individually conceivable meaning and the symbolic contents discovered and interpreted by oneself are the guideline of exploration and the guarantee for an integrative adoption.

Role models

Critics claim that Jung uses role models coined by a traditional society. Of course you can find women who act rationally and like to dominate, and who could benefit from more softness. Or there are as well men who are compliable and sensitive, and who could need more assertiveness. At the days of Jung, role models were still clearly defined and frozen. But a lot has changed since then. Still, it is an objective of education, to bring up males as men and females as women. Even though each age designs and spreads its specific models for men and women, there is an overall trend to more ambiguity and multifold meanings. So it becomes more and more uncertain and unclear as to what kind of men and women the children should be educated.

This shows that every person has his /her genuine mixture of anima and animus. Some have more of this, some more of that. There are more masculine women than some men and vice versa. There is an idea directed towards the future that men as well as women leave all predefined role models behind and freely create their own form of animus and anima. Then these two poles serve as archetypes which can be interpreted from everyone in a genuine and unique way.

Archetypes and the Individual

We are talking about archetypes, central basic ideas of the collective unconsciousness. In reality, we see men and women in great diversity and infinite variety in mixing male and female aspects which are not opposed as poles but rather melt into a continuum. When forming a certain animus-anima-personality, genetically and epigenetically transferred predispositions contribute as well as embryonic experiences (gender wish of the parent, meeting a later vanished twin, interactive experiences of the mother during pregnancy etc.) and role models which are provided by upbringing and the cultural environment. 

Typically male – typically female, the ones coming from the mars, the other from the venus – these stereotypes come from multifold sources of the formation of identity, from hormones to the icons of the world of advertisement. The choice of male and female roles and models is constantly increasing and forming new contradictions. So it becomes more and more confusing for men and women as well to find their gender identity and to gain clarity in wich direction to go.

It was easier for Jung at his days as the classical attributions of roles (the rational man and the emotional woman) could be found in reality to a high extend. Society has changed and differentiated rapidly since then. Men who feel like women and women who feel like men get less and less excluded and discriminated. From prenatal psychology we know that that the male sexual organs start developing after the forming of female sexual organs has been inhibited. Brain research has taught us that male and female brain mainly differ by the average amount of testosterone and that the formation of manliness and femininity is strongly determined by the hormonal embryonic development. We hear from sociology that gender models are being constructed and deconstructed constantly. And we experience the diverse offers from the entertainment industry which show as how any archetype can be connected to any stereotype.

Would you like to be as male as Leonardo di Caprio or Silvio Berlusconi, or rather as Johnny Depp (in which movie please?) – no, become a real man finally! Would you like your femininity according to Mrs. Zeta-Jones or Mrs. Merkel or from a dreative mixture of both? Are you emancipated enough and do you know how to get your dream sex in any city? How would you like to live your relationship: following Allan & Barbara Pease (Why Men Don't Listen & Women Can't Read Maps), John Gray (Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus) or even more Cordelia Fine (Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences)?

Beyond the clichés

On the systemic level of consciousness we have to give up all rigid attributions of roles. There is a counter model to every model, an antitype to any type, and a lot of variations in between. Everybody is a deviation of some concept.  In the 21st century, do we still need a dualistic idea or is it rather in the way when we want to better understand the other gender and find better ways of living together?

Each model has been used as a weapon somewhere on the battle fields of gender fights to back up one’s own point of view and devaluate the other person. I am like I am because I come from the Mars. You have to change because you have suppressed your anima …
We can use any model to rate and judge the other person instead of meeting him/her. By concepts, we will never improve our understanding not coming closer to our partner.

Meeting of Beings

What we need instead, is an attitude from which we meet humans, not only of different gender but primarily and mainly of different being. First we have to recognize and honor this uniqueness, and the particular gender is of secondary importance. So we have to get rid of all clichés around gender roles and models and look behind all these imprints which have been left by tradition and culture. And then we can meet as special beings by accepting us mutually in the way we are, in our very specific blend of animus- and anima-aspects, and that we move on in our inner enquiry to unravel even more of this uniqueness. 

We could use the animus anima-model as a guideline for this inner search and liberate it from all the images which have been pasted on this complex canvas. Eventually, we begin to realize our own specific collaboration of what once was part of the male archetype and of its former female counterpart and accompany its inner growth in an observing manner.

Thus we enter into a spiral of the cleansing of images, expectations and models about ourselves and of those we form about other people. The more we can accept our friends and colleagues in their depth and individuality the more we will succeed in doing so in relationship to ourselves. This spiral brings us closer and closer to what we are actually looking for in communication and encounter – the recognition from person to person.

The 6. Austrian Breathwork Days from February 22 – 24, 2013 have the topic "Yin and Yang in Man and Woman" with interesting workshops around this issue. Information at Verein ATMAN.

"Growing in relationship" - Seminar in Corfu (Greece) from June 30 -  July 6, 2013. Trainers: Wilfried and Madya Ehrmann
Information at

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Thoughts on Forgiving

Forgiving needs the willingness to consciously deal with what has happened, to see and feel oneself as the victim and the other person as offender. This includes giving space to all the feelings around the event. As long as anger and pain come up with the memory of what has happened, forgiving is not possible. So forgiving requires a process which we cannot direct. In the course of this process, rigid feelings and thoughts resolve and open up for a broader view.

Pardoning means to get out of the entanglement of victim and perpetrator. I stop to focus on my wounds and to suffer from them. As long as I am fixated on what injustice or evil has been done to me, I am stuck – stuck in what has happened and stuck in judging the other person. There is a wrongdoer as long as there is a victim. Forgiving means also to release the perpetrator from being a perpetrator. Only by this I free myself from being victimized. I accept myself in my dignity which is inviolable and always present whatever happens or whatever is done to me.

From this dignity, true forgiving comes. And I also accept the inviolable dignity of the wrongdoer which has not been affected by the unawareness, limitation and self-oblivion which had befallen him by hurting me.

Forgiving means to see the other person who has hurt me, in his/her own history of hurts without putting myself in a superior position.

I am only able to forgive when I have realized that the other person had not treated me badly simply due to an individual deficiency of personality but because he/she could not have acted better in that situation due to patterns of behavior imprinted in the past and due to the mood in the moment.

By this I can realize that the action which has offended me was not directed against me but had happened without consideration (the other person was not present in doing what was done) or that the action came out of revenge – and was actually directed against someone in the history of the wrongdoer with whom I have been mistaken in the present situation.

So one can say that the victim arises in the perpetrator to eventually defend oneself, even though at the wrong time and at the wrong place, against the wrong person.

I can only forgive when I have understood that people are not simply evil but that they sometimes act in an evil way because they have been treated mindlessly which makes them prone to situations in which their range of action is limited as well as their view of other people.

Someone steps on my toes or makes me wet by driving by. My first impulse is to think that someone wants to harm me but the second insight is that someone has not managed to be attentive enough due to stress. When I remember my own limited ability to be attentive and aware, I manage to forgive. Also I am often careless, also I have ignored or overseen other people’s needs and perspectives.

„Also I…“ is an exercise which reminds me of my equality with other people, neither better nor worse, but equally human. What has happened has added another story to the infinite carpet of human stories. By looking closer, I might realize that this event which has been so awfully hurtful for me contains a tiny threat of humor, spun from the ineradicable imperfection of humankind. So I might be pardoned to smile at my own variation of imperfection which I tend to perform over and over again in some degree of perfection.