Mindsight

I’ve been reading Mindsight (2010) by Dr. Daniel Siegel, a psychiatrist at UCLA. After seeing him speak at the Evolution of Psychotherapy conference last December, during which I could barely sit in my seat listening to him talk, I have been awaiting the release of this new book. Upon reading, my suspicians are further confirmed: He’s a Jungian and he doesn’t even know it!

According to Dr. Siegel, “Mindsight is the ability to see the internal world, to notice what is going on inside of yourself, and inside of other people.”

This new concept which he presents in his book offers a way to support healing mental illness. Dr. Siegel suggests that all mental illness can be seen as categorized as either problems of Rigidity or of Chaos (p. 67), whereas mental health would look like Integration (p. 69). Dr. Siegel’s definition of terms seem to state that integration is the goal result of using the tools of mindsight.

The presentation of his ideas is strongly correlated with the Jungian concept of the ego-Self axis, the active link between the ego — the conscious aspect of ourselves with which we navigate the world — and the Self — the imaginal, physical, sensory, spiritual, relational everything else in which we live. Like Dr. Siegel’s suggestion that all mental illness can be seen as either too much rigidity or too much chaos, Jungian psychology holds that the strength of the ego-Self relationship indicates either Alienation or Inflation, too much distance from Self or too much immersion in it. What is necessary, like Dr. Siegel’s concept of integration, is a healthy working relationship between the two. Perhaps analogous to couples’ relationships, two people can either be too distant from one another (rigidity / alienation) resulting in a cold, distant feeling between them, or they can be too enmeshed (chaotic / inflated), identifying too closely with each other and resulting in chaotic, over-blown emotional reactions. Neither of these states is ideal. Mental health, like relationship health, suggests a proper differentiation of both the ego and Self (Jungian language) or of both partners, while also allowing for clarity of communication and feeling between them. This is, I think, similar to what Dr. Siegel is saying regarding integration.

Dr. Siegel suggests that once patients have done the work of mindsight, strengthening the ability to see the inner world, or what I would call the work of strengthening the ego-Self axis,

Their identity expands: they become aware that they are part of a much larger whole. In various research explorations of happiness and wisdom, this sense of interconnection seems to be at the heart of living a life of meaning and purpose. This is the promise of mindsight and integration. (p. 76)

What I cannot help but write in bold letters in my book (in pencil of course!) is that it is also the promise and concept of Individuation! While Dr. Siegel claims that no field can define mental health or a concept of integration, I argue that this was the central premise of all of Jung’s work.

The work of Jungian psychology is centered around first creating a strong ego that can be out in the world, and then an ego that is in dialogue and live relationship with Self. (A concept that can also perhaps be seen physiologically as an active bridge between the left and right sides of the brain). Indeed, this is the very reason that I cannot subscribe to any other modality of mental health in its entirety, because, as Siegel states, no other field knows exactly what they are working towards in terms of health other than simple symptom alleviation.

There is far more in this area of the correlation between Dr. Siegel’s work and that of Jung’s that I hope to explore. (In addition to the quarterlife crisis and consequent path towards individuation that Dr. Siegel himself seems to have taken mid-career in medical school, p. 47).

As I will blog about another day, for the last two years, I have been thinking about a possible physiological correlate to the ego-Self axis in our bodies and in the world. I am astounded that Dr. Siegel’s work seems to offer me a clear suggestion that the hypothesis I have been working on is sound. I hope to someday be able to talk with Dr. Siegel about this work and explore how my theories are enhanced by his work, and his by Jung’s.

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