Make Life a Mythic Journey
I have found the teachings of the depth psychologist, Carl G. Jung, healing in my own life. During my daily meditations I always pray that my Jungian family circle can counteract any callousness with compassion. Of course, it is not just my small immediate family, but also the human family that are in my thoughts. Compassion was playing out on this larger stage in the recent Presidential election as well as the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The question it posed for me was: Does the Jungian perspective on compassion provide insight into these events?
If you Google “Jung” and “compassion,“ it takes you to the archetype of the wounded healer. That is the person who has him- or her-self suffered a wound most often in childhood, and who then works to overcome it by becoming a healer. As Jung said with respect to healers, “it is his own hurt that gives a measure of his power to heal” (quoted by Anthony Storr in Jung, p. 137). For most of us the embodiment of the wounded healer is Jesus Christ, the son of a divine father and human mother who preached compassion. But, according to Ed Tick in The Practice of Dream Healing (2001), the Greek god of healing, Asklepios, predates Christ by over a thousand years as the archetypal wounded healer (p. 20). As Tick states:
“Like Jesus, Asklepios was born of a divine father and mortal mother. He, too, spent his time clad in simple robe and sandals, walking through the countryside followed by his disciples, offering healing and succor to anyone who asked. Like Jesus, he was a manifestation of the archetype of the wounded healer and savior who knows our suffering because he has experienced it. (p. 17)”
Asklepios and his followers including Galen and Hippocrates became the healers of the ancient world founding over 600 hospitals called asklepia where both physical and mental health treatment was provided for over 1000 years. The head of the asklepia was the chief physician to the Roman emperor. Ironically, when the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, these sites were destroyed and abandoned as places dedicated to a pagan god.
So, how does the wounded healer archetype, the compassionate person, relate to the recent Presidential election and Hurricane Sandy? The election with its October surprise in the form of a so-called “superstorm” exemplifies that, from a psychological perspective, it was arguably a contest between compassion and callousness. Paul Ryan, an acknowledged acolyte of Ayn Rand’s uncompassionate objectivism, represents one side of this tension. His budget, embraced by Mitt Romney, had been attacked by the U.S..Catholic bishops for its lack of compassion to the poor and disenfranchised. And Mitt Romney was caught denigrating this group as the “47 percent” who are takers or, more recently, by callously blaming his loss on “gifts” by Obama to bribe these voters (News article, Nov. 14). Of course, what they and, in fact, everyone wants is caring and concern—that is, compassion, whether it be tax breaks or tax-funded programs to support basic human needs.
Barack Obama, it can be argued, is a true wounded healer. He suffered the primal childhood wound of the loss of a father and was raised by his mother and his grandparents. He came from an educated, but humble, background and was exposed to a multicultural upbringing. Like Asklepios, he was able to confront his wounds and evolve into a political healer (see Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance). That does not mean that he was completely healed as his lack of decisiveness often led to proposing disadvantageous compromise, but only that he was committed, as Jung said, to “learning endlessly…[to] put right in himself” (Storr, p. 137) in order to heal others. From this perspective it is not surprising that his major, initial achievement was health care reform—the Affordable Health Care Act, called by his opponents, Obamacare. This is exactly what a wounded healer would do. And for Obama, it had the extra psychological benefit of healing the wound caused by the loss of his mother to inadequate care for cancer.
With Mitt Romney we see the opposite force at work. He claimed over and over again that his first act if elected President would be to “repeal Obamacare.” This uncharitable view extended to women and minorities, as well as to his entire approach to business. Romney’s company, Bain Capital, was notorious for taking over companies, seizing their assets, firing their workers and moving their operations offshore. Clearly, there is an unhealed wound. How else can you account for the son of a pioneering auto executive advocating the destruction of that very industry? Symbolically, it is the Jungian (and Freudian) death wish for the father. Perhaps, George Romney was just too busy building his career to provide his youngest son the love and attention he craved and needed.
Whatever the reasons, the fundamental psychological ‘tension of opposites” in the election was between compassionate healing and callous disregard for those not well-off and in need of help from their fellow citizens, that is, “We the People” in the form of the federal government. It took Hurricane Sandy to halt the hurricane of campaign attack ads and to reveal this to the nation. Until the storm hit the major population centers of the East Coast, President Obama had been regarded by many as aloof and distant. Then, in a dramatic moment he appeared embracing the arch-conservative Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, as well as many victims of the storm while bringing with him much needed and appreciated federal assistance. The President was shown clearly as the wounded healer he is and had been. That seminal archetypal moment propelled him to victory a week later. It was truly a triumph for compassion, and a rejection of the racist selfishness of the Tea Party Republicans.
Paul Marshall Wortman, Ph.D.