Sunday, September 25, 2016



Andras Angyal was an American-Hungarian psychiatrist who died in 1960, the same year I started my career as a psychologist at Johns Hopkins  hospital. Now At 83 my mind returns to this forgotten genius who I only knew through his writing as a student while a graduate student at Harvard.
Late at night, awake in my "segmented sleep" cycle, my thoughts about the events of my past life somehow bring him to mind. Before I tell you of those thoughts I want to quote a succinct summary of his ideas from Wikipedia.
"Angyal ... coined the word biosphere. The word refers to both the individual and the environment, 'not as interacting parts, not as constituents which have independent existence, but as aspects of a single reality which can be separated only by abstraction.'[...]
The biosphere is seen as a system of interlocking systems so arranged that any given sub-system of the biosphere is both the container of lesser systems and the contained of a greater system or systems. The interplay of the interlocking systems creates a tension which gives rise to the energy, which is available to the personality. Moreover, the biosphere as a whole is characterized by a fundamental polarity which gives rise to its most fundamental energy. This polarity arises from the fact that the environment pulls in one direction and the organism in the other.
To these fundamental yet opposed pulls of the biosphere, Angyal has given the names of autonomy and homonomy, respectively. Autonomy is the relatively egoistic pole of the biosphere: it represents the tendency to advance one's interests by mastering the environment, by asserting oneself, so to speak, as a separate being. Homonomy is the relatively 'selfless' pole of the biosphpere: it is the tendency to fit oneself to the environment by willingly subordinating oneself to something that one perceives as larger than the individual self. In place of the words autonomy and homonomy, Angyal has also used the terms self-determination and self-surrender to describe these opposing yet co-operating directional trends of the biosphere, and he has felicitously summed up the individual's relationship to them with the remark that, 'the human being comports himself as if he were a whole of an intermediate order'"
As I review my own life, I now clearly see that there are ego-driven periods as well as those self-surrender or homonomy periods. Moreover, as Angyal described, these very distinct functions are like those Gestalt illusions which can 'flip' back and forth, where you experience one side of your personality without conscious awareness of the other.
These are not necessarily 'good vs bad' experiences as commonly judged by others.For some of the ego moments are positive and others negative; and some of the selfless periods display either good or bad behaviors. But I see my most secret and undeniably bad actions as a part of my self which can succumb to that conscious state in which I am a selfless and admiral part of the larger society.
When it is possible, as you scan over your past thoughts and actions, especially those you keep most secret from view, you may discover a more unified, larger picture of yourself. There is then a relief of the tension between opposite views, and according to that wise psychiatrist I never met, there remains a holistic unified vision of a peaceful self.

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