Roberto Assagioli MD, the founder of Psychosynthesis, used an “egg” diagram to demonstrate his theory of psychology. As part of my Psychosynthesis training, I wrote most of the following description of Psychosynthesis for my elderly Mother, whose first language is not English, however is an avid gardener. Therefore, I used a diagram of a tree. You can compare the two and use what works best for you.
“I”, Consciousness, and Will
Look at the tree; consider the trunk of the tree to be the integral part of your being, the intrinsic part of you that was there before birth, at birth, and there throughout your entire life. “I” is as authentic and pure as you can be. In addition, “I” contains functions of consciousness and will. Think of consciousnessand will as the bark on your tree trunk. “I” is you, sans-personality. Your personality is nothing more than a demonstrated choice of actions built upon previous experiences. Other peoples see this choice of actions that you demonstrate, then assess, label, and categorize it based upon their own previous experiences. Hence, the truth in the saying, it takes one to know one. Therefore, while “I” is distinct from all contents of experience, it is not separate.
In Assagioli’s original egg diagram, Assagioli places Self at the top of his diagram. Assagioli indicated Selfis a higher Self or transpersonal Self, which is separate from personal self. Assagioli (1965) suggested the Self was ones soul. With further development, Firman and Gila (2002, 2010) expanded the position of Self from the top of the egg, to permeate the entire field, explaining that Self permeates all areas and is not located solely at the top (image 3).
Self is pure potential; it is your purpose in life, your destiny, or your calling. For the tree, it is what it can be when it is a seed, what it has the potential to be; it is what it can be when it is a seedling, what it has the potential to be; and, what it can be when it is a mature tree. Your Self or soul is your pure potential, you personal road-map and nobody else has the same map. When you follow your own map, the road is smooth. If your road is rough, it’s because you are using another person’s map.
Reflecting this on my metaphor of “who’s driving my car?” and you’ll find “I” is the driver, “Self” is the road-map, and your physical body is the car. So, ask yourself, who’s driving your car?
The area surrounding the trunk, not including the area up into the branches or down into the soil is your middle unconscious. It is here that you access your experiences in life to make choices and function on a daily basis within your immediate environment. This information is not in active thought, but readily accessible. For example, the process of counting, or identifying a cat from a dog; you may not be actively thinking about a cat or dog, but if one entered your field of view, the stored information used to identify the creature immediately comes forth into active thought processing.
The root system of the tree is your lower unconscious, experiences of wounding. Just as the root system is buried in the dirt and invisible from the perspective of the trunk, so to are your experiences of wounding. These are hurtful experiences that under normal circumstance you may not choose to have. Similar to the trees root system, you have buried these in your dirt. You would rather not dig up, or re-experiences these moments. For example, you may have buried aspects resulting from the passing of a loved one, or from abusive experiences in your life, or failures; experiences that were not processed and transitioned effectively.
The area of the tree above the trunk, the branches, leaves, and crown, is your higher unconscious. This is where you repress your unique aspects, which significantly distinguish you from other people. They are special gifts, hidden talents, or your unique life calling. Having an awareness of these allows you to utilize them, and when doing so, life becomes easier and more fulfilling. When you express your unique talents, you may be closer to living up to your full potential as a human being, or experience what renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow described as peak experiences or achieving self-actualization.
Alternatively, you may have repressed your unique aspects due to any unsupportive attention you received when displaying them. They are unique, and they make you unique, which make you stand out from the crowd. Instead of being recognized for your talent and encouraged, jealous and unsupportive people may have ridiculed you for being different. The result is you repressed your unique aspects in your higher unconscious and therefore your true potential.
These hidden aspects of your lower and higher unconscious are not readily accessible to you. They are not in your middle unconscious, which is continuously accessible to you. The hidden aspects can sneak up and expose themselves when you least expect them to though, and you may not realize what is happening. In addition, these hidden aspects can maintain some control over you. They may appear within your personality structure as sudden, spontaneous reactions more than regulated and deliberate responses to situations. In a sense, you are not “thinking”, but rather you are “being thought”. This is the same as being ran, not running. Here is how we can break the process down into stages.
Using the Psychosynthesis Model
Stage Zero: Survival of Wounding
Wounding can occur from many different experiences at the level of the trunk. This is when you are most open to give and receive, and therefor most vulnerable. Here, you may expose an authentic part of yourselves only to have it attacked in some manner, resulting in “wounding”. This wounding hurts. In order to minimize the chance of this occurring again, you hide the positive aspect of yourselves that you feel invites the wounding in the upper branches and leaves. Any negative experiences associated with the situation you bury in the dirt. In doing so, you hopefully remove any of the components that attract the wounding, therefore minimizing the chance of it occurring again. Unfortunately, in doing so, you create a larger root system and a larger upper branch and leaf system. The result is the tree trunk, or your authentic “I”, has less chance to be seen, to flourish, to reach it’s full potential, to self-actualize. Instead of being your authentic self, you develop facades (subpersonalities), which you feel are more affective in dealing with the wounding situations or facades that may completely divert a wounding situation. These subpersonalities are the various roles we play, or implement, in our every day lives, when we’re not being our authentic self.
Stage One: Exploration of the Personality
In this stage, we want to explore all aspects of your personality, especially random acts that my seem irrational or experiences considered a break down, or a crash. It could be a subpersonality moving down from the branches above or one moving up from the dirt below (into our middle unconscious). Either way, it is an aspect of your being that you have repressed and is now looking for recognition and integration as part of your whole being. The benefit of any exploration is discovery. Discovering, or re-discovering, these subpersonalities allows you to expand your dimensions and become a more rounded and authentic person once again. You no longer need to be one-dimensional. It allows you to see the many different individual aspects of your being and to develop empathic relationships between them. You truly become your own best friend. In addition, you now have a greater repertoire of personality aspects to choose from according to the need at hand. This allows you to think, select, and respond instead of impulsively react to situations. This also brings you into the next state, The Emergence of “I”.
Stage Two: The Emergence of “I”
The “I” is the trunk of the tree, “distinct-but-not-separate from the contents of the personality” (Firman & Gila, 2002, p. 56). With excessive wounding, the branches and leaves extend down and the root system up, slowly engulfing the trunk. In rediscovering these repressed subpersonalities, defining them and recognizing them, you allow “I” (the trunk of the tree) to once again stand strong and tall, unobscured by the out-of-control branches and roots (psychological issues). Now, you are no longer overgrown with branches from above and roots from below. Instead, you are distinguishable, strong and independent from any of the subpersonalities attempts to control you, or that you needed to protect yourself. You can now begin working together as a team. However, you can only achieve this after learning about each of your subpersonalities and developing the empathic relationship with each, and between each. You must become a family within.
For more information and history on subpersonalities, or persona-communal from a cultural perspective, see Ogbonnaya, (1994) in the reference section.
Stage Three: Contact with Self
Staying with the analogy of the tree, the Self is a part of you that resides beyond the tree, however is still part of the tree. For the tree, Self is mother-nature. It is that which holds the life-plan for the physical tree. It lies deep within the DNA of the tree, and beyond. It permeates everything. Maybe it is what you call your soul, or universal power, or your inner God, Gods, or Goddess. It does not matter what you call it, so long as you are in touch with it. If you can keep your trunk clean and clear of the upper branches and lower roots (psychological disharmony and imbalance), uncluttered and clear to receive, you may be in direct contact with your Self. If this is the case, consider this. You have your “I” aspect recognized and working in harmony with your subpersonalities. You then have your “Self” communicating with your “I”. There are no distractions, only pure, harmonious communication and collaboration between your physical human presence, and the part of you that is beyond, the greater non-human aspect. This brings us to stage four.
Stage Four: Response to Self
Imagine living in this state of pure, harmonious communication and collaboration between all these aspects of your being. Your daily struggles with yourself are gone; general anxiety, status anxiety, and mistaken ego identities are gone. You no longer clutter your mind with trivial, mundane thoughts. Instead, you function from a harmonious internal state, without interference from outside sources. Trivial encounters and gossip from the outside world dissipate as all your best friends are within yourself. They are only genuine, loving, and honest to each other. This is not to say you would not mix with other humans, rather that you recognize what many indigenous cultures already know; that speech is an inferior form of communication, and therefore predominately unnecessary. You are in a state of pure harmonious existence, satisfying all your emotional and psychological needs from within – BLISS.
This is what happens when you focus on, and follow, your own road-map (your soul).
When you step back from a tree, you see the entire tree. In a similar manner, you should step back from the mirror and see your entire self, even what lies beyond your human self. Huber stated, “compassion comes from the Heart and our shared connectedness” (2001, p. 166). In addition, Huber added, “A compassionate person may be what we call nice and polite, but compassion does not try to be nice and polite. Nice and polite comes from conditioning” (p. 166). A compassionate person will see the branches hidden within the leaves of the tree. A compassionate person will know the tree has roots buried deep in the earth. A compassionate person will see the tree, not just for the wood the trunk can supply, but also for the entire living entity that it is, its whole, and its potential. This is the empathic person, or the empathic listener, as described by Firman and Gila (2002). This person is an Authentic Unifying Centre.
Just as you can see the tree as its whole, so to can you see others and yourself as whole. In doing so, you allow yourselves the gift of what you truly are and can truly be. In addition, you see other people in the same manner, as whole. The empathy that opens these windows, builds greater empathy. How can you not love those that are truly no more or less than yourself?
Image 1: Assagioli model
1. The Lower Unconscious
2. The Middle Unconscious
3. The Higher Unconscious, or Superconscious
4. The Field of Consciousness
5. The Conscious Self or “I”
6. The Transpersonal Self, or Higher Self
7. The Collective Unconscious
Image 2: Tree metaphor
Image 3: Firman and Gila model
Will (two inner circles)
• Flexes with awareness. Will contracts with expansion of awareness and vice versa
• Moves your awareness from location to location
Field of awareness (two inner circles)
• The area of your focused attention or awareness
• Flexes with Will. Awareness contracts with expansion of Will and vice versa
• Skills learned in life (e.g. riding a bike, learning a language, walking)
• Learned, developed patterns
• Is not thought about, but can be
• Known as second-nature.
(does not come to consciousness by command)
• Primal wounding
(repressed similar to the lower unconsciousness)
• Profound experiences of joy
• Moments when “time stood still”
• Peak experiences
Nature/Great Mysteries/Universe – is the “higher self” or “transpersonal Self” according to Assagioli. This is where the “I” can find its calling, purpose, or messages. “I” is a reflection or projection of the source “Self”, according to Assagioli.
• Surrounding all is the collective conscious
• According to Assagioli, we can always be in contact with the “Self” aspect of ourselves.
Assagioli, R. (1965). Psychosynthesis: A collection of basic writings. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.
Firman, J., & Gila, A. (2002). Psychosynthesis: A psychology of the spirit. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Firman, J., & Gila, A. (2010). A psychotherapy of love: Psychosynthesis in practice. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Huber, C. (2001). There is nothing wrong with you for teens. Keep It Simple Books.
Ogbonnaya, A. O. (1994). Person as community: An African understanding of the person as an intrapsychic community. Journal of Black Psychology. Vol 20(1), 20, 75–87. doi:10.1177/00957984940201007