If we fractionate the word compulsion into its component parts, com-puls-ion, we arrive at its literal root meaning: the condition of being with a pulse. A pulse is generated by a heartbeat. Where there is a heartbeat there is a living thing—a compulsion is a living thing with a life of its own.
When we experience a compulsion we are contending with an independent life force active within ourselves. Our conscious minds are challenged to become aware of the needs, habits, and expectations of this compelling life force we house within us, to cave to it or allow for its influence upon our lives, and, ultimately, to discover who or what it is, why we have it, and finally reach a reconciliation with it.
Long before we discover the who and why of a compulsion, we must deal with its power and pressure; its coursing pulse energetically demanding that we do something for it.
“I want _____!” it demands.
If we fill in the blank it might be that it wants food, wine, sex, objects, a job, activity, thought, feeling, or behavior. The categories are endless, but the common thread is consistent: a compulsion wants something from us; it insists we acquiesce to its demands and spend our lifetime and energy on its agenda.
Our first challenge is to become aware that we are under the spell of a compulsion and then suspend judgment that we are the compulsion or that we are flawed because we have it. Those kinds of judgments drain our energy and distract us from managing this “Not-I” within.
Our first goal is to stand up to the compulsion with the message: “I don’t know who you are or why you are here, but I’m willing to find out and see how I might help you or fit you into my life, but I refuse to be trammelled by your demands anymore! I come in peace, I come with respect, I come to reconcile with you, but I also come with firmness. I will not allow you to take control of my life without my consent.”
Many an author has expressed that the books “they” have written are actually the artifacts, the by-products of a reconciliation with their inner “Not-I;” compulsions that are given life in the stories they need to tell. Often, once the book is complete, the compulsion is satisfied and life, previously galvanized by the compulsion, is released to be enjoyed by conscious goals.
Compulsions may also be the artifacts of our genetic history. Perhaps, at the level of our collective inheritance, we house an artist, a musician, a drunk, a thief, a liar, or a philanderer. Again, we must suspend judgment and suspend victimhood if we are to directly encounter the “Not-I” of our inheritance. Our challenge, with our genetics, is to decide what we will give life to and what we can finally master and put to rest.
Perhaps it is our turn to solve the challenge of an addiction or compulsion that has dogged our ancestry for generations—it’s our turn, our chance, to bring things to resolution and closure. It’s not our fault we have an addiction or compulsion, it’s our opportunity to solve it or finally realize it, as in the case of letting the artist or musician in us finally live.
Sometimes compulsions are, in fact, living parts of our “I,” hidden from consciousness due to traumatic splintering. Often, in this case, the compulsion becomes the voice, the language of a hidden truth, as it pressures the conscious self to recognize it and bring it home in acceptance. This can lead to great confusion for the conscious mind, as it must contend with impulses, interests, and desires it deems unacceptable or destructive. If these influences are decoded as the hidden truths of life already lived, they take on a different meaning and can lead to inner reconciliation through healing dialogue.
Active imagination is a powerful tool that Jung devised to meet and reconcile the inner “I” and “Not-I.” In active imagination we welcome our inner parts—those we house consciously and those we house unconsciously—to meet us in open dialogue. We don’t speak for the compulsion; we allow the compulsion to speak freely, though not act freely. Action is off the table at this point. Action must be a conscious decision, made in sobriety, when all truths have been revealed. This must be the stance of consciousness toward all inner parts: “I’ll listen fairly to anything, but I reserve full decision making power over action. However, I will acquiesce to right action.”
In this circumstance, a compulsion is offered respect and allowed to fully state its case. The final disposition of its needs may be quite challenging and may ultimately find life in fantasy and story, but not in the world of everyday life.
The full realization and reconciliation of all that we are and all that we house is quite mysterious and worthy of a lifetime—a true lifetime achievement award. Compulsions are living forces within us that, when properly understood and reconciled, are major contributors to a life fully lived.
From the beat,