One of the more difficult things for people to grasp in this age of rational materialism is the reality that the ego, or conscious mind, is not the whole of the personality. In fact, it is a rather limited part of our larger psychic being. This is why Sigmund Freud compared the psyche to an iceberg where the smaller portion that juts above the water’s surface is equivalent to the ego, and the much larger part residing below the surface is the unconscious.
The next thing that most people have a difficult time grasping is that the unconscious is a dynamic, autonomous, and living entity. It has its own goals and wisdom which transcend the limited and typically one-sided perspective of our conscious mind. The Self, Carl Jung’s term for the organizing and healing center of the total personality, seeks the development of the conscious mind in the service of the larger personality. That is, the ego is meant to serve the larger personality rather than the other way around. Of course, the ego has its own share of autonomy and often rejects its role as servant of the Self. In other words, it imagines itself to be the whole psyche rather than just a part of it.
One of the ways that people may come to experience the power of the unconscious is through the development of an addiction. Most addictions arise from a controlling stance by the ego. “I want what I want when I want it” is the ruling mantra of an addict. The addict wants to control her mood on command. But the more that a drug or addictive behavior is relied upon, the more it begins to take on a life of its own. Before long, what was once an instrument of the ego’s control cunningly turns the ego into an instrument of its control.
For many people, this may be their first experience with a power greater than themselves. The dark and, frankly, demonic nights of an all-consuming addiction gives the addict a sobering awareness of a power greater than himself in the universe. Unfortunately, this particular force is devouring and destructive, a truly predatory, killing force. It is what in Jungian psychology would be called raw or archetypal evil.
Ironically, this potentially deadly encounter with archetypal evil can have a helpful effect on the psychology of some people, assuming they survive it. This is because the experience can lead to a more humble and respectful orientation to the spiritual reality that forms the underlying fabric of life. Of course, this is not an advised way to pursue an experience of spiritual reality, but for some people it may, by default, be their paradoxical path.
For the addict who seeks recovery and liberation from the clutches of her addiction, the next step of their journey involves realignment with the force of good and healing within their life. To be freed from the power of archetypal evil requires a recognition and surrender to the only force in the universe that has dominion over evil, which is God, or in A.A., one’s Higher Power. The fact that God, the Self, or this Higher Power is able to make something good out of a potentially deadly addiction gives witness to its overall dominion within the universe and the individual psyche.