Growing up in a puritan and staunch Catholic family can be a little bit challenging for a young teenager trying to grasp the intricacies surrounding adolescent development. Every move one makes seems to be a battle of supremacy in the house between the demands of extremely conservative parents and the desires of a teenager pursuing the latest fashion trends. However, I must point out that my parents are very caring and have done their best to nurture me. However, it is challenging to connect with them, especially at my age, knowing too well that my views may not always concur with their thoughts. I have had several experiences regarding the Psychic Life Cycle. This essay explores one of these elements, with reference to religious symbolism as depicted in Edinger’s book dubbed Ego and Archetype.
Perhaps, my most relatable experience regarding the psychic life cycle is my exploration of sexuality. At home, speaking of sexuality was, and still is, regarded as a taboo. As such, the internet played a significant role in answering most of my questions regarding the subject. However, this objective was not easily realized, especially after my parents found my browser history and grounded me for almost two months. ‘Mischief,’ as my parents refer to the subject, is sin, and sins deserve punishment.
My conception of growing up was rather linear and narrow-minded. According to my parents, I was supposed to study hard in school, excel at my exams, choose a prestigious profession, study it, and get a good job. After that, my parents believed that I would get enough money, and God would bless me with a good Christian family like ours – when the time was right. I cannot recall the countless times I heard these words. I revered any action that would lead to the deviation of that path, continually referring to a verse that reminded me of the need to seek my parents’ advice— “Children, obey your parents for this is right…Honor your father and mother…” With such a deep conviction, I could not afford to go wrong, especially not when I knew that my days on earth would reduce if I disobeyed my parents. Such a religious background shook me to the core when I joined high school.
I was very shy of the opposite gender when I joined high school. While my parents allowed me to play with my age mates when I was young, as I grew, I learned that interacting with the opposite gender could lead to ‘sin’ which would upset my parents. As such, most of my interactions in high school were primarily with boys. This predisposition hurt my self-esteem significantly. However, what disturbed me most was the casual ‘boy talk’ that often took place in the school setting.
Boys are fond of discussing their accomplishments, and at that age, most of them were concerned about exploring their sexuality. While such conversations conflicted my conception of a true Christian life, I must admit that they sparked some interest within me. I was interested in what an experience with a girl meant; for example, how a kiss felt, and what it meant to have a girlfriend. Often, the thoughts of a reprimand from my parents stopped my fantasies abruptly. The idea of upsetting my father and ‘tarnishing his reputation’ would convince me to stop pursuing my ambitions, yet the thought of missing out on the fun of high school teenage boys felt like too much for me to bear. I feared my father’s reaction if he knew that I had a girlfriend. Still, my ego battled for attention; “how do my friends think of me, a high school senior who was still a virgin?” In Edinger’s view, my ego had already begun separating from the self, and alienation was inevitable. Getting a kiss from my crush, Bettie, was the forbidden fruit that I needed to eat to find life, to fit with my friends, and become ‘normal’ and whole again.
If I remember correctly, I contemplated asking Bettie out for a whole month. The ever-present machismo and gallantry common among boys of my age then were not my traits; I was shy, guilty, and afraid. My shyness was due to my infrequent interaction with girls of my generation. My guilt was triggered by the imagination of what ‘sins’ such a proposition would encourage. The thought of joining my parents for dinner just after meeting Bettie did not make the contemplation any better. My fear was primarily triggered by the thought of rejection. I already knew that I was neither popular nor trendy. Therefore, the chances that Bettie would turn me down were realistically high. My fear was also triggered by the fact that I believed that God would not be happy with my behavior and I would be affected by adverse outcomes. Nevertheless, I overcame this fear and decided that I would take control of my actions (Edinger 15). I asked Bettie out, albeit timidly, and she gladly joined me for ice-cream after school. As I walked her home, for the first time in my life, we kissed.
The euphoria that came with that experience was very short-lived. As soon as I arrived home, everyone seemed to see through me – especially my parents whom I believed could read through my thoughts. Although I tried to act normal, the excitement of my encounter with Bettie often juxtaposed teachings that I had heard from my parents – chastity. Soon, guilt overran me as I thought of what would happen if my parents discovered what I had done (Edinger 26). My ‘self’ battled with my ego and as my father led the prayer session at the dinner table, my ‘self’ won. I do not understand how I interrupted prayers and said in a shaky voice, ‘I am sorry, I kissed someone.’ Of course, my parents were very angry with me and grounded me for a week and denied me a prom-night experience. I still harbor anger with my ‘self’ for telling on my ego and it took me a few semesters to come to terms with that day’s events. Luckily, after reading Edinger’s (39) book, I now understand that the lack of acceptance from my parents that followed my ‘dinner-table confession’ is partly to blame for my often reserved nature and hesitance to speak my thoughts: I always think that I might say something offensive.
Although I later broke up with Bettie and stayed off the dating scene for a while, I visited my priest just before joining college to get his advice on how to interact with my parents. The priest told me that even the bible appreciates that there is a time for everything and at the moment, I should try and understand God’s will in my life. When I joined college, I purposed to understand people more and learn about the source of their extremist thoughts. This is one reason that made me study psychology. However, as fate may have it, my attempts to reconcile extremism with tolerance motivated me to date a beautiful internal student who was also a Muslim. While Edinger argues that religion is essential in helping people reconcile and balance their ego with the ‘self,’ I am uncertain of my parent’s reaction, especially given the fact that she is Muslim and we are thinking of getting married. However, I know that my wholeness depends on my perception of independence – having my parents dictate my life partner will be harmful to this realization (Edinger 21). Even though I am still experiencing a significant alienation at the moment, I am prepared to face the consequences. Luckily, this time round, I do not think that my parents will confine me as they did in the past.
Edinger, E. F. Ego and Archetype. Shambhala Publications, 1992.
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