American psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton identifies our very human tendency to ignore difficult realities and overwrite them with thoughts and beliefs that are more palatable as "psychic numbing." This allows our ego to distract itself enough that it doesn’t have to engage with inner and outer voices and images and movements that go beyond the mainstream consciousness (in Shulman-Lorenz & Watkins, Toward Psychologies of Liberation).
When we witness instances of ecocide (ecological suicide) in the world around us, take note of how wasteful and damaging our consumer-oriented culture has become, or are faced with dire news about how climate change is devastating our planet and threatening life as we know it, we are affected in both body and psyche.
Aspects of the psyche which we require to be healthy and whole get displaced at seeing the destruction; they split off and take cover in a sense, because it’s easier than admitting and knowing we each have some part it in it. This creates a condition of what some indigenous cultures regard as “soul loss,” a sort of psycho-spiritual deficit, which leaves us individually (and collectively) in a state of depression, malaise, and a general loss of vitality. In fact, in Modern Man in Search of Soul, Jung (1933) diagnosed our entire culture as suffering from loss of soul.
In his essay, “The Viable Human,” (in Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century, Shambhala), theologist Thomas Berry wrote, “Our present dilemma is the consequence of a disturbed psychic situation, a mental imbalance, an emotional insensitivity.” Ecocide and our contribution to climate change make it nearly impossible to feel “at home” on our planet in today’s world. Many of us are consciously or unconsciously experiencing anxiety at the destruction we’re inflicting on the earth.
In his excellent and comprehensive book, Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos: Complexity Theory, Deleuze|Guattari and Psychoanalysis for a Climate in Crisis offers an interesting look at some humorous ways comedians and others engage us in the environmental debate, in the end, he notes many of us turn to denial because the possible outcomes are so grim and so vastly unknown that we just can’t wrap our brains (or our emotions) around the issues.
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