Depth psychotherapy is deeply concerned with our real identity; one key dimension of that identity is the distinction between being and having.
The fascinating photo above was included in a flyer sent to my home just before Black Friday by a major wireless and internet services provider.
It shows a family moment of warm togetherness in some outdoor setting. Four people and 3 electronic devices – 2 smartphones and a tablet — visible in the picture. The people appear very connected, with laughter, smiles and lots of touch. Apparently, wireless content is being shared between them, and, somehow, it’s the source of all this warmth, mirth and belonging. The picture implies that if we get more wireless services, we’ll get more family connection.
Fantasy Spells and Stuff
Actually, many experience wireless technology as alienating and isolating people, and as reducing conversation and interaction. To go to a shopping mall or restaurant in 2013 is to see masses of people hunched over, making love to their devices rather than interacting with others.
It’s striking how the above picture ties into our yearning for connection, belonging and participation in family in the fullest sense of the word. It’s a wonderful fantasy of warmth and love, apparently associated with this technology — even though our real world experiences of it is often the exact opposite.
Our era bombards us with messages that more – more stuff, the right kind of stuff — will solve the problems in our lives. Particularly the problems of relationship, meaning and feeling secure in who we are.
Consumer goods get associated with fantasies, which advertising spreads through our whole society. The promise is that, if only we own the product being sold, our lives will be more.
Advertising for “stuff” often taps archetypal themes. Certainly, the above picture holds some of the most significant archetypes — Mother; Father; Family and Belonging, or attachment.
Archetypal themes exist in the human psyche and point us toward the things in human life that matter, and that are meaningful. But the above advertisement implies that archetypally based needs can be met cheaply, and without really opening up or exploring our lives in any meaningful sense — by simply owning stuff. To own the product is somehow to possess or live the fantasy associated with the product.
Being and Having
Our society is fundamentally confused about the distinction between being, or in other words having a life, and having possessions. Advertising seduces us into fantasies associated with certain types of possessions.
As humanistic psychologist Erich Fromm put it:
The difference between being and having is the difference between a society centered around persons and one centered around things. Modern humanity cannot understand the spirit of a society that is not centered in property…
The being/having tension arises profoundly during the holidays. Ostensibly, this season celebrates the transcendent values of several of the world’s great spiritual traditions. Yet, in North American society, it often turns into a glorification of stuff, and of fantasies associated with owning the right stuff. So, a season that should celebrate what is of deepest meaning in human life can often turn into a very degraded spectacle of the opposite. Case in point: this now fairly famous video taken at a sale display of televisions in a Wal-Mart on Black Friday:
Is this really what we’ve come to? Apparently, the fantasy of “joy through stuff” isn’t quite working out.
Depth Psychotherapy and the Treasure of the Self
Depth psychotherapy focuses us on authentic connection with the archetypes, and on living them out for ourselves in our own real lives. There’s nothing wrong with owning things, but ownership won’t make a meaningful human life. Depth psychotherapy invites us on the journey to wholeness, and to the possession of the one thing that makes all the difference — our own authentic selves.