Psychedelics & Ego-Inflation: A Mindful Jungian Solution

The psychedelic revolution has commenced across the world. Psychedelic-oriented therapies have been shown to alleviate a range of mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. The recent revitalization of the psychedelic field has led to massive increases in both board-approved psychedelic therapies and an exponential increases in ‘underground’ psychedelic therapists and healers.

As a clinical psychologist working in this field, I have been supporting people through helping them integrate psychedelic experiences. From my personal and professional experiences, I believe there are a number of pitfalls we must navigate as a field of healing collectively. 

Most notably, there has been a longstanding issue of psychedelic-induced narcissism (Dr Rosalind Watts). Dr Rosalind Watts elegantly proposed that psychedelics can enhance Levy’s idea of ‘Wetiko’ — the egoic pursuit of one’s own interests and greed. These values are also supported in our capitalist systems we find ourselves in today — that life is about the pursuit of one’s own interests to the exclusion of others. Other traits of this egocentrism include greed, superiority, self-centredness, and the allurement and pursuit of power in relationships, work, and life in general. I agree with all of these contentions, and this has been evidenced by reports I receive by clients that have experienced the psychedelic healing world. 

I believe this notion of psychedelic-inspired narcissism needs to go deeper as there are potent risks we need to be aware of as a collective field of healing. 

I believe this idea can be further developed through Jung’s notion of ego-inflation, which refers to the over-identification with a particular self-image or identity, that usually arises from the unconscious. In Jungain theory, the ultimate goal of personal growth is the realisation of full embodiment of what Jung called the Self. This is the part of the psyche that functions as an organiser and mediator between the ego and the unconscious (collective and personal unconscious). Jung actually argued for the healthy development and place of the ego in the psyche. A healthy ego includes one’s conscious thoughts, emotions, memories, and social identities, and involves the healthy pursuit of pleasure or libido and growth in the world. 

Accordingly, mental disorders are caused by a disruption or imbalance to this system. Ego-inflation is one such imbalance that can occur, and involves the ego taking the place of the Self in the psyche. The ego becomes controlling over the whole personality, leading to self-aggrandizement, a sense of superiority or specialness over others, and a disconnection from reality may also occur. 

There are two major consequences of ego-inflation: 
1) The ego may over-identify with contents of their unconscious identities or archetypes, for example, the Healer, The Saviour/Messiah, The King, or the Lover etc. This can lead to a person overestimating their own power, capacity, and importance when relating to people. 

Any person in a helping role runs the risk of becoming inflated by archetypes. For instance, a person inflated with a Healer archetype believe they have special skills, knowledge, or experience that can heal others, and see through to a person’s core issues quickly. Similarly, a person experiencing a Messianic inflation complex amy believe they have become divinely enlightened, and over-identify with having special powers or insight that can save people. A person stuck inflated with a King archetype gets stuck in believing they have to lead groups, and create systems, organisations, or new beliefs for people to follow. 

2) There is a simultaneous disconnection with reality when ego-inflation occurs. A person becomes blinded by the power of the new unconscious identity, leading to one believing this reality as true despite presenting them with evidence to the contrary. 

I believe these types of ego-inflation are occurring at large in present psychedelic communities across the world. 

Why and How Does Ego-Inflation occur?

I believe it occurs in psychedelic and spiritually-oriented groups more commonly because these medicines and groups offer processes that open up the unconscious. Having greater access to the unconscious in many cases is actually a good thing, and in most cases when supported in the right ways, actually does lead to healing and integration. Also, archetypes have incredibly positive aspects and qualities that can help us develop, become stronger, and whole. However, having greater access to unconscious content, particularly when it is not supported by qualified people or processes, also makes us vulnerable to the ego over identifying with archetypal traits, which are powerful in their own right. 

Group Inflation

Jung created the notion of ego-inflation specific to the individual psyche. I believe inflation can also occur at a group and communal level, I call this group inflation. I conceive of this as people belonging to a particular group or community supporting aspects of individual inflation in each other and/or in the group leaders. Let’s get concrete, this may be expressed through particular group leaders creating narratives about the world, about global issues, other groups, brainwashing-like behaviours, and that this ‘magic-club’ (Dr Rosalind Watts) is the only ones who can perceive the truth and can truly heal using their processes or psychedelic medicines. 

Group inflation has been evident throughout human history and across all cultures. It can take the form of cults, healing groups, spiritual-communities, that claim they have the ‘special sauce’ and unique way of seeing that can save and truly heal you finally. usually, this begins with the leaders becoming inflated, whole not always bad, just because someone believes they are the next Jesus, does not necessarily mean they can’t be immensely helpful to people. History is littered with messiahs and healers that by disciple’s accounts, have truly “helped and healed them”. 

The problem, however, is that such inflation within groups is not balanced, or managed by the Self, leading to a negation and loss of critical self-analysis, and a fall into group or leader delusion. As Alan Watts rightly said, “all religions should be self-critical”. 

A Mindfulness-based, Jungian Solution

The good news is that there is a lot we can do collectively and individually to address the issue of inflation in psychedelic communities. 

#1 Education and Awareness

My hope and inspiration for writing this article is raise awareness of these issues. We must continue to raise awareness and educate people at large in the psychedelic collective and healing groups. Through conversations, discussions, seminars, podcasts, we can put these issues on the table dor discussion. Also, through people sharing about their experiences of ego-inflation, either their own experience with it, or as a client of psychedelic healers they have had contact with. 

We also need greater education about how to a person can recognise they are in a form of ego-inflation themselves, or in relationship with someone that is. What Jung advocates throughout his entire analytical psychology, is that we must support the return of the psyche into a state of balance, equilibrium, homeostasis; for the Self to return to power. 

#2 A Place for Mindful Self-observation? 

This can be further achieved through the use of mindful self-observation. There is capacity within the psyche for a person to step back and self-observe. Andrew Deikman called this the Observing Self — an aspect that mystical groups have been promoting for centuries, and psychotherapy since early last century. The observing self is similar to the idea of mindfulness or witness awareness in Buddhism, or what Mindfulness Pioneer John Kabat-Zinn calls non-judgmental awareness. This capacity is greatest psychological skill one can cultivate. Strengthening this capacity has enormous ramifications for self-development and for improving mental health. 

The hardest thing about resolving ego-inflation is that we become blinded by the particular identity we are stuck in; we don’t realise we are stuck. This is the danger Jung warned of. This is why I underscore the skill and practice of mindfulness here. 

Mindful self-observation grants back power to the Self. It helps us dis-identify from our thoughts, feelings, and unconscious identifications (Garland, 2009; Kabat-Zinn). Consequently, it gives us greater capacity for discernment and critical self-reflectivity. Through developing self-observation, we can begin to see the wood from the trees again; greater clarity and equanimity of mind becomes available over time. 

#3 Perspective Taking

To counter inflation, Jungian analysts also recommend finding ways for people to connect with everday reality or everday things. Find ways to socialise with people that have opposite views or values to your own, do menial volunteering, go to groups or seminars that offer different perspectives, engage in these debates and stay open to constructive feedback, read news from sources that your don’t approve of. In short, learn to take on other people’s perspectives, even if you disagree with them at first. Find ways to engage with the mundane of everyday life, and to sit with views that challenge you before rejecting them. Is your mindset fixed or growth-oriented? 

#4 Acknowledge and Integrate the Shadow

This is a fundamental part of countering ego-inflation that comes from Jungian analyses. Whether one is stuck in inflation or not, we must find ways to acknowledge, accept, and integrate our shadow parts and aspects. Archetypes and the Ego have light and dark, shadow aspects. usually with inflation, we are stuck in the light aspects, while the shadow is at play unconsciously. For example, we may believe we can are special healers or saviours, and this leads us to justify and excuse unethical behaviour or the use of clients or our healing group for selfish endeavours. 

Shadow integration work really needs the support of an appropriately trained therapist such as a Jungain analyst (and ideally someone that has gone through their own individuation, and analysis. 

Integrating the shadow can help us ground back into reality through balancing the light and darkness that we all have. 

What does it mean to ‘integrate the shadow’ — it does not mean to become bad or evil — it means to find internal ways of accepting parts, impulses, or archetypal aspects of ourselves that we do not like, accept, reject, or have shame of; to find ways for these aspects to exist simultaneously with the good and light aspects of our nature. 

It means to ‘own your own demons’; simply knowing of them is not enough, you must find a place for the ‘at the dinner table’. Metaphorically, it is a process of finding a seat for these parts at the dinner table of our individual psyche, both the angelic/divine aspects and the darker/shadow aspects of who we are. This is the path of becoming all of who we are, what Jung called Individuation, which he argued was the highest goal of personal development. When we do this, we attain balance and internal cohesion; we find the ground. 

Through raising awareness and education, mindful self-observation, critical self-analysis, and integrating our shadow, one can steer away from inflation and towrds wholeness. We need this now in a our present psychedelic revolution more than ever, particularly as we reach deeper into ourselves and our potential. 

No tree can grow to Heaven unless its roots reach down to Hell. — Carl Gustav Jung

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