Strange Attractors in a Fractal Psyche — Chaos Theory, Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy



Michael Baugh, LCSW

“Non-scientists tend to think that science works by deduction. But actually science works mainly by metaphor. And what’s happening is that the kinds of metaphor people have in mind are changing.”     Brian Arthur 1

“Science likes to think its goal is to make objective representations of nature, but it seems to me that all such representations, visualizations, or models merely isolate a few select parameters, a few aspects of the object and say, what happens if we just look at these? Each different approach gives you a slightly different result.”   Peter Openheimer

It may be that reality itself is its only adequate description, and that the Tao Te Ching is correct when it says that “the Tao that you can describe is not the Tao.” It does seem that our efforts to describe things turn out to be metaphors, which are inevitably found to omit crucial factors, or distort the picture in some important fashion.

It has been the claim of the scientific methodology that scientists could eventually discover the fundamental set of laws and principles that would truly explain the way the universe works. Now, however, we are learning from the students of chaos and complexity that the reductionist effort to describe reality in terms of cause and effect is inherently impossible to carry out. “…One of the messages of chaos theory is that no matter how good a scientific model or formula, there is always a fundamental unpredictability and uncertainty driving dynamical systems.”3 This realization, according to chaos physicist Joseph Ford, represents “a major shift in the whole philosophy of science and the way man looks at his world.”4 The end of the reductionist program, and the search for a new set of metaphors by which to understand the world around us, may foretell the end of the centuries-old conflict between science and spirituality. This will have profound implications for the practice of psychotherapy.

It is a defining human characteristic that we look for patterns which enable us to exploit and change our environment, for better and worse, and expand these patterns into myths, maps and models about our world. We are coming to learn from the Chaos scientists that the models of the scientific process are like other human explanations in that they have fundamental limitations. The point made by Peter Openheimer at the beginning of this article was stated even more radically a thousand years earlier by the Tibetan Buddhist sage Padmasambhava, who said, “As a thing is viewed, so it appears.”5

The parameters that a modeler selects are based upon what he or she finds most important to consider, link, and promote. The development of Freudian drive theory, for example, was motivated among other things by Freud’s desire to create a metaphor that offered a materialist and reductionistic explanation for a great variety of human experience, including spiritual beliefs. Freud expressed this in a letter to Jung in which he stated that psychoanalysts must promote the “dogma of infantile sexuality as a bulwark against the rising tide of occultism.”

Freud’s views on this point were consistent with the 19th century materialist tradition, which earlier had been involved in an important fight against the power of the Church to persecute anyone who questioned its dogma. The metaphors of psychoanalysis did contribute to the liberation of 20th century society from the power of organized religion, but the “dogma of infantile sexuality” was also used against Jung and other thinkers who found value in spiritual phenomena.

During the subsequent development of psychological and therapeutic theory in this century, various theoreticians have chosen different parameters to emphasize in their descriptions of the human personality, resulting in the different models and schools of psychotherapy. It is a difficult project for new therapists to understand and integrate the vastly divergent approaches available at this point in the profession.

In offering the model contained in this paper, I think it is useful to describe at the outset the most significant parameters that I have chosen, while immediately acknowledging their relativity and limitations. I have developed this way of thinking about character structure within the context of training and supervising over a hundred MFCC interns during the last ten years at two covertly Transpersonal counseling centers in San Francisco.

I have wanted a fairly simple model that offers pragmatic information about what a beginning therapist should do with a variety of moderately disturbed clients. I have wanted this theory to provide a structure that integrates the most useful concepts of 20th century psychotherapy with the broader wisdom of the Perennial Philosophy as described in the world’s mystical traditions, and as I have personally experienced it in 23 years of Buddhist and Sufi training.

In particular I have spent a lot of time thinking about how the object relations formulations of borderline, schizoid and narcissistic conditions might be considered from a mystical and phenomenological perspective. Most recently, I’ve been interested in the way that basic concepts of chaos theory can be useful in describing how structures of consciousness consolidate and maintain themselves within a larger and ultimately unified field of consciousness and matter.


Like many Americans, I first encountered chaos theory as the reason you can’t keep dinosaurs in a theme park – they’re bound to get out and start eating the tourists. There was enough about the new science in Jurassic Park to whet my interest, so that when I heard James Gleick6 talking about his book on NPR, I went to find it. A dozen books, a few videos and computer programs later, the way I look at the world is very different. I drive to work looking at the patterns in cloud formations, and wonder how they come about. When I arrive at work, I think about the application of the concepts of chaos theory to the kind of problems I deal with as a psychotherapist and teacher of therapeutic technique.

Part of the fascination of the chaos material is that it expands the realm of uncertainty physics out of the invisible realm of subatomic particles into a macroscopic scale that is observable by laymen like myself. I can observe the principles of turbulence in the interactions of waves at the beach, in the patterns of the clouds on weather shows and in the sky on my way to work.

At the counseling center where I teach and supervise MFCC interns, I try to help beginning therapists learn how to work more effectively with their clients. Since I am not present in the room with the intern and client, and do not have direct access to the interactive data (except for tape recordings of the sessions), I find myself in a process of building mental models about the clients I’m hearing described, and comparing them with models I have made about how to do therapy with different kinds of people and problems. The suggestions I make to the intern are based primarily on these models, which are the ongoing, evolutionary result of my own clinical experience, the theories of psychotherapy I have read about, and previous supervisory attempts at the use of such models.

Chaos theory is relevant to my work because it attempts to deal with dynamic systems that are as complicated as the ones I am trying to model in supervision. The basic principles of such a system appear describable in a deterministic fashion, (meaning that causal kinds of connections may be seen) and yet the overall system or outcome is unpredictable and impossible to describe completely because there are so many elements of the system that interact with one another over and over again. For example, we can broadly predict that loss will produce depression, and that intense trauma will lead to dissociation, but the impact on a particular person’s life of the various things that have happened at a variety of different ages will be a much more complex tapestry.

The unpredictability of such a system is one of the defining characteristics that lead it to be called chaotic. Despite this inherent unpredictability, however, there are forms of order which may be described within this kind of a system, and these forms of order can be useful to people who need to be involved with it.

One of the first and most famous dynamic systems found to be inherently chaotic was the weather. In exploring computer models of the weather, Edward Lorenz was able to demonstrate that it is impossible for the weather to be accurately predicted beyond a few days. The outcome of the weather proceeds from such exquisitely “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”, that a butterfly flapping its wings in China may change the weather a month later in New York. This “butterfly effect” operates in any really complex system, like a theme park full of dinosaurs, or in the equally complex system that determines whether an arguing married couple will end up making love or sleeping in separate bedrooms. An amazingly small detail affects the overall behavior of the system in a huge way. Any therapist who has done couples work (or worked with borderline or multiple personality clients) has observed the butterfly effect.

Yet even in a chaotic, unpredictable system there is order to be found. There are patterns to the weather, couples interactions, and borderline personalities that  are recognizable even if it can’t be predicted when one pattern may be replaced by another. David Ruelle coined the term “strange attractors” to denote patterns of order within chaos, which never exactly repeat themselves, and which never allow an observer to predict exactly what will happen, yet display a quality of orderliness which hints at underlying “laws not yet discovered.”

Concepts such as strange attractors, sensitive dependence on initial conditions (the Butterfly effect), fractal self-similarity across scales, and the effects of iteration upon a system all seem relevant to the structures of the psyche one discovers in psychotherapy. It is the intention of this paper to consider the application of these concepts in the field of transpersonal psychology and psychotherapy, and to consider models of character disorders as “strange attractors in a fractal psyche”.

In order to understand why it might make sense to consider the Psyche as a fractal, and look for strange attractors within it, we have to enter the world of chaos, with it’s unfamiliar, almost bizarre terminology.


Big whorls have little whorls

Which feed on their velocity,

And little whorls have lesser whorls

And so on to viscosity.

— Lewis F. Richardson

First of all, what do we mean by the work “fractal?”  The word was created by Benoit Mandelbrot to mathematically describe irregular forms which display a self similarity across scales.  Mandelbrot and the other theoreticians of Chaos make the claim that the irregular geometry of fractals is more descriptive of many of the phenomena we see in nature than the smooth ideal shapes of Euclidean geometry.  That “Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line,” is Mandelbrot’s famous manifesto.8 As Briggs and Peat state in Turbulent Mirror, “It is now clear that fractals embrace not only the realms of chaos and noise but a wide variety of natural forms which the geometry that has been studied for the last two and a half thousand years has been powerless to describe – forms such as coastlines, trees, mountains, galaxies, clouds, polymers, rivers, weather patterns, brains, lungs, and blood supplies.”9

As Mandelbrot goes on to say, “All of these natural structures have irregular shapes that are self similar.  In other words, we have discovered that successively magnifying a part of the whole reveals a further structure that is nearly a copy of the original we started with.”10 As James Gleik puts it, “It is hard to break the habit of thinking of things in terms of how big they are and how long they last.  But the claim of fractal geometry is that, for some elements of nature, looking for a characteristic scale becomes a distraction…  In reality, atmospheric scientists are realizing that tumult in the air forms a continuum, from the gusty swirling of litter on a city street corner to the vast cyclonic systems visible from space.  Categories mislead.  The ends of the continuum are of a piece with the middle.”11

Mandelbrot and his followers have endeavored to describe the properties of fractal objects found in nature and artificially generated by computer. One of the most famous computer generated fractal systems is the “Mandelbrot Set”. Its beautiful and strangely organic shapes are derived from a rather simple formula calculated repeatedly for each point on the computer screen. As the computer zooms in and magnifies the picture of one portion of the Set, new structures are gradually revealed at each new magnitude of scale, and the viewer has the experience of journeying down into some strange world that is both bizarre and oddly familiar.

Another well known kind of fractal system found in nature is the coastline, which is seen to be irregularly shaped from 100 miles up, 10 miles up, 100 feet up, 10 feet up, 1 foot up, and down to the microscopic level. Mandelbrot wrote a paper titled, “How Long is the Coastline of Britain?” in which he demonstrated that the calculation for the length of Britain’s coastline depends entirely on the yardstick one uses to measure it. A ruler used on a map will measure the ins and outs of the coast at one scale, but a ruler laid down at the actual shoreline will measure many more ins and outs, yielding a longer measurement. Mandelbrot concluded that if one keeps using a shorter and shorter ruler, the coast will be found to be infinitely long.

This kind of thought experiment draws our attention to the unconscious assumptions we usually make about the scale that is important to us. Many of our assumptions about life and people turn out to be scalar assumptions, based on by what is visible to us with the naked eye and buttressed by the structure of our language.  So we assume that a human body constitutes a “person”, but careful exploration reveals that what we call a “person” is but part of a complex system interacting and interwoven with itself over and over again.

Where is this “person”? Is it her body, which is totally dependent upon the air, water, and food surrounding her? Is it her thinking mind, rooted in words and a language structure that are the common property of her culture and civilization? Is it her feelings, connected to the people, past and present, who are part of her family and society? Is it her consciousness, which the reductionists ignore and the mystics tell us is interwoven with the consciousness of the entire universe? If Mandelbrot can ask, “How long is the Coastline of Britain?”, we can ask, “where are the boundaries of a “person”?”

As Peat and Briggs put it: “…our most private thoughts and feelings arise out of a constant feedback and flow-through of the thoughts and feelings of others who have influenced us.  Our individuality is decidedly a part of a collective movement.”12


It is one of the major observations of this paper that the Psyche 13 is a fractal system, with self similarity across scale. This self similarity is of potential interest to a therapist who is trying to understand, for example, how the object relations system of an individual person interacts with the larger system of the family in which he lives, or how that family system interacts with the even larger systems of neighborhoods, cities, cultural and ethnic groups, political systems, nations and so forth.

There is an evident fractal similarity between the way that family members interact and the way that different psychic structures interact with one another within an individual personality. Moreover, from an object relations point of view, the psychic structure of the individual largely consists of what has been introjected from various parts of the individual’s parents (which were introjected from the grandparents, etc.). So from one point of view, the individual is merely the way that one family system carries information forward into a new family system (although this characterization leaves out a lot that is important to most of us). In doing Gestalt empty chair work, the therapist encourages dialogues between different parts of a person, which are not all that different from the kind of dialogues occurring between members of a family. A similar process occurs in the Jungian process of active imagination, in which communication is encouraged between representations of psychic complexes.

If an individual complex is investigated more closely (through personal introspection, therapeutic interaction or in the development of clinical literature), that complex itself can be seen to have constituent parts, which if scrutinized further reveal smaller sub-constituent parts. In Transactional Analysis, for example, the part of the personality initially characterized as the “child” (in contrast to the “adult” and the “parent”) was later described as being comprised of a “Little Professor” and other constituent parts. Descriptions of Jungian complexes have been described as being comprised of personal, cultural and archetypal layers. It is my experience that exploration of a male client’s “anima” (the Jungian term for the feminine part of a man) may reveal that she has an associated “animus” (or masculine part). Similar fractal subdivisions can be found in other psychological systems.

Students of meditation who spend time observing the flow of consciousness experience a considerable number of increasingly subtle structures. If meditation is carried on for a sufficient period, the practitioner arrives at the Buddhist conclusion that there is no “self” as an object that can be found.14 Instead there is a continual arising and cessation of experiences perceived within a mysteriously conscious ground of being.

If the observer moves in the other direction, from the individual up into the family, one can see family coalitions and processes that maintain family homeostasis and functioning independent of the particular individual interests of family members. One member of the family can be selected as the “identified patient” in order to allow the family to ignore more generalized dysfunctionality within the family system. Structural therapists will track the boundaries between the “parental coalition” and the “sibling coalition” and so forth.

Moving up to a larger scale, the theory of working with groups includes the concept that there are group processes that operate to maintain the functioning of the group, and that these operate at a collective level, beyond that of the individual members making up the group.  The group is considered to select an individual person to carry out a function needed by the group process, perhaps as a sacrificial victim or to provide a certain kind of leadership.

Continuing to move to larger scales, one sees similar patterns within the psychology of multi-group organizations (as can be experienced in Tavistock inter-group workshops), political processes within governments, negotiations among governments, and so forth. The mass psychology of large groups has fundamental similarities to the processes that operate within the individual psyche, and the way that nations treat one another are often similar to the way that family members treat one another.

It may be that an appreciation of the fractal similarity of the issues and approaches to treatment at different levels of scale can mitigate the disagreements among psychologists, sociologists political activists, and environmentalists, about the level at which we should employ our efforts to change and heal ourselves, and our surroundings. The connectedness between levels of scale would argue that interventions at any level are useful and will ripple out to the other levels.

Moreover, it may be there will be a similarity of the nature of the interventions across scale. Samuel Slipp, for example, has described the interpretation of projective identification as a “dynamic bridge” between an object relations approach to individuals and families. Eliot Jaques has applied Kleinian concepts of splitting and projection to groups and organizations in his paper, “Social Systems as a Defense Against Depressive and Persecutory Anxiety”. The basic principles of compassion, curiosity, attempting to hold the tension between opposites, supporting skillful communication between different points of view, and offering different frames through which to look at things, can be applied at any level of scale.

To regard the Psyche as one fractal system across levels of scale is to connect with the mystical ideas of the Perennial Philosophy that there is a conscious Self or God that underlies the existence of the universe.  In fact, most of the concepts about this largest unifying consciousness are based upon fractal metaphors.  God, for example, has been characterized as a loving mother, a kindly or judgmental father, a feudal monarch, a cosmic lover, and so forth. All of these are projections of human relationships upon a larger scale. They can be useful as a means of connecting to that larger consciousness which is the ground of our being, or of repairing damage done to a personality by the human parents, monarchs or lovers it has encountered in a particular lifetime. However, the metaphors currently being developed in the natural science of our time, such as Bohm’s “implicate order”, or Talbot’s “holographic universe”, may appeal more to a sophisticated modern sensibility.


The metaphors of chaos and complexity theory, like ancient Buddhist and Taoist descriptions of reality, are metaphors of wholeness. “Basically,” says biologist Barbara McClintock, “everything is one. There is no way in which you draw a line between things. What we (normally) do is to make subdivisions but they’re not real.”15 James Gleik says of the pioneering chaos scientists, “More and more of them felt the futility of studying parts in isolation from the whole. For them, chaos was the end of the reductionist program in science.”l6 David Peat states, “Descriptions must take into account the whole system and not just its parts. This nonlinear nature is much closer in its operation to an organism than a machine… Within such an approach, mind may no longer appear as an alien stuff in mechanical universe; rather the operation of mind will have resonances to the transformations of matter, and indeed, the two will be found to emerge from a deeper ground.”17
It is the interconnectedness of all things that makes reductionist prediction of complex systems impossible. To be able to predict “the effect of a cue ball striking a rack of billiard balls”, for example, everything in the universe must be taken into account. “If the player ignored an effect even as minuscule as the gravitational attraction of an electron at the edge of the galaxy, the prediction would become wrong after one minute!”18 An effort to predict the course of the balls would have to take into account “everything else – the air pressure, temperature, the nap of the table, the muscle tone of the billiards player, his or her psychology, the flight of neutrinos from a supernova millions of light-years away, the gravity of an electron… This vast sensitivity suggests another slant on wholeness. Instead of thinking of the whole as the sum of its parts, think of it as what rushes in under the guise of chaos whenever scientists try to separate and measure dynamical systems as if they were composed of parts.”19

One last quotation, from John Briggs: “Bend down to look at a moss-covered rock and you see a miniature mountain range covered with trees, a microcosm of our larger landscape. But if it’s true that everything on the planet has evolved through intense interaction with everything else, then these self-similar images of holism we see around us should perhaps not be surprising… After all, we all evolved inside the same holistic dynamical system called life.”20


The unpredictability and connectedness of fractal systems to the whole universe occurs because the complex elements of the system interact repeatedly amongst themselves. The system can be said to “iterate and “reiterate”. As Mitchell Feigenbaum says about his discovery of universality, “It’s a general description of what happens in a large variety of systems when things work on themselves again and again.”21 The Mandelbrot Set, for example, is graphically portrayed by a computer that is able to repeat a calculation hundreds of times for each point on the screen. Each time the calculation is performed, it is plugged back in as the starting place of the next calculation.

The effects of iteration can be seen in family systems, where the kind of structures that are described by Minuchin, Watzlawick or Haley are formed out of repeated interactions among family members.  As these interactions happen over and over again, they work upon themselves in the sense that one family member seems to be responding to what someone else just did or said, and another member of the family responds to that, and so forth.  Memories of earlier disagreements will affect the way family members approach one another in subsequent conversations, and as Watzlawick describes in his book, Change, it can be the “attempted solutions” which are actually the problem.”

One reason that the “Butterfly Effect” works so powerfully is because of the way that small changes in the system become greatly amplified as they feed back around the system.  Although this “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” contributes to the unpredictability of the system or of the effect of a particular intervention upon it, a family therapist can hope that a small change brought about by therapeutic intervention will unbalance a pathological structure, and after a period of chaotic disorganization the family will settle into a healthier pattern.

Milton Erickson applied this approach not only to families, but to individuals as well.  He writes frequently of his effort to bring about some small change in a client’s behavior or belief structure, knowing that this will ripple out into larger changes.  He compared this kind of effect to that of an avalanche, which begins with a few grains of snow slipping and builds into an awesome force that can change the side of a mountain.

Conversations, inner or outer, have an iterative quality.  One sentence takes up where the last left off, and then may return over the same content ground or follow some other association.  In describing the action of the mind, one Buddhist text states, “We become what we think, having become what we thought.”  This theme is also pursued in cognitive and neurolinguistic therapeutic techniques.  It is the circular repetition of a pattern of distorted cognitive and perceptive maneuvers which will be seen in subsequent pages to constitute the micro-structure of characterological disorder.


Although individual interactions in a chaotic system cannot be predicted with precision, they appear in their collectivity to be “attracted” toward a pattern.  Unlike the “attractors” in predictable systems, which can be represented graphically by a point or line, “strange” attractors have a recognizable shape but no one can predict precisely where within the general pattern the system will be at any given moment.  As John Briggs puts it, “One of the really strange things about strange attractors is that they do have a predictable overall form, but it’s a form made of unpredictable details…22 Strange attractors… depict a system whose behavior never repeats itself and is always unpredictable and yet, paradoxically always resembles itself and infinitely recognizable.”23

“By using equations to follow one or more of the variables of a chaotic system as it changes and moves, scientists can plot out a strange attractor that portrays the system’s activity. To create these pictures of strange attractors, the chaologists’ equations are calculated to an output and then the output becomes an input as the equation is calculated again. This mimics the kind of accelerating, amplifying feedback that goes on in real chaotic systems — the factor that makes these systems constantly transform themselves. Think of the weather or a mountain stream. The system’s holism (the fact that every movement in the system in some way affects every other movement) is responsible for its chaos (unpredictability). At the same time the weather is constantly changing, it also stays within the boundaries of what we call the climate, just as a turbulent stream stays within the boundaries of its banks.”24

Most of the structures described by psychologists and therapists are of the nature that would be called strange attractors. Nobody has ever been able to see an “ego”, “super-ego”, “id”, “persona”, “shadow”, “anima” or “Self”, yet the effects of these structures can be observed in a recognizably similar, but not precisely predictable, pattern. The same is true of the patterns observed in families, groups, or other societal systems.

Jung noted that the archetypes cannot be experienced in their pure and direct form            but only in the various ways they manifest in dreams, myths and other manifestations of the unconscious. Speaking of the mandala as a representation of the Self, he wrote: All that can be ascertained at present about the symbolism of the mandala is that it portrays an autonomous psychic fact, characterized by a phenomenology that is always repeating itself and is everywhere the same. It seems to be a sort of atomic nucleus about whose innermost structure and ultimate meaning we know nothing.”25 As David Peat puts it, “…the structure of the mind is the result of the dynamic play of the archetypes and these can never be displayed directly . Rather, the archetypes leave their footprints in the mind and project their shadows across thought.  While it not possible to observe the archetypes directly, their movements can be sensed through the numinous images, myths, and happenings that enter consciousness.”26

J.R. Van Eenwyk discusses the similarity of the descriptions of the archetypes and strange attractors in an article entitled “Archetypes: The Strange Attractors of the Psyche”.27 More will be said about his ideas later in this paper, after the discussion of some other key concepts.


One of the most interesting metaphors of interest to Chaos theorists is the “soliton,” which demonstrates how the part can emerge as an expression of the whole… Although the soliton came under close mathematical study only within the last decade, it was first observed in 1834 by a Mr. J. Scott Russell, who, while riding beside a narrow channel of water, observed a curious wave that “rolled forward with great velocity, assuming the form of a large solitary elevation, a rounded, smooth and well defined heap of water, which continued its course along the channel apparently without change of form or diminution of speed.” Russell chased the wave on horseback for a mile or two until he “lost it in the windings of the channel.” Instead of rapidly dissipating like any normal wave, this “solitary wave,” as he called it, persisted for a great distance as a well-defined shape, complete in itself and moving at high speed.

“The solitary wave, or soliton as it is now called, has since been discovered in a wide variety of nonlinear systems such as electrical circuits, nerve impulses, and the vibrations of atoms. It has even been suggested that elementary particles are not, in fact, the fundamental building blocks of matter but are the solitons of an underlying nonlinear quantum field.” “Solitons are distinct and localized: they can move along trajectories just as tennis balls do, and when two solitons meet, they interact and deflect together. In other words, solitons have all the appearances of elementary entities or independent units of the world. However by virtue of their very existence, solitons are totally subsistent on the ground that gave them birth.  For solitons are local phenomena that are constantly sustained through a global activity; they are born, persist as patterns in space and time, and then die back into their ground.”28

The relevance of solitons as a metaphor for the human personality, which is born, persists and dies into its ground, will be obvious. Indeed, the psychological theme is developed by Peat later in his book, when he says that our thoughts are the explicate forms thrown up by the underlying movements of the implicate orders of mind.  Like the vortex of a river, or the soliton of a nonlinear field, thoughts have no absolute, independent existence of their own but are constantly being supported by the underlying processes of the ground…  In a similar sense, individual minds could be said to arise out of the one ground.  They represent relatively stable forms, identities as it were, within the underlying background.”

A similar description is made by Michael Talbot, in The Holographic Universe. He says, “The ebb and flow of our consciousness is not precisely definable but can be seen as a deeper and more fundamental reality out of which our thoughts and ideas unfold.  In turn, these thoughts and ideas are not unlike the ripples, eddies, and whirlpools that form in a flowing stream, and like the whirlpools in a stream some can recur and persist in a more or less stable way, while others are evanescent and vanish almost as quickly as they appear.

The metaphor of waves and their relation to the ocean as the ground of their being has been expressed in the literature of many spiritual traditions. The Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi said, “The wave is supported by the ocean all the way to the shore.”31 In the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Lama Sogyal Rinpoche says, “If everything is impermanent, then everything is what we call “empty,” which means lacking in any lasting, stable, and inherent existence; and all things, when seen and understood in their true relation, are not independent but interdependent with all other things. The Buddha compared the universe to a vast net woven of a countless variety of brilliant jewels, each with a countless number of facets. Each jewel reflects in itself every other jewel in the net and is, in fact, one with every other jewel.

“Think of a wave in the sea. Seen in one way, it seems to have a distinct identity, an end and a beginning, a birth and a death. Seen in another way, the wave itself doesn’t really exist but is just the behavior of water, “empty” of any separate identity but “full” of water. So when you really think about the wave, you come to realize that it is something made temporarily possible by wind and water, and is dependent on a set of constantly changing circumstances. You also realize that every wave is related to every other wave.

“Nothing has any inherent existence of its own when you really look at it, and this absence of independent existence is what we call “emptiness”. Think of a tree. When you think of a tree, you tend to think of a distinctly defined object; and on a certain level, like the wave, it is. But when you look more closely at the tree, you will see that ultimately it has no independent existence. When you contemplate it, you will find that it dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretches across the universe. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it, all the seasons and the weather, moonlight and starlight and sunlight – all form part of this tree. As you begin to think about the tree more and more, you will discover that everything in the universe helps to make the tree what it is; that it cannot at any moment be isolated from anything else; and that at every moment its nature is subtly changing. This is what we mean when we say things are empty, that they have no independent existence.”32


Another key concept of chaos theory, and one which will be particularly relevant to the formation and treatment of character structure, concerns how the transition occurs from order to chaos or from chaos to order. In many systems, including “electrical circuitry, optical systems, solid-state devices, business cycles, biological populations, and learning,”33 this is characterized by a process of “period doubling”, which bears a resemblance to the psychological process of dissociation and splitting. The graphing of certain parameters within a complex system will show a sudden division into two lines on the graph, then four, eight, and so on until a certain point at which chaos reigns. The points at which the divisions occur are called “bifurcation points”. They seem to indicate thresholds in the life of the systems at which a structural change becomes necessary.

Some of the most famous mathematical explorations of this process were performed by physicist Mitchell Feigenbaum. As Peat and Briggs put it, “Feigenbaum showed that the fine details of these different systems don’t matter, that period doubling is a common factor in the way order breaks down into chaos. He was able to calculate a few universal numbers representing ratios in the scale of transition points during the doubling process. He found that when a system works on itself again and again, it will exhibit change at precisely these universal points along the scale.”34

Bifurcation points occur as the pressure is increased upon the system to change, whether that be by temperature (in the formation of Benard cells),35 fertility (in May’s calculations of population cycles), chemical concentration (in the formation of BZ scrolls), or fluid pressure (in studies of turbulence formation).36 At some bifurcation points just the right concentration of a chemical or flux of heat or timing of an electrical impulse can amplify through the system’s feedback. The phases or frequencies of the feedback become locked together and a structure emerges.”37

Though there may be many variables in a complex system that can effect systemic change, scientists try to determine which variables seem most important, because this knowledge creates the power to influence the system.  Psychotherapists are equally interested in determining the relative importance of the variables in systems they are seeking to change.

I am particularly interested in the resemblance between period doubling and the process of dissociation in the formation of psychological structures in human development. As will be seen below, the development of the various characterological structures (as permutations of the basic ways that personality is formed) has something to do with the dissociation of psychic complexes. For example, the “persona” becomes differentiated from the “shadow”, the “rewarding unit” from the withdrawing unit”, the “anti-libidinal ego” from the “libidinal ego”, and so forth. Although the most dramatic examples of the dissociative process may be seen in clients diagnosed as “multiple personalities”, the process of dissociation, and the closely related mechanisms of “splitting” and projection, are fundamental building blocks of the personality, regardless of the terms and concepts employed by particular psychological schools to describe it.

I wonder about the variables that are most prominent in this process. What is it that creates the pressure to bifurcate, to dissociate? Does it have to do with levels of arousal, some kind of amplitude of consciousness, intensity of experience? We know that in severe dissociation, as in multiple personality disorder, one of the causal factors is repeated intense, painful trauma (as in sexual torture or ritual abuse) that overwhelms the integrative tendency of the personality. Is it the factor of intensity at less traumatic levels that creates the less dramatic dissociation which creates personality structure? Daniel Stern writes at some length about this issue, and his ideas will be explored in detail later in this paper. 38

After a bifurcation point has been reached, there is a tendency for a structure to maintain itself. “Once formed, the self-organized structure stays “alive” by drawing nourishment from the surrounding flux and disorder. This is what happens when tornados and other cyclonic winds form out of turbulence. To keep themselves going, they feed off the thunderstorms, moisture, steep temperature and pressure gradients, and turbulence that gave them birth.”39 Psychological structures have a similar kind of self-maintenance. The narcissistic structure maintains itself by looking for mirroring, fighting off envy and criticism from within and without, while the borderline structure maintains itself by looking for people to merge with, and so forth.


The metaphors of Chaos theory have some interesting things to say about the human process of trying to find order in the universe.  One of the most famous graphic images of the new science is the “period doubling” or “logistic map”, which is a computer generated  model of the process of period doubling on the way to chaos. (see Figure 1) Examination of the graphic reveals regions which are completely filled in by a chaotic and unpredictable jumble of points. Yet within such regions there may be smaller regions which are orderly, self-similar fractal versions of the entire logistic map.

A similar interpenetration of chaos and order can be found in turbulence. “At each scale, as you look closer at a turbulent eddy, new regions of calm come into view… The intermittent picture, when idealized somewhat, looks highly fractal, with intermixed regions of roughness and smoothness on scales running down from the large to the small.”40 This phenomenon is found in other systems as well: “in chemistry the relation between order and chaos appears highly complex: successive regimes of ordered (oscillatory) situations follow regimes of chaotic behavior.”41

There is reason to believe that this alternation of levels of chaos and orderliness can be seen to run through the entire universe. “Regular order is interspersed with chaotic order. Evidently, familiar order and chaotic order are laminated like bands of intermitency.”42 We can end up with a philosophical viewpoint rather like that expressed by Forrest Gump: “Some people seem to think there is a plan to everything, and other people think it’s all random.  I think it’s kind of both at the same time. ”

Indeed, order and chaos come to be seen as dependent on one another, mutually arising like the wave and the ocean which creates and supports it. Order comes out of chaos, depends upon it for its very existence, like the tree in Sogyal Rinpoche’s metaphor that cannot be separated from everything else in the universe. Likewise, chaos comes out of order, is found in the very nooks and crannies of order itself. Even linguistically, chaos and order imply one another, they are defined as each other’s opposite, like the white and black commas of the yin-yang symbol, which represents the unity of life in oriental philosophy.

It may be that the very concept of order itself is an illusion of scale created by ignoring the adjacent levels. Perhaps the concept of order refers to something like a well-planned Victorian garden, laid out with conscious intention by a garden designer and maintained by the actions of the gardeners.  When conventionally religious people speak of God, they frequently mean some divine planner and regulator, the Gardener of the Garden of Eden (which presumably was well-planned, except for the snake). In the modern era, however, we seem to be unable to ignore the unruliness at a level of scale above and below the apparent order of this garden. (Perhaps you saw the movie, Blue Velvet, in which the camera begins with a shot of an apparently idyllic suburban front yard, complete with white picket fence, and then zooms in to reveal the warfare of ants in the grass of the yard.)

In our era subsequent to the “death of God,” the dead god was the one who was felt to plan things in accord with the wishes of his (!) worshippers.  With the death of this god, it has been necessary to seek other metaphors about the nature of life and our place in it.  As a survey of the field of chaos theory has revealed, there no longer needs to be conflict between the metaphors employed in the natural sciences and in spiritual exploration.  Indeed, the metaphors are becoming increasingly similar. As the Sufi mystic, Hazrat Inayat Khan said in describing a credo for the modern unification of religious ideals, “There is One Holy Book, the sacred manuscript of Nature.”


As has been previously described, a complex system displays areas that appear to be relatively orderly, and others which appear chaotic, and it is the areas and mechanisms of transition between the two which are of the greatest interest.  Living organisms need to maintain a certain sense of structure in order to remain themselves, while partaking of and surviving upon the often more chaotic nature of their surroundings.

“Biological systems remain stable by damping most small effects except in those areas of behavior where a high degree of flexibility and creativity is required. Here the system remains highly sensitive to influx, close to a state of chaos. A single honeybee entering a hive of thousands of interacting colleagues can, by doing a little dance indicating the location of pollen-rich flowers, launch the entire hive into the air.”43

“If the heartbeat and respiration become highly periodic (regular) they can lead to congestive heart failure. On the other hand, a rhythm that is too aperiodic causes the defibrillation of a heart attack. Thus the normal “time” of the heart oscillates in the borderland between order and chaos… West and Goldberger conclude that systems iterating in fractal rhythms are normal for the body and that “a loss of physiological variability in a variety of systems appears to be characteristic of the aging process.” To be healthy is to be composed of simmering cycles of fractal time.”44

“Since the systems that are capable of the most complex, sophisticated responses will always have the edge in a competitive world, goes the argument, then frozen systems can always do better by loosening up a bit, and turbulent systems can always do better by getting themselves a little more organized.  So if a system isn’t on the edge of chaos already, you’d expect learning and evolution to push it in that direction. And if it is on the edge of chaos, then you’d expect learning and evolution to pull it back if it ever starts to drift away. In other words. you’d expect learning and evolution to make the edge of chaos stable, the natural place for complex, adaptive systems to be.”45

This line of thinking has interesting psychological parallels. We see clients who are overly rigid and stuck in repetitive patterns and preoccupations, and others who would benefit from more structure to their lives and psyches. We see similar polarities in the dynamics of families, groups, and organizations. It can be our job to endeavor to help these organisms find a more appropriate balance between order and chaos, and the way that we go about doing this will occupy a good portion of the rest of this paper.


Having reviewed some of the most relevant concepts and metaphors available from chaos theory, we are now in a position to apply them to some basic questions of concern to psychologists and mystics. For example, what is consciousness? How do the structures of the psyche arise out of a general field of consciousness? How is it that structures of the psyche become constricted in non-adaptive and conflictual  ways of relating to one another, from the intra-personal scale through inter-personal difficulties to the conflicts of groups and nations? What can a therapist or any person of good will do in order to assist the development of more adaptive and harmonious interactions among these structures of the psyche?

The question, “what is consciousness?” is so profoundly large that it has been used as a kind of koan in the direct transmission of mystical experience from teacher to student, and it may only really be answerable in such a fashion. Sogyal Rinpoche describes one such transmission: “I was about nine at the time. My master sent for me and told me to sit in front of him. We were alone. He said, ‘Now I’m going to introduce you to the essential “nature of mind”‘. Picking up his bell and a small hand-drum, he chanted the invocation of all the masters of the lineage, from the Primordial Buddha down to his own master. Then he did the introduction. Suddenly he sprung upon me a question with no answer: “What is mind?” and gazed intently deep into my eyes. I was taken totally by surprise. My mind shattered. No words, no names, no thought remained — no mind, in fact, at all.

“What happened in that astounding moment? Past thoughts had died away, the future had not yet arisen: the stream of my thoughts was cut right through. In that pure shock a gap opened, and in that gap was laid bare a sheer immediate awareness of the present, one that was free of any clinging. It was simple, naked, and fundamental. And yet that naked simplicity was also radiant with the warmth of an immense compassion.

“How many things I could say about that moment! My master, apparently, was asking a question: but yet I knew he did not expect an answer. And before I could hunt for an answer, I knew there was none to find.”46

This kind of teaching is found in all of the deep mystical traditions; Oneness cannot really be described, though it can be directly experienced. To try to deal with the question “what is consciousness?” intellectually is to step into a quagmire of discussion in which the assumptions, overt or covert, with which one begins are inevitably found to emerge as the conclusions of the discourse.

So for the purposes of this paper, I will accept the premise that consciousness simply is, and that it emerges along with matter out of some deeper substratum in the “implicate order”, to use David Bohm’s terminology. As David Peat puts it in his book, Synchronicity, “consciousness may involve a form of meaning that emerges out of a deeper ground and is sustained by it… In this way the meaningful patterns of synchronicity, which manifest themselves in both matter and mind, represent the unfolding of a deeper order that lies beyond the distinction of either.”47

The process by which mind and matter interweave and bifurcate to create the different scales of organization we can observe within the fractal psyche may well be indescribable.  Perhaps, however, we can find some chaos theory metaphors relevant to the creation and maintenance of structure within the apparent boundaries of an individual human being. (Once again, it must be borne in mind that the concepts through which we investigate will determine what we see.)

If we try to trace the beginnings of structure within what appears as an individual human psyche, a fractal metaphor related to object relations theory comes into view: the structures of the psyche of the developing child seem to mimic the structures within the parents, between the parents, and between the parents and the child (or perhaps more specifically between parts of the parents and the child).  This is analogous to the interactions between levels of scale within a turbulent flow. “In fluid turbulence, a scale-invariant fractal structure spontaneously arises which mediates the transfer of kinetic energy back and forth microscopic molecular motion and macroscopic fluid motion.”48

Like the lesser whorls in a turbulent fluid that derive (to describe it a bit dualistically) from the greater whorls, psychic structures arise in the infant which replicate the interactions between the infant and the parenting figures, or interactions between psychic parts within the parents. It seems that an infant is able to maintain inner representations of an interaction with parenting figures, through some mysterious mechanism of memory. Insofar as the maintenance of these structures allows for interactions within the psyche of the child when the child is alone, and sets a pattern for interactions with adults other then the parents, they serve as a kind of precursor of the more elaborate structures of character.


Daniel Stern describes this process while speaking of a particular infant named Eric in interaction with his mother: “…Eric’s self-experience of higher-than-usual excitement is, in fact, largely achieved and regulated by his mother’s behavior…  Eric’s self-experience of high positive excitement never occurs unless mother is there participating in it…  Now suppose Eric is alone or with another person. And by himself, he begins to exceed the level of positive excitement that is usual for him when he is not with his mother… He begins to “feel this way,” that is, to reach a certain higher level of excitement. “Feeling this way” is one of the attributes of the RIG (Representation of Interactions that have been Generalized), the other indivisible attribute of which is mother’s encouraging, experience-augmenting performance. Beginning to “feel this way” will serve as the attribute that unconsciously calls to mind the evoked companion… Eric then experiences a fantasied being with mother. In some sense, she is functionally “there”, and that helps him to stretch the level of excitement he has created for himse1f.”49

Thus a representation of an interactive event between two apparent individuals becomes an apparent intrapsychic event through the mysterious process of fantasy, the mechanisms of which are somehow built into the underlying substratum of (the unconscious portion) of consciousness. Perhaps mechanism is the wrong word, to the extent it implies something like a machine – perhaps consciousness has the quality of allowing for structures of different sizes in the same way that water allows whirls of different sizes. At any rate, the interwoven quality of what is named “interpersonal” and “intrapersonal” is particularly evident in Stern’s examples, though it is also to be found in any of the object relations writers such as Fairbairn, Masterson, Kohut and Miller, when they speak of the introjection of psychic structures as representations of interpersonal relationships.

These structures of consciousness have something to do with making generalizations about experience. For Stern, the structures of the “core” consciousness self are built out of the process of comparing things that do not change (are “invariant”) to things which do (are “variant”). “The infant notes regularities in the flow of events.” “One of the central tendencies of mind that infants readily display is the tendency to order the world by seeking invariants.” Stern suggests that it is partly the identification of invariants that allows the infant to know the difference between self and other. In addition, invariants play a central role in the formation of “Representations of Interactions that have been Generalized (or RIGs, for short), insofar as they compare what has generally occurred in the past with the current experience.

One axis along which Stern explores the models generated within the infant psyche has to do with excitement levels. According to Stern, “Each infant has an optimal level of excitation that is pleasurable.”50 The infant and his caregiver become involved in regulating the amount of stimulation and excitation so as to remain in the optimal range (a feedback process in a complex dynamic system). As in the case of Eric described above, the mother interacts with him in such a way as to boost his excitation level above what he could initially generate by himself, but still within an enjoyable range. Stern also describes mothers, however, who overstimulate their infants, and these infants must learn maneuvers “to try to deal with it.”  “Coping and defensive operations form in the small space between the upper threshold of the infant’s stimulation tolerance and final crying.”

“In the case of Stevie, an overstimulating, controlling mother regularly forced the face-to-face interaction into a “game of chase and dodge”… In essence, when the mother overstimulated him, Stevie would avert his head to the side. Mother would respond to this dodge by chasing him with her face and escalating the stimulus level of her behavior to capture his attention. He would then execute another dodge, swinging his head away to the opposite side. Mother would follow his head with hers, still trying to maintain the vis-a-vis engagement at the level she wanted. Finally, if he was unable to avoid her gaze, Stevie would become more upset and end up crying. More often than not, however, his aversions were successful and mother would get the message long before he cried.”51

Based on this kind of interaction, “Stevie experiences the following RIG: a high level of arousal, maternal behavior that tends to push him beyond his tolerable limits, the need to self-regulate downward, and the (usually) successful self-regulation by persistent aversions. In Stevie’s case, when he is experiencing higher levels of excitement, his mother has become a different kind of evoked companion, a self-disregulating other… Like Eric, he will experience an evoked being-with-mother, but in his case it is a disregulating union with mother that will result in his execution of potentially maladaptive behavior. He will unnecessarily avoid stimulation that threatens to exceed or has just exceeded his tolerance.  If he is with someone else, he misses or does not stay open to the adjustments on the other’s part that would permit him either to stay engaged or to reengage. From observation of many infants like Stevie, it is clear that they generalize their experience, so that they are relatively overavoidant with new persons.”52

It is difficult to read this description without thinking that such a pattern would be part of the process (or one way) of creating a character structure that would demonstrate the withdrawal patterns found in clients described as schizoid.

Stern goes on to describe other kinds of interactions between mothers and infants which result in different structures of adaptation: “Molly’s mother was very controlling. She had to design, initiate, direct, and terminate all agendas. She determined which toy Molly should play with, how Molly was to play with it (“Shake it up and down – don’t roll it on the floor”), when Molly was done playing with it, and what to do next (“Oh, here is Dressy Bessy. Look!”). The mother overcontrolled the interaction to such an extent that it was often hard to trace the natural crescendo and decrescendo of Molly’s own interest and excitement. It was so frequently derailed or interrupted that it could hardly be said to trace its own course. This is an extreme form of disregulation of excitation…”

“Molly found an adaptation. She gradually became more compliant. Instead of actively avoiding or opposing these intrusions, she became one of those enigmatic gazers into space… watching her over the months was like watching her self-regulation of excitement slip away. She appeared to let herself ride the stop-and-start course of arousal flow dictated by her mother.  In fact, she seemed to have given up on the whole idea of self-regulation of this part of herself. When playing alone she did not recover it, remaining somewhat aloof from exciting engagement with things. This general dampening of her affectivity continued beyond this phase of development and was still apparent at age three years…”53

In reading about this pattern of interaction, it is not hard to imagine that it could be part of the genesis of character structure that displayed a number of borderline features.

“Susie’s mother was depressed, preoccupied with a recent divorce. She in fact had not wanted Susie to begin with except to hold the marriage together… Susie was a normally spunky infant well endowed with all the capacities to appeal to and elicit social behavior from any willing adult, plus a lot of persistence to keep trying at the faintest hint of success. In spite of this, she was generally unsuccessful in getting her mother to join for long. More important, she could not get her mother to spark enough so that the mother ever took over the up-regulation of excitation…”

“Susie’s experience with a self-excitement-regulating other forms a very different RIG from the other children. She does not expect and accept experiences, as Eric does, nor does she need to dread them as Stevie does or tune them out, as Molly does. She must actively strive and perform to set her mother into motion to create the being-with experiences she needs. This interactive pattern based on a specific RIG has remained characteristic of Susie for the first three years, and one can readily imagine its continuing and gathering in more and more aspects of the interpersonal world. She is already a “Miss Sparkle Plenty” and precociously charming. Her behavior lends support to the idea that we may be dealing with sensitive periods that put a stamp on the future.”

“Susie’s is only one adaptive solution to a prevailing but not complete understimulation. Some infants, endowed with less persistence and spark, follow a depressive rather than a performance-oriented route.”54

One can see in these different infants the way that interactive patterns become internalized and in turn (iteratively) provide the basis for future interactions with parents and other figures. Although Stern is careful to note that these interactions around the theme of excitement regulation are but part of the picture (other themes would include “the regulation of security, curiosity/exploration, attention, and so on”), it is not difficult to imaginatively extrapolate in the direction of character structure.

Further, Stern is aware that he is dealing with a complex, dynamic system: “The sense of core self, as a composite of the four self-invariants (agency, coherence, affectivity, and continuity), is always in flux. It is being built up, maintained, eroded, rebuilt, and dissolved, and all these things go on simultaneously. The sense of self at any moment, then, is the network of the many forming and dissolving dynamic processes.  It is the experience of an equilibrium.”55

One can sense in Stern’s descriptions of Molly the movement toward more elaborate and enduring characterologic structures of the kind which might be described (in different ways) by clinical theoreticians like Fairbairn, Mahler, Masterson, Miller, and so forth. There is a sense in these writers that the character structure of the parents tends to be imitated by the structure of the child.  Sometimes it appears that there is a catalystic effect, in which like reproduces like.  For example, Masterson indicates that borderline mothers tend to produce borderline children, and Alice Miller describes the same process with narcissistic mothers.

Consciousness is somehow a medium that allows for inductive imitative, processes to occur, in the same way that these occur within turbulent flow. There is some kind of medium in which projection, projective identification, and other operations can take place. It seems to work also with images, affects, which together are how we notice the archetypes that seem to arise out of the substratum that is deeper than mind or matter.


“Maps are imaginative pictures which allow thought to bring into focus aspects of reality that might otherwise be lost in detail~.”             John Briggs and David Peat56

“…models merely isolate a few select parameters, a few aspects of the object and say, what happens if we just look at these?”          –Peter Oppenheimer57

Having repeatedly acknowledged the limitations of the modeling process, it seems appropriate at this point to introduce the characterological model I’ve been using for the past several years. The model offers a way of understanding the three most commonly named characterological structures — narcissistic, borderline and schizoid — from a transpersonal and chaos theory perspective. The differentiation of these structures is useful to the clinician because they each call for a different therapeutic response, as described in the therapeutic techniques of Kohut, Masterson and Fairbairn.

The model proceeds from the sense that intrapsychic structures derive from and mimic the larger structures around them, including the very largest, most inclusive structure, the One Mind, the capital S Self, the Divine Ground of Being. All sentient beings, according to mystical teachings, maintain at the core of their consciousness a link to the consciousness of the entire One Mind. It seems to be the natural course of human development, however, to identify with smaller, more limited structures of consciousness.

In Tibetan Buddhism, this is described as occurring through the Bardo states between death and reincarnation. In the absence of well-developed meditative equanimity a person tends to identify with the beautiful images of gods and buddhas produced in the psyche, and pull away in terror from the corresponding demonic images. The teachings say that if a person can maintain equanimity of mind and avoid clinging to lesser structures, then the Wholeness of the One Mind can be retained. Usually what happens, however, is a process of attachment and aversion through decreasingly subtle levels of consciousness until a human incarnation is taken.

Within psychological models of infant development, a parallel process is seen to occur as the psychic structure of a child imitates the structure of its interactions with parenting figures, as described by Stern in the previous section. It is inevitable that the child comes to form and identify with characteristic ways of responding to its environment and the people within it, and yet also endeavor to maintain some kind of connection to the larger ground of its being.

Simply put, the fundamental problem of character is that trying to be a “person” is an impossib1e project. As we discussed above, the psyche is actually one fractal and indivisible unity. On page 6 I asked, “where is this ‘person’ separate from everything else upon which her existence depends?” I concluded that no separation can be found from the environment which sustains her body, the field of language that gives meaning to her thoughts, the “other” people with whom interactions give rise to feelings, and the consciousness of which her consciousness is a part. In order to come into agreement with the socially held concepts of being a “person”, it is inevitable that mind grasps at limited portions of the field, and identifies with certain thought forms and ways of organizing experience.

The truth is that you never were a “person” and never will be!  You have become hypnotized by the names people called you, and have tried to be something more limited than what you actually are.  Real mental health requires that you escape the limited concepts and habits that have constituted who you have thought yourself to be, and rediscover that which you have always been.

The part of the numinous whole that you tried to hang on to, and the style by which you have attempted to maintain that connection, constitutes your character structure from a clinical perspective. The characterological structures of the narcissistic, borderline and schizoid conditions can therefore be seen as different ways of clinging to partial aspects of the One Being.

A person with strong narcissistic elements, for example, knows that in some way he or she is God, that the “Kingdom of Heaven is within”. A person with borderline characteristics knows that divinity resides in relationship, that “God is love”. A person with pronounced schizoid phenomenology knows that God extends beyond self or relationship into a realm of abstract Beingness.

Most people exhibit a mixture of these structures, which are woven into the psychic structures of persona, anima, animus, shadow and Self.  It is when there is an exaggerated emphsis on one to the exclusion of the others that we make the diagnosis of character “disorder,” as opposed to “style,” “features,” or “tendencies.”

From a transpersonal view, what is limiting about characterological structures in their extreme forms is that they ignore the other ways in which divinity can be experienced, in addition to the interpersonal and vocational difficulties which they may cause for clients.  A person with pronounced narcissistic features may have difficulty recognizing that other people are also God, and be unable to love anyone else. A person with prominent borderline characteristics may be so focused on other people that he or she may be unaware of what he or she wants or needs. A person with a primarily schizoid structure may remain in an inner abstract world out of fear that getting close to another person will result in attack or rejection.

In the same way that a complete understanding of the nature of God involves experiencing the One Being inside, in relationship, and in the abstract, mental health involves a mixture of characterological structures in a complementary and harmonious pattern which allows a person to love and work, to know oneself, other people and the abstract realms as well. As part of what appears to a fundamental drive the direction of wholeness, people frequently pursue relationships in which their partner has a characterological style complementary to their own. William Slipp and others have written about the relationships frequently observed by clinicians between narcissistic or schizoid men and borderline women.

The treatment of characterological structures involves helping clients develop the aspects of their experience which have been left out by the limited concentrations they have developed. In most cases, this treatment will involve the therapist adopting a characterological stance which is complementary to that of the client.

For example, in Kohut’s method of working with a narcissistic client (or with a narcissistic complex within a client who is perhaps overall more borderline in structure) the therapist adopts a mirroring and interpretive stance which can seem rather borderline in its setting aside of the therapist’s own narcissistic needs. Most essential in the treatment is the development of the client’s ability to genuinely care about the therapist and, by extension, other people.

With a borderline client (or a borderline complex within a schizoid or narcissistic client), the therapist proceeding according to Masterson’s approach will hold the expectation that the client can function as an integrated persona-centered individual placing boundaries around his or her needs, and the therapist will confront in a kindly fashion where this does not occur due to regressive fantasies, splitting, and defensive acting out. The therapist calls upon his or her own narcissistic sense of persona in order to hold to this course of action and provide structure to the therapeutic relationship while the work occurs.

With a schizoid client the therapist endeavors to establish that relationship can be a safe and nurturing place while dealing with what Fairbairn termed the “anti-libidinal ego” and its efforts to protect the client from the vulnerabilities of close relationship. The New Perspectives model, drawing from Fairbairn, Milton Erickson and Steven Johnson encourages the therapist to use therapeutic metaphor and other indirect approaches to support relational closeness, create an alliance with the “anti-libidinal ego” by supporting its positive intentions, and interpret the structure of the schizoid condition with a view towards meeting the appropriate needs of all the different parts of the structure. The therapist needs to call upon whatever “borderline” relational skills he or she may possess in order to supply the emotional glue to hold the alliance together, while utilizing the knowledge of the professional persona to understand the slow pace at which treatment must proceed and sooth his or her own frustration at the limited relational return from the client.

It is evident from the elaboration of the model thus far that the terms “narcissistic”, “borderline” and “schizoid” are being stretched somewhat beyond their traditional usage. I am implying a connection between the narcissistic style and the development of a strong persona, that the borderline style is linked with relationships, and so forth.

It is possible for a transpersonally oriented therapist to acknowledge and emphasize the positive features of a particular characterological style while assisting the client in developing the compensatory qualities of the other characterological stances. A client with an openness to the transpersonal frame can be assisted to understand the positive motivation of their favored characterological emphasis within the transpersonal context, direct it properly towards the transcendent goal of Oneness and develop it fully as possible as an expression of divinity.58 The narcissist can be told, for example, that yes, he truly is God at his best moments, but that the glory of creative gifts and heroic energies cannot grasped and held as belonging to his personal ego. The borderline can be praised for recognizing the importance of transcending one’s own boundaries in loving connection to others, but may need to be reminded that ultimately the only faithful lover is the God found within – everyone else will eventually leave.59 The schizoid’s internal development can be acknowledged, and he can be assisted to find the power of God which can make it safe for him to venture out into contact with other people.60

The final solution to the problems of character disorder is to be found in realization of one’s own true Being, which transcends subject and object, form and emptiness, and any intellectual concepts including ideas about character.


It may now be appropriate to give a more detailed account of the etiology of the various character structures, interwoven from transpersonal, Jungian and object relations viewpoints. I will endeavor to describe each structure in its most extreme form for the purpose of seeing it clearly. Most clients will display a fractal and compensating mixture of the structures.


The narcissistic structure occurs when the infant attaches to the notion that the numinous ground of Being resides within itself. This notion is often encouraged by the parents’ idealization of the child, which on the one hand is a recognition of the magnificence of a being that has just emerged out of Oneness, and on the other hand is frequently a projection of the parents’ narcissistic desires to have a magical, heroic child who can carry out the parents’ unfulfilled life plans and hopes, and with whom the parent can have an idyllic, or at least pleasurable, relationship.

Having become attached to the numinosity inside, an infant becomes engaged in an effort to defend this inner numinosity at all costs. Often there is a real need for defense, for the child’s radiance may inspire envy and attack by one or more of the parents. For example, the mother may resent what she sees as the infant’s acting entitled to what it wants, or envy the opportunities she is providing but did not herself experience as a child. A father may feel abandoned by his wife’s idealization of the infant, and engage in vindictive, critical attacks.

When first attacked in this way, an infant must respond with surprise and confusion – “why would anyone want to attack this beauty?” As the attacks continue, the child tries to placate the attacking parent, to incorporate and anticipate whatever organizing values it can perceive on the parent’s part. Alternatively, or at the same time, it attempts to insist upon what it knows about itself, that it is the numinous, magnificent One. Unfortunately, this kind of battle takes the infant increasingly out of the realm of experiencing Oneness into the realm of mental concepts about itself. Something has happened to the infant in the process of defending itself – it has become like the enemy and has introjected its attacker into its own psyche as the shadow.

In later life the person with this kind of structure has a part of him or herself experienced as magnificent and ideal, related to creativity or spirituality in whatever form he or she understands it. Such a person may feel that this part is who he or she really is, if only other people could see it, and he or she could keep from falling into another part of the psyche experienced as weak, messed up and unworthy. The person attacks him or herself mercilessly when not operating in the magnificent, idealized fashion, and may perceive a yawning chasm of emptiness which threatens to undermine the idealized persona he or she wants to be.

This person may experience envy of other people whom he or she sees as perhaps undeservedly having what he or she wants and can’t quite attain. Yet when the person attains some piece of what has been sought, he or she is unable to enjoy it for long. It soon becomes worthless, taken for granted, and the person begins to long for the next unrealized attainment.

This kind of person may accomplish a great deal, and be well rewarded in our society, for he or she often has the ability to work very hard, delay gratification, and may be in touch with real creative talent. Yet, underneath the achievement, in relation to his or her own life, this person may be quite unhappy, have a variety of somatic problems, or be caught in dangerous addictive behaviors.


A second basic strategy that attempts to preserve Oneness is to try to avoid coalescing into a separate entity by remaining focused on a relationship which appears to be symbiotic, the relationship with the mother. In actuality this apparent symbiosis is far less unified than the soul’s unity with divine Oneness, but as the soul struggles to get working control of its rather limited vehicle, the infant body, the relationship with the mother bears the resemblance to the kind of union from which it has departed.

The child may be encouraged to remain in this diffuse, merged state by a mother who gratifies the child’s wishes as long as the child remains merged, but abandons or attacks the infant when it acts in a more differentiated fashion. A child treated in this fashion learns to become terrified of having a separate individuality of its own. To be an individual is to be abandoned or attacked, and therefore must be avoided at all costs.

As a child from this kind of parenting environment grows towards adulthood, he or she will desperately seek relationships into which he or she can become merged, and will need to remain blind to the shortcomings of the partner, in the same way as the child needed to remain blind to the attacking and abandoning portions of the mother’s psyche. This is completely understandable, for it is in the symbiotic relationship that this person remembers his or her connection to the numinous Oneness lost as a child.

In a tragic, yet frequent clinical scenario, a young girl who has had this kind of experience with her mother may seek a merged quasi-symbiotic relationship with her father. If the father is able to provide a close relationship while maintaining appropriate boundaries, crucial individuation may be possible for the child. Far too often, however, a father may respond to the experience of merger by regressing into a view of the child as a potential lover, and end up sexually or psychologically molesting her. This is, of course, terribly destructive of her efforts to individuate, and positions her for later victimization as she reenacts this fallen attempt at relationship.

As part of the effort to preserve and protect a recollection of numinous connection, the infant utilizes the psyche’s ability to dissociate, to split off the associations pertaining to the attacking, abandoning mother from the nurturing associations which are linked to the experience of the numinous. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the process by which associations are built into patterns (the RIG patterns described by stern) simply builds radically different images of the nurturing and abandoning mothers. Because the environment does not ever support an effort at unified experience of the different parts of the psyche, the infant is never able to consolidate and integrate these different experiences, and they remain discrete.

Later in life, the person who has developed a character structure built on these early life experiences responds to situations in a somewhat unpredictable fashion, depending on which part of the personality is activated, and will manifest the kind of response that clinicians characterize as splitting. He or she may choose inappropriate relationship partners, remain blind to their character deficits, and then respond with violent rage when he or she finds herself abandoned by the partner. A variety of addictive and self destructive behaviors may be engaged in to avoid inner experiences of isolation and emptiness.


A third approach to preserving the numinous connection occurs in response to a parental environment which is emotionally unresponsive and unsupportive, or which punishes efforts by the infant to make emotional demands upon the parents. In such an unwelcoming environment, the infant (characterized by Stephen Johnson as “the Unwanted Child”) withdraws from relationships into an isolated inner realm where a relationship may be maintained to the abstract impersonal aspect of the One Being.

Even this inner realm is not a safe place, however, for the infant takes into him or herself an attacking parental introject which Fairbairn has called the “anti-libidinal ego”. In Fairbairn’s model, this part is considered to attack the more nurturance seeking, “libidinal ego” in order to prevent it from reaching out for relational contact.

The intention of the anti-libidinal ego can be positively understood as a desire to prevent the child from becoming exhausted in impossible efforts to receive nurturing, or to prevent it from further damaged by the parental attacks which result from efforts to make contact. Unfortunately, however, the way that the anti-libinal ego carries out this positive intention is often harsh and cruel, patterned as it is upon the anti-libidinal parts of the parents. (The parents, of course, are for their part attacking the child as an externalized experience of their own needy, libidinal “inner children”, as part of a multigenerational schizoid pattern.) The cruelty of the anti-libidinal response has led Stephen Johnson to call the schizoid a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Johnson says, “the wolf bites itself and other people.”

As the child grows into an adult, the anti-libidinal ego continues to keep the schizoid person from getting close to other people. As Fairbairn describes the process, the anti-libidinal ego becomes aroused to vigi1ence whenever the schizoid individual starts to become close to a psychotherapist or anyone else, and attacks the libidinal ego by critical comments or more primitively, by somehow cutting off the energy of the libidinal ego to make contact with other people. From the outside, it simply appears as if the schizoid person withdraws from contact, perhaps giving some excuse, or simply not showing up for a scheduled meeting. Fairbairn therefore states that the central clinical problem of psychotherapy with a schizoid person is dealing with their periodic attempts to leave therapy. He states that the very project of psychotherapy itself is in direct competition with the efforts of the anti-libidinal system (the “closed world of internal objects”) as a means of protecting the client.

Related to the withdrawal from other people is the schizoid’s withdrawal from feeling. It seems that as the child develops in a schizoid environment, he or she learns to dissociate from both self and relationship into some vantage point outside of his feeling relationships, some abstract objective place of observation safe from vulnerability to pain.

We know that survivors of incest and ritual abuse have parts of them which seem to look on from the ceiling or some other outside place at episodes of overwhelming trauma. I am suggesting something similar here. Over time, the child learns to take refuge in intellectual abstraction, and may strongly develop his or her intellectual capacity, but have little contact with the realm of feelings.

Although it is evident that a major price has been paid by a person growing up in such a difficult environment, the schizoid person has often managed to maintain contact with some aspect of numinosity in a rarified, abstract realm. Despite loneliness and difficulty connecting to other people, such a person may be able to enjoy intellectual pursuits, and function well in abstract intellectual professions. Many scientists, academics of different fields, computer programmers, and so forth, have schizoid features. They frequently have an ability to be brilliantly objective about things, and are able to pursue their intellectual goals without distraction by personal considerations.


Having described in more detail the purest, most exaggerated forms of the three major characterological structures, it may be useful to consider how the structures fit together within the psyche.


From one point of view, we might say that each structure involves the emphasis of one psychic structure described by Jung more than the others. For example, a predominantly narcissistic person is most preoccupied with the persona, defending it from attacks by the shadow, and pumping it up (“inflating” it) with energies which flow from the Self. Someone with pronounced borderline phenomenology is preoccupied with the anima or animus (in projected form), which mediate the realm of relationship. The schizoid is strongly involved with a powerful and fearful shadow which attacks persona, anima and animus in the effort to prevent vulnerability. The schizoid may have a rich but impersonal relation to the more abstract qualities of the Self.

These psychic structures are considered by Jungians to be supported by and linked in a fractal fashion to larger archetypal structures. (Again, the model of turbulence is relevant: “In fluid turbulence, a scale-invariant fractal structure spontaneously arises which mediates the transfer of kinetic energy back and forth between microscopic molecular motion and macroscopic fluid motion.”61) The persona connects with the hero archetype, the anima with the Divine Mother, the animus with God the Father, their union is the archetype of the conniuctio, and so forth.

When archetypal energies overwhelm the ability of the ego’s structures to contain them, a decompensation into psychosis may occur. It is my experience that when narcissistic personalities decompensate they become manic depressive. The extremes of the manic phase constitute an inflation of the persona structure, and the compensatory depression constitutes an inflation of the shadow. Borderline personalities can decompensate into the thought disorders and extreme dissociation characteristic of schizophrenia. The unrealistic concepts about relationships in the borderline can become the delusional fantasies of the schizophrenic about marriages to rock stars or religious figures, and the blaming tendencies of the withdrawing unit can become truly paranoid in the schizophrenic. Schizoid personalities can become so depersonalized as to become catatonically withdrawn.

A Jungian formulation of the structural formation of characterological features correlates well with the treatment implications of the New Perspectives model. With the narcissistic client, the effort is to develop the relational capacities of the anima or animus to mediate the conflict between persona and shadow and lead to more direct encounter with the Self understood as differentiated from persona. With the borderline client, the effort is to strengthen the persona as the integrative center of the ego, with a direct connection to the energies of the Self. With the schizoid, the effort is to strengthen both the persona and the anima or animus through connecting them to the energies of the Self.

It is probably going too far to say that the persona is a narcissistic structure, that the anima has borderline characteristics, but I’m not sure it’s a great deal too far.


From another point of view, we might consider the schizoid structure as a crystalization of the kind of withdrawal exhibited by both narcissistic and borderline characters in response to the disappointment of their overly idealized concepts about themselves (as with the narcissist) or others (as with the borderline). Masterson has described the “withdrawing unit” in borderlines in a manner rather similar to the way Fairbairn has described the “anti-libidinal ego” in schizoids, which in turn is somewhat similar to the rageful or depressive withdrawal exhibited by narcissists. If we were to imagine a graph composed of two axes, the horizontal one differentiating emphasis on self as opposed to emphasis on others, and the vertical differentiating engagement with others as opposed to withdrawal, then we could plot the narcissistic, borderline and schizoid structures as follows:

Clinical application of this model indicates that more clients can be described as having a structure that exists on one of the legs of the triangle created by the narcissistic, borderline, and schizoid syndromes, than are found to exhibit only one prominent structure. Many clients can be described as schizoid-narcissist (or narcissist-schizoid, whichever feature is more prominent), borderline-schizoid (or vice versa), and more rarely, narcissist-borderline. In my experience, clients who present mainly schizoid phenomenology do tend, when they emerge from withdrawal, to exhibit a tendency towards either a more borderline or narcissistic presentation at that point. (This new presentation often appears particularly raw and naive because it has rarely been tried in adult life.)

An even more useful diagrammatic approach might involve the ability to position a marker within the triangle, as well as along one of the legs, or at one corner. Correlating with the postion of such a marker could be percentages roughly indicating the amount of time spent within one of the psychic or characterological structures. Some examples are given below. Probably the healthiest structure would be diagrammed as a point equidistant from the three corners, indicating a really flexible ability to respond in different fashions to different contexts.

Another way of seeing the interactions of character structures is along fractal lines. A predominantly borderline character structure will frequently exhibit narcissistic patches within it. These narcissistic patches may contain smaller patches of borderline or schizoid behavior. Similarly, an essentially narcissistic structure may contain areas of borderline behavior, which upon closer exploration reveal other characterological styles of behavior. I have listened to tapes of client/therapist interactions in which two or more characterological structures may be heard within the space of a single spoken sentence. Such a shift from one structure to another may be heard in the client’s voice tone and choice of words and sentence structure, as well as the counter-transferential reaction elicited in the therapist (and the supervisor listening to the tape).

The advice of the NPCC model is to respond with the appropriate compensatory treatment posture to the style or structure the client exhibits from moment to moment. In a narcissistic patch the therapist mirrors, in a borderline patch confronts splitting in a loving way, etc.

Often a client will first present a schizoid pattern of avoiding contact with the therapist or other people. If the therapist can respond appropriately to this pattern, (by pacing and allying with the anti-libidinal ego, speaking to its positive intention, going slowly with expectations about contacting feelings, interpreting the psychic structure, using indirect methods to circumvent resistance, making relationship a safe place to be by avoiding any criticism and being willing to talk about whatever the client wants, no matter how abstract, going after the client when he or she withdraws from treatment, etc.) the client will slowly reveal the underlying structure which will tend to be either predominantly borderline or narcissistic.

The schizoid layer is at that point understood to be a protective overlay, an attempt to compensate for the weakness or ineffectiveness of the underlying structure. The client will slowly be able to describe the emotional pain he or she experienced as a result of being too dependent and vulnerable with others, or too expansive and inflated in the expression of self. The client may also begin to demonstrate the limitations of this underlying structure in the transferential and countertransferential field of the therapy, and it will then be important for the therapist to modify his or her behavior to respond appropriately to this new structure. Perhaps there will be the need to gently (gently, gently) confront clinging and overly regressive borderline transferences, or mirror and interpret narcissistic responses. “Gently, gently, gently” in the above sentence is a reminder (Which a sensitive therapist will also feel in a kinesthetic reluctance to confront) that one is working in an overall schizoid structure which will respond very poorly to perceived criticism. So perhaps the therapist will work with the underlying structure for only an instant, before returning to pacing the schizoid structure. Characterological work occurs slowly.

There also occur moments in the therapeutic interaction which do not fit any particular structure identified by this model. This corresponds to the interpenetration of chaos and order described on page 15 and 16 of this article, and is inevitable in any complex interaction such as psychotherapy. At moments where there is no clear pattern to respond to, it is most appropriate to maintain rapport, and wait as comfortably as possible with the feeling of not knowing what to do, until some further direction emerges from the dynamic ground of interaction and intuition.


Moving to a larger scale, we can explore how characterological structures interact with one another within couple and family systems. Object relations family therapy explores the way that these larger systems are built and maintained by the smaller structures that parents bring from their own families of origin. The process by which partners in a couple select one another out of all the potential partners in the world has to do with a collective and individual journey towards wholeness.

As we journey through life in the direction of wholeness, we need the positive resources available in each structure and approach. Amongst them, the various approaches to localizing numinosity add up to the truth: We each are magnificently God in the depth of our being; each other person is also God with whom we may become merged in Divine Love; and ultimately, we do have to leave behind attachment to individual forms in order to know ourselves as that One Being which never really incarnated at all.

The real truth transcends the apparent paradoxes among these statements, and each may be used as a dialectical position which can help free us from riqidification in one of the others. Narcissists and schizoids need to learn from borderlines how to be able to deeply love another person. Borderlines need to learn from narcissists how to operate as a successful, autonomous individual in the world. This kind of learning occurs in romantic relationships, in psychotherapy, and in spiritual training.

It is easy to see from a clinical perspective why narcissists and borderlines fall in love with each other. The part of the borderline which desperately yearns for relationship and will overlook any flaws in the partner which would interfere, (Masterson’s “rewarding unit”) is irresistibly attracted to the well developed persona of the narcissist. It may be supposed that she is seeking to develop or introject some image of structure within herself. The narcissist, on the other hand, is delighted to experience the warmth and admiration of the borderline’s rewarding unit for his persona, and is attracted to the borderline’s inner chaos, which he will find both a liberating relief from his own rigidities and a challenge to his organizational and helping abilities.

All goes well for a short time, until the narcissist is tempted to regress and hope for acceptance of his less admirable personality parts, or until he begins to perceive and criticize the lack of perfection in his new partner (perhaps because it threatens the perfection of his grandiosity), either of which sets off the borderline’s withdrawing unit ‘and she starts to either attack or withdraw. This in turn provokes the narcissist’s rage over the withdrawal of the adoration to which he was hoping to become accustomed, and he retaliates with all the scorn and fury which was set aside in the initial romantic haze, or withdraws from contact. If he withdraws, the borderline feels abandoned and may attack with greater vigor or withdraw herself.

At about the same time (or perhaps prior to the above description), the borderline is discovering that what she had hoped for about her relationship with the narcissist is not being met. He is insufficiently attentive, or providing, etc. So she attempts to change him by complaining, which unfortunately just causes him to pull away. As she gets angry about this, she starts to attack, which provokes further withdrawal, and the pursuer/distancer cycle becomes more pronounced.

All in all, the stage is set for a great deal of conflict and pain, which can variously result in the breakup of the relationship, or coming into therapy, or deep depression, prolonged antagonism, or even physical violence. It is also possible, however, that borderlines and narcissists may learn a great deal from one another, which must be why they are so drawn to one another in the first place.

A rather similar structure of interactions takes place between schizoids and borderlines. Again, the borderline partner may be attracted to the apparent stability of the schizoid, who, is attracted (at least initially) to the emotional energy of the borderline. Over time, the borderline will be extremely frustrated by the withdrawal of the schizoid partner, as her terror of abandonment is triggered. The borderline’s own “withdrawing unit” activated into rageful attacks intended to create contact, but which drive the schizoid further away because they trigger his greatest fear, that of being attacked in a critical way. This kind of “pursuer/distancer” cycle is a frequent problem in couple relationships, but it is particularly troublesome with a schizoid/borderline relationship.


The usefulness of the NPCC model in working with couples will be developed more fully in the winter quarter seminar on Object Relations Family Therapy. For the present, I will comment that understanding how characterological features create patterns of interactions within couples and families permits a therapist to offer empathic interpretations of these patterns and how they must feel to each member of the couple or family. Additionally, by understanding what most deeply motivates each member, the therapist can have an idea about how to speak to each member most effectively.

When working with a narcissist/borderline couple, for example, I find myself speaking rather differently to the narcissist than I do to the borderline member. Knowing the narcissist’s sensitivity to criticism, I am very careful to mirror his strengths and frame my interventions in an interpretive, historical fashion intended to remove any implication of critical judgment. Knowing the borderline’s vulnerability to abandonment, I am careful to remain in energetic contact, but I also know that if I maintain that connection, I can get away with a somewhat more confrontive approach, and indeed, that this will be necessary and effective in changing her behavior in the couple. She is willing to put up with this confrontation because she can see my effectiveness in keeping her husband engaged in the therapeutic relationship, which is a very important support of her efforts to become closer to him herself, and also offers a model of how she can do this. More will be said about this in the Winter quarter.


It would be expected that characterological considerations would come into play in the process of spiritual training. First of all, one encounters quite a number of spiritual aspirants (and spiritual teachers) who demonstrate characterological issues, in some cases so dramatically as to justify the term “character disorders”.

Jack Engler, in Transformations of Consciousness, comments that frequently people with borderline features are drawn to Buddhism as a result of its descriptions of the essential emptiness of the personality, and misuse Buddhist practice to avoid developing an ego structure in the first place.

Narcissists try to find places in spiritual organizations where they can impress other people with their learning, spiritual magnetism, etc. I would venture to guess that anyone who offers himself as a spiritual teacher has a fairly prominent narcissistic structure. The skillful handling of would-be leaders is an important consideration in any spiritual organization.

Schizoids are often drawn to yoga teachings and other systems which emphasize the importance of nonattachment to the material world. I remember one family in which the husband utilized yoga doctrine to avoid involvement with his wife and children. (The wife had borderline features, as we would expect from this model.)

People who are in a position to offer guidance to spiritual seekers have to find a balance between utilizing the positive features of a characterological style, and encouraging the development of alternative and complementary styles. The variety of spiritual practices, from devotional singing to formless meditation, to the assignment of practical duties, appeal to and develop characterological structures in different ways. This could be the subject of more extensive treatment, but for now, I will offer a few, rather anecdotal, observations.

I have witnessed people with a borderline style be pushed kicking and screaming into positions of responsibility within spiritual organizations, in order that they discover their ability to organize themselves and events around them. I have seen narcissists (such as myself) restrained from public prominence in order to deepen their compassion and insight, as well as to prevent them from making the more damaging mistakes which are possible with greater power and responsibility. I have seen schizoids encouraged to undertake relationships and pragmatic duties in order to develop their relational abilities.

Again, however, it is important to note that effective spiritual teachers recognize and utilize the strengths which are found in each of the characterological structures, and help their students to do the same.


The Axiom of Maria Prophetessa states the following: “Out of the One comes the Two, out of the Two comes the Three, and out of the Three comes the One as the Fourth.” This medieval gem was found by C.G. Jung in his alchemical studies, and seems relevant to the characterological model presented in these pages. Out of Oneness comes duality, and out of duality comes dialectical movement, which proceeds towards wholeness and the conscious recognition of a Oneness that includes all diversity.

From the standpoint of chaos science and mystical experience, consciousness is one and indivisible. All of existence is one interwoven, seamless fabric without boundaries, without separation.

Somehow in the process of incarnation, an apparent fall into the perception of duality takes place. (Or perhaps, as the Buddhists postulate, incarnation occurs because a fall into duality has occurred in the Bardo.) We become entangled in concepts of self and other, of good and bad. Once generated, the concepts of self and other function as strange attractors, focal points for the elaboration of psychic structure. For the narcissist, the concept of self is an attraction point around which his or her consciousness orbits. Although there are interactions with “other” people, attention orbits back to the concept of self.

For the borderline the concept of the other is a strange attraction focal point. The borderline knows how to merge, to relate, to stay diffused, to avoid falling into the strange attractor of self-concept. Yet he or she is unable to avoid forming concepts (ultimately unrealistic) about the other.

Concepts of self or other always prove unrealistic because they are not in the end the truth. There is no separation of self and other. Trying to be a self or other is impossible. Therefore, as soon as the concept of a self is postulated, as soon as a persona arises, the compensatory shadow must arise in the same way that “evil” simultaneously arises with “good”.

As dualities occur along various different axes, the various split off structures begin to interact with each other in more complex ways. Dialectical processes, the realm of the “Third”, occur as interactions among the various structures take place. The anima is able to mediate between the persona and shadow. Schizoid withdrawal occurs as a resting place when the narcissistic or borderline structures encounter the inevitable failures and blows to their conceptual integrity. Consciousness recognizes the need to retreat into realms beyond or away from the concept of self and other. The negative, anti-libidinal qualities of the shadow become gradually modified in more positive relational experiences as karmic lessons are experienced.

Through whatever number of incarnations are necessary, the structures of consciousness interact and transform, until eventually a recognition of Oneness begins to emerge. The One comes from the Three as the Fourth, first in intuitive intimations, then in glimpses, and finally in full clarity. In the same way that the Greek god Hermes functioned as a messenger between the other gods, before emerging as the universal spirit Mercurius of the medieval alchemists, Oneness emerges in the empty space between the structured “complexes” of the psyche, between the structures of persona, shadow and anima or animus, between the narcissistic, borderline and schizoid structures. This Oneness is found to be the ground of Being, the ocean of which the waves are formed, and by which they are sustained and protected. Insofar as this Oneness was never born and never dies, it is the ever-safe refuge. When this Oneness is recognized as a person’s own being, there is no further problem.

May you swiftly come to know who you really are!


(2) Briggs, John, Fractals: Patterns of Chaos p.90.

(3) Peter Oppenheimer, quoted in Fractals.

(4) Turbulent Mirror p.15

(5) Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation.

(6) Gleick, James. Chaos: The Making of a New Science. 1987.

(7) Chaos, p. 138.

(8) Mandelbrot, Benoit. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. PS

(9) Peat, David. Turbulent Mirror. p.9l.

(10) Mandelbrot, Benoit. “Fractals — A Geometry of Nature”, Exploring Chaos. p. 125.

(11) Gleick, James. Chaos: The Making of a New Science p.108.

(12) Turbulent Mirror, p. 183.


(13) (I use the capitalized term “Psyche” in the Jungian sense, to refer to the most basic structures of consciousness and consciousness itself, with the sense as it is used by many Jungian writers that the Psyche is both personal and Transpersonal.)

(14) “If by those who practice or do not practice meditation the meditator of meditation be sought and not found, thereupon the goal of the meditation is reached and also the end of the meditation itself.” Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, p.224.

(15) quoted in Turbulent Mirror. p.202.

(16) quoted in Turbulent Mirror. p.15.

(17) Peat, F. David. Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind. p.73.

(18) Crutchfield, Farmer, Packard and Shaw, quoted in Turbulent Mirror, p.74.

(19) Turbulent Mirror, p.75.

(20) Fractals , p.25.

(21) quoted in . Chaos: The Making of a New Science. p.185.

(22) Fractals. p.139.

(23) Fractals: the Patterns of Chaos. p.143.

(24) Fractals, p.139-40.

(25) quoted in Humbert, E. (1988). C.G.Jung: The Fundamentals of Theory and Practice. Wilmette, Illinois. Chiron Publications.

(26) Peat, David. Synchronicity. p.106.

(27) Van Eenwyk, J.R. “Archetypes: The Strange Attractors of the Psyche.” Journal of Analytical Psychology 1991, 36, 1-25.

(28) Peat, Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind. p.74.


(29) Peat, Synchronicity. p. 174.

(30) Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe.p.59.

(31) Barks, Colman. -find the book and page.

(32) Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Harper Collins, 1992. p.37.

(33) T.M., p.64.

(34) Turbulent Mirror, p. 64.

(35) Benard Cells: “The critical bifurcation point is reached when the heat can’t disperse fast enough without the aid of large-scale convection currents. At this point the system shifts out of its chaotic state, and the previously disordered whorls transform into a lattice of hexagonal currents, the Benard cells. Turn up the heat further and the Benard cells dissolve into chaos.”

(36) “These fluctuations increase randomly, apparently following a route to total chaos until they reach a bifurcation point. There, at a critical juncture, one of the many fluctuations becomes amplified and spreads, influencing and dominating the system. A pattern of whirlpools forms. Order has sprung out of chaos. These whirlpools remain stable as long as the flow from the pipe is kept up. Even if the flow increases or decreases a little, the stability of the whirlpool pattern remains. Too much change in either direction, however, creates a new chaotic situation and new arrangements of order.” Turbulent Mirror. p.136.


(37) Fractals, p. 112.

(38) Stern, Daniel N. The Interpersonal World of the Infant. Basic Books, Inc., Publishers. New York, 1985.

(39) Fractals, p. 112.

(40) Chaos, p.123.

(41) Turbulent Mirror, p.137.

(42) Turbulent Mirror, p.77.

(43) Turbulent Mirror, p.145.

(44) Turbulent Mirror, p. 108.

(45) Waldorf’s Complexity, p. 295.

(46) Sogyal Rinpoche The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, p. 42

(47) Synchronicity, p. 110.

(48) Thomas P. Weissert, “Borge’s Garden of Chaos Dynamics”, in Chaos and Order: Comples Dynamics in Literature and Science.  University of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 241.

(49) Stern, Daniel N. The Interpersonal World of the Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology.  Basic Books, Inc. New York, 1985.

(50) Stern, p.74.

(51) Stern, p.194-5.

(52) Stern, p.195.

(53) Stern, p.196-7.

(54) Stern, p.197-8.

(55) Stern, p. 199.

(56) Turbulent Mirror, p. 31-2.

(57) Peter Oppenheimer, Fractals.

(58) Synchronicity, p.142.

(59) Turbulent Mirror, p.62.

(60) Renee Weber, etc. Holographic Universe p. 305

(61) Fractals, p. 108.

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