Depth Psychology Blog

EcoApathy and Ecospychopathy: Opposite ends of a Dangerous Spectrum

08 Jul 2013 7:14 PM | Bonnie Bright (Administrator)
household garbage and urban dumpster
Where does YOUR garbage go when you throw it "away"?

Many societies have collapsed en masse over the course of human history due to over-consumption and extreme detrimental impact on the environment and ecosystems that supported them. However, the combination of our persistent unconscious and unchecked rates of consumption stemming from a rapidly growing population, our seeming lack of capacity to feel and respond to the need for balance in relationship to the planet, and our rampant exploitation of nature is alarming. It appears that never before have we had such a lethal combination in concert with such pervasive emotional, psychological, and spiritual disconnect.

The fundamental issues behind our current disorder show up on a spectrum ranging from eco-apathy on one end, and ecopsychopathy on the other. Eco-apathy represents our capacity for denial and our ability to suppress emotional reflection and response to our troubling situation. Sigmund Freud, a primary contributor in establishing the field of depth psychology, based much of his theory on the idea of a personal unconscious in which memories and emotions can be repressed beneath the surface of our conscious thought, but still potent in their effect (Elliott, 2002).

Often, in order for us to survive or bear the devastating consequences of events or circumstances that surpass our imagination or ability to comprehend, our psyche serves us by burying them beyond our awareness, diffusing their conscious energy and rendering us emotionless or even apathetic. Understandably, when it comes to the mass destruction of our environment, we are collectively unable to surrender to the horror we might feel if we truly allowed ourselves to comprehend what we’re doing as a culture to the planet. In this state of eco-apathy, many of us simply live our lives, unable to question or act on the conundrum we face, incapable of making the necessary changesundefinedor even of conceiving of them in the first placeundefinedthat will allow us to enter in a reciprocal relationship with earth and to find equity again.

pollution-cars-exhaust-12111725pdWorse, eco-apathy is a dangerous phase that links directly to ecopsychopathy, a condition on the other end of the spectrum, which represents our ability to do violence to nature. When we turn to apathy, the feelings repressed below the surface of consciousness are still very much alive and ultimately will require an outlet to find resolution. Jung (1951/1976) suggested that “when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate” (para. 126). Unexamined issues or emotions we refuse to acknowledge can have tremendous impact on our lives whether we know it or not.

Could it be that our mass consumption of fossil fuels which leads to toxic exhaust could be making us "exhausted" in our every day lives? Is the pollution we wreak in the outer world polluting our psychological life as well? Is our ongoing tendency to "drive" everywhere we go "driving" us to distraction, dis-ease, or situations that are less than healthy? 

Now might be a good time for each of us to really reflect on how we feel about the planet we live on and how we are in relationship to it.

References

Elliott, A. (2002). Psychoanalytic theory: An introduction (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Jung, C. G. (1951/1976). Christ, a symbol of the self. In R. F. C. Hull, M. Fordham & G. Adler (Eds.), Aion: The collected works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Vol. 2). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, Bollingen.


Bonnie Bright is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, the world's first comprehensive online community for depth psychology, and hosts a podcast, Depth Insights, as well as editing the semi-annual scholarly e-zine of the same name. She recently founded www.DepthPsychologyList.com, a free online database to find or list depth psychology oriented therapists and practitioners. She holds Masters degrees in Psychology and Depth Psychology, and is a Ph.D. candidate at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. Follow her on Twitter @bonniebright5 or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BonnieBright.DepthPsych

Comments

  • 10 Jul 2013 4:28 AM | Stephen Flynn
    What if ....our demise is reflected not only in excess garbage but also in excess per se? All of which results in an eventual equilibrium. As Eco could be seen as a neurotic resonate to excess by the middle class. what if.....as with an individual...society and financial institutions have a built in demise...so a collective neurosis or even psychosis results..we call one extreme expression of which we call 'war'. And finally but not comprehensively, what if....there is an Earth 'Ego' whereby there is an infinite balance expressed in what we humans call natural disaster?
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  • 11 Jul 2013 10:08 PM | Linda Ravenswood
    A lot of my work reflects and engages these queries, Bonnie ... here is a link to some "heaps" that were cycled into a dialogue with the city / roadside ..... http://www.theravenswoodjones.com/linda_ravenswood/linda_ravenswood_soundscapes.html
    Link  •  Reply
  • 20 Aug 2013 4:53 PM | David Collier
    First thanks Bonnie for setting up this website, whose vision i agree with: 'Know thyself' is indeed the essence.
    Yes the world does reflect us, and environmental pollution is the worst symptom, reflecting a poisonous self-hatred and general irresponsibility.
    Others have written on this general problem, which it seems to me boils down to a simple lack of self (i.e. spiritual) awareness. Not a lack of intelligence or ability, but a deeply flawed ethos based on said unawareness, in addition to which many were disempowered in childhood -including by the Religions or Churches who clearly want temporal power for themselves. Especially one of them in the West.
    It is dangerous and wasteful of energy to oppose such an institutional wish; much better to simply work for a positive alternative.
    But it is not our responsibility to wake others up, only theirs. Teaching is properly or only done by such an example.
    Lasting societal advancement comes from individual growth, and work done in conscious cooperation with those in Spirit, without which we can unknowingly put a spanner in the works. We do not have the overview apparent from a higher level of reality, or the necessary wisdom to 'change the world' unilaterally.
    In this context humility is a requisite, which it can take most of a lifetime to learn!
    Self-Realisation in the Hindu sense is a first stage to work towards, open to all. That knowledge changes the personal ethos immediately, with a subtle flow-on effect.
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