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Rollo May Part 2

Rollo May Part 2

The strength of Dasein within a person is construed as a barometer of healthy development. In line with May’s thinking, a highly significant aspect of psychological health is the individual’s ability to imagine a desirable future state and orientate himself in such a direction through intentionality – both conscious (when it tends to be termed will) and unconscious – so as to live purposefully in all
three domains cited above. May values intentionality as bridging the objective and subjective: [Intentionality] is the structure of meaning which makes it possible for us, subjects that we are, to see and understand the outside world, objective as it is. In intentionality, the dichotomy between subject and object is practically overcome. (May, 1969: 225)

Love is seen as a particularly constructive way of celebrating Dasein; and its congruent experiencing and communication represents a desired goal of human development. May describes love as “a delight in the presence of the other person, and an affirming of his value and development as much as one’s own” (1953: 241). It integrates elements of sex (physical release), Eros (yearning), philia
(friendship) and agapé (non-possessive devotion). Love similarly encompasses Unwelt, Mitwelt and Eigenwelt, but may easily be denied, repressed or trivialised within contemporary society. Psychological disturbance is proposed by May to represent constricted Dasein and to reflect a loss of intentionality and associated sense of personal significance.

Everyone has a need for . . . significance; and if we can’t make that possible, or even probable, in our society, then it will be obtained in destructive ways. The challenge before us is to find ways that people can achieve significance and recognition . . . For no human being can stand the perpetually numbing experience of his own powerlessness. (May, 1972: 179) It might also be described as unbalanced commitment to – or, conversely, neglect of – one of the three modes of being-in-the-world. Development can be particularly impeded by various pathogenic, if sometimes well-intentioned,
parental behaviours. Rejection can easily lead to the child’s social discomfort, shying away from others and, generally, a denial of Mitwelt. Stifling the natural expressions of the child may well generate a neurotic quest for safety, Dasein becoming a casualty of social obedience. Pampering, similarly, discourages the child from establishing her individuality and may hasten a sense of alienation in Eigenwelt.

Anxiety (or, more correctly, the stronger German word Angst) is conceptualised as a threat to Dasein. With death the one absolute fact of existence, awareness of such “nonbeing” – which, again, feasibly only human beings are truly capable of envisaging – can generate considerable anxiety. May himself became convinced of this following a brush with death due to suffering tuberculosis during his late thirties, encouraging him to modify his previously psychoanalytic views. Contemplation of death can, however, present an excellent opportunity to assert Dasein:

. . . with the confrontation of nonbeing, existence takes on vitality and immediacy, and the individual experiences a heightened consciousness of himself, his world, and others around him. . . . the confronting of death gives the most positive reality to life itself. (May, Angel & Ellenberger, 1958: 49)

May also distinguishes normal anxiety from neurotic anxiety, the former being proportional to the threat and fully conscious. Confrontation of normal anxiety is part of healthy human psychological development. Neurotic anxiety is disproportional and involves repression and conflict. It can result in the person failing to exert Dasein in new situations and the blockage of personal growth. May advocates that guilt equates to not dealing with – especially retreating from - the three modes of being-in-the-world: sins of omission or commission arising from the impossibility of permanently valuing our connection with nature (a denial of Umwelt), of relating perfectly to and completely understanding others (a denial of Mitwelt) and of realising all innate potentials (a denial of Eigenwelt). The best way to manage guilt, according to May, is to develop a healthy humility about one’s own and others’ fallibility (akin to the emphasis in Rational-Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and several other orientations, upon unconditional self- and otheracceptance). This precludes symptom formation and facilitates adaptive human psychological development.

Regarding innate aspects of the person, May invoked the ancient Greek term for both good and evil, for both the divine and the diabolic – the daimonic. Like Freud, May believed that we all have inbuilt constructive and destructive tendencies. Constructive drives centre around creativity and self-affirmation; destructive drives around hostility, domination and death. Similar to Jungian complexes (see Section 1.6), either tendency can overwhelm a person. As endorsed by additional parallels to the Jungian advice to “tame” the shadow, psychological health can only be attained by the acceptance and integration into consciousness of the daimonic. In existentialist terms, the objective meaningless of the universe condemns the person to be free. This is not to say that there are no constraints, as many do exist through heredity, culture, human-driven circumstances and “acts of God”. Such deterministic factors, often operating dialectically with freedom, May labels destiny. Were there no limitations on our existence, he argues, no sense of freedom would or could evolve.

Freedom and determinism give birth to each other. Every advance in freedom gives birth to a new determinism, and every advance in determinism gives birth to a new freedom. Freedom is a circle within a larger circle of determinism, which is, in turn, surrounded by a larger circle of freedom. And so on ad infinitum. (May, 1981: 84) May goes on to highlight several directions in which a person’s psychological development can evolve in relationship to her destiny: co-operate with destiny, acknowledge it, engage it (through establishing and attempting to overcome its limits), confront and challenge it (by cultivating positive aspects of the daimonic and harnessing the destructive aspects) or rebel against it (by refusing to collaborate with or accept it).

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