The Merger Self, the Seeker Self, and the Lifelong Challenge of Balancing Intimacy and Independence

The Merger Self, the Seeker Self, and the Lifelong Challenge of Balancing Intimacy and Independence

Every time I see a sparrow inside an airport, I’m seized with tenderness for the hen, for residing so acutely and concretely a paradox that haunts our human lives in myriad guises — the issue of discerning consolation from entrapment, freedom from peril. It’s a paradox rooted within the early improvement of the psyche and most poignantly manifested in our intimate relationships as we confront time and again the boundary between the place we finish and the opposite begins, the problem of balancing intimacy and independence.

Pulsating beneath the paradox are two opposing forces — one tugging us towards the consolation of the identified, the security of the terminal, the opposite beckoning us to fly into the open sky of the unknown, with all its sunlit freedoms and its storming risks. In her 1976 e-book Passages: Predictable Crises of Grownup Life (public library), Gail Sheehy (November 27, 1936–August 24, 2020) explores these “two units of forces all the time at loggerheads inside us over the questions of how far and how briskly we will develop,” terming them the Merger Self and the Seeker Self.

Accessible as a print, benefitting The Nature Conservancy

She writes:

Our Merger Self… is the common want to be connected to a different, to revive by some means the beatific closeness with mom, for in that fusion would lie good concord, absolute security, and limitless time. The Merger Self is born of the frustration with our early discovery that we’re certainly separate and distinct from our caregiver. It triggers a need to completely incorporate the opposite, any “different” who turns into the supply of affection and pleasure… The Merger Self then, in its fixed effort to revive closeness, needs all the time a protected, tight match.

The Seeker Self is pushed by the alternative want: to be separate, unbiased, to discover our capacities and develop into grasp of our personal future. This impulse is fueled in early childhood by our enjoyment of awakening capabilities.

However for all its problematic clinginess, the Merger Self can also be essential for the “momentary fusions” upon which empathy is based — the flexibility “to succeed in out and empathize with others, to really feel as they could really feel with out letting our personal actuality intrude” — and upon which all love rests; for all its seeming power and self-reliance, the Seeker Self can thrust us into selfishness and solipsism. Solely by balancing the 2 can we obtain what Carl Jung referred to as individuation, Abraham Maslow referred to as self-actualization, and Sheehy calls merely authenticity — “the arrival at that felicitous state of interior growth during which we all know of all our potentialities and possess the ego power to direct their full attain.” She considers the mandatory calibration on the coronary heart of the stability:

If the Merger Self is indulged too early, it may well lead us right into a no-risk, no-growth place. However as soon as we’re past the suspicion, or the worry, of letting our distinctiveness be misplaced in attachments to others, it’s our merger facet that allows us to like intimately, share unselfishly, specific tenderness, and expertise empathy.

If the Seeker Self is left unbridled, it would lead us to a self-centered existence during which real commitments can don’t have any place, and during which efforts to realize particular person distinction are so strenuous that they go away us emotionally impoverished.

It’s only by getting the 2 sides to work in live performance that ultimately one turns into able to each individuality and mutuality.

Artwork from An ABZ of Love

Within the the rest of Passages (which I found via a sidewise point out in The Center Passage), Sheehy goes on to discover how the stability of those two elements of the psyche impacts every little thing from romantic relationships to skilled actualization throughout the assorted phases of life as we dismantle our projections and complexes, relinquish our compulsions and conditioning, and get better our authenticity. Observing that “the key activity of midlife is to surrender all our imagined security suppliers and stand bare on this planet, because the rehearsal for assuming full authority over ourselves,” she considers the last word payoff of this painful, redemptive course of:

One of many nice rewards of transferring via the disassembling interval to renewal is coming to approve of oneself ethically and morally and fairly unbiased of different individuals’s requirements and agenda. By giving up the want that one’s mother and father had been completely different and by navigating via numerous existence to that time of dignity value defending, one can obtain… arrival at that closing stage of grownup improvement, during which one may give a blessing to at least one’s personal life.

Complement with Kahlil Gibran on the problem of balancing intimacy and independence, the important thing to which Schopenhauer so poignantly captured in his parable of the porcupine dilemma, then revisit Rilke on the tough artwork of giving house in love.

donating = loving

For seventeen years, I’ve been spending a whole lot of hours and hundreds of {dollars} every month composing The Marginalian (which bore the outgrown identify Mind Pickings for its first fifteen years). It has remained free and ad-free and alive due to patronage from readers. I’ve no employees, no interns, no assistant — a totally one-woman labor of affection that can also be my life and my livelihood. If this labor makes your individual life extra livable in any method, please take into account lending a serving to hand with a donation. Your assist makes all of the distinction.


The Marginalian has a free weekly publication. It comes out on Sundays and affords the week’s most inspiring studying. Right here’s what to anticipate. Like? Join.

Related Posts