Tag Archive for Ecopsychology

Outside vs. Inside: A Depth Psychological Perspective on the Planetary Crisis and the Psyche/Nature Split


If the “outside,” as we in modern western cultures generally consider the physical world, is manifesting rather worrisome phenomena in the form of conflict, destruction of nature and home places, and racial and income inequality, we can draw a connection from what is occurring in the physical world to what must be occurring on an inner level, and therefore witness symptoms in the psychological realm as well.

The physical symptoms that are manifesting lie within a larger set of underlying issues, which, in turn, are psychological symptoms of an even larger and more fundamental issue: the sense of separation and loss due to our dearth of what C. G. Jung considered the “feeling function” in the world. This feeling function is often overlooked in lieu of our general propensity to adopt the “thinking function” and to disregard the value (and intelligence) of things in the nature.

Psyche and nature are intrinsic to one another, occupying adjacent positions on the same spectrum of being. In light of this, ecocide—the destruction of home and home places in the physical world—may be seen as a pollution, contamination, or killing of psyche in what we have traditionally considered the inner world. Our brazen destruction of nature is so symbolic of the destruction of the connection with the collective unconscious or what Jung called the Self.

Our wholeness is no longer intact; our psyches are under attack and are, in turn, unable to “house us” properly because of the damage. Deforestation, wildfires, floods, and the like may be witnessed not only in the outer world, but may also be applied to the inner world of psyche. The Cartesian split between nature and psyche can result in a rampant deforestation of the psyche, leaving the ecosystem of the self out of balance, or leave us vulnerable to inundation by the unconscious that can swamp our psychic boundaries, leading to neurosis or even psychosis.

The climate of current culture is changing, and so is our inherent capacity for healing, learning, and individuation, a psychological and spiritual journey of self-realization. At the end of the road, if something does not shift, we will see death of a certain sort—very likely extinction of life as we know it, a transformation to a new way of being in the world: a new culture that arises that is not longer consumer-based, but one based rather on community, reflection, and connection.

Ashok Gangadean (2006), director and founder of the Global Dialogue Institute and professor of philosophy at Haverford College, also stresses that our ego-based cultures are no longer sustainable and are now at a tipping point vis-à-vis a planetary crisis. However, the real crisis, he maintains, is a crisis of consciousness—and we are undergoing a painful transition to increased wisdom and awareness.

The psychological fallout of such dire news is apt to be significant, and some psychologists worry that we, as a culture, are not equipped to deal with it. A report from the National Wildlife Federation (Coyle & Susteren, 2012) suggests that destruction to our planet in the form of the ever-increasing threats posed by climate change “will foster public trauma, depression, violence, alienation, substance abuse, suicide, psychotic episodes, post-traumatic stress disorders and many other mental health-related conditions,” (p. i) and indicates mental and social disorders including depressive and anxiety disorders, PTSD, substance abuse, and suicides will increase dramatically, as will incidences of violence.

Jung (1928/1977) corroborated the connection between the crisis emerging in the so-called “outer” world and the critical correlation with the psyche:

Just as outwardly we live in a world where a whole continent may be submerged at any moment . . . so inwardly we live in a world where at any moment something similar may occur, albeit in the form of an idea, but no less dangerous and untrustworthy for that. Failure to adapt to this inner world is a negligence entailing just as serious consequences as ignorance and ineptitude in the outer world. (p. 204)

Clearly it is vital to reflect on the psychological and spiritual issues underlying our individual and collective pathology when it comes to ecological destruction and environmental distress. Not only is our perception of profound division from the earth and nature a significant issue, but a lack of a generative myth for our time, of connection and communication with ancestors and spirits of place, and the opposing pervasiveness of the “hero archetype”—particularly in the United States, driving us to seek success as individuals at all costs—all contribute to a modern mindset that is often working invisibly beneath the surface of our conscious minds.

It is the work of depth psychology to seek to perceive the underlying issues, endeavoring to discover what is beneath the surface or on the outer margins of a given topic, inquiring more deeply, reading between the lines to begin to understand what is occurring at the root of things. The planetary crisis of potential collapse we now face as human beings can be perceived by first observing and taking time to reflect on the pattern of external physical symptoms, which are inevitably derived from underlying psychological and spiritual issues we generally maintain both as individuals and as a culture.

Then, it is imperative to shift our gaze to another, deeper layer, one that exists beneath the surface level of the manifest physical symptoms of a world in crisis and begin to derive the psychological issues that are at work. How can we shift a gaze we are not quite aware of in daily life? If you feel the call to make a change in your own life—or make a difference—seek out the aid of the practitioners listed here on DepthPsychologyList.com. They can help you understand what the greater Self is trying to communicate to reprogram ways of being.



Coyle, K. J., & Susteren, L. V. (2012). The psychological effects of global warming on the United States. http://www.nwf.org/pdf/Reports/Psych_Effects_Climate_Change_Full_3_23.pdf

Gangadean, A. (2006). A planetary crisis of consciousness: The end of ego-based cultures and our dimensional shift toward a sustainable global civilization. World Futures: The Journal Of General Evolution, 62(6), 441-454. doi: 10.1080/02604020600798627

Jung, C. G. (1977). The relations between the ego and the unconscious. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 7, pp. 121-241). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1928)

EcoApathy and Ecospychopathy: Opposite ends of a Dangerous Spectrum

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 changes—or even of conceiving of them in the first place—that 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.


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.

Reconnecting with the Sacred: Finding “Home”

Isolated man on island

“The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life.”
-(-C.G. Jung, 1961, pp. 356-7).

Watching what’s going on on our planet each day, I am continually struck by the suffering and grief that seems to be inherent in the human condition. It occurs to me that part of the problem is that western culture places so much value on individualism, independence, and getting ahead, venerating community and interdependence less. As a result, many of us generally live lives of separation, disconnected in various ways from a larger kinship of our fellow human beings, unable to perceive how intrinsic each of us and every single aspect of earth and nature is to each other. It often seems to take a tragedy to bring us together in community, force us to meet our neighbors, or realize a felt sense of being part of something larger than our individual selves living our everyday lives.

Due to our overwhelming self-centeredness (a term I use not to mean arrogance so much as the unconscious evolutionary tendency to create our lives to revolve around what’s important to “me”: my life, my schedule, my work, my preferences, my family, etc.), it seems  our cultural evolution has led us to abandon both the general human community as well as the earth itself. Little do we realize this leaves us vulnerable on many fronts.

Without a larger circle of support from interconnection, or the sense of being held within a greater fabric of being, stressors stemming from challenges we’ve created for ourselves through various aspects of culture and development (along with their correlating psychological issues) affect us more deeply. Climate change, ecological destruction, natural disasters, and pathological culture-related events including outbreaks of violence all feed into our anxiety and fear, triggering sometimes unhealthy coping mechanisms. In addition, without community, we lose the capacity for having our own actions reflected back to us, causing those actions to appear to occur in a vacuum without apparent consequence.

Navigating the Coming Chaos - Carolyn BakerThe unconscious ways we each contribute to our collective discomfort and dis-ease in a world where we have isolated and alienated ourselves only serve to amplify and perpetuate a drastic systemic imbalance for both nature and culture. This imbalance continues to feed on itself, manifesting in a critical rise in adverse conditions for earth and all its inhabitants. Carolyn Baker offers some excellent and compelling insights into the powerful need for community as we face life’s increasing challenges in her book, Navigating the Coming Chaos. (Special thanks to ecopsychologist Linda Buzzell, co-editor with Craig Chalquist of the 2010 anthology, Ecotherapy, for bringing Baker’s work to my attention.)

Put more succinctly, while the notion of Culture Collapse Disorder appears to be an issue of the collective, each of us plays a critical individual role in the overall situation. In a complex system, if one element fails, the system then has the strong potential of being endangered as a whole. Many indigenous and earth-based cultures throughout time have understood the concept of interconnectivity. One individual who failed in his responsibilities, committed a wrong, or offended the gods or spirits of nature could bring wrath or misfortune down on the heads of the entire community (Mircea Eliade, 1957). Now this rogue-style individualism is more the norm instead of the exception.

Much as when an individual bee fails to return to the hive to deliver much needed sustenance or service to the whole (as in the case of Colony Collapse Disorder), in today’s society we humans are failing to come “home” to the greater whole. We live in an increasingly fragmented way, often acting as if decisions we make in our daily lives have no consequence or impact on others or our environment. We tend to perceive ourselves as individual entities with dominion over our own little piece of the world, separate from each other, from nature, from a web of life that is more encompassing than our individual egoic selves. C. G. Jung referred to this larger whole the Self. Various spiritual traditions have referred to it as the “sacred,” the “holy,” or the “divine,” words that perhaps resonate best in describing qualities of nature in its magnitude.

Since words and ideas such as “sacred” and “holy” frequently carry highly personal interpretations and may not resonate with everyone, in this case, it may be easier to consider that which I’m referring to—that is, the encompassing essence about in which all things are interconnected—as the “hive” itself: that greater container in which individuals interrelate within a system that is far greater than the sum of its parts. As individuals failing to return “home” to this larger field of connectivity, we are impacting the entire whole.

honeybee working on a cell

The contemporary science of complexity theory sheds some light on our dilemma. Beehives, like ant hills, flocks of birds, brains, termite nests, immune systems, and social and economic systems among others, are complex systems in which “nothing is fixed, but all the agents are reacting to each others’ actions in a constantly changing landscape” (Helene Shulman, 1997, p. 110). In Colony Collapse Disorder, for each individual worker bee that fails to return home with vital stores of nectar and pollen to feed the hive, another must be sacrificed from her appointed role to go and take the place of the missing bee. As each hour passes, fewer bees are dedicated to tending the queen, feeding the unhatched brood, making honey, or guarding the hive as more are charged with the vital task of collecting the provisions that are critically needed. Eventually, there are not enough bees to sustain the dynamics of the community and it collapses.

But where does that leave us as humans who have somehow managed to isolate ourselves from the earth community over millennia of rational thinking and industrial and technological development? How do we learn to forego our fragmentation, and navigate “home” to that larger whole? The concept, while perhaps not totally foreign to many reading this post, is likely not top of mind in the “to do” list of daily life. Unless you have a daily yogaspiritual discipline like yoga, meditation, or depth psychology oriented practices like dreamwork, active imagination, art or art therapy, shamanic journeying, or somatic work, you may be one of so many of us who is missing the chance to come “home” to both contribute to the greater whole as well as to be continually welcomed and renewed to a new sense of being. Engaging in some kind of ritual practice that helps you listen, observe, or otherwise tap into the often invisible force underlying all our lives is one powerful way to reconnect. If that seems out of reach, sometimes just slowing down, unplugging, and making space in your life for reverie, stillness, or spending time in nature can open the door to the web of interconnectivity that we so often fail to notice.

Committing ourselves to come “home” in this way can enable greater reflection on our thoughts, our actions, and our conditioning, revealing ways we each buy into contemporary culture as it is and empowering us to start challenging some of our ingrained habits and beliefs that may not be right for the whole (or the individual), but which have gone unquestioned before. At worst, we may find we can improve our quality of life through more authentic and meaningful connections and activities. Better, we may actually start to notice the voices of the earth and our fellow inhabitants (human and otherwise), and even find ourselves in a more intimate relationship where we recognize the value of the “other,” care about each others’ well-being, and are motivated to change our previously unconscious habits and break out of our isolation.

Bees communicate in various ways: the “waggle dance” shares the location of a good find of nectar or pollen, and when bees swarm, scouts offer details of potential new locations for the hive. Inside the hive, bees share the daily activity, each fulfilling critical roles to keep the hive running smoothly. Without this constant interaction, the hive would not exist. We also cannot survive in isolation. Our capacity for interaction with the community of earth and the ensouled world is ages-old, and we cannot sustain our alienation much longer. The effects of our lack of connection to “home” are already dire. Our culture, created perhaps as a bubble that moved us further away from authentic relationship with the “sacred,” may yet burst, landing us once again more squarely in the multitude of voices arising from earth, enticing us to join them in the Eros of existence. Stop, listen, and hear the echoes of the earth community and the very ground of being reaching out to you.


Navigating the Coming Chaos: A Handbook for Inner Transition, 2011, by Carolyn Baker
The Sacred and the Profane; The Nature of Religion, 1959, Mircea Eliade
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, C.G. Jung, 1961
Living at the edge of Chaos: Complex Systems in Culture and Psyche, 1997, Helene Shulman

What is Culture Collapse Disorder? Ecopsychopathy and the End of Culture as We Know It

Ecocide: Industrial waste

Industrial waste

Earth’s inhabitants are in peril largely of our own making. We are, consciously or unconsciously, systematically destroying our home places, habitats, ecosystems, and above all, the only home we collectively know: earth. Reports are emerging daily about the implications of human impact on our environment, presenting dire warnings about pollution, urban development, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, natural disasters, and displacement. The tally of global losses grows daily as we perpetrate ecological destruction through our relentless consumption of the earth’s dwindling resources; through rampant use of toxins, chemicals, and pesticides; and through deforestation, erosion, and devastation of natural ecosystems, wetlands, rivers, and oceans.

The unchecked demands of a burgeoning human population on the planet are initiating conditions that are simply not sustainable. Combined with what might be called our cultural “modern mindset,” an ongoing belief (perhaps primarily at an unconscious level) by a large part of the earth’s population that resources are unlimited, that the way we live is the only way, and that everything will work out somehow, we are, as humans, at a precarious tipping point.

Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung (1957/1970) foresaw severe consequences propelling our civilization toward collapse even from his vantage point of the mid-twentieth century, saying:

Plastic trash collects on a beautiful lakeshore

Plastic trash collects on a beautiful lakeshore

[This] nihilistic trend towards disintegration must be understood as the symptom and symbol of a mood of universal destruction and renewal that has set its mark on our age . . . . This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science. (p. 304)

More than thirty years ago, ecopsychologist, Buddhist, and activist Joanna Macy (1979) also noted that for the first time in recorded history we are deluged with data that suggest our own culture, species, and planet may not survive, and that we are all deeply affected by that knowledge.

bees building honeycomb

Bees building honeycomb

If we turn to nature for insight, the way our ancestors have done for millennia, it’s hard to miss the growing number of extinctions of so many species; one of the most notably, perhaps, the mass die-off of honeybees that are abandoning their hives to certain death, a phenomenon termed “Colony Collapse Disorder” (Cox-Foster & van Engelsdorp, 2009; Stipp, 2007). A unique and perplexing feature of Colony Collapse Disorder finds that virtually all of the bees simply vanish almost overnight, leaving behind only the queen, a handful of her attendants, and the unhatched brood. The tens of thousands of worker bees that keep their given hive alive by gathering nectar and pollen to make honey to feed the community appear to be unable or unwilling to return the hive. Their connection to their home place, the hub of their existence, has seemingly been severed, preventing their ancient instinctual ritual of serving out their individual but critical role in the whole. When individual bees don’t reconnect with the hive after a foray into the wild, the system fails. In this way, both the population and the physical hive that serves as home to the bees collapse in quick succession.

Book: A Spring without Bees by Michael Schacker

Book: A Spring without Bees by Michael Schacker

Some scientists suggest that honeybees may be acting as the proverbial canary in a coal mine, foreshadowing the imminent demise of the human race as we plummet toward a colony collapse of our own. The loss of connectivity to the hive, the home place, results in the loss of the community itself. In A Spring Without Bees, Michael Schacker (2008) muses on the mythical as well as biological implications of Colony Collapse Disorder, referring to it as a potential Civilization Collapse Disorder. I have simultaneously considered it as Culture Collapse Disorder, an eco-psycho-pathological disorder in which humans, too, because of our heavy focus on, inundation by, and even possession by our current culture and some of its corresponding negative values, have lost our vital connection to home: physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and archetypally.

In coming weeks, I will write more about Culture Collapse Disorder in relation to Colony Collapse Disorder, the meaning of home and our relationship to it, and I will delve into some of the major symptoms we are seeing as a result of the imbalance in our relationship to earth and corresponding earth community. Ecocide, climate change, and forced displacement are just a few of the devastating events that are already changing life as we know it. Ultimately, if we are unable to delve into and address some of the underlying issues of our ecopsycopathy, we may indeed face the collapse of our culture. Actually, collapse of our collective consumer mindset and its ensuing destructive practices may be the only thing that saves us in the end, allowing a restoration of a more balanced and healthy relationship with the greater hive that sustains and supports us all.


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