The Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon
The Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon is named after Robert Louis Stevenson's archetypal tale of a man who is taken over by his dark side, and become in that way an entrenched metaphor of the shadow.
I use this term here in a much more restricted sense, to refer to a phenomenon I have observed across the board. I have seen it not just among certain Sai Baba and to a lesser extent Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet devotees, but also in the case of a Marxist I corresponded with. The similarities between the religious cultist and the supposedly secular Marxist made me realise that this is a common pattern of behavior; rather than being unique to guruist cultists, it seems to be entrenched in human nature. It applies in the case of spurned lovers, friends who fall out and become enemies, and so on. It is, as I said, universal.
But the Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon is particularly obvious in cultic, religious, and polemical groups, probably because of the huge degree of ego-idealisation and shadow projection that these groups engage in.
How it works is this. If you seen to be sympathetic to, agreeing with, or even simply interested in a detached sort of way, then the person with a cause will be very happy because here is someone else, a fellow traveller, a comrade in arms, someone who understands what they are saying, and what is so extremely important to them, and will therefore project their ego/anima/animus-ideal on you, and see you in a very positive way, be very friendly to you, and so on. This phenomenon works regardless of gender, although when gender is involved pother things come into it too.
So everything goes hunky dory. But if you ever start seriously questioning their ideology, religion, or belief, and again this is the same regarding whether they are secular ideologues, religionists, or full on cultists, there is a very dramatic change, and a huge amount of hostility, shadow projection and even paranoia comes into play. It is fascinating to observe this similar pattern of behaviour in these different areas. This seems to indicate that perhaps these different phenomena of human identification are not so distinct after all. Cults and cultic worship of abusive gurus merge into philosophies like Integral theory and Marxism, so that there is the same pattern of defensiveness and emotionalism once criticisms are raised. It is as if all these people cannot stand to be criticised; their egos are so insecure and so bound up in their belief-system, so that an attack on their belief-system becomes an attack on them. It is this sudden dramatic "flip", how they go from being friend to enemy almost instantaneously, because you dare to look critically at what they believe in, that constitutes The Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon.
He then are some common themes:
- There is always some absolutist cause, some ideal, some guru or ideology or crusade with which the person identifies, or a narcissistic ego if it is only all about them or their revelation or their claims. So they are convinced what they have is the absolute truth
- The person will generally approach you (fishing for converts to their cause)
- If you are initially positive or receptive they will be quite friendly, or even very friendly
- If you then engage in rational discussion with them, question what they are saying (but not too strongly!), they will be most enthusiastic to debate with you. They may even write pages and pages, happy to answer your questions; not as an equal to equal mind you, but as an instructor with superior knowledge enlightening you. They are in the role of teacher, and you are the student. This greatly feeds both their ego (by making them think they are important: look, they are the one spreading the word of their great teacher!) and their affective/emotional nature (what Sri Aurobindo calls the "vital") by getting them all excited and happy through doing this.
- But, if you start questioning instead in a more serious manner, a threshold is quickly reached (the tolerance will most likely vary according to the psychological state and degree of affective intensity and defensiveness of the JekyllandHyder). Astonishingly, after formerly being so nice, they will get suddenly quite aggressive and straight away launch into a very dysfunctional shadow projection mode, accusing you of everything that they really are. This is the radical transformation that lends the phenomenon its name. Watching this in action can be quite unsettling. It is as if they are looking at a mirror reflection of all their negative nature, and everything they see they associate with you (or with whoever their critic is)
- If you at this point or perhaps at any time afterwards try to engage in rational discussion and argument, they are incapable of seeing your point of view. And you realise that in fact they cannot see any point of view apart from their own, and never could. This shows they have a great deal of narcissism, which may be unconscious, but still very powerful for all that.
- They however still claim to be or present themselves as scholars or researchers or investigators of the truth, and claim that what they are saying is objective truth, scientific, legal, spiritual whatever. But always there is something lacking in their reasoning, the ability to think in a truly rational and critical manner
- Likewise, and because of their excessive narcissism, they are incapable of looking at themselves honestly
- As soon as they shadow project, there is no love, no heart consciousness, to be seen, none at all. None. Only antagonism and hostility, even (in the worst cases) hatred. Yet in spite of this they still consider themselves the most loving people, and claim that all this antagonism comes from you alone. (This is in keeping with the power of the projection of the shadow)
In short, these people are incapable of rational discussion. It is this reason that makes them flip in the first place. Quite likely they are sitting on an insecurity, which they cannot admit, even to themselves. Especially not to themselves. So at the slightest excuse they will project everything negative in them, all their ugl8ibness, onto whoever dares criticise the total validity of what they are saying.
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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 1 October 2006, last modified 10 December 2007