I’ve been cheated / been mistreated / when will I be loved?
I’ve been put down / I’ve been pushed ‘round / when will I be loved?
When I find a new man / that I want for mine
He always breaks my heart in two / it happens every time
I’ve been made blue / I’ve been lied to / when will I be loved?
Linda Ronstadt’s 1975 hit, “When Will I Be Loved?” aptly illustrates separation, the third of the operations of transformation in alchemy, and a necessary aspect of psychological transformation. Someone dies. Someone leaves. Something is lost. You are bitterly disappointed in an outcome. You experience the brokenness of the separation that “breaks [the] heart in two.” Suffering reduces you to the smallest particle possible—to the essence of you.
Reduced to the Utmost
The separation process reduces one to his or her utmost, most essential aspect, much as matter can be reduced to the atomic level. It was quite appropriately philosophers, not scientists or physicians, who first proposed atomic theory. In the second century BCE, Hindu philosophers Vaisheshika and Kanada postulated that all objects in the physical universe were reducible to a finite number of atoms. Centuries later, alchemist Pseudo-Geber postulated the existence of corpuscles, a theory expounded upon later in 1661 by natural philosopher Robert Boyle, who proposed atomic theory.
Perhaps philosophers discovered atomic theory because philosophers studied suffering. One who suffers knows what it means to be reduced to the utmost. One “falls apart,” “comes unglued,” or is “unhinged.” We feel disconnected, we withdraw, we seek separations and divorces. The language we use indicates our experience of separatio.
The word “separation” is from the Latin separare, from se– ‘apart’ and parare, ‘prepare.’ We can be sure that when we’re set apart, or when something or someone is separated from us, our experience of loss is a preparation. No matter how brutal the process feels, it will transform us if we let it.
Before separation, we experienced a nigredo stage of chaos, a massa confusa in which soul and body were inextricably wed and unconscious elements related to everything instinctively. This was a sort of slavery in which the enslaved and his chains were one. During the dissolution phase of transformation, the fetters were dissolved. Unfortunately, the slave still perceived himself a slave. One who has long lived with a harsh master encounters this same harsh master time and again in his environment or in others.
In practical terms, one is enslaved as long as one is deluded by projections. The separation phase of transformation is therefore essential, for by it we come to see where we end, and the other begins. A most important stage of therapy consists in making conscious and dissolving the projections that falsify a person’s view of other people and the world, and obstruct his self-knowledge. Once projections are made conscious and dissolved, psychological and physical symptoms may be managed consciously. A person is then able to set up a rational, spiritual, and psychological reality to aid him when he experiences turbulent emotions or troublesome bodily symptoms and urges.
What You See is What You Get
Object relations theory proposes that we relate to people and circumstances in our adult lives according to habits established in our family of origin. For example, a woman with a self-absorbed, abandoning mother will expect similar behavior from those who unconsciously remind her of Mother. She will gravitate to those who remind her of Mother and are similarly abandoning as long as the Abandoning Mother is unconsciously internalized.
As a result of the separation process, however, she is somehow forced to see that the problem isn’t actually “out there.” The problem is “in here.” We go through life projecting our stuff onto others until we meet someone with enough self-knowledge and self-love to object to being objectified. “Stop that,” they insist, “Cut it out.”
Jesus, one of my favorite psychologists, illustrated the unhappy results of projection when he taught, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2, NIV). Put another way, “we accept the love we think we deserve,” (Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower).
When Will I Be Loved?
Without psychological cutting, sifting, and separation, we don’t know where we end and the other person begins, what belongs to us and what belongs to the other person, what is essential and what is unnecessary. Our projections veil the reality of things until we withdraw them and set ourselves and others free. Only then are we able to live rationally and perceive truth. Only then will we be loved.
Alchemy: The Great Work on Third Eve