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Metanoia (psychology)

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Metanoia (from the Greek μετάνοια, metanoia, "changing one's mind") has been used in psychology since at least the time of American philosopher/psychologist William James to describe a process of fundamental change in the human personality.[1]

The term derives from the Ancient Greek words μετά (metá) (meaning "beyond" or "after") and νόος (noeō) (meaning "perception" or "understanding" or "mind"), and takes on different meanings in different contexts.


William James used the term metanoia to refer to a fundamental and stable change in an individual's life-orientation.[1] Carl Gustav Jung developed the usage to indicate a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself of unbearable conflict by melting down and then being reborn in a more adaptive form – a form of self healing often associated with the mid-life crisis and psychotic breakdown, which can be viewed as a potentially productive process.[2] Jung considered that psychotic episodes in particular could be understood as an existential crisis which might be an attempt at self-reparation: in such instances metanoia could represent a shift in the balance of the personality away from the persona towards the shadow and the self.[3]

Jung's concept of metanoia was an influence on R.D. Laing and his emphasis on the dissolution and replacement of everyday ego consciousness.[4] Laing's colleague, David Cooper, considered that "metanoia means change from the depths of oneself upwards into the superficies of one's social appearance" – a process that in the second of its three stages "generates the 'signs' of depression and mourning".[5] Similarly influenced was the therapeutic community movement. Ideally, it aimed to support people whilst they broke down and went through spontaneous healing, rather than thwarting such efforts at self-repair by strengthening a person's existing character defences and thereby maintaining the underlying conflict.

The Dutch psychiatrist Jan Foudraine wrote extensively about it, tracing its history through the work of Jung and Laing, and eventually considering it “a permanent change in gestalt.” He cites an example where one sees a black vase, then one blinks, and instead one sees two white faces in profile opposite each other (the Rubin vase).[6]

In transactional analysis, metanoia is used to describe the experience of abandoning an old scripted self or false self for a more open one: a process which may be marked by a mixture of intensity, despair, self-surrender, and an encounter with the inner void.[7]

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  1. ^ a b Clarkson (1993), p. 57
  2. ^ Arp, Robert (2013). 1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think. London: Cassell Illustrated. p. 255. ISBN 9781844037506.
  3. ^ Clarkson (1993), p. 56
  4. ^ Leeming, D. A.; Madden, Kathryn Wood; Marlan, Stanton, eds. (2010). Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. p. 511. ISBN 9780387718026.
  5. ^ Cooper, David (1974). The Death of the Family. Penguin Books. pp. 13–14. ISBN 9780140212877.
  6. ^ Foudraine, Jan (2004). Metanoia. p. 94. ISBN 9789077228258.
  7. ^ Clarkson (1993), pp. 63–64

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