Anthropology of Christian Vocation: The contribution of Rulla, Ridick and Imoda

(Psychology and Moral Theology, pp. 73-104)

 

They examine three levels of personality: Ideal Self, represented by the ideals which the person desires to reach; Conscious Actual Self – the person as he sees himself to be in the present; Latent Self (subconscious actual self) – the level represented by those tendencies which the person has but is not consciously aware of.

 

Across these three levels there may exist a harmony or non-contradiction in the person, if with respect to some goal he is tending in the same direction on all three levels. Such harmony is called ‘vocational consistency’. Or there may exist disharmony or contradiction, if the person is tending in different directions on different levels, which may be called ‘vocational inconsistency’. Patterns of consistency or inconsistency may be termed structures.

 

The basic hypothesis is that both vocational perseverance and effectiveness are influenced by the degree to which the personality as a whole is consistent or inconsistent.

 

Some presuppositions

 

Lifelong commitment is in itself a valid ideal: Why is the ideal of lifelong commitment not always realized? Are there deeply-rooted resistances within the person which may impede such realization? What is their inner nature? How frequently are such resistances found? What are their effects?

 

The choice of religious vocation is conceived to be related not so much to what the person is or how he sees himself, but rather to what he would like to be, to what he ideally would like to do with the help of God (ELV, 30).

 

Self-fulfilment is conceived as coming as a by-product of self-transcendence, but not as something to be sought directly. … For the religious person, to make self-fulfilment the dominant end of life, to be directly sought, would mean subordinating even God to one’s own happiness.

 

Entering into a Priestly or Religious Vocation

 

What part of his or her personal reality is the person expressing in the initial decision to enter a seminary or religious institute? – that of the ideal self, or that of the conscious actual self? Since the latent self is unknown to the person, it is not important here. In other words, does a person choose to enter a vocational institution with its particular ideals because he thinks he already is the kind of person matching those ideals? Or does he make the choice because of a correspondence between the ideals of the institution and what he himself desires to become?

 

The research found that the correspondence between self-ideals and institutional ideals was much closer than the correspondence between the conscious actual self and the institutional ideals (ELV, pp. 71-76). In other words, the individuals chose the institution as a medium in which to realize their ideals rather than as a situation in which their standards of behaviour, prior to entry would be sufficient.

 

Of the three groups studied, 95% of the seminarians had left the seminary within 4 years. 59% of female religious had left within 4 years and 81% had left within 6-8 years. 47% of the male religious had left within 4 years, and 59% within 6-8 years. … These numbers stand in sharp contrast to the ideals with which the same people had entered their vocational institutions.

 

Two conclusions: When values and attitudes appropriate to vocational commitment are present only to a moderate degree, this is a predisposition to abandoning the commitment. Even when such values and attitudes are present to a marked degree perseverance is still not guaranteed.

 

Why do the presence of high ideals at the time of entry not guarantee perseverance, at least more frequently? It may be due to a person’s cooperation or non-cooperation with grace; difficulties in a particular community or in a particular period or place in the Church; or the personal characteristic of the individual.

 

The Latent Self and Vocational Inconsistencies

 

The level of the latent self may be described in terms of the needs of the individual, his emotional styles, defences, and conflicts (in Erikson’s sense), in so far as the individual is unaware of such influences in his life.

 

Needs: ‘Action tendencies resulting from a deficit of the organism or from natural inherent potentialities which seek exercise or actuality’. They are emotional tendencies in the individual; predispositions to act in a certain way, on the basis of an emotional urge. While an attitude is defined as a readiness to act in a particular way, a need is merely an impulse to act.

 

Needs are universal and each need will be present to some degree in everyone. Yet individuals may differ greatly in the strength with which a particular need, such as that for abasement or that for achievement, is felt. And individuals may differ greatly in the degree to which a particular need, however strongly felt, influences their mode of living.

 

When the needs are conscious and the person knows what is ‘going on’, a decisive and realistic renunciation is possible. But when needs are deeply subconscious (i.e. ‘unconscious’) it will not be clear to the person what is ‘going on’, and the needs themselves will be remarkably resistant to being made conscious. Unconscious needs tend to lead to ill-defined and troublesome feelings of frustration rather than to clear choices and renunciations. … When such hidden are operative, there is a covert search for satisfaction. When, as well may happen, this satisfaction is not attained, then feelings of frustration will arise, though it will not be clear whence and why they are arising.

 

In proportion to the degree to which needs are subconscious, they will tend to evade censorship and be more or less naively expressed.

 

Conscious, preconscious, and unconscious tensions can all influence success in living out a commitment to the priestly or religious life. There are a range of analogous tensions that are possible. The more deeply subconscious the root of the tension is, the more destructive its effects will be … The most serious impediments of this kind are those called central subconscious vocational inconsistencies.

 

Such inconsistencies are defined in terms of three characteristics:

1st, that a variable is involved which is relevant to the achievement of personal goals. It may be a need or an attitude. Some of these variables are considered vocationally dissonant, because in themselves they are opposed to the basic values of priestly or religious life. Depending on the function they serve in the life of the individual, they may favour or may impede the realization of his ideals.

2nd, that this attribute is central to the individual’s self-esteem; the need or attitude is somehow important to the person for maintaining a positive conception of himself. One can endure a great deal of physical or social privation if this is in harmony with one’s self-esteem. On the other hand, privations opposed to one’s self-esteem are hard to endure … Values, attitudes, traits, or needs may all be important for one’s self-esteem. But if one’s self-esteem is bound up with a particular value such as obedience, and at the same time bound up with an opposed need such as aggression, a state of painful tension will ensue. The centrality needs for the self-esteem of a person can be gathered from their prominence, as compared with other needs, on a projective test.

3rd, that the individual’s coping-mechanisms for dealing with this need are inadequate, so that ‘an unacceptable attraction remains in the center of attention’.

 

Inconsistency: It is a kind of contradiction within the person. On the one hand, he is committed to the basic values of priestly or religious life. On the other hand, he is pulled in the opposite direction by a subconscious need that is central to his self-esteem. The attitude of the individual may take the side of the need or of the value, but in either case he will have constant difficulties in living up to the value in question. He is drawn in two opposed directions.

 

Consistency: In an area where a person is consistent, the value professed by the person is supported by a need which is in harmony with the values … Values supported by corresponding feelings will be more stable and more influential in the life of the individual than values opposed by feelings.

 

Consistencies and inconsistencies are defined in terms of needs and corresponding attitudes.

 

Five main kinds of consistency or inconsistency are distinguished. The basic values of life in vocation enter implicitly into the definition of each consistency or inconsistency, in the sense that it is in relation to these that a particular need or attitude is considered vocationally consonant or dissonant.

 

Social Consistency: When both a need and the corresponding attitude are vocationally consonant, then both the latent self and the ideal self are in harmony with vocational values. It makes little difference if the need in question is conscious or subconscious, since its influence is favourable in either case.

 

Psychological Consistency: Need is vocationally consonant (high nurturance, low aggression) but the corresponding attitude is vocationally dissonant (low nurturance, high aggression). One is psychologically well-adjusted in his/her vocation, although socially maladjusted.

 

Psychological Inconsistency: When the attitude on the level of the ideal self is vocationally consonant but when there is a subconscious need at the level of the latent self which is opposed to this attitude. He appears socially well-adjusted but deep down is really psychologically maladjusted.

 

Social Inconsistency: When there is a subconscious need at the level of the latent self which is vocationally dissonant and this need is matched by a correspondingly dissonant attitude on the level of the ideal self, so that the person’s difficulties will be publicly or socially evident, as in the open expression of aggression, or the open search for Succorance.

 

Defensive Consistency: An apparent consistency which serves a defensive purpose. The person is giving in order to receive in return; giving more for his own sake than for the sake of others.

 

It is apparent by now that the values which people profess at the time of entry into a priestly or religious vocation may rest on structures of very different strength. They may be solidly founded on consistencies, or stand on the shaky foundation of inconsistencies or defensive consistencies.

 

Vocational Inconsistencies and the Reversal of Vocational Commitment: Findings

 

60-80% people who entered religious life or seminary had a ‘vulnerable’ ideal self due to the presence of vocational inconsistencies which were subconscious and central. …Only a small minority (less than 15%) were found to have such knowledge and mastery of their main psychological difficulties as to be rarely influenced by these; the remainder were to a greater or lesser degree ignorant of, and under the influence of, their unknown and un-mastered psychological difficulties.

 

Do inconsistencies play a role in undermining vocational commitment and leading to its reversal?

 

It is not to be assumed that in every case perseverance in vocation reflects a prevailingly consistent personality; if a vocational choice is the expression of a particularly rigid defensive system, perseverance might continue in spite of grave inconsistencies.

 

Perseverance was found to correspond to the absence of inconsistencies, and reversal of the vocational decision to the presence of inconsistencies.

 

Further findings and Interpretation

 

By what kind of process may such inconsistencies lead to the reversal of vocational decisions?

 

The presence of the tendency to idealize one’s future in those who enter and there is a need to ‘unlearn’ such expectations. … the ‘unlearning’ or abandonment of false expectations presents notable difficulties; it seems to be in this very area that vocational inconsistencies exert their disruptive influence.

 

Predictable Internalizing Capacity: A person may lay different emphasis on different attitudes at the level of the ideal self; greater stress is laid on some ideals than on others. The pattern of emphasis indicates the anticipations of the individual regarding life in the future. But it was not found that a person’s higher ideals always corresponded to the strong areas of the personality, nor did the lower ideals correspond to the weaker areas of the personality. Frequently there were discrepancies: people projecting realistic ideals in the areas where they were genuinely strong, and unrealistically high ideals in the areas where they were weak. … The ‘predictable internalizing capacity’ of an individual is the sum total of all such discrepancies in the personality; the smaller the predictable internalizing capacity, the better the outlook.

 

The tendency to idealize one’s future life frequently arises from the inconsistent needs of the individual, rather than from his values. These unrealistic expectations appear as exaggerations in certain attitudes at the level of the ideal self. … When needs are subconscious but opposed to vocational values, it can be the case that apparently idealistic attitudes may derive, subconsciously, from needs of the individual. The individual who has subconscious needs not in harmony with the values of his vocation nevertheless brings such needs with him when he enters a religious institution or a seminary.

 

One possibility is that satisfaction of the needs is sought covertly: an attitude of giving may mask the need to receive in return. … Another possibility is that the individual may seek a priestly or religious vocation not so much to express his needs as to eliminate them; seeking in effect to get rid of conflicts, for instance in the areas of aggression or sexuality and intimacy, by the choice of such vocation.

 

If an individual is subconsciously wishing for a covert gratification of his needs, or hoping that his vocational decision will exempt him from having to meet and deal with the attendant conflicts, he is holding false and unrealistic expectations. He is idealizing his future life, not only as an expression of values, but as a solution to personal problems. It indicates the presence of a hidden contingency, a latent bargain, which may be broken in course of life, as consequence he will feel frustrated, without clearly knowing why.

 

Two possibilities: 1st → understand the false expectations for what they are, and to abandon them. But the task of renouncing false expectations is never an easy one, not even in principle. Where the false expectations have subconscious roots, the task of abandoning them may be extremely difficult.

2nd → the individual, not understanding what is happening, resists the experience of frustration. This leads to the more unrealistic of his expectations becoming more and more central to his preoccupations, and the inconsistent areas of his personality becoming more and more dominant in his life. Frustration then further increases, and a vicious circle of increasing difficulties sets in. One may then abandon one’s vocational commitment instead of abandoning false expectations. This may be done in two ways: actually leaving the vocational institution, or remaining in an uncommitted way (nesting).

 

Effectiveness in Vocation

 

Effectiveness must be distinguished from ‘efficiency’ in the everyday sense of getting things done quickly; ‘the visible manifestation and/or the social communication of the values of Christ is the criterion of vocational effectiveness’.

 

Three points to illustrate how effectiveness in vocation may be compromised by inconsistencies:

  • Comparison made between those who left after 2 years of entrance and those who left after 4 years of entrance indicated no difference. Inconsistencies can therefore undermine commitment prior to actual departure from vocation. It is plausible to suppose that those who have made a vocational choice that is heavily defensive in character, and whose departure from vocation is indefinitely delayed, are subject to a similar process, so that even though they persevere, they live at a low level of effectiveness.
  • It was found that those who had had unrecognized conflicts in their families had a marked tendency to develop transferential relationships in religious life. A transferential relationship is one that is not based on the reality of the other person; it is a repetition of important relationships of the past, generally with parents or other relatives. Almost 70% developed such transferences which in turn limit one’s vocational effectiveness.
  • It is plausible to suggest that defensive consistencies play an important role in the case of those who persevere while showing limited effectiveness. Defensive consistencies serve two related functions: 1. they give rise to behaviour that is socially acceptable rather than socially disruptive, and thus can bring approval from others; 2. they are defensive so that the individual can seek and find such gratifications without realizing that he is actively searching for it.

 

 

The evidence outlined shows that emotional factors, and especially subconscious pressures, can influence the way a person lives out a vocational decision once this has been taken. The influence may be positive or negative, and may affect either perseverance or effectiveness.

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