Assagioli and Brexit

This is an adapted and augmented version of my brief introductory talk at the Assagioli Appreciation Day 3rd July 2016.

Although we do not usually associate Roberto with the detail of world politics, he was passionately concerned about the evolution of world change. Our gathering was just over a week after the momentous Brexit political convulsion in Britain. Given that this 'event' was still on everyone's lips and minds, it felt timely to ponder on what Roberto might have made of it had he been around. After all, it seemed to have entered the therapy room and teaching spaces like no other event except possibly the death of Princess Diana.

I surmised that Roberto would have looked at the Brexit referendum vote from four psychosynthetic perspectives.

The first would be from the standpoint of the Will. Whatever the flaws in the referendum process (torrential rain preventing people getting home, arguable mis-information and lies, perceived racism and ignorance, whether to have called it at all, etc.) the majority vote in favour of Brexit was saying something about the will of the British people. On this point the Prime Minister of the time, Cameron, was correct in saying this was a 'once in a generation' referendum, and we had to respect the result. The Will is a complex concept, and it works in mysterious ways, with effects and a logic that makes sense often only in hindsight, taking the longer-term perspective.

The second would be from the standpoint of subpersonalities. A large number of Brexiteers reflected parts of the nation that felt left behind or disregarded by the 'mainstream' metropolitan economy. We know from our therapeutic work that if we leave certain subpersonalities behind, or do not address the shadow of so-called 'progress', then these subpersonalities emerge and bite us in the bum, apparently surfacing from the unconscious. Now, whether the object of anger was falsely projected onto the European Union is a matter of debate, but the anger had to go somewhere.

The third perspective that Roberto might have highlighted was the role of specific nations. Although his pre-1974 writings often appear to us today as a bit stereotypical, or possibly even a tad racist, he had views about the role of specific nations within the world 'family'. He might have said that the British nation embodied a spirit of independence, non-conformity, and was thus serving the whole world system by making a stand. Arguably, Britain was probably the first major post-modern , post-industrial country in the world. This was even said when looking at the massive economic and social changes of the 1980s. So, in 2016, we may be serving the whole by shaking up the European Union. The rebel serves!

The fourth perspective is very different, and perhaps harder to describe because its effects have not really been estimated yet: the sense of deep soul-wounding felt by so many Remainers. Many people woke up on that fateful Friday to feel they were no longer in the same country. Some people, including myself, felt they were still dreaming! In my talk I mentioned the writer Jeanette Winterson's moving article in the Guardian where she talked about "crying for her country". And, as I indicated earlier, by far the majority of my clients and supervisees were bringing it into their sessions - even ones who I would not normally say were particularly political. So, what was the nature of this soul-wound? A sense of deeply held values of internationalism and multiculturalism seems to lie at the heart of the matter. This is not to deny that many Brexiteers also hold deep values - freedom, independence and initiative. But the Remainers had been holding an image, or should we say imago of a particular type of Britain, a world of hopefulness we thought was being built, centred on a dream of a safe, integrated - dare we say 'synthesised' - Europe. However realistic this dream ever was is highly debatable, given the big flaws we know exist in trying to integrate such a wide-ranging and diverse continent. Nevertheless, this dream got shattered on that morning. It was a trauma for such a very large group of people. Where will this trauma go? What will be the longer-term effects on the 'soul' of Britain? I do believe Roberto would have been deeply fascinated by such questions.

Keith Silvester is a supervisor and trainer at the Psychosynthesis Trust.

To find out more about the recent Assagioli Day and the organising London Wellspring Group join their Facebook page.


    • Will

      Excellent analysis, Keith, well done, very balanced and interesting.

    • Alice

      Hi Keith,

      I read your article on Brexit via the Psychosynthesis website.
      I very much liked the way you looked at the situation through an imagined Assagioli perspective..

      so thanks for sharing that.

      I belong to a monthly discussion group where we recently were discussing politics.
      I shared your article with them and received the following appreciative replies
      which I felt properly should go back to you…

      so Maybe you will publish it more widely as one writer suggests!


      Hi Alice,
      Thank you for what you have written and enclosed regarding ‘Brexit and Assagioli’s thinking. It was very illuminating and a helpful way of looking at the situation. Many ‘non Brexiteers’ remain very concerned about the whole process and the outcome. Me included, and part of me is hoping that when all the facts are out about possible negotiations and we know what the terms will actually be, if we are actually in a worse position, Theresa May + Government will decide not to go forward.
      My brother and sister in law, both of whom are highly educated voted to leave. As my sister in law has been extremely ill, 3 brain ops over 2 months, I have not taken it up strongly with them. However, my brother did say one thing was that he felt if the uncontrolled immigration carried on unchecked, he felt the country which he had known as UK, would simply be lost. Places in Lincolnshire where they live, have seen huge numbers arriving from the EU. Also both worked in education and saw the very real pressure that was put on schools in the area. So thank you for sending it. I liked that point, which also Peter and myself had talked about, that perhaps Britain is standing up for something very important and perhaps the EU will change as a result of UK leaving. We’ll see.
      Lots of love,

      Thanks Alice, That’s the most insightful, intelligent and compassionate bit of writing on the psychological effects of the Brexit I’ve read. Hephzibah also very impressed. I particularly like what he says about short term and long term thinking. Perhaps in 100 year’s time, the true effect of the vote will be seen in perspective. Maybe sooner
      What we must hope for is that the anger and grief does not morph into hatred or depression. Brexiters need to be compassionate and realise there were valid arguments for Remain too. To their credit, I don’t see too much triumphalism around. If the referendum had gone the other way, we would also have a problem with 48% of the population feeling hopeless and isolated.
      Thanks for sending

      Dear Alice,
      Such a fabulously well written incisive analysis of the debacle. He should try to get it published in one of the newspapers…? try the Guardian or Times.
      Anne XX

      Dear Alice,
      I found this very interesting to read, and helpful too. It is curious that many people who are not normally touched or involved in politics have been so disturbed with Brexit, and why should this be ? I think all the perspectives mentioned certainly help to see it more clearly. Thank you for sending it on !
      take care and love,
      Sally xx

      Fantastic analysis Alice. All so relevant and revealing about the shock and disruption many of us feel and why we need to go back and pick up the split off shadow parts of our nation.
      Thank you.

      Dear Alice
      Thank you for the fascinating comments on Brexit. A soul wound indeed – I certainly burst into tears on the day of the result and have felt very emotional on the subject ever since. I know my 30 something son is heartbroken and feeling that one’s view of oneself has been shattered is certainly part of it. If I am not European then who am I?

      Dear Alice –
      What a tour de force on the psychology of Brexit!

      I think you are quite right that the issues around this vote are very complicated – not just the up-and-down ‘yes’ or ‘no’ result – and jolly well do need to be analysed.
      Perhaps compulsory therapy for all who aspire to govern – and, then, compulsory therapy for all who aspire to vote?
      Bar x

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