Fire in the Belly: Aggression and Passion
Psychoanalytic traditions identify two major drives within Humanity, the drive to create, Eros, and the drive to destroy, Thanatos. They state that the core of the human experience is the constant conflict and negotiation between these two desires. Humans are the only animal that seem to derive joy from suffering and the only animal that is inspired to create and express itself. We are both attracted to, and torn between the two.
Now, it’s very important to note that one drive isn’t better than the other, this is isn’t Good vs. Evil. Creation and Destruction are both necessary parts of our inner worlds and, in it of themselves, are free of judgement or inherent value. They are both simply experiences, they are like different flavors or colors, we can have a preference but neither is inherently good or bad. Psychological health means being able to embrace all facets of ourselves. The idea is to bring these two drives in a sense of balance instead of conflict.
This theory has many different implications for psychology but in this blog I’m only going to focus on only one slice, motivation. Simply put, motivation is the drive to act. Motivation is a kind of energy source which inspires us to bring our thoughts into reality. It is the push required to bring a plan to fruition or to stay committed in the face of adversity. Many of us struggle with motivation, perhaps viewing through an analytic lens will be helpful in making sense of your lack or over expression of it.
When motivation is filtered through the destructive drive we call it passion. When it is filtered through the creative drive, we call it aggression. But wait, you say, isn’t that backwards? Not at all, as you’ll soon see, creation and destruction take on different meanings in the analytic tradition.
The root of passion is “to suffer.” Essentially when we are passionate about something we are willing to suffer for it. We are willing to burn away a part of ourselves in order to accomplish our goals. That often means making sacrifices or changing our identity. In order to make room for a passion, some of us needs to die, it needs to burn away and be consumed by the fire of Thanatos. That’s exactly what is beautiful about passion! Many artists neglect their health and relationships in order to create truly brilliant works of self-expression. They throw themselves completely into their work without reservation or hesitation. Passion inspires us to make fundamental changes in our psyche in order to transform into a higher self.
On the other hand, aggression is actually a creative force. Essentially, it is our attempt to master or dominate the world around us. Aggression is the process of trying to shape reality into our image.Aggression makes things happen, it creates the competitive spirit, the beating heart of political revolution, and the catalyst of change. It is the external application of motivation instead of the more internal passion.
Again, neither of these expressions are inherently good or bad. They are pure energy. Now, the problem arises when our Ego gets involved and we begin to identify with these experience too much, we take them, and ourselves too seriously.
When our Ego identifies with passion we experience disappointment, we wonder why others don’t care as much as we do, if this goes unchecked it leads to resentment. Alternatively, if our Ego identifies too strongly with aggression we become fixated on the outcome. We lose the ability to be adaptable or to recover if we fail.
So the key here is to embrace the raw experience of both passion and aggression, without judgement. Just go along for the ride and marvel in your own power and creativity.