Some people would claim that things like love, joy and beauty belong to a different category from science and can’t be described in scientific terms, but I think they can now be explained by the theory of evolution.
- Stephen Hawking
Evolution has a restless force fuelling it, thrusting life toward ever higher states of being. When growing organisms collide, they adapt to each other in unprecedented ways. This same force is always looking to act through us, to move us toward creating bonds and evolving as actualised beings.
Vitality is characterised by curiosity, openness and joy. It gives you a sense that change is coming, and that you need to be there to meet it, lest you miss the ship and get left behind. Vitality excites you and simultaneously fills you with unease and dread. Like a double-edged sword, it promises endless wonders, while asking you to accept uncertainty and risk. As long as you remain fixed to routine and the status quo, vitality will never visit you. You will resist it at every turn, and in doing so, miss the opportunities it offers. Carl Jung called it the ‘Anima,’ which represents the feminine element of the psyche. To Jung, the Anima is a symbol of chaos, a call to adventure and reckless abandon. At the very least, it calls you to be open-hearted, willing to be forged by the fire of life. To have vitality is to be a river, always flowing and changing, alive and sensitive to the world around you.
The child is the quintessential example of vitality in motion. They tremble with overflowing vigour, curious about everything they see, their senses overloaded as they absorb the world at a rapid pace. Vitality is also the coveted ‘supply’ which narcissists seek. When the target exposes their True Self, vitality flows. Narcissists then sense the opportunity and brainwash their target into investing this energy into them. Because the narcissist lacks access to their True Self, it is always through another person that they experience vitality.
Vitality enables personal evolution, or it can be directed into a hierarchy or power structure and used to fuel that entity’s growth instead. The narcissist exploits vitality much like this, colonising the target’s mind before extracting supply. In this way, vitality is a resource worth more than gold, obtained when the target unwittingly surrenders their love.
Love: The governing emotion of vitality
Love is a component of the life instinct. It thrives when a person feels secure and connected; especially to sources of perceived higher power. Loving and being loved awakens and empowers the soul. It has a contagious vibrancy, enhancing a person’s life force and activating their libido. This is not a reference to romantic love, but rather to a mutual space of openness and surrender where energy is shared. For a person to love, they need to make themselves vulnerable by exposing their True Self. In such a state, you see the person you love in their fullness — not just an abstraction. Their eyes stand out, and their energy penetrates as you both enter a state of mutual flow.
All creative acts depend on love. Making art, dance, giving a speech; these all require a state of flow and excitement for life, where the core ingredient is vitality. To be in flow is to forgo control, allowing the wisdom of life energy to lead you forward. You know this to be true during moments where things magically work out without you needing to control a situation. Overthinking, fear and self-doubt all thwart this process.
A relationship is a fascinating example of such creativity. It is at once incredibly complex yet has no physical form, existing only in the hearts and minds of those who partake. Think of two or more old friends bantering back and forth. Often this simple act of ‘hanging out’ contains something deeper than meets the eye, revealing an entire microcosm of inside jokes, shared knowledge and quirky behaviour which seamlessly builds on itself with each interaction. With a state of shared trust, flow opens between the friends, and vitality creates new threads which reinforce the friendship.
When trust is established between two or more people, love can grow, and the creative process begins, with no two relationships being the same. Each person develops through love, and as long as trust and mirroring remain, growth and actualisation are possible.
When vitality is disrupted
Vitality requires a witness. At birth, a child immediately seeks out a loved one; a person who can contain and mirror the outpouring of their life energy. Otherwise, they cannot cope.
If there is a lack of mirroring, the flow of vitality is interrupted, wherein the effects can vary from disruptive to downright devastating. When a guardian acknowledges the child some of the time and is emotionally or physically distant the rest of the time, the child pendulates between connection and abandonment. Because of their guardian’s intermittent affection, the child becomes like a gambling addict, desperate to finally ‘win’ the jackpot and secure their parent’s love. Much like a slot machine, the parent is unpredictable, and fear of abandonment becomes a fixture in the child’s psyche. As a result, they grow needy and uptight, never feeling fully secure in their relationships.
Other children are actively abused and terrified by their loved ones. Such a person associates vitality with fear, and any excessive flow of life energy — especially in a social context — sends that person back to the level of security. They tighten their body, withdraw physically or check out mentally and drift into their imagination. To them, connection equates to unpredictable negative consequences, and they unconsciously sabotage their fledgling relationships.
Where a guardian is emotionally distant at all times, the child gives up outright, losing trust in relationships and refusing to be vulnerable.
Becoming stuck in vitality
A child who does not experience consistent connection and mirroring remains stuck at this stage of development, becoming preoccupied with obtaining and keeping love rather than moving on to the higher stages of development. For them, love ceases to be a means to an end, and instead becomes the focus of their life. They remain stuck, never able to fully trust love. Even when they obtain it, they remain preoccupied with the fear of losing it, rather than using the relationship as a launching pad toward their evolution. This fear remains a disruptive force in their life, and often causes the breakdown of their relationships, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and creating even more anxiety around love.
When vitality is established
The bridge between security and vitality is made of trust. When a person has confidence that a loved one will not harm or take advantage of them, the bond can strengthen over time, and all parties can grow through the creative process of reciprocity and mirroring. The outcome of such consistency in a relationship is called object constancy.
Put simply, object constancy is a stable, internalised image we hold of a person. We develop object constancy in a relationship when our loved one is consistently loving and accepting of us. Through repeated positive interactions, we eventually come to believe that we are worthy of love, and become confident that the relationship will remain into the future. When our loved one goes away for a period of time, we keep the internalised image of them inside our mind and heart, knowing that they will return.
Object constancy is strengthened above all during conflict. If we can have disagreements or arguments with our loved one without the threat of them cutting us off or walking away, we come to trust our bond with them even more. The relationship transcends differences. Whether they want to be in our life never comes into question, even if we are disagreeable or behaving badly. This is not to say, however, that object constancy equates to unconditional love. We do not get a free pass to mistreat others. A loved one can set boundaries with us, and they can get distressed when we hurt them. Disagreements and betrayals must be resolved, yet the integrity of the relationship is never threatened.
The easiest way to spot a lack of object constancy is in a baby, who grows distressed when mummy is gone, fearing she has abandoned them, but then relaxes when she returns. We can also see a lack of object constancy in ourselves as adults, where we become anxious and jealous when our loved one engages with someone other than us, causing us to fear that another person will steal them and destroy our relationship. If we have strong object constancy, outsiders do not shake our foundation, because the relationship has withstood the test of time and remained firm through many challenges.
Object constancy is not a given, and not everyone successfully develops it. Those who lack it can only know through the negative emotions that arise when they lose the time, goodwill or attention of their loved one. Those who have object constancy barely notice, since it is like the air they breathe.
As a result of object constancy, a child grows confident enough to challenge those in their environment. Secure in the knowledge that their loved ones will remain through thick and thin, they become more assertive about their need to actualise and individuate, and tenacity emerges.