What is Your Relationship to the Rat?

Oct 7, 2009

Often the way we feel about a particular person is reflective of what that person represents within us. That is to say, if there is something we do not like about someone else, it may represent a shadow nature that we, ourselves,possess. This is Carl Jung‘s classic idea of shadow projection, and a premise of depth psychology. We hear the terms in today’s vernacular, “…maybe I’m projecting, but I feel as though…” or “That’s his shadow, he doesn’t see how his actions are affecting me.”

Similarly, we can view our relationship to a group, say animals, as reflective of what they represent within us.

Recently, I attended a book signing by author Marc Bekoff, who wrote a book I like called, The Emotional Lives of Animals. In it, Bekoff discusses the unfortunate view of science that laboratory animals do not possess emotions thus they do not experience the suffering of scientific testing. In fact, although it is supposed to be in place for their protection, the Animal Welfare Act excludes rats bred for research from the definition of “animal” for scientific needs.

If we have an industry-approved definition of “animal” that does not include all animals, what does that say about us, as a society? Depth psychology would answer this question by looking at our relationship to what the rat symbolizes.

To begin an investigation, let’s look at the rat as a symbol (any reference to how these animals are regarded in culture will do, I used the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols). As is true for many, there is a light and dark side to the symbol of the rat. A result of their nocturnal and abundant procreation habits, the rat can both represent wealth (as in the capability to create abundance), as well as thievery (as in stealing abundance from another).

So, as a society, how do we relate to the idea of wealth? As the separation of socio-economic status continues to widen across the U.S. population at an alarming rate, what does our relationship to the rat suggest? How do we view the abilities of someone who can generate wealth and abundance for themselves? How do we view our own abilities to create abundance?

Quite timely, one of the most controversial topics in the recent news is the idea of further regulation on the ability to create abundance, that being the question of additional taxation for specific income levels. With the economic crisis, it seems we’re all looking for appropriate ways to relate to our abundance, both personally (should I pay off my home equity loan or take out more cash?) and collectively (should we really give loans to the auto industry?).

To shed light on this topic, from a depth psychological perspective, this would mean taking time to understand our own instincts to create abundance, and secondarily, how we feel about the ability of others to do the same. This means understanding our relationship to the rat.

And so, I invite your opinion…what is your relationship to the rat? How do you see the ability to create abundance in your own life? Do you feel pleased or guilty if you do create abundance, what about if you don’t? How do you see the ability to create abundance treated in our society?

Note:  I originally published this post on www.depthpsychologytoday.com on January 5, 2009

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