Esoteric Library - The Conversion Experience
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Category : Psychology

The Conversion Experience

{written by : Ian Heath}

Article word count : 2606 -- Article Id : 1372

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There are two sequences of radical change in beliefs that I call ‘conversion’. These sequences are similar to the two basic sequences of abreaction, and so can be considered to be two more forms of it.

Radical Change of Beliefs

There are two sequences of radical change in beliefs that I call ‘conversion’. These sequences are similar to the two basic sequences of abreaction, and so can be considered to be two more forms of it. This gives a total of four primary sequences of abreaction.

Abreaction revolves around the relationships between four emotions : guilt, pride, narcissism and jealousy. And each of these emotions gives rise to its own style of abreaction.

There are also two variations that I will explain later.

The two basic sequences of abreaction, those of guilt and of pride, can be everyday occurrences. However, the two sequences of conversion, which are the abreactions of narcissism and of jealousy, are usually infrequent.

Note 1.
For the sake of brevity I write of the abreaction of guilt, pride, narcissism and jealousy whereas in fact it is the anxiety attached to these emotions that is abreacted.

In the sequences the switching of emotions occurs when one emotion is replaced by its binary (or complementary) mate ; in all four sequences the binaries that switch are vanity - self-pity and love - hate.

Conversion is not solely the prerogative of religion. A secular version is just as possible. I have experienced both forms. What happens is that major aspects of the person"s system of beliefs undergo radical change ; in one of the sequences the change is rapid, and in the other one it is slow. The conversion experience is not the same as becoming enlightened : conversion is usually an introductory immersion into the spiritual process (or it can be a re-awakening of a spiritual attainment from a previous life on Earth).

The two conversion processes represent the two basic abreactions taken in the reverse direction, starting from guilt and pride.

First, I give a summary of the abreaction of guilt so that I can compare it to the abreaction of narcissism. Then I give a summary of the abreaction of pride so that I can compare that one to the abreaction of jealousy.

Note 2. The arrow symbol
The arrow symbol can be read as ‘leads to’, so that in the sequence
‘narcissism jealousy’,
the fading away of narcissism leads to the generation of jealousy.

Comparing the abreactions of Guilt and Narcissism

The abreaction of narcissism is similar to the abreaction of guilt. Both of them have their dramatic moment which starts them off.

Consider the abreaction of Guilt

This begins with catharsis and ends in resentment. The sequence is:

Narcissism jealousy guilt resentment.

The sequence begins with the excitement of catharsis, representing the stage of narcissism in vanity mode. This is the first step or stage, and is followed by three other steps.

Step 2.
The stage of jealousy usually produces sexual desire, because the self-pity mode is dominant and it is following the excitement. When the self-pity mode ends too, the love mode of jealousy transforms into self-hate, so guilt now arises. The person hates themself for what he / she felt in the catharsis. He / she feels that the catharsis reflected some aspect of social immaturity in themself.

Jealousy (= love + self-pity) guilt (= self-hate + self-pity).

When guilt fades the next emotion is resentment.

When the resentment has finally been worked through, the end stage is detachment to the problem that originally caused anxiety. This stage is not always achieved ; it depends on how important it is for the person to hang on to their grievance.

Consider the abreaction of Narcissism

This begins with an initial mood of guilt (mode of self-hate) as part of the person’s attitude to a problem. The person has a subconscious sense of inadequacy within their character. (This is similar to the way, in the abreaction of guilt, that the person was dismayed by what happened in the catharsis).

The sequence is :

Guilt jealousy narcissism idealism.

There are four steps involved in this sequence.

Step 1.
Insight into the problem dissolves the hate and transforms it into the love mode of jealousy. (Whereas in the abreaction of guilt, it is the self-pity mode of jealousy that is emphasised).

Guilt (= self-pity + self-hate) jealousy (= self-pity + love).

Step 2.
When the jealousy fades the self-pity mode transforms into vanity, generating narcissism.

Jealousy (= love + self-pity) narcissism (= love + vanity).

Step 3.
Finally some form of noble aspiration, or even idealism, is generated.

Step 4.
A final detachment from idealism may never be achieved. It may continue for all the person’s life, or else the failure to accomplish desired goals may burn out the person through intense bitterness.

The important stage of this abreaction is Step 3. When this abreaction is intense enough to cause conversion, then idealism is always the final product. Vanity modes are the supporting emotions for all ideals, and in this case it is the vanity mode of narcissism that supports the final ideal.

In my case this sequence generated political idealism.
During my teens I had become right-wing in my politics. When I was 19, I read The End of Empire by John Strachey. As far as I remember now, it dealt with the economic consequences of substituting jute production for the traditional food crops in eastern India in the 19th century. The consequences were tragic. The ending of local food production caused a famine in the area which resulted in the deaths of a significant number of the local population.

My response to this tragedy was a deep upsurge of compassion. My right-wing sympathies disappeared overnight. I began to change my political beliefs. First of all I switched from being conservative to becoming mildly left-wing, but within three years I had embraced anarchistic ideals. The time process was a long one because I had recently gone to university, and so my political ideals did not surface till I graduated.

I call this abreaction impersonal
conversion, because the person
embraces an ideal or an abstract

In my view, an historical political example is William Cobbett, the nineteenth- century political propagandist. His idealism was created by reading Adam Smith on economics : Smith enabled him to understand the corrupt financial system of the British government.

In my view, an historical religious example is that of St. Paul. On the road to Damascus he was converted to a spiritual idealism. He transformed the personal image of Jesus into an idealised abstract conception of Christ – this conception reflected his spiritual aspirations.

At lesser intensities of emotional response, when conversion is not experienced, this abreaction produces the admiration of the heroic, and helps to stimulate romanticism. The person admires heroes who overcame (or succumbed to) the problems that he was facing. He may be overwhelmed by tears of admiration for the glorious hero, tears for the way that the hero has struggled to victory or defeat.

Comparing the abreactions of Pride and Jealousy

The abreaction of jealousy is similar to the abreaction of pride. Both of them begin in a low-key fashion.

Consider the abreaction of Pride

This begins with sorrow or sadness, and ends in bitterness. The sequence is:

Jealousy narcissism pride bitterness.

Step 1.

This abreaction usually follows the abreaction of guilt. The sorrow arises when I reflect on the problem highlighted by the preceding guilt.

Narcissism (= love + vanity) pride (= hatred of others + vanity).

In the third step, as pride fades, bitterness is felt. The person is bitter over the restrictions to his sense of individuality that is caused by the sorrow of step 1.

Finally, if the bitterness is worked through, then it gives way to detachment.

Consider the abreaction of Jealousy

This begins with an initial mood of pride (mode of hatred of others). The person may be hating the world, hating society. He has a subconscious sense of degradation, a degradation produced by social factors. The sequence is :

Pride narcissism jealousy blind faith.

There are four steps involved in this sequence.

Step 1.

The particular way that degradation is felt becomes conscious. As the degradation is abreacted the person feels dis-orientated. When pride dissolves it is replaced by the love mode of narcissism. (Whereas, in the abreaction of pride, it is the vanity mode of narcissism that is emphasised).

Pride (= vanity + hate) narcissism (= vanity + love).

Step 2.

Now the person feels a ‘heaviness’ in their belly or lower chest (the solar plexus ‘chakra’ is changing). As narcissism ends, the vanity mode transforms into self-pity, and jealousy arises.

Narcissism (= love + vanity) jealousy (= love + self-pity).

Step 3.

Finally some form of social attachment is stimulated ; the particular form of attachment is usually to a role model or to a teacher or to a group.

Step 4.

As with the other conversion mode, a final detachment from the social attachment may never be achieved. The person may remain dependent on the teacher or the group.

The important stage of this abreaction is Step 3. When this abreaction is intense enough to cause conversion then the final product is blind faith in a teacher or a group. The bonding is through jealousy. The teacher or the group becomes a source of jealous love. The bonding link is always between the jealousy (love mode) of the teacher and the jealousy (self-pity mode) of the convert.

In my case this sequence generated blind faith in two English yoga teachers, Jack Bolton and John Moore.
When I was 30, I began to follow two English yoga teachers who themselves were disciples of an Indian teacher, swami Dev Murti. This faith lasted about six years, and then I spent about nine years getting rid of it. I changed my relationship from follower to friend.

I still admired the two teachers, but I had to develop my own individuality. Individuality became an imperative that I had to follow at all costs, and I broke with all forms of tradition that had influenced me one way or another. This break was the necessary starting condition which allowed my psycho-analysis to begin in 1987, unhampered by the restraints of traditional values.

I call this abreaction personal conversion, because the person bonds to a teacher.

This type of faith is blind to any deficiencies in the teacher or the group, and so it is a limited form of faith. It represents the common way of inducting a person into a religious view of life. The person bonds to another person, and not to any ideal or ideology.

To acquire detachment involves letting the faith mature, so that tolerance to all other faiths becomes the norm. Blind faith is always an immature form of faith.

These two forms of conversion experience are binary (or complementary) to each other ; hence faith and idealism are also a binary pair. When these two abreactions are not intense enough to generate conversion, then it is difficult to be aware that one is experiencing them as a process. Usually it is necessary to analyse backwards from the final state, to see if the preceding emotions were in the right order.

A conversion process is always initiated by the person"s soul, when the circumstances are suitable. Whether personal or impersonal, the conversion represents a beginning of spirituality, not its end, since it has its limitations. The limitations reflect the psychological limitations of the person. What usually seems to occur is that some factors of one’s character are improved, whilst other factors remain at levels of inadequacy. This view of conversion is easily verified by noting the amount of hatred towards non-believers or rival religions that many fundamentalists exhibit – this can hardly be called a mark of spirituality.

Spirituality is never given to anyone ; the person has to grow into it. The purpose of conversion is to inspire the person to move beyond his current limitations into a wider and nobler practice of life.

I do not equate spirituality with religion. A religious person can also be spiritual, but a spiritual person does not have to be religious.

Starting Conditions

Personal conversion is more likely to happen if the person has a problem with jealousy, by which I mean that the person, as a child, did not receive sufficient love (that is, jealous love in its aspect of care) from the parents. The authority of the parents was too austere : such parents cannot easily give love to their children. The charismatic teacher (who is usually a man) is often generous with his jealous love and so is seen by the disciple to be the quintessence of perfection, the ideal loving father-figure who can do no wrong. And so the disciple acquires a surrogate love and a surrogate authority – he is the loving channel for the authority of the teacher.

Perhaps the commonest route to personal conversion is the one that uses pride as a means of rebounding from guilt and depression. I developed blind faith in two yoga teachers after I had become dis-illusioned with politics. Dis-illusionment occurs when guilt (mode of self-hate) acts on vanity.

A friend of mine went through personal conversion after suffering from depression when her mother died. Guilt and depression highlight the absence of love. The person switches to pride (mode of hate) to mask this absence ; this switch makes them susceptible to conversion in suitable circumstances.

The abreaction of narcissism orientates a person towards developing a sense of independent action, whilst the abreaction of jealousy sways him into becoming a follower of an outstanding teacher or leader. Therefore these two abreactions swing the person between self-guidance and dependency. The former generates the allure of freedom, and the latter the safety of dependency. The lures of freedom are the reasons that the person may never give up their idealism. The consolations of support are the reasons that the person may prefer to retain dependency.

The abreactions of guilt and of narcissism require insight into a problem to get them started. Catharsis produces instant excitement, and impersonal conversion occurs through a dramatic switch of consciousness. Hence insight generates high-profile drama.

For comparison, the abreactions of pride and of jealousy do not require insight ; they begin just by reflection on one’s present state or circumstances that are felt to be too restricting, too cramping for one’s needs. The start of the abreactions is low-key. In fact, personal conversion is not necessarily noticed : it may be a gradual switch and only achieve prominence when the disciple recognises their bond with the teacher.

Why is there a difference in the switching ?
For any kind of experience, the mental switch to a higher understanding is low-key if the person is already sympathetic to the final state. In personal conversion, the spiritual affinity is already there.

If, however, the person is antagonistic or hostile in any way to the final state, then the switch needs to be intense and so is high-key. A lot of psychological resistance has to be overcome. The contents of catharsis are often aspects of consciousness that the person normally dislikes.


The two common abreactions are those of guilt and pride.

Each of these abreactions has a variation.

The abreaction of guilt can start from vanity alone rather than the vanity mode of narcissism. Otherwise the sequence runs as usual. Instead of excitement the person feels the sensation of power. Later in the sequence the guilt may not be readily self-evident. So I call this variation the abreaction of vanity. The person abreacts aspects of his attachment to power.

The abreaction of pride can start from self-pity alone instead of from the self-pity mode of jealousy. The sequence then flows normally. I call this variation the abreaction of self-pity. The person abreacts aspects of his dependency.

These variations do not occur as frequently as the two standard abreactions of guilt and pride. Identifying them is very hard, since they are difficult to separate from the standard abreactions.


Strachey, John. The End of Empire.

Author Bio :
Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath, owner of a map of psychological spirituality suitable for modern times.

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