Gurdjieff’s Psychodynamics

St. George slaying the Dragon in order to rescue the Maiden

G.I. Gurdjieff was alive when the new psychology and the psychoanalytic schools of Sigmund Freud and Carl, Gustav Jung were born among intellectuals in Europe; although Gurdjieff was not especially fond of the psychoanalytic method dependent on the delicate relationship between psychiatrist and client. Comparing Gurdjieff’s writing with that of Carl Jung, the writer Vrasidas Karalis makes a tentative supposition as follows:

“The third part of Gurdjieff’s trilogy “All and Everything” has not been studied sufficiently or earned any considerable attention by scholars. Its structure seems rather incoherent and circumstantial and its overall message diffused and centre-less. However, in the last book Gurdjieff illustrates metonymically the transition from self-consciousness to what he called objective knowledge, a cogitation on the self and the world around it without any psychological projections or emotional transferences. An analogous approach to the question of the personal and collective identities can be found in C.G. Jung’s principle of individuation according to which the individual has to not only appropriate the collective myths of its society but also to see them “objectively” which means as “social objects.” The present paper discusses the process of psychological projection as advocated by Jung in order to individuate collective representations and experience the objectivity of the real while delineating Gurdjieff’s response to one of the central principles of depth psychology.”

His entire paper, written with the usual pseudo-academic emphasis on this subject is available free of charge on the internet. However he does admit:

The Psychoanalytic trio of teachers, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff

“As in everything written by Gurdjieff, it is the voice of the master that matters and the signifying practices of his actual presence that make the sentences, so long-winded and serpentine, ultimately converge not on the written page but on the embodied reality of their speaker. The master is the message and not simply the messenger.”

He mentions that at Fontainebleu Gurdjieff was undertaking work simultaneously with exoteric groups, mesoteric groups and esoteric groups. Now, I have already illustrated in my previous article: “The Mnemonics of Gurdjieff’s Trilogy” that there is indeed a definitive structure to Gurdjieff’s writings, rather than there being a random or vague delineation of his ideas or theories in his written expositions. However, the work was an evolving, dynamic process even though much later some pupils attempted to preserve his ideas in aspic and maintained a somewhat retrospective and conservative view towards those ideas as tools for self-improvement. Some aspects of Transactional Analysis seem to support some of Gurdjieff’s ideas about the underlying or unconscious mechanics to the teacher and pupil as well as the way that human beings tend to interact with each other.

The Drama Triangle in Action

Whether we know it, or not, most of us react to life unconsciously as victims of fate or life’s circumstances realizing it and rarely do we get the time to reflect earnestly. Whenever we refuse to take responsibility for ourselves, we are unconsciously choosing to react as a victim of someone else’s attitudes or actions. This posture inevitably creates feelings of suppressed anger, fear, guilt or a sense of inadequacy and often leaves us feeling betrayed, or being taken advantage of by others.

Victim-hood can be defined by the three positions beautifully outlined in a diagram developed by a well respected psychiatrist, and teacher of Transactional Analysis, a guy named Stephen Karpman. He named it the “Drama Triangle,” although it is also referred to it as the victim triangle, he writes:
“Having discovered this resource some thirty years ago, it has become one of the more important tools in my personal and professional life. The more I teach and apply the victim triangle to relationship the deeper my appreciation grows for this simple, powerfully accurate instrument.” He goes on to say:
“I’ve sometimes referred to the victim triangle as a “shame generator” because through it we unconsciously re-enact painful life themes that create shame and a sense of inadequacy. This has the effect of reinforcing old, painful beliefs that keep us stuck in a limited version of reality.

The Conscious, Unconscious and Subconscious energies at play during Psychoanalysis

I believe that every dysfunctional interaction, in relationship with others or oneself, takes place on the victim triangle. But until we become conscious of these interdependent dynamics, we cannot transform them and move on. And unless we do transform them effectively, we cannot move forward on our personal journey towards re-claiming emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.
Generally speaking the three, apparently fixed roles on the victim triangle are Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim, although the terms “Saviour”, Abuser” and “Victim” are also employed. For some unknown reason Stephen Karpman placed these three roles on an inverted triangle and described them as being the three aspects, or faces of a victim. No matter where we may start out on the triangle, the role of victim is still where we end up, therefore no matter what role we’re in on the triangle from the onset of an interaction, we end up in victimhood. If we’re on the triangle we’re living as victims, plain and simple and there is no escape!

The Drama Triangle

I have already described in a previous post on the life and times of an historical victim, “Mary, Queen of Scots” how this type of scenario can play itself out in real life, and still continues to do so today in social media like Facebook and Twitter. However, each person has a primary or most familiar role what is called their “starting gate” position. This is the place from which we generally enter, or “get hooked” onto, the triangle in the first place. We first learn and adopt our starting gate position within our family of origin. Although we each have a role with which we most identify, once we’re on the triangle, we automatically rotate through all the positions, going completely around the triangle, sometimes in a matter of minutes, or even seconds, many times every day as circumstances or the other players dictate.
Starting gate Rescuers (SGR) see themselves as “helpers” or “caretakers”. (see my previous post on “Group Dynamics & the Enneagram”) They need someone to rescue (a victim) in order to feel vital and important in their lives. It’s difficult for SGR’s to recognise themselves as ever being in the position of a victim. They’re the ones who apparently have all the answers.
Starting Gate Persecutors (SGP), on the other hand, also identify themselves primarily as “victims”, but in another sense. They are usually in complete denial about their own blaming tactics. But when they are pointed out to them, they argue that their attacks are warranted and necessary for their own self protection and personal dignity. These two roles — the Rescuer and the Persecutor — are the two opposite extremes of Victim Mentality. But again, regardless of where we start out on the triangle, all roles eventually end up in the adapted role of victim. It becomes an inevitable phase unless they can escape their own unconscious projections.
You may have noticed that both the Persecutor and Rescuer are on the upper end of the triangle. These roles assume a “one-up” position over others, meaning they relate as though they are better, stronger, smarter, or more-together than the victim. Sooner or later the victim, who is in the one-down position at the bottom of the triangle, develops a metaphorical “crick in the neck” (inferiority complex) from always looking up. That is feeling “looked down upon” or “worth– less than” the others, the Victim then builds their own resentment and sooner or later, retaliation follows in its course. A natural progression from victim to persecutor will automatically follow. This generally moves the persecutor or rescuer into the mode of “victims of the set-up”. This is reminiscent of a not-so-musical game of musical chairs, all the players sooner or later rotate positions, but the chairs are not gradually taken away, so they get stuck in a vicious circle acting out in turn their own delusions.”

The Pythagorean triangle of Psychoanalytic Approaches

Work on Oneself

Firstly, you are advised to merely observe yourself as an objective manifestation and interaction of three basic centres – Body, Feelings, and Thoughts. The mutual and harmonious interaction of these vital functions is the goal of what will now be termed “Work on Oneself”. There is no external enemy or battleground on this path – the real fight is enacted within your own psyche between your higher and lower self. This manifests daily on the material plane as tension and conflict caused by your repeated attempts to gain control of your own mind and make it a servant, not the master of your destiny.

“Before any work is undertaken a small word of advice for those eager to proceed, for many are called but few are chosen, fewer still succeed. In order to illuminate what is entailed in “work on oneself” a suitable analogy may suffice. It is as if someone buys a house for the first time with the intention of renovating or refurbishing it. Some people begin on the outside erecting scaffolding, planks and tarpaulins but they encounter difficult weather conditions, or the workmen fail to turn up on time and sooner or later the work is abandoned. These types of people end up selling their property for less than they paid for it and settle for living in a new fully furnished apartment. However, another type of people manage to complete the exterior work on their property and then begin work on the inside but without sufficient funds or an organised plan they go from room to room destroying one structure and interfering with some utility or another until they find themselves living in a chaotic building site. Seeing all the devastation around them and quite unable to remedy the situation in desperation they end up living in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Another type approach the work with sincerity, several a priori plans, a great understanding of what is involved, several contingencies and with devotion, determination as well as a lot of personal sacrifices achieve the allotted goal. However, these are few in number so beware……”

Jeanne de Saltzmann who spent nearly thirty years with Gurdjieff from 1919 in Tiflis until his death in 1949 discussed the role of the work in relation to the numerous organisations which claim sovereignty over his ideas, principles and working methods. In this respect she made the following statement:

“Today when Gurdjieff’s teaching is being studied and put into practice by sizeable research groups in Asia, America and Europe it seems desirable to shed some light on a fundamental characteristic of his teaching. While the truths sought were the same, the forms through which he helped his pupils approach it served only for a limited time. As soon as a new understanding had been reached, the form of the teachings would change. The readings, talks, discussions and studies, which had been the main feature of work for a period of time and had been a stimulus to the pupils intelligence, opening them up to a new way of seeing, being and doing were, for some reason or other suddenly brought to an end.”

The Interaction between Psychoanalyst & Client

Essentially this put the pupil on the spot and prevented any automatic assimilation or comprehension of the material. Acquiring information for its own sake like an academic parrot was not encouraged as this did not contribute to a greater awareness of the self. It was more advantageous however to acquire the correct attitude and apply this in as many circumstances as were presented in the individual’s life. Therefore in so much as it is possible to describe Gurdjieff’s working methods and doctrines by way of text, analogies and diagrams it is a different matter to begin working with them and to acquire competence without the essential aid of a living teacher or guide. For example one may be able to describe the motions of swimming, but it is a totally different matter for them without previous practice and experience to get into a pool or ocean and begin a cross-channel swim. I am not personally a member of any group or authorised Gurdjieff Society or organisation, so with this in mind I have simply attempted to summarise Gurdjieff’s ideas and hopefully stimulate an interest in the reader so that they may become curious enough to find out more. To begin “work on oneself” a person will need to be acquainted with someone who has fully realised the Principles of Gurdjieff, and in my own personal opinion will also need to have the following qualities:


  1. Physical Effort.
  2. Time set aside for “Work”.
  3. A Place to Meet.


  1. Empathy – a sincere heart.
  2. Enthusiasm.
  3. Humility.


  1. A discriminating Mind.
  2. Concentration.
  3. Creative & Subtle Perception.

Development of these 6 human qualities alongside the ideas and practices outlined by Gurdjieff will result in:


  1. FAITH – Always maintaining your Faith (A Positive Attitude).
  2. HOPE – Selfless Action, Service and non-attachment.
  3. LOVE – The Company of those dedicated to personal development.

(Open Discussion with your Teacher, True Friends or your Spiritual Circle)

Whether we have recognised it or not human conditioning, whether mental, emotional or physical, is usually a result of early childhood experiences, imitation of one’s parents and other natural associations like friends, brothers and sisters. This all happened on an unconscious or subliminal level and its relationship to our everyday experience has now been lost to us. Instead of untying these “knots” or psychological dilemmas, we continue to react to external impressions instinctively and dump negative emotions for example into our body, or our feeling centre. This causes many blocks to occur mainly in our musculature, organs and bones which in turn affects our vital centres and stops us from experiencing life fully. In situations like this Gurdjieff maintained that a lot of bio-energy was lost or simply wasted. One of the first things pupils had to ensure was that they should attempt to relax and conserve energy which could be used for spiritual development. Untying and releasing these so-called “knots and blocks” is the aim of the numerous meditation techniques available today which are often combined with physical exercises such as Yoga and Tai Chi.

Individuals can be classified according to their inner workings and outward manifestation of personality traits. They fall firstly into two distinct groups that are commonly called introvert and extrovert. The “introvert” is essentially an extrovert working against a certain extrovert tendency or “complex”, while the “extrovert” is also affected by an unconscious introversion and is attempting to balance out the two opposing qualities in their human psyche. When a certain pattern of energies accumulate in one’s personality we are prone to create a certain type of psychological complex which if it is not properly dealt with will form into more permanent “psychoses or neuroses”. Whether they are prepared to admit to it or not, most people are a series of dominant or passive and some indifferent or unrecognised sub-personalities. Until a real and sustainable sense of “I” is developed a person is generally victim to their subconscious hopes, feelings and fears (Emotional Centre), automatic or conditioned thought processes (Thinking Centre), and the personal animal or carnal appetites (Physical Centre).

Adaptation to environmental factors and personal phobias or inadequacies is often expressed on the instinctual and emotional levels simply with the well-known “fight or flight” response. On a mental level they will fall into the categories of identifying their impressions as “true or false”, “good or bad” – the individual will then use their inherent skills and ability to memorise, internalise and intellectually decide what further tactics to employ. Several decisions will then become available to an individual who is confronted by both new and repeated experiences and they will respond using their experience of past events to decide their next move. The traditional game of chess is analogous to this process of learning using memory, personal experience and acquired knowledge. These tactics can further be defined as ACTIVE, PASSIVE, and NEUTRAL reactions – and manifest as positive ACTION, long periods of INDECISON or instinctive RETREAT.

Furthermore, throughout this process the biological organism is attempting to cope with numerous physical and chemical processes and interactions using a natural cycle of growth and decay (hormonal metabolism). We become subjected to certain states such as waking, sleeping, dreaming and require several fuels or foods to function fully in our environment. As the products of great nature go in – FOOD, AIR & IMPRESSIONS (5 senses) they are processed and assimilated, consequently further actions take place and numerous waste products are eliminated. This process can be viewed as the Yang (male principle) extending into the Yin (female principle) – the two polar aspects of NATURE and the self co-existing within a much greater cosmic principle – our solar system and the Universe beyond. Gurdjieff recognised this interaction of energy as “Holy Affirming”, “Holy Denying” and “Holy Reconciling” – or The Law of Triamazikamno. We could summarise the entire requirements of organic and spiritual life as follows: “Transmuting the Five gross elements into the five subtle elements.”

What most people fail to recognise is that they are a combination of negative and positive qualities that need to be recognised, accepted and reconciled as mutually dependent forces. Most virtues can easily become vices, and vice versa, vices can become virtues if handled correctly. There is often some element in the psyche which is primarily meant to offset or balance out another. However, because of social or parental conditioning there might have been a tendency to view this sub-personality or social vice with some disdain and consequently to block or repress it. This effectively allows for some excess eg: charity,- the act of giving too much of oneself for fear of social alienation from others – manifests as an unacceptable notion that love and respect can somehow be bought. This of course could be true, so some considerable tension within the ego would be built up until this alter-ego is recognised and allowed to operate within the framework of ones’ personal experience. Some internal and external friction is often necessary for personal development to manifest.

In fact, a battle for control, between Light & Darkness may even continually be taking place, and which though internalised, may also be projected onto emotional or environmental conditions in order for the individual to deal with them visibly and practically.

The esoteric view accepts that projection and absorption are alternating principles in self-awareness, and equally valid training grounds for:

“S O U L C O N S C I O U S N E S S”


These 7 human traits form the basis of the material in 2nd Grade Papers where they are discussed in more detail.

Accusing others of faults which you secretly harbour yourself and hypocritically blaming them for your inadequacies.

Failing “to touch..or to taste life fully and experience life as it is in the here and now.

Putting off till tomorrow what you can do today.

Misplaced faith in external circumstances, people or things.

Missing the point or target, relying only on a theoretical or philosophical understanding of the truth.

Inflating ones’ ego, lying unconsciously to oneself and others.

Causing delays and interference or disrespect to others and immersing oneself for long periods in the world of self-pity or hedonistic self-indulgence.

The links to my publications, on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy; “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies, and my own anthology of poetry, “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


Published by Leonidas Kazantheos

For as long as I can remember I have been passionate about the arts, social change and the sustainable environment. After more than thirty years of voluntary and professional involvement commuting between Yorkshire and Lancashire while working in those areas I finally relocated to Buxton in 2013. This was after the birth of our son Gaspard and to further the career of my French partner, Francoise Collignon who is currently seeking work in the tourism sector. In 1988 I became the Regional co-ordinator for the National Artists Association in Manchester and helped promote the artistic revival in the region. At the turn of the millennium in 2001, while pursuing my vocational interest in symbolism and the natural world, I became involved in environmental conservation and the protection of green space in W. Yorkshire. I was elected editor for Calderdale Friends of the Earth, a monthly postal and online newsletter. In my spare time I was preoccupied as a writer, natural archivist and amateur poet. Over a period of five years I also worked briefly as an architectural technician, landscape designer and mural artist near Holmfirth where I gained invaluable insights into restoration and the development of Green Field and Brown Field sites. In my mid-forties I relocated from Halifax, W. Yorkshire to Manchester where I worked as an artist and freelance set designer for several photographic, film and video companies. My work recieved reviews in Hotshoe International, Avant Magazine, NME, The Face, the Big Issue and one shot (The Wolf) became a best-selling poster for Athena Posters. In the late 80’s I became an active member of the National Artists Association and a subscriber to the Design & Artists Copyright Society. I assisted in the instigation of the first Multi-cultural Arts Conference and the first Black Arts Forum in Manchester. I became editor of a quarterly Arts Magazine concerned with promoting and supporting artist’s initiatives in the region. Nevertheless, in my spare time I wrote numerous articles on the natural world and researched aspects of Dream Symbolism and the study of semiotics and gestalts in literature and art. I was involved as facilitator for the local allotments and helped set up a local nature reserve at Hough End. Finally, I was encouraged by a close mentor in America to write more seriously about the work of the literary genius William Shakespeare and to pursue a role as a poet. Although somewhat reluctantly over the past four years I have given poetry performances, workshops and readings in Manchester. I have recently published an anthology of my poetry entitled “Parthenogenesis” and a companion to Shakespeare studies entitled “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”. I am currently working on a screenplay entitled “Not Without Mustard” about the life of Edward de Vere.

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