Our culture today revolves around action and progress. Technology and industry are growing rapidly and changing our world along with them. It seems as if everyone is trying to get somewhere else, be someone else, achieve something else. We value progress…in our world, in ourselves and in others. Yet, this leaves little room for acceptance and perhaps, contentedness.
Few people seem to be content with who they are in this moment, where they are and what they have. They act as if they are deficient. Not enough.
I see this every week in my office. People who feel they aren’t smart enough, talented enough, loved enough, worthy enough. People who feel their partners or children aren’t behaved enough, attentive enough, etc. Yet, what they are really telling me is that they don’t want to feel stupid, dull, or rejected. They don’t want their partners and children to be naughty, selfish or clueless. And the list of “defects” that we don’t want ourselves or others to be can go on and on. How scary. How daunting. How exhausting!
These “defects” that we desperately try to ignore can plague us. They can make us feel vulnerable, guilty, bad and abnormal. Yet, if all of us experience these shadows, doesn’t that make us …well, normal?
Carl Jung wrote extensively about our “shadow” side. Jung believed that the shadow consisted of all of those thoughts, feelings, behaviors and desires that we try to ignore or push away. They are the parts of ourselves that we think are bad or unacceptable. Some of us go to great lengths to disassociate ourselves with the shadow. Yet, what is pushed down, Jung said, will come up eventually.
This process is highlighted in the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Dr. Jekyll was a kind and loving doctor who found a way to transform himself into an opposite personality, Mr. Hyde, who was entirely without a moral compass. Dr. Jekyll was then leading a double life. One side of him was empathetic and ethical and the other murdered and manipulated.
Jung implied that we are all like Dr. Jekyll. We all have desires, urges, thoughts and instincts that we repress and detest even though we may not act on them. In Jung’s opinion, we must reconcile ourselves to the shadow. We must recognize and accept this part of ourselves as normal in order to maintain control over it.
What aspects of yourself do you see as defective? What thoughts, desires or “defects” do you try to ignore or suppress? This week, take a peak at your shadow. Begin an acquaintance with the side of yourself that you reject. The first step to accepting yourself is realizing that you are much more than you thought you were.
From Gods to Symptoms
A well-known psychotherapist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, spent his life delving into the overlapping waters of spirituality and psychotherapy. Jung was interested in the way human beings experience the ethereal and divine in every day life. He taught that symbols, whether in dreams or in the waking state, represent ideas and concepts that can’t be captured in words or pinned down indefinitely by any culture.
As a psychotherapist, Jung studied the psychological process of coming to terms with these existential and spiritual concepts. He sought to understand the relationship of spiritual symbols and archetypes to the human psyche or soul. In his commentary on, The Secret of the Golden Flower, Jung compares modern day psychological symptoms to our primitive reactions to the gods.
“…we imagine we have left such phantoms of gods far behind. But what we have outgrown are only the word – ghosts, not the psychic facts which were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as possessed by our autonomous psychic contents as if they were gods. Today they are called phobias, compulsions, and so forth, or in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus, but the solar plexus, and creates specimens for the physician’s consulting room, or disturbs the brain of the politicians and journalists who then unwittingly unleash mental epidemics.”
In therapy, clients often describe their behaviors as uncharacteristic of themselves and difficult to control, as if an outside force were propelling their actions. It’s not difficult to see how the Greeks could have believed that circumstances and reactions were influenced by unseen, powerful deities. Today, a similar relationship is found when people feel like slaves to their own mental health symptoms and, either willingly or not, submit to their influences.
In days past, the remedy was to appeal to the gods for help and pity; to respect them and attempt to understand their nature. Yet, this same remedy is not applied to neurosis. What is it that makes neurosis and symptoms so less approachable than powerful and unpredictable gods? Perhaps the idea of gods allowed people to explore depths within themselves from a safer vantage point; places that one would not willingly venture into. Perhaps resolution with the psyche today comes by approaching our phobias, compulsions and symptoms with the same respect, reverence, curiosity and acceptance that men and women used to make peace with the gods, and consequently, with themselves.
The Spirit of Therapy
Where psychotherapy interacts with our mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and relational wellbeing.