Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Emotional maturity and individuation

Haven't posted much lately; haven't had much to say. So much has already been said by me and others about the experience of psychosis that I wonder if there is any new ground upon which to tread. Which brings me to the front lines: How to deal with the day to day job of recovery.

Chris and I had lunch together today. I have noticed for quite a while now that he is sad and looks traumatized. He rarely smiles. He hesitates a lot, takes him a long time to verbally respond or to physically move. I know this doesn't sound like recovery, but I think there's a logic to what he's going through. "Chris, you're like an open wound these days," said I after we had silently munched our way through our respective salads. "You look traumatized. What's the matter?" After about ten minutes, the story began to trickle out. Not much of a plot, really.

"Everybody else knows what to do, Mom. I haven't a clue."

Putting aside my urge to tell him that nobody really is that confident, I congratulated him on accurately perceiving what it takes other people sometimes a lifetime to figure out -- the more you know, the more you know how much you don't know.

On his bad days, Chris walks and talks as if he is sure of nothing. This is progress. When he first embarked on this spiritual journey, he was a brash knight, full of fantasy, with an assurance that psychiatrists label "grandiosity." This wound has been brought to the surface. This, too, is progress. Chris can articulate. He's in pain, but it's no longer invisible.

He's bored with seeing Dr. Stern. Progress! He says he actually feels more intelligent, and he is aware that his younger self was very confused. Progress! He feels that he is benefiting from transcendental meditation. Hooray!

Numerologically, this is Chris's year of hard work. He has just finished a gruelling week-end of performing in H.M.S. Pinafore. He's been offered a small part time job involving computers.  Fingers crossed!

But where to go from here? How does one get through this present impasse? I found an intriguing story on Gianna Kali's blog, that shows how one woman began her process of individuation. (Clearly, according to Jung, Chris is still too young to individuate. He's going to have to settle for emotional maturity for the time being. That's a new, no doubt traumatizing, experience for him. I mean that without irony.)

In another week or two I began to read Jung again, sifting though his abstruse pronouncements looking for practical advice on what to do next, after one had a heavy-duty confrontation with the collective unconscious. The problem was to assimilate it into one’s daylight consciousness and absorb its life-changing lessons, instead of keeping it walled off where its destructive power could break through again. Jung’s term for this process of assimilation was Individuation. Plainly it was going to be a challenge for somebody like me, because he warned that it was a task for the second half of life, something to be undertaken by stable individuals who had made a place for themselves in the world and achieved the necessary emotional maturity. Nobody under forty, he said, should even consider trying to deal with the collective unconscious. Those too young should be led back to the daylight world via Freud.

. . . I read on, looking for the specific techniques Jung used to help his suitably aged patients deal with the unconscious and its frightening contents. He said he had them express their experience somehow, by painting or drawing or writing or even dancing. When they did this, they would begin to have helpful dreams that gave valuable hints on how they should proceed. And of course, they had Jung himself to interpret their dreams and to give them advice and reassurance.

Our journey continues.


  1. For your son, I would advise him to find something he loves or something he hates.
    Work for the thing he loves, or work against the thing he hates.
    To find such a thing he has to know internally, in his gut, what is good and what is bad.

  2. Thanks for your good advice, Mark. I will encourage him in that direction.


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