Suffering

In a community where I participate I posted this quote from Jung the other day:

“Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering” 
― C.G. Jung 

And a friend responded, "Yes, I've always thought that was a stunning statement, Cheryl. Could you unpack it a bit? (Especially the "legitimate" thing?) "

Here is a post I wrote about this a year or so ago:  

I have been thinking about the following from Jung for a number of years.  

"... the principal aim of psychotherapy is not to transport the patient to an impossible state of happiness, but to help him acquire steadfastness and philosophic patience in face of suffering. Life demands for its completion and fulfillment a balance between joy and sorrow." Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 16, p.81  

This is not a message most people want to hear. It is tough to accept that suffering is part of life, that it is meaningful and unavoidable. It is hard for patients and often hard for therapists as well to stay with what is painful, to resist the urge to dart away into what is more comfortable, soothing, or easy. This way of understanding therapy also flies in the face of a feel-good orientation which seems to dominate American culture. We want to medicate, meditate or otherwise eliminate suffering, not face into it, sit in it and explore its meaning.  

It takes time to learn to handle our own discomfort in the face of another's pain, to allow the patient to be in and with those feelings. It is the same kind of discomfort and urge to rescue that parents feel when their child is having difficulty -- the best course is often to allow the child to wrestle with it, to feel the feelings and with as little intervention as possible, find her own solution while at the same time remaining emotionally connected to and available to the child. We therapists have to come to terms with the reality that our desire to help often comes from discomfort with our own difficult feelings and from a desire to have the patient feel grateful and to like us.  

"My work as a psychoanalyst is to help patients recover their lost wholeness and to strengthen the psyche so it can resist future dismemberment." 
-C.G. Jung  

The most important Jungian book I have read in the last several years, one I go back to and read again and again is by Barbara Stevens Sullivan. She writes:  

"The most hopeful result of analysis finds the patient suffering more of his pain than he was able to manage before. More of his pain is held in conscious awareness instead of being discharged into behavior that jumbles up his life, injuring his relationships or his work. A successful therapeutic venture leaves the patient’s outer life improved, perhaps dramatically. Ideally, the patient will find more satisfaction and pleasure than before. But instead of being tormented by meaningless pain, he will suffer pain constructively. Pain is always part of life, and the wounds that have molded the person into exactly this or that shape will continue to channel his responses to pain in his unique ways." Sullivan, Barbara Stevens (2009-10-03). The Mystery of Analytical Work: Weavings from Jung and Bion (p. 176). T & F Books UK. Kindle Edition.  


I couldn't put it any better. But we live in a time when we want to believe that we can cure any ill, banish any problem defeat any enemy, this is a very difficult position to hold. The psychology of happiness has gripped many Americans because we want to believe that happiness is the normal state and anything short  of that is indicative of a problem that should be solved.  

" The energy of the Enlightenment, in which human beings attempt to understand the universe and to use their understanding to improve their material lives, fosters an attitude of avoidance of emotional pain. We can conquer smallpox, we can fly faster than the speed of sound, we can repair birth defects in utero, even rearrange the genetic code of the fetus. Surely we can transcend pain! Pain becomes a symptom of failure rather than a natural element of life. Jung called neurosis the avoidance of legitimate suffering. To the extent that a person can humble herself and recognize that every human situation involves pain, she will suffer. Suffering is a necessary ingredient for psychological growth." Sullivan, p. 75

© Cheryl Fuller, 2016. All  rights reserved.