In the “Psychology of the Transference”, Jung said, “The goal is important only as an idea; the essential thing is the opus which leads to the goal: that is the goal of a lifetime. In its attainment “left and right” are united, and conscious and unconscious work in harmony.” (para. 400).
Life is messy and wonderful. There is no doubt that the first half of life is hectic. Early life is an outer-oriented process in service of learning and adapting to social norms in the family and in the culture, becoming educated, defining oneself, and adding achievements and awards to be able to say, “This is me!” This is my persona. And, this is necessary in order to go out into the world with confidence and be productive. All those childhood wonderings about what will I do when I grow up, who will I marry, and how many children will I have start to become answered in one’s twenties when one begins a job or career, gets married, buys a house and starts a family. Again, all of these landmarks define me and define who I am. And, life goes on without skipping a beat. Life becomes busier than ever in one’s thirties and forties. The children are growing up, jobs are more demanding, and there is less time for oneself and one’s significant other. We are running at a faster pace, working longer, parenting more intensely, and dealing with aging parents. As stressful as this is, this is “normal” development and process. This is life’s work as a process.
It is usually at this point, at mid-life, that one comes into the consulting room to deal with life stresses and to sort out one’s life. This is where life becomes an inner-oriented process. One believes that one’s stresses and problems are due to other people and external factors but not oneself. However, it is the relationship with the analyst and psyche that allows the patient to see that these conflicts and “issues” (complexes) that have haunted him/her since childhood and are now persistent, entrenched, and repetitive. The patient then begins to shift focus and has the dawning awareness that the problems “out there” are really “in here”. There is reluctance and shame in this uncomfortable discovery that one has participated unconsciously in these problems. One chokes at the admittance of it. There is the realization that the adaptive behaviors and coping skills used in childhood that helped the patient adapt and survive have become the behaviors and coping skills that are not helpful in relationships and work in adulthood. The real question is, “What aspects of me did I have to hide and repress in childhood in order to adapt?” Let’s look at assertiveness as an example. Perhaps one was not allowed to be assertive in childhood resulting in behaviors that could be described as demurring, falling back, shutting down, and not speaking up for oneself. In this instance, the patient has become too one-sidedly diffident. And, since assertiveness hides in the shadow, it comes out sideways as overly confident and dictatorial when activated. It is through the work between the analyst and the analysand that allows for the dialogue with the unconscious that brings consciousness. This realization creates the “opposites” for consciousness to bear and the opportunity for a shift and change in attitude. The question now changes from who did I become to what more can I become? The one-sidedness created in the first half of life is met with the unconscious awakening in the second half of life. This creates the opportunity to “see” one’s shadow for integration resulting in balance and wholeness. This is life’s work as a process.
But, there is more. While the first half of life is met with “getting” and achieving, the second half of life is met with loss. Jung stated the task of the second half of life is dealing with one’s death. My experience in the consulting room has been that at around age 50 patients begin to have the realization of their own death. These thoughts seem to percolate in the back of the mind and creep quietly into consciousness. Careers come to an end and children grow up and have families of their own. One ends up dealing with end of life questions and issues of oneself and one’s significant other. Facing one’s death is indeed a daunting task and fraught with unexpected twists and turns in unchartered waters. One is better able to withstand these waters when one continues to unite the “left and right” and when “conscious and unconscious work in harmony”. It is through this process that allows for the opportunity to engage the outer world with wisdom and generativity. This is life’s work as a process.
Rosanne Shepler, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Psychoanalyst, received her Diploma in Analytical Psychology from the C.G. Jung Institute of New York in 2002. She also holds masters degrees in Health Education and Counseling. She is the past President of JAWA and the past Treasurer of JAWA and NYAAP. She is on the Curriculum Committee and Teaching Faculty of the C.G. Jung Institute of New York. She is a member of JAWA, the New York Association for Analytical Psychology (NYAAP), the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts (IRSJA), and the International Association of Analytical Psychology (IAAP).