Addictions, Perfectionism and Jungian Psychotherapy
There can be a strong connection between perfectionism and addiction, as Jungian case studies readily asserts. We live in the midst of intense pressures that many experience as a continual demand to overcome, and to excel. For many, this leads to a gnawing, unending driven-ness, in which their efforts are never good enough, complete enough, or secure enough, especially in their work. They pour more and more of themselves out in the effort to acheive an impossible standard that is continually elusive. In the process they feel more and more empty and hollow inside. These people are in a continually painful state. They cannot ever feel satisfied or secure, valuable — or even adequate.
Not Looking at the Shadow
In the terms of Jungian case studies, this is a shadow issue. For such individuals, it is intolerable to face or accept their unacknowledged weakness, vulnerability and humanity. They strive to get rid of “the shadow”, the suffering, exhausted and often despairing parts of themselves that are so difficult to face up to. Through inhuman effort, they strive to eliminate their unacceptable parts. They try harder and harder. But the cost to the individual can be so great that it brings immense pain. Often, it is only through the “self-medication” of addictions — alcohol, drugs, gambling, porn, Internet, you name it — that the awful pain and emptiness can be kept away.
Woodman on Addictions and Being Perfect
Prominent Jungian analyst Marion Woodman writes about those individuals who are perfectionistic in their attitudes, in a way that combines with addiction:
Behind the masks of these successful lives, there lurks disillusionment and terror. One common factor appears repeatedly. Consciously the individuals are being driven to do better and better within the rigid framework they have created for themselves; unconsciously they cannot control their behaviour. There are countless individual and collective reasons for the outbreak of chaos as soon as the daily routine is completed. Will power can only last so long. If that will power has been maintained at the cost of everything else in the personality, then nothingness gapes raw. When in the evening it’s time to come back to oneself, the mask and the inner being do not communicate…. Compulsions narrow life down until there is no living — existence, perhaps, but no living.
Marion Woodman, Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride
I believe there are millions of people who are caught in this trap in our present time. Such individuals are not going to get out of their prison by greater effort of will. Many such individuals would benefit greatly from entering into /a-midlife-transition, so that they can get in contact with the living part of themselves.
Can You Be with Yourself, and Feel It’s Good?
Can you give yourself a break? Can you put on the brakes, and accept that enough is enough? Can the inner critic in you be silenced, or are its attacks relentless? Do you medicate in some way, to keep the pain and loneliness at bay?
There is hope, and there are possibilities. If you find yourself confronting feelings of hollowness, or despair, because of perfectionism, there are ways of opening up to the reality of the self, and to accepting the real, vital and unique person within you. Don’t deny yourself!
May your journey to wholeness connect you to your real, imperfect, but wonderfully alive self,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
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© 2011 Brian Collinson