Controlling My Impulses: Return of the Repressed After Midlife
“Controlling My Impulses” — such an emotionally charged phrase. Often it assumes great importance in midlife and the second half of life.
For people who see themselves as moral, psychologically normal people, these powerful impulses can be surprising, even shocking. The struggle with controlling my impulses in the second half of life often has to do with what Dr. Murray Stein calls “the return of the repressed.” These impulses usually begin in the unconscious mind, and the individual becomes subject to “a compulsive and unconsciously determined set of actions.” This can be disturbing, and even dangerous.
Example. Mary has an uncontrollable impulse to steal cosmetics when she goes to department stores in Toronto. She is married to a prominent politician, has the reputation of being a good mother, is embarrassed and ashamed of this behaviour and terrified at the prospect of getting caught. Mary has no understanding of why she does it, when she could easily afford the items in question. She is starting to feel as if the whole underpinning of her life is giving way…
Controlling My Impulses in the Second Half of Life
This example might seem extreme, almost melodramatic. Granted, it’s at the more serious end of the spectrum, yet wrestling with such a distressing impulse is not uncommon. Why might controlling my impulses become such a pressing issue, as I move into midlife, and later life?
Individuals often lose touch in some fundamental ways with who they are in terms of needs, hopes and aspirations in what Jung called “the first adulthood” — that is, adult life leading up to midlife. We can be so intent on “doing the right thing”, and on “being good”, in the sense of putting ourselves and our true needs and wishes last, after spouse and spouse’s career, children, parents, and all the myriad other demands, that we lose our way. Usually, this loss of direction, satisfaction and meaning is not something that the unconscious mind will just take lying down.
The Return of the Repressed After Midlife
The result, very often, is what Jungian case studiess like Stein refers to as the “return of the repressed”. By this, is meant the return of some repressed piece of the personality, as opposed to just the repression of some unacceptable thought or quirky motivation. The compulsion to steal described above isn’t rooted in just a bad impulse to take the pretty lipstick. It is a symbollic representation of the inmost part of the person, the soul, if you like, that is trying to get something that it needs. The soul is trying to heal itself.
How is Psyche Trying to Heal Itself?
After half a lifetime or more of ignorring our own needs and our deepest yearnings, and/or just reflexively people-pleasing, the thing that stops me from controlling my impulses may be a cry for help from the deepest part of me. Or a warning shot, fending me off from loss of soul.
Psychotherapists know that the voice of the shadow may be heard in some very strong impulses, some of which can be quite dangerous:
- Kleptomania, as an expression of some yearning deep within us;
- Anger or rage, as an expression of a need to defend the boundaries of the self;
- Driving irresponsibily, as possibly an expression of a deep yearning for freedom; or,
- Compulsive sexuality, as an expression of deep yearnings for love, for union, for abandonment, or many other things.
There are many other possible impulses, as well. The way is very individual.
The unconscious seeks to heal itself. It is wise, but cannot put its wisdom into practice without the help and cooperation of our conscious selves.
Often, the journey of /a-midlife-transition into the depths, and contact wth the basic energies of our lives, is our true need.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
PHOTOS: © Daniel Lobo ; Harry Rose
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)