Genuine Connection and True Value in Life
Our recent experiences have given many people the opportunity to focus on the question of what has true value in life. The answer to that question may be tied very closely to the issue of genuine connection.
By ‘genuine connection”, I mean something that is fairly broad, and that involves a lot of fairly different types of connection. Yet what they all have in common is that they all involve reaching out beyond ourselves, or, at least, beyond the self that we so often may think of as being “me”.
We humans often have a very limited concept of what has value. We often think that what we value is based on our individual decision, or on the particular whims of the society in which we happen to find ourselves. Yet the truth runs much deeper than this.
A Crisis: Value in Life and Connection
We live in a time that celebrates individualism, which is not the same thing as cherishing individuation. There is all the difference in the world between an individualistic approach, which entails me pursuing my own advantage, regardless of the impact on others, and an individuation-based approach, which is focused on my exploration of myself and my unique characteristics in relation to others in my circle and in the world.
In our culture, we’re used to focusing on the needs and wants of the ego. As Jungian Andrew Samuels tells us, the ego is the conscious part of ourselves. It’s concerned with our individual personal identity as we usually define it, with maintaining ourselves over time, testing and sorting what is real from what is not, and so on. The ego has a certain understanding of who we are that is probably partly accurate and partly not. The ego may be strongly influenced by attitudes from our families, our schools, workplaces, media and the society as a whole.
That last point can be where we run into trouble, that may be related to great deal of depression and anxiety. We live in a society where untold billions of dollars are spent to try and influence our attitudes about what we want, and particularly where we should spend our money. This leads to an environment where what we want can be very strongly influenced by the marketplace, and there can be a subtle but strong pressure on us to want what everybody else wants. In the midst of this pressure, it can be easy to lose connection with our real desires at the deepest level, and, in fact, to lose contact with who and what we most fundamentally are.
I’m continually struck by the experiences of numbers of clients, particularly in midlife. These individuals tell me that they look back on certain choices that they have made in their lives, perhaps to go into a certain career, or perhaps to buy or not buy a house, or to embark on having a family, or to decide not to have a family, and they simply cannot understand the choice they made at that earlier point in their lives. “What was I thinking?” they ask me, “Who was I trying to please? It’s like I was in a daze or a trance….”
This kind of situation can occur when the ego is making decisions based on what it thinks its values are, at a particular point in the life journey. The lyrics of a song from the 1980s put it so well:
And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack / And you may find yourself in another part of the world / And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile / And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife / And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?” (Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”)
We need connection to our true values, to the things that stay meaningful because they are fundamentally connected to who we most basically are.
Ego’s Delusion of Self-Sufficiency
In a somewhat similar way, in our culture, the ego can be lured by a false sense of self-sufficiency. Our culture holds out the ideal of the individual in such a way that it can certainly seem like what is valued is people who don’t really need anyone, who do everything independently and who are never really open or vulnerable.
While, in the past, it was males who were primarily subject to a pressure to adopt this kind of individualism, we see that in more recent times that women are now subject to the same pressures. Not so very many years ago, it used to be men in corporate workplaces who were subject to the pressure to put in long hours at the office, sacrificing time with children, partners and those they care about. Now, many women are subject to exactly the same demands. In fact, social distancing and working from home has been a wake up call to many people, as they become aware of just how much time at the office had come to dominate their waking lives.
In our culture, not only does the ego tend to rely on its values, rather than something more deeply rooted in the Self, but there is a tendency for the ego to lapse into an isolated self-sufficiency that actually diminishes the person. Given the values of our culture, we can easily fall into the expectation that disconnectedness, loneliness and isolation are the norm.
True Value in Life and Nourishing Connection
If you want to get connected to what you truly value in life, you have to dig a bit, reaching down into yourself, to connect with unexplored aspects of yourself, seeking to understand what for you has real value in life. This process could well involve looking at the values in the family you were raised in, as well as the values reflected in the ways in which you live. It will probably also entail looking at where you live, and how you spend your money, and on what you spend your time. It will almost certainly involve connecting with some deep parts of yourself in a new way.
Oddly enough, this process bears some real similarity with the process of opening up and being vulnerable to other people. Both types of connection involve opening yourself up for possibilities of connection not previously encountered, and a kind of flexibility and vulnerability. Jungian /a-midlife-transitions often emphasize that meeting previously unknown parts of ourselves can resemble meeting someone new—except that they’re parts of us, what Jung called “the undiscovered Self”.
Connecting with the undiscovered parts of ourselves, and finding our most fundamental values is all part of the journey towards wholeness, as is finding meaningful and authentic connection to others. The process of connecting with true value in life can be greatly enhanced through working with a Jungian /a-midlife-transition.
With very best wishes for all your future journeys,