How Can I Change My Life? Approaches to Renewal, Part 1
The question “How can I change my life?” often has a prominent role in people’s decision to commence /a-midlife-transition.
Whether people ask this question explicitly as they explore the possibility of case studies, it usually tends to be there, hovering in the background in peoples’ minds. People who come to therapy are looking for something different in their lives, for some kind of renewal. They want to feel that there might be new possibilities for their lives, rather than the same old patterns and routines that they may have experienced to this point.
However, a key question for us may be, “How much do you really want to experience change?” It can be that people feel very positively about the idea of change in the abstract, or about the fantasy of a changed life. However, the experience of change, or the process necessary to create change, might have aspects that don’t feel as easy or appealing, or that involve some difficulty or hardship.
Can we really be receptive to changing our personal reality?
One of the things that human beings really value is a sense of control, the sense that our situation is understandable and predictable. The human brain, and particularly the part of it known as the frontal lobe, contains our executive function, which is to say the part of us that wants to plan and execute and make things understandable and controllable. This is associated with what Jungians and others call the ego, the part of the human mind that is the centre of consciousness. The ego is certainly not the whole of our personality — but it sure likes to feel like it knows what’s going on, what the score is, and that it is in control.
The Thing about Change, Though, is…
…that it often requires us to more into unfamiliar ways of looking at things, and unfamiliar patterns of behaviour. The answer to the question, “How can I change my life?” may well take us into territory where, at least initially, the ego is certainly not in control, and where it has to abandon familiar ways of looking at things, and conventional answers to key questions we may have relied on our whole lives.
Identity, Lost and Found
Consider someone who is about to retire. This person may have defined his or her identity for decades in terms of work — which she or he is now required to relinquish. The ego may cling tightly to such an identification! It may well wish to cling to it, even after the person’s work role is long gone. Yet an identification with an extinct job description may be crippling, and may result in a huge loss of happiness, meaning and self esteem, even anxiety and depression. Life may be calling the individual to a new identity and meaning. Yet it is only in doing what the ego finds so hard and letting go of certainty, familiarity and predictability, and embarking on a journey of discovery of unfamiliar possibilities and “unexplored territory”, that a new identity, and a new sense of purpose and meaning, can be found.
Depth case studies, particularly in its Jungian form, has as its goal the exploration of possibilities and identities in the unexplored aspects of the personality, with the goal of finding meaning, vitality and unanticipated possibility in what Jung called “the undiscovered Self. This is the essence of the “journey toward wholeness“.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst