Identity Crisis & Meaning: 4 Depth Psychotherapy Insights
Issues of identity crisis & meaning aren’t confined to cigarette smoking French existentialists in Left Bank cafes; in our time, this is the experience of many.
Identity Crisis Can Occur at Many Lifestages
Contemporary /a-midlife-transition practice shows that the experience of loss of identity or meaning can occur at many points in the life journey.
Such crises can frequently happen at midlife, but that’s not the only time, by any means.
I had such an experience at a time in my life that might be called a “quarter life crisis”. The experience of the deafness of one of my children led me into a time of profound questioning of who I was, and what I really found meaningful in my life, which included a complete re-examination of the orthodox religious faith which had been a mainstay in my life prior to that time. It initiated a period of deep change in my life, as is the experience of many who have such experiences.
Identity is Linked to Meaning
Our identity is closely connected to where we find meaning. Here, I’m using “meaning” to refer to that special way in which I value things, when they are so important that they make up an important element of the value of my whole life.
When things carry “meaning”, in this sense, their value is fundamentally linked to my identity as a person. What I value in this sense is a crucial component, perhaps the crucial component of who I am.
So that which carries meaning, in this most fundamental sense, is truly bound up with who I am. If I can’t really find any meaning in anything, I can’t really be in touch with who I really am. And that could be quite a dilemma.
Value, Meaning Changes Through the Course of A Human Life
What we value at the most fundamental level may change dramatically throughout the course of life. Sometimes, quite fundamental values die, or lose their meaning. This can be a source of great psychological pain, but it can also create space, so that new, more fundamental values can emerge. Sometimes life undoes what seem to be fundamental values in our lives. Things in which we found immense value, or to which we felt unconditionally committed, can become much less important (witness my example of a fundamental shift in religious values). Yet out of that experience, if we’re really willing to examine ourselves, and to do the hard work, may come other experiences that make us aware of what is really valuable in life and who we really are.
Identity Crisis and Meaning are Linked to Symbols
The emergence of new meaning is often tied to the emergence of new symbols in a person’s life.
Symbols carry a special feeling charge, a value charge that allows them to serve as guideposts for the orientation of our lives. As Prof. Andrew Samuels of the University of Essex tells us,
Symbols are captivating pictorial statements…. indistinct, metaphoric and enigmatic portrayals of psychic reality. [The meaning of symbols] is far from obvious; …it is expressed in unique and individual terms while at the smae time partaking of universal imagery. …[R]eflected on and related to, they can be recognised as aspects of those images that control, order and give meaning to our lives. Symbols… are expressions of something intensely alive… “stirring” in the soul.
Symbolism is linked to unconscious processes: old symbols die, and new ones come to life in the psyche.
The symbols are filled with the vitality of both our conscious and unconscious selves. For the process of addressing identity crisis and meaning, uncovering the symbollic aspect of our lives can have immense importance, and is one of the fundamental things in the work of the /a-midlife-transition.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
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© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)