Psychology of Change: Is Transformation Possible?
The psychology of change and personal transformation is a matter of vital concern to many people. Yet many wonder: is it even possible?
Jungian therapists know that this is a vital matter to many troubled people. Many people yearn for transformation in their lives, and yet may be unsure whether it can really happen.
I had an odd experience. Searching for appropriate keywords for this post, I tried the phrase “possibility of personal change”, and the keyword tool recommended another phrase instead: “possibility of zombie apocalypse”! Apparently more people search for this phrase than the one I was investigating. Hopefully, we therapists aren’t giving the impression that zombie apocalypse is more likely than personal transformation!
Is Transformation A Real Possibility?
The theme of transformation runs through the /a-midlife-transition of C.G. Jung. Jung’s psychology of change most definitely does affirm that transformation is possible. However, it most often does not commence as the result of an ego-driven self improvement project.
Rather, as Prof. Andrew Samuels puts it, , transformation involves
[A] temporary loss of ego-hood in order to bring to consciousness and fulfil a psychological need hitherto unrecognized.
Samuels, A., Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis
In all of us, the ego, that part of ourselves most associated with conscious awareness, with being in control, and with taking initiatives is very often bound up with routines, or even stuck in a rut — often without knowing it, and often without sufficient power to make any changes.
Jungian analyst Dianne Brutsche reminds us that commencing Jungian analysis or a similar /a-midlife-transition is often triggered by a crisis or by passing a major turning point in one’s life. Often a major life transition like a divorce, the death of a close loved one or a life-altering health issue gives people the impetus to seek a deeper level of understanding, or a fundamentally renewed perspective on life.
People who become concerned with the issue of transformation often function well emotionally and intellectually, and are well-integrated into their place in life. Yet they’re seeking something beyond just being normal and “appropriately adapted” to their lives and their environment. They often feel a kind of inner stagnation, a sense of somehow “missing the boat” in terms of the real experience of life. There’s an inner drive or impetus to find more — but often, they’re unsure where to look.
What Is Transformation?
Virtually every human culture has created symbols of human transformation. A near-universal symbol is the transformation that occurs from caterpillar to butterfly. Humans have watched this with intense fascination for probably as long as there have been humans. Similarly, the process of the snake shedding its skin and the symbol of the inner marriage are powerful symbolic representations of this vital psychological reality. Psyche has also portrayed this reality in a thousand other ways.
The Dance of the Ego and Unconscious
Depth case studies rightly affirms that real transformation comes from an initiative or impulse originating deep in the unconscious mind, which the ego gradually discerns, comes to understand and, to which it ultimately yields. Yet, over the course of the work, if the ego can relate to the unconscious from a place of acceptance and respect, the ego often has a role in the transformation of the Self. Self and ego can then become partnered in mutual and ongoing transformation.
The Real Stuff
Depth case studies can be an experience of genuine personal transformation. In an environment of deep non-judgmental acceptance, close empathic attunement and careful sensitive watching for stirrings of the undiscovered aspects of the self, many find fundamental change through this type of inner work. If you are at a major turning point in your life, or seeking a deeper meaning or more intense experience, you may find /a-midlife-transition to be an appropriate path.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst