Saying No: Jungian Psychotherapy, the Self, and Compliance
In Jungian case studies, the Self is something greater than, and distinct from, the ego, and it is something that plays a very active role in the psychological life of the individual. I often see it at work when I have the experience of working with individuals who have simply reached the point where they cannot accommodate the inappropriate needs of others any further. It isn’t that they have “decided not to”. It’s more elemental: something in them will not allow them to bend themselves any further to the will of other people at the cost of their own needs and identity.
People Who Please
Often these are people who, at earlier points in their life have been extremely accommodating of others and who have experienced great pressure, often early in life, to be compliant. However, when these people come to see me, often in an agitated state, they make it very clear that they simply can no longer oblige others by being who that Other expects them to be. It’s over: they can’t do it. Or, at least, they can’t do it without paying an extremely heavy price, such as possibly lapsing into some form of serious physical or mental illness.
The End of a Certain Road
Often this experience comes at the end of a very long period in an individual’s life of suppressing his or her own wants and needs in favour of others’ demands. In many cases, the individual may be suddenly confronted with one or more new and extreme self-denying demands, often with the difference this time that the individual is simply incapable of assenting to the wishes of others.
Astounding Self Revelation
Such people are often astounded at their own reactions. They possibly find themselves feeling great anger or resentment, or overcome with a malaise or apathy not at all characteristic of their usual “sunny disposition” social selves. They might find themselves in states of intense fear, or even despair. What it all comes down to though, is this:
I have jumped through the hoops of others’ expectations so many times in the past. I realize now the incredible price that I have paid in myself for doing it. I can’t do it any more. I can’t go back to that…NO!!!”
The “No” That Contains a “Yes”
That NO the individual gives to the demands for compliance contains within it a huge YES to the individual’s selfhood, and to their own real life. At this point a new adventure begins.
I’ve had experiences like this myself, at several key points in my life. At one point, in a time of genuine crisis, I made a decisive choice to move my life in a different direction. Not because I had a choice about it, but because I didn’t — not if I wanted to continue to be myself, rather than a burnt-out remnant. In the words of Robert Frost, “and that has made all the difference”.
Have you ever had an experience of this type? Would you recognize it if you yourself were to come to this place?
Is Your Own Deepest Self Saying “No”?
I have no doubt that, among those reading this, there are some of you who have had the type of experience that I describe. I suspect that there may be others among my readers who are undergoing this type of experience right now. If you are, please remember that the support of a skilled therapist can be invaluable at times like this. I know that it was for me.
Have you ever faced a situation in your life, where something within you just said “No” in an absolute way? What kind of situation was it? Did it relate to your work life? Your personal or domestic life? I would welcome any of your comments or reflections.
Wishing you and your potent, living self every good thing as you find your personal journey to wholeness,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
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© 2011 Brian Collinson