The Impact of the Family: Loving Them, Yet Finding Yourself
Family Day is celebrated in much of Canada in February: it’s a time to reflect on the impact of family. Depth case studies emphasizes the impact of family on our unique selves, for good or ill.
For Jungians, as for many other case studiess, the archetypes of father, mother and family are extremely important, and have an enormous effect on our development as individuals. As Jung himself puts it:
“The deposit of [human]kind’s whole ancestral experience — so rich in emotional imagery — of father, mother, child, husband and wife… has exalted this group of archetypes into the supreme regulating principles of religious and even of political life, in unconscious recognition of their tremendous psychic power.” [CW 8, para. 337]
We are tremendously impacted by the symbolism of the family, in our social life, our political, economic and religious life, and above all, in the life of the individual — throughout the human life span.
Infant and Mother
As Andrew Samuels asserts, Jung was among the very first to spell out the relationship of mother and child in ways that sound at all like modern developmental psychology. Jung writes, as early as 1927,
The mother-child relationship is certainly the deepest and most poignant one we know… it is the absolute experience of our species, an organic truth …. There is inherent… [an] extraordinary intensity of relationship which instinctively impels the child to cling to its mother. [CW 8, para. 723]
This specifically non-Freudian language sounds similar to modern attachment theory, emphasizing the primary self-creating character of the mother-infant bond, and showing how problems with this bond can be an on-going source of anxiety and depression.
We need the experience of good mother to move us on the path of individuation, the journey to our fundamentally individual selves. The relationship with the father also has a key part to play in this journey.
The Fundamental Question: Unique Individual vs. Impact of the Family
Prof. Samuels also helps us to see that /a-midlife-transition, as Jung, and those who have developed his ideas have understood it, takes us to a central question:
Are we to see a small child as an extension of the psychology of its parents… or more as a being recognizable from the first as possessing his or her own personality and intrapsychic organization?
In other words, can we sort out the parts of our identity that are uniquely, truly ours from those places in the psyche where parental influences, distortions or parentally-related trauma have hidden our true identity and a genuine sense of the unique value of who we individually are?
Discernment of our true individual identity is always at the heart of /a-midlife-transition. As pioneer family systems therapist Prof. Murray Bowen reminds us, “We all have an infant inside of us, but the infant doesn’t have to run the show.” The capacity to love our family members, while simultaneously distinguishing our own unique identity from them, is fundamental to the journey to wholeness.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst