August 17th, 2015 · identity crisis meaning
As we discussed last time, issues of identity crisis and meaning are experienced by many — and they are very important, potentially positive, events.
Here are some additional insights that are intended to put issues of identity crisis and meaning into a helpful and healing context.
As Life Progresses, Identity and Meaning Become More Individual
Generally speaking, when we start into the first part of adulthood, we are working toward values that are shared with the society as a whole, in areas such as independence, self-sufficiency, relationship, and many others.
But then, as we move further into our lives we find that answers to questions about meaning and identity tend to become more individual: what specifically is meaningful for me, in my life?
Those who evade these questions of individuality tend to find themselves moving more and more towards what some psychotherapists would call “bad faith” with oneself. They function from a concept of their own identity that grows increasingly collective and that they know, on some level, is disconnected from who they really are. It may be charming and attractive, but it’s mask-like and inauthentic, unsatisfying even to the person him- or herself.
Turn Away from Mass or Collective Identity
The crowd can seem to provide identity, and, in a sense it does — but ultimately, it’s often kind of inauthentic.
To take a simple, small-scale example, there may be a kind of gratification, and even meaning, involved in being Toronto Blue Jays fan. After all, they’re having a great season, for the first time in many years! I can gain a sense of pleasure, shared purpose, and even identity in going down to Rogers Centre and cheering them on. Yet as something to root my life in, a source of meaning, most people would find it pretty thin stuff.
Sources of Identity and Meaning are Rooted in the Unconscious
Who we really are is profoundly connected to “the shadow”, as Jungians say. That’s the largely unconscious part of the psyche where aspects of ourselves that we have for one reason or another rejected, suppressed or left undiscovered “live”. A lot may hinge on our ability to accept and dialogue with the parts of ourselves with which our usual conscious mind is not always comfortable.
Important parts of what gives us our identity may be deep within the unconscious. Who you are is not the same thing as having a concept of yourself. We often try to do this, but the stories that we tell ourselves about our lives tend to not quite ring true. Some thing or things is missing. As researchers and theorists such as neuroscientist-psychologist Prof. Jaak Panksepp hold, there is a fundamental awareness of the self at the unconscious level, that actually underlies all our experience.
In our deepest being, there is a “felt sense” of our own wholeness and integrity. To be on the path of experiencing this more and more is to be on the journey towards wholeness.
Identity Crisis, Meaning and the Undiscovered Self
“You get bigger as you go / No one told me — I just know“: so sings Bruce Cockburn, and he’s right.
Fundamentally, we seek that felt sense of wholeness, and a sense of being authentically one with ourselves.
To get to this sense of wholeness requires a discipline of paying attention to those parts of ourselves that we rarely notice, the semi-conscious and unconscious aspects of ourselves. It also entails paying attention to the symbolic life within us, in our dreams and elsewhere, that opens up the unexplored parts of the Self and its relationship to the world.
At whatever stage of life we might be, this search for greater awareness and insight can be assisted by depth psychotherapy.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
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© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)