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Jungian Therapy & the Second Half of Life, 5: Freedom

April 9th, 2012 · 4 Comments · freedom, Jungian, Jungian therapy, life, second half of life

jungian therapy

The word freedom often appears in discussions about the second half of life, but often the particular depth of understanding that Jungian therapy would attach to the word is lacking.

Not long ago, people talked about “Freedom 55”, the idea that one would be able to retire and leave work behind at age 55.  However, particularly since the economic contraction of 2008, this may seem much less possible.  Yet, this type of fantasy retains its power: we often hear phrases like “imagine the freedom” associated with, say, winning the lottery.

However, another concept much more closely associated with what used to be called spirituality may have more relevance in the second half of life.  Jungian analyst James Hillman once observed,

[W]e haven’t thought about… freedom enough. It needs to be internalized as an inner freedom from “demand” itself… that comes when you’re free from those compulsions to have and to own and to be someone…. [We need a concept] that broadens our current limited idea of freedom: that I can do any goddamn thing I want on my property; that I am my own boss and don’t want government interference; that I don’t want anybody telling me what I can and can’t do…

Externals and Freedom

We easily identify “externals” that keep us from being free, such as my boss, my job or my financial limitations.  It’s true: my external circumstances always limit my freedom – just as they also create my possibilities.  But in our time and culture, is being free from externals the freedom that we really most need?

Freedom from Inner Compulsion

Like Jungian therapy in general, Hillman suggests the greatest restrictions we face may actually be inner.  Yearning for more self esteem,  we may thirst for: respect and approval of others; ownership of house or car that says we’ve “made it”; or, status or qualifications that show that we “are somebody”.  Or we feed addictions, thus avoiding dealing with shame or anxiety.  Could release from inner compulsions make us free?

Free… For What?

We assume we need to be free “from” externals.  But Hillman and Jungian therapy bid us consider what our freedom is actually for.  What do we need to be free to find in the second half of life ?

Authenticity and Meaning

Jungian therapy emphasizes the self in the second half of life: what does freedom mean from this perspective?  Surely letting the self live freely, and finding one’s life purpose in doing so.  Perhaps the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis summed it up best in his epitaph:

“I expect nothing.  I fear nothing.  I am free.”




PHOTOS:  Attribution Some rights reserved by Guilliame Paumier  VIDEO: © 20th Century Fox
© 2012 Brian Collinson

4 Comments so far ↓

  • John Ferric

    I find it very interesting that alleged “Jungians” seem to not pay any attention to Jung himself. Consider that in many traditions “men of a certain age” leave home, family and society and become “wandering mendicants.” The essence of this way of life is spelled out reasonably well in “The Way of the Pilgrim.” Now look to Jung himself, he went to the lake shore, leaving famiy and home, while not “wandering” he made his own way through the balance of his life, cooking for himself, drawing water from the well, chopping wood, tending to his own needs, looking after himself. But what of “men of a certain age” in our culture? They are still emeshed in family life, unable to separate themselves and tend their own needs. They settle for an “image” of being content, good grandparents, happy travelers, etc., but no inner process is taking place, it is all “surface” material. Jung points some of this out in “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man.”

  • Brian C

    Thank you for your comment, John. I think that there is some real validity to your comment, in the sense that, in many cultures, the latter years are seen as the time for a particular journey into the inner depths. Sometimes this is concretized into an outer journey or retreat, as was often seen to be the latter stage of the journey for Hindus of the Brahmin class. Sometimes, there was just a recognition that the older individual had inner work, or work with the spirits to do. I think that certainly, the essential point is that the latter part of life was intended to be a journey into the depths, what Jung often referred to as the “night sea journey”. I think we would do well, as a culture to recognize the deep need of individuals to make such a journey.

  • jamenta

    Freedom appears to be paradoxical given the Jungian perspective of the psyche. Apparently – we are more free when we listen to our unconscious more, and do not fight upstream toward the direction it would like to take us.

    It is a bit of a parodox. Yet we must accept that the unconscious has a greater breadth and purview than the conscious ego – and therefore knows better the destination that will fulfill one’s deepest yearnings and aspirations – will provide the most meaningful life.

    The ego rebels because it does not wish to lose control – and fears anything outside its scope. I would say part of individuation is knowing when to stand aside – and let the unconscious do its thing – let your destiny play itself out.

  • Brian C

    Thanks very much for your comment, Bill. Freedom is a complex subject, at times. I don’t think, though, that the analogy of “I will be free when” is really quite a fit here. The psychological fact is that, as we go through life, we go through a series of psychological stages at different points in the journey. In the second half of life, people are often able to let go of things that have been quite pre-occupying at earlier stages in life, and the potential is there for them to live from a different perspective than what they have had earlier in life. I believe that this is what is meant by the term wisdom.

    I do think that we evolve, change and become at different stages in life, and I would have to respectfully disagree that “age is simply another self-defined contingency”. In fact, our age makes certain things possible, and others impossible. One could not expect very many three year olds to have the capacity to do differential calculus. Neither would it be very fair to say to a 75 year old who has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease that “age is merely a state of mind”. And I think that later life makes certain kinds of insight, and certain kinds of freedom possible. Jung was truly a western thinker in the attention and significance that he gave to the aging process, the stages in it, and in the development of consciousness, and I think that he was fundamentally right about this..

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