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Identity Crisis & Meaning: 4 More Depth Psychotherapy Insights

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.

identity crisis meaning

Famous photograph by Banksy

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.

identity crisis meaning

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.

identity crisis meaning

Finding My Way Through the Maze

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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Identity Crisis & Meaning: 4 Depth Psychotherapy Insights

August 10th, 2015 · identity crisis meaning

Issues of identity crisis & meaning aren’t confined to cigarette smoking French existentialists in Left Bank cafes; in our time, this is the experience of many.

identity crisis meaning

Rene Magritte, “Decalomania, 1966”

Identity Crisis Can Occur at Many Lifestages

Contemporary depth psychotherapy practice shows that the experience of loss of identity or meaning can occur at many points in the life journey.

Such crises can frequently happen at midlife, but that’s not the only time, by any means.

I had such an experience at a time in my life that might be called a “quarter life crisis”.  The experience of the deafness of one of my children led me into a time of profound questioning of who I was, and what I really found meaningful in my life, which included a complete re-examination of the orthodox religious faith which had been a mainstay in my life prior to that time.  It initiated a period of deep change in my life, as is the experience of many who have such experiences.

Identity is Linked to Meaning

Our identity is closely connected to where we find meaning.  Here, I’m using “meaning” to refer to that special way in which I value things, when they are so important that they make up an important element of the value of my whole life.

When things carry “meaning”, in this sense, their value is fundamentally linked to my identity as a person.  What I value in this sense is a crucial component, perhaps the crucial component of who I am.

So that which carries meaning, in this most fundamental sense, is truly bound up with who I am.  If I can’t really find any meaning in anything, I can’t really be in touch with who I really am.  And that could be quite a dilemma.

Value, Meaning Changes Through the Course of A Human Life

identity crisis meaning

What we value at the most fundamental level may change dramatically throughout the course of life.  Sometimes, quite fundamental values die, or lose their meaning.  This can be a source of great psychological pain, but it can also create space, so that new, more fundamental values can emerge.  Sometimes life undoes what seem to be fundamental values in our lives.  Things in which we found immense value, or to which we felt unconditionally committed, can become much less important (witness my example of a fundamental shift in religious values).  Yet out of that experience, if we’re really willing to examine ourselves, and to do the hard work, may come other experiences that make us aware of what is really valuable in life and who we really are.

Identity Crisis and Meaning are Linked to Symbols

The emergence of new meaning is often tied to the emergence of new symbols in a person’s life.

Symbols carry a special feeling charge, a value charge that allows them to serve as guideposts for the orientation of our lives.  As Prof. Andrew Samuels of the University of Essex tells us,

Symbols are captivating pictorial statements…. indistinct, metaphoric and enigmatic portrayals of psychic reality.  [The meaning of symbols] is far from obvious; …it is expressed in unique and individual terms while at the smae time partaking of universal imagery.  …[R]eflected on and related to, they can be recognised as aspects of those images that control, order and give meaning to our lives.  Symbols… are expressions of something intensely alive… “stirring” in the soul.

Symbolism is linked to unconscious processes: old symbols die, and new ones come to life in the psyche.

The symbols are filled with the vitality of both our conscious and unconscious selves. For the process of addressing identity crisis and meaning, uncovering the symbollic aspect of our lives can have immense importance, and is one of the fundamental things in the work of the depth psychotherapist.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


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