Let’s start here, which is one of the premises of Jungian psychology: Your greatest strength lives within your greatest pain. When you eradicate your symptoms without approaching them with curiosity and compassion, you eradicate a pathway that leads to your true power.
In other words, there is wisdom in your symptoms. Sometimes you need to reduce the intensity of the symptoms before you can harness the wisdom, and this is where many mainstream therapy tools are effective, but if the entire goal of therapy is to eradicate symptoms, a new set of symptoms will likely pop up someplace else until the underlying messages are received.
But it’s not only mainstream therapy that is single-mindedly focused on symptom reduction to the exclusion of the deeper healing potential. Most of our systems are predicated on the intention of eliminating pain by eradicating symptoms. I can’t tell you how many times clients have told me how, as a suffering teenager, they were taken to a psychiatrist and after twenty minutes of telling their story were given a prescription for an anti-depressant. There is a time and a place for pharmaceuticals, but this is not one of them.
A teenager suffering through adolescent angst and likely being the seer in the family needs to be heard, received, and guided across the tenuous threshold of their transition into adulthood while learning ways to honor their sensitive emotional life and developing meaningful and feasible regular practices that can usher them not only across this transition but through life. Adolescence, like all transitions, is a portal where our inner world leaps onto the scene in high relief and we can either develop habits of hardening and numbing or habits that lead us in the direction of our gifts. Sadly, our systems enforce the former and imprint upon young people a harsh and damaging message that says: We don’t have time for your pain so we’re going to make it go away as quickly as possible.
Every time a teenager receives the message that something is wrong with them, a layer of self-trust is eroded.
Because our culture is grief-and-pain phobic, we refuse to listen to the canaries in the coalmine. I’ll share another example of how this plays out. When housewives in the 1950s exhibited symptoms of depression in response to a lifestyle in which there were no options to do anything other than cook and clean, they were given cocaine and methyl-amphetamines. As a result, countless women became addicted to drugs and their voices of protest were successfully silenced. Instead of the doctors saying, “Maybe it’s the system that’s making you feel oppressed and depressed,” they blamed the women. Eventually, of course, the women’s voices were heard, but it came at an extraordinary cost to the thousands, if not millions, of women who were drugged.
Every time a woman receives the message that something is wrong with her, a layer of self-trust is eroded.
Likewise, we have a generation of young people who have been drugged from an early age because they can’t comply with the demands of the educational system. They need to move when they’re expected to sit. They’re visual-spatial learners in a verbal-linear paradigm. They’re highly sensitive introverts in a system that demands continuous social contact.
Every time a child receives the message that something is wrong with them, a layer of self-trust is eroded.
In this same vein, as I often write, your symptoms of anxiety, depression, addiction, insomnia, obsessions, and compulsions are communicating vast storehouses of wisdom, literally runes and gems that live in the treasure chest of the unconscious. They may be alerting you to broken external systems or internal places that need attention – or both. If you silence the symptoms too quickly without trying to decode the message, you run the risk of missing the message. It’s not always easy to decode the messages because the unconscious speaks in the language of metaphor and our culture doesn’t teach us this language; we are rational-scientific culture that has lost touch with the deeper impulses that inform the soul that cannot be seen or measured under a microscope. But the unconscious, which speaks through the body in the form of symptoms, longs for you to turn toward it, listen closely, and try to understand its language.
Every time you’ve been told that your symptoms are anything other than wise manifestations from the unconscious trying to help you heal and instead received the message that you’re broken in some way, an element of self-trust is eroded.
It’s a systemic gaslighting where the child-then-adult learns to outsource self-trust in favor of parents, teachers, clergy, and even therapists who send the message that their symptoms are evidence of brokenness or that “failure to conform” is evidence that something is wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with the child who can’t sit still for 7 hours a day in a traditional school environment.
There’s nothing wrong with a teenage who’s acutely aware of the pain of the world and the fact that death is inevitable. There’s nothing wrong with the woman who says, “There must be more to life than housework.”
There’s nothing wrong with the person who struggles with anxiety in any form. Yes, the symptoms are excruciating, and by no means do I wish for people to suffer in their symptoms while their lives become increasing smaller. But when we learn to listen to the wisdom embedded in the symptoms and respond accordingly our lives enlarge and enhance in unimaginable ways, and we step closer into our true gifts, which are longing to meet the world. Every person’s genius is wrapped up in their pain, and it’s only when we move toward this pain with curiosity and compassion that we can live out our gifts and allow them to touch the world.
If you would like to begin or continue to process of healing the shame that has eroded your self-trust and reclaim this most essential human right – the right to know yourself and love yourself which results in self-trust – I invite you to join me for the 15th live round of Trust Yourself: A 30-Day Course to Help You Overcome Your Fear of Failure, Caring What Others Think, Perfectionism, Difficulty Making Decisions, and Self-Doubt. The course will start on Saturday, February 20th, 2021, spots are filling very quickly, and I very much look forward to meeting you there.