Problems, dilemmas, predicaments: a Jungian approachStephen Farah
To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep No more; and by a sleep, to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That Flesh is heir to?Although such poetic existential musings may not be our daily fare, we share an existence that is interwoven with such challenge. Most or certainly many problems can with some effort be successfully negotiated. We are by nature strategists and our evolutionary success as a species speaks to our ability to solve problems. Some problems however are bigger than others and recalcitrant to any obvious solution. Carl Gustav Jung was of the opinion that,
all the greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally insoluble. They must be so, for they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating system.In other words, broadly speaking, we face two distinct sets of problems.
- The first set are problems that can be solved or resolved through one or other problem-solving strategy.
- The second set are problems that do not submit themselves to any obvious resolution and are perennial.
- Confession or catharsis (stage 1)
- Amplification and illumination (stage 2)
- Education (stage 3)
- Transformation (stage 4)
Our gold is not the common gold. But thou hast inquired concerning the greenness (verdigris), deeming the bronze to be a leprous body on account of the greenness it has upon it. Therefore I say unto thee that whatever is perfect is that greenness only, because that greenness is straightaway changed by our magistery into our most true gold. The paradoxical remark of Thales that the rust alone gives the coin its true value Is a kind of alchemical quip, which at bottom says there is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection. To round itself out life calls not for perfection but for completeness; and for this the ‘thorn in the flesh’ is needed, the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent.What is extraordinary about this idea, which lies at the heart of Jungian theory, is that error, fallibility, mistakes, problems, dilemmas et al. are not only valuable, but the most valuable of our experiences. It is less about reconciling ourselves to these issues as form of compromise, but rather that they hold the key to our most profound and sublime experiences of ourselves, our relationships and the world. This, I trust you will agree, sounds promising. It offers us a radically different and significantly more empowering way of viewing issues that ordinarily are experienced as distressing and belittling and such experiences can and often do detract from our sense of self-worth. Viewed through this lens the problem takes on the character of an empowering challenge. It opens the door to the proverbial hero’s journey. It becomes the prima materia (primal material) to be used in your own process of alchemical transmutation. It is toward this end that our work in Applied Jungian Psychology is oriented. The Four Stages of Transformation being an explicit case in point. The above said, I have over the years of teaching this method, both online and real world, realised that one may, and I often have, assumed too much. I recognised naturally that a solution to the problems presented are difficult to come to, hence the value and utility of our work. But I incorrectly assumed that everyone more, or less, knows what their problem is! This was, at least through the lens of psychoanalysis, naïve. This post along with a greater general emphasis on this aspect of the method or theroria is an attempt to remedy this oversight and to address this essential step in the process. If some of what is said, seems redundant or obvious, I beg your indulgence. I do not wish to assume anything and want to lay this process of identification out step by step, starting at the very beginning. The nature of problems, dilemmas and predicaments By the terms: problem, dilemma, predicament, we are referring to an issue that causes you distress, anxiety, frustration, shame, anger or recrimination and, possibly most importantly, longing or desire. A situation you are dealing with in which you are dissatisfied with the status quo. A situation you are facing that you (desperately) desire to see changed, resolved, fixed, done away with and so on. If there is honestly nothing of that sort in your life, if everything in your world is to your satisfaction, then this method and approach is not for you. Its application would not only be redundant but may do some harm. This process is aimed at those with a definite problem, or a recurring issue, if you prefer, that they wish to address and ideally change. A problem of this nature takes the form of an internal dilemma or paradox. Some forms it might assume can be mapped out in this fashion.
- I am here but would like to be there.
- I have this but want that.
- I want this and want that.
- I want this but believe that.
- I believe this and believe that.
- I am here working underground in the proverbial coal mine but wish to be there – a member of the executive.
- I am old but wish to be young again.
- I want success, love, abundance et al. but do not feel worthy of it.
- I want to be in a relationship and want my freedom.
- I want to enjoy a glass of wine in the evenings (it feels as if my sanity depends on it) but believe I may be developing an alcohol dependency.
- I believe in charity, kindness and empathy and believe that God helps those who help themselves and the majority of those in need of my charity have created their own misery – or some such paradoxical set.
- Unhappiness (misery)
- Anxiety (fear).
- Frustration (anger).
- What is your greatest unfulfilled desire?
- What is your most deeply held fantasy?
- Can you identify a convergent issue in each set?
- Can you identify a convergence between sets 1 and 2?