Our Lives Are Deep And Wide
The psychologist Erik Erikson literally wrote the book on childhood and human development. A towering figure of modern mental health study, his writings on the stages of human development were a watershed moment for understanding our human psychology.
In his book, Childhood and Society, he says something incredibly profound in a mere sentence. It should make us all think deeply about the goals and purpose of modern psychology, especially in a culture where it seems that every day a new drug is being approved for “mental health”. It should also remind us of what a deep and wide existential path we have been allowed to live and create for ourselves.
Life’s Journey Is An Introspection
Erik says on page 424 of my copy of Childhood and Society: “The “psychoanalytic situation” is a Western and modern contribution to man’s age-old attempts at systematic introspection.”
What truth that is. We should all be aware that the journey toward mental health is one of introspection. It is an age-old principle at the core of understanding our identity. What do we find when we look inside? Poor/Incomplete/Tragic/etc. answers to the following questions and others like them are what lead to most mental health issues of depression, anxiety, and damaged emotional intelligence:
Where did I come from?
What happened to me as a child that influences my thinking today?
Why do I process thoughts and information the way I do?
Why do I do things I don’t want to do?
What is my purpose?
Why am I anxious?
Does my life matter?
Am I alone?
Look For The Cause Of The Symptoms
“Systematic Introspection” is not something we should leave to the field of psychology. Especially since the modern practice of psychology has continued to move away from deep, long-term introspection and more towards symptomatic treatment, i.e. drugs and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy type tools. Tools for treating the symptoms of psychopathology in themselves aren’t bad and are in fact incredibly useful for many people, but we must not let tools blur our vision in regard to the root causes of our mental pathologies. Critical introspection is a necessary part of any healthy, individualized life.
Individualization, as the psychologist Carl Jung would say, is the process in which we develop from the soup of the collective into a healthy “individuated” human-being. It is a life long process whereby we understand our place and purpose in this world and constantly search for the path of meaning. Jung influenced Joseph Campbell whose writings influenced George Lucas to create the mythic Star Wars film series, more specifically, Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Like it or not, in a world that always ends in death, we are all on that hero’s journey. When we face the truth and wonder of that fact, we are empowered to look at ourselves critically and introspectively. Here, searching within, with wisdom and guidance, the answers to our mental condition are found.
Look Within And Journey Forward
There is more I could say on this and I will in the future, but for now, I encourage you to begin and continue the process of thoughtful introspection. It can take place anywhere — alone at home or at your favorite park, in church, in a counselor’s office, with a good book, coffee with a friend or even a friendly looking stranger. You might allow the works of Carl Jung or Erik Erikson to guide you, or heck, even me, that is what my book, Who Am I?, is all about — introspection, the journey, answering the question “Who am I?”
Life surrounds us with pain, grief, and death. The meaning we find in the midst of these is what allows us to grow and become fully realized. This cannot be done by merely treating symptoms. We must look inside, explore, and give ourselves the gift of embarking on our own heroic journey, the great expedition to know one’s self.