The problem with deep work

I have devoted my life (consciously and unconsciously) to working at a deep level with individuals and groups. Specifically, I have tried to bring the ideas of depth psychology to the general public, through teaching and writing. I have believed, fervently, that a little bit of psychological knowledge can go a long way. For example, I nurtured the naive belief that if only people knew that they were using a defense mechanism, then they would stop doing so and relating to them would become much easier. Now, this is true, in theory, and occasionally in practice.

However, there are some significant difficulties associated with such a firmly held set of convictions. If looking at our deep self was simple, everyone would be doing it. If it was so obviously rewarding, then more therapists trained in working with unconscious processes would be wealthy. Most of them are not. As Rod Anderson (therapist of note) recently pointed out to me, Jung apparently said something to the effect that 20% of one’s work on the self can be provided by the therapist in terms of insight, the rest is endurance and  action which can only be done by the individual him or herself. Also, deep work (again according to Rod), helps to unleash deep truths and can in fact call one’s entire life into question. Unleashing deep truths can be explosive, and so everything becomes disrupted when one does the deep archaeology on the self. For example, if I discovered that my career choice was based on managing a deep-seated wound, what happens to me when that wound starts healing? Becoming less neurotic can throw the cat amongst the emotional pigeons on a fairly ongoing basis.

Also, a therapeutic intervention will feel very enlightening at the start – there is a real honeymoon period. The first few insights are often quite groundbreaking. If one adds the fact that the first few conversations with a compassionate person with insight can be deeply reassuring and compelling, then the early phase of a journey inside the self can feel rather good. However, at some point, it will start feeling rather difficult, as all the old painful feelings have to be faced, and even the compassion of the therapist does not provide sufficient comfort. At that point, it is easy to become profoundly disappointed in the deep work itself, as well as in the person who may be the catalyst and / or supporter along the way.

So, I still believe that deep work provides the greatest freedom for the individual in the long run, but it takes an extraordinary capacity to delay gratification in order to walk that torturous road. And, it takes a great deal of faith in a mysterious and intangible process to keep going. I hold the faith, but it is sometimes a thankless task when trying to convert the world at large. But I have to keep holding the faith of the benefits of depth work, because how else do I justify a life time of decisions and actions?

Neurosis and creativity

Someone was talking to me yesterday about creative inspiration and how it can be blocked and this person paid me an important compliment. She said that the one thing she has noticed about me is that I never seem to struggle with blocked creativity. I had never noticed this about myself, but when I thought about it, I was delighted to realise that she was right. Of course, not everything that flows from my mouth or my keyboard (as a teacher and writer my creativity spills forth through those channels) has value for others, but it nevertheless seems to keep coming in an endless stream. For that I am extremely grateful.

However, I have been thinking about why that is. Why am I so fortunate? And some of the following thoughts came to mind. I have recently stumbled in my research across the work of a man named Otto Rank. He was a close associate of Freud until he developed a ground breaking theory that challenged Freud’s thought leadership. He suggested that the trauma of birth is as (if not more) important than the Oedipal complex. I am not enough of an expert to pursue the detail of that here, but I would like to focus on one of Otto Rank’s other ideas. He proposed that neurosis (or mental dis-ease) is caused by creativity that cannot be expressed.

Now, as most of my friends know, I have some profound neurotic tendencies. I suffer from massive anxiety about many things. I will spare you the details, but these days it is a source of much humour for my family. But, I have been privileged (and stubborn enough) to spend 15 years in therapy trying to figure out why I became so anxious. This process has meant that I have more answers than I started with and my anxiety is far more manageable than it used to be and that has been very useful. However, in some ways, a much more important consequence of all those years of self-analysis is that it resulted in the lifting of the flood gates of my creativity.  

I often have as many as five epic dreams a night, and new thoughts spill forth continuously. I cannot consciously make it happen, it just happens. And I think it is because the years of therapy allowed me to build the most important friendship of my life – the friendship with the part of me that houses and drives my unconscious mind. So, when that part speaks (as it does continuously through body symptoms, dreams, wayward thoughts, slips of the tongue, strange urges and impulses) all I have to do is listen.