The Modern Neurotic

“About a third of my cases are not suffering from any clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and aimlessness of their lives. I should not object if this were called the general neurosis of our age….”
– Carl Jung

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According to Carl Jung, neurosis is a form of “self-division” and “an individual attempt, however unsuccessful, to solve a universal problem.” At some level, we have all experienced neurosis in our lives, what Jung called “the general neurosis of our age.” While I do not consider myself to have a neurotic personality disorder, I have experienced various forms of neurosis in my life. In a way, what we label as neurotic on an individual level is but a reflection of the divisions that are existent in the fabric of our society. Neurosis is “the hall-mark of civilised man… a special instance of the disunited man who ought to harmonise nature and culture within himself.” In this reflection, I analyse how my upbringing, education and culture have contributed to my experiences of neurosis.

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On an individual level, neurosis may arise because we all have both a conscious and an unconscious life. We all have an ego and a shadow self and lead both a sensual and a spiritual life. I spent most of my life in a highly intellectual environment where emphasis was placed on academic achievement and success. Although I was able to keep up with the external image of being an intelligent and high-achieving individual, my inner life was ridden with deep insecurities and feelings of inferiority. In my education system, emphasis was placed on scientific reasoning and logic with less regard for creativity and artistic development. Although I was an artistic and intuitive individual by nature, I masked my genuine self and opted to study the sciences and attend medical school. Throughout medical school, I felt deeply unfulfilled due to the practical and vocational nature of the training which precluded the development of genuine interest in the field. The rigid demands of medical training and professional development required me to suppress my desire for freedom of expression. I experienced neurosis – an internal war due to the dissociation between the inner life and the conscious identity. Outwardly, I tried to be logical, rational and worldly while inwardly I longed to break free from the restrictions of the field.

Maladaptation is another cause of neurosis. A person might be “childishly unadapted to one’s environment or … adapted exclusively to the environment.” We either fail to adjust to the demands of outer life or we fail to attend to our inner life. In a way, our contemporary society promises neurosis as there is preference for extroversion and most tend to their inner life less diligently. On the other hand, I had a rich inner life due to my introverted personality and natural preference for introspection while my outer life was not developed to its full capacity. Maintaining the balance between the inner and outer life is important for the complete development of the human psyche.

Being out of sync with one’s age may also contribute to neurosis. Jung depicted the human life as an arc, like the passage of the sun; each of the intervals in life – youth, mid-life and old age- has a unique character and purpose in the development of an individual. As a precocious child, I experienced many personal difficulties due to my early interest in academic inquiry and disregard for the general interests of my age group. I also had an early crisis of morality and spirituality, which led to further deviation from the age-appropriate norms that were considered acceptable to my contemporaries.

In addition, issues of morality may contribute to neurosis due to the disunity between the soul and intellect. In my experience, I spent much of my public life in academia and in church, learning about intellectual and moral ideals. Yet, in my private life, I had to cope with injustice and abuse within my own family. I was also prone to dishonesty on occasions in order to protect my carefully put together public image. In addition, while I started medical school full of idealism about what the profession can contribute to humanity, I soon learnt that my hopes were misplaced. To my chagrin, I saw that doctors were not at all set apart in terms of their morality. There was so much resentment and contempt in the profession that was carefully kept out of the public eye. Behind closed doors, I saw that doctors too struggled to deal with the shadow selves that they kept out of their conscious identity. My high regard for the profession soon turned into cynicism due to the cognitive dissonance I experienced.

Lastly, neurosis can be attributed to the conflicts and discord inherent in modern life. In a world of materialism, we tend to dismiss the intangible things in life, such as the unconscious, the soul, and the spiritual connections between people. Jung reminds us that we are living in a neurotic time, a time when everyone “naturally prefers (so long as he lacks insight) never to seek the causes of any inconvenience in himself, but to push them as far away from himself as possible in space and time.” To Jung, “everything is banal, everything is ‘nothing but;’ and that is the reason why people are neurotic. They are simply sick of the whole thing, sick of that banal life.” We often forget that the source of our woes is often the unconscious – the shadow that lives within us. Instead, we allow our problems to manifest in this world as projections.

I cannot deny that I am still struggling to deal with the neurosis I experience in daily life. I am still learning to reconcile and integrate the opposites within myself. I remain optimistic that through analysing my experiences, I can uncover the problems that remain unconscious to me and learn to embrace my true nature on this long journey towards individuation.

© nightdawnday
p.s. Leave a comment if this resonated with you. I love to hear your stories!

8 Comments Add yours

  1. kachaiweb says:

    This resonated with me. I recognize the duality within. The more creative side and the academic one. The hopes we have and the reality that proves otherwise. And how to reconsile both forces in our psyche. Neurosis is not widely talked about (in my experience) but it gives us a bit clearity or words even, to what is going on. If found it helpful to be reminded of that again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. chasingephemeral says:

    I relate so much to your personal experiences (such as growing up in an environment where academic achievement, in particular excellence in scientific reasoning, was prized over creative thought) contributing to the various neuroses. Also Carl Jung is spot on as usual. Indeed, the common complaint of our generation (imo) is existential angst.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for writing this. I am an ICU nurse and prior to that I was a hospice nurse. Like you I opted to pursue the sciences rather than my creative nature. I pay for it every day. Nursing wears at my soul. I feel trapped everyday in the sense that I dont ever feel fulfilled at work. I feel stress that is occasionally staved off by rigorous refusal to engage my thoughts and the busyness of my job. I don’t know what I would do otherwise though. It’s not all bad, but it wears me down.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was an excellent post. I could really relate.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Spirituality, Social Change and Leadership and commented:
    Absolutely beautiful! Vulnerable, and so honestly written.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pazlo says:

    “…the disunited man who ought to harmonise nature and culture within himself.”

    Herein lies the embryo of humankind’s emotional difficulties.
    In a thesaurus, “nature” and “culture” would be nearly antonyms.

    Seek peace,

    Paz

    Like

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