Revisiting Legitimate Suffering

Carl Jung stated that the definition of a Neurosis ‘is a defence against legitimate suffering’.

In this statement lies the answer and solution to all behavioural and psychological addictions, dependencies, obsessions and fixations.

The above symptoms are experienced by all human beings to lesser or greater debilitating degrees. The detail of each symptom is often unique to each individual, yet each individual is not uniquely alone.

For example, someone who has dependency symptoms will have their own unique object / subject to whom or what they are dependent upon. At worst the overly dependent individual attaches themselves so strongly to the object (actual thing, person, substance) or subject (fictional thing, i.e, thought, idea, symbol, image) that without (or the loss) of ’the thing’ the individual may feel overwhelmed to the point of feeling like they are losing their actual self. 

In the moment or at a time of overwhelming distress these defence strategies or avoidant mechanism’s can be useful and necessary, however if left unacknowledged or addressed, a litany of problematic symptons will continue to mask the 'legitimate suffering’ that one may feel. 

Try applying this basic premise to any manner of unhealthy psychological and behavioral symptons, as they are in the thousands.

Question: So if therein in the grand statement lies the answer and the solution, what indeed could the solution be?

Answer: To connect with our legitimate suffering, or in other words, our genuine pain.

The defence strategies then (neuroses) are the avoidance of pain, discomfort, fear or any other difficult thoughts or feelings which have at some point been repressed out of ones awareness, often unknowingly.

However, once fully experienced and explored, many people find that building a relationship with the previously disowned suffering is often less burdensome than the layers of symptoms that they had been living with.

Depth psychologists like Jung, along with Freud and many others built their work around this fundamental premise. Support a person in accessing the cause of their unique legitimate suffering and the symptoms will over time become less debilitating and are likely to be integrated.

This is why a crisis of symptoms can force us in looking at our underlying causal problems. The trick is to notice difficult symptoms arising and start the archeological dig sooner rather than later. If the symptoms have become unbearable, digging oneself out of embedded and layered patterns can be a much longer a sensitive haul.

Most behavioural and psychological addictions, dependencies, obsessions and fixations are dealt with in modern medicine and culture by addressing the symptoms directly, and by helping the person to stabilise and regulate by management techniques and medication.

Although these methods are often useful, I would suggest that this is a preliminary step, and once this is underway the causal work is then to be addressed, as this will give any of us the very best chance of a much more sustainable recovery towards our complete health.