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Spirituality and Self-help

MY THREE YEARS ON THE COUCH

couch

It all started when I read Sue Monk Kidd’s book Traveling with Pomegranates: a mother-daughter story. In the book she mentions that just 18 months before, she had ended seven years of Jungian analysis. Her analyst gave her a farewell gift, a framed picture of a woman making her way through a forest. Her analyst said to her, “You’ll be fine if you follow your spirit and travel with your instincts.” Soon after this, Sue Monk Kidd got her famous book published: Secret Life of Bee’s. And it’s been all uphill since then (in a good way). I was reading Traveling with Pomegranates in someone else’s living room, on a borrowed mattress on the floor, because the week before I had fled my abusive husband and my life was turned upside down. Her words struck me like lightening. Seven years of Jungian analysis. Kidd had done her work and almost, as if in reward, her book was published to rave reviews. Next step? Oprah’s couch.

I googled Jungian Analysts in the nearby city and came up with one bonafide analyst. I emailed him and he agreed to meet me on a Saturday morning to “interview” me to see if it would be a good fit. That morning I walked into his office, diploma’s on wall, classic couch, tasteful art and compassionate face. I can’t remember the entire interview but one part stands out. I told him I was 53-years-old and my entire life had fallen apart. “Perfect!” he exclaimed. And that’s how I started my journey.

The first two years we met once a week for an hour. It was mandatory that I keep a dream journal and to bring it to each visit which I did. Often we would talk about pertinent issues for a half hour and then focus on a recent dream for the next. I remember early on getting a bill from my insurance company that showed my diagnosis code was for Major Depressive Disorder. I was shocked! The next visit I confronted my analyst and told him I was not depressed. He told me that when I get my Ph.D., then I could tell him what my diagnosis was, but until then I’d have to trust him. I was pissed. I took an informal vote of family and friends and they all agreed I didn’t seem depressed. Look how busy and productive I was being!

I also started saying to any friend who gave me an opinion on something. “I’m sorry, but when you get your Ph.D., then you can tell me that.” We’d laugh. I probably did that for two months and it was a way for me to make fun of and then finally internalize the fact that, yeah, I probably was as depressed as he said.

My analyst is compassionate, experienced, authentic, funny and irreverent. I have spent hours crying on his couch. I’ve only ever lain on his couch a few times. Mostly, I sit directly across from him. I once told him I would sit in his lap if I could, but he said his dog probably wouldn’t like that. One visit I came in and announced that I hated a particular friend. “Oh Deb,” he said. “I do so enjoy you.” Another time I remarked that perhaps it was time to forgive the ex-husband who had tried to kill me. “What?! Fuck that shit,” he exclaimed. It was too early to attempt forgiveness, it was more of a time to focus on feelings, grief and processing the entire relationship. Forgiveness could wait.

We are a culture who practice spiritual bypass. Spiritual bypass is defined as: “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds and unfinished developmental tasks.”  The term was introduced in the early 1980s by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist. We see it all the time in people who don’t allow themselves to feel angry or hurt or betrayed. Instead they cultivate over-positivity in order to avoid having to feel their feelings. They tend to say things like, “I’m sure when my father beat me with that nail-studded stick, he was only working in my best interest.”

This is a defense mechanism, not a stage of enlightenment.

Jungian analysis is the opposite of spiritual bypass. Author Damon Linker describes psychoanalysis as “wrenching” and “painful.” And frankly, I think he’s being too kind.

But it works.

My analyst describes it, in my particular case, as “growing me up.” We examine my childhood traumas and wounds. We meet my complexes and neuroses that come up again and again. We celebrate breakthroughs. We discuss dreams, animas’, shadow, existentialism, the abyss. There are times when I start crying in the waiting room and we walk silently into his office where I can take ownership of the Kleenex box. I like to tease him that I know how his week is going by seeing how many used tissues are in the waste basket. There are usually quite a bit. I have passed incoming clients while sobbing as I walk out the door. But I don’t feel self-conscious because I know they are going in for their hour of “wrenching” and “painful” and can only have empathy for me.

Two years ago, in a moment of insight, I asked him if he thought I could do what he does.

“Hell yes,” he said.

So I applied and went back to school to finally receive my BA in psychology. I applied to Graduate school and got accepted in their clinical mental health program. This is something I never thought I could achieve and without analysis, I would not have. He told me later, not everyone who asked that question would get an affirmative response from him. But his psyche and his knowledge of my psyche showed him that this was a vocation for me, to become a counselor. I’ll never be a psychologist or Jungian analyst but I can still provide mental health services as a counselor.

I now see my analyst twice a week for an hour each time. As we “grow me up” there are large changes, like going to graduate school and tiny changes like not inviting inappropriate people into my life anymore. My mother complex is shrinking and my creative output is expanding. Someday, I too, will graduate from Jungian analysis and perhaps be given a gift like Sue Monk Kidd was. Until then? Wrenching and painful, shrinking and expanding.

This is my life.

Author: Deborah Coyote
Email: deborahcoyote07@gmail.com
Your Bio: Deb Coyote has been writing for 35 years. She lives in the Rocky Mountains with her dog Kai.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you. Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for the hope I didn’t feel before I read this but now do.

    Reply

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