Laundry and Take-Out: Why Therapy?

Laundry and Take-Out

Going into therapy, finding the right therapist – it’s a risk. Why would anyone want to bare their soul to a stranger – doesn’t that make you feel hugely vulnerable, awkward? Isn’t it extremely embarrassing, uncomfortable? Yes it can be, but the more dominant feeling of clients who walk over that bridge is one of relief. There is something sacred about sitting in with another who is truly attending to you that lends a deeper resonance and meaning to your process and your life. Having worked with clients for over 25 years, I feel deeply privileged to work with others in this way.

A very important part of Jung’s way of working was to attend very seriously to the dreams – both his own and those of his clients. He felt that the dreams most often pointed to content in the unconscious that was ready to become conscious. As a Jungian psychotherapist I place great value and importance on working with dreams, often in combination with mind/body work. I feel that if we can start working with a dream, it is like starting from the inside and working out. Many therapies do just the opposite – starting with outer content and facts, and work inwards, trying to understand the core issues. If we can understand the dream, we have a much better chance of getting to the heart of the matter. I will try and show this by talking about some of my own dreams, as I do not want to use clients’ dreams here. Some years ago when I was asked why I became a  therapist, I remember  I had this dream.

In my dream a woman had a business of going to people’s houses, and doing their laundry or taking it out to do, plus she had the added service of bringing take-out food to her clients. She would drop off the food and collect the laundry. On waking, I thought this might be a great business idea, though not one I was going to do.

However, I have been trained to interpret dreams symbolically, and so I questioned what this might mean. The Self communicates to us in images and symbols – that is the language of the psyche. And interestingly, it often has a very quirky sense of humour. I had to chuckle at this dream, because I saw that in some ways, doing therapy is closely aligned with laundry and take-out. Talking to a good therapist can in the beginning feel like ‘you are airing your dirt laundry’ – this is the initial hump of awkwardness that needs to be gotten over.  However,  it is surprising how quickly that can happen, because getting the laundry done feels good There is something very satisfying about dealing with stuff that has ben shoved in the closet for years. By speaking freely and openly about some of these issues, we can do the laundry together. Dark secrets don’t have to be so daunting – they can be aired in the sunshine.

And hopefully you leave with  a little take-out….something to chew on – reflect on. Ultimately, as the process builds and you start to become free of the complexes that stand in the way of you living a happier, more fulfilled life, you will feel nourished at a cry deep level.

I will share one other dream image that occurred over 20 years ago. I still remember it because it was so powerful, and because it had to do with laundry. I was going through a very difficult time. In my case it lasted for 7 years; I now think of it as the 7 years in the desert. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong: a marriage break-up, my elbow was smashed to smithereens in a bike accident, the deaths of my mother, father and my sister, financial woes, not to mention landing in another dysfunctional relationship. In the midst of all this I was thrown headlong onto my spiritual path. I seriously started to pray, to meditate, to do my own work in analysis.

During this time, I had a dream that I was hiding under my bed. I saw these absolutely enormous feet approach the bed. They were naked, gigantic feet, and they were blue. Then this figure walked away from the bed and I peeked out. It was a gigantic Kali figure, standing at a laundry tub. She must have been at least 11 feet tall and her skin was blue. She knew I was looking, so she  turned to look back at me. She had a huge, terrifying grin on her face, as she scrubbed rhythmically on a washboard. I was absolutely terrified, and woke myself up, sweating. But the more I thought about this image, the more I realized that SHE was going to wash things clean, and that I would be alright. The more I meditated on this image, the more settled and relaxed I became.

Looking back, I think this was a real turning point in my life. Knowing that I was being helped by higher powers allowed me to relax and to simply trust the process of my life. Kali is a goddess of the East who is often associated with death and destruction. In India , she is venerated because it is understood that nothing new can come unless the old is destroyed. Happily, I met her in her more beneficent aspect – as a laundry woman who was bent on cleaning up my dysfunctional life. I will be forever grateful for all the help that I have received, but at the time it felt like life was trying to crush me. We rarely have perspective when we are in the midst of a huge transition.

Part of my reason for sharing these dream images with you is to demonstrate the power of dreams, and the extraordinary intelligence that is in them. The difference between the Jungian approach and many other therapies, is that a Jungian will place supreme importance on the dream image, and strive to uncover what it may be trying to convey. In other words, it takes its lead from the Self.

Many other therapies expect you to come with the problem, and then the two of you (the therapist and you) try to deal with the problem. The difference is that the ego presents the problem, and then tries to dissect it to its own advantage. The ego is always limited by its own worldview and perspective. It can’t see what it cannot see. You and the therapist can easily get sidetracked into dealing with a problem that is not THE problem. The Self sees you from the other side and is the Friend or the Beloved that Rumi always talked about. Coming to know this through following your own dreams is an extraordinary gift. Your life begins to take on the feeling of a revelation that gradually reveals its sacred purpose to you.

Listen to this and learn to trust your life:

Rumi: Say I Am You

The Snake Pit:

The Snake Pit
Otherwise Known as the Complex

In an earlier blog I referred to the duality inherent in life. Too bad we couldn’t just all wait for Grace and know that it would happen! Well, actually if we really trusted that it would, it would. The trouble is that a hoary thing, called the complex, which is the polar opposite of Grace, comes up and bites us when we are starting to go unconscious. I don’t mean that we are about to faint. Rather, we are probably about to create more karma – the unpleasant kind.

Jung first began to understand more about the complex when he was working on his word association experiment. He realized that when some words were said, the client would leave a long space of time before finally coming up with a word association. For example, the word might be mother, and the client might say milk, or kindness or the moon. But if there was a long time gap before the client came up with an association it was pointing to a complex of some sort.

The complex is basically an energy knot in the psyche, which builds up over time. It can constellate around anything, usually a wounding of some sort. I have found, working with clients, that it is most helpful if you can name it, as you get to know it. Why bother….you might ask. There is only one good reason. It stands in the way of everything productive you might want to do in your life, and it poisons your relationships.

Let me give you an example. A woman I know has an orphan complex. There are many variations on this one, but in this particular case, she easily falls into an experience of abandonment. You could call it an abandonment complex – it doesn’t much matter how you name it, as long as you get to know it. In any case, whenever she gets stressed in relationship, she feels that her partner is leaving her, abandoning her when she most needs support, etc. Her partner feels that she falls into this ‘snake pit’ all too readily and he is getting fed up. While he was very sympathetic and supportive in the beginning, he often feels sucked dry by her histrionics. She has no idea of how she comes across, and doesn’t understand why he withdraws.

Another woman I know has a major martyr complex. In stereotypic jokes this would be the wailing Jewish or Italian mother. In this particular case, she was a good old-fashioned White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. She was a master at manipulating her children and grandchildren with guilt. I don’t think she had any idea how much she alienated them, but she was a master manipulator – and she did it in the sweetest possible way!

Or take the victim complex….a close cousin of the martyr. The victim gets other people to feel sorry for him or her. They wear their woes on their sleeves and play their tunes with all the finesse of a master violinist. Other people will bend over backwards to give them a deal or to take care of them or give them money. But eventually, these relationships get tired. People get tired of giving, giving, giving with very little coming back. These people are forever comparing themselves to those who are more fortunate than they are and crying the blues. Eventually, unless they are partnered up with someone who has a forceful mother complex, they push most people away. Other people feel vaguely guilty around them – and no one likes to feel guilty!

I will just add a word about the mother complex – one that I am intimately familiar with!! Most therapists have had this one running at some point in their lives. It is the complex that tells you that you are only valuable or powerful if you are helping others. Someone with this complex operating will often come across as very good, kind, generous – and a good listener! The only problem is that they put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own, and then start to feel grumpy and resentful when they burn out. Anger builds up because their inner child says, ‘What about me? I take care of everyone else, but who takes care of me?’ So there is bitter resentment, which can easily marry up now with the victim or martyr complex. In other words, it’s a mess.

The inner growth for someone with a mother complex is to realize that no one will take care of you. You have to take care of you. When you put that on someone else, it poisons the well. The reason complexes are so dangerous to our well being and to our relationships, is that for the most part they are in the unconscious. If we were fully conscious of them, we could change our behaviour. We could ask directly for what we want or need, and then our friends or partners would have some clarity about our needs.

It is precisely because we are not fully conscious of what is operating in the underground of our psyches, that we say and do things that alienate others. We think we were being perfectly innocent, or funny or cute or clever. We have all been around people with passive-aggressive behaviour. This type of person has a complex that says he/she cannot ask directly for what he/she wants. For whatever reason, that is taboo. Or the person has learned that he/she is more successful at getting needs met by being manipulative. This type of person will be the last to admit or acknowledge his passive-aggressive behaviour, and will also be unlikely to acknowledge the anger or disdain that is underneath his/her actions.

As you can see, there are many types of complexes – but they all sit in the unconscious side of the psyche. I often liken them to a snake pit or a swamp. It’s not a pretty thing to fall into, and if you say or do anything of any consequence when you are in this place, you will be creating a whole lot more trouble for yourself. The smartest thing you can do is of course to become conscious of the pitfalls in your own psyche. I think of it as an inner landscape. You have to know your own danger zones.

The second smartest thing you can do is to at least realize that you have fallen into your own personal snake pit. Say and do NOTHING! Ask for a time out. Go to your corner, and try to figure out what has hit you. Go for a walk. Go to your room. Write in your journal. Get ye to a therapist. Do not engage in further conversation until the fog has lifted. Most of you won’t do any of this. But perhaps, if you have read this far, it will give you something to think about the next time it happens.

Above all, keep smiling and laughing at yourself. It is still the best medicine!