Jungian Psychology Series: Outgrowing Your Problems

“The greatest and most important problems in life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.”   Carl Jung

Your honest response to this quote by Carl Jung might be, “Outgrow my problems?! Are you crazy? I don’t have time to outgrow my problems! I need answers. I need relief. And I need them now!” Your perspective is understandable at one level. You live in a highly technological and fast-paced world. You are used to solving your problems using science and logic, and you believe in the power of the mind over matter. Like most people, you prefer solutions to be swift and painless.

Our society places great faith in the mind’s ability to figure things out. This perspective empowers and exalts the mind. It provides a sense of security and control when you believe that your problems can be solved. However, the idea that life’s challenges must be outgrown rather than solved is not very empowering to your ego. It implies that growth and healing proceed by their own rules and wisdom. Like placing a plant in a greenhouse, you may be able to quicken the growth process, but you cannot short-cut it. The power of your mind and will are limited.

Sometimes suffering is a necessary part of the growth and healing process. Isn’t this part of the reason you want to solve your problems rather than outgrow them? You want a short-cut through the pain, insecurity, confusion, despair and frustration. You would prefer to go from seedling to full-grown tree without the struggle for sunshine, the cold winters, dry summers, harsh winds and broken limbs.

Medications purport to solve your emotional and psychological problems, but all that they really solve is your symptoms. The underlying problem remains. In fact, the problem is likely to remain longer, for the symptoms that would have spurred your growth have been relieved. Without the tension created by your symptoms, there is no growth. It is like a young tree that receives all the water it needs from the backyard sprinkler system. Its roots congregate in the top few inches of the soil where water is abundant. As a result, it never develops a deep root system because it has never had to reach deep for its water. Not surprisingly, it is one of the first trees to blow over in a strong wind. People are much the same. Without tension, pain, and struggle you grow shallow roots and are easily pushed over when the stronger spiritual and emotional storms of life occur.

Like other helping professions, psychology likes to imagine that problems can be solved rather than outgrown. In fact, what is called “solution focused” psychotherapy is quite popular nowadays (especially with insurance companies). The drawback of therapies that focus on symptom relief without attention to the underlying psychological process is that the problem just pops up again. For example, you can use divorce to “solve” a bad marriage, but unless you have grown through and learned from the experience you are likely to just hook up with a new version of your ex-spouse. Similarly, you can teach someone to be assertive, without helping them to find their voice. You can train a criminal to obey rules, but you may just get a criminal with a new skill set. Or, you can help someone to think positive thoughts about them self, but this may just create an unhappy person who thinks they like them self.

Every soul has its own path in life with specific things it must learn and experience before moving on to its next lesson. Your life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be wrestled with. The analytical mind looks at a situation and sees a simple straight line between a problem and its solution. “All you need to do is this,” you say to yourself or your friends. But your soul is more concerned with the development of your character than the solution of your problems. From the soul’s perspective, the only path between two points is a labyrinth. You cheat yourself and your soul when you go around, rather than through your problems.

4 thoughts on “Jungian Psychology Series: Outgrowing Your Problems

  1. I love this blog post. It makes so much more sense than focusing on strategies to ‘solve’ the problems. Like Einstein said ‘We cannot solve problems with the same type of consciousness that created them’…

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