Lucky is the individual who has become a problem to himself. This is a paraphrase of a sentiment expressed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. It is an idea that is probably counter-intuitive to most people. After all, who wants to be a problem to themself?! Most of us would happily do without our problems. And, when we can’t avoid them, we frequently prefer they be outside of us—in the world, or in our neighbor. Who wants to take a hard look in the mirror and conclude, “I have seen the enemy, and it is me”?
In general, we don’t like to take ownership of most of the problems we encounter in life. We blame, we point the finger, we try to remove the proverbial splinter from our neighbor’s eye rather than the log from our own. Although it is more comfortable to try and change others than yourself, you tend to encounter the same problems and challenges over and over again when you do this. Eventually you may reach the conclusion that it’s not your neighbor, co-worker, spouse, or the government that’s your problem. Maybe it’s primarily you.
There is something very positive about becoming a problem to yourself. It’s like waking up, finally. It’s a grounding experience, a decision to stop running, hiding, and blaming. At last you start to look at yourself and take yourself seriously. When you have become a problem to yourself you begin to shoulder your own burden, your cross, or opus. You grapple with your own psychology, entering into a relationship with your larger personality. You start to take ownership of the good and the bad within you. It is the realization that if your life is going to change, the change must begin with you.
This is not to suggest that you cause all of your problems. Rather, it is the recognition that in your problems there is an opportunity to learn something about yourself and life, that all events contain at least a morsel of guidance for the realization of your destiny. When you’ve become a problem to yourself, you become curious about what the message is in your life experiences. You want to understand why certain events, people, illnesses, etc. come into your life when they do.
To become a problem to yourself is to become a student of yourself. You pay more attention to your thoughts and attitudes. You are focused on improving yourself, wrestling with and learning about yourself. When you have taken up the opus of your own life, you enter into relationship with the very foundation and seed of your being. Though you may be physically alone, you are never truly alone for a dialogue with your deeper self is occurring. Your problem, the dilemma of your particular destiny and what you do with it, becomes your lifelong companion. Though this may not be the companion you were looking for, you may find it to be a more reliable, steadfast and growth-producing companion than any other.
[Author’s note: The quote by Carl Jung which I paraphrase is drawn from his Collected Works, Volume 11, Psychology and Religion, p.140, which reads as follows: “If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against. He lives in the ‘House of the Gathering.’ Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.”