If you are looking for a Hallmark, feel good Holiday time read stop reading this article now. Lisa (not her real name) was a client of mine who was awakened in the middle of the night by a “voice.” This voice was clear and ominous and it simply said this, “An unhealthy concern for you.”
Lisa also had a dream that same night. She dreamt:
My Dad wanted to have a spontaneous birthday party for my dead Grandma. But more than half the people he wanted to invite are dead.
The dream and voice came to Lisa around Christmas time some years ago. She was perplexed by the “voice” since this kind of experience was not familiar to her. In her day to day life in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Lisa was becoming extremely bitter and cynical about all areas of her life. The unconscious through the “voice” knew exactly how to put things–Lisa did have an unhealthy concern for and attachment to both her negative outlook on life and her attitude. This outlook on her life did not even match her real life situation and she was able to articulate this truth. The dangerous attitude that she was embracing even contributed to fleeting thoughts of death.
The psyche doesn’t seem to be too concerned about making sure there is space in a person’s life to enjoy and celebrate vacation and Holidays if something more important to the psyche and in this case, something unhealthy, is taking place. If a person is spiraling downward, like Lisa, the self-regulating psyche will make attempts at correction toward health. Someone in the grip of a serious drug addiction can attest to the dangerous downward spiral.
The “voice” that Lisa heard in the middle of the night had a very urgent and perhaps even life-saving message for her. The message it could be said was that her present attitude and approach toward life and her higher Self was unhealthy. In Jungian psychology, the Self is the totality of the personality and the ordering part of the personality.
Similarly, Lisa’s dream further amplified this important message for her. The dream suggested that she was embracing death and was even celebrating it.
When Lisa worked with this dream and the ominous and numinous “voice” in psychotherapy, she came to see how her recent negative attitude and behaviors were exacerbating these dangerous symptoms and moods. She realized that her unconscious cared about her fate and was attempting to point out to her the unhealthy behaviors that were contributing to her current mood and thoughts of death.
As Lisa gained insight into her present state, with the help of her unconscious, her mood significantly improved and the thoughts of death disappeared. She decided not to attend the “traditional” family Christmas gathering that she had planned on attending. She set out and spent time instead with a close friend in another town and reported later having a wonderful, meaningful Holiday.
Mental health professionals know first hand that even though Christmas time is “supposed to be” a time of family and good cheer, there are many, many individuals who suffer greatly at all times of the year, no matter what it says on the calendar. In North America, the time around Christmas can be extremely difficult for some.
The unconscious can be the source of suffering and debilitating symptoms, but paradoxically, it is also the source of healing and can point us toward good health. The very important message is that we so often have a choice as to whether the unconscious will be a destroyer or a redeemer of our lives.
The lesson from Lisa’s experience with the “voice” is that you also have a hidden, unconscious part of your personality. No matter the hardship or circumstance, the unconscious cares about you. If you are open to its feedback, the unconscious can give you hints and direction toward better health and it can help you to find meaning in almost any difficult circumstance.
When the Holidays get you down and getting through them feels more like a trip through the gauntlet than the good cheer and warm family times that advertisers promise are in store for you—your unconscious knows what you need for improved mental health. Listen to your unconscious, learn from it, and do what is healthy for you and your family–not what the advertisers think that you should do.
© 2013, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.