The questions “Who am I?” and “What am I here for?” are perhaps two of the most difficult-to-answer questions on earth. They are questions we’ve all asked ourselves at various points in our lives.
And the answers will be different for each of us.
They’ll even be different at certain stages of our lives. I know that when I asked myself these questions at 20, 30, and 40, I got different answers every time.
You see, we’re a complicated bunch. The psychologist Carl Jung devoted his life to understanding the human psyche, and boy, he found out a lot. A LOT.
Fortunately for us, we can draw on his insights today for some inspiration. Long after he has gone, Carl Jung’s work continues to help many who are searching for a different perspective and enlightenment.
Here are 8 insights from Carl Jung that will hopefully turn your perspective around and help you view life in a different light:
1) “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Let’s begin with the power of choice. This quote from Carl Jung is a great reminder that no matter what happened to us in the past, it does not define us.
Some of us may have suffered through hardship, trauma, and abuse. Some of us may have had failed relationships or made a lot of mistakes (who hasn’t?)
Life isn’t fair. I know how easy it is to let bitterness or defeat creep into our hearts as a result of those experiences that we didn’t deserve. Or to let regret rule us for the wrong choices we’ve made.
But the beauty of life, if you look at it another way, is that every day offers a new chance. A chance not to wipe the slate clean, but to take the lessons from those experiences and use them to fuel you moving forward.
When you think about it, there’s not much we can do about the past, is there? The only thing we really have control over is today…and we can choose what to become.
And the sad past? Well, as terrible as it might have been, it does serve one purpose – to give us balance. You see…
2) “The word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
While a happy life filled with nothing but rainbows and unicorns might sound blissful, guess what?
The sheen of that will fade over time. That kind of happiness would lose its meaning, as Carl Jung pointed out.
What does happiness even mean if you were never sad? Could it really still be called “happiness”, or just a permanent, unchanging state?
Carl Jung was all about having a balanced psyche. He believed that experiencing a spectrum of emotions is essential for our psychological health.
It’s the contrast between sadness and happiness that makes each emotion more poignant and meaningful. Otherwise, it would all just feel one-note.
If you know what it’s like to grieve, to be disappointed, to be lonely…then you’ll feel the happy moments more intensely. You’ll treasure them more.
3) Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”
While we’re on the topic of a balanced psyche, I must talk a bit here about the shadow self.
You see, according to Jung, we have two different sides to us, much like a coin. One side is the persona, the “mask” or facade we show to the world.
The other side – the shadow self – is the one we keep hidden. Why?
Because it’s full of fears, insecurities, guilt…all the “unacceptable” thoughts, feelings, and desires we have.
To bare that is to risk losing people’s love and respect. Heck, to even acknowledge its existence could make us loathe and lose respect for ourselves.
Or so we believe. And so we repress it and pretend it isn’t there.
However, Carl Jung says that confronting this hidden side is crucial for personal growth and understanding others.
Being honest with ourselves means coming face to face with the fact that we aren’t as good as we’d like to think we are. And that’s hard for many of us (me included).
But once we do that, it becomes easier to deal with other people’s shadow selves, too. We become more understanding that like us, they’re complex beings with their own set of good and bad traits.
So, in the spirit of authenticity, our shadow self bears examining and accepting. It’s scary, I know, but I think it’s absolutely worth it.
4) “The healthy man does not torture others – generally, it is the tortured who turn into torturers.”
In other words, hurt people hurt people.
If you’ve ever been hurt, then you’ve probably wished for some revenge. Or you may have projected that pain onto someone else.
For me, this quote is a good reminder of two things:
First: Unresolved trauma can drive us to become “torturers”, whether we mean to or not. To break this cycle of hurt, we have to heal ourselves.
And second – to not rush to judgment when someone hurts us or behaves badly.
Of course, we should never tolerate bad behavior – that needs to be clearly said.
But at the same time, understanding that it might be coming from a place of unresolved trauma can help us extend a bit more grace to the person.
This perspective doesn’t excuse their actions, but it does provide context. And sometimes, that could be the first step towards healing – both for ourselves and potentially for them.
5) “The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.”
This one’s another good reminder for me because I often fall into the trap of giving people advice which, while well-meaning, can be completely tone-deaf for their specific situation.
For instance, I’ve suggested solutions that seemed like common sense to me, assuming that they’d be just as effective for others as they were for me.
I’ve scratched my head over the way other people make decisions or live their lives…I hate to admit it, but sometimes I pass judgments on them!
If Jung had seen me do those things, he’d probably tsk-tsk and wag a finger at me.
Because I was forgetting an important truth: what would be best for a person is deeply unique and personal.
In other words, what might seem right for me may not be right for them. It’s a real lesson in staying non-judgmental, respecting individuality, and just being there for others to listen and understand.
6) “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”
We live in a world obsessed with possessions and achievement. But are they really the benchmark of a meaningful life?
Not if Jung had a say in the matter. Actually, he did say something, and it isn’t something the hedonists and power-hungry will like.
It’s this: meaning is what gives our lives, well, meaning.
What exactly qualifies as “meaningful” for Jung? A deeper sense of purpose and connection.
This perspective challenges the more prevalent narrative that success is measured by how wealthy or what huge achievers we are.
In fact, Jung has a different definition of achievement, too, as the next section shows…
7) “Faith, hope, love, and insight are the highest achievements of human effort. They are found-given-by experience.”
Faith. Hope. Love. Wisdom.
Typical words you’d find embroidered on pillows or framed and displayed in cozy, down-to-earth homes.
Though such decorations might not be my cup of tea, I can’t deny that they are qualities we should aspire to.
As Jung said, these are the best measures of a successful life. And you can’t buy them – you only get them through experience.
So your life’s map might look like a toddler’s crazy doodles on a sheet of paper, but trust me, it definitely shows you’ve had a lot of character-building experiences.
Which means…if you’ve been picking up the lessons from those experiences, you’ve been building up those four precious qualities he mentioned inside you.
Success? I think so! Because when you have those qualities, you’re living life right according to Jung.
This brings me to my next point…
8) “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”
Let’s go back to those two questions I mentioned in the beginning: Who am I? What am I here for?
In my opinion, the quote above answers those two questions succinctly:
You are a light in the world. You’re here to be the light for someone else.
The HOW might look differently for each one of us. And it can look different for various stages in your life, too.
See, life is transient in nature. Nothing is permanent. Our jobs change, our addresses change, the people we’re with might also change…
…but whatever your role is and wherever you are on earth, your purpose is essentially the same.
To shine your light so that others might see. You have abilities and insights that enrich not only your own life, but also positively impact others.
As you can see, Jung’s work centered around three main things: greater self-awareness, a balanced psyche, and a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
He has so many more interesting insights to explore, but I hope these will be enough to get you thinking about life from a different angle for now.
Whether you’re just starting out on your journey of self-discovery or you’re well on your way, Jung’s lessons are always worth taking along.
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