This information provided by: Robert L. Johnson, Ph.D., M.Div., L.M.H.C. (FL lic # MHC 0001426), Specializing in Jungian Process (Holistic Approaches to Personal Development & Psychotherapy) Telephone: 850-948-7926
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LN - Jung & 4 Stages of life
Jung’s Stages of Life
Childhood: The structuring of the Ego
In this time period the ego emerges from the Self much in the evolutionary way that eyes, as brain tissue, once emerged from the brain. This is a period of narrowing the vast archetypal nature of the Self into a workable structure for the incarnate ego.
The mother archetype plays a very important role in this process. This archetypal pattern is not to be confused with the literal woman who is one’s mother. The mother’s archetypal role is to teach the child the components of relatedness to others. The maternal acceptance of the child is basically unconditional. The Eros principle applies. The mother dynamic may take multiple forms to which the child will form complexual responses. Of course, this relationship will undoubtedly effect how the young child relates to the feminine side of themselves. If it is a female child it may also effect her role choices much later in life. The young child’s relationship with mother, especially as the physical nurturer is earthy and related to sensuality, comfort, and pleasure, the principles of physicality (the earth gods).
The father archetype has more influence in the later years of childhood. Again it is important not to confuse the archetype with the actual man. The father’s archetypal role is to teach the child the components of operating with their specific environment... what will work and what will not. The paternal acceptance of the child is conditional and based on the child’s ability to creatively interface with its environment. The Logos principle applies. The father dynamic may take multiple forms. The method of teaching may be highly variant and possibly the method itself becomes problematic to the child. The development of personal responsibility (morality) and tribal knowledge are key elements of the teaching. The young child’s relationship with father as the teacher is more airy and related to function, knowledge, instruction, insight, principles of thought (the sky gods).
In these early years the child does retrieve into consciousness some important structures. These include, but are not limited to: the use of symbols (favorite toy or security blanket), structures of play and fantasy (the development of their introverted and extroverted natures through their sensate and intuitive functions). It is important to note hear that joys and rewards found in play set the stage for the anticipated rewards that are to be found in the adult’s choice of vocation. Commonly our disappointment as adults in vocational choice is our resistance to changing the rules of the game until it meets our specifics desires. These adult traps are commonly activated when play turns into work, but fantasy turns into make believe rather than creative options. Stories, rituals, fairytales, and myths also play an important role in assisting the child in developing creative ways to work with their relationships and environment. Things always working out happily ever after with relatively little effort in a terrible belief to sell a child. The attitude and function types are also very important in the child’s development as they set screens and processing devices in the child’s interaction with others and the environment.
Last but not least is understanding the effect that the familial shadow will have on the complexual development of the child. The realities that are denied in the psyche’s of the significant adults will commonly find their way into the functional complexes of the child. This is especially true if the child is an opposite attitude type or opposite primary function type to the specific adult.
Adolescence and Early Adulthood: Seeking experience to confirm belief system
In Anthony Steven’s book On Jung, he bases the successful movement into this phase of life on 4 factors: (1) the attenuation of parental bonds, (2) the war of the generations, (3)the activation of the sexual affectional system, and (4) the initiation of the adult role. All of these are true in one form or another, but I think that they are generalized explanations rather than truly Jungian thought. Concerning his first point on the weakening of parental bonds, I think it is more significant here to discuss how dependance turns into a desire for independence and the shape of the parental bond shifts from a monarch to a guide or mentor. It is clear that on both a sociological and psychological level, the human spirit wishes to have some opportunity to explore its individual perception of the world in all of its forms. This leads us right into his second point concerning the war of the generations. I am not sure that these are two separate issues, but rather two ways of saying the same thing. I am also not convinced that the activation of the sexual affectional system plays a key role any longer in addressing parental bonds. I base this on the reality that western culture youth are now sexually active while still involved in highly dependent parental ties, and that most teens seek their parental dynamics in their sexual partner. Of course, the initiation of the adult role is critical, but the problem is in present culture is that the "so called" adult role is a little nebulous.
In this section however, he does make some good points. One of the most important is to understand that the shift from childhood to sexual maturity and hopefully the eventual psychological maturity of the young adult is indeed, as Joseph Campbell also points out, a heroic journey. The untried and somewhat protected mythology developed in response to the child’s early years now must be boldly enacted in a world that has no particular interest in the success or failure of an individual’s personal beliefs. One must find a place in the tribe. The difficulty is that the tribe no longer has clearly defined roles for the individual to strive toward. We have no clearly defined rituals. So, the present day heroic journey begins with the individual first trying to define a path while working with the pulls, pushes and pressures of life. The path has various aspects which in one way or another must be addressed. Some of these would be: vocation pursuits, relational considerations, parental considerations, and the development of a personalized mythology. There is no path that does not hold the potential of the heroic journey, but it is easy to surrender that journey by falling into collective familial, social, or religious system nets to avoid our own path to adulthood. This process is the substitution of ritualistic events for the true passage rites of rituals.
The heart of this stage of life is mentioned by Stevens in his section on the "Initiation into the adult role". "Attainment of a new stage of life seems to demand that symbols of initiation, appropriate to that stage, must be experience." The key word here is experienced. This second stage of life is all about the collecting of experiences... learning about life from the great teacher, Life itself. This is the setting of the reality ground which is so essential to move into the third stage. Here our mythology (belief systems) are pushed up against our perceptions of truth. The degree to which we cling to fraudulent beliefs over our experience is the degree to which we experience angst and neurosis in this stage of life. A critical factor here is our ability to abandonment falsehoods and dysfunctional screening mechanisms which seriously limit our options. We commonly repeat over and over again the same destructive action hoping and wishing and thinking and praying and planning and dreaming that the outcome will change, but often it does not. Thus we remain stuck here forever in the second stage of life with our unfulfilled dreams and expectations. Because we never accept reality, we never accept to change it. Therefore, there is nothing to do in the third stage of life where normally we would be rectifying the discrepancies and dichotomies that manifested in this second stage.
A final note on this stage of life is that we must surrender some aspects of ourselves for this stage to work. We sometimes call this paying our dues. This is an essential part of this stage. For to find my Self, I must be willing to understand the external forces (the system) that try to influence me.
Adulthood and Mid-life: Reclaiming Yourself: Understanding who you wish to be
From my perspective these are the most critical and influential years of one existence. Regardless how you have come to this point, somewhere between 35 and 50 a window of opportunity opens. The children have been raised or opportunities for them have passed. Your ability to manage and survive in society have been established if by nothing else by the fact that you are still here and have some ability, even if it is very small, to self reflect. You have a vast array of experiences from which to draw. These include successes, failures, close calls, peak experiences, black holes, new romances, lost loves, etc. From these experiences it becomes your task to sort through the material to see the patterns so that you may now consciously choose how you wish to proceed from here.
This is not particularly an easy task. Jung defined this as the opportunity to begin the conscious individuation process. As we learn from Robert A. Johnson’s books She and He, there are numerous task which need to be accomplished for this stage of life to live up to its potential. First there is the sorting, then the risk taking, then the search for the right questions, then the quest for the answers to those questions that are other than what was suppose to work, then the heroic willingness to begin making the changes that one needs to make to get aligned with what one claims to understand as one’s path. Then there is the seeming endless task of banning false and deceptive beliefs from one’s psyche. Then there comes the tenacious task of maintaining the new mythological principles long enough for them to become the default positions of one’s actions. After all that there is the problem of remaining true to these principles and the regular reconstruction of the Self image that is ever changing as my eyes open wider and wider to the endless options available within the structures of my own unconscious.
I might take a moment to mention that there are potentially a few pitfalls in this process and that the majority of people do find a way to overlook this window of opportunity. Actually, there are those that think this to be simply a severe case of personal boat rocking and they would appreciate it if we would just get over this mid-life crisis or empty nest syndrome or post whatever syndrome and just settle down and live our lives out peacefully as some good god has intended us to do. I respect those people, I just can’t be one of them.
I often think that in this stage of life that it is not initially a position of choice, but rather being chosen. We are not chosen by an external, but rather by the internal Self which sees the window of opportunity to grab the brass ring. This opportunity often arises out of crisis or even a sense of quite empty desperation. We are pushed out of the arena of comfort (a rebirth),or we are so tied of there never being any comfort, that we finally figure out that there must be another way, even if we do not know what it is.
To choose not to do this is not disastrous for the ego. More likely it is just a refusal that leads to the endless repetition of the positive/negative patterns that we have already established in stages one and two. This is not bad, but often becomes somewhat monotonous and leads us to consider and dismiss the question, "Is that all there is". We also may redefine dynamics so that we can do the second stage over again in an attempt to correct that which we think we did wrong. We may do this through redefining ourselves as active grandparents or taking on some new profession or hobby. The problem is that time begins to be of the essence. Even if we could correct all of the supposed failures, by the time we would accomplish this there is no time left for the final phases.
To those who do choose this awakening, we allow our ego to expand and reclaim the repressed images that were appropriately put on hold in stage two. We begin to understand the experiences of stages one and two as launching pads for the variety of tasks that lie ahead. For this stage to be fully successful we must be willing to bring into question the very axiomatic pillars on which we have built our personalities. We must challenge our relationships, our definition of family, our conceptions of deities, etc. That is not to say that all of these things must change, rather that they must be challenged to see if they fit my intuitive sense of who I am. This often does create what appears to the outside to be a crisis, but more appropriately put, it is a re-birthing.
Maturity & Wisdom: Alignment with my Self and preparation for death
This is the final stage of life. In this stage there is really nothing left to prove. It is more a stage of refinement and preparation to bring about the final alignment between the ego and Self axes. In saying this let me be clear that there are still things to do and still things to which one is held accountable. The most important part of this stage of life is one’s ability to reflect the truths of life to those in the second and third stages of their development. The common term used to describe this is the passing of wisdom. Wisdom is not a divine or religious principle. Rather, it is the ability to state the obvious. It is the ability to say what life is without dressing it up in the fortunes or misfortunes of the momentary ego state. In this stage of life I really have nothing more to prove or loose. So, there is no reason not to speak the truth. Of course, this position is quite contingent on the reality that I did what I needed to do in stage three. If that is not the case then a number of scenarios may develop.
One of these problemaqtic scenarios is the possibility that one becomes quite bitter and angry that life has been unfair to them. They feel robbed and cheated by the very people that supposedly loved them. These people become constant complainers and nothing is ever really right. Life satisfaction is very fleeting and their anger is obvious.
A second scenario is one that defaults to the myriad of thought and positions (complexes) that they held dear to throughout their life whether they were ever expressed or repressed. These are situations in which our aging parents or grandparents begin exhibiting behaviors that appear on the surface to be very inconsistent with who we saw them as earlier in life.
A third option is to opt for an early out. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "When you cease to make a contribution you begin to die." These are people who can see no more value to themselves than what they did or do. They manifest this in two ways. Either they live in the past and all energy is attached to past accomplishment, or they resign themselves to death and wait to die. We can see the first option in the person who has a few repetitious stories they tell of sometime in their past. What ever you try to discus with them, you end up listening to one of those stories. The second option can be seen in the person who dies shortly after retiring.
But, let us not end on this negative note. For the final stage of life can indeed be the most rewarding. Although growth has slowed there is ample opportunity to be involved and to make those final alignments between ego and Self that have alluded one to that point. Personally I think that some of the most exciting people to work with in process are people at the beginnings of this stage of life. For only in this stage of life can all else be sacrificed to the ego-Self axis which will bring to fruition that which was discovered at the beginning of stage three. In this stage it is no longer necessary to let life rock your boat. You anticipate most human foibles before they occur. Your wisdom allows you to participate without being caught up in the specific dynamic. You become centered. You are open to the creative dynamics of life’s twists and turns. You understand that time is short and there is no more time to waste on persons or situations that refuse to bear fruit. You become guiltless in service to the ego-Self axis.