The Suffering Soul

The Suffering Soul

Ophelia, by John Everett Millais

Journeying into the depths of Soul is not always full of good feelings and positive thoughts. We forget sometimes that the very nature of Soul is to pathologize. In social forums where we discuss the things of Soul, I think we tend to lose sight of the darker side. In an attempt to uplift others, we concentrate solely on the affirmative.

In order to approach the psychology of pathology afresh, I am introducing the term pathologizing  to mean the psyche’s autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective (James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology).

Sometimes, we can be cruising along just fine. The future is looking bright and sunny; problems, if any, are minor ones. Then, suddenly, the bottom drops out and we are plunged into black, murky waters. There doesn’t necessarily need be a cause for it. Sometimes, the workings of Soul are unknowable. An attack of melancholia, an illness, or just a black mood can turn our lives upside down.

This is not uncommon. Soul often creates these maladies. If we are to be students of Soul, we must face them and attempt to phenomenologically see through them for what they are. Furthermore, we would not know much about Soul if it were not for its pathologies. Freud would have never discovered the so-called “talking-cure” and the via regia if not for the neuroses of those he treated. Jung would have never formulated his theory of dreams and the collective unconscious if he had not dealt with the most difficult cases while working in the Burghölzli psychiatric hospital. Soul’s tendency to exhibit symptoms of extreme abnormality and aberrant behavior is well-established, to say the least.

One thing that Hillman stresses in his musings on pathologizing (ibid. p. 71) is that it was not therapists, such as Freud and Jung, who brought Soul back to the forefront of our attention during the twentieth century. Rather, it was pathological symptoms of the Psyche that drove people to seek help from these therapists, and, then, turned a spotlight on the workings of Soul. The extreme repressive attitudes of Western society during the Victorian era, especially concerning sex, brought these maladies to the surface. Minds were perturbed, but, often, that’s what it takes for self-awareness to be gained. If it were not for these maladies, I would not be writing these words right now. I would probably still be repressed and guilt-ridden, and, who knows, possibly institutionalized. 

Like most things that actually work, fanatical adherents made psychotherapy into a cult and, perhaps, even a religion. Self-development in this new belief system led many to abandon the idea of pathologizing, separating Soul from its symptoms in the belief that we must simply “individuate” into a complete and integrated human being. It’s not that easy, folks. Soul will continue to exhibit its sicknesses and deformities. Hillman’s aim was to heal the rift between Soul and symptoms and, thus, return to Soul its proper place in human affairs. For too long, Spirit was over-dominant, for the idea of transcending the suffering of Soul is totally a Spirit phenomenon.There can be over-dominance of Body, Soul, or Spirit. We have witnessed all three in the past one hundred years.

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