Legitimate Suffering and Mental Illness

I included this exchange in my forthcoming  Hemingway on Hemingway.

Legitimate Suffering and Mental Illness

Sunday, August 8, 2010, 5 AM. Just spent most of an hour posting [on my website] a couple of conversations from May…. It was interesting to read the pieces from May 24 and 25. I had forgotten that it was from Carl Jung that I first got the concept that Hemingway represented a complete man, that his great attractiveness to people stemmed from his wholeness. Obviously that didn’t prevent him from experiencing and ultimately succumbing to serious personality problems, but it does change the picture. All right, so here we go. Dr. Jung, I have been using a quotation of yours as a part of my signature in e-mails for some time, but only yesterday — at your prompting? — did it occur to me that I didn’t quite understand it. It rings true intuitively but it could do with some explanation. “The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering.” What is “legitimate suffering,” and for that matter what is mental illness, and how are they thus so intimately connected?

You have asked the question even though you are anxious. This is good. Always, when you meet an obstacle, push through it, beyond it, or it will surface again in a more difficult form. Challenges never get easier except sometimes as a result of prior failure leading to reduction of capacity — in which case they still are harder relative to the capacity one brings to them.

To understand the sentence, one needs to understand the definitions. Mental illness. Legitimate suffering. For that matter, unwillingness.

You have been told [by TGU, in the past] that there is no such thing, as such, as mental illness, but we will stick to common parlance. For our purposes, we may define it as the inability to

Wow! I see it, all at once! In connection to Hemingway! Sorry to interrupt, but it was so striking, to go from not understanding to understanding. Please, proceed.

Define mental illness as the inability to experience reality in an undistorted form. Define legitimate suffering as — for instance — bearing the knowledge of what one is, or what one has done. And define unwillingness as a conscious choice, become unconscious because repressed, to see in distorted fashion.

That is so simple, so obvious once said.

You will find that our readers find it less obvious, until we put into words the understanding that leapt mind to mind between us. However, it is true that some will be able to join in that intuitive communication, and thus will get it as you got it.

So, to plod. (I was Swiss, you know. We Swiss are great plodders.)

Ideally a mind experiencing a life does so with inputs open and understanding functioning without distortion, and in this way smoothly assimilates what occurs externally so as to experience it internally and thus come to greater consciousness of its own nature and limitations and possibilities. (By the way, those three words are restatements, one of the other. To know one’s nature is to know the others, and to know them is to know what one is fundamentally.)

This is the ideal. Of course it is rarely if ever approximated.

To the degree that one refuses to see one’s shadow side, one distorts one’s experience of reality. “It wasn’t me. It was circumstance. I was an innocent victim. He provoked me. Anyone would have reacted in the same way.”

Such distortion, if continued long enough and consistently enough, obviously results in the person becoming ever less able to respond appropriately to circumstances, because circumstances as reported to the conscious mind are reported in the distorted form required by the refusal to acknowledge and accept one’s own actions, motivations — ultimately, a part of one’s own character.

Yes, it jumped out at me when you began — Ernest Hemingway was not sufficiently aware of his shadow side, and therefore couldn’t acknowledge or often remember certain types of actions, and such actions — those that led him to break with friends, for example, or that led him to be unable to restrain his competitiveness — repeatedly had ill effects on his life. Yes, Ernest?

I don’t think Carl was quite finished.

No. Our friend is particularly enthusiastic today.

Let’s blame it on the coffee. I would never do something like interrupt. It wasn’t my fault! They made me do it! Anybody would have!

All right, we are smiling, but a little bit goes a long way. If you meant it, that would be a good example of the mechanism.

To continue the thread I was following, though it may be obvious, one can reach a point from which there can be no return, because incoming reality as perceived bears so little resemblance to incoming reality in and of its own nature.

Thus, Ernest had to blame certain situations on others because it would have become unbearably painful to admit to himself his own responsibility. That is the common way to understand the situation. However, in the way we are sketching out, we would rephrase it this way. Ernest’s person-group comprised such extremely disparate elements as to be held together largely by the fictions he told himself about who he was and what he was. He shaped himself to an ideal, and the price of that was disenfranchising parts of himself that didn’t measure up to the ideal.

He could not acknowledge them, and therefore he lost the ability to integrate them, and therefore they functioned suppressed until they exploded, then were suppressed again. A part of his conscious personality knew that the explosions occurred, but experienced them as autonomous — a primitive would have described them as evil spirits that had entered and taken him over — and therefore had extreme difficulty taking responsibility for what seemed to him not really his own doing.

Another part of his conscious personality remained unaware — as best it could! — that the explosion had taken place at all.

But this in turn caused further problems, for in the aftermath of an explosion one sees an altered situation, that has to be accounted for somehow. If ex-hypothesis one denies that an explosion took place at all, or denies at least that the explosion had anything to do with one’s own action or being — well, somebody has to be at fault! Find them!

Oh, I see the mechanisms, all right. And I suppose that few people who read this will fail to see it from personal experience.

You can see, then, that if this process is allowed to get too advanced, a person may wind up inside so elaborate a labyrinth as to be unable to return to clarity without trusted outside help. And the farther one has proceeded inside the labyrinth, the less able one will be to trust outside help of any kind. Carried sufficiently far, the only way out is via death and release, which thankfully is available to all.

But. If a person is willing to see the person-group as it exists — the disreputable characters as well as the saints; the bums as well as the hard workers; the drones and the dullards as well as the inspired creators — then there is hope, and health. For if one can hold an ideal while remembering that while in human form with human limitations we cannot attain (but can only approximate, or tend toward) ideals, then one still has a touchstone for conduct and aspiration, but one need not deliberately ignore the unavoidable shortcomings, nor be crushed by guilt nor overcome by hopelessness.

And it hurts to see what we really are rather than what we would rather be. Is that it?

Not everyone is mentally ill. Not everyone holds an ideal unattainably high, and suffers from the failure to attain the unattainable.


This should render my life more comprehensible. On the one hand you’re being told that I was an example of wholeness. On the other hand you’re seeing how unable I was to deal with certain themes that ran through my life, and you see how my life spun out of control. You tend to put too much blame on the alcohol. The cause is as Carl said — I couldn’t see myself or my life straight, and so I got farther and farther off course.

[CGJ] That isn’t quite right. You found it too painful to see the past as it had been, so you shrank from it and walled yourself off from incidental reminders as best you could. But your life — look at it now! — was not, objectively, something to shrink from realizing. And if you had seen yourself more accurately you would have seen those around you more accurately. It would have relieved the anxiety, the paranoia, the depression, it would have turned down the valve on the rage and the manic highs.

But it was all tied in with your idealization of yourself that was the means of creating yourself and holding yourself to your impossibly high standards of craftsmanship that you did largely achieve.

I can certainly see it. By holding yourself to a high enough standard, you can make it guaranteed that you are never going to do good enough or be good enough to satisfy yourself. Hence the bragging, hence the anxious competitiveness.

[CGJ:] And hence the need and the use to you of the Catholic Church, Ernest. Your critics don’t seem to understand the psychological importance to you of confession as a way of shedding guilt. But the structure of the Church “in our time” didn’t match with the rest of our world, so it wasn’t enough, and this without entering in to the question of the Church’s politics in Spain and elsewhere.

So, to wrap this up? For we have been going more than an hour.

I sum it up as I continually summed up situations. Do not judge another’s life. Judgment — condemnation — never liberates, it only oppresses, isolates, and condemns judge and judged alike. You never have the data. Ernest’s life cannot be understood as if it were a simple man’s, nor a man comprising a harmonious low-pressure collection of threads.

[EH] Yet my life must not be seen as a series of bad decisions or of unfortunate external circumstances, either. It was as I was, and if I had realized that consciously as I realized it unconsciously, I’d have had an easier time of it.

I thank you both. I think many people besides myself will find this helpful. But don’t think I don’t see manipulation when I experience it — at least once in a while!

We smile as well.


7 thoughts on “Legitimate Suffering and Mental Illness

  1. Thank you indeed Frank.
    Funny thou, it reminds me of the old words accountet to be said by Jesus Christ:”Be ye perfect, as I am made perfect”…etc.
    And seriously speaking about the own responsibility at large.
    E.C. have some readings about it, which telling of us will be the sum total(of all of us)ever have been.

  2. Frank,Papa,
    I like when you probe familiar terms and go beyond assumptions about life and these threads we carry. While Ernest left from a gunshot in a sense I felt my father, who was also a larger than life persona had so trapped himself in the archetype of the father figure a massive single heart attack was his way out like a gun shot.
    It took me many years to begin to believe he may have had a hand in this. I had first blamed 7th Ave. the demands of the outer world etc. but when he died and 7 men were hired in his place I realized how much he was living over his reach.
    Provocative as ever…

  3. Excellent material, and thank you for sharing.
    The slippery slope of distorted perceptions and a mismatch of self with reality can certainly lead to mental health problems. I’ve seen it in my work. And Jung’s explanations of the shadow and the systematic withdrawal from a full and balanced view of reality gives additional light to his established work. This is important information: to both attempt cognitive understanding and to feel it. To both observe our reality and intuit. I think the value of following the life of a single individual, Hemingway no less, with the views of expanded consciousness and afterlife perception, should be clear. One caveat which may not apply to the context of this material. Jung is responding to Hemingway. As such, he is also responding to the human condition that we all share. Therefore, there is something for all of us, I would think, in the material. But Jung may not have been responding to the nature of ALL mental illness. For example, mental illness resulting from concussion or brain damage (undetected tumors, etc.) While one might suggest football players accept the risk of concussion, there are many accidental concussions for which I think it might be harsh to suggest that the path was somehow a choice. The caveat is slightly off topic, but made for those who can see no possible connection between their illness and their choices (other than, say, genetics — which is a choice prior to birth).

    1. Thanks. The comment isn’t harsh at all, but it doesn’t mean what you may think it means. It’s not a form of saying “it’s all his own fault”; it stems from the perception that the internal or external in our lives are manifestation of the same reality ; that there is no such thing as a coincidence ; that what seem like coincidences or accidents truly only seem like that. This is counter-intuitive, I realize.

  4. Good response, both pragmatic and, I believe, reflective of a larger reality than “meets the eye.” We are largely in agreement. The caveat, off topic perhaps, has more to do with the absence of generalized certainty. For example, I would be interested if Jung had an update to his Answer to Job. In that work, and in subsequent letters, he felt that one answer to apparent evil and unjust misfortune in the world was the existence, in the field of time, of God’s unintegrated shadow. The answer can co-exist with yin and yang. But I like your approach — helping people find the beam of their lives, where coincidence dissipates with false or incomplete perception.

  5. Hi, came to be thinking of one of the old books by
    Ruth Montgomery titled: “The Strangers Among Us”.
    Among a whole lot of other things the book telling about The Group-Mind, or a group-consciousness` as a fifth dimension phenomenon, and the guides explained:”Man lives in the third dimension while in flesh, and passes into the fourth dimension at physical death, unless he has become so highly evolved spiritually that he will not need to have a resting time here.
    In the fifth dimension where Group Mind radiates, he is learning to project his thoughts, his wisdom, to an almost limitless extent into lower dimensions, as well as upward into the sixth. Incarnates can learn to tune into this flow of wisdom when they realize that they are not bound by the three-dimensional level of earthly existence.
    And this is the same as Frank telling of to be tuning unto the whole of the akashic records at the same time. According to the guides of Ruth Montgomery is it several Brotherhoods of man.
    To me it is felt of being careful of judging of what will be false or incomplete perceptions at large.
    Each of us will be incomplete without each others obviously.
    P.S. It is no such a thing as “upstairs or downstairs” as such, it is just “a term.” Since it is a matter of conception.
    The Life is an adventure as Frank is putting it.
    Or else in the same book by R.M. is it told of the shift of the axis will be inevitable whatever the mankind does about it. But it is possible for us of avoiding a third world war.
    Be fearless and good, mending our ways with loving hearts…..it will be the main theme within all of the messages.

  6. This is illuminating in the best sense of the word. However, I/we would rather add that the preferred term is mental imbalance as opposed to mental illness. Do not others in your society wish to make an illness out of everyone who is different? It can be in degrees of balance or imbalance. That which has been set forth is helpful indeed. Thank you, Ernest and Dr. Jung.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.