Does the career we have chosen have a much
deeper purpose than the pursuit of our work goals? After all, when we think that our most important work of all
is to know ourselves and to cut the ties that bind us to past and present
relationships, is it possibly a reality that our career choice carries a deeper
message regarding our unconscious drive to be true to ourselves. The self is ingenious in the ways it
attempts to draw attention to the unresolved conflicts that continue to block
our progress within ourselves and between ourselves and others. The obvious way the self does this is
by attracting into our lives people who are opposite to ourselves, and it is
the case that opposite qualities are the very qualities to date I dare not
express or confront.
Over the years I have found, for example, that some people who enter the army or police forces are highly defended in their relationships with others and their sense of self lies hidden behind their defensive walls. Their childhood experiences were of a nature where they had to constantly be ‘on guard’ against physical, emotional and, sometimes, sexual blows to their presence. The fact that they enter the defence forces reinforces their subconscious ways of defending themselves against the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune’, but it also powerfully draws their attention to the urgent need for them to free themselves of how others see and relate to them. Such a process depends on the person creating a safe environment within themselves and strong boundaries (not defences) around care for themselves.
I have also come across individuals who enter professions where they are constantly involved in the caring of neglected children. What these individuals had not seen was that their chosen profession daily brought them back to the childhood neglects they had experienced themselves and to their failure over time to grieve and resolve these profound abandonments.
Covering up our feelings of hurt and rejection is a common defensive manoeuvre and there are several professions that mirror and reinforce that deeper process, the most obvious being cosmetics, beauty therapy and fashion design. The deeper and underlying issue is the ‘covering up’ or the ‘dressing up’ of the ‘ugliness’ of being rejected, compared, labelled and not cherished for your own true and beautiful self. The ‘uncovering’ of one’s true self is what is being called for.
Of course, the phrase ‘physician heal yourself’ strongly gives credence to the notion that a chosen career may be attempting to unearth unresolved conflicts. Medicine is the most ‘at-risk’ profession in terms of life expectancy, health, marriage and family relationships. The indicators are that the person who enters a ‘healing’ profession may need to do considerable healing of old and present emotional wounds. When the reading between the lines of their chosen career path is done, medical professionals can deepen their capacity to help others from the experience of healing their own insecurities and hurts. When this path less travelled is not taken there is a danger that their dedication to others becomes counterproductive, certainly escalating the threat to their own wellbeing and, sometimes, to those people who attend them.
There are many of us who need to ‘dig deep’ or explore our inner lives in order to resolve the long-term blocks to a fulfilling and exciting life. There are those individuals who choose interior design or architecture or archaeology as career paths. It may well be that the Interior Designer needs to discover the colour, breadth and light of their own interiority and that the Architect needs to become the architect of his own inner world. The Archaeologist subconsciously may be called to dig deep into his sense of self and explore the ruins of his early experiences. People who are fearful of knowing oneself often warn others to ‘not go so deep’ as if somehow there is some border of knowing one should not cross! On the contrary, when we do not reflect on who we are, what living is all about and how we are in relationships, there is a great danger that we will repeat in someway or other the neglect of self and the neglect of others. Typically, when I work with individuals in deep distress, I can trace back the origins of their difficulties six and seven generations. This is not a genetic phenomenon, but a situation where reflection on and resolution of conflict have not occurred across the generations. It is no wonder that the psyche (the self) uses every possible opportunity to waken individuals up to the sacred reality of their unique lives and I believe the work we do is one of the canvasses used to project onto and awaken us to the darkness of our pasts.
I can’t finish without mentioning my own work – clinical psychology. Psychology is now the highest sought third-level and post-graduate subject. Psychology is the study of the self (the psyche) and as regards myself, I have no doubt that what attracted me to a career in clinical psychology was the dire need for me to reclaim my lost sense of self. If I had not realised the deeper call that my job called on me to do, I believe I would not be near as effective as I am. All the evidence points to the fact that the greater the level of maturity of a therapeutic practitioner, the greater is his or her effectiveness. There is more to most behaviour than meets the conscious eye or ear!
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of The Mature Manager – managing from inside out.