Aging and maturity involve cumulative wear and tear, some of which is traumatic. Wear and tear certainly occurs with the body through accidents. Although the body possesses a capacity for self-repair at times the repair is not successful, and the result is scar tissue, arthritic bone, and marked and sagging skin. Such wear and tear is characterized by cellular loss, cross-linking, decreased capacity for delivery of oxygen and elimination of metabolites. This gives rise to functional decline and may result in a negative cycle of reinforcement.
An analogous process may occur psychologically. Life experience inevitably involves loss, pain, and discovery of one’s shortcomings and those of others. When the self’s conceptual frame, emotional attitude, or ways of thinking and relating are too narrow or fixed, the experience of loss, pain, and limits gives rise to defense, and when defense is inadequate to new defenses, dismay, disorganization, and, not infrequently, depression.
Defense serves to maintain the status quo. Defense is useful and important because it permits the person to continue functionally with little interruption. Immature defense, however, may establish an adjustment that favors repetition of errors and continued experiences of loss and pain, or sequestering portions of psychological experience, so that the self’s zone of psychological freedom is reduced, with rigidity and loss of spontaneity. Mature defense permits review of error and illusion –its antecedents and consequences. Through review, reflection, and assimilation, new modes of understanding and adaptive relation to self and others that are more resilient may be formulated.
Disillusionment involves change in working assumptions and may be superficial or deep. Superficial disillusionment calls for changes in assumptions and beliefs that are “procedural”. Superficial disillusionment does not involve basic values, attitudes, sense of self and reality. Deep disillusionment invites reconsideration of all these elements and the self’s world view.
Just as healing from physical injury requires rest, often immobilization of the injured part, sometimes active intervention in the form of anti-inflammatory medication, and with abrasions and open wounds, the use of bactericides, so healing from psychological injury may require analogous measures. The more serious the injury, and the more threatening to self and psychological coherence, the more time required for healing, the greater the retreat, the more the reduction of external stimulation, the more important the role of hope and support. Just as the overall health of the body is important to recovery of local lesions, so the overall philosophy, framework of comprehension, and vitality of emotional relations is important to recovery from superficial and deep psychological injuries.
As with physical injury if the conditions for psychological healing are not met, the result is debility. The fingerprints of psychological debility are lack of spontaneity, joy, playfulness, creative innovation, and paralysis in projects and proposals.
Since contemporary culture rarely permits the luxury of retreat and self reflection, and the role of religion and philosophy have been diminished, the life course for many mature individuals is often along a path of constriction. Clinical interventions dominated by insurance companies and Federal bureaucracy favor quick fix, one-size-fits-all solutions to psychological and emotional malaise. Accordingly, discovery, review, and reflection are limited and, at best, provide only symptomatic relief. Such clinical interventions are derivative of a “quick fix” culture that views symptomatic relief as more important than depth of cure. Quick fix approaches to psychological well-being are little better than ubiquitous programmed entertainment to reduce emotional discomfort.
When age, defense may become chronic and experience more closed. Just as a return to physical health requires mobilization of bodily processes involved in healing, so does a return to psychological health require the discovery and reintegration of life experience. As a return to physical health requires disengagement from habitual activities, quiet, and rest, so also a return to psychological health requires an absence of distraction, self-examination, and reflection.
To fulfill this requirement, a person may set aside time each day to meditate or practice yoga. A person may participate in psychotherapy that engages consideration of self, other, and world. A person may engage in a weekly or periodic religious observance that requires communing with one’s inner world. A person may take vacations in a natural setting away from the habitual distractions. The more time devoted, the more variation of practice, and the more intense the experience, the better. A person can engage all these practices or one only. Whatever the practice, a fractured self and wounded spirit demand release from chatter and mindless distraction.