As an analyst, James Hollis has had many clients struggling to come to terms with sexless marriages.
If they were coming to him with trouble sleeping, or an eating disorder, or a drug habit, they’d have no trouble saying “I have a problem, how do I solve it?” But in the case of an unfulfilling sex life, or a low libido, he says, they’re much more likely to ask “how do I come to terms with it?”
Writing the lead article in the Fall issue of the journal Parabola, Hollis calls this a “disorder of desire,” and points out that our ability to express and experience desire is a key element of mental health. To be cut off from one’s own desire is to be cut off from one’s own life.
“While levels of desire vary from person to person,” he writes, “the absence or diminution of desire is psychologically and spiritually significant for it is desire which most expresses the life force.”
This is not a casual problem, or something to shrug off with a resigned “oh well.”
“When primary desires are blocked, or closely guarded by cultural sanctions,” says Hollis, “desire goes underground into the body, into projections, into vicarious sublimations.”
It’s an area of mental health that the medical model of psychology and psychiatry generally fail to address. Taking a pill, whether to stimulate or repress physical responses, leaves the deeper issues unaddressed. If our lives are empty of passion, going through the motions more effectively is not going to help.
However Hollis, an internationally renowned Jungian scholar and the Director of Saybrook’s graduate program in Jungian Studies, notes that Carl Jung’s dictum that “a neurosis is suffering which has not yet found its meaning” addresses these disorders of desire perfectly.
“Desire is not served when it is stunted, thwarted, or deflected to trivializing ends,” he writes. “Why, in the most abundant civilization in history, do we have so many eating disorders? Why, amid our surfeited world of elemental needs long met, is our prevailing mythos, ideology, and pathology materialism? Why is this materialism the most seductive religion in the world? Do we pause before the refrigerator or the purchase at the mall and say, ‘that which I am seeking I will not find here,’ or are we driven by the power of a deeper desire? What matter, then, do we really seek?
For more information on Parabola, or to subscribe for a copy of the Fall issue, visit www.parabola.org