How to Unleash Your Full Potential to Live Your Unlived Life

A Revaluation of Values

We have seen how our choices in the first half of life are made under the influence of genetic and cultural influences, particularly examples set by Mom, Dad, teachers, heroes and our love interests. We acquire an identity and a repertoire of patterned ways for making sense of and respond to the world.

But one morning we wake up and feel as if something important has been lost along the way. Then we are called upon to examine the truths by which we live and even to acknowledge that their opposites also contain truth. As Jung pointed out, it is a mistake to fear that the truths and values of early adulthood are no longer relevant; they have just become relative—they are not universally true. But to let go of the splitness inherent in the process of becoming conscious would appear to send us crashing into a whirlpool of chaos and relativity, the end of everything that we have most valued.

It is curious how modern people will go to almost any length to stay busy and thereby avoid examining unlived life. Contemporary people have a nearly insatiable appetite for amusements and addictions—to drugs, food television, shopping, wealth, power, and all of the other diversions of our culture. For many years I believed that our avoidance of soulful engagement is the result of a fear of being overtaken by “uncivilized” qualities from the unconscious. But I have come to understand that we resist our highest potentials even more persistently than we reject our so-called primitive energies.

Much of what remains undeveloped in us, psychologically speaking, is excluded because it is too good to bear. This may seem silly, but if you look honestly at your life, you will find it to be true. We often refuse to accept our most noble traits and instead find a shadow substitute for them. For example, instead of living with spirit, we settle for temporary highs from consuming something or possessing someone. At first it is puzzling why we would look for our potentially best qualities in something or someone else. From the point of view of the ego, the appearance of a sublime trait or quality might upset our whole personality structure.

In going down into the underworld a person of integrity can draw the skeletons out of the closet fairly easily, but he will likely fight to the end of his neurotic strength to hide the divinity of his own being. It is heartening to learn that inner work at midlife is not just unrelieved darkness; it also brings out some of the finest values. Hades is not just the abode of loss, lament, and depression; it is a transformative realm, filled with riches, promising a new harvest of life potential.

Where are you stuck? An Exercise

We all have places where we cut ourselves off from potentially exciting and fulfilling experiences due to habit, fear or laziness. A simple way to locate some of your complexes (which are, by definition, unconscious) is to reflect upon the past week and notice what situations disturbed you. Where did you have a run-in with someone? When and how did you procrastinate or avoid something? Perhaps you failed to speak up for yourself or steamrolled over someone (power complex). Did you constantly sacrifice your own needs while trying to please others? Did you overcompensate by boasting or belittling others (inferiority complex)? Maybe it involved paying bills (a money complex). Did you repeat a pattern of isolating yourself from the potential support of friends and community (outsider complex)? In what ways did you fail to engage life fully? Sometimes this is called the mother complex—wanting to stay infantile and half asleep. The mother complex is observed when a parent holds too much sway in the child’s development; it may or may not be tied to a specific gender. What do you rarely talk about with others? Why is this so? Are you embarrassed? Do you want to avoid conflict? When do you feel uncomfortable, nervous, or sensitive?

Unlived life will be projected onto others to the extent that it is unrecognized. What do you devalue and reject in yourself you will criticize and castigate others for. What you fear in yourself you will fight or flee in others. What you lack in yourself you will depend upon others to provide.

There are a diverse number of complexes, as many as there are typical situations in life. Recall that these clusters of experiential energy are trying to protect you and simplify your choices by drawing upon past experience, but they also limit your freedom and blind you to the past. They are fallacies of overgeneralization. You cannot be rid of complexes, but you can loosen them up and broaden your repertoire of response.

To change these repetitive core ideas will require more and greater awareness. Purchase a notebook and begin noting when, where, and how you feel stuck, limited or diminished. In becoming aware of the effects of our complexes, it is not helpful to judge yourself or get frustrated. Simply by bringing more awareness to these underworld processes, your life will begin to change. Whenever you let go of an old, restrictive program, your unlived potential emerges more fully.


Living Your Unlived Life by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. RuhlExcerpt from Living Your Unlived Life by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Ph.D. with permission from Tarcher/Penguin. Copyright © 2007 Available at your local bookstore and online.

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