“Struggle” is well known in American culture, and is sometimes linked to two historic sources — first is the notion of “Puritan ethics” that were brought over on the Mayflower by our Founding Fathers; and second is the Depression, which many people reference as the excuse behind their own tendency to struggle in the world (even when they themselves did not experience the Depression firsthand). When you burrow down on any American’s tendency to struggle, these two historical events often surface to explain or rationalize the well-known mental habit pattern.
As usual, I have a somewhat contrarian perspective on the matter. It is my belief that the notion that life must be a struggle is linked to two psychological (not historical) precedents.
First is the cultural norm, which in the U.S. is often linked to a psychological types pattern of ESTJ preferences. We are said to have an ESTJ culture in the U.S. The underlying temperament that informs this pattern also appears to be the most common in the culture as a whole (the largest percentage of our population), so no surprise that its mindset would prevail. I refer to this temperament as the “Stabilizer.”
There are many wonderful, admirable aspects to this noble temperament that inform the core of who we are as countrymen and patriots… AND this virtuous temperament can sometimes foster a pessimistic, worst-case point-of-view. In other words, this temperament believes that work is to be taken seriously, and play should be earned. Anyone who does not abide by that mindset is considered frivolous and seldom taken seriously. Even Santa Claus checks his magical list to make sure you have been “good” before you are allowed to have your Christmas gift.
So this is the prevailing attitude of the U.S. Collective, and I think most of us here have some familiarity with that mindset, whether through our cultural myths of hardworking individuals; or through first-hand experiences of its being taught overtly in school; or from reporting to a job where the idea was perpetuated throughout the company culture. It is present in some form all around us — from Boy Scout troops to government institutions (consider the postal service motto, “neither rain nor snow nor dark of night”) to Fortune 500 boardrooms.
Mind you, these are ideals, so even the most straight-laced representatives of this temperament are unable to live up to its impossibly high standards. While it may be easier for people who innately have this temperament pattern to feel validated around their values in this climate, it is still no cakewalk. Stabilizers may require even more help and support than those with less common temperaments to separate from the Collective and forge themselves into unique individuals.
Now, the second psychological precedent is even more pernicious, since it lives within rather than without. Struggle is commonly a byproduct of our Inner Critic, who will frequently push us towards workaholism and suffering, and is anti-life in general. It is often the source of depression, and may go so far as to encourage suicide when one does not live up to its outrageously high standards.
We all have this Inner Critic, and it is probably the shadow archetype most painfully familiar to each of us. Unchecked, the Inner Critic may end up running the show, and perhaps drive us mercilessly into the ground. It is the slavedriver that chains us to the oars and deprives us of food and water as it cracks the whip and admonishes us to work harder harder harder… which coincides with the Collective’s encouragement to also “work hard” and be outwardly “successful” as well. Freeing ourselves from this unconscious prison of suffering typically demands a confrontation and reconciliation of some kind with this disquieting aspect of our Self.
Our tendency to suffering is thus pressured on us from two angles — from within and from without. In this way, these two psychological forces collude and keep many people in our population miserable.
These two powers press on us unrelentingly, and protect the little “s” self, while the oppressed part of us that is entitled to self-expression, along with its accompanying joy and happiness, are aspects of the capital “S” Self that the Collective discourages. Thus, it can be an act of genuine courage to confront this indoctrination in order to embrace grace and flow and ease in our lives in its place, and to take a stand for the capital “S” Self over the little “s” self, which has all odds stacked against it.
“Personality is the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncracy of a living being. It is an act of high courage flung in the face of life, the absolute affirmation of all that constitutes the individual, the most successful adaptation to the universal conditions of existence coupled with the greatest possible freedom for self-determination.” -Jung
I often hear about the historic precedents — the Depression and the Puritan ethics — and I suspect they are convenient “hooks” to hang baggage on that is truthfully generated by these twin psychological cannons aimed at us from the Collective outside and the inner world inside, and our work as individuals is about coming to terms with those psychological forces and reconciling them (and we as coaches support that numinous process).