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The Middle Passage (Book Review Part II)

The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife (Continued from Part I Blog-Post)

Dialogue with the shadow – Once the ego is no longer dominant, one wonders who one is, who is in charge. It is the place where the persona and shadow collide. The persona being the proudly acquired self, is a compromise as between the individual and society, according to Jung. This dialogue asks of us to find a balance between the external values of society and our inner truth. The degree to which we believe we are our persona is the degree to which we will suffer; feeling disconnected, resulting in heightened anxiety in the psyche. The mask of the ego and the roles, result in anxiety; we know this is not our true selves; we aware of something much larger and greater residing in our inner world.

The shadow contains all that is repressed and problematic, e.g. anger and sexuality. In the case of anger when it is channelled in the correct way, it can result in enormous liberation and change for the individual. At the core, we must bridge the divide between the false self and the true self, and feel whole in relation to all our parts. To experience one’s own reality freely, is to heal the inner split. During the middle passage the energy of the Shadow brings our psyche into balance. Whatever is not yet conscious, will eventually influence us. But the shadow should not be confused with evil; it is merely a part of psychic life which is repressed; and becoming conscious of my shadow, is equal to becoming truly human; being more sincere, and more interesting. Hollis writes, a person without a shadow is pale and uninteresting.

But the shadow will out. And it will do this through unconscious deeds, through projections, through depression, in somatic illnesses. A conscious appointment with my shadow in the midlife is of the utmost importance. By having this dialogue with my shadow, I will relieve much tension in ourselves and in our relationships. If the meaning of life is directly related to the measure in which I live consciously, then the role of the shadow is that of a healer. The more I can know about myself, the more potential I can realise, and the more colourful and richer my experience of life will be.

During the Middle Passage the energy of the Shadow is the aspect which brings our psyche into balance; to bridge the divide between the false self and the true self; to experience one’s own reality and to discover one’s inner world; and to feel whole in relation to all the parts of our inner world. That which is not yet in consciousness will eventually influence us in future. The shadow should not be confused with evil; it is merely a piece of psychic life which is still repressed. The shadow will out, and it will do this through unconscious deeds, through projections, through depression, in somatic illnesses. To become aware of the shadow is equal to being truly human; we become more sincere, more interesting – a person without a shadow is pale and uninteresting. A conscious appointment with the shadow in the midlife is of the utmost importance; by dialoguing with the shadow, we relieve much tension in ourselves and in our relationships.

Relationship problems and marriages – Our long-term intimate relationships in midlife hold the potential for much pain and disillusionment. They carry with them the unmet needs of the inner child in both partners. Many of these relationships were formed during the first adulthood; from a place of relative unconsciousness. During the Middle Passage, we are confronted with ourselves and our partners. Hollis looks at these relationships by discussing the nature of intimacy; we start off believing that marriage and romantic love are synonymous. He has the view that arranged marriages based on the working function of a relationship, have a higher success rate than those based on romantic expectations which feed into both parties’ projections. He illustrates the transactions that take place between men and women in heterosexual relationships at the hand of a diagram. The four entities are: the man’s ego, the woman’ ego, the animus, and the anima. The animus is the woman’s experience of the male principle, primarily influenced by the imprint her father had on her psyche. The anima is the inner experience a man had of the feminine, primarily his mother. The projection diagram shows how the animus in the woman is projected onto the man, and the anima of the man is projected onto the woman. Keeping in mind that anima and animus are unconscious drives in our psyche; and the two egos are our conscious way of relating to each other. Romantic love awards a relationship between a man and a woman with a deep sense of connection. Love at first sight is a good example of an extreme projection onto the other person; believing the other will provide all the happiness in the world.

Real life challenge these projections. Hollis writes: “one is left with the otherness of the Other, who will not and cannot meet the largeness of the projections. So, people will conclude at midlife that ‘You are not the person I married.’ Actually, they never were. They always were somebody else, a stranger we barely knew and know only a little better now.” (p.47) We fall in love with the missing parts of ourselves. Another human can never replace or make up for the part in my psyche which was damaged or went underground. We must take responsibility for the fact that everything we need is available to us when we access our own psyche, our own personality. A relationship with the other can only be as good as my relationship with myself, with the relationship I have with unconscious content in my psyche. It is a fallacy to think that what I ‘see’ in the other is the answer to my missing parts, or to my primal needs that I experienced as a child that may still be unmet. Hollis writes, it is no wonder relationships are so burdened; due to these inhuman demands that we place on our partners; onto what he terms, the magical Other. If the magical Other will not serve our needs, “The question then shifts from expecting the magical other to save us to the role that relationship might play in attaining greater meaning in life. To put the expectation of together we will be one inhibits the growth and development of both individuals – both others. The fusion model in midlife no longer serves. Hollis substitutes this by saying a mature relationship where each person takes responsibility for his or her happiness, is a relationship that contains an open-ended character. Each person can take on the task of being fully themselves by taking full responsibility vs. the dependency model we became accustomed to during childhood.

Hollis continues: “When one has let go of projections and the great hidden agenda, then one can be enlarged by the otherness of the partner. One plus one does not equal One, as in the fusion model; it equals three – the two separate beings whose relationship forms a third which obliges them to stretch beyond their individual limitations.” (p.49) Love relationships, Jung agreed, are one way of living the symbolic life, but not if the partners remain trapped in the superficial. The option of divorce or separation is today an answer to not have to remain stuck in a situation that serves neither party on the journey to individuation. One’s partner can most definitely play a supporting role in our journey, but with the agreement that one does not run away from the largeness of responsibility for one’s own life. The restoration of a marriage or partnership that has been projected on, remains problematic. It can only be conducive to both parties once the projection of negativity onto the partner is withdrawn.

Hollis says, the sooner each partner can commit to the task of individuation as the main aim of the relationship, the greater the chance of success it will have. To take on the role only as partner and not as rescuer or enemy, is the answer. This does not exclude individual therapy. True intimacy results when the parties openly communicate their struggles and disappointments, and generate compassion for the struggle ahead. Only once we have a good sense of what it is like to be the other person, can we truly love the other. A double strength is required – the ability to fully own one’s journey toward happiness, plus have the courage to validate the other’s point of view. True maturity means releasing expectations that the other (like the child released expectations about the parent) should be the sole provider for one’s sense of self-worth. We must learn to be our own best companion and supporter. Healing the messages of the animus and anima is vital for connecting to one’s intrinsic value as a partner. Hollis emphasises, a man must make sure that he has a healthy relationship with his feminine soul (anima); evolving from merely living in his head (thinking) to connecting to what he feels. “Woman cannot be that inner connection; they can only receive and partially carry the man’s projection of her.” (p.54) Women should be challenged to secure the relationship they have with themselves. Once her animus as positive energy is expressed, she can release herself from the sense of dependency and of powerlessness. “Positive animus energy is seldom given; it is achieved.” (p.57)

Affairs – Hollis addresses the matter of midlife affairs: “Whatever merits the third party may have in reality, she or he will certainly be the bearer of projections.” (p.57) The power of the unconscious projections is exactly that, powerful. And once possessed by the drives from the unconscious one cannot be said to be realistic. The draw of the affair relates back to the stages of the first adulthood – to the pull of excitement; a magical promise to supplying restoration for the undeveloped aspects of animus and anima in the psyche. For this reason, affairs hold so much numinosity: “It really embraces one’s lost soulfulness.” (p.58)

In the first adulthood marriage holds the promise of fusion. Hollis says, if we were to see ourselves as a sphere with many facets and not as a half seeking the other half, we realise no other person can relate to all our facets; we can only match up a high average of our facets with a high average of the facets of the other person. Multiple friendships may be the answer to these unmet needs, keeping in mind, boundaries around sexual fidelity should be intact. The midlife affair is often viewed as a way to complete one’s perceived stunted development; from the perception that one seeks wholeness, and that the first partner did not make this possible. It is indeed a disappointment when we must accept that we truly are separate, even when we are relationship; but is this not exactly the liberating moment when we discover and practice taking responsibility for our own completion, our own connection. “If marriage is, as Nietzsche suggested, a grand conversation, most marriages do not meet the test.” (p.60) The only solution for a marriage going through the Middle Passage is for each partner to be a separate person; to then enter into dialogue with the other separate person in the marriage. “Each person must become more fully an individual before there can be a transformation of the relationship. […] Hollis concludes: “Loving the otherness of the partner is a transcendent event, for one enters the true mystery of relationship in which one is taken to the third place – not you plus me, but we who are more than ourselves with each other.” (p.61)

Parents and children – Hollis emphasises, the relationship with our parents should alter during the Middle Passage if our most important task is to separate from our parental complexes. We will never be fully ourselves if we remain stuck in the reactive stage of the first adulthood which determined our sense of self; if we have not yet accepted full responsibility for shaping our own identity. Working through the parent complexes is a key function to address our acquired responses to power and self-actualisation. If we remain in the juvenile state of looking to the outer world to shape our inner identity and orientations, we will not be fully liberated to become who we are meant to be. Many girls have been trapped by aspects of their father’s unhealthy animus they internalised; and the same for boys who carry the unhealthy anima of their mothers. Parents must free their children by ceasing to see their children as extensions of themselves; this is the key to hand to their children toward individuation. Hollis describes, the person who is still trapped by the voice of the internalised parent, is encouraged to find their own voice in therapy so that they may arrive at a place where they come to trust their inner truth. The same principle applies as does in a marriage: “the task is to love the otherness of the Other. (p.65)

It is a developmental truth that we cannot love ourselves unless we experienced what it felt like to have our parents affirm us. The greatest need of a child is to feel nurtured and empowered. We must navigate the second adulthood if these aspects are underdeveloped in our psyche. To access as sense of one’s own knowing and distinguish it from the messages of the parent, is a vital prelude to the second half of life. If these influences remain unconscious, they contain directive energies which manifest as complexes. “What is not conscious from our past will infiltrate our present and determine our future […] The degree to which we can risk relationship, or even to imagine it as supportive rather than hurtful, is a direct function of our level of conscious dialogue with the parent complexes.” (p.71) If we are prepared to take on the daunting task of the personal journey of liberation and individuation, we will be able to move beyond our personal history and manifest our full potential.

Job vs. Vocation – Hollis distinguishes between earning money as a job, which our main focus during the first adulthood, versus the idea of having a vocation. The latter he describes as “what we are called to do with our life’s energies. It is a requisite part of our individuation to feel that we are productive, and not responding to one’s calling can damage the soul.” (p.72) He agrees, we cannot ignore the fact that we have bills to pay, but it is crucial that we arrive at a balance in the Middle Passage. Hollis refers to Kazantzaki’s novel, The Last Temptation of Christ to illustrate the danger of betraying one’s self, and thus betraying one’s individuation. Hollis writes quite poetically: “But for vocation one does not ask; one is asked. And a considerable part of the meaning of one’s life comes from saying yes when asked. The ego does not run life; it knows very little. It is the mystery of the Self that awesomely asks us to become whole, and how we decide to spend our energy plays a significant role in our journey.” (p.74) Living from a place of courage instead of a place of ego-constraint, holds the great reward of releasing our energies that enable us to become the larger person we are called to be.

The inferior function – Hollis discusses Jung’s eight personality typologies which describe how we approach our individual reality. Jung’s notion is that we have a dominant function and an inferior function as influences in relation to our vision and our personality. We feel the inner distress at midlife when we and society encourages us to ignore the whole person. Our dreams present as an antidote to this; they communicate our inferior function by taking us to the opening of the unconscious; they show how we express the other side of our personality. Our aim during the Middle Passage should be to reclaim the aspects of ourselves that we sacrificed in the first adulthood. Jung’s typology model can restore balance to our personality by acknowledging the parts that became out of balance.

Shadow invasions – Jung’s notion is, the persona is the face we believe we should present to the world; it protects our inner world, but remains a fragment of the Self. He emphasises, the Shadow should not be seen as evil rather as a part of us that has been repressed. If making meaning in the second half of life is directly related to the measure in which I live consciously, then the role of the shadow is that of a healer. Hollis writes: “By dialoguing with our shadow we lift enormous projections of animosity or envy off others.” (p.79) The more I can know about myself, the more potential I can realise, and the more colourful and richer my experience of life will be.

Ch. 4: Case Studies in Literature p. 80-93

Contrary to popular writings on psychology which refers to clinical examples, Hollis discusses some literary cases by referring to the writings of Dante, T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, Goethe, John Cheever, Dostoevsky’s Kafka, Conrad, and the poets Roethke, Richard Hugo, Diane Wakoski, and Sylvia Plath; the content is only partially included in this synopsis.

Hollis quotes Aristotle whose view was: “art can sometimes be clearer than life because art embraces the universal.” (p.80) The examples in the literature effectively illustrate the principles of the Middle Passage. He emphasises, when we read about a shared condition of a literary character, through the dramatization of their human condition, we can identify with the shortcomings, actions and especially insights of the character. This could greatly assist us in feeling less isolated from the process of becoming our true Self. Hollis concludes this chapter by saying: “We must address the making of our myths more consciously or we shall never be more than the sum of what has happened to us.” (p.93)

Ch. 5: Individuation: Jung’s Myth for Our Time p. 94-100

“The experience of the Middle Passage is not unlike awakening to find that one is alone on a pitching ship, with no port in sight. One can only go back to sleep, jump ship or grab the wheel and sail on.” (p.94) Hollis continues to say, when we choose to take responsibility for the journey, we avoid getting stuck in our juvenile notions and neuroses. Jung notion, that we have to understand the shortcomings of our childhood development in order to live a fuller life, supports this. Hollis further writes; “What we need is not unexamined ‘truths’, but living myth, that is a structure of value which guides the soul’s energies in a way that is consistent with our nature.” (p.95) He refers to the symptoms of the midlife crisis: boredom, shifting jobs or partners, addictions, self-destructive patterns, infidelity, depression, anxiety, etc. which refer to the increasing pressure from within, summoning an inevitable crisis of selfhood that is bound to erupt. If we can see this as an invitation for constructive change, we will welcome the suffering which affords an increase in consciousness with the promise of restored psychic energy. The Self has become tired out by ego defences, and aims to direct us toward a better path. Although we would prefer to be saved by something outside of ourselves, and avoid having to ‘swim alone’, we will do well to avoid the safer rout which prevents us from experiencing healing and the promise of renewed life. We will be reconnected to something much more lasting which is our own true Self, and heal from the alienation that childhood and culture caused in the soul. On this point, Hollis quotes Jesus who said: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.” (p.96)

Although the task may seem daunting, it can also be liberating to realise everything we need already exists as potential in our psyche. Here myths have the makings to guide us consciously and unconsciously; but to avoid the prescriptive false myths which say we must always ‘be good children’. Conforming to any expectation that is not one’s own would only serve to alienate us more from our true Self. Jung said “we are forced to choose between outer ideologies or private neurosis. Only the path of individuation could serve as a viable alternative. (p.97). Individuation is the myth for our time which provides a set of images to guide the soul’s energies; it is the call to each of us to become fully ourselves regardless of the limits acquired by our history; keeping in mind Jung’s words: “I am not what I happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” (p.97) We should act as if we are free to choose above our history; removing the notion that we are victims in need of ego-defences which in the end only serve to disappoint. A way to take responsibility is to continuously check what rises up from within our psyche instead of identifying with the objective world as our only reality. This should remind us that we are spiritual beings with a telos, a mysterious goal of our own. The more differentiated we become, the more enriched our relationships will be. Hollis writes: “The paradox of individuation is that we best serve intimate relationship by becoming sufficiently developed in ourselves that we do not need to feed off others. […] when we have something unique, our fullest possible selves, to offer.” (p.99) It is not a narcissistic view of the world as it is the best possible way to inspire others to become less alienated from themselves and others. When we can stand in relationship to something larger than ourselves and our own ego, it can transform us. “We are to know ourselves more fully and to know ourselves in the context of the larger mystery.” (p.100)

Ch. 6: On the High Seas and Alone p.101-117

On the high seas of the soul we are asked to be courageous and conscious. Hollis suggest the following practices and approaches may greatly assist our process of individuation.

From loneliness to solitude – Hollis quotes Marianne Moore who once wrote: “the best cure for loneliness is solitude.” (p.101) We need a keen appreciation of the relationship to the Self if we are to heal and meet our soul. The practice of solitude, that psychic state wherein I am fully present to myself is what is called for. We must confront the trauma of separation, the loss and the withdrawal of projections, and we must address the aspect of psychic fear. If the parent-child relationship was painful and troubled, subsequent relationships will be experienced by a significant degree of dependency. Hollis suggests we ask: “In what way am I so afraid that I am avoiding myself, my own journey?” (p.102) If we are co-dependent in our relationship we will continue to avoid the experience of our own separate being. Asking what voice of the parent is informing my inner script can assist in freeing me to find my own truth. During midlife, we experience many losses in our relationships: children grow up, friends die; divorce takes away much of our security and challenges our identity because of what was held in the projection onto the Other. It is vital that we honour these losses and know that we are far more than any single relationship; we can untie the part of ourselves that we fixed onto our child or partner. Renewed energy springs forth to confront the question, ‘what now’. Courage is needed to let go of the trappings that prevent us from individuating outside of relationship. We need rituals to ensure we take time out for ourselves. At first this may seem forced, but allowing the silence to speak, reaps great rewards. Hollis concludes that self-alienation is a product of the modern world; when on ‘hears’ oneself during chosen times of silence, one finds companionship with one’s self which moves us away from empty loneliness into a place of productive solitude.

Connecting with the lost child – The wounds of early childhood can be a source of healing during the Middle Passage. All aspects of the whole and healthy psyche of the child should be recovered as a psychic practice. We must address the negative aspects of the childhood personality, such as the narcissistic, jealous, enraged, volatile aspects; and reclaim the forgotten good childhood characteristics – freedom, wonder, joy, curiosity. The free child can easily be inhibited by institutions such as marriage or corporates, but healing begins when we openly ask what our spontaneous, healthy child wants; and the inner child needs to be consciously asked what needs to be restored that was restricted by ego-construction during the first adulthood. The left-behind talents hold enormous healing potential for the psyche when invited consciously and creatively.

The passionate life – Hollis refers to Joseph Campbell who said; “Follow your bliss.” (p.105) We must free ourselves form the dictates of parents and culture to connect with our passion (bliss). Artists have a way of informing us about passion as they are always ‘near the fire’ of creativity’s flame. That which pulls us into life and into our true nature, is the thing that can transform us. The only fear should be to fear the unlived life. Hollis writes: “My understanding of this is that when one has been in the presence of the truly creative, the imaginatively bold, then one cannot feign unconsciousness. One is similarly summoned to largeness of soul, boldness of action. Finding and following our passion […] serves individuation by pulling our potential from the depths. […] Living passionately is the only way to love life.” (p.107)

The swamplands of the soul – The goal of individuation is wholeness, not an ego that reigns and keeps the psyche fragmented. The child within depends on the Other to always be there. Loss of the things that matter to us come as a huge shock; it is similar to the loss we experienced when we left the first adulthood and launched into the Middle Passage. We become disillusioned to find that there is no such thing as Happiness, on the contrary, we often find ourselves more in a swampland; we feel our loneliness, loss, grief, doubts, depression, despair, anxiety, guilt and betrayal to name a few. Hollis reminds us: “The psyche has purposiveness which lies beyond the powers of conscious control, and our task is to live through these states and find their meaning.” (p.107) These swamplands represent an aspect of the psyche whose meaning is to be found if we courageously take them on. Dialoguing with the subsequent emotional states affords us our personal integrity and results in enlarged consciousness.

The great dialectic – Jung encouraged that we dialogue with ourselves; asking the daily question: ‘Who am I in this situation, what voices do I hear?’ Parts of ourselves have become split off by experiences and invade us in the form of complexes. We have must find out who we are, if we are not our ego and not our complexes. The ego-Self dialogue is therefore crucial; the Self being that part of ourselves which manifests as larger purposiveness; it prompts us through somatic, affective or imaginal expressions. One of the key areas where we can take part in the inner dialogue is through our dreams. When we explore what the images mean, we access a rich source of inner wisdom; it is our personal mythology, as with Jung’s technique of active imagination when we gain access to an image in order to engage with the emotional charge it holds for us.

Hollis uses the example of two dreams of his patients. A woman dreamt that she was making love to her professor and this assisted her in integrating previously undeveloped masculine and feminine principles in her psyche. A male patient was caught up in a complicated relationship with his mother. He dreamt about a dance he participated in, but was interrupted by a phone call during the dance. The dream gave him an image which showed him his inner map of the relationship he had with his mother. Hollis emphasises, “We are not, in this vast universe, bereft of help, empty of meaning. We have a rich and resonant unconscious which speaks to us through the symptomology of everyday life as well as through the spindrift of dreams and active imagination.” (p.110) This should inspire us to ask where do these images live in me, and what are they saying about the way I stand in the world. Hollis concludes by saying: “The only way to truly revise one’s sense of self is by having this kind of dialogue between the ego and Self.” (p.111)

Memento Mori – In the modern world we have become separated from the meaning myths provide around the subject of death; instead we have placed our meaning-making about life and death in the trappings and escapes of the material world. Hollis writes: “During the Middle Passage both the magical thinking of childhood and the heroic thinking of the first adulthood are replaced by the grim awareness of time and finitude.” (p.111) We do not want to take responsibility for the unknown which would mean life is a series of unknown developments and not a fixed state; we prefer to remain in the comfort zone of the smallness of life. As our bodies age, we naturally feel distressed about the loss of vitality of our youth; the latter affords us only with a state where the ego feels secure. If we become fixed in this state we lose out on becoming part of a larger reality; to become part of the larger rhythm of our whole lifespan. Hollis concludes: “We know we have survived the Middle Passage when we no longer cling to who we were, no longer seek fame or fortune or the appearance of youth.” (p.113)

This luminous pause – Hollis quotes Jung on the definition of life: “life is a luminous pause between two great mysteries which yet are one.” (p.114) What we know consciously about the mystery of life is not the full explanation about the journey. Becoming less dependent on our ego-reality during the second half of life, opens us up for the larger possibility about life. Jung warned that if we do not ask the right questions about life we will continue to feel the soul-suffering of living the primarily materialistic life. We do not know where the journey will take us after the Middle Passage; what we do know is that there is a chance we will be liberated from our anxieties when we accept responsibility for ourselves, and realise that what we seek lies within ourselves and not in the outer world. Hollis quotes Jung who reminds us: “Only the man who can consciously assent to the power of the inner voice becomes a personality.” (p.116) We should remain open to the possibility that we are connected to something infinite; to rise up to the luminous pause between birth and death.


“The conscious experience of the Middle Passage requires separating who we are from the sum of the experiences we have internalised. Our thinking then moves from magical to heroic to human. Our relations with others become less dependent, asking less of them and more of ourselves. Our ego takes a beating and we must reposition ourselves with regard to the outer world – career, relationships, sources of empowerment and satisfaction. In asking more of ourselves, we forego disappointment in others for not delivering what they could never deliver; we acknowledge that their primary responsibility, just like ours, is their own journey.” (p.116)