Meaning-Making, Motherhood, and the Journey of Individuation

Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name’s Tami Simon, I’m the founder of Sounds True, and I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools, such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion, regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries. If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit 

You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Lisa Marchiano. Lisa is a clinical social worker, a certified Jungian analyst, and a nationally certified psychoanalyst. She cohosts This Jungian Life, a podcast devoted to exploring current topics through the lens of depth psychology. With Sounds True, Lisa Marchiano has written a new book. It’s called Motherhood: Facing and Finding Yourself, where she draws from a deep well of Jungian analysis and also symbolic research to present a collection of fairytales, myths, and fables that evoke the spiritual arc of raising a child from infancy through adulthood. 

Lisa Marchiano is smart, crisp, intellectually gifted, and loving. She has a way of normalizing the difficult challenges we go through, whether that’s through being a parent or the other ways that we might find ourselves stretched. She helps us find meaning in meeting those challenges. Here’s my inspiring conversation with Lisa Marchiano. 

To begin, Lisa, I’d love to know, what were the circumstances in your life and also what drew you to becoming a Jungian analyst?


Lisa Marchiano: Well, that is a question that has many pieces to it. My mother was this very intelligent, depthful, soulful person. When I was a little kid, we would go off to school and she would sit around reading The Collected Works. In fact, many of my copies of The Collected Works belonged to her and have her notes in the margins. I remember her telling me these stories about some of the things from the life of Jung that we’re appropriate for a younger kid. It sounded so interesting. I was like, wow, that’s really interesting. 

Then, of course, as I got older, I was like, well, that’s the last thing I’m going to do, because that’s my mother’s thing. I didn’t want to go anywhere near it. I remember I took, like, a quiz in eighth grade where they were going to tell you what career you might be good at, and mine turned out to be psychologist. I was like, I’m never going to do that. I wasn’t interested in psychology at all. I studied history in college. After I graduated, I eventually got into international relief and development. I worked in DC. I worked in New York. I worked overseas.

I was in my mid-20s and it just felt like something was missing. I didn’t know what it was. By the time I was 28—and I was living in New York City at this point and going to graduate school—I got really depressed. I mean, I talked about this a little bit in the book, I just hit a big wall. I was 27, 28 years old, and got terribly depressed. I found this book by a Jungian analyst, Linda Leonard, On the Way to the Wedding, which is a beautiful, beautiful book. I started reading that book and it made everything make more sense in my life.

It was as if I had long been overseas and finally found something written in my mother tongue. It was beautiful. It was expansive. It just made everything make sense. By the time I had finished that book, I thought, huh, I wonder what it would be like to be a Jungian analyst.


TS: Well, I need to pause and ask you a question here. What was it in the book that allowed you to feel so expansive and have your life fall into making sense? I mean, that’s a big sense of homecoming. What was it?


LM: Huh. Well, so my depression was triggered by heartache. That particular book of Linda’s discusses heartache and longing and relationship. In a very specific way, it addressed this great pain that I was feeling and discussed it in a way that made it universal, so that there was balm for my soul there. On the Way to the Wedding, like many of other of Linda’s books, uses fairytales, myths, movies, clinical vignettes, poetry. To see my own struggles reflected back in all of these different ways, when I now understand these archetypal themes … I think that it was so healing, because I felt connected to these deeper stories. Ultimately, what was so powerful about it was that it gave my suffering a sense of meaning. Jung said that most of us are suffering because we don’t have meaning. We lack a sense of meaning. He said that was true for most of the people that came to see him, that was the number one cause of psychological suffering. I think that is mostly true.


TS: OK. I have to ask you, what was the meaning that you found in your suffering?


LM: Well, I could see that it was caused by my need for growth. I had the sense that I was wrapped in a larger story and that I was going somewhere and maybe didn’t know where I was going. But this was happening to me not because I was a hapless victim being tossed about the choppy seas of life but because there was something that I needed to learn. There was some larger part of me that had a plan that I couldn’t necessarily divine, but I could feel it and I could be in relationship to it and I could be curious about it. It was the sense that my life was going somewhere, was on some kind of track, had some larger scope to it, had some direction, mysterious direction.


TS: In your new book Motherhood, you write that quote from Jung, “The goal of psychological work is individuation.” I wanted to talk to you about that and understand more. Is individuation, in your understanding, some destination that we reach? Or is it just, oh, we’re always in this deepening process? Help our listeners understand more what that even means: individuation.


LM: Individuation is a term that Jung used in this very particular way. As he often was, he wasn’t particularly interested in nailing this concept down and making it very clear. If you read through all of the references to individuation in The Collected Works, there’s like 12 different possible ways of understanding it. Essentially, it is the process of psychological growth that one engages in that allows one to become an individual, to grow more whole. The goal—it’s certainly not a destination—the goal is wholeness, not perfection, and we’re never done. We’re never fully individuated, but it is this process of getting to know more and more of ourselves.


TS: Is it fair to say that you came to see your suffering as part of an individuation process and that’s part of what enabled you to feel that it was meaningful? Is that fair?


LM: I think that’s a perfect way of describing it. I don’t know that I would have necessarily had that language then. I think that’s exactly what I realized that made it bearable, that turned that situation. I mean, literally, it was like everything was black and white and it was drab, there was no energy, there was no life, there was just sadness and sorrow and heartache and drudgery. When I started seeing it in this other way, as part of a growth process, suddenly, life was alive again. There was color. There was energy. I was curious about what was happening to me. I mean, it was still painful, but I was curious about it. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. Where was this going?


TS: OK. Let’s talk right now, in this moment, Lisa, to someone who’s listening who says, I’m a little curious about the suffering I’m in right now, but I’m not that curious. I’m mostly just suffering. How could I take a Jungian perspective, if you will, put on a Jungian pair of glasses towards the situation I’m in right now? Maybe for the person, it feels like some type of depression, like you were describing in your life. There feels like there should be something more, it’s not happening, something like that. Could you just help orient them in a way that could be growthful?


LM: Well, I think one of the things we’re talking about here is the perspective of the ego versus the perspective of the larger personality that Jung refer to as the Self, and he capitalized the S. The ego, we go about our life and our waking personality, we decide what our goals are, what we’re going to do, we have certain things that we want, we pursue these goals. If we’re lucky, we meet a lot of our goals, we get many of the things that we want. Every once in a while, we come across something we can’t get, we are disappointed, we are heartbroken, we’re shattered perhaps.

That’s always an experience of this profound disappointment on the part of the ego. If you let yourself fall into that, what you can recognize behind it is, there’s the larger personality standing behind you, the Self. Jung said that an encounter with the Self is always a defeat for the ego. When I got my heart broken, it did feel like a defeat. I was angry. I wanted my own way. I wanted what I wanted. I wanted things to work out. What I recognized is that, no, there was a larger intelligence that had a different plan for me.

If you’re feeling depressed and you’re suffering and you’re like, as you said, so, OK, tell me more. How do I do this? If you can accept that you can’t always get your way and get curious about what the larger plan might be for your life, what does that feel like? It’s an invitation to drop into a relationship with this larger personality. Let our attachment to these ego goals, to the goals of our conscious personality, fall away, to accept that we can’t always get what we want, that we’re not always in charge.


TS: It’s interesting, because one of the sentences that I pulled out of your new book is: “Defeat is how we encounter soul.” I circled that. Then I put all these little stars next to it. Right now, as we’re recording, just as we started, a storm started coming in here in Boulder, Colorado, in my home. I don’t know if you can hear it, I can hear it. I can hear this … First, I thought a plane was overhead. It was like, no, actually, that’s thunder. This is a storm. We’re having a storm. I thought somehow that has some meaning right now, as I venture into this conversation with Lisa. I know you do a lot of work with dream interpretation. Here I am, in the midst of a living dream with you, and a storm has come. What do you make of that?


LM: Well, a storm is a force of nature. It’s something larger than us. It’s something to which we need to submit. I think that’s what I was talking about before, the need to submit to our suffering. Suffering comes from … The Latin word for suffering means to undergo. Suffering is something that we just have to undergo. We have to submit to it. Just like the storm clouds that roll across, we cannot control that.


TS: Now, in your new book on Motherhood: Facing and Finding Yourself, as in that Jungian book that was so powerful for you, On the Way to the Wedding, you share a lot of myths and fairytales and symbolic imagery, a lot. I didn’t count it. I don’t know if you know how many myths and stories you share in the book. I think it could be upwards of 50. I mean, it’s a lot. It’s packed. It’s very powerful to read them. You go on a super journey of the imagination.

One opening question I had for you is, do you feel that there’s an archetypal template for the hero’s journey that’s different than from the heroine’s journey? That, in your book on motherhood, you’re really looking at the heroine’s journey, and that in some way, we have some important distinctions to make from what most of us have understood from our understanding of the hero’s journey, at whatever depth we understand it.


LM: Well, of course, the hero’s journey was mapped intimately by the mythologist, Joseph Campbell. There have been others who have tried to elucidate how that might be different for women. I certainly haven’t done an exhaustive study of that. I don’t want to claim that. For me, I think there is a lot of overlap. Most of the big myths of female heroines really focus around a descent. That is why I chose the motif I did to hang the book around. The book is about a descent and a return, this important mythologem that we find across the world, but especially in stories of women.


TS: Yes, a central image that you use is the descent into the well. I wanted to hear a little bit more about that. You write, “Going down the well is an image of initiation into the feminine depths of the psyche. At the bottom of the well, you can have an initiatory encounter with the archetypal old woman. If you approach her with the right attitude, if you serve her well, she will shower upon you the riches of her wisdom.” I mostly wanted to know what this right attitude is, when we’re at the bottom of the well.


LM: Well, it’s interesting, because we’re coming back to what we were speaking about just a few minutes ago. It’s that relationship between the ego and the larger personality. If we’re arrogant, if we insist on having our own way, if we can’t submit to that which the psyche offers us, we are not going to have a good day of that. If we can approach with some humility, that larger personality, if we can be curious about it, if we can want to come into contact with it, then we will have a depthful experience, even if it’s painful and difficult. Someone says, you can either be initiated willingly or you can be dragged by your hair. It’s much better to go willingly, actually. Because, usually, it’s less destructive.


TS: Can you give me a concrete example, either from your own life or from a client you’ve worked with, specifically about this experience at the bottom of the well? When you say, submit, submit to what’s being asked of you from your psyche, what that means, what does it mean when we do it?


LM: Well, I think to go back to the example that we started with, from my life. I mean, I didn’t want to submit, I didn’t want to accept that I wasn’t going to get my way. I was trying to insist upon staying the course. I tried very, very hard not to get depressed. I was working very hard to stay above things. I kept really busy. I tried to see friends all the time. I got involved in a million projects. I threw myself into school. I was in graduate school at the time, it didn’t work. It didn’t work. I just felt worse and worse and worse. Life felt empty. Life felt hollow.

I felt just so empty myself. Everything, like I said before, was drab and gray. When I accepted it, when I said yes, this is happening to me. I need to confront it, I need to come to terms with it, I need to integrate it. When I looked at it and said, aha, OK, this is it, this is the thing that’s happening. And what can I do but accept it? I pulled out my journal, and I started writing about it. I started writing down my dreams, wondering what they could tell me about this. That’s when I started writing down my dreams—been doing it ever since. Again, it didn’t stop being painful. Now there was energy, there was life back, there was some juiciness, even if it was dark.


TS: You mentioned writing down your dreams and that now you’ve been doing that for several years, many years.


LM: Many.


TS: I know that as part of the podcast that you cohost, you and your colleagues take a dream that’s been submitted and you share your thoughts and interpretations of it. I’m wondering, just to make sure that our listeners get this, do you have a set of like, OK, when it comes to looking at your own dreams, here’s the top three, four, five things that you really want to consider.


LM: I don’t know. It’s hard to put it into a list like that. It’s hard to interpret dreams. It’s really hard to interpret your own dreams. Even really seasoned analysts will confer with each other because it’s easy to get stuck with your own dreams, because your dreams show you things that your conscious mind doesn’t know and maybe even doesn’t want to know. It really just goes against the conscious attitude, because that’s what a dream is. It’s an image from the unconscious of something your consciousness needs to know, but that you don’t know or that you don’t want to know.

Let’s see, when you’re working with your own dreams, what would be my top … Well, I guess the first thing I’d say is something we say a lot of times on the podcast, we say the least trustworthy attitude in a dream is that of the dream ego. Now, it doesn’t mean that the dream ego attitude is always wrong, but it’s the least trustworthy. When I say dream ego, I’m talking about the “you” in the dream. If you have a dream, I was at work and my coworker, Suzanne, was driving me crazy. It’s like the you in the dream, that’s the dream ego. What about Suzanne?

You might say, well, Suzanne is really a pain and this dream is just … It’s just like this is how it really is. She’s really a pain. I think, well, if that were all it was about, you wouldn’t have had the dream, because the dream is always going to tell you something you didn’t already know. Let’s think a minute. What is Suzanne like? We know that you don’t like her. The unconscious picked this image for a reason. Tell me about Suzanne. Then you might try to come up with a couple of sentences, not long stories, not about the horrible thing she did last week. Well, she’s just so arrogant.

Sometimes I’ll say to people when I’m working with them, I’ll say, so what’s the essence of this person? I want two to three sentences. Come up with two to three sentences about Suzanne. Well, she’s so sure of herself that she’s really arrogant. She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. It’s like, oh, well, that’s interesting. How does that fit in your life? Well, maybe you care too much about what people think. Maybe you’re not confident enough. The unconscious has picked this image to show you something that you have in potential, you have an inner Suzanne. You could develop that and you might need to develop that.


TS: That’s very helpful, actually. I had some insights about some dreams as you were talking. That’s very helpful. Now I realize I’m asking you questions and I’m asking you to boil down into pith guidance really complicated issues. I realized that, but I’m not going to stop. Then from the perspective of someone who is analyzing and looking at other people’s dreams, do you have your own like, OK, here’s the tools that inform my art of doing this.


LM: Well, Jungian dream interpretation is quite a skill. I’ve worked on it a long time. It is a little hard to boil it down. I also don’t want to oversimplify it, because there really isn’t a formula. I can tell you a couple things. First of all, the starting assumption is that most of the time, people and things in the dream are pictures of aspects of us. Just in this little example that I totally made up about the coworker Suzanne, that’s probably not about Suzanne, it’s probably about an aspect of us that is like Suzanne or could be like Suzanne.

Sometimes, if you dream about your spouse, for example, the dream might be actually pointing to dynamics between you and your spouse. It might map on to the outer person in some way. It’s not the dreams are never about the other person. If you dream about a film star or someone from your fifth grade class or your high school gym teacher, the dream maker is simply using those images to show you a part of yourself. That’s the opening assumption.

That’s everything in the dream is an aspect of your psyche, the you in the dream, the dream ego is a little picture of your conscious personality. Everyone else in the dream is also a part of you, maybe that’s unconscious. Then we also consider, again, this is rule of thumb, it’s not a formula, it’s not always like this, but that same-sex people in the dream are often what we think of as shadow. Shadow is a Jungian term. Well, it’s a term that he used to refer to those parts of ourselves, sometimes he would say, that we don’t want to be, that we don’t want to know about.

We all come up and we all have parents, we’re all raised in a culture, we learn that certain things are acceptable and desirable and certain other things are not. The parts of ourselves that we learn are undesirable, become part of our shadow. We split them off, we don’t want to know about them, we’d rather think that we’re not that, and we often tend to project it on to other people, by the way, too, like our kids, as I talk about in the book. Shadow comes up a lot in dreams. In the example I just gave about the coworker, Suzanne, I would say, well, Suzanne is your shadow.

Now she’s your positive shadow, because my guess is, in my little made up scenario, that dreamer could really use more of Suzanne’s self-assurance. It’s something that the ego thinks is bad, consciously. Oh, I would never want to be that arrogant. Really? Well, you might need to be a little more arrogant sometimes, just a little bit. You don’t want to be a jerk. People will use just a little bit of what Suzanne has, that might help you be more balanced. It’s almost like we can get too one-sided, because we’re too identified with certain values. Then the opposite goes into the unconscious and becomes shadow and comes and meets us at night in our dreams.


TS: Now, you mentioned, Lisa, that you’ve trained extensively to have the dream interpretation skills and framework that you have. What do you think about you makes you good at dream interpretation?


LM: Practice. Practice is part of it. What a great question. Let me think about that for a second. It’s funny, because one of the things that comes up is, well, am I good at it? I’m not really sure I’m good at it.


TS: I can feel that you’re good at it.


LM: It’s hard. It’s hard. There are times when … Jung said a lot of times he just would hear a dream and he would think to himself, I have no idea what that dream means. That happens to me several times a week. It is a humbling art. Ultimately, it’s the ability to think symbolically, which we’re not really trained to do in our culture. There are very few places where symbolic thinking is valued. It is a difficult skill to learn. Some of us probably do have a facility for it. I mean, I was always one of those kids who like to read and read literature and read books. That’s probably down the road toward being a good dream interpreter if you like literature and movies and that kind of thing.


TS: This is a very literal question. What is symbolic thinking? What is it?


LM: It’s so complicated in a way. It’s being able to see the multiple levels in which things are true.


TS: Beautiful, what a great answer. That’s great. OK, now I want to talk to you some about your new book with Sounds True. It’s called Motherhood: Facing and Finding Yourself. In full disclosure, I’m not a mom. I’m 58 years old, and I never thought I would have kids, and I never had kids. I was talking to someone on the Sounds True staff who worked with you on the Motherhood book, and she said to me, “Well, let me share with you what was most important to me about this book.” She had several things as she shared them. I was like, wow, this is really interesting.

One of the things she shared was that the book helped her admit and accept all the resentment that she felt about being a mom and all the things she gave up in order to be a mom, all of her unlived life that had been collected and stored in the decision to be a mom. I wanted to hear you talk more about that for our listener, who perhaps is like, yes, I’ve had resentment, but I just figured out it’s a tradeoff. I don’t really want to spend too much time dwelling on that. That’s not helpful. Speak to that person about the riches that they could find by facing it more completely.


LM: Well, it makes me … I feel good to know that that was one of the outcomes of the book for this person. Motherhood is really hard. I mean, parenthood is really hard. Motherhood is really hard. It’s hard for so many different reasons. I think that, ultimately, my thesis is something like this. Because it’s so hard, precisely because it’s so hard, it is really valuable at promoting psychological growth—talking about suffering earlier. Suffering is what … You quoted me saying defeat is how we encounter soul. Suffering is also how we encounter soul.

We don’t know ourselves. We don’t know anything about life until we’ve had some difficulties, until we’ve suffered a little bit, until we know what we’re made of, until we have a sense of our own depths. I don’t want to make all of mothering sound like Chairman Mao’s Long March or anything, but it’s hard. It’s hard physically. It’s hard emotionally. It’s hard, because it’s hard. It’s hard because of what you give up. It’s hard because of the fantasies that you have to give up about yourself. Oh my god. Therefore, it is a really rich experience in terms of getting to know yourself.


TS: When people say it’s so hard, so your central thesis, because it’s so hard, it can lead to a lot of psychological growth. Sometimes I’ll hear people say, oh, my intimate relationship, it’s so hard, it leads to a lot of psychological growth. It’s just like, gosh, can’t we just enjoy these things? The question that’s coming up for me is, one view towards suffering is it leads to growth. Another view is, I’d like to be in a situation where I’m just not suffering so much. What do you think about that?


LM: Well, yes, there’s the phrase: it’s another effing growth opportunity. I don’t want to make it sound like that’s all that there is. I, hopefully, do lift this up in the book too, that there is a great deal of pleasure in parenting. There’s a great deal of enjoyment. In fact, I talked about this a lot to my clients, that it’s so important when we’re in relationship with another person that we enjoy them. Because enjoying another person is the stuff of attachment. We attach when we enjoy. We enjoy when we’re attached. It’s not that enjoyment isn’t a huge part of it. In fact, and I do talk about this. I think part of the antidote to becoming unattached because we’re not enjoying it is to give ourselves permission to find it hard, if you see what I mean.


TS: I do.


LM: I think it’s when we expect it to be perfect and easy and then we find that it’s not, and then we become very distraught or stressed or we think we’re doing it wrong. I think a lot of what I wanted to do is just say to moms out there like, it’s OK, it’s OK that you think this is hard. It’s OK that you’re not great at it. It’s OK that you yell at your kids sometimes. It’s OK, because that’s normal. That’s universal. That’s part of the … The deal with the fairytales, it’s like, yes, yes, women have always felt like this. This is an old story. It’s OK that you feel this way. Now, knowing that you’re OK, you can go back and enjoy your kids, even though you’re not perfect. Because it’s OK to not be perfect. In fact, there’s no other way to be.


TS: Just to reflect back to you, Lisa, I think the book is very balanced in terms of bringing into clear relief the struggle and the pain and the difficulties and the joy and the celebration and the fulfillment. I think it’s very balanced. You can, for sure, feel that. I think we’re not used to—I think this is at least my experience—we’re not used to, in our culture, hearing about the difficulties and the resentment that moms feel, because it’s often, I think, historically, not been … It’s been taboo for a mother to share those things.

I think you do a great job of bringing out those taboos and not letting them hide in darkness. Now, you said suffering is how we encounter the soul just like defeat. I want to clarify for that person who’s listening who says, “Encounter the soul. What exactly does this mean, we’re encountering our soul through defeat and through suffering? Why is this something that is a good thing to encounter the soul?”


LM: Well, I think, again, it’s the sense that we come into contact with the larger center of the personality. Let me see if I can make that a little bit clear. It’s when we drop into a sense of giving up our ego plans and really touching into a felt sense that there is something larger in us. Jung said at one point something like the problem with being successful in life is you never understand your reliance on the unconscious. I think I’m talking about those times when the nights are really dark, when you’re really suffering, and then some strange synchronicity happens.

The right person walks into your life or you get the right email, or the right book lands in your lap and you have this maybe tingle go up the back of your spine and you understand that there’s something else at work here. It is a little bit of an experience of the transpersonal. You understand that you’re not interested. I mean, I’ll tell you my story with the Linda Leonard book, because I’ve told the story a bunch of times. People that listen to my podcast know this, but it’s a great story. I was really, really depressed. I’d been depressed for months.

I used to go in, because I live at 81st and Columbus in Manhattan. I used to go into this little bookstore across Columbus Avenue. I go downstairs to the self-help psychology section. I saw Linda’s book, pulled it off the shelf, opened it up, read just some random sentence and some random page, immediately started crying. I thought, I should buy this book. I was in graduate school. I had like 400 pages of reading a week to do. I was like, I can’t buy a book. I put it back on the shelf. I must have done that five times. Then one day, it was the worst day, I did it again.

It was the worst day. It was a very dark day. That day, on the way back to my apartment, I stopped in to this little New Age gift shop that was across the street. They had crystals and dream catchers and incense, that kind of stuff. In the back, they had, I don’t know, maybe like 10 books on the shelf. They had a copy of Linda’s book, On the Way to the Wedding. I didn’t know much about Jung at that point, but I knew that that was important. I don’t know that I would have even had the language to call it a synchronicity.

I knew that that was important and then I needed to buy that darn book. I bought that book. When I got back to my apartment and I opened it, I realized it was a signed copy. That’s what I mean. I mean, that’s the outer manifestation of encountering soul. I wouldn’t have been interested in that book if everything had been going swimmingly. The situation would not have occurred where I would have had that remarkable synchronicity that would have led me down. It changed my whole life. That’s a moment where we encounter soul, where something happens.

I mean, I’m saying it happened and there was this outer circumstance. Sometimes it’s not like that. Sometimes it’s an inner encounter only. Many times, it is inner encounter that has this outer manifestation. It’s like to really get our attention. The universe says, hey, look over here.


TS: Yes. This reminds me of another quote I pulled from the book. In it, here’s what you write, you write, “Jung wrote, the decisive question for a person is, is he or she related to something infinite or not?” This is the telling question of a person’s life. I thought, huh, that’s so interesting. What I associated with that being related to something infinite was just something like infinite, alive, brilliant, conscious space, something like that. You go on to say parenthood can be an important part of this relationship with something infinite. I wanted to understand more about that. How is that true for you, that parenthood can be an important part of a relationship with something infinite?


LM: Well, there are a couple of different things that I lift up in that chapter. One, I think is the experience of being so intimately connected with a child. We really have this sense of being part of life’s unfolding, in a way, whether or not that child is biologically related to us or not. We can see ourselves in the chain of being as it were. I remember having this really intense sense of being connected with my mother and my mother’s mother when my children were small. I was now one of the line of mothers stretching back into the eons.

Also, I have a daughter, who one day herself, hopefully, if she chooses to, will become a mother. There’s this incredible, almost dizzying sense of being connected back to the past and being connected forward to the future. That’s one way that I think it connects us with something infinite. I think it also reorganizes our values and often makes us, or can make us, less focused on these very worldly ego goals like success or money or material goods. It can refocus our values. We may have a different relationship with time after becoming a mother. We may find that different things matter to us that didn’t matter to us before. We may care more about the planet.


TS: In terms of this different relationship to time, I also found this part of the Motherhood book really interesting. You write, “For great chunks of every day, I wondered how I would survive until bedtime.” Then you continued, “Just as fiercely, I wanted those days to last.” When I read that, I thought of a time when I was babysitting one of my godchildren. I think the parents left her with us for three-and-a-half hours. I mean, I didn’t think I was going to make it to the three-and-a-half hour mark. I mean, after about two hours, it felt … Anyway, but at the same time, I totally savored the sweetness of that period. That’s an interesting change in terms of your relationship with time. I don’t know if there’s anything you want to add to that.


LM: Yes. Well, there’s that phrase that I think is so true, the years fly, but the minutes drag. It’s really vertiginous because, one minute, you’re like, oh my god, how do I get through the next 15 minutes? I mean, I would literally think about, OK, what can I do for … One of the things no one tells you when you have kids, or at least I didn’t. This was like the shocker for me, is that once they’re not babies anymore, you have to keep them entertained, constantly, all the time. Yes, anyway. It’s like, yes, what can we … OK, so maybe I can make play dough now.

That will kill 15 minutes. Then after that, let’s see. Then maybe it’s time for lunch. Well, that will be another 15 minutes. It’s really like, wow, it’s really hard. There’s that, which is so pronounced when they’re young. Then, also, the way that time just … It’s like, how could they possibly have outgrown this outfit already? It feels like I just bought it yesterday. Oh my gosh, look at her now. She’s talking. Seems like it was just days ago that she was a tiny little thing and we just brought her home from the hospital or whatever it is.

Now, my kids are … Well, they’re almost 17 and almost 19. I still have that feeling. I’ll look at them and I’ll think, god, it was just not that long ago. I couldn’t take you to the grocery store without worrying that you were going to run away. Now you’re driving me to the grocery store. How did that happen?


TS: Yes. Now, Lisa, a topic I really want us to address in the book you write, “Motherhood and creativity have a complicated relationship.” I wanted to talk to you about this, because you’re a very accomplished creative person, in my mind. I mean, this book that you’ve written is gorgeous. You write about how earlier, as a mom, you felt a lot of tension between the time that you would spend giving to your family and the time you spend on your own creative life. I’m curious to know what you can share with a woman who feels that tension to help her through this period, where she’s like, I want to be writing, I want to be creating, no, I have to do this other thing.


LM: Well, I think the good news is it is possible to be creative and to really, sort of, mother. I mean, I wanted to do both and I knew I didn’t want to compromise my experience of being a mother because I knew it wasn’t going to last forever. I wanted to really be there. It is true that you can’t spend a lot of time on your creativity if you’re going to be very involved mother, especially if you work full time. I mean, obviously, people’s situations are so different.

I do think there’s something about setting it as an intention and a practice, and doing it even a little bit every day, if that works out. I mean, I can’t remember if I discussed this in the book. I don’t think I did. Most of this book I wrote, and I wrote a 30-minute chunks, or I would write for 30 minutes a day. You know what, you can write a lot if you write 30 minutes a day. It adds up. It is a struggle. I have women in my practice who are creative women and they have kids and work full-time. Single moms maybe. It is not easy. It is not easy.

Especially, a lot of creativity does really require or benefits from open expanses of time. On the other hand, there’s something about just making it a discipline and a practice, and just getting right down to it. Even if it’s not really good, you did it. What I found, I don’t think this is any surprise, is if I had taken a break and I hadn’t been writing, I would come back to it. It wasn’t very good. What I was writing was not very good. If I did it every day, yes, after a few weeks, it’s like, oh, that’s not bad. It’s a little bit about the art of possible. It’s not ideal. You can make that commitment to yourself and find something.


TS: OK, I want to just see if we can make something even more explicit and clear, which is, towards the beginning of our conversation, I brought forward this quote from the book that for Jung, the goal of psychological work is individuation. Then you talked about how part of your thesis in Motherhood is that there’s a lot of psychological growth from the intense challenges and suffering that come from motherhood. What I’d like to understand is, specifically when it comes to individuation, how does a woman, in the journey of motherhood, gain those lessons, those learnings that will lead to greater individuation?


LM: OK, so I’m going to focus on one part of the answer so that it’s really explicit and clear. Jung said that the first job in individuation is to come to terms with the shadow. I was talking about those parts of ourselves that we don’t want to know about, they are not civilized, thank you very much, I want to leave them at the doorstep. I don’t want to know about them. I don’t want other people to know those things about me. I would just rather not think about it, thank you very much.

There is no way that you are going to get through spending any amount of time with your children where you’re not going to meet those parts of yourself that you cut off and sent back to the backstage. They’re going to come out. I spent three chapters talking about that in the book. First of all, you’re going to project your stuff on your kids, you’re going to …


TS: Tell me what you mean by that, because you said that before in our conversation too, and I wasn’t clear about that.


LM: Psychological projection is when we take an aspect of ourselves, usually something that’s unconscious, and we see it in another person. Really, we’re reacting to something in our self. My little dream example, my guess is, I mean, going back to the coworker Suzanne, this is something that happens all the time with people, is we have someone who really gets under our skin, not just that we don’t like them or they’re not our favorite person or we’d prefer not to be assigned to the same team as that person, someone that just drives us nuts.

Maybe everyone else also finds them somewhat irritating, but they really get in our coat. You can be sure that there’s something about that person that has shadow for you. It’s got a little extra heat for you. That’s because you’re projecting your shadow on that person. In this case, this made-up case that I used before, we’re going to say that this very accommodating, mild-mannered person in waking … The conscious personality is very identified with being accommodating. Suzanne doesn’t mind being a bit of a terror or letting everyone know what she thinks.

She doesn’t care what people think about her. Suzanne is going to really drive my putative-case person here crazy, because Suzanne is living out something that is in the shadow. The extra heat comes from the projection. I don’t want to be bossy or arrogant. I’d split that part off. I don’t want to know about it. Now it’s living out there in the world. On Suzanne, projection conjures up this idea of like the old-fashioned movies. You would shine a light through the little piece of film and it would be projected up onto the screen. That’s very similar to the psychological process.

We cast something out onto the world around us. You have a shadow. We all do. At some point, every parent is going to project some aspect of his or her shadow on his or her child. For example, an example that I give in the book is my daughter was … I think she was about four or five. She was really hesitant to ride a bike. I got really uptight about it. What’s wrong with her? Why doesn’t she want to try? Is she somehow behind her peers in this way? Fretting about it for an hour, and then realize it was really about me. I was feeling inadequate. I was feeling incompetent.

I was feeling like I was maybe behind my peers. That’s how we wind up projecting our shadow on our kids. If you’re lucky, you think, oh, damn, I’m projecting my shadow on my kid. It’s an opportunity to take it back. Then you know a little bit more about yourself, a little bit more of your personality is now conscious that was unconscious before. That’s individuation, where you make something conscious and you develop a conscious relationship with it. The other way that you’re going to get to know your shadow is you’re going to be an awful, awful person.

At some point, you will be an awful person to your children. The quote I used in the book, I just love this quote. Fay Weldon says, “The best part about not having children is that you can go on believing you’re a nice person.” Because if you have kids, you will be terrible to them at some point. You will scream at them. You will say things you deeply, deeply regret. I don’t think it’s possible to get through parenthood without doing that. You will come to know yourself in your worst aspects.

Again, if you can hold it correctly, if you can hold it psychologically, you won’t say, oh, I’m a terrible person, what’s wrong with me? You’ll say, oh, there’s my shadow. Look at that. I’m human just like everyone else. I have this awful side that most days I don’t want to think about. There it is. It’s humbling, but it also expands us. Because we know ourselves more. We can’t be trapped in this innocent complex and think that we’re all nice. Like Fay Weldon said, “We’re not nice.” Thank God, we’re complicated.


TS: What would you say to that person listening, who, as they’re hearing you describe this, is remembering some incident where they “lost it” with their kids, and they still can feel bad about it. Yes, I’m human like everybody else. Really, I don’t know. I wished I hadn’t screamed like that.


LM: Well, great question and a complicated answer, because I’m clearly not saying it’s a good thing to scream at your kids.


TS: Sure, sure, sure, sure.


LM: I do think it’s an incredibly normal thing. There is a way where I think that being angry with our kids is probably necessary. I think if we’re never angry with our kids, first of all, our kids never learned that it’s OK to be angry. They don’t learn that this is an entirely normal thing. They don’t learn how to relate to their own aggression. Maybe the other thing I want to say is this notion of repair. Repair is so important. It’s almost more important than not having the rupture. Getting really angry at your kid, that’s a rupture. What matters is the repair.

Can you go back to your kid and apologize? I mean, I do. I do that all the time. For some people, that’s hard, and maybe they have other ways of repairing. I mean, even a young child, mommy is sorry she yelled, I shouldn’t have done that. I lost my temper. I’m sorry. That really builds connection. I think it’s complicated. It’s not like it’s a great thing to yell at your kids. You’re probably not going to not be able to do it. There’s some real gold in there, too.


TS: When you, Lisa, look at someone who you think is very well individuated, I get it’s not a destination. There’s no final destination, but you meet someone and maybe I don’t know if it happens very often or not. You think, wow, that person, what a beautifully individuated person. What is it that you see in such a human?


LM: I think the first thing that comes to my mind is openheartedness. It’s a lack of defensiveness, more or less. I mean, all of us get defensive sometimes, but do we live there? Do we live in a defended way? I think if we’ve practiced living in such a way that we are constantly getting to know ourselves better and integrating more and more aspects of ourselves, we do grow more and more openhearted, and there’s more room for joy. There’s more room to be with whatever we’re feeling, whether it’s joy or sadness or heartache.

I tell the story in the introduction, when I’m trying to give this picture of what individuation looks like, of this really renowned Jungian analyst, Harry Wilmer, who presented at this conference that I went to early on in my training, and he was giving this talk about yarn paintings. I thought oh, it must be some indigenous art practice from some hunter-gatherer tribe or something. They make yarn paintings, and we’re going to hear about the symbology in it. I thought, well, I’m going to go and take notes. I’m going to be a good student.

I went, he was quite elderly at that point. He just stood up there with a microphone in this faltering voice, and he talked about being stuck on a tuberculosis ship during World War II, the kind of quarantine and being really depressed and bereft and lonely. He just took some yarn and a needle and a piece of cloth, and he started making what he called a yarn painting. He showed us these beautiful paintings, as it were, made with yarn. It was basically like embroidery, that he just did as he was trying to accept his suffering and make meaning out of it and come to terms with it.

He showed us paintings that he made after his adult son died, and I think it was a motorcycle accident, if I’m remembering correctly. In the midst of that anguish, he just took up a needle and some yarn and made something. Early in that presentation, when I realized what it wasn’t, it wasn’t going to be some heady, esoteric, scholarly presentation about the symbology of yaki yarn paintings or something. No, it was about this man’s individual, unique, very human efforts to deal with his own suffering in his life. I just started crying. I just cried the whole time.

His openheartedness was just so evident. I tell this story in the book, the story that didn’t make it into the book is what happened later. Because I don’t know if it was that night or the next night. One of the things that most people don’t realize about Jungian analysts is that we really love to dance. Every, any Jungian meeting I’ve ever been to, when the music starts, the tables all clear. This was my first one though, I’d never been to one before. The last thing that I had been to where music was played and there was a dance floor.

It was like some wedding where maybe a couple of people get up and half-heartedly dance around a little bit. Here I was, and there was a dance floor and there was as a banquet, one these hotel banquets, the music started, and in unison, every chair scraped. Everyone got up and danced, including Harry and his wife. I mean, they must have been in their late 80s at that point. There they were dancing. To me, that’s what individuation looks like. I want to be dancing when I’m 90.


TS: That’s a beautiful story. To end, what occurs to me is that in some ways, your book, Motherhood: Facing and Finding Yourself, is a very articulate, filled with myth and story, personal reflection, client story yarn painting that you made in your own way. I’m curious if you would say, the meaning making this provided for you to write and now publish this book.


LM: Tami, I’m not sure that I’ve had enough of a chance to digest it all yet. It’s a big thing to publish your first book. That’s a very big thing. I’m just so grateful to you and to Sounds True for making one of my lifelong dreams come true. I guess I’ll say that. I guess one of the things that I can say in answer to that is that I recently moved. I moved the home that I’d been living in for 17 years or something—or basically, it’s the house I raised my kids in. I thought that it was going to be a just a huge emotional blow to leave there because of all of the memories. It wasn’t.

I think that’s because the process of writing that book was my metabolizing-my-motherhood experience. Not that it’s all sewn up with a bow because, I mean, trust me, I’m still in the middle of it. In terms of making meaning of all of that, of the wonderful times, the joyful times, the sweetness, the poignancy, the frustration, the anger, the resentment, the doubt, oh god, the self-doubt, there’s so much of that, the shame. Somehow I got to digest all of that in writing this book. I feel like it’s just really well metabolized, which is nice.


TS: I will say for anyone who’s making meaning of the motherhood journey, this is a gorgeous book to reflect with and imagine with and journey with, down deep into the well and surfacing up again. It’s called Motherhood: Facing and Finding Yourself by Lisa Marchiano, Jungian analyst, cohost of the podcast This Jungian Life. Thank you so much. What a beautiful offering to others. Thank you.


LM: Thank you.


TS: Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at If you’re interested, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. Also, if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe we can create a kinder and wiser world, waking up the world.


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