“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” — Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man)
Initial encounters with charismatic, nomadic, intriguing clients can distract psychotherapists from the underlying relevant issues obscured by their charm and enthusiasm. Beguiled by their sense of adventure and exploration, these men and women appear to be ideal therapy candidates. Always pursuing and embracing change and discovery, these archetypal Seekers can brave the unknown and plumb the proverbial depths.
Yet beneath this magnetic veneer of relentless idealism and romanticized independence lurks an internal discomfort, which cannot be quelled by exciting new ventures. The shadow side of the Seeker reveals a perfectionistic quest to break free from conformity and oppression.
Fearful of the adult world of conventional responsibility, the Seeker may be unstoppable in his/her quest to repel boundaries, while shunning reliance on others. Often unable to commit and tolerate mundane disappointments s/he is driven to acquire a greater sense of purpose and meaning through daring pursuits and experiences.
Peter Pan Syndrome
The plight of the Seeker is beautifully captured in J.M. Barrie’s beloved fairy-tale Peter Pan. Peter is the classic puer aeternas, the eternal Divine Child, who refuses to ‘grow up.’ Immersed in a fantastical adventurous world, Peter is an intrepid self-absorbed, stubborn boy, creative and bold and relationally uncooperative.
Defiantly rejecting the adult world of conformity and rules, he represents what Dr. Dan Kiley coined as “Peter Pan Syndrome,” a condition pertaining to men who are stuck in adolescence and are caught up in an outstanding mother complex.
By glorifying adventure and freedom, the pervasive fears and discontent of the Seeker is obfuscated. As the wounded Seeker runs from her/himself and the inevitability of life and aging, aimlessness and thrill seeking serve to distract from internal emptiness.
For the Seeker to fully become present to one’s inner life s/he needs to develop the ability to compassionately relate to and endure the loneliness and isolation inherent to exploring unique paths and callings.
He or she needs to rely on others in his/her quest for self-awareness and knowledge and address fears of entrapment and his/her hauteur disdain of what is characterized as dull and mundane.
In the myth of Parsifal and the Holy Grail, Parsifal starts out as a naïve, foolish Seeker. Taught to not ask questions, Parsifal is not fully embodied as an adult. Hence, he lacks the ability to question what ails the wounded King Arthur and whom the Grail serves.
Eluded by the psychological wounds plaguing him and the wounded King Arthur, he embarks on an adventurous quest in search of the Holy Grail (mystical salvation). It is only through challenging life lessons encountered in his 20-year journey that Parsifal is able to compassionately take notice of others and what surrounds him.
Once matured, Parsifal is able to experience the potentialities of what Jung referred to as a “true personality.” He now possesses the level of empathic attunement and responsibility that allows him to ask the right questions.
Like Parsifal, it is not until the Seeker recognizes the spiritual imperative of facing one’s complexes, one’s wounds, is s/he able to pull away from external projections of the questing ego and humbly drop into the vast power of the real Self. It is here that the seeker truly comes home and the real hero is born.