Sigmund Freud once stated that neurosis is the disease of the normal person and that everyone is neurotic to some degree. This is true if one defines neurosis as he did, simply as meaning that one suffers more than one needs to. Neurosis, for him, is more a dis-ease than a disease. For Freud, this dis-ease comes about because of the repression of sex. In his understanding, we are so hopelessly and incurably sexed, with such limited access for sexual expression, that we are forced to repress most of our erotic energies. Eventually these repressed energies dominate and preoccupy our lives in a negative way. Everyone, subsequently, lives in a fundamental disease. There is certainly some truth in that.
More recently, thinkers such as Martin Heidegger and Ernest Becker have argued that we are all neurotic, but have suggested that the root of our dis-ease is not so much repressed sexuality as the repression of our fear of death. For them, we have a deep sense of our own mortality and, consciously and unconsciously, repress it. Eventually this causes a neurosis which robs us of the full joy of living because we are afraid of dying. Again, obviously there is much truth in this. More recently still, a number of psychologists and novelists, among others, have suggested that there is a different reason why we are fundamentally dis-eased.
For them, while repressed sexuality and fear of death certainly unsettle our lives and cause untold restlessness, they are not the real reason why our lives are seldom peaceful and contented. They submit that our neurotic restlessness has another cause. In our western world, we live in a culture that stresses the importance and significance of the individual, while at the same time downplaying the importance of God. These two emphases, the significance of the individual life and the absence of God, cannot go together without creating an intolerable restlessness inside each of us. Because a fundamental dis-ease results when the truths that are revealed by God are taught in a world that postures independence of God.
What happens when we are raised to believe that we are, each of us, precious, special, and meant to leave a lasting mark on this earth…and we live in a world in which we are obscure, unknown, homogenized, taken-for-granted, and deprived of meaningful self-expression?
What happens when we are taught that our lives have deep significance and that our personalities, our dreams, our pains, our joys, and our loves have infinite importance…and we live in a world which cannot give us this sense?
What happens inside of us when we sense how precious are our individual stories, in all their unique intricacies, and we live in a world which is not interested in our stories and is bored when we begin to speak of ourselves?
What happens when we are told by our world that our daydreams are true and that we are infinitely precious, but that same world, precisely because it no longer relies on God to give us that preciousness, cannot offer us a sense of specialness?
What happens? In brief, we get very restless. We become deeply and hopelessly dissatisfied. The joys that our lives do give us tend to pale and be insignificant because we feel that they, and we, are small-time, small-town, obscure, too little known and recognized.
We end up frustrated, feeling trapped in a domesticity that excludes us from where we would like to be and from whom we would like to be with. Our families and friends do not satisfy us because they, like ourselves, seem small-time. They are too much like us to be of help in our restlessness. We crave relationships with the famous, the powerful, the achievers, with those who have attained significance in the world’s eyes and whose stories the world deems precious and interesting. We become obsessed with the need for self-expression, with the need for achieving something that is unique and lasting. We fear dying without leaving a permanent mark. Our daily lives seem poor and uninteresting, and we live so much of our lives waiting, waiting for someone or something or some moment to come along and give us significance and preciousness.
Our world teaches us that we are significant and precious, but then deprives us of the one thing that can make us so, God. This sets off an incurable ache. A sense of our individual significance and a lack of a sense of God cannot go together without creating a restless and intolerable dis-ease. Only God can give us the sense of our own preciousness and ultimate significance. Only in a life rooted deeply in prayer, where we can live contentedly hidden in Christ and, there, accept the martyrdom of obscurity, will our aching and dissatisfaction cease and our dis-ease give way to restful contentment.