Why You’re F*cking Miserable
And how to descend into your emotional darkness to discover authentic hope
Have you ever been in such a depth of emotional pain that you felt hopeless?
Like you were alone in the world and something inside of you was empty and broken, but you couldn’t determine the cause?
Perhaps your pain ignited after discovering your partner’s affair.
Maybe it occurred after an accident resulted in permanent changes to your body.
The death of a loved one, a new phase of life, there are many potential catalysts for encountering the depths of your psyche.
And while it’s often difficult to connect with the beauty of your suffering, there are ways to enter your pain to become more conscious, integrated, and whole.
The dark caves of your soul offer immense potential for growth.
When we make meaning of our distress and develop a sense of purpose in our suffering, we have the opportunity to navigate uncharted emotional territory and become more self-aware.
Unfortunately, Western culture often fails to support the exploration of our depth and focuses, instead, on making money.
Western culture views symptoms as problems to be eliminated.
Often, these symptoms are clustered together into diagnoses and treated with brief “evidence-based” therapy treatments that don’t sustain success or pharmaceutical interventions that also have poor long-term outcomes.
Symptoms are messages to be understood.
In contrast to the materialist and reductionist view described above, I believe that when give symptoms greater expression, we unlock our capacity to decode their messages and discover their meaning.
Uncovering the meaning of our distress leads us to reshape our habits, alter our routines, and engage with the world in new ways.
By integrating these emotions into our awareness, we bring balance to our inner and outer lives. This balance reduces the intensity of our symptoms and leads to greater self-understanding.
“There is no illness that is not at the same time an unsuccessful attempt at cure.” — Carl Jung
Jung says that our symptoms are the remnants of our psyche’s attempt to fix an imbalance in our mental and emotional world.
In other words, there is already something off kilter, something that needs to be noticed and adjusted in our approach to life.
Discovering what that something is, therefore, requires that we listen to and better comprehend the symptom — the way it’s being communicated to us.
To better understand the course of your suffering, watch the 2000 Tom Hanks movie, The Cast Away.
For those who have not seen this movie — check it out! (Spoilers ahead)
The basic plot is that a FedEx operations executive, Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), leaves his girlfriend Kelly and then experiences a plane crash that leaves him stranded on a deserted island, where he undergoes a physical and emotional transformation.
Cast Away offers the perfect metaphor to understand your suffering.
When you watch the movie through a psychological lens, you begin to understand that Chuck’s experience represents the dark night of the soul — some of the deepest moments of personal pain and inner transformation.
Read my detailed psychological interpretation of the movie to better understand:
- What you may experience during a prolonged period of emotional distress.
- How to actively engage in emotional pain to unlock psychological growth.
- What can be gained from active and intentional participation in suffering.
The One-sided Approach to Life
The movie begins with Chuck Noland emphasizing importance of time.
Obsessed with precision, it’s revealed that Chuck shipped a clock around the world to measure FedEx’s transit speed. His haste is observable in several behaviors: He talks fast, walks fast, and solves problems quickly.
“Tick-tock! Tick-Tock! Tick-Tock!” Chuck yells at fellow workers.
This intense, pressurized way of being demonstrates that Chuck has uneven psychological development.
While he may be effective in his work, he is out of touch with the parts of himself that require patience, slowing down, and careful consideration.
Chuck’s one-sided orientation to life is demonstrated several times.
But the most important example is when he’s on a plane and overhears that a friend and coworker, Stan, is grieving the loss of his wife, who is dying of cancer.
Chuck responds by physically turning away.
After their plane lands, he offers to introduce Stan to a “good doctor” to “get it fixed, solved, and figured out.”
This demonstrates Chuck’s inability to tolerate emotional discomfort.
Chuck is operating with such haste that he cannot tolerate being slowed down by anyone or anything. He likely perceives other people’s pain as a problem to be solved rather than feelings to be understood.
This is a trap many people fall into.
We all have pressures — children, careers, life events — that require us to temporarily place aside our reactions so that we can meet the demands of the situation. However, when we go too far in one mode of being, especially if that state involves avoiding our emotional pain, it often results in uneven development.
People like Chuck tend to remain in a hypomanic state of productivity and achievement to avoid acknowledging their emotional distress.
Often, this one-sided development goes unnoticed until their imbalance negatively impacts relationships with loved ones or disrupts their performance at work.
In the movie, there are two symbols conveying Chuck’s lack of balance.
One is his cavity.
While appearing confident at a Christmas dinner party, Chuck’s tooth aches while eating.
This symbolizes his sweet tooth, his tendency to over-indulge in work and other things that assuage his ego. It also represents the parts of himself that are rotten and decaying in his current state.
Chuck’s pager is the second symbol that demonstrates his psychological imbalance.
While it’s clear his girlfriend Kelly wants greater time together, Chuck prioritizes work and travel. Symbolically, he is disconnected from his anima, or inner feminine, and prioritizes his job rather than his loved ones.
Prior to leaving on Christmas Eve, Kelly gives him her grandfather’s antique watch with a picture of herself on the inside lid. This symbolizes the gift of discernment, the ability to navigate uncharted territory by remembering what is most important.
In this way, connecting with the feminine parts of himself, such as the need for nurturance, love, and receptivity — slowing down and listening rather than moving full speed ahead — may be the key to finding greater balance.
Understanding your imbalance is the key to comprehending your suffering.
While it’s often difficult to identify the imbalance in your inner life and even more difficult to change it, investing in depth-oriented coaching or therapy is one way to begin the search and discover a path forward.
The Descent into Emotional Darkness — Part I
Chuck follows the ping of his pager and takes a last-minute flight. His plane crashes into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
During this event, three key moments occur.
1. Chuck’s anxiety increases the longer he is in the air.
This anxiety is the result of his one-sided approach to life.
Though he became higher in his aspirations and achievements — symbolized by the ascending plane — he also became more disconnected from his innermost emotions — represented by the ground.
In this turbulent plane wreck, his entire structure of organization, achievement, and aspiration all goes up in flames as it crashes into the ocean.
The ocean is a symbol of his unconscious, the things he disavows in his conscious approach to life (the need for nurturance, slowing down, etc.), and deeper potentials for transformation.
2. Chuck’s entire worldview becomes disoriented.
He’s in the middle of the ocean, completely alone. He’s in a state of shock, of pure survival.
3. He is surrounded by huge waves, fire, and a lightning storm.
He’s drenched in rain and holding onto a small raft to save his life. At this point in his journey, he is not able to process his feelings, he is simply at their mercy.
Chuck lays in the fetal position, a form of submission, holding onto the rope of his raft while getting pummeled by the raw force of his unconscious.
This is what happens when you get in touch with deep suffering.
Your unconscious becomes unrelenting and painful. You lose all sense of who you are. You may question your identity, feel unsure about your path in life, and may notice a twinge of fear, meaninglessness, and hopelessness.
I often tell clients that their ego is like a boat floating on the ocean of their unconscious mind.
You can try to paddle all you want, but ultimately, it’s the deeper currents that determine your destination.
Instead of fighting for control or pretending that everything is “fine,” you’re being asked to surrender, to hear the messages from your depth.
Your unconscious is relativizing your ego.
Your ego, or your conscious sense of self, is being put in its place!
The way you used to approach life are no longer serving your growth. And in order to uncover a new way of being, you must become a humble student to your deeper psyche.
Once you allow yourself to suffer consciously and intentionally, a new way of being will emerge that will help you listen to the lessons that you’ll be presented.
It sounds mystical because this type of suffering is beyond your capacity to grasp until you’ve survived the storm. And there will be many storms — several obstacles to overcome.
You will be tested until you achieve absolute mastery.
The Descent into Emotional Darkness — Part II
Chuck wakes up on a beach feeling sick, drained, and exhausted.
Early in his time on the island, Chuck screams “Help!” and writes “HELP” in the sand.
These efforts are externally focused.
He is hoping that someone — an outside force — will rescue him. Psychologically, he has not yet taken ownership of his circumstance and is trying to escape his fate.
In unfamiliar territory, Chuck is afraid.
He feels threatened by a loud thump and wrestling of leaves. He discovers a delightful surprise: Coconuts are falling from the trees.
In a moment of excitement, he tries to open one!
He tries again!
And eventually, a rock breaks into an edge sharp enough to slice the coconut.
Notice that it was not through ego effort that Chuck opened the coconut.
It was not his rapid problem-solving that led to the solution. Instead, it was a synchronistic force that broke the rock into the perfect shape for cutting — an outcome he could not have predicted.
In other words, it was the deeper currents that provided him with the nurturance he needed to survive.
You cannot think yourself out of your suffering!
Your ego cannot get itself untangled in moments of deep, dark suffering. None of your previous ways of being will help.
Like Chuck’s experience in the plane wreck, this type of pain is disorienting and confusing, in that it forces you out of your comfort zone and into unfamiliar emotional territory.
It demands that you fight to survive the unknown.
It is through that fight that you connect with yourself and emerge stronger than in the past — not through mentally attempting to convince yourself that “everything is fine.”
Like a finger trap, you must move into your suffering to identify the imbalances in your inner life. You need to accept the uncertainty and make room for your feelings by setting aside time to feel, journal, make art, and express yourself.
This creative process unlocks a sail on your boat that helps you better navigate the choppy waters ahead.
Chuck’s coconut experience marks a transition.
After receiving this delightful surprise, he develops the courage required to begin exploring the island, or explore more of his inner material.
This small but profound shift shows that Chuck is intentionally entering the root of his symptoms and responding to the messages his psyche is sending.
“We don’t solve our problems, we outgrow them.” — Carl Jung.
Death of the old makes room for the new.
While exploring the island, Chuck discovers a dead body — the captain of his plane. He takes the man’s shoes.
Chuck then digs a grave in the sand and buries him, carving the man’s name in stone before departing.
Symbolically, Chuck is burying the parts of himself that no longer serve his growth. By honoring them, he is grieving the loss of identities, patterns, and tendencies that he once relied on, but no longer requires.
In order to grow, you must do the same!
You must courageously encounter the parts of yourself that are dead and rotten. And then you need to determine which aspects of those patterns may be helpful for your future growth and which parts need to be left behind.
Take time to grieve the parts of yourself that were once vital to your survival, but no longer serve you.
Letting go of those tendencies will grant you greater access to your psychic potential, much in the way it provides Chuck greater access to move about the island.
The Descent into Emotional Darkness — Part III
Chuck sees a small flashing light from a faraway ship.
He yells and does everything in his power to get its attention. He grabs his raft and swims towards it as fast as he can.
He gets hit.
Wave after wave crash down on him. He’s once again caught in a storm, not having mastered what’s required to move beyond this island, beyond his suffering.
His raft flips.
In the water now, he becomes disoriented. Twisted by the undercurrent, his leg is punctured by choral. Blood drains from his body.
Chuck’s bleeding leg makes it difficult to move and even more difficult to survive. His raft is damaged beyond repair.
He limps into a nearby cave to escape the storm.
In this cave, a deep part of himself, his flashlight — the last form of hope— dims and then dissipates, leaving only darkness.
Symbolically, Chuck lost all hope.
When my clients are experiencing this part of their journey, I often reference a Batman quote that eloquently encapsulates this moment:
“The night is darkest just before the dawn.” — Harvey Dent
You must lose hope.
Hopelessness is required to discover authentic hope.
It’s through the active participation in your suffering, of truly descending into your emotional cave — wounded, alone, and hopeless— that something new can emerge.
The Liminal Experience
Liminality describes the middle stage of a rite of passage, in which the initiate no longer carries the same innocence as pre-ritual but has not yet transitioned into the characteristics that will emerge once the rite is completed.
In this movie, Chuck has lost hope, but found his inner depth — his cave.
The next day’s sun is shining and he’s trying to make a fire.
He severely injures his hand.
Chuck does not yet grasp all of the lessons he needs to learn.
His hand is hurting!
Failing to start a fire, he throws a tantrum.
In his outrage, yelling, he launches a volleyball. This object becomes a companion named Wilson, who represents a projection of Chuck’s inner being.
By placing his thoughts and feelings into Wilson, Chuck creates a new perspective that invites greater compassion into his life.
By separating these parts of self, Chuck develops the capacity to care for himself by looking after Wilson and vice-versa. He finds inner companionship.
In this moment, Chuck shifted from looking outside of himself to looking within to fulfill his emotional needs.
Wilson represents his own capacity for healing.
It’s only after he creates Wilson and calls upon his own inner resources that he’s able to create fire. But this major achievement is short-lived, as Chuck’s tooth continues rotting from the inside.
Chuck’s toxic internal patterns remain.
In the deeper part of himself, the cave, he discovers that he must remove these tendencies in order to overcome their limiting impact.
At first, Chuck longs for an external source to help him, his dentist. Then he accepts responsibility for his suffering and uses the blade from his ice skate and a rock to break out the tooth, his decaying tendencies.
The unbearable pain from this archaic hammering knocks him out.
Four years pass!
The passing of time insinuates that this type of authentic transformation is not under conscious control.
It demonstrates that the deeper wounds require time to be identified, removed, and then transformed.
This type of process is non-linear and asks that you tolerate the uncertainty of not knowing when you will re-emerge as stronger than before. It insists that you endure the pain required, knowing that at times it will be too much to bear — that you will fail and become unconscious.
The demands of this situation, in short, require and then build authentic self-trust.
When you persist in actively, consciously, and intentionally processing your suffering, you will be rewarded.
The Ascent from Suffering
The next scene shows Chuck tanned with a full beard.
Physically lean, he is now efficient, calculated, and hunting fish. No longer is he frail and looking for external help. He is self-reliant, grounded, and connected with his deepest truth.
His psyche has been realigned and rebalanced.
He is more present, patient, and less clouded by thoughts — his mind is clear.
He’s battle tested. He wears a stern, focused gaze. He’s hardened and more intuitive than in the past.
He’s not moving as quickly but is infinitely more deliberate in his behavior.
If Chuck used to be a bee buzzing, he is now a samurai sword — he exerts the precise amount of energy required to be effective in his actions. He’s now a mature warrior rather than a boy trying to be a hero.
Chuck discovers a porta-potty lid.
Contrary to earlier in the movie when he may have taken immediate action, he sticks it upright in the sand and examines it.
Studying every inch, he exercises greater discernment than in the past. After a period of observation, he discovers that it can make an excellent sail for a raft.
In that moment, Chuck re-discovers his hope!
For the first time in four years, he has the hope of one day leaving this island of suffering.
Chuck’s old patterns arise in new light.
With a nod to the start of the movie when Chuck was tracking the time it took to ship a package, he’s now keeping track of the time he’s been missing.
He uses a calendar to formulate a strategic plan to leave the island based on the wind and waves.
In that way, he is calling upon old functions — arithmetic and a desire for precise timing. But now he’s using these gifts rather than being used by them.
It’s also revealed that the extra rope Chuck needed to make his new, more advanced raft came from the noose he’d planned to use to end his life.
That’s how dark his suffering became.
He wanted to die. However, like the rope, he held the emotional tension that arose and chose not to end his life.
While that decision may have contributed to greater short-term distress, it was the thread from this pain that facilitated his movement away from the island.
In that way, holding emotional tension without disconnecting from it contributes to the ability to outgrow your wounds.
Leaving the Island.
Chuck makes a raft. This attempt to move beyond his suffering is more mature. He is intentional and builds a sound structure.
The night before leaving, he asks Wilson, “Are you scared?”
“Me too,” he responds.
This demonstrates another profound shift — that he is now able to acknowledge emotional discomfort. And this ability to tolerate fear is put to the test when he paddles his raft towards massive waves.
He releases the sail at the precise moment needed and successfully escapes!
After overcoming the major waves, he looks back at the island.
He feels sad. He’s now connected to the beauty of his pain, which he observes through the lens of seeing how far he’s come.
Now he has to enter uncharted water, unfamiliar territory, yet again.
He is back to where this adventure started: In the water, completely alone, adrift in the middle of the ocean.
But now he has something he didn’t have before — the type of authentic hope that comes from intimate connection with the deepest parts of his being.
The sail flies away. There’s another dark storm. He wakes up and his raft is broken and in pieces.
Chuck is confronted by a difficult situation.
Chuck’s pulled apart, between Wilson — his emotional safety — and his raft — what he needs to continue moving forward.
“Wilson! I’m sorry.”
Chuck cries but maintains grasp of what he knows is most important.
There is immense grief. He feels it and mourns. He enters it wholeheartedly.
This change, of entering rather than avoiding distress, leads Chuck to overcome his circumstances. By holding this emotional tension without losing himself, the transcendent function was activated.
The transcendent function emerges when holding the tension of the opposites.
In this movie, Chuck holds the tension between his state of suffering and the impulses to end his pain. Learning how to tolerate that tension leads to the emergence of something new, a third way of being that is stronger, whole, and authentic.
When encountering your own pain and distress, you too will be called to hold the tension between conflicting impulses. That exercise is the key to self-growth.
- Chuck didn’t want to accept his situation.
- He often looked outside himself for help.
- He tried to escape, but was unsuccessful.
- He was injured in the process and lost all hope.
- Through grace, he survived and started entering his suffering.
- Chuck moved towards acceptance of his circumstances,
- Increased his understanding of various parts of himself,
- Removed unhelpful patterns and behaviors that no longer served his growth,
- Tolerated the tension of painful emotional experiences,
- Become more deliberate and decisive in his actions,
- And then developed greater connection with himself and his instincts, all of which contributed to the re-emergence of authentic hope!
Chuck began in a top-down process: Mentally over-controlled, unaware of his unconscious motivations, and avoiding deeper emotions.
He then re-emerged bottom-up: Realigned with his depth, connected with his emotions, and is making more decisive decisions.
That’s what authentic self-growth is all about!
Chuck discovers that his fiancé has re-married. And while it must be one of the most painful experiences of his life, he is able to stay calm and rooted despite the emotional storm of this unsettling news.
He speaks with Stan — the man with the wife who was sick with cancer.
Chuck apologizes that he wasn’t around when Mary died.
This action demonstrates that he has changed!
Chuck now possesses the capacity to feel other people’s pain without turning away or making it into a problem to solve.
He meets his ex-fiancé, Kelly.
Chuck conveys that he should never have left, that he should have prioritized his time with her. After a kiss goodbye, he moves on with his life. He is able to tolerate this immense pain and recognize that this connection with her — his inner feminine — is what kept him alive.
By allowing himself and Kelly to move on with their lives, Chuck’s psyche reclaims the attributes that were previously unconscious — his need for quiet, rest, and nurturance. This integration of his inner feminine components balances his being and contributes to greater wholeness.
His transformation is complete!
When speaking with Stan, Chuck shares the story of his survival:
We both had done the math. Kelly added it all up and… knew she had to let me go. I added it up, and knew that I had… lost her. ‘cos I was never gonna get off that island. I was gonna die there, totally alone.
I was gonna get sick, or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when, and how, and where it was going to happen.
So… I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log, snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I — , I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over *nothing*.
And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing.
And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass… And I’ve lost her all over again.
I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?
Jung shares that, “Everything psychic is pregnant with the future.” We are asked, therefore, “to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there find germs of light and recovery.”
It is there — in the deep caves of your inner being — that you will discover authentic hope.