Discussion: The Survival Papers (Book I and II) By Daryl Sharp


A few months ago I said I would read these books and review—or rather discuss—them here. This is more discussion than a review—since my review is: Don’t read these books; they are not really about MLC and they don’t support marriage! 😡

the_survival_papers dear_gladys

The subtitle of Book I states that the book is an Anatomy of a Midlife Crisis. But I find that inaccurate; these books are a fictionalized (or perhaps projected) autobiography or memoir. The character of Norman—the MLCer/Analysand is made-up, but he represents the author-analyst who frequently goes off-track from the story of Norman to review his own early years becoming an analyst and discuss then-and-now with Rachel who is not a real person, but his anima. Personally I found the structure rather annoying.

Using the story to explain Jungian concepts is perhaps what Sharp does best; it is the story itself that fails to feel authentic. But the introduction in Book I is excellent—the book is worth buying or borrowing just to read that, and there are Jungian gems which give insight into MLC, and Jungian Psychology itself, peppered throughout both books, though especially Book I.

Norman enters analysis. His story is similar to that of the analyst when he entered analysis before training to become an analyst and so the stories are intertwined. As Norman continues his analysis, the author-analyst uses the story as a device for introducing Jungian concepts: shadow, complexes, anima…

Norman is in distress regarding his marriage. His wife, Nancy, has been having an affair (she does not know that he knows) and does not enjoy making love to him—she told him that two years before he entered analysis. In addition, Norman is a serial-cheater. He and Nancy have a co-dependent attachment—as opposed to a healthy connective attachment. Near the end of Book I, Norman separates from Nancy. He ends analysis after two years (at the end of Book I) not because he did not need it, but because life called—he had other plans and the analyst states that “Psychologically, he was in pretty good shape; which is to say, he knew what he still had to work on.” (Book I p. 145) I don’t think there was originally a plan for a second book, but readers felt the story was left hanging because Book I reviewed Norman’s first year of analysis and then skipped his second in year in which, according to the analyst, he recovered. Norman was a mess saying he would never leave his wife and then suddenly he’s leaving her; Book II fills in the gap.

Poor Example of MLC

Norman is a poor example of MLC, not because he was or was not having a midlife crisis, but because he is not your average MLCer; he is not textbook. Norman’s general data does not line up with the averages. The back-cover description of Book II gives Norman’s data and implies he met his wife Nancy when he was 30, though that could have simply been the start of their romantic relationship. Their marriage also came relatively soon after the start of their relationship because Nancy got pregnant. Two years before starting analysis Nancy gave Norman a Bomb Drop: she did not like making love to him. (Book I p. 32) That was only four years into their relationship and at the time, he was calling her from his hotel (he regularly traveled for work) and he was with a girl of such importance to him that he could no longer remember her name. After that, he tells the analyst that he stopped seeing other women, “not counting that stewardess and the barmaid in Cincinnati…” (Book I p. 32) He dismisses casual sexual encounters as having no importance, they were of no consequence and thus didn’t really matter; he saw himself as being faithful to his wife. 😕 🙄

Norman doesn’t value monogamy. I don’t have a survey of the general population of married men and women to determine how the average spouse values monogamy, so technically I’m making an assumption that there is a desire and expectation of fidelity when a couple gets married. But given the feelings of betrayal and the difficulty of recovery from infidelity along with the many books and websites on the topic, I think I am correct in my assumption.

  Average Male MLCer (MLC Survey) Norman
Age at Marriage/Start of Relationship 27.7 30
Years Married/In Relationship 18.8 6
Age at Bomb Drop/Start of Analysis 46.6 36

Monogamy/Fidelity History
Norman was a serial cheater and his wife Nancy was also having an affair. Most Standers at the forum have marital infidelity, but most cases are first time unless previous (pre-MLC) infidelity is still unknown and only a few are cases of serial infidelity. Norman was not seeking an Emotionally-Bonded affair. According to The Hero’s Spouse MLC Survey, only 3.8% of male MLCers have affairs that their spouses classified as flings (casual, serial, one-night stands…); 63.5% had a steady-emotionally-bonded affair and another 10.6% were dating in search of an emotionally-bonded relationship—those percentages do not include the completely uncertain or suspected affair cases which together account for another 8.7%.

Norman Objectifies Women

  • He admits to having been with other women, “but they didn’t mean anything to me.” (Book I p. 32)
  • He cannot even remember the name of the woman (whom he refers to as a girl) he was with when Nancy told him she did not like making love to him. (Book I p. 32)
  • The objectification is taken further by the analyst-author who objectifies both Nancy and Norman. They are archetypes rather than 3-dimensional characters and thus there is no relevance to how Norman’s MLC affects Nancy; they are all just players on a stage.

MLC often happens in happy and functional marriages and the MLCer flips personalities, becoming their opposite. Norman’s was a dysfunctional marriage—that is the axis, but the analyst blames MLC which in this situation may be a symptom of the marital dysfunction rather that reverse in which the MLC is the axis and the marital dysfunction is a symptom of the MLC. Norman did not begin his marriage as a mature man and then regress. He was a puer aeternus (eternal boy, think Peter Pan) and unevolved; for him MLC created a conflict with his puer and his commitment. His MLC persona is not opposite because he has no core; he lacks authenticity. What this means is that many LBSs will not relate to this story as an example of what they are going through in their marriage.

Does Norman Meet the Key Components of a Midlife Crisis?

  • Depression – Covert & Overt
  • The Urge to Escape & Abandon
    His urge to abandon did not come until later in analysis—though Nancy did not have a Bomb Drop until Norman got the urge to abandon. But most MLCers are not in analysis with someone guiding them in this manner. In this story, I start the MLC clock with analysis and not Bomb Drop because Norman was aware of and began addressing his MLC at that time. What would have happened had Norman never gone into analysis? Would there have eventually been a Bomb Drop? Since Nancy was also having an affair, she might have been the one to leave (that scenario is more statistically significant than Norman leaving). Otherwise, I think a full MLC on Norman’s part would have come closer to the MLC Survey averages: ~10 years later. And who knows what sort of developmental changes both he and Nancy would have gone through in the meantime?
  • Infidelity
    YES! But as I have already pointed out, Norman was a serial cheater; his infidelity was not new to MLC and he did not have a typical MLC affair—emotionally-bonded.
  • Blaming or Projecting (Denial of Responsibility)
    Yes. He also blamed himself which is not uncommon for MLCers. I think analysis may have helped direct him away from external blaming.
  • Cycling Mood, Personality and Life Decisions
    Yes, he was typically ambivalent about leaving once he chose to leave. He cycled regarding mood and life decisions, but I did not get the idea that his MLC personality was different than his pre-MLC personality. As a puer he already had a higher level of narcissism.


In the next post I plan to discuss the Sins of the Analyst.

Series NavigationWhat Happens When You Meet an Archetype and Discover She is Real?


Discussion: The Survival Papers (Book I and II) By Daryl Sharp37 Comments

  1. Thanks for talking about these books. I agree they don't support marriage. I found them extremely hard to read and extremely hard to accept. But I wondered if this was the Jungian reality that I was fighting against facing… that the psyche required. Here's part of what I wrote in my reading journal about the 2nd book: "There is much description of the anima and how the change in the anima is reflected in the outward changes of the midlife crisis, the replay, the girlfriend(s), the confusion and depression and all that. It is just presented so matter-of-factly, like in the first book. The psyche demands these changes and the human being is powerless but to follow if he wants to stay alive. This is literally life and death. I just don’t really buy this, even though I see it happening. I do not, cannot, believe that we are powerless to internal forces. Sharp says this often leads to divorce and that it’s a good thing because most marriages are just hanging on for no reason and not meeting anyone’s needs. Really? … I cannot imagine that the psyche requires people to become so narcissistic that they must do this to their loved ones in order to stay alive. I cannot imagine that this is why we are here. I cannot imagine that there is no choice. Yet I see it playing out in my life and it’s presented in these books with no moral comment. It is what it is."

    Here's what I wondered… if other Jungian books present the *theory* and this presents what it might look like *in practice*. It's murky and ugly and hard to look at. But this did shed some light for me on what might be inside my WS's screwed up head. Anyway, food for thought (for me).

    Thanks for posting about them. Difficult reads.

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