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Counselling for Anxiety: the Deep Story, 1

January 12th, 2014 · Anxiety, counselling, counselling for anxiety

Counselling for anxiety is a matter of vital importance for a people who live in anxious times, but anxiety mustn’t be approached superficially.

counselling for anxiety

Certainly, in our era, we live in the midst of a wide range of anxiety-provoking factors.  There are economic issues, environmental issues, educational issues, social and technological change, issues concerning health — a multitude.  Yet the profoundest forms of anxiety are connected with our sense of our selves.

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A Depth Approach to Counselling for Anxiety

We will never escape anxiety entirely.  It will always be a part of life.  But to the degree that we are connected to the depths of our personality, and aware and accepting of who we are in depth, to that degree the factors that cause anxiety in our outer lives become more bearable, and manageable.

As Jungian analyst James Hollis tells us;

The willingness to open to depth is the chief way in which dignity and purpose return to life.

The Top Priority of the Ego is Security

The ego, that part of our personality that is aware and conscious, is involved in a continual search for certainty and security.  The ego has a story it tells itself about its own life, and about the world, a way that it puts things together.  The ego, which is to say, that part of you or I that is conscious, tends to be highly invested in believing this story. But what if, as is very often the case, the story that the ego tells itself, is either incomplete, or simply not accurate?  What if my “certainties” aren’t really as certain as the ego would like them to be?

Doubt as Threat and Liberator

An example.  Take the case of someone who in early life is given the message by those who are closest that other people — maybe all other people — are fundamentally unworthy of trust, even though there is no evidence of such general unreliability that the young individual can themselves see.  Nonetheless the parental figures to whom the child is attached continue to deliver this delusory message that is contrary to the child’s own experience.  What may well happen is that the child could absorb the message that, because Mom and Dad  believe that such a  thing is true, even though the child sees no evidence of it, it must be that the child cannot trust his or her own judgment or powers of observation.

This lack of trust in the self may abide in the adult self.  The individual may carry a fundamental attitude of mistrust both toward the world, and toward his or her own judgment — even though such mistrust is actually completely unwarranted.  Jungian psychotherapy recognizes that it is only when the individual can come to the place of “saying no” to such an attitude, imparted quite possibly in early childhood, that any kind of real change can occur.

Return to Instinct

counselling for anxiety

Initially, it might not be very easy to tolerate such “rebellious” thoughts — thoughts that are contrary to patterns developed over a lifetime.  Yet such “doubts” can often be an  essential gift.  They can be essentially related to restoring the individual’s connection to his or her deep, instinctual self, and to the primary things which that instinct knows about the world.

 Counselling for anxiety using the approach of depth psychotherapy is often about the process of connection in a new way to the deep, often instinctual, levels of the self.

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike  Some rights reserved by Leo Hidalgo ; Jean-François Chénier ;  mootown
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Counselling for Anxiety & Depth Psychotherapy 4: Freedom

June 25th, 2012 · Anxiety, counselling for anxiety, depth psychotherapy, freedom, Psychotherapy

counselling for anxiety
Freedom is a word often heard in counselling for anxiety; it’s also a key concept in depth psychotherapy.  People who are really gripped by anxiety want nothing more than to be free of it.  We all deeply yearn for freedom; but can we really tolerate having it?

What kind of freedom would really help us deal with anxiety?

Freedom to Acknowledge Who We Are

The inability to accept our own deepest reactions, feelings and thoughts, and to give ourselves the freedom to experience them can be a major source of anxiety.  Often it stems from a deep fear that who and what we are is fundamentally unacceptable.  In the face of such fear, it often takes real courage to face and accept who we are, and what we think and feel.

As Jungian analyst Marion Woodman puts it in  The Pregnant Virgin :

Healing depends on listening with the inner ear – stopping the incessant blather, and listening.  Fear keeps us chattering – fear that wells up from the past, fear of blurting out what we really fear, fear of future repercussions.  It is our very fear of the future that distorts the now, that could lead to a different future if we dared to be whole in the present.

False Self and Taboos

We may experience taboos against acknowledging our real feelings and thoughts, and even accepting who we are.  We may well find elements of ourselves (“complexes”) that deflect us powerfully from being fully honest with ourselves.  As we get closer to penetrating this layer, we may find that the very anxiety we are seeking to get rid of flares up, as a layer of defense against the truth of who and what we are.

The Freedom of Acceptance

If we can accept our deepest selves, this acceptance is often accompanied by an immense sense of freedom and relief.  As I described in my earlier post, when counselling for anxiety has brought us to the place where we feel that we are “enough’, in this way, it has largely accomplished its task.

Choice

To be free is to have real choice.  It entails awareness that I’m free to choose to be and to live in accordance with my real nature, rather than shackled by external expectations and my own inner rejection of who I really am. The heart of the work of depth psychotherapy is to get us to this place of acceptance and genuine free choice.

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Counselling for Anxiety & Depth Psychotherapy, 3: Enough

June 11th, 2012 · Anxiety, counselling for anxiety, depth psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

counselling for anxiety

Depth psychotherapy concerns self-acceptance, and counselling for anxiety emphasizes that we are “enough” to deal with the situations of our lives.  So, what does it mean to to feel that we are “enough”?  How do we gain that level of self acceptance?

The Sense of Insufficiency

To answer that question, we must probe the roots of our self-doubt and self negation. This is a step that many approaches to counselling for anxiety unfortunately often neglect.  Nonetheless, the deepest sources of self negation and self-doubt are rooted in the unconscious. They are also rooted in the unique experience that the individual has had with life.

Tree of the Self

One of the most frequent symbols of the Self in the depth psychotherapy of Jung is the tree.  It’s a fascinating and powerful symbol: the roots of the tree extend so firmly into the earth (matter), while the trunk and branches of the tree extend upward into the sky (spirit).  A tree is wonderfully, totally “enough”: it is planted and grows according to the laws of its own being — as should we.

Too Much… and Too Little

Contrary to the emotional meaning of the symbol of the tree, many of us, in our early lives, experienced that, in some area or areas of our lives, we suffered from radical lack or insufficiency. We got the sense that we were too weak, too intense, too rowdy, too unusual or too something to meet the challenges that life was putting before us. The other part of the message was that, because we were too [fill in the blank] we would have to strive absolutely heroically just to measure up — at all.  It’s this poisonous burden, counselling for anxiety knows, that stokes the fires of anxiety.

Life in Myself and Being Enough

Within us, there is a part of us that feels sufficient, and has never forgotten who and what we really are.  In most lives, there have also been special people who were outward mirrors of this inward awareness.  In serving as these precious mirrors, these people also often hold for us the power of the archetypes that reside deep in the human soul: the positive father or mother archetype; the wise old man or wise old woman archetypes; the psychopomp, or guide to the true self.  Their names are unfamiliar, but we experience their reality.

The experience of depth psychotherapy is a journey into that archetypal reality, and into connection with the reality that we are enough.

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Counselling for Anxiety & Depth Psychotherapy, 2: Flow

May 15th, 2012 · Anxiety, counselling, counselling for anxiety, depth psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

counselling for anxiety

Counselling for anxiety shows us that anxiety pulls us out of the flow of life, and depth psychotherapy can show us how and why this occurs.  How can we avoid this hijack, and push through our anxiousness to live life in our natural rhythm?

Anxiety Rips Us Out of the Present

Our own experience of anxiety shows that we’re not really in the present when gripped by an anxious state.  Psychologically, that state pulls us into the past or the future — and possibly both.  Counselling for anxiety shows that our struggle with anxiousness will either maroon us in the past, in past failures struggles or conflicts, or in the future, paralyzed by fear around future outcomes.

It All Relates to the Self

Anxious states pose big questions for us about either our own security or capability — or both.  The questions most often associated with anxiety refer to oneself, such as,  “Am I going to be alright?” or “Am I going to be able to do or accomplish XYZ?”  In one way or another, our anxious unease poses questions to us about the well-being and preservation of the self, and/or about personal identity.

Anxious States are Rooted in Our Complexes

From a Jungian perspective, anxious states are rooted in persistent mental objects called complexes.  These are knots or clusters of emotional energy that gather around a certain stimulus.  When a complex is activated, we are drawn back into old emotions and feelings, which keep us disconnected from the present situation.  Often, because of the way that the brain works, when we are caught up in the intense emotion produced by a complex, we do not think clearly, and we do not have a good sense of ourselves, and of our boundaries.  We get tangled up, and are unable to move through the challenge of the situation with any sort of natural flow.

Acting From Ourselves in the Now

In the process of counselling for anxiety, the primary question faced is a question that is also found in depth psychotherapy.  Put basically, that question might be stated as “How can I truly be myself in this situation, with confidence in who I am?”  A creative answer to that question can only be found when we understand in ourselves the emotional obstacles that stop us from “flowing” in the present – the complexes.  Untangling these knots, and getting to their sources, is a key goal in depth psychotherapy work.

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Counselling for Anxiety & Depth Psychotherapy, 1: Roots

April 30th, 2012 · Anxiety, counselling, counselling for anxiety, depth psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

counselling for anxietyCounselling for anxiety involves the client growing to understand the roots of anxiousness, and depth psychotherapy gives us insight into unconscious factors that lie behind our being consciously anxious.

Yearning for Return

Depth psychotherapy reminds us of that part of our psyche which yearns for a return to somewhere warm, safe and non-threatening — the womb.  Yet, here in our real lives, we’re alone, isolated, and trying to cope with challenges we all face.  With these many challenges in our individual lives, we enter anxious states.  A depth psychotherapy perspective on counselling for anxiety /  therapy for anxiety affirms that.  The question is, how can we best respond to these states?

Counselling for Anxiety and the Self

Jungian analyst James Hollis sees counselling for anxiety as engaging with

“… a free-floating disease which may be activated by nearly anything, which may light for a while on something specific, but which usually originates from the general insecurity one feels in one’s life.  The level of that insecurity… is partly a function of one’s particular history.  The more troubled one’s environment, family of origin and cultural setting, the more free-floating anxiety will be generated.”

Being anxious is also connected to situations.  Sudden shifts in realities that we have taken as certainties, for instance, can greatly increase our anxiousness.  In the film Jerry McGuire, Jerry (Tom Cruise) has the rug pulled from under his professional life, and responds with a classic film portrayal of a hyper anxious state:

Energy and Avoidance

Using Jung’s characteristic metaphor of emotion or affect as energy, we could see anxiety as energy that doesn’t know where to go, or how to flow.  It can often lead to us avoiding the situations where we’re anxious, or else, we can find ourselves “getting anxious about becoming anxious”.  But can counselling for anxiety use it as a guide for finding what is stable and lasting in the self?

Potential Benefit in Anxiety?

“How could depth psychotherapy possibly find any good in this?” a severely anxious person might wonder.  Yet, often, getting to the root of anxious states takes us to places in ourselves where we are wounded, or in conflict, where our spontaneity and energy is bound into knots, called complexes, that need to go free.  A depth psychotherapy approach to counselling for anxiety is fundamentally about getting an ally to help in understanding, accepting and having compassion for ourselves at the deepest levels, and in moving into basic trust.

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© 2012 Brian Collinson

 

 

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