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How to Feel Safe: Finding a Sense of Psychological Home

March 27th, 2017 · how to feel safe

We human beings are fundamentally occupied with the question of how to feel safe. This is about as crucial as any question in human life can get.

how to feel safe

The anxiety that so many experience is a clear manifestation of this question.  Even if the question never reaches conscious awareness, there are important parts of the unconscious human mind-brain that are always evaluating the question of the safety of our own being.

Physical Safety

Large parts of the brain, related to both the conscious and unconscious mind focus on preserving our sense of physical safety.  Evolution has wisely provided higher mammals like humans with very good, very powerful safety mechanisms that have kept us out of trouble for millions of years.  Instinctually, we humans have a wisdom about how to keep ourselves alive and healthy.

Issues of Trauma

Yet, an individual’s sense of physical or emotional safety can be deeply compromised.  The individual may experience traumatic overwhelm in such a way that the question of how to feel physically and emotionally safe becomes vexing.  You might automatically think of veterans returning from combat with PTSD, and you’d be right.  Yet there are far, far more people who carry the scars of domestic violence, or emotionally insecure family environments; their traumatic experience doesn’t allow them to feel genuinely safe.

Such individuals may be subject to traumatic re-enactment where they re-live the emotional and physical impact of traumatic events over and over again, in different situations.  Specialized techniques may be needed to enable the person to experience a reduction in the effects of trauma.  And anything that helps the individual feel a sense of safety and control is essential.

Attachment

John Bowlby, the great psychiatric researcher who developed attachment theory, stressed that the ability that an individual possesses to form an emotional and physical “attachment” to another person gives the individual what he called a “secure base”.  Such a safe connection with the other enables the person to feel a sense of stability and security that allows her or him to take risks, try new things and generally develop as a person.  For Bowlby — and much of subsequent psychology — “how to feel safe” = “get yourself firmly and solidly connected to another person, who can be your ‘secure base'”.  While attachment theory initially seemed to apply only to parent-child relationships, we now know that it applies to adult relationships, and also to relationship breakdown .

“Home”

The theory also applies to our attachment to place.  A good part of the power of “home” as a symbol is connected to the sense of a particular place, home, which acts as secure base.  We can feel safe and let our guard down “at home”, because it’s known, and won’t hurt us.  Much great mythology, such as Homer’s Odyssey, or the Exodus as journey to the Promised Land in the Hebrew Bible emphasize the symbolism of home, and of the search for home as a symbolic representation of our lifelong attempt to finally and definitively answer the question of how to feel safe .

how to feel safe

“Home” is often powerfully symbolic in our dreams, also.  Our first “home” is the womb; it’s striking to realize how many of the first human homes created by indigenous people are womb-like.  In the words of Jungians Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin, “These correspond to, or contribute to something within, the experience of a vital center of both fixity and freedom, rest after striving, being fully oneself  [italics mine].

We can look at the inner symbolization of home / house as at least in part an internalizing of our own “secure base”, an invitation to a secure and firm connection to our own inner being.  In this way, as Prof. Andrew Samuels asserts, home symbolizes connection to your own fundamental inner being, which Jungians refer to as the Self.

An Abiding Inner Sense of Safety

Depth psychotherapy can be of vital importance in assisting individuals to find the answer to how to feel safe.  This can come through helping the individual to find secure attachment in outer relationships, and, ultimately through a sense of inner unity and connection to the Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Kevin Dooley ;   PRO Gail Frederick
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Adult Children of Alcoholics and the Individuation Journey

March 20th, 2017 · adult children of alcoholics

Adult children of alcoholics each have their own individual journey, yet they share some powerful factors in common.

adult children of alcoholics

These factors can very directly impact the course of the person’s individuation, the term that Jungian depth psychotherapists use to describe the path an individual follows to become fully her- or himself.
What are some of these key factors, or dimensions?  And what do they mean for an individual travelling his or her own individual journey to meaning and purpose?

There are a Lot of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Estimates are that as many as 18.5% of U.S. children may be the children of alcoholics; we can expect that numbers would not deviate that radically in Canada.  This is a huge number of people; and very many of them are carrying burdens of very nearly overwhelming pain, related to traumatic and other extremely painful experience in the past.

Dr. Claudia Black, Ph. D., a renowned expert on addictions and adult children of alcoholics notes that these individuals grow up with three rules particularly deeply ingrained in their lives: don’t trust; don’t feel; and, don’t talk.  Each of these “rules” comes with a background history, often composed of incredible pain and sorrow.

Rule 1: Don’t Trust!

Alcoholic parents can often be so absorbed in concerns related to themselves and their drinking that they forget or are unconcerned with the needs of family members, to the point where they forget about key occasions like birthdays, or graduations, or they leave family members stranded.  Children who are subject to a steady diet of such experiences absorb the message that there is no one in whom they can have any faith.  In Jungian terms they encounter the devastating negative side of archetypal mother and father.

Rule 2: Don’t Feel!

adult children of alcoholics

“Post Secret” by KP

Alcoholic parents often inflict intense pain and shame on their children.  As a result, these kids instinctively learn to shut off and suppress their emotions, because otherwise they would be so overwhelmed that they would not be able to get through their daily lives.  This habit of emotional cut-off doesn’t end when the child grows up, and so adult children of alcoholics can often stay in a place where they don’t access their emotions.  It can be extremely difficult for them to know what they feel, and even for those who want to be close to them to connect with them.  Which leads us to…

Rule 3: Don’t Talk!

Kids of alcoholics become experts at denying the reality around them, both in terms of emotional reality, but often, also, in terms of just plain facts.  They can easily become experts at avoiding talking about difficult areas of life.  This can actually mean that they resist talking about anything painful, or urgent.  But it can also mean that they unconsciously resist talking about anything that is truly important or meaningful, which can mean that they face particular difficulty at times like major life transitions.

Pain from the Past; Moving Into the Present and the Future

Adult children of alcoholics often strongly over-react to situations in the present, moving into emotional denial or defensiveness — or completely disproportionate responses.  It’s important for these folks to know that such over-reaction to a present event is really the  re-experiencing of pain rooted in the past.  Depth psychotherapy speaks of it as being rooted in a feeling toned complex that began with traumatic experiences.  Such a complex can be extremely touchy; when activated, it can easily bring the pain of the past into the present.

For adult children of alcoholics, being able to separate the present from the powerful emotional triggers that would send them back into past pain is essential, if they are to keep moving forward in their lives, and their individuation.  The right kind of depth psychotherapy can be extremely helpful in assisting with this result.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Rob Bertholf ; K P 
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Coping with the Death of a Loved One

March 6th, 2017 · coping with the death of a loved one

Coping with the death of a loved one is most often one of the very hardest of the major life transitions we will face.

coping with the death of a loved one

Soul Grief – Photo by Julie Jordan Scott

Many other things will try us, but the loss of a loved one can fundamentally impact our sense of who we are, and our sense of belonging in the world.

The Uniqueness of Your Grief

The ways in which you might be coping with the death of a loved one are probably quite unique, and probably are distinctly different from the grief experience of someone else.  It depends crucially on your make-up, your life experience and the character of your relationship with the person you lose.  Losing someone you love could mean a spouse, a parent — or a child.  The impact on the individual plunged into grief will be enormous, but will be unique to you, and likely very unique to the particular character of the relationship you have had with the person whom you have lost.

The Physical Experience of Grief

As Dr. Therese Rando shows us, grief has a physical dimension, manifesting in deep ways in the body.

These include weeping and sighing, headaches, which can be severe, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, physical weakness, sensations of heaviness, aches, pains, and other stress-related ailments.

Emotional Experiences of Grief

Coping with the death of a loved one is a formidable emotional experience.  There are usually intense feelings of sadness and yearning. Less common, but still within normal expectation are feelings of worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, and, not infrequently, guilt.

Detachment and Isolation

When experiencing grief, a person can often feel detached from others, and can want to isolate her- or himself from social contact.  Other forms of behaviour that just seem to be abnormal for you may also appear.

Grief and Meaning

A few days ago, I attended a screening of the film Jackie, centered on the experience and memories of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  In my opinion, this is a film of extraordinary emotional power, which deals with the experience of grief in a gripping and profoundly human way.

WARNING: THIS VIDEO MAY CONTAIN DISTURBING ELEMENTS, ESPECIALLY FOR TRAUMA SURVIVORS

Jackie shows many deep truths about grief.  Above all, it shows how, like almost no other experience, grief opens up profound questions of meaning at the heart of our existence.  Wrestling with these questions can be a very central aspect of the experience of grief.

It’s an entirely normal and understandable that, in the face of the loss of a loved one, the individual questions: why he or she has sustained this loss; what possible purpose such pain and suffering could serve; and, in conjunction with this, questions about the purpose of life, and the meaning we are to assign to death.

As Jackie also eloquently shows, it also contains a very crucial question, one that matters to us perhaps more than any: What is the meaning of the beloved’s life?  We are confronted with this question both consciously and unconsciously, and it is often reflected in dreams experienced during the time of loss.

Grief and the Unconscious (Dreams)

Dreams do occur in grief; dreams of great power and vividness.  Some are related to the trauma of loss, while others seem much more connected to the psyche’s attempts to make meaning out of what has happened.

As Jung’s associate Marie-Louise von Franz noted in her book On Dreams and Death,

[Whenever humans are confronted with] something mysterious, unknown… [the] unconscious produces symbolic, mythical, that is, archetypal, models….   In principle, individuation dreams do not differ in their archetypal symbolism from death dreams.

So, it seems that ultimately, the human psyche symbolically portrays the death of the individual as another stage in the psychic growth of the individual.  The meaning that each of us assigns to this will probably depend on our individual beliefs about ultimate things and human destiny.

Creative, highly supportive depth psychotherapy can assist in the difficult process of coping with the death of a loved one, and of making that process part of individuation, which is our becoming who we most fundamentally are.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Julie Jordan Scott ;  ; 
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Dealing with Stress and Anxiety Caused by — Society!!!

February 27th, 2017 · dealing with stress and anxiety

Recently, many people are dealing with substantial stress and anxiety — that has roots in social, political and economic factors.

stress and anxiety

Since Fall 2016, such anxiety has increased dramatically, as psychotherapy practioners are aware.  From many different social, political and economic perspectives, people are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety stemming from uncertainty around what may happen in our society, or in the broader social or political world.

Feeling Out of Control

For many, the hardest part of this anxiety and  stress is that they feel powerless and out of control.  Canadians, for instance, feel that many of the most stressful events occur outside of our country, and we have no say in their outcome.

It’s important to avoid moping, basking in feelings of powerlessness and resentment. We need to take a creative approach to this situation, and ask: what is within my power to do to feel more in control?

First: Don’t Make It Worse!

Dealing with stress and anxiety is extremely demanding.  We often self-medicate to feel better — which can actually make things worse.

dealing with stress and anxiety

Caffeine is Probably Not Helping

Caffeine is something many of us rely on to get through our days.  However it’s important to realize the extent to which it can make anxiety worse.  Oddly enough, alcohol, which we may take to relax in the short run, can also end up making us more anxious in the longer run.  The same is very much true of cannabis, and also, actually, of tobacco.

Something else that people use to quickly improve their mood, often unconsciously, are sweeteners.  Now, anyone who has ever seen a pre-schooler on a sugar high is aware of the potentially mood-altering properties of sugar.  Yet, sugar initially lifts mood, but ultimately leaves us very anxious.  Surprisingly, artificial sweeteners can do the same thing!  We also also see a pretty similar effect with fatty or fried foods.

Psychotherapists know that one of the very WORST forms of self-medication is: endless news.

dealing with anxiety and stress

Apps Galore!

Often, we seek increased control through ever greater amounts of information, but often, can get lost in endless unresolvable details, feeling less and less capable and in control.  Consider consuming less news, and doing things that increase a sense of control!

Broader Sense of Purpose or Meaning

Connecting with a broader sense of purpose or meaning can be of great importance in dealing with anxiety and stress.  Logotherapist Dr. Vicktor Frankl stressed that those who have a religious, spiritual or philosophical conviction, can gain from getting closer to these sources of meaning.  Depth psychotherapy stresses that a broader sense of identity may also come through experiencing the previously undiscovered self.

The wise have always stressed that it’s important in anxious times to connect with a sense of broader meaning or sanity.

Make Something Happen: Turning Anxiety into Passion

Anxiety consumes a great deal of psychic energy.  Its turmoil can wreak havoc.  If we can find a way to focus our energy on something that is meaningful to us, we will probably feel more creative, more empowered, and less churned up and miserable.  What do you really care about?

Music, Art, Drama

Jungians stress that art, music, drama and/or writing can help us get to an appropriate sense of ourselves and help move anxiety.  This is true both in terms of making your own creations, and in opening yourself up to the creations of others.  Writing can be a real source of calm and centering.  So can making or listening to the right kinds of music.

Here’s Yo-Yo Ma and Allison Krauss, performing an old Shaker song:


Anxiety is inevitable; none of us fully escapes it.  In our times, social and political currents shift and change, often erratically.  The creative question is, what can we do with our anxiety about these trends?  How can we take our anxiety, and turn it into something energizing and life-giving?  How can we take care of ourselves so that our society-related anxiety doesn’t become bottomless and inescapable?

Creative, self-compassionate ways of dealing with stress and anxiety open up important parts of our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Fiona Hendersonalisdair ; Doug Belshaw
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Impact of the Family: Loving Them, Yet Finding Yourself

February 19th, 2017 · impact of the family

Family Day is celebrated in much of Canada in February: it’s a time to reflect on the impact of family.  Depth psychotherapy emphasizes the impact of family on our unique selves, for good or ill.

 impact of the family
For Jungians, as for many other psychotherapists, the archetypes of father, mother and family are extremely important, and have an enormous effect on our development as individuals.  As Jung himself puts it:
“The deposit of [human]kind’s whole ancestral experience — so rich in emotional imagery — of father, mother, child, husband and wife… has exalted this group of archetypes into the supreme regulating principles of religious and even of political life, in unconscious recognition of their tremendous psychic power.” [CW 8, para. 337]
We are tremendously impacted by the symbolism of the family, in our social life, our political, economic and religious life, and above all, in the life of the individual — throughout the human life span.

Infant and Mother

As Andrew Samuels asserts, Jung was among the very first to spell out the relationship of mother and child in ways that sound at all like modern developmental psychology.  Jung writes, as early as 1927,

The mother-child relationship is certainly the deepest and most poignant one we know… it is the absolute experience of our species, an organic truth ….  There is inherent… [an] extraordinary intensity of relationship which instinctively impels the child to cling to its mother.  [CW 8, para. 723]

This specifically non-Freudian language sounds similar to modern attachment theory, emphasizing the primary self-creating character of the mother-infant bond, and showing how problems with this bond can be an on-going source of anxiety and depression.

We need the experience of good mother to move us on the path of individuation, the journey to our fundamentally individual selves.  The relationship with the father also has a key part to play in this journey.

the impact of family

The Fundamental Question: Unique Individual vs. Impact of the Family

Prof. Samuels also helps us to see that depth psychotherapy, as Jung, and those who have developed his ideas have understood it, takes us to a central question:

Are we to see a small child as an extension of the psychology of its parents… or more as a being recognizable from the first as possessing his or her own personality and intrapsychic organization?

In other words, can we sort out the parts of our identity that are uniquely, truly ours from those places in the psyche where parental influences, distortions or parentally-related trauma have hidden our true identity and a genuine sense of the unique value of who we individually are?

Discernment of our true individual identity is always at the heart of depth psychotherapy.  As pioneer family systems therapist Prof. Murray Bowen reminds us, “We all have an infant inside of us, but the infant doesn’t have to run the show.”  The capacity to love our family members, while simultaneously distinguishing our own unique identity from them, is fundamental to the journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Ian Parkes : ShaLynn Wren
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Finding Passion for Life, at Midlife and Beyond

February 13th, 2017 · finding passion for life

Valentine’s Day is a culture-wide celebration of love and passion, yet, for many, finding passion for life is one of the greatest challenges.  

finding passion for life

Passion can be hard to take hold of...

This proves particularly, urgently true for those of us at midlife and beyond.  The great danger for many of us in the second half of life is to become blase, jaded or disgusted by life, just when life might be becoming more intriguing, more colourful, more real.

OK, …Now What?

At midlife, it can easily feel like we’re on cruise control.  Day can blend into day, with the sense that there is nothing to show but “another day’s useless energy spent”, as a 1960s pop song put it.

Many at this age — to the extent that they are not caught up with simply coping with economic necessity — can easily feel that life is lacking in colour.   That the great challenges and thrills of life belong to a vibrant youth, either long gone, or that never really was, at least not for them.

Many people respond to this awareness with a kind of quiet despair, that never really gets fully acknowledged.  Instead many people hover above their real lives, never admitting to themselves that they’re struggling with a sense of banality.  Although not popular with the critics, in the 2014 film Hector and the Search for Happiness, actor Simon Pegg gives a very commendable portrayal of someone caught up in this kind of denial and compartmentalization — the kind of subtle, unacknowledged despair that philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called “the sickness unto death”.

finding passion in life

The Status Quo is Not Enough

The research underlying neuroscience and evolutionary psychology points strongly toward a conclusion: as organisms, human beings are purposive.  Our nervous system is oriented towards human beings striving after a purpose, or, if you prefer, a passion.

Long before this neuroscience work was ever completed, C.G. Jung wrote of what he called the “teleological” nature of the psyche.  What he meant by this is that the psyche is striving to meet some end

So we are at our best, most fulfilled, most complete, when we are striving toward something.  In other words, when there is a passion that grips us, when we are yearning and striving for something, it is then that we feel most alive.  And it is in the second half of life when the questions like “What is it that I really yearn for?” or “What is it that is really my life’s passion?” become most important and urgent.

finding passion for life

The Art of Alchemy: Finding Passion for Life

How do we find what we’re passionate about?  That may well be one of the key things that individuals need to seek out in the course of depth psychotherapy.

In the second half of life, finding passion for life that is genuine and as deep as our own souls may well require that we look in places that we might not expect.  There are many parts of ourselves that we don’t know well or at all — what Jung referred to as the Undiscovered Self.  There are many things we can learn from these unknown places within us.  Depth psychotherapy shows that, often, it is precisely in these disregarded shadows that we end up finding passion for life.  This can happen in many ways, both great and small.

Example.  Fred hated classical symphonic music.  This feeling was deep and real.  His parents had refused to have any music other than “the finest music” in their home, and in his teen years, they forbade him to listen to rock punk and new wave.  After that, Fred was resolute: nothing even remotely like classical music would make it even within earshot.

Years passed.  Fred and his wife, now in their 50s, were invited by an important business client and his wife to attend the opera.  “The opera?” Fred thought in disbelief, “You’ve got to be kidding!  No way!”  Still this was a crucial client…  Fred gritted his teeth, and attended.

Fred was amazed.  In spite of himself, as he listened and watched Mozart’s Magic Flute, he was drawn to the colors, the pagentry, the rich sound, the incredible singers.  Soon he and his wife would attend another opera, and then another.  In the most surprising of places, Fred found a deep and abiding passion.

Depth psychotherapy is fundamentally concerned with connecting the individual with the real wellsprings of deep and abiding life.  In surprising ways, it may involve us in a personal journey of finding our passion for life.

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Winter and Depression: a Symbolic Connection

February 6th, 2017 · winter and depression

While there are many joys in winter, it’s easy for all of us to feel an intuitive linkage between winter and depression.

winter and depression

Hiroshige, Snow Falling on a Town, Mariko

There’s an importance to that symbolism that makes it well worth considering, from a depth psychotherapy perspective.
I live in Oakville, in Ontario, Canada.  We’ve had a remarkably mild winter this year, with very little snow in the month of January.  Yet, if the statistics are correct, we have had only twelve hours of sunlight during the month!  This has had a substantial impact on the mood of many.
It’s the absence of light, the cold, and the presence of much water in cloud and storm that gave winter its character in ancient mythology.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Although not “symbolic” per se, winter is the season of seasonal affective disorder, a mood condition in which depressive symptoms are induced by the low levels of bright sunlight during the winter season in northern climes. Seasonal affective disorder, (or SAD as it’s known) is quite widespread.  The Ontario CMHA estimates that between 2 and 3% of the population actually are debilitated to some degree by seasonal affective disorder, while up to another 15% suffer from a milder version, known as the “winter blues”.   If you experience depressive symptoms that seem to be associated with the winter season, you should consult a health or mental health professional.

 

winter and depression

Apollo’s Sun Chariot in Snow, Versailles

Apollo is Absent in the Three Months of Winter

According to Plutarch, the god Apollo was absent from his oracle at Delphi during the winter months; his place was taken by Dionysos.  Apollo, god of the sun, of music, and of bright, clear reason is, as it were, eclipsed in winter.  So it may seem in situational depression, when often individuals can find it hard to find their bearings, think clearly and to move forward on goals or projects.

 

winter and depression

Poseidon in Winter

Poseidon’s Season

In the ancient world winter was thought of as the season of Poseidon, the god of the Upper and Lower Waters, that is the waters of the oceans, and also those in the atmosphere.  In winter, the storm clouds are heavy with water, and the god of the depths can seem to also be in control of the sky.

Symbolically the watery depths often symbolize the depths of the unconscious.  As Jung tells us, in depression, our energy can be dammed up or brought down into the unconscious, trapped because of a life or coping problem that the individual cannot easily resolve.  As Prof. Andrew Samuels stresses that, somewhat counter-intuitively, Jung encouraged people to enter as deeply as possible into the feelings associated with the depression.  Why?  So that those feelings might be clarified — turned into a clearer idea or image, with which the person may relate, and work towards concrete resolution, change and movement in his or her life.

Beyond Winter and Depression

It’s easy for most of us to readily understand the symbolic joining together of winter and depression.  The season of sun may be overcome, and light and clarity disappear from consciousness for a time.  But in the depths, in the waters of the psyche, the unconscious is often active, as the individual seeks a resolution of fundamental issues in his or her life.

It’s the goal of depth psychotherapy to work with the winter of depression, its bleakness and barrenness, and to find in its midst the seeds of clear feeling and ultimately desire, and yearning for life.  The goal is the return of Apollo, with his sunlight and clarity — but, through working with depression, to have greater understanding of our own depths, and a greater capacity to move to the heart of our own true longings, and our own real life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Telegraph : David Santaolalla 
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What is my True Self? Our Inmost Voice in Major Life Transitions

January 29th, 2017 · what is my true self

What is my true Self?  The question may seem abstract, but it’s anything but, when you’re struggling in the midst of a major life transition.

what is my true self
It’s true that the individual in crisis or transition doesn’t look to the psychotherapist for some intellectual answer to this question.  A two page summary describing the major aspects of personal identity in answer to the question “What is my true Self?” would be hideously inappropriate.
Yet the individual has to feel that, however haltingly, he or she is headed in a direction that accords with her or his own true essence.  To feel good about a future direction, it’s essential to feel that there is something in the situation that corresponds in some way, to who I most fundamentally am.  In the midst of a chaotic career transition, for instance, it’s essential that the individual feel that his or her deepest wants, needs and values are going to somehow be maintained.

Does “Who I Really Am” Exist?

Some philosophers and psychologists question whether “who I really am” or “my true identity” is a reality, or just an illusion.

Now, while it’s true that modern neuroscience and psychology have shown that social interaction is absolutely essential to the emergence of the self, that’s very different from suggesting that the self is simply a socially constructed fiction.  Indeed, many of the most current and effective forms of therapy, such as Internal Family Systems Theory focus on the central importance and relevance of the self.

A Person’s “Daimon”

Long ago, the ancient Greeks called the voice of your deepest self your “daimon“.  One ancient Greek thinker, Empedocles (fifth century BCE) identified the daimon with the self.   Another, Heraclitus, (c. 500 BCE) writes that “man’s character is his daimon”.

Existential psychologist Rollo May tells us that daimon was translated into Latin as genius, and that, for the Romans, 

…the daimonic is the voice of the generative process in the individual. The daimonic is [that] unique pattern of sensibilities and powers which constitutes the individual as a self in relation to [the] world.

So your daimon is the heart of who you are, and the way that your own deepest being gets expressed in the world.

what is my true self

What is My True Self?  Hillman Summarizes

Archetypal psychologist James Hillman summarizes these myths:

The soul of each of us is given a unique daimon before we are born, and it has selected an image or pattern that we live on earth….  The daimon remembers what is in your image, and belongs to your pattern.

The myth leads also to practical moves…. [W]e must attend very carefully to childhood to catch early glimpses of the daimon in action, to grasp its intentions and not block its way…. [and we must]

(a) Recognize the call as a prime fact of human existence; [and]

(b) align life with it

…A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed.  It may also possess you completely.  Whatever; eventually it will out.  It makes its claim.

Whether we see this “daimon” mythologically, or in terms of genetic and epigenetic biology, we can see our lives as concerning the never ending, fundamental call to be who we really are.

The Call of the Self in Major Life Transitions and Crises

It’s important not to sugar coat the realities.  Major life transitions — for instance, divorce, job loss, retirement, the empty nest — can disorder our lives, or even create complete chaos.

In the midst of such struggles, the individual may well find orientation by coming into contact with some aspect of his or her most fundamental identity.  This might include connecting with something that was meaningful to that person as a child, or that is a deeply held life long passion.  The self, or as the Greeks might say, the person’s daimon, wants to point the way.

The process of depth psychotherapy is to bring connection with the individual’s deepest self, and to stay alert to the things that fundamentally express who the person is.  This can be profoundly transformative.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Dima Bushkov : Dave Gates 
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Work Related Depression: A Great Topic for Bell Lets Talk

January 23rd, 2017 · bell lets talk

Not all corporate initiatives have merit, but Bell Lets Talk does. It’s about eliminating the stigma around mental health and coping issues.

bell lets talk

It’s important for psychotherapists to support positive initiatives when we see them!  The Bell Let’s Talk site references 5 ways that we can all help.  These are some very valuable, very useful points.

Language Matters.  Bell Lets Talk emphasizes that the language used around mental health issues can either build people up, or unfairly knock them down.  We all know the negative and destructive terminology: let’s all make a point of not using it!

Educate Yourself.  There are facts about mental illness and coping issues, and then there are old wives tales that are fear based and stigmatizing.  Let’s Talk stresses educating ourselves so that we understand the truth about these issues.

Be Kind.  Simply treating people dealing with coping issues in a kind, respectful way can be a very healing thing.

Listen and Ask.  Mental illness of one kind or another is extremely common.  Listening and asking how you can help can make an immense difference to people struggling with real pain.

Talk About it.  The vast majority of people are touched in some way by mental health issues experienced by loved ones, relatives or friends.

bell lets talk

Why Work Related Depression is an Important Topic

Work related depression fits right in with the key themes of Bell Lets Talk.  This term refers to depression directly connected to people’s experience of their working lives.  Although it’s only one very specific type of situational depression, and situational depression is itself only one very specific type of depression, work-related depression is a very common phenomenon.

Can work itself cause depression?  There is some controversy among professionals, but there is solid evidence that it can.  In any case we know that there are a combination of internal and external factors that can lead to an individual being depressed in a way that’s attributable to work.

Work Related Depression: Internal Factors

Here are some of the factors more or less internal to the person that can lead to work-related depression.

  • A wrong-fit role;
  • Misalignment between company and personal values;
  • Working parent guilt;
  • Interpersonal discomfort, due to interfacing with difficult or incompatible people;
  • Office political pressures;
  • Work/life imbalance;
  • Introversion and extroversion issues, manifested in insufficient social contact, or way too many interruptions and no privacy;
  • Financial stress due to insufficient compensation or benefits; or,
  • Feeling trapped, either in reality, or due to unrealistic fears & inhibitions

Work-Related Depression: External Factors

On the other hand, a range of factors external to the person can contribute to work related depression:

  • Unreasonable demands from management.
  • Unclear guidance at work.
  • Sexism, sexual or sexual orientation harassment
  • Poor project practices, resulting in barriers to doing good work.
  • Bullying at work, by bosses, co-workers or clients.
  • Racial, ethnic or religious prejudice
  • Low morale or low engagement at work.
  • Inconsistent or poor payroll practices
  • Poor working conditions

A 2013 Danish study by a team led by psychologist Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup of Aarhus University found that, more than the workload in a workplace, it is the work environment and the feeling of devaluation and unfair treatment by management that has a defining effect on an employee’s mood.

In keeping with the theme of Bell Lets Talk, the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health  (of the American Psychiatric Foundation) has stated definitively that work-related depression is a huge burden on its own, often made greatly worse in the workplace as a result of the stigma attached to depression.

What is work related situational depression, viewed from a depth psychotherapy perspective?  It can be seen as a form of psychological pain that is trying to find a way to resolve itself into a greater sense of vocation, meaning and purpose for the suffering individual.  The work of depth psychotherapy is to uncover the meaning, vitality and yearnings that are hidden in the grey depths of the depression.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © reynermedia : Alper Çuğun
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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” No One Understands Me “: Our Yearning for Human Connection

January 16th, 2017 · no one understands me

“No one understands me !” is a very human cry.  Many, many people have such feelings at some point in their life journey.

no one understands me

You Know When Someone’s Really Listening

How can we deal with the feeling depth psychotherapists so often encounter in their clients, that ” no one understands me “?  How can we possibly hope to get past it?

Talking, Talking, Endlessly Talking… But Not Hearing

It’s often been said that talk is cheap.  Here’s a splendid example of just how cheap.

On a channel on Twitch, Google has set up two Google Home “smart speakers”, (robots equipped with artificial intelligence) named Vladimir and Estragon, after the characters in Samuel Becket’s play Waiting for Godot.  They have all the resources of the Google database behind them, and they just talk to each other –arguing endlessly.

 

no one understands me

“Vladimir” and “Estragon”

 

They just go on, interminably, talking about what it is they like, or whether they’re human or not, or even flirting with each other.  An endless array of topics, and an endless inexhaustible flurry of words.  It isn’t connection.  It isn’t understanding each another.  It’s just an endless, soulless exchange of words and phrases.  It has no human reality in it.

The sad thing is that there are many people who feel that, for their whole lives, they have been subject to just such banal, inhuman verbal barrages — often from key people in their lives.  To be an aware psychotherapist is to know that many people are all too well aware that being subject to such endless streams of language and apparent “dialogue” has nothing to do with being seen, valued — and met.

What It Is to be Met

What is it like to be met?  To be truly heard, understood and empathized with, by another person?  As Jungian analyst and psychiatrist Jean Knox reminds us, being truly, empathically listened to by another person can actually

“…provide a framework for…the ability to relate to and make sense of ourselves and each other in mental and emotional, not just behavioural terms….  The capacity to link experiences in a meaningful way is a crucial part of human psychological development….”

So being truly understood by another is often a truly essential part of making sense of our own deep life stories. And as U. North Carolina psychiatry prof Stephen W. Porges emphasizes, genuine connection and understanding promotes health, growth and restoration, both physically and mentally.

No One Understands Me vs. The Hope of Encounter

To find the hope of being understood, and the feeling of being valued, and therefore valuable, can be a very important experience in life.  In fact, it’s essential to making sense of our own lives, and feeling that they are coherent, and in our control.  It’s also essential in helping us feel connected to the significant people in our lives, to all our varied human communities, and to the world.

Depth psychotherapy can be of tremendous assistance in engendering this type of hope for our lives, and this sense of the reality and the possibility of connection.  It’s not uncommon for people to come into depth psychotherapy, and to feel that it is the first time that they have really been listened to. In other words, the first time they have met with an energetic, sincere effort to actively and deeply understand what they are communicating about their true thoughts and feelings.  There are many for whom such therapy has been the first real movement beyond the feeling that ” no one understands me “.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © kizzzbeth :  via Gizmodo, image via screengrab from TheMarySue.com
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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