Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Symbolism of Home #3: My Journey Home, Both Inner and Outer

September 18th, 2017 · my journey home

As we saw in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, “Home” has huge importance for our well-being; just as important is the symbol of “my journey home”.

my journey home

ANCIENT GREEK VESSEL – Did Ulysses sail home in a ship like this?

The Image of the Journey Home

The story of the hero who struggles with a mighty intensity to find his or her way back home represents a profound psychological dynamic, and has deep roots in human mythology.  Examples of such homeward bound heroes are as diverse as Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey, Dorothy in L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz and Riley in Disney’s movie Inside Out.  As film scholar Susan MacKay-Kallis tells us, the hero’s journey

…does not not involve simply the discovery of some boon or Holy Grail, it also involves finding him- or herself, which ultimately means finding a home in the universe.

This crucial connection between finding oneself and finding a home in the universe, is a perennial, archetypal theme in human storytelling.  For instance, the power of the Odyssey, the ancient story of Ulysses’ heroic strivings to find a way home is in our identification with his struggle: his story is the story of my journey home.

Headed for the Emerald City, but ultimately, for Home

As in the case of Ulysses in the odyssey, the struggle to get home — or even to remember that my goal is to get home — is difficult, challenging and, at times even desperate.  And so, the hero who arrives back on the doorstep of home is not the person who started on the journey.  To get home, she or he has had to change.  In the famous words of T.S. Eliot,

We shall not cease from exploration,

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

My Journey Home – Outer

My journey home may involve encounter with my physical home — my actual, outer bricks and mortar house.  Often, the energy that people put into their home is an expression of their desire for grounding and security in the world.  Work on gardens or renovations, repair or painting may very well help to satisfy the deep need for safe and secure attachment to place.  This may particularly be true for those in mid-life transition or the second half of life, when a person may find her- or himself reviewing the course of life up to the present time, and reflecting on how they got to where they are.

A person may feel similarly drawn to explore the meaning of home by returning to a family home where the individual grew up, or perhaps spent a particularly important part of his or her life.  This may evoke an earlier time of connection and security, or it may be that the individual is returning to some aspect of “unfinished business” from an earlier stage in life.

My Journey Home – Inner

The inner journey toward home connects with the outer journey, but has its own particular character.  It’s concerned with coming to understand and to be compassionate towards our own inner being.

The inner journey home often involves issues or difficulties in our present day lives, that beckon us to look at aspects of our life in the past.  We may encounter the symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, or find ourselves coming up against parts of our personality shaped by wounds sustained in earlier parts of our life.  Questions of identity and past wounding may get stirred up by a major life transition.

When we begin to understand, acknowledge and process how our past experience has shaped us, we come to a place of increasing acceptance and compassion for ourselves.  This is connected with what is often referred to as “feeling at home in our own skin”, — another way of imaging the journey home.

Support for My Journey Home

Depth psychotherapy involves discovering and coming to terms with who we fundamentally are.  There are many images in human art, literature and mythology of this process, and one of the most powerful is the image of the journey home.  This is profoundly connected with the journey toward wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Symbolism of Home #2: The Image of the House & Our Inner Being

September 11th, 2017 · image of the house

As we saw in Part 1 of this series, the image of the house, and the symbolism of home pervade our society, and have very deep roots in our own being. What does this mean for our wholeness and healing?

image of the house

In this post, we explore how that deep inner connection relates to our deep needs and anxieties, and to our journey to ourselves.

Image of the House in Dream and Imagination

Gaston Bachelard, a French thinker who has so influenced architects, social thinkers and psychologists, writes extensively on the image of the house:

On whatever theoretical horizon we examine it, the house image would appear to have become the topography of our intimate being.

Our intimate being, which is to say, our dreams and imagination.  So, what does that mean for those of us who live, say, in a place like suburban Oakville, where so much energy goes into the creation of the individual family home?

Bachelard looks carefully at how we experience houses and homes.  He tells us that a house “has both unity and complexity”, meaning that as a psychological reality a house has not only floors, ceilings and walls, but is also made out of memories and experiences.  He points out that each room stirs its own particular set of sensations, but still is part of a complete, unified experience of living in a home. Objects in the home are not dead, soulless things: for us, they’re full of our experience of them accumulated over time, and full of rich meaning.

For Bachelard, the house is not abstract, but is about how we inhabit our fundamental life space.  In the midst of all the ambiguities, chances and changes of life, the house is about “how we take root, day after day, in a ‘corner of the world’.”  These insights are profoundly important for depth psychotherapy.

image of the house

 Container for Soul

Bachelard uses the metaphor of a mollusk to shed light on the image of the house as a symbolic and lived reality.  The mollusk has a hard outer shell, which Bachelard would compare to the walls and solid exterior of the house.  Inside the shell is the soft, tender living creature, akin to “soul”, the important, lived inner reality of our lives where we are intimate with ourselves and others.  This image of the house as the container for our souls connects strongly with Jungian psychotherapy, which is deeply focused on the inner experience of each of us as unique human beings.

The house, in dreams or imagination, symbolizes the richness of inner human life.  The houses we live in are full of all the reality of colourful, intimate family and individual life.  To be in our house in imagination or in dream often symbolizes inner space where we connect with the deepest, most personal and most precious parts of our subjective lives.  Symbolically, to be in a good solid house is to connect with those realities in a living way, while keeping safe from psychological threat.

Perhaps that’s why the image of the house is so important in our time.  As Leonard Cohen tells us, in this time the “blizzard of the world” pushes into us so much through our work demands, mass and social media, and the forces of mass marketing and advertising.  “Holding on to ourselves” becomes a matter of vital importance. 

Working to Build the House of the Self

The image of the house symbolizes the individual self.  Our failure to give our unique individual self its due leads to a deep insecurity and sense of anxiety that many experience in our time.  For a sense of security, meaning and vocation, we need a “house” firmly founded on a deep awareness of who we actually, subjectively are.

The work of depth psychotherapy focuses on the deep inner life of the individual person, striving to forge a lasting and resilient sense of identity grounded in the Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Symbolism of Home: The Journey to Our Inner House, #1

August 28th, 2017 · symbolism of home

I’ve looked at the symbolism of home before in this blog, but it’s important enough to explore it in more depth.  Home evokes powerful feelings of belonging, safety, and contentment.

symbolism of home

These feelings are absolutely essential to our lives.  For depth psychotherapy, they represent needs that we have to meet to feel like our lives are worthwhile and meaningful.  If we don’t feel that, we rapidly get into difficulties.
Issues of belonging, safety and contentment have particular importance at this time of year.  As August ends, the vast majority of people in our culture move back into post-summer, “busy season” mode.  The questions of belonging, feeling physically and psychologically safe, and feeling that we’re getting enough positive experience out of our lives to meet our fundamental needs become very central at this time of year.  And so, connection to whatever we define as “home” becomes extremely important.

Frantic Energies

In our society, so much energy goes into finding a home and making it secure, in many ways.  When we think about the industries involved, and the amount of economic effort, it’s simply staggering: real estate; construction; home renovation; home cleaning; home organizing; home decorating, gardening and garden supply and many others.

In a suburban place, like Oakville where I live, you can palpably feel the investment people have in their homes.  This is certainly financial, but there is also a very real and powerful emotional connection. If you visit Home Depot, Home Hardware, or Lowe’s on any summer weekend, you will feel the intensity of this connection, almost physically.

From the perspective of depth psychotherapy, what is all this incredible energy?  What are we looking for?  What is this sense of “home” that we all seem to need for our psychological well-being?

For Humans, Everything Starts with the Symbolism of Home…

For humans, life psychologically begins in the maternal womb, the model for all later homes.  Many species of animals instinctively create womb-like burrows.  Similarly. the first homes that human beings created for themselves tended to be very small, safe and secure — often physically resembling wombs.

Once having left the womb, humans cannot return to it.  Still, the return to home, to our true home, is often symbolized in religion and mythology.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, humans are expelled from the original perfect home of paradise at the beginning, but in the end of time come to “our true home” or perfect home, so it is believed.  In Homer’s Odyssey, the whole dramatic action centers on the titanic struggle of Ulysses to return home.

And in our time, we really want womb-like security in our physical homes.  There is so much energy in our society, so much anxiety that surrounds the symbolism of home.

Why?  Those same three words: belonging, safety, and contentment.  In our time, despite living in an affluent culture, many feel a fundamental insecurity.  This has much to do with feeling secure about the self — who we fundamentally are.

Why Do People Crave Home So Much?

Certainly, a sense of security has much to do with the sense of feeling importantly connected and valued by significant others.  As research by Dr. Katherine Carnelly and colleagues at University of Southampton, and much research world-wide shows, positive connection with others, positive attachment, enhances the sense of security and the felt perception of well-being.  We need healthy, strong attachment to others for many dimensions of our well-being, and it is often good depth psychotherapy seeks to enhance a positive sense of attachment.  Yet there is another dimension, even beyond that.

Symbolism of Home: Grounding in the Secure Reality of the Self

Perhaps our preoccupation with real estate is actually an expression of concern for the self.  Jungians stress that the house or home is often a symbol of the entire self or the personality of the dreaming individual.  If we take that possibility seriously, then, on an unconscious level, our massive preoccupation with homes and real estate might be a reflection of a great concern about our individual selves, and feeling secure in our own being.  Might such a concern relate to questions of our meaning, purpose, destiny and vocation?  Is our “inner house” on a secure foundation?

In the remaining parts of this series, I hope to examine these questions in detail.

The work of depth psychotherapy is fundamentally with the well-being of the Self, the entirety of the individual personality and the individual’s journey toward wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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How to Let Go of the Past and Still Love Your Life Journey

August 21st, 2017 · how to let go of the past

Many of us struggle at some point with the question of how to let go of the past, and move on with our lives.

 how to let go of the pastOften (but certainly not always!) involves major life transitions, and is intimately bound up with the question “How can I value and affirm my life as it is in the present?”  Such questions often come as we’re dealing with major losses or disappointments.
Life can often lead to circumstances that we did not plan on, and do not welcome.  How can we come to accept them?

The Life I Wanted

Often we envisage the future, imagining ourselves and our lives in a certain way.  Sometimes life events can flood in, and partially, or even completely, take this possibility away.  Or, sometimes, we already seem to have what we want from life, and then events rip that life right out of our hands.  Loss of a lover, loss of a career, disability, or decline in health exemplify the kind of events that can emotionally wrench us away from the past, and make us feel that, as L.P. Hartley put it, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

Am I Willing to Learn How to Let Go of the Past?

In such situations, the advice of friends and loved will be, “let it go; just move on with your life.”  Most often, we already intellectually know this, understanding this to be the right course.  The painful and difficult question is: how?

Can I actually decide to let the past go?  Am I capable of it?  It’s essential to have as much self-understanding as possible about this.

If I’m finding it difficult, or even seemingly impossible to let go of the past, I need to understand why.  Is it simply too painful to let go of what was once cherished?  What makes it hurt so much?  Could it be that my identity, my understanding of who I am, is fundamentally bound up with the past?

Finding Ways to Express the Pain

Our instinct may be to run from pain.  But it may be more healing, and actually less painful longer term, to find a way to express that pain, and communicate it to ourselves and others.  Writing or journalling may be valuable for some.  For others, getting beyond words, and creating visual art, or collages, or music may help most.  For some, creating a ritual to commemorate and express the pain or loss may be the most beneficial thing.

Focus on the Present: Can I Accept What Is?

What might take the greatest courage would be to look for signs of life in the present.  Is there anything in the present that gives me joy or hope, even if just slightly?  That reveals life opening up to me, even just a little bit?  If so, can I try and understand that, and be open to what seeks to emerge?  At this point, depth psychotherapy for depression or anxiety may help very concretely.

how to let go of the past

The Image of the Broken Pine

In his book Yardwork, Hamilton, Ontario author Daniel Coleman writes movingly of a pine tree in his backyard.  Damaged in a powerful storm, the entire top portion of the tree has long been destroyed.  As a result, the tree grows in an unusual manner, with its remaining upper branches growing disproportionately large and curling up toward the light in the space left by the destroyed upper branches.  The tree doesn’t look the way we expect a pine tree to look.  It doesn’t meet our expectations; to us, it looks irredeemably broken.  Yet, Coleman gradually recognizes and acknowledges two truths about his tree: 1) it is alive, and, actually, full of health and vitality; and, 2) it is growing.

The image of the tree powerfully symbolizes the complete human personality.  Appearing in dreams, it often represents the fullness of what we are.  The image of a tree once damaged and broken, but vital, healthy and growing symbolizes a human personality that has been wounded, perhaps by a major life transition or midlife or later life transition.  This might be a life or personality not in accord with our pre-conceived ideas of what life “ought to be”.  But, nature often doesn’t do what humans would expect, or consider optimal.  Yet, it often contains life, vitality and the fullness of being.

This challenge to accept ourselves in letting go of the past embodies the radical self-acceptance that depth psychotherapy sees as fundamental to healing, and to the individual’s journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Solitude vs Loneliness in the Second Half of Life

August 14th, 2017 · solitude vs loneliness

The question of “solitude vs loneliness” is vital to us in the second half of life, although it’s really with us for our whole lives.

solitude vs loneliness

None of us wants to be terribly lonely.  Yet, sometimes being on our own in solitude can be some of the most important times in our lives.  What actually makes the difference between loneliness and solitude?  And how, especially, do these things affect us during mid-life transition and later?

Loneliness vs Solitude in Later Years

Recently, CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition aired a program on “Grey Divorce”, interviewing a number of women who had divorced after the age of 50.  The program noted that, unlike other segments of the population, the divorce rate is increasing for over-50s.

The interviewed women provided extremely valuable insight.  It is shocking to realize how utterly lonely some of the women were in their marriages — of 30, 40 or more years in duration.  It was striking that, even after the painful end of their marriages, many of the women felt more fulfilled, more free and more alive than they ever had in their marriages.

What do these experiences show us about loneliness vs solitude, and about meaningful life and fulfillment?

loneliness vs solitude

Loneliness and the Second Half of Life

What is it to be lonely?  What is it to be in solitude?  Freud, ever the extrovert’s extrovert, was sure that solitude was linked to pain and anxiety.  Much of our society would agree, as many seem to do everything in their power to avoid quiet and being alone.  Yet contemporary research seems to indicate that, while loneliness can damage our thinking capacity and even our physical health, solitude of the right kind can actually strengthen individuals.  As Jack Fong, a sociology researcher and solitude advocate at CalState Polytechnic puts it, “When people take these moments to explore their solitude, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little about how to out-maneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting.”

This view accords with a long tradition in depth psychotherapy and Jungian analysis of exploring solitude as a means of engaging the self.

We Need to Get Beyond Loneliness, to be Ourselves

In the second half of life, individuals’ needs vary greatly.  For many, it may very well be that more and better social interaction with others is exactly their greatest need.  Neuroscience shows clearly that nature has designed human beings to be profoundly social.  We know very well that good social interaction is essential to the full and proper development of the human individual, in the developing years, but also as we move through our life journey.

For many in the second half of life, finding good, quality social interaction will be a very key part of the “individuation process” — the term depth psychotherapy uses for the whole process of our becoming who we’re fundamentally meant to be.  In order to access the parts of the personality that are seeking to blossom and come into their own, it’s necessary to experience in-depth interaction with others.  All the thoughts and feelings and ups and downs of social relating expand our capacity for eros, for related connection, with others.

Yet, We Need Solitude, As Well

Yet simultaneously, we also actually need solitude!  Just as we need to exercise and expand our capacity for connection with others, we need to expand the capacity for connection with ourselves.  We shun loneliness, but midlife transition may call us to a connection in new ways to our own inner being, and to listening to the voices of parts of ourselves we may never have witnessed before.  Thus do we become grounded in the sense of meaning connected to our own individual lives.

As Mark Blinch, echoing Jack Fong, tells us, “The difference between solitude as rejuvenation and solitude as suffering is the quality of self-reflection that one can generate while in it.”  Or, as C.G. Jung himself said, “Solitude is a fount of healing that makes my life worth living….  The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”

For depth psychotherapy, the capacity for self-reflection and solitude, and the capacity for beneficial social connection are both essential aspects of the journey towards wholeness, and the uncovering of individual identity.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Extrovert vs Introvert: How Does Each Experience Depression?

July 31st, 2017 · extrovert vs introvert

Extrovert vs introvert: of any of C.G. Jung’s concepts, these two are probably used the most, with the greatest impact.

Most of us have some understanding of extroversion and introversion.  They are actually very complex concepts, but we can say that extroverts are people primarily energized by their interaction with other people, while introverts are those who are primarily energized by their time spent alone.
These are valid concepts, but they lead to a lot of unwarranted misconceptions and stereotypes.  One area where this becomes brilliantly clear is in the discussion of extroversion, introversion and depression.

Isn’t Introversion the Same Thing as Depression?

No, it certainly isn’t!  Yet the stereotype of introversion might lead us to think so.  It’s commonly thought that introversion is the same thing as shyness.  As Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: the Power of Introverts helpfully points out,

Bill Gates is quiet and bookish, but apparently unfazed by others’ opinions of him: he’s an introvert, but not shy.

Barbra Streisand has an outgoing, larger than life personality, but a paralyzing case of stage fright: she’s a shy extrovert [italics mine].

Shyness, being fearful in a social situation, gets confused with introversion, which is about being motivated to spend time alone, and perhaps motivated to seek out different types of social interaction than extroverts.  Introversion is about what matters to the person, in terms of relationship to themselves and to others.  Depth psychotherapists know that it is not at all the same thing as shyness, and it certainly is not the same thing as depression!

Well, Aren’t Introverts more Likely to Get Depressed Than Extroverts?

Not really.  Introverts actually like being alone.  This can lead to their being seen as having more depressed or negatively inclined personalities.  Yet, actually, this perception stems from an extroverted culture’s assumption that introverts feel sad, depressed or enervated if they didn’t get to spend enough time with people.  That’s valid for extroverts, but it’s not appropriate for us to project those same feelings on introverts.

However, introverts often do spend more time thinking and analyzing than extroverts.  If they get stuck in thinking and analyzing in such a way that they perpetually ruminate on the dark side, this is a pattern that can feed depression, as research by Yale’s Susan Nolen-Hoeksema shows.  But then, as we will see, there are particular characteristics of those who present as extroverts that can lead to unique pathways to depression as well.

Can Depression Ever Make Someone More Introverted?

Sometimes, people who have a hard time looking at the more reflective, introverted parts of their lives can find themselves compelled to do so when they lapse into depression.

For instance, Jungian Analyst Dr. Warren Steinberg observed that, in his practice, a great many people who experienced depressive disorders were actually living extremely extroverted lifestyles.  For a significant number of these individuals, Steinberg concluded, extreme extroversion developed as a defense in childhood environments where, in his words “Behaviour other than submission to the parents’ construction of reality led to the threat of the loss of love.”

Such individuals become hyper-attuned to responding to the needs of others, and to keeping the peace.  They learn to avoid introversion, or looking within, both for fear that what they may discover in the unconscious may bring depression, and also for fear that even paying attention to their inner lives may frighteningly threaten the love and acceptance that they receive from parents and others.

Individuals suffering from this type of depression actually need to learn to be more introverted.  They may well need to come to terms with the fear of loss and sense of emptiness they associate with attunement to their inner selves.

extroversion-introversion

Extrovert vs. introvert: each has its own unique experience of depression.  In each case, the path out of depression may well involve a greater experience of the opposite.  For introverts, that may entail greater experience and connection with the outer world, while for extroverts, a greater connection with the introverted inner world may be what is needed.

In depth psychotherapy, greater personal exploration of introversion and extroversion is often a key part of the individuation process of the human individual.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Connection: The Psychological Importance of Social Interaction

July 3rd, 2017 · importance of social interaction

The psychological importance of social interaction is hard to over-estimate.  It’s fundamental to the creation of the individual self.

importance of social interaction

Girls with Heads Together Hugging — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

We live in an age that greatly prizes independence and individualism, the cult of the self-centered and fundamentally disconnected and isolated individual.  It would be a serious mistake if we took these ideas to be the essence of what Jung meant when he used the term individuation.  Jung and subsequent Jungians like Dr. Michael Fordham had a much more nuanced and complete picture than that!

Happy Interdependence Day

Americans will shortly celebrate Independence Day, as Canadians have just celebrated Canada Day.  Such holidays in western democracies are often associated with celebrating individual freedom and unfettered independence. That’s valid, but in our time, it’s equally important to celebrate the web of interdependence existing between human beings, and to acknowledge that interdependence has a fundamental role in creating human individuals.

The importance of social interaction is emphasized by findings in contemporary neuroscience.  To choose one example among many, the 2002 research of Prof. Tzourio-Mazoyer of Université Bordeaux has underlined the vital role of early smiling exchanges and proto-conversation with the mother in bringing online the area in the left hemisphere of the brain that will ultimately become the seat of language.

Neuroscience insights are supported from another scientific angle.  Healthwise, isolation from other people is a recipe for illness.  Prof. Beverly Brummett of Duke University in 2001 established a linkage between social isolation and poor survival in patients with coronary artery disease.  More recent studies have established linkages between low quality or quantity of social ties and depression and anxiety, development of cardiovascular disease, repeat heart attacks, autoimmune disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

Individuation is NOT Splendid Isolation

Jungians are famous for stressing the individual as distinguished from the undifferentiated mass.  This is valid, but such “individuation” doesn’t happen out of the blue, nor does it occur with individuals who are social isolates.

Famous English post-Jungian Dr. Michael Fordham postulated the existence of a “primary self”, which exists at birth, but which only develops through the process by which the infant engages and interacts socially with the outside world, most particularly the mother.  Jungian James Astor tells us that only an adequate fit between mother and child enables social development to take place.  This “fit” is an essential beginning to the whole further social aspect of the individuation process in the individual.

importance of social interaction

Eros as a Fundamental Creative Energy

Jung often spoke of what he called eros, the principle of psychic relatedness. To “individuate”, to move towards wholeness as a person, Jung tells us, it’s essential that we live out our eros, that we be deeply connected with other human beings.  Like the best modern writers and psychotherapists, Jung was fully aware that our movement towards psychological wholeness cannot take place if we are isolated, cut off, or atomized.  In the words of the prominent Jungian Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig, eros is the attribute that makes humans loving, creative and involved.

This attribute of eros is central to the psychological importance of social interaction.  To be connected, to be involved in a deeply heartfelt way with others, is basic to who and what we are as humans.  It’s crucial to becoming who we most fundamentally are, on our journey towards wholeness.

The seed of our eros is planted in our earliest connections with others.  For the vast majority of human beings this relates to the primary connections with the family of origin.  Often, strengthening the gifts and healing the wounds of early family connections is a key part of the work of depth psychotherapy.

Contemporary depth psychotherapy fully acknowledges the psychological importance of social interaction for creating and sustaining the individuation process of the human individual.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Religious Trauma Syndrome: from Abusive Faith to Trust in The Self

June 26th, 2017 · religious trauma syndrome

Religious trauma syndrome has drawn much attention in recent years: many among us have had traumatic experiences with various types of religion.

religious trauma syndrome

The 2007 documentary “Jesus Camp” is a famous chronicle of potentially traumatic religious experience

Depth psychotherapists know that our religious faith can be one of the greatest sources of support for our lives, if it is life affirming and self affirming.  Conversely, however, religious imagery that is authoritarian, pessimistic and filled with fear can be actually corrosive of the self, especially if we’re exposed to it at an early and vulnerable age.  In fact, in some situations, such religious formation can prove downright traumatic.

Religious Indoctrination Can Be Hugely Damaging

Organized religion can be particularly negative in its psychic impact, if the religion emphasizes authority, and if the sanctioned interpreters of the religion — preachers and teachers — use techniques of indoctrination or interpretations of texts to enforce their own perhaps narrowly defined ideas of morality, belief and proper way of life.  There are now many people in our society who are recovering from forms of fundamentalist, cultic and authoritarian religion, and who are moving beyond various forms of what might be regarded as religious trauma syndrome.

Religion with a Foundation of Fear

Religion that is fundamentally based on fear can be particularly crippling, and leaving such a religious group and its ideas behind can definitely result in an experience of trauma.  As Dr. Marlene Winell tells us, “It involves a complete upheaval of a person’s construction of reality, including the self, other people, life, the future, everything.”  The individual may require a very significant degree of support to recover, and to transition into a pattern of life that truly sustains the individual.

The Key Characteristics of  Religious Trauma Syndrome

Individuals leaving behind trauma-inducing experiences of religion may well face confusion, difficulty with decision-making, or clear analytical thinking, and may also have issues with gaining a clear sense of personal identity.  Often there will be affective issues related to anxiety, depression, anger and grief, along with sleep and eating disorders, somatization and possibly nightmares.  Among the most potent impacts are social: disruption of family and social networks, interpersonal difficulties and difficulties relating to the wider society.

People who are particularly vulnerable are those:

  • born and raised in the religion;
  • those leading segregated or sheltered lives;
  • those who took their involvement with great sincerity and commitment;
  • those from religious groups with particular characteristics of high control.

Beyond Religious Trauma Syndrome: Healing Confusion, Fear, Guilt, Anger, Grief

To move to a more secure and affirming place, individuals subject to religious trauma syndrome need to be encouraged and supported to develop a capacity to think and feel in their own independent way.  This entails compassion and love for the unique self and its thoughts, feelings and freedom, finding inner capacities and resources to live life in one’s own way, and living in the immediate present.  It also certainly requires moving beyond inner voices of judgment on self and others, and voices rooted in religious indoctrination, to finding the true inner voice of the self.  

religious trauma syndrome

…Beyond Blind Faith…

This does not mean that there need be a wholesale rejection of religion, but it does mean living out a way of being, religious or non-religious, that accords with the fundamental authentic and spontaneous core of who we are.  It may mean, essentially, creating our own, unique religious stance.  As the poet Walt Whitman exhorted many years ago,

Re-examine all you have been told. Dismiss what insults your soul.

Helping the individual to affirm the goodness and worthwhileness of his or her own individual life, and discovering his or her own central symbols is a key part of the work of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Jungian Depth Psychotherapy and The Definition of Self Control

June 5th, 2017 · definition of self control

The proper definition of self control is very important for people who need to deal with key issues in their lives.

definition of self control

Many feel that the issues that bring them into psychotherapy have a lot to do with self control, in a variety of different ways.
They feel that, if they could only control their reactions to various situations, or keep themselves from certain types of behaviour, that they could find a great deal of relief, meaning and forward direction in their lives.

Willpower

Depth psychotherapists know that individuals in distress often speak of cultivating their willpower.  The story they tell themselves will often go something like: “If I had more willpower then my life would work for me.  Then I wouldn’t get distracted / give in to this addiction / get caught up in depression … –or, fill in any particular issue or source of suffering or shame here.  You get the idea.

This idea has a long history.  Plato, 2500 years ago, felt that reason must rein in appetites and impulses.  The Roman Seneca the Younger held that “No evil propensity of the human heart is so powerful that it may not be subdued by discipline.”  Nearer to our time, Dale Carnegie stated, “Everybody in the world is seeking happiness—and there is one sure way to find it. That is by controlling your thoughts.”  This has been a very powerful idea.

definition of self control

…Control Your Thoughts!

But here’s the thing: is this sort of self control or willpower even possible?  The poet William Blake tells us, rather shockingly, “Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.”  Blake’s assessment actually seems to line up with many findings in contemporary neuroscience research.

York University’s Prof. Stuart Shanker reminds us that an fMRI of a brain experiencing strong emotional upset or intense fear or anxiety shows that the limbic system, or the “emotional brain” is very lit up, with neurons firing intensely and continuously.  Yet, the prefrontal cortex, where the rational, reflective self is located, is dim, reflecting that it’s pretty much offline.

Self-Regulation

Let’s suppose that this brain belongs to someone having road rage.  Suppose this person has been dealing with a great deal of stress and anxiety, related perhaps to work or family, and now, a truck has just done a lane change right in front of them without signaling, and our person is in a state of seething rage.  Plato, Seneca and Dale would all urge our driver to access the reasoning mind and so control any aggressive impulses.  But, as we’ve seen, an fMRI of the prefrontal cortex shows that the reasoning mind is pretty much shut down when our driver’s brain is in the state that it’s in.  So how can it reign in the emotional brain?

The answer is: it can’t.  No amount of “willpower” or “reason” will help, when the brain is stuck in this highly triggered “survival brain” state.  The same would be true of a multitude of other situations where triggers, (what a Jungian like Margaret Wilkinson calls traumatic complexes) have been activated, and are keeping brain functioning stuck in the limbic “survival brain”, rather than allowing the whole person to respond to the situation in a reasonable or emotionally regulated way.

So, the definition of self control must switch.  To be able to stay in a place where we can respond to situations in our lives appropriately, what we need is not willpower, but a developed capacity for self-regulation.

Integration of Unconscious Contents

Depth psychotherapy locates many of the sources of situations that might seem to result from so-called “lack of self control” in triggers that are rooted in the unconscious mind.  These move the individual into emotionally charged “survival brain” states, which Jungians and other depth psychotherapists have long referred to as situations where traumatic complexes get activated.

On this view of the human psyche, the definition of self control changes from the old idea of “building up will power” to an approach based on self regulation. Through the process of bringing to consciousness unconscious complexes, (often rooted in trauma), and allowing the individual to re-experience these life events in a supportive environment, the power of these events to throw the individual into out-of-control “survival brain” states is gradually reduced.

Taking the affective power out of traumatic complexes, and restoring that energy to the individual is a key part of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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