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Edward Albee and Integrity in the Second Half of Life

September 18th, 2016 · integrity in the second half of life

Edward Albee, the great American playwright, whose plays lay open issues of integrity in the second half of life, died last week.

integrity in the second half of life

Albee’s plays were never easy viewing — Zoo Story, A Delicate Balance, Sylvia,  and the visceral, devastating Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, one of the most powerful tsunamis of raw emotion in American theatre. Yet, in each of them there is an unrelenting return to one powerful question that very often hovers in the middle of the lives of individuals from midlife on.  As Albee himself expressed it:

The purpose of serious theater has always been to hold a mirror up to people and say, ‘Hey, this is you. If you don’t like what you see, why don’t you change?

It is in this sense that Albee’s plays take on the question of integrity in the second half of life.  We’re used to thinking of “integrity” as pertaining to stolid, stoic, morally upright individuals, who adhere, unflinchingly, to rigid moral codes.  But following Jungian analyst and psychiatrist John Beebe, I’m using the word in another sense here: the sense of taking responsibility for what one does, and, more fundamentally, for all that one is.  Albee’s plays provide a devastating portrait of individuals trapped into masks and postures that do not allow them to be what they truly are, and he keeps calling his characters — and we, his audience — back to their own fundamental being.  In so doing, he accords with one of the key themes of depth psychotherapy.

integrity in the second half of life

Taylor, Burton and “Games” in “Virginia Woolf”

Again, as Albee himself put it:

Each play of mine has a distinctive story to tell….  What unites them all is that I’m trying to make people more aware of whether they’re living their lives fully or not.

Edward Albee in Santa Fe New Mexican, 2001

Whether they — we — are living our lives fully or not.  It is this question, garbed in the power of his images and his language, that constitute Albee’s potent legacy, and that will live with all of us for a long time.

The question of integrity in this form, of authenticity in this form, is one of the central issues at the heart of depth psychotherapy.  It is of fundamental importance as we move through the second half of life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Afternoon Trickster: Facing Ambiguity in the Second Half of Life

September 12th, 2016 · facing ambiguity in the second half of life

Facing ambiguity in the second half of life is one of the major challenges for people moving through the midlife transition and into later life.

ambiguity in the second half of life

Juneau City Hall: Raven, the Tlingit trickster, with first humans

An honest journey into the second half of life shows us many situations and circumstance that are ambiguous and paradoxical.  These can create great psychological discomfort.
Sometimes individuals will do almost anything to avoid the tension these realities create.  We all know older people who have succumbed to some of the well-known “exits” from ambiguity:
  • Hypochondria – often the displacement of the anxiety created by living into continual fantasies of physical illness;
  • Being a Curmudgeon – running away from the challenge and risk of confronting the other, through holding everyone at a distance through a thick crust;
  • Past Worship – You know them: people who are convinced that the life of some past time was real and valid, and that existence in the present time is some kind of sham or sick joke; and, last but not least,
  • Eternal Adolescence – people who are perpetually trying to demonstrate to themselves and to the world that they’re still young and strong; still “think young” (i.e., are up with the latest fads), and that they’re never going to age.

ambiguity in the second half of life

Paradox: Only Giving Up Illusions About Ourselves Brings True Self-Esteem

The giving up of false hopes and dreams and illusory views of ourselves can be a particularly hard part of the work.  In the great transition of midlife and the second half of life, there are often many major life transitions, requiring us to change our view of ourselves, and perhaps give up a cherished aspiration from an earlier point in life.

However, letting go of illusions and dreams that perhaps we can never attain can often open the door for our energies to flow into compassionate self-acceptance, and not infrequently, the emergence of new passions and new meaning.

Example.  A person might face the following awareness: “I’m never going to be a big noise.  Not as a business person, not as a writer as I once thought.  I went to good universities but I really didn’t capitalize on my opportunities.”  It’s quite probable that this person must grieve the loss of this promised future, before he can begin to focus on the present, and on valuing what now, at this time, is vital to do with her or his time, like making time for new connections with people, or giving time to causes that are genuinely meaningful.

Paradox: Good and Evil, Pain and Joy are All Part of the Fabric of Later Life

Contrary to the message of many ads for retirement living options, the future as we age is not going to be all unmitigated experiences of golf, card games and happy hour.  In fact, shame on those marketers who are trying to suggest such things to people at times of emotional vulnerability such as giving up their independent home or losing their spouse.

Growing older mixes joy and pain, and experiences of great good and great evil.  The wisdom of aging, if it is to be obtained, comes from experiencing both sides of those realities, and accepting that this is the nature of life.  Yet there is a wisdom in encountering life exactly where it is, here and now, and extracting everything possible from this unique moment.

Paradox: Only Living Into Aging’s Benefits Can Counter Its Great Challenges

What is the wisdom that I gain through my aging?  Fundamentally, it is wisdom gained from facing ambiguity in the second half of life.  It must be a wisdom that can withstand a great deal of grief and loss, and revisions of my view of the world.  It’s very true that “Aging is not for wimps!”

There is genuine suffering involved in the process of accepting who one fundamentally is, and accepting that one is limited in time and space, and must accept the end, at least of this form of life.  It is only the letting go that is implied in this acceptance though, that allows us to approach ourselves with compassion, and to be truly alive and truly here in this moment.  And to act in this moment, in ways that are in true authentic service of the deep needs of the Self.

 

Into the Centre of the Labyrinth

facing ambiguity in the second half of life

Eros at the Center of the Labyrinth

Individual depth psychotherapy can often lead to a deeper experience of life’s paradoxes and ambiguities.  It is only by holding this tension, by facing ambiguity in the second half of life, that a meaningful picture or understanding of the individual’s life begins to emerge, that is truly relevant and sustainable for the second half of life’s journey.

As Jung tells us,

“The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own, and cannot merely be a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.”

Only by examining and affirming all that we are, and affirming the rich complexity and even the contradictions of our lives, can we find the means to move into later life with affirmation, joy and above all, meaning.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Is Isolation Our Fate? Alienation in the 21st Century

August 29th, 2016 · alienation in the 21st century

In our time, many feel loneliness and feel “on the outside”; experts talk roundly about “alienation in the 21st century”.  

 alienation in the 21st centuryYet, for the many who feel this, it’s no abstract topic. Psychotherapists know that this vital matter can cut right to the heart of the quality and value of our lives.
What can individuals who experience this sense of alienation and loneliness do?

Admitting Our Alienation: Breaking the Taboo

Loneliness and alienation can be very hard to talk about!  In fact, there’s a cultural taboo against it.

In their book, The Lonely American, authors and psychoanalytic psychiatrists Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz describe meeting stiff resistance from their patients when asking about loneliness. They concluded that large numbers of people who believed they were depressed were actually lonely — not at all the same thing. Yet people weren’t willing to describe how they felt in those terms. Why?  As Olds and Schwartz tell us, “Talking about loneliness in America is deeply stigmatized; we see ourselves as a self-reliant people who do not whine about neediness.”  Given the power of the myth of rugged individualism here in Canada, I doubt that we differ much from our American neighbours on this indicator of alienation in the 21st century.

All Connectivity, No Soul

“All hat, no cattle” –growing up in Western Canada, that was how we described someone who looked on top of things, but really was far from it.  Our culture’s like that when it comes to connecting with others.  We possess all manner of “connectivity” technologies — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text, etc — and we put huge amounts of time and effort into “connecting” online. But the question is, do these online “connections” assuage our sense of loneliness and alienation, or make it worse? We can interact with all manner of people online, but can we be ourselves — and be accepted for who we are?

Feeling Like I’ve Got No Tribe

With the isolation that our technology imposes on us, and the individualized and isolated lives that many in North America lead, many people experience no true sense of a “we” that provides a feeling of belonging.  Group membership, whether to community or to organizations in the community has declined dramatically in recent years.  People often feel like they can’t find the value in group membership.

Feeling Like I’ve Got No Place

Often people today feel very limited connection to nature, or to the land.  Unlike even our fairly recent ancestors, we have no connection to the land.  We live in houses, townhouses, apartments and condos at a remove from nature, and our communities and transportation systems keep away from real contact with trees or living things, other than perhaps the occasional family pet.  Again, our leisure activities often tend to seal us off from the truly natural realm.  The feeling of connection with nature, that we are a part of nature, is most often not a part of our consciousness.  It’s very easy for modern humans to feel like isolated atoms adrift in the cosmos.

Feeling Like I’ve Got Nothing That Matters

Similarly, many people feel cut off from values that matter.  For better or worse, living in a post-organized-religion society isolates many in our culture from any sense of divinity or any underlying principle that unifies or gives meaning to the cosmos.  Other possible values, like humanistic commitment to the human race as a whole, often seem remote and abstract.  The individual is left without symbols that connect to any greater or overarching sense of meaning or purpose.  This is one additional level of feeling alienation in the 21st century.

alienation in the 21st century

Connections and Engagement

As commentators since the time of Emile Durkheim have pointed out, the individual’s experience of alienation in our time is often rooted in society-wide problems of social disconnection and the general experience in our culture of a sense of not being rooted in the natural or social worlds, or even in the fabric of each of our own individual lives.

It’s very apparent that the experience of each individual is deeply affected by broader trends in the social collective, which will hopefully be altered by increasing awareness, and a broad-based desire for social change.  Nonetheless, here and now, effective work in individual depth psychotherapy can often be of great assistance to the individual in  removing barriers and making connections to the individual’s own being and sense of her- or himself, a sense of meaningful involvement with others, and a deeper sense of connection with society and the surrounding world as a whole.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Labor Day Blues: The Meaning of a Key Yearly Transition

August 22nd, 2016 · labor day blues

Most readers will readily understand the phrase “Labor Day blues”: it’s the range of feelings that often come with the end of summer.

labor day blues

Shades of Labor Day Blues Past…

For many, Labor Day embodies a significant life transition, and not always an easy one.  There have not been many scientific studies of the occurrence of negative feelings at the end of the summer.  Nevertheless, certainly the clinical experience of many therapists, coaches and relationship counselors suggests a definite surge in the numbers of those who seek help in the early fall.

The Experience of Summer

Prof. Jeroen Nawjin of Breda University has shown that vacations lift peoples’ moods, but not for all that long.  Soon after, the vacationer’s mood returns to the old levels. Similarly, the individual’s experience of summer, taken as a whole, often suggests that the individual has had a certain taste of the possibility of life outside of the usual confining ruts, possibly giving real insight into the things that this person feels to be genuinely important about her or his life.  Confronted with the prosaic reality of post Labor Day life, it can even feel like the individual is losing connection with some very important and central part of who they really are.

“Overloading” Summer

We can all tend to load up our summer with long lists of all the great activities we expect to undertake, and important experiences that we’ll have.  It might be a bit ambitious to plan to hike the entire Bruce Trail, learn to paint, and take 10 strokes off my golf game this summer!  It’s important to to be realistic and compassionate towards ourselves — and perhaps also to realize that our “lust for life” is bigger than just summer can hold (we’ll return to this point).

labor day blues

Endless Summer… is not what we get!

Could Labor Day Blues Actually be Depression?

It’s important for us to watch our moods, and to make sure that the labor day blues are not actually a more concerning form of depression.  Here are some of the trends and symptoms that it would be important to watch for:

  • Sleeping too much or too little;
  • Disinterest in pleasurable activities;
  • Unexplained weight loss/gain;
  • Difficulties with concentration on tasks
  • Substantial loss of energy;
  • Persistence of a sense of worthlessness
  • A depressed mood most days for at least two weeks running

If, in the midst of what appears to be “Labor Day Blues” you experience any of the above in a persistent way, it would be important to seek out help such as a good psychotherapist, or your family physician.

What Is It That I Actually Long For?…

Yet perhaps one of the most important aspects of labor day blues is what they might tell me about what is actually important in my life — what it is that I actually long for?  If I do find myself a little blue at the end of the summer — why is that?  (This may be an important question for anyone — but perhaps none more so than those at midlife or in the second half of life.)

It may be that in my sadness, there’s a genuine clue about the things I need in my life.  My summer experience may shows m that the time to be with myself, to listen to my own thoughts, is something that I value more than almost anything.  Or, perhaps its the opportunity to connect with others in my life, in a deeper and more intimate way that calls to me. Or my desire to travel and see new things may reflect a desire for renewal, for new things in my life.  There are clues in our summer longings, that show what we truly long for in the entirety of our lives.

…And How Can I Stay with It, Post Labor Day?

If we can identify that for which we truly, deeply long, then the possibility exists for us to bring more of those things into our life, long after labor day blues have ended.  Following our deepest yearnings is part of the deep journey to who we really are, and it’s often a process that good work in depth psychotherapy can consolidate, and make even deeper.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Feeling Overwhelmed: Symptoms and their Meaning for Your Life

August 15th, 2016 · feeling overwhelmed symptoms

At various points in our life journey, and especially at times of transition, we can be subject to various “feeling overwhelmed symptoms.”

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

...Like being lost in a jungle of cactus…

Just what are this unusual states of “feeling overwhelmed”?  And how can we best endure them, and transition through them, to travel into the rest of our lives?

Those “Feeling Overwhelmed” Symptoms”: What Are They?…

When we speak of someone being overwhelmed, we generally mean that they are subject to intense negative emotions, such as deep sadness, unremitting anger of fear, or relentless anxiety or guilt.  Depression may also figure in feelings of overwhelm.

Overwhelm may show up in our lives through intense irritability or melancholy, or anxiety so intense it crosses into panic, completely disproportionate stress over small matters, or an inability to do proper “reality testing”, i.e., distinguishing thoughts or beliefs from what is objectively true in reality.  A strong desire for withdrawal may emerge, or intense fatigue or even physical illness may result.  Completing tasks, or even rational planning for tasks, may be thwarted by intense emotion.

Emotion so overpowering may often make it hard to state plainly what it is that’s actually causing the overwhelm.  Often there is a powerful “cocktail” of stressors and powerful emotions that lead to the subjective sense of being overwhelmed.  The individual’s behavioural patterns may change dramatically, discarding accustomed daily routines, while relationships can get stretched and twisted to the breaking point.  There is often a powerful unconscious component to an overwhelmed state.

What Causes Overwhelm?

It is not at all uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed at some point in their lives.  A variety of life experiences may bring on such feelings.  One causal factor may be multiple significant life issues, challenges or transitions occurring in rapid order.  Another, related factor might be a lack of coping resources, such as: supportive, caring friends, families or communities; rewarding involvements outside of work life; appropriate self-care or stress management skills; or, sometimes, a lack of a sense of overarching meaning or purpose in one’s life.

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

…What’s in the Background Behind Feeling Overwhelmed?

Common causes of issues that may lead to emotional overwhelm include:

  • Underlying physical or mental health conditions;
  • Issues in relationships;
  • Demands from occupation or career;
  • Money troubles;
  • Life transitions, such as buying a house, having a baby, or looking after an elderly parent;
  • Death of a loved one;
  • Insufficient time to complete tasks or rest;
  • Sleep deprivation;
  • Poor diet; or,
  • Personal history of trauma

Some of the causal factors that lead to emotional overwhelm may well be unconscious.  It may be important to explore these unconscious factors, to gain a sense of their emotional importance or deeper meaning.

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

What to DO About Overwhelm?

Depending on the individual’s experience, there may be a range of things to do in the face of feeling overwhelmed. However, here are three things that a great many people experiencing overwhelm might begin to do.

1,  Admit and accept the overwhelmed state.  It’s normal to experience some overwhelm in unfamiliar or particularly demanding situations.

2. Move away from the mental habit of “multi-tasking”.  Perhaps we need to “get real”, and kind to ourselves, and realize that everything can’t possibly get done right now.

3.  Ask if any substances or habits might be contributing to a state of overwhelm.  Could alcohol or cannabis use be a contributing factor?  Caffeine might be a factor, especially for people who have a genetic susceptibility.  The same might be true of tobacco use. And perhaps surprisingly, sugar and aspartame can both contribute to feelings of panicked overwhelm in some individuals.  The same is true of lack of sleep and lack of exercise.

…Or, A Different Understanding?

It may well be that elements of psychological trauma can create feeling overwhelmed symptoms.  In a similar way, unconscious factors like lack of self-esteem or latent perfectionism can fed the overwhelm, and in some cases, may well be its root cause.  These are all areas that can be profitably explored in an effective psychotherapy relationship.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Creating: Stagnation vs Generativity in Life’s Second Half

July 18th, 2016 · stagnation vs generativity

Erikson’s “Stagnation vs Generativity” describes a key dilemma and pain point for individuals in the second half of life.

stagnation vs generativity

Musician Brian Eno Talks About Generativity

Dr. Milton Erikson writes about a danger and an opportunity in life after 40, which ties in wonderfully with a lot that gets said by depth psychotherapists, such as Jung and Hillman.  Erikson refers to this stage as the stage of “stagnation vs generativity”.

Boredom and Stagnation

Erikson clearly tells us of a real danger, from midlife on, of increasingly succumbing to boredom, stagnation and even rigidity.

In early adulthood, life and society puts lots of ready-made challenges in front of us.  There is getting out and living in independence from family of origin, finding a career, finding a mate or partner, getting a house, perhaps having children.  Yet, by midlife, these can seem routine.  The life that the individual has created may no longer really fulfill.  In Jung’s framework, this corresponds to “the end of the first adulthood” and “midlife transition“.

This may lead to stagnation, Erikson tells us.  The individual may feel that they have failed to find a way to contribute, and may feel disconnected or uninvolved with their community, with society — or even their own lives.  Erikson clearly views this as a tragic outcome.

Erikson and Generativity

Yet, Erikson tells us, there is another choice after 40.  The individual need not stagnate, but may engage in what he calls generativity.

“Making a contribution” or “making your mark” are the hallmarks of generativity.  This doesn’t mean that you have to be famous, or that you have to be a large-scale philanthropist.  Generativity may be about contributing to society or community or to shared or cherished values.  It almost always involves a creative response or action that makes some difference in support of values that I, as an individual, cherish:

  • It may be activity in the community or in a group that furthers something that I believe in, or hold dear;
  • It may be some kind of creative activity that I inherently cherish (painting, writing — cooking!);
  • It may be some process of inner reflection or growth in understanding that I manifest increasingly in the world; or,
  • It may be another creative response to the fact of being in my own unique life.

But I’m NOT Creative!

For many people, the response to all this may be, “But, I can’t paint, or sing, or give a stirring speech!  …I’m not creative!

Well, are you sure?  Depth psychotherapy stresses that  creativity, or generativity, if you will, may not express itself, or emerge in the stereotypical or conventional ways.  There are a vast number of creative ways in which a human being can respond to life!

stagnation vs generativity

The Underground River

The Underground River

It can be a generative activity to respond creatively by being aware of the unique character of this particular moment.  It can be a generative act to genuinely and openly listen to another human being.  It can be a generative activity to meet someone new in a community to which we belong.  It can be a generative activity to meet someone new, who is a hitherto unknown and unexpected aspect of myself.

There is always within us the possibility of creative engagement with the moment.  It may lead to humour, human tenderness, or a moment of insight.  To try and be conscious of this, what I call “the underground river” running through every moment, is a key to the process of individuation, and runs very near to the heart of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Anxiety, Depression,Your Individual Soul and the Corporation

July 11th, 2016 · soul and the corporation

“Individual soul and the corporation” sounds abstract, but, for many, preserving their individuality while in corporate life is a vital concern.

soul and the corporation
 Being unable to be oneself in a corporate context is the source of a great deal of the anxiety and depression in business life.  For depth psychotherapists such as C.G. Jung, James Hollis and Marion Woodman, this issue is closely tied to the question of individuation, which is the process of becoming the individual you or I most fundamentally are.
So, how does this question of our individuality relate to the self that shows up at work — what Jung would call the work persona?
To put it a slightly different way, how does this relate to our need for healthy and authentic emotional and feeling life, and for well-being and meaning?

Mask and False Self in Corporate Life

Jungian psychotherapists often refer to the social self as the persona, a Latin word meaning “mask”.  In social settings the persona serves both to hide and reveal our true identity.  As Daryl Sharp puts it,

The persona would live up to what’s expected, what is proper.  It is both a useful bridge socially and an indispensable protective covering; without  a persona, we are simply too vulnerable.  We regularly cover up our inferiorities with  a persona, since we do not like our weaknesses to be seen….  But it is psychologically unhealthy to identify with it, to believe that we are “nothing but” the person we show to others. [italics mine].

The danger inherent in corporate life is that the individual is given very clear, very strong messages about what is expected and proper.  Often, corporations make it very clear what they value, and what they do not value.  It’s often a very narrow range of things that are valued, and that conform to the corporation’s public image.

soul and the corporation

Really?…

This can lead to individuals over-identifying with the corporate persona, and acting as if their corporate identity is the sum total of who they are.  All other aspects of the person increasingly tend to get pushed out of consciousness and into the shadow. This can be very destructive: if the individual gets stuck behind the mask, we refer to the false self.

Example.  Jane is a sales manager at a technology firm.  She is constantly working, and is never home for evenings with her family.  She is a fitness buff, because “it’s essential to look good if you want to sell”, and her only hobby is golf, which she plays, because, “Hey! That’s what salespeople do!”  Jane’s values are completely aligned with the company’s.

Corporate Meaning vs. Personal Meaning

One manifestation of corporate false self is when the personal meanings and values in life are largely usurped by corporate goals and meanings.  Sadly, there are many people in corporate management for whom this is true.  Often, this can lead to an extremely difficult situation when the individual loses a job or gets to the point of retirement.  As HR expert Dr. Doug Treen tells us

The retiring executive with a strong corporate ego takes the internalized corporate purpose, values and meaning into retirement.  This internal compass will fail the retiring executive as the dysfunction of the false self causes hyper stress.

The individual who has lived in the false self is often clueless about what  to do without the job. The danger is that both meaning and self identity are tied to the now non-existent job.

The Abusive Corporation

There are good corporations that support and uphold their employees, but corporate abuse is just as real as spousal or child abuse.

Because of the corporate persona trap, self-worth today is often defined by and derived from work.  It’s common enough to find employees who identity with, and are loyal to, employers who mistreat them and cross their boundaries in abusive ways.

Such abuse is fueled by the belief that the work identity is the individual sole real identity.  Depth psychotherapy is committed to helping the individual discover his or her true identity, and to claim her or his own real life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Individuation in Psychology: Emergence of the Individual Person

July 4th, 2016 · individuation in psychology

The theme of individuation in psychology is crucially important: genuine healing accompanies the discovery of the individual’s unique identity.

individuation in psychology

Finding your own identity is an individual process, but it’s intimately involved with the collective emergence of consciousness in human societies and human culture.  There have been key “hinge moments” in the emergence of individual human consciousness.

Regardless of your view of subsequent American history, one of these key social moments was unquestionably the American Revolution, and the emergence on July 4, 1776 of an unprecedented document: the American Declaration of Independence. This document, proclaimed by a then-emerging nation, was a revolutionary milestone in the history of the human race, and in the emergence of the human individual from the faceless crowd.

Not that the individual did not exist before.  She or he had periodically emerged from the murk for brief intervals, such as in the Classical era in ancient Greece.

Yet, for the individual to be acknowledged in the formative document of a political entity such as a nation was a major and bold step forward.  The proclamation of the individual’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in our mouths, may often seem as if it is a trite cliche.  Yet, in that era, for  a society to hold as a foundational principle that these rights were the prerogative of every citizen, placed the individual at the heart of the political process, and was a major development in the conscious awareness of the individual (and, ultimately, of individuation in psychology).

As we sit before this Declaration, with its unapologetic statement that these rights are self-evident and inalienable, it seems to me that we are also greatly challenged by the responsibility that these Rights put on each of us — a responsibility to the Self.

If we each have the Right to Life – How then will we reflect and act — so as to take hold of our lives?
If we each have the Right to Liberty – What then will we each do with this heady and terrible freedom?
If we each have the Right to Pursue “Happiness” – Have we thought in any depth on what it would mean to truly pursue our own “happiness”, or what would give meaning and depth to our lives, in accord with our inmost nature?

I wish American friends and relatives the very best of the 4th of July, and may we all celebrate the value of the individual person, which is right at the heart of depth psychotherapy .

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Fear of the Future and the Need for Meaning, 2

June 27th, 2016 · fear of the future

In Part 1 of “Fear of the Future”, we saw in general terms how discovery of personal meaning can help the individual face the reality of fear.

fear of the future

                          …Or, is there an alternative?

Here, we’ll look concretely at what it might mean to find meaning that could help to overcome the effect of fear.
This past week has seen particular manifestations of the power of fear, in the success of the “Leave” vote in the so-called Brexit referendum concerning whether Britain is to remain in the European Union.  Suffice it to say that the drivers behind this decision, which many Britons already regret, are very powerful fears of many types.  The power of these fears to drive an outcome that, really, very few people want, is staggering.
So, how can a sense of underlying meaning possibly help in such a situation?  And just what is meaning?

Meaning is Subjective

Jung, like Viktor Frankl, viewed meaning as central to his life as person and as therapist. He saw it as central to our wrestling with the challenges and dilemmas of being human, including good and evil and suffering.  However, he would never speak of “the meaning of life” as if there was some objective single truth out there that we could all learn, and that would somehow settle all of life’s questions for the whole human race.  For him, the nature of that meaning was much more individual and subjective.  He also viewed the discovery of meaning in human life as an experience of profound healing.

Human Beings Suffer When There Is No Meaning

Jung also tells us that one of the very greatest of sources of human suffering is the sense of lack of meaning, that the things which occur to us are pointless and random, without any inner sense.  In fact,  he described neurosis as “ultimately… the suffering of a soul that has not discovered its meaning.”  He describes how important it is that “the doctor” (by which he means what we would call “the therapist“) help the client find “the meaning that quickens… for it is this that the [suffering] person longs for….  [The client] is looking for something that will take possession of him and give meaning and form to the confusion of [his or her] soul.”

fear of the future

The Discovery of Meaning

A thing which is “numinous” has a sense of awe attached to it that makes it seem more profound and important than everyday life.  It can be something that seems “divine”, or of a profound spiritual significance, or of an importance greater than what we encounter in everyday human life.  Something that has a significance far greater than even our fear of the future.  An example in music which points to the numinous, yet without a religious reference, would be Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man:

 

 

Meaning and Personal Myth

As depth psychotherapist James Hillman reminds us, meaning is found in our “personal myth”.  To find our personal myth is to find the way that our personal, individual story connects with Story.  Or, as Hillman elaborates,

…to understand one’s mess, one seeks the mythical pattern, for its mythical personalities… and their behaviour give the clues to what is happening in our behaviour.

By finding our own personal myth, through working with dreams and through coming to a more and more in-depth understanding of our own inner life and story, each of us gains a sense of being rooted in something that is bigger and deeper than the projects of the ego, and that transcends our personal fear of the future.

…And What About You and I?

Where does fear of the future strike you most strongly?  Do you have a sense of where you find meaning, or of your personal myth?  As James Hollis tells us, “Most people come into therapy because their old map, their former myth, has been exhausted.”  Depth psychotherapy is very much a journey to new meaning.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Fear of the Future and the Archetype of Meaning

June 20th, 2016 · fear of the future

We live in a time when fear of the future is rampant, colouring our individual, family, social and political lives.  Can psychotherapy help us cope?

fear of the future

To understand the size of the problem that fear creates, we need only look at its impact on our social and political lives.  We see fear, and the hatred which often goes with it, in the rise of fear-based social and political movements such as:
  • the rise of fascist-leaning, anti-immigrant political movements in many countries in continental Europe;
  • the rise of anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, empirically unsupported, finding their way into universities like Queen’s, one of Canada’s finest educational institutions;
  • Donald Trump, and his fear-mongering against blacks, hispanics and Muslims;
  • the “Brexit” movement for exit of Britain from the European Union, which is fanned by fear of waves of immigration from the continent of immigrants originating from the Middle East.
Depth psychotherapists know that symbolic images of fear of the future also abound in popular culture.  Perhaps some of the most striking symbolisation of such fear is the “zombie apocalypse” or “living dead” theme, which so captures the popular imagination, both in humour and terror.  Another symbolic image of fear of the future is the “demon seed” or “demon child” motif.

Why is There So Much Fear Now?

There are many potential sources of fear in 2016.  There is great economic uncertainty.  Some fear multi-cultural societies full of people different than themselves, and news reports of great waves of homeless refugees.  And, we have news sources like CNN, with its strategy of gaining viewers through continuous bombardment of the viewer with anxiety and fear-provoking images (How many times did they show the World Trade Center towers collapsing?).  These media also stress themes that provoke continual anxiety.

fear of the future

Where Fear of the Future Fits into Psyche

One of the things that apparently differentiates us from most animal species is that we have the ability to create anxiety for ourselves through  building a mental scenario or picture of something that could occur in the future.  As researchers like Newcastle University neuroscience Prof. Melissa Bateson et al. have shown, anxiety and fear are linked to hypersensitivity in detecting and avoiding threats. So this process of being fearful likely enabled our ancestors to survive and thrive as a species, by being hyper-cautious at even the faintest trace of a threat.

anxious-early-human

Where Fear Doesn’t Fit

So, there is tremendous survival value in our capacity for fear, in that we can anticipate and predict future dangerous situations, and we can somehow tie this in, consciously and unconsciously, with our experience of past events where we have had misfortune or bad outcomes.  This ability has undoubtedly contributed enormously to our ability to be the incredibly successful species that we are today.  Our sophisticated human fear has steered us clear of many a fatal risk, at the comparatively light cost of stress and missed opportunities.

Yet, there is a significant downside to all of this.

Most non-human animals know anxiety, but apparently not about events that are separated by time in the future.  Humans, particularly imaginative humans, have a great capacity to visualize negative scenarios set in future times.  As depth psychotherapists know, such intense fear of the future generates untold agonies for many.  It can distort and cripple their entire response and attitude toward life.  This is a case where fear is not fitting into psyche at all, but rather is subverting it.

Is There Any Way Out of this Dilemma?

The human capacity to find meaning and value can enable us to find our way through even the most stressful and fearful of dilemmas, even the concentration camp, as Dr. Viktor Frankl has shown us, in his great book Man’s Search for Meaning.  As Albert Camus also said,

I have seen many people die because life for them was not worth living.  From this I conclude that the question of life’s meaning is the most urgent question of all.  [italics mine]

Aniela Jaffe, Jung’s close associate reminds us “the resilience of the self-aware and self-transforming consciousness can fortify us against the perils of the irrational and the rational, against the world within and the world without.”

In the second part of this post, we will explore how the the discovery of personal meaning in depth psychotherapy can help the individual cope with the reality of fear.

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  ; Eli Christman ; flowcomm
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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