Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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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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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The Ongoing Transition: Young Adults Living at Home — Again

May 29th, 2017 · young adults living home

This is the time of year when many parents experience young adults living at home — once again!  

adult children living home

At this season many young adults come back from college or university to live temporarily in the family home, which can be a very important experience of life transition for both parents and children.
Children living at home can be temporary, for the summer.  Or, these summer returns may be a foretaste of a growing phenomenon: children returning to the family home after finishing post-secondary studies.
Children returning for the summer can generate strong emotions for both young adults and parents, as depth psychotherapists know.  As part of a key life transition, it’s important to think about what occurs to us psychologically as a result of these returns.

What Has Changed?

In this situation, parents may first become aware of changes that have occurred from the time when the adult child lived at home.  Their child may appear more independent, more vocal, more morose, or any of a range of other possibilities.  College or university may have liberated or empowered, or it may have been an experience of genuine hardship and disorientation.

The parent may struggle to come to terms with the emotions generated in this situation.  There can be grief for the loss of the old relationship, joy for a sense of newfound strength and empowerment, or anxiety for the future of the adult child.

It’s rare for this type of re-encounter to have little or no emotional impact.

What Has Stayed the Same?

Yet, these returns to the family home may also make both parents and students aware what has stayed the same through the separation.  For better or worse, in many respects, people will be the same, showing up much as they always have.  Habits and characteristics of individuals will be the same.  One very difficult thing in such situations may be the ways in which people are unable to see even others they deeply love for who they really are.  The other may also miss who we really are, as well.

What is Stuck?

Young adults living at home again may remind us of stuckness in the relationship.  We may get absolute, merciless clarity on how the relationship between parent and child is stuck into patterns that neither party knows how to change.

adult children living home

Where is Soul?

For the young adult living at home again, but even more so for the parent who lives the experience of the adult child’s return, much may lead us to an encounter with our own soul, and our own hitherto undiscovered self.

The adult child seeks to discern and move in a forward direction, toward an autonomous, fulfilling and contributing way of life.  Yet, equally important are the transitions undergone by the parent of the adult child.

The meaning of parenthood often changes as the relationship with the young adult living at home shifts into new forms.  Given that, for many in our current world, parenting is such a demanding and involving engagement, this may entail deep shifts in personal identity.

For many a parent, encounters with changing adult children may be the heralds of a new soul journey.  Involvement in the world of the child may now start to be solely at the invitation of the child.

Even if, as the Pew Report and UC Santa Barbara’s Bella DePaulo suggest, adult children are increasingly returning to live at home after finishing post-secondary, many parents will experience of a slow but inevitable change in the relationship with the adult child.

Simultaneously, an inevitable and ever stronger call to listen to the leadings of one’s own soul, and the journeys of individual self discovery that now invite us, can free us into a new and unexplored aspect of our identity, and our lives.

The process of individuation, and finding the direction forward in the post-child rearing years are key parts of the ongoing soul work engaged in depth psychotherapy.

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Archetypal Mother’s Day: Mothering & Attachment Issues In Adults

May 15th, 2017 · attachment issues in adults

Happy Archetypal Mother’s Day! Here I look at our genetically engrained need for good mothering, and how childhood experience profoundly impacts attachment issues in adults.

attachment issues in adults

Mothering has many key similarities across different cultures.

By “attachment” we mean our ability to connect meaningfully with those close to us. Our need to attach is one of our most profound human needs.  Our capacity for healthy attachment is going to impact our whole capacity for handling major life transitions.

Whether we can do this depends, first and foremost on our experience of mother at an early age.

At the Beginning of Life, Mother is Everything

Initially, as infants, our mother is everything to us.  The way that she relates to us, and how she treats us will literally impact our whole experience of our lives.  Whether we see life is dependable and supportive will depend in absolutely crucial ways on the mother-child relationship.

In addition, whether we are able to form a loving attachment bond with anyone else is profoundly impacted by whether our mother is able to teach us how to have a secure attachment bond with her.  If we experience the mother-child relationship as secure and supportive, feel seen and valued for who we are, and experience our mother as able to help us “emotionally regulate” (calm ourselves in intense distress) — it will make a huge difference as to whether we can give these things to others in relationship later in life, and receive them from someone who wants to give them to us.

attachment issues in adults

Throughout Life, We Have a Deep Need for Successful Attachment

Our relationship with our mother is going to change with time.  We also need to develop attachment bonds to other people in our lives: family, lovers, friends, children.  To get the best from life we have to be able to be open, trusting, giving.

Yet, attachment issues are widespread in adults.  For many, they impair ability to be close, to trust, and to give.  Situations with partners, children, or even close friends may evoke feelings, and possibly memories that go back to experiences when we were very young, when attachment was disrupted.

Major Life Transitions of Those Close to Us Profoundly Affect Us

Those deeply affected by disrupted attachment at crucial points in their life journey can find that major life transitions consciously or unconsciously evoke feelings and memories connected with the original experience.

Example 1. A woman who had powerful experiences of parental loss and abandonment, which came to a head in her very early 20s, underwent a very strong emotional reaction at a time when her daughter encountered medical and vocational challenges at a similar age, and, simultaneously, the oldest and best of her parents’ friends died.

Example 2.    A man who underwent a crisis in his relationship with his mother in his late teens underwent a period of intense feeling as his own children went through the same life stage, and, with his help, got launched on very positive post-secondary paths.  He found it genuinely healing to realize that, through his and his spouse’s efforts, their children were having very life-affirming experiences of this life stage.  In addition, he was able in this time to process a great deal of feeling associated with that difficult period in his life.

Healing of Attachment Issues in Adults

When people confront severely disrupted attachment or early life trauma, they can experience a sense of genuine, chaos, or meaninglessness, or sometimes a mass of indescribable, incoherent emotion.  Such experience may well lead to attachment issues in adults.  To address them, it can be essential to find someone supportive who can help to contain the emotion involved, to regulate it, and to turn traumatic events into meaningful, coherent story.

Depth psychotherapy with a high quality therapist can provide ways for individuals to confront and process their early experiences of disordered attachment or trauma.  As Jungian neuropsychoanalyst Margaret Wilkinson, states, “Exchanges that involve putting feelings into words… are an intrinsic part of the process of coming into mind.  [Therapy] that encompasses relational as well as interpretive [work] can bring about … change in the nature of attachment [and] permit the self to emerge more fully through the process of individuation.”

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Selfhood, Anxiety and Social Media

May 8th, 2017 · anxiety and social media

We hear more and more about anxiety and social media.  Why? Because social media is uncanny in its ability to foster self-doubt.

 

anxiety and social media

...Drowning in Social Media… Photo Credit: howtostartablogonline.net

Among new technologies, social media have an unrivalled capacity to lead us into negative self-assessment and anxiety.  Why exactly is that?  In this post, I look at social media through the lens of depth psychotherapy and Jungian psychology.

What Do We Do to Ourselves with Social Media?

Social media has a real effect on personality and sense of self.  Research shows that predominant reasons for people going on to social media are to experience connection with others, and to feel a sense of belonging.  Unsurprisingly, in an era when many people feel less of a sense of community, we often tend to gain a sense of social support through our networks.

What Do Others Do to Us?

However, there’s a powerful connection between using social media and comparing ourselves with other people. A body of research shows that, as Facebook users,anxiety and social media we have a strong tendency to socially compare ourselves with others.  Apparently, whether this leaves us feeling better or worse emotionally depends on whether we engage in “upward” or “downward” social comparison.

As the research of  E.A. Vogel and colleagues at University of Toledo shows, if we engage in upward social comparison, there seems to be strong evidence that it leads to negative outcomes for many users such as lower self esteem, and depressive and/or anxiety symptoms.  On the contrary, if we compare downward, to others who don’t seem to have as much going for them as we do, apparently, we feel better.  However, Vogel et al.’s research indicates that people tend to believe that other social media users have better lives than they do, and also indicates that Facebook users are more likely to engage in upward social comparison than downward.

Whether “upward” or “downward”, all of this leads to a very important question: Why are we getting our self-esteem, or lack thereof,  from comparison with other people in the first place? And how could self-esteem based on such a source be anything but flimsy?

What About the Self?

Another factor that strengthens the link between anxiety and social media is the extent to which social media reinforce social conformity and group think.  UCLA Prof. Lauren Sherman and colleagues show that the same brain circuits activated by eating chocolate and winning at gambling are activated when teenagers see large numbers of “Likes” on their photos on social media, and that teens are far more likely on social media to like a photo that many others have liked than one with few likes.  Such tendencies might be particularly pronounced in teens, but it’s highly likely that similar dynamics are at work in older populations, and contribute to the self-reinforcing “echo chamber” effects that reinforce conformity in thinking around political and social issues on social media.

Starting with Jung himself, Jungian psychology and psychotherapy has stressed the unique value and dignity of each of us as human individuals.  Ever since the 1920s, Jung warned urgently of the dangers of individuals becoming submerged in the collective mass of humanity.  When social media were far in the future, Jung recognized very well the danger of individual identity disappearing in mass political and social movements.  He stressed that each of us need to take time with ourselves, away from social pressures, making the effort to understand and accept who we really are, and finding our own individual path.  In our own time, we urgently need more time away from modern communications and social media, to orient ourselves by our own inner compass, rather than the compass of the crowd

Depth psychotherapy actively engages with individuals in their uniqueness.  It works with the deepest elements of the individual’s personality to find meaning and self-esteem in the individual’s unique being and unique calling, rather than through comparisons with others.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Canadian Mental Health: Jungian Depth Psychotherapy Perspectives

May 1st, 2017 · Canadian mental health

The 66th CMHA Mental Health Week begins Monday, May 1, making this a prime time to reflect on Canadian mental health from a Jungian perspective.  

My Alma Mater: University of Calgary Alum at CMHA’s Ride Don’t Hide event, 2016

There’s real value in looking at the central message of this week from the viewpoint of Jungian depth psychotherapy.  What does a depth psychotherapy perspective make of our current deep societal concern with issues of mental health?

What’s So Important about Canadian Mental Health?

On the CMHA Mental Health Week website, the Canadian Mental Health Association states:

This year during CMHA Mental Health Week, Canadians are speaking up: we’ve been in line for mental health care for way too long…. We are literally sick of waiting. But we’re not only waiting for mental health care. To be truly mentally well, Canadians also need psychotherapy, counselling and community-based mental health services and programs; we need acknowledgement and respect; and we need adequate housing.

Canada (like other nations) has enormous mental health and mental wellness needs, and there are huge gaps in the provision of vital services.  This is particularly true for the young and the elderly, but the need extends through all ages and social strata in our society.

Canadian Mental Health: It’s Close to Home

This is not some abstract issue.  If it doesn’t affect us personally, it affects people close to us in our lives.  Psychotherapists are well aware that almost everyone knows and cares about someone who is wrestling with a mental health issue.  It could be a spouse or partner, a relative, a friend, a co-worker, or one’s own children.  Looking at people in our lives, we see the huge cost that mental health issues exact on good, worthwhile human beings.

The Wounded Parts Within Ourselves

If we need more reasons for solidarity with those struggling with mental health needs, we could look within.  If we’re radically honest with ourselves, we realize that, within each of us, there are deeply psychically wounded and unadapted parts.  As C.G. Jung stated long ago,

If we feel our way into the human secrets of the person… we recognize in the mental illness merely an exceptional reaction to emotional problems which are not strange to us.
C.G. Jung, “Content of the Psychoses”

This is clear when we consider depression and anxiety, for instance, which almost everyone has experienced to some degree.

Mental Health and Jung’s Idea of Shadow

Jung often spoke of “shadow”  which he defined as “the thing which one has no wish to be”.  Jungian Andrew Samuels interprets this as “the negative side of the personality, the sum of all the unpleasant qualities one wants to hide”.  This certainly includes those parts of the personality that are not adapted to our lives, and/or that represent areas of weakness for us.

canadian mental health

From 1913 to 1917, Jung went through a profound inner exploration later communicated in his famous Red Book.  He encountered what he regarded as profoundly unbalanced and unstable elements in his own personality.  Jung became convinced that every human personality has such elements, and that the only way to deal with them is to get to know them as much as we can, and to meet them with an attitude of profound acceptance and deep compassion.  This can only have good consequences for our attitude to Canadian mental health.  As he puts it,

If people can be educated to see… their own natures…. [a] little less hypocrisy and a little more tolerance towards oneself can only have good results for our neighbor; for we are all too prone to transfer to [others] the injustice and violence we inflict upon our own natures.

Mental Health: Our Own, and Others’

Only greater self-understanding and acceptance lead to genuine compassion toward the Other.  Beyond terrifying stereotypes and myths of mental illness are profound truths of human living and suffering that we all share.

It’s the task of depth psychotherapy to not only make us more aware of our unique individuality, but to heighten awareness of our profound connection with all other people in our shared human nature and experience.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Reg Tiangha ; 
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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