Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Retirement and Depression: Breaking the Linkage

May 6th, 2019 · retirement and depression

Can we break the all-too-common link between retirement and depression, as the retirement stage of life keeps lengthening?

retirement and depression
Many of us know at least one person who is wrestling with depression in retirement. When that individual is a close friend or a relative or a parent, we become very aware of the challenges involved in the major life transition that we call retirement. When that person is ourselves, the issue takes on even more importance.
I want to emphasize here that, in our time, the linkage between retirement and depression can begin quite some time before retirement actually starts.

P – Retirement and Depression: What’s the Root Connection?

C.G. Jung once said something important about retirement. He said it quite a number of years ago, but it’s even more relevant today than when he first said it:

It’s good to retire — but not into nothing.

~ C.G. Jung

“Retiring into nothing” is very much related to the linkage between retirement and depression. In the sense in which Jung meant it, “nothing” here refers to a meaningless life. The person who is “going into retirement” needs to feel that they’re not entering a vacuum where all the meaning and value that they’ve found in their previous work life has been sucked out, leaving them with nothing. No one who intentionally enters retirement does so with the idea that they’re signing up for a drab, meaningless existence. Yet many experience something not far from that.

Perhaps surprisingly, this discussion of “good retirement” and the topic of our last blog post, on “signs of burnout” both involve the same thing: the need to find meaningful, substantial involvement in life.

Let’s suppose that you enjoy your job, at least to some extent, and find that it provides some sense of meaning or purpose in your life. Then you cannot expect to find a valuable retirement, unless you’re getting these same needs for involvement and meaning or purpose — perhaps “making a contribution” — in your post-retirement life. Similarly, if your work life has fallen short in providing a sense of enjoyment or meaning or contribution, it’s going to be essential to find these things on the retirement life journey.

My clinical experience in a suburban depth psychotherapy practice suggests that finding these things in retirement is a substantial problem for many people. As a result, in too many cases, there is a connection between retirement and depression.

A – Retirement: Fantasy & Reality

As a culture, we have a lot of collective fantasies swirling around the subject of retirement.

retirement and depression
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Fantasyland?

In the post-war era, there was an understanding that people were “working toward” retirement at age 65. You were considered to have done exceptionally well if you were able to retire before that age (“Freedom 55”!). There was an emphasis on “escaping” from work. There was a sense that, when you retired, you would be entering a wonderful time that was essentially carefree, when you could do whatever you wanted to do with your time.

However, studies suggest that the likelihood that someone will suffer from clinical depression actually goes up substantially after retiring. The illusion that retirement is automatically some sort of Magical Mystery Tour has worn pretty thin. What is clear now, according to the leading experts is:

“The most successful retirees plan out their post-working lives.”

~ Prof. Ronald E. Reggio, Claremont McKenna College

Whether prior to, or during, retirement we need to reflect very carefully on our needs. This will lead us into important questions about our key values. You may be a person who puts a primary emphasis on creative forms of leisure, or a person who has a longing to create something on an on-going basis, or a person who fundamentally needs to be doing some kind of work.

How will you live out who you actually are? Failing to address this, and failing to think creatively about this stage of your life is a way of increasing the odds that depression could be your companion in retirement.

In large part that’s because work, whether we realize it or not, provides many of the ingredients that fuel happiness, including social connections, a steady routine and a sense of purpose. 

Retirement and Real Life

Living our complete life journey in a way that we find valuable and meaningful is key to avoiding the combination of retirement and depression, or getting out of it if we are already in it. There is great value in thinking creatively about where we are in our life journey.

Here’s a list of six fundamental things that we can do for ourselves in or near retirement:

  • 1) Staying active and in good shape, as good health is essential for good retirement.
  • 2) Keep social: deepen your existing bonds and make new ones.
  • 3) It can often help to keep some sort of routine or plan for the day, as structure often helps to get more out of the day.
  • 4) Carefully consider doing some form of meaningful “work”, in some sense of the word. Often part-time workers often stay in a better place mentally than those who quit cold turkey.
  • 5) Consider doing something that involves “giving back”, or volunteering — contributing can increase mental well-being.
  • 6) Think about some form of learning or classes, as a way of exploring new things and staying mentally alert.

In addition to all of the above, retirement is one of the major life transitions that leads an individual to ask deep level questions about her or his own identity and life story and about what is ultimately meaningful in his or her life. It can be an excellent time to embark on working with a Jungian depth psychotherapist, to help find orientation on the life journey.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Connectivity, Loss of Identity and Signs of Burnout

April 23rd, 2019 · burnout

There’s every indication that more and more people are showing signs of burnout related to our always-on world.

signs of burnout
Technology has had a big role in changing our relationship to work. That change is continuing at a very rapid rate in our time, perhaps even more rapidly that ever before. As a result, the signs of burnout that are associated with being connected 24/7 are more and more apparent in the lives of many business and professional people.
Though information technology seems to play a key role in the intensity, rapidity and depth of this type of issue, it shares the familiar characteristics of all burnout. While long hours are very often a precursor to burnout, the banner signs of burnout are well-known:
  • cynicism;
  • depression;
  • lethargy;
  • insomnia;
  • anxiety;
  • physical symptoms such as skin rash or hair loss; and,
  • lack of any feeling of achievement at work.
What is really at the root of this epidemic of burnout?

Connectivity and Distorted Identity

Very often social media and other forms of connectivity (text, email) act like office politics on steroids. We know from research that they can easily lead to endless struggles to find status and a sense of self-worth that comes through recognition by the peer group. Often this can mean finding false identity in endless work hours, or in markers of corporate or social status. Depending on the nature of the job, this can lead to a strong sense of being out of touch with who I really am, and of “the genuine me” not being valued. One key symptom of this may occur when an individual is never feeling ready to face the job or to face co-workers.

Yet, social science research shows what we might intuitively expect. Finding value in a work role doesn’t actually come from this kind of jostling for status and social position. As the research of a leading authority, Yale’s Prof. Amy Wrzesniewski has shown, the single biggest factor in finding value in work is finding work meaningful — the belief that my work somehow makes a real difference to people, or somehow makes the world a better place.

If my work doesn’t somehow give me this sense of meaningful contribution, the sense that I’m giving myself to some lasting meaning or value, it’s likely that I’m not going to feel any great sense of value in my work. If, on top of that, work makes all kinds of demands on me that are either over my boundaries, or, at odds with who I really am, there is then a very high likelihood that I’m going to start displaying the signs of burnout.

Toxic Work Persona?

As we face unprecedented levels of burnout, it’s important for each of us to ask ourselves whether our work is something that we find personally meaningful, and that we can see as an expression of who we really are. Because if who we really are isn’t acceptable in our workplace, we can pretty much take it as given that there will be pressure on us to adopt patterns of behaviour that are over our boundaries or that don’t line up with my real identity.

It’s not uncommon in many business cultures to glorify working hard, late at night or early in the morning. It can become a badge of honour to work longer and harder hours than your co-workers. Consider quotes like the following, which you can find all over social media:

“All the late nights and early mornings will pay off.”

“If you’re not going where you want to be in your life … consider what you’re doing between 7 p.m. and 12 a.m.”

These quotes embody common attitudes that lead to a person being attributed status or being seen as virtuous in many workplaces now. No one is saying that working hard is not a good thing. But depth psychotherapists know that working without limits or boundaries greatly increases the odds of damaging your physical or mental health.

If you’re working in an environment where what is exalted as “good work” is something that consistently takes you outside of your boundaries, two things are true. First, the persona or social presentation that the work environment expects of its workers may well be toxic for you. Second, if you persist in that environment, even though, at a deep level, you really know it’s wrong for you, then you may well be in denial, and you may well be hurting yourself.

Identity and Vocation

Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner [person]: [s]he is called.

~ C.G. Jung

We discussed above how it’s necessary to feel that our work is of benefit, or that it makes a positive contribution, in some way or other, if we are going to feel that it’s meaningful,. Jung would tell us that, the more we feel that our work is really a genuine expression of the person we most fundamentally are, the more we will find it of value, and the more likely we are to feel that it is bringing something of benefit.

This idea of work as an expression of who we most fundamentally are, is central to Jung’s concept of vocation. Certainly vocation is about more than just the work we do, but it certainly includes our work. The fundamental idea of Jungian vocation is living out who we most fundamentally are.

From Jung’s perspective, the way to best counteract or reverse the signs of burnout involves recovering, or just plain discovering our true identity, and understanding what really resonates with “the inner person”, as Jung might say, in terms of work.

Trying to recover this sense of what really resonates, and what makes us feel truly alive, is a journey toward wholeness that we can all embark on today. Working with a depth psychotherapist, and getting to know ourselves in much more intimate detail, can also be a tremendous benefit when we’re on the road to our truest vocation.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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“Where do I Belong?” is One of Life’s Key Questions

April 15th, 2019 · attachment issues in adults, where do i belong

“Where do I belong?” is a question that takes on immense importance for many individuals at different stages in their life journey.  

where do I belong
A Big Word
The issue of belonging changes its form, depending on our stage in life, our particular life circumstances, and whether we’re undergoing any major life transitions. It can come up for us in many ways, but it never loses its relevance and urgency.
From earliest days of life to the end of our life journey, we are confronted with the question of belonging — to our family, to communities, to ourselves, to a particular place, — and in the great scheme of things. It is one of the very fundamental aspects of what it is to be human.
This isn’t just an intellectual question. This is about something that is visceral, almost cellular, deeply rooted in our instinctual core. As the great John Bowlby established in his work on attachment, the sense of belonging is a fundamental part of human identity at all levels of development.

Our Psychological Need to Belong

People have a fundamental need to belong. Our connection to other people matters to us in some fundamental ways. Our self-esteem, and even our concept of ourselves remain partially rooted in the connection that we have with other people. Meaningful connection with others increases our resilience against stress, makes us subjectively feel happier, and leads to a more positive assessment of who we are..

Similarly, as work in the growing field of environmental psychology has shown, people also can have a very strong need to belong to a place. As researchers at the Université de La Réunion recently re-confirmed, connection or attachment to place has an important and fundamental connection with well-being. This may be a relatively new area of exploration for social science, but the Australian Aborigine cultures and other indigenous groups have known this truth, and emphasized its importance, for well over 40,000 years.

Here are two different but related kinds of belonging: belonging as human connection; and belonging as connection to place. In our era of rapid social and technological change, ceaseless mobility, and continual shifting of membership in social groups, many people find themselves asking “Where do I belong?”

How We Search for Belonging

We can spend a lot of time denying our need for belonging. This may be particularly true when we have not had the opportunity we needed in early life to bond with a mother figure. Or where a child didn’t feel themselves to be a genuinely loved and cherished member of a family unit, or where a family unit became disrupted, perhaps through divorce or the death of a parent. Something similar can happen where a child has a life of continual movement, so that they can never properly “put down roots” anywhere.

All of these situations may result in struggles with anxiety and/or depression, certainly. Yet the root issue may be attachment — not feeling a sense of belonging or security or “roots”.

When someone struggles with this kind of issue, they may not be easily able to say what is wrong, or else the issue is so painful that it is not easy to face head-on. So the individual avoids it. Such an issue around belonging can lead to all kinds of avoidant behaviour, such as struggles with addictions, and avoidance of commitment and connection with others.

Yet what we really need to continue our journey to wholeness is a sense of rootedness and connectedness to significant individuals in our lives, to social groups and to a place where we belong. Jungians would refer to all these things as being connected to the archetype of home.

Finding Healing Through Belonging

To begin to answer the question “Where do I belong?” may first of all involve facing the ways in which we feel disconnected, or feel that we don’t belong. For a good number of people, this can be quite painful. To look at this part of our lives can sometimes require quite a bit of courage.

Simultaneously, we might well need to acknowledge that we have a deep yearning to be connected, and to belong. Acknowledging the degree to which this is true can also be difficult.

These are areas that I can begin to look at on my own, and I can begin to move forward in terms of finding connection. Yet there may be immense benefit in engaging with a supportive therapeutic relationship, such as depth psychotherapy to assist in this process. Working with a therapist can be a supportive relationship that helps immensely in opening the sensitive and important aspects of the question, “Where do I belong?” — and that leads toward fulfilling answers.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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“Why Can’t I be Happy?” — Is Happiness the Goal?

April 9th, 2019 · why can't I be happy

“Why can’t I be happy?” is such a dynamite question. The goal seems so simple — and yet it’s so elusive! What are we to make of it?

why can't i be happy
Do I have to do something EXOTIC to be happy?…
Poets, philosophers, theologians, statespersons — have all struggled with the question of abiding happiness. Yet the answer seems to be very difficult to find. Why do we find it so hard to be solidly, consistently happy? And what, if anything, can we do about it?

The Problem of Happiness

One of the basic problems that we face when it comes to happiness, is figuring out what it even is. Clearly, it can’t just mean being in a happy mood all the time. Human moods vary greatly, and no one can expect to be in a positive mood always

And yet, in our culture, we’re all continually bombarded with the message that that’s exactly what we should expect. Whether it’s advertising for automobiles, pizza, new homes or even toilet paper, the message is that we should just be happy all the time — and the implication is that buying XYZ product will help us get to that state of continual positive mood.

When we reflect on how realistic such implied messages are, we can’t help concluding that they don’t correspond to the realities of human life — we know that. Yet the continual bombardment by such messages has a subtly persuasive power. We can easily end up feeling that our lives ought to look like that, and that there’s something wrong with them if they don’t.

Chasing Phantom “Happiness”

People can and do devote themselves to chasing the endlessly elusive will o’ the wisp of being in a perpetually good mood. Sometimes this takes the form of unending pursuit of the right possessions, or the perfect travel experiences, or the “just perfect” home. There are billions and billions of dollars spent in the advertising industry to foster the desire for this eternally elusive goal, and to keep us pursuing it through getting the right product or right experience.

Over the years, I’ve had quite a number of people sit in my office, and earnestly ask themselves the exact question in the title of this post: “Why can’t I be happy?” And what they meant by that question was, why can’t I have that buoyant, wonderful, “feel good” moment — all the time? The tragic aspect of this is that we can spend our whole lives searching for this eternally elusive, ephemeral state — and miss out on things in life that are attainable, which do bring us genuinely good things, and we may end up mired in anxiety and depression.

Often people going through major life transitions find that this question of happiness takes on great importance. When we’re forced to look at the path of our lives in very significant ways, the question of what it’s all for can become crucial.

Lasting Value — What Really Matters

Fulfillment in life is not normally found in in chasing those eternally elusive “feel good” moments. It’s rooted in things that are deeper and more lasting, and that may take quite long time to cultivate.

C.G. Jung emphasized the importance of finding meaning in life over transitory happiness, as in his famous statement,

The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

~ C.G. Jung

Elsewhere, Jung wonders whether there is any objective thing that can be called happiness, or whether it is entirely subjective. On the other hand, the “positive psychologists” such as Martin Seligman stress that “happiness” doesn’t consist of simply having a positive mood, but rather that it is a state of well-being that encompasses a life of quality, where there is a strong sense of meaning, and of deep satisfactions. What is striking, though, is that you probably couldn’t find two more different psychologists than Jung and Seligman and yet they both stress this need to cultivate meaning and satisfactions that run deep in life.

Cultivating what is meaningful and full of satisfaction is an endeavour we can all embark on. Beginning to stop listening to the voices of others and the media that tell us what we “should” do, and beginning to find those satisfactions and meanings that matter specifically, uniquely to ourselves, is a wonderful place to start. The beginning of a meaningful answer to the question, “Why can’t I be happy?” will likely start with getting to know who I am, and what is meaningful to me, much, much better.

As you explore this vital area, you may find, as I did, that you need concrete help to find what you need on your journey to wholeness. This may well involve working with a depth psychotherapist who can help you explore yourself, in both your conscious and unconscious dimensions, enabling you to move toward clarity about what depth, satisfaction and meaning are for you.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Personality: How Jungian Typology Shapes Your Life – PART 2

April 1st, 2019 · Jungian typology

Jungian typology of personality — the basis of the Myers-Briggs personality test — helps us better understand our whole journey through life.

Jungian typology
As we began to examine in the first part of this series, if we’re willing to really reflect on the meaning of our personality type, it can tell us a great deal about where we’re likely going in our lives. It can also tell us a lot about what we need to find to feel more whole or complete.

Opposites: The Problem of Understanding Others

One powerful way in which we become aware of the impact of Jungian typology is in interacting with people whose personality type is different from our own. As we indicated in the last post, many of the attributes of personality type are true opposites. For instance, thinking and feeling, and introversion and extroversion are completely opposed pairs.

So, we begin to experience what it really means to be, for instance, a strong feeling type, when we encounter someone who is a strong thinking type. Such a person might well seem utterly different from myself. Where I might judge or evaluate everything by the way I react to it subjectively, this other person might evaluate things on whether they’re “logical” or whether they “make sense”. That might seem very cold to me! And, it might seem very strange!

If, on top of that, you had the added dimension of the other person being an introvert, where I am very strongly an extrovert, and it might seem almost incomprehensible! Sometimes, such an opposite person might seem almost repellant. On the other hand, there might be a strange, strong attraction. More than a few strong romantic connections can be explained by the old story that “opposites attract”!

But then, that leads us to another mystery: what is it in me that is attracted to the opposite thing in the other person?

Jungian typology
What???

The Problem of Understanding Ourselves

As we look more at others, we may find ourselves becoming more aware of the problem of understanding ourselves. For instance, I may find myself strongly attracted to, or admiring of people with a different personality type than mine. Yet I can be aware that I am completely different from these people, with different values. So, what is it in us that is attracted to their style of approaching social interactions and relating to themselves and the world?

Here is where the other can actually be a clear and powerful mirror of myself. For I may well find that there is something in the other person that I yearn to find in myself. In fact… it could well be that what the feeling type finds attractive in the thinking type is his or her own underdeveloped capacity for thinking, and vice versa!

Now, if I’m a feeling type, thinking type, or some other, I may well have powerful reactions to my psychological opposite. I may be fascinated by it, attracted to it — or, utterly revolted. But it can be very important for me to understand my own personality type, as well as its opposite, because I likely carry that opposite within me, in my unconscious.

We may find that, if we don’t acknowledge our own weak feeling, or weak thinking, it can emerge in surprising and unwelcome ways. The thinking type may find him- or herself subject to moods that he or she can’t explain or shake off. The feeling type may find her- or himself subject to obsessive thoughts that just won’t go away. We need to acknowledge these ignored and perhaps disrespected parts of ourselves, if we’re to continue our journey to wholeness.

Jungian Typology and The Undiscovered Self

So, exploring our Jungian typology and our personality type can lead us into new and unexpected kinds of self-understanding. It can help us get into relationship with what Jung called “the undiscovered Self”.

This exploration of personality type can be a very important part of the work of depth psychotherapy. Working in the supportive environment of Jungian therapy with a highly trained and supportive guide can be an excellent way to explore all the aspects of personality type including those parts that are less developed. It can be a great way to acknowledge and come to accept all the different parts of the greater Self.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Deal with Change During Major Life Transitions

March 25th, 2019 · adapting to change, how to deal with change

We live in a time of rapid flux, but major life events, especially, can leave us wondering how to deal with change.

how to deal with change

We’re always dealing with rapid changes on an on-going basis in our time. But those changes can become particularly demanding when they’re part of a major life transition.
Just what are these “major life transitions” that we’re talking about? They can be a very wide range of things, good or bad. Here is a very partial list:
  • leaving school or university;
  • retirement;
  • marriage or divorce;
  • children leaving home;
  • changes in job or work environment; and,
  • many other types of major life change…

The Struggle with Uncertainty and Feeling Powerless

A key part of the difficulty that major life transitions create for us stems from the uncertainty they generate. When we go through a major life transition, we may well confront a situation where we can’t be fully sure what will happen.

We know that our mind may well fill in the uncertainty with a great deal of negative foreboding. Modern research has shown that the mind tends to intensely dislike uncertain situations. Evolution has taught us that uncertainty equals danger, and our biology is strongly motivated to avoid uncertain situations — the so called negativity bias identified by U. Penn. Prof. Paul Rozin and others.

Uncertainty biases the brain to expect the worst of possible outcomes. Therefore, anything we can do to build a sense of certainty and control in dealing with a major life transition enhances our sense of “being in the driver’s seat”. That reduces our inward predisposition to pessimism and impotence.

Yet, what about the situations in life where there is genuine uncertainty that simply can’t be managed or controlled away?

How to Manage Change — Accepting the Limits of Our Control

It can be very easy to tell ourselves that we have a major life transition under control, when we’re dealing with it. However, it can be vitally important to recognize when it’s not.

For instance, we may move toward parenthood, divorce or retirement feeling strongly that we have a plan, and that everything is under control. We work hard on carrying our plan out. Yet we may find that there are times when things just don’t follow the plan.

There may be a time when we have to admit that we can’t completely anticipate or control what is happening. To live in denial may ultimately make our situation worse, compounding anxiety and depression.

Being Grounded in What Really Matters

Often the uncertainty created by major life changes can be difficult and painful. Yet, as Jungian James Hollis reminds us, these crises take us into the unexplored parts of ourselves. Often they can lead us to the realization that we have outgrown our old view of ourselves, and the story that we have told ourselves about our lives. They can make us realize that we need a new and different understanding of who we are.

It’s essential to understand and be compassionate with ourselves as we seek to figure out how to deal with change. This is especially true when that change deals with something truly important in our lives, as is always the case with major life transitions.

Working with a depth psychotherapist can be an important way to increase a sense of compassion for yourself, and can also be a positive source of help in the midst of dealing with a major life transition. Depth psychotherapy can bring a renewed understanding of who we are, and can assist with new approaches to the challenges brought by major life changes.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How Does Your Personality Type Affect Your Life? PART ONE

March 18th, 2019 · Jungian personality type, Personality type

Understanding your personality type can have an enormous impact on the way you live your life.

The Many Shades of Personality!
Many people have encountered the Myers-Briggs Personality Typology through work or schooling. They often don’t realize that it’s based on the ground-breaking work that C.G. Jung did around personality type as far back as the 1920s. They also often don’t realize how revolutionary and transformative Jung’s understanding of personality type truly is.
This is the first in a series of blog posts exploring the deeper meaning of personality type and how it profoundly impacts the entire way that each of us inhabits our lives.

Fundamentally Different Approaches to the World

People of different personality types take in the world in different ways. Jung’s theory of personality types seeks to help us distinguish the different fundamental components of our consciousness.

If we start with the two attitudes, introversion and extroversion, they represent two fundamentally different ways of being. As Jungian analyst Andrew Samuels tells us, if you’re an introvert, you’re someone who is stimulated and energized by the internal world. If you’re an extrovert, you’re stimulated and energized by the external world. These are two utterly different things, and you could expect the life journey of a strong extrovert to look very different than that of a strong introvert.

In the Jungian personality typology, each individual also has a primary function, which is one of sensation, thinking, feeling or intuition. As Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp indicates,

Thinking refers to the process of cognitive thought, sensation is perception by means of the physical sense organs, feeling is the function of subjective judgment or valuation, and….through intuition we have a sense of [a thing’s] possibilities.

Daryl Sharp, C.G. Jung Lexicon

If a person’s primary function is one of these four, his fundamental way of taking in the world will differ dramatically from an individual of the other three types.

Personality Type: A Dance of Opposites

Aspects of personality type aren’t just different. Many of them are actually fundamentally opposed to each other. This means that it may be very difficult for me to understand an introvert, if I’m an extrovert — or vice versa. Or, it may be very hard to relate to a person whose “superior” (i.e., most developed) function is feeling, if my superior function is thinking.

Yet, there may be a great deal of value in trying to understand personality types that are very different than our own, just as there is great value in really seeking to understand our own personality. Often, we can feel a strong attraction to personalities that are very different from our own, because on some deep, probably largely unconscious level we are drawn to those who have the characteristics we most lack. Thus the age-old saying that, in romantic relationships, opposites attract! Depth psychotherapists are very aware of how true this can be, and are aware of the opportunities — and complexities — that this can bring to relationships.

Personality Type and Self-Acceptance

Awareness of our personality type can be very important in enabling our acceptance of ourselves. In each culture, there are particular aspects of personality that are prized, and which are given particular emphasis and importance.

In Canada, for instance, extroversion has tended to be prized and valued over introversion. This is even more true among our neighbours to the south in the United States! This can often mean that introverted people in such a culture can end up feeling that there is something basically wrong with them, that they are somehow “odd” or “off” or “weird”. It can be a tremendously liberating thing to have an explanation for why we are the way we are, and to realize that that way of being has unique strengths.

Understanding, accepting and cherishing our personality type can be a very important part of understanding and welcoming all that we are. While we can learn a great deal about our personality type on our own there can be immense value and immense assistance on our journey toward wholeness through work with a Jungian depth psychotherapist.

With every good wish for your journey!

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What is A Midlife Crisis? What is a Transition to Later Life?

March 11th, 2019 · Psychology and Suburban Life

Well, what is a midlife crisis? Could you possibly be having one now? Or, is something else important unfolding in your life?

Image: “Mid Life Crisis 2” by Steve A. Johnson
The standard image of a midlife crisis has certainly made its way into the media and the popular psyche. It’s a pretty stereotypical, almost cartoon-ish image! It has a lot to do with middle-aged males leaving their wives for much younger women, and zipping around town in newly purchased flashy red sports cars. Some people do have midlife experiences of this type. Yet, it’s important to cast our net much more widely if we want to understand the kinds of transitions that people undergo at midlife — and later in the second half of life.
Firstly, it’s not just males who go through major life transitions in the middle of life. Far from it! Females are just as likely to enter a period of real questioning and soul-searching as a part of midlife transition. Males and females alike often fully realize in midlife that life doesn’t last forever, and feel that that puts particular emphasis on what each of us chooses to do with the rest of life.
What’s more, the particular challenges of the middle of life, and the second half of life have a way of being very individual. We can see the first half of life for many people as very much being about living in a way that meets the broad expectations of family, peer groups, or society as a whole. The second half of life is very much about finding things in life that hold value specifically for me. So, the particular way that these issues come up for each person in a “midlife crisis” or midlife transition vary so enormously that we always have to ask, “What kind of a ‘midlife crisis’ is this individual having?

What is a Midlife Crisis — for Me?

Each of us has to ask ourselves how the previously unacknowledged parts of ourselves are confronting us as we move into, or through, the second half of life.

One person may find that issues around career are bringing up deep questions about what is meaningful or worth doing in life. Another may find him- or herself asking important questions about key relationships with a partner or a spouse. Someone else may find that they are going through significant changes in their ethical, spiritual or religious orientation. Others may find that they are strongly attracted to some new interest that seems even “out of character” with the way that they have thought of themselves to this point in their lives.

In my own case, at one point in my midlife journey, it was pretty much a blend of “all of the above.” Your experience will differ — as it does from individual to individual. As Jungian analyst James Hollis tells us,

When one has let go of that great hidden agenda that drives humanity and its varied histories, then one can begin to encounter the immensity of one’s own soul.

James Hollis, The Eden Project

It’s important to recognize that any and all of these experiences may also be accompanied by the experience of anxiety and/or depression. The presence of anxiety or depression may well be one of the things that alerts us to the fact that we are going through the transition into the second half of life.

Business as Usual? — Probably Not An Option

There’s a psychological liability in trying to ignore the inner voices that may come up in the middle of life. It can be very tempting to simply pretend that everything in our lives is just as it always was — even though at the deepest level, we know that it isn’t. Hollis speaks of this inertia in us in the context of spirituality:

In moments of spiritual crisis we naturally fall back upon what worked for us, or seemed to work, heretofore. Sometimes this shows up through the reassertion of our old values in belligerent, testy ways. Regression of any kind is just such a return…

James Hollis, What Matters Most

Often we can try to simply ignore the reality of what is happening in mid-life. However, it’s not likely that we’ll be able to feel that life is flowing for us, and moving beyond stagnation, unless we take changing realities seriously.

Your Unique Journey

The process of uncovering the personal meaning of these changes will involve creative disruption. Moving in the direction of living out our own uniqueness is the only life-giving way through these challenges. Hollis puts it in perspective for us:

We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide [examples] for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being. As the gods intended, we are here to become more and more ourselves.

Hollis, What Matters Most

It’s only when we’re on the road to our own individual selves, our own particular, unique sense of what is meaningful in our lives, that we can find any lasting sense of value in our lives. It’s essential to commit ourselves to trying to understand ourselves as we emerge, and to discern what begins to call to us, as we journey into the second half of our lives. Jungian depth psychotherapy may well prove to be an invaluable aid on this journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: VSPYCC (Creative Commons Licence)

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I Don’t Want to Feel Ashamed… How Can I Find Freedom?

March 4th, 2019 · to feel ashamed

To feel ashamed is to experience a primary form of human emotion — which is also one of the most difficult experiences in human life.

Shame is universal; all humans experience it.
Shame is a hard emotion to talk about, because, as many experts have noted, shame is highly motivated to hide itself: it doesn’t want to be seen. We should never underestimate the power of the connection between shame and anxiety. Shame has a very big role in our lives, even though we may keep the particular moments when we’ve experienced shame hidden, even from ourselves. In fact, we often particularly keep them hidden from ourselves. That’s how negatively potent shame can be.

What Feeling Ashamed Does to Us

Shame is a powerful emotion throughout our lives, but never more than when we are very young — such as in the second year of our life. This is the time when we first begin to encounter demands on ourselves related to bodily processes and toilet training.

If we get positive messages about the body and what it produces from parental figures, it’s going to enable us to feel competent and to value ourselves. However, if we get messages of shame, not measuring up, and generally devaluation of ourselves, we come to dislike ourselves and to not even see ourselves as autonomous — as able to do things for ourselves. Psychologist Erik Erikson labelled this the life stage of autonomy versus shame and doubt.

Experiences of shame can really corrode our sense of self, not only at this early life stage, but throughout our lives. Experiences of destructive shame can easily keep us from having any clear sense of ourselves and our own ability to take steps to get the things we want and need in life, especially in the course of major life transitions.

As family therapists Fossom and Mason put it, toxic shame is connected with the “violation and dimunition of personhood”. Genuinely shaming experiences stay with a person, often burned in memory. They can have a profound impact on us many years and decades after the original shaming experience. What is more, shame is associated with that part of ourselves that Jung referred to as the shadow.

To Feel Ashamed… of Our Shadow

Jung’s very concise definition of the shadow was “the thing a person has no wish to be”. He demonstrates that it contains, in Jungian analyst Andrew Samuels’ words,

the negative side of the personality, the sum of the unpleasant qualities one wants to hide, the inferior… and primitive side of man’s nature, the other person in one, one’s own dark side.

Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis

The shadow has a very important connection with the shame we feel in our lives, for, as Jung also notes,

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it… But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected, and is liable to burst forth suddenly in a moment of unawareness, At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.

Collected Works, vol. 11

In our shadow, then, is basically everything about ourselves of which we are ashamed, and which we would rather not acknowledge.

Practically speaking, we can run from the shadow, but we can’t really hide. We encounter the shadow in those areas of our life in which we feel:

  • a sense of inadequacy or inferiority;
  • contact with parts of ourselves where we are less moral than we would like to appear;
  • awareness of those very things of which we feel most ashamed.

These things are the essence of shadow. We may live in denial about these things, and stay disconnected from our shame much of the time. Yet, ultimately we know it’s there, and we know that living in denial will only make things feel worse.

Real shame is often connected with intense pain. Is there any way to find some freedom from it?

Freedom Through Acceptance

Shame is something that all human beings experience. It’s in the nature of shame to make us feel that we are somehow separate or different from the rest of the human race. Yet, the experience of shame is a universal human thing. As many observers have pointed out, it’s easy to “feel ashamed of being ashamed”, but actually, every human being goes through the agony of feeling ashamed. That you and I experience shame shows that we are human.

If we can accept that we aren’t alone in our experience of shame, that it’s a human thing, then maybe we can stop defending ourselves so hard from our shame, and just be able to encounter the shadow, and begin to accept these aspects of ourselves. And the key lies in compassionate acceptance of the suffering being that feels compelled to feel ashamed — ourselves.

We can do this to some extent on our own, but a depth psychotherapy relationship where we can truly find acceptance can be of immense importance. Gradually being able to accept ourselves and release our shame in the context of a healing therapy relationship can be a key part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Fr James Bradley (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Dealing with Aging Parents: The Meaning of Mother and Father

February 25th, 2019 · dealing with aging parents

Dealing with aging parents is often a key experience in midlife and the second half of life.

It’s easy in our culture to sentimentalize family life, but, in our time, the realities of family are complex for very many people. While dealing with aging parents might seem like a subject for family therapy — and it is — it also has a lot to do with each of our individual lives, and our discovery of our unique selfhood, our journey to wholeness.

Aging Parents in Midlife and Later

The connection between midlife and aging parents was brought home to me powerfully in my mid-40s. At that time, I was dealing with a very significant mid-life transition. At the same time, I was also dealing with the serious illness, and ultimately, the passing of my father. This process of dealing with aging parents brought some profound changes into my awareness and my priorities for my own life.

For many people, the time around midlife will start to bring changes into the adult child-parent dynamic. Often, this will be a period when the child is living life largely independent of the parent. Yet, it can also be the time at which parents start to encounter limitations that may require some degree of assistance or support from a son or daughter.

This is a complex time for the aging parent. As Penn State Prof. Steven Zarit points out, “One of the scariest things to people as they age is that they don’t feel in control anymore”. Aging parents often indicate that they want both autonomy and connection with their children. Yet, adult sons and daughters are often put in the difficult position of taking responsibility for aspects of the lives of parents who once took care of them. These are the same parents who, at an earlier stage, may have been important images of what it meant to be an autonomous and engaged adult.

The Adult Child’s Journey

Dealing with aging parents can lead to some key transformations in the individuation journey of the adult child. Often the adult child can find her- or himself involved in some form of caretaking of the older parent.

This is a huge psychological shift. The adult child will often carry vivid memories of the parent as powerful and hopefully protecting and nurturing. It can be an highly emotional, difficult life transition to see the parent’s vulnerability, and limitation — while simultaneously trying to honour the parents’ dignity and sense of self.

Dealing with adult parents and their changing needs can have a profound effect on adult children. It can produce very serious economic and psychological stress, particularly when it is coupled with trying to meet the demands of parents and children simultaneously.

Parents: Personal & Archetypal

In the course of dealing with aging parents, profound inner changes can occur in the adult child’s inner image of the parent.

In Jungian terms, the most profound experiences of the parental archetypes of father and mother occur through the child’s experience of its own parents in the family unit. As a result of this bedrock experience, each of us carries father and mother complexes. These are positive and negative in varying degrees, which means that they either support each of us on our journey through life, or they hold us back.

It is a virtual certainty that the experience of dealing with aging parents will strongly activate our father and mother complexes. This may be a source of distress and anguish. However, it can also be a source of genuine growth and development, as we sift through our experience of relationship with our parents, acknowledging and accepting who they are.

A genuine willingness to explore the full range of feelings around dealing with aging parents can lead to increased self-knowledge and self-acceptance. It can often be very helpful to work with a depth psychotherapist at this time, to help us explore all the dimensions of ourselves, conscious and unconscious, that get activated during this life stage.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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