Journeying Toward Wholeness

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What is Self Doubt? Depth Psychotherapy’s View of How to Cope

November 21st, 2016 · what is self doubt

What is self doubt?  What really is this questioner that comes calling, sometimes bringing agonies that can be nearly intolerable?

what is self doubt

For many people, coming to terms with self-doubt is one of the most urgent needs in their lives. Yet, a real understanding of self-doubt can sometimes be elusive.
The doubt I’m referring to here is not a matter of doubting some intellectual proposition, such as “I doubt there is life on Mars” or “I doubt that vegan diets are healthy”.  It’s something much more fundamental.  From a depth psychotherapy perspective, what is self doubt, really?

Self Doubt as Toxic and Paralyzing

Self doubt can certainly stop us in our tracks.  Genuine self doubt may stem from extremely early wounding in our lives, sometimes so early and so fundamental that it is too painful to look at the root cause.  Emotions associated with these wounds can be so painful that they get pushed into the unconscious.  The situation can be so painful that it cannot easily be tolerated, and so it stays behind the scenes, out of the view of the ego.  From that hidden place it distorts perceptions, and influences decisions, often poisoning relationships.  The individual cannot tolerate the pain of the wounding, or even start to let in the healthy self doubt that would actually challenge the ego’s distorted view of the situation.

Self Doubt as Potentially Freeing …Really!

Fortunately, most of us are not so wounded by our early life experience that we cannot face or be aware of our self doubt.  Often, we are all too aware that it exists, and interferes in our living of our lives.  This may seem like a curse.  But are there any dimensions of blessing that are contained within this awareness of self doubt?

The psyche can easily arrive at a set, static, unchanging posture or stance.  A posture that keeps us from having to confront any of the painful kinds of awareness that we have in our lives.  This can feel very comfortable, but it can keep us from any kind of growth or change, or from key things of which we need to be aware in order to accept ourselves and our lives.  As James Hollis tells us, doubt, even self doubt, can be the necessary fuel for change, and therefore growth.  Self doubt can keep us from getting stuck in attitudes and images of ourselves that are stuck in yesterday’s reality.  Actually, it is often only self-doubt that can free us from the tyranny of the ego.

what it self doubt

Getting Beyond the Stuckness of the Ego

The seat of consciousness in our psyche, the ego, would tend to tell us one particular story about our identity and our lives.  But it ain’t necessarily so.  A Jungian or depth psychotherapy perspective emphasizes that there are more — many more — than one version of one’s story in psyche, and many more than one aspect of our personal identity.  Hollis puts it well:

While the ego would like to make the universe of the soul monocratic and monotheistic, the psyche is in fact polytheistic and powerfully democratic, with many split-off energies or complexes.  The enlarged sense of self requires a dialogue with these energies and an ego both open and humble.  

He ends with a sentence that powerfully resonates with my own experience:

Most of us have only truly grown when our ego’s haughty power was brought down. 

We need to be compassionate to our ego, and all the other parts of ourselves, and yet realize that a false certainty about who and what we are will not lead to more self-understanding and self acceptance.

What is Self Doubt?  Well, What Will We Make of It?

Is self doubt the enemy of soul?    Suppressing doubts about ourselves and the direction of our lives often forces us into molds of rigidity and self-deception.  Often self-doubt exists because we are on the threshold of acknowledging some previously unknown truth about the self, and taking the next step on our journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Basic Trust vs Mistrust: Can I Feel Secure in My LIfe?

November 14th, 2016 · basic trust vs mistrust

Basic trust vs mistrust in life can be an issue that comes to the fore extremely powerfully in our lives at times of major life transition.

basic trust vs mistrust

Everyone at some point or other in their journey confronts the question of whether life is trustworthy, whether I can place my hope in it.  Certain situations, like mid-life transition, can bring those questions powerfully to the fore.  Also, for certain individuals, because of their life experience, this question is much more to the front and center than it is for other individuals.

Erikson and Basic Trust vs Mistrust

Trust vs. mistrust represents the first stage in Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development.  This stage begins at birth and lasts through one year of age. In it, either infants learn to trust that their caregivers will meet their basic needs, or, if basic needs are not consistently met, the infant may learn to react out of mistrust and suspicion, and may develop strong anxiety.

While the issue of basic trust vs mistrust is rooted in early life, it often would not confine its impact to earliest life.  It can certainly raise its head in potent ways at much later stages in the life journey.

The Issue is Larger…

Issues of basic trust vs mistrust can easily present in the form of a complex.   Jung in his research on complexes posited that a complex originates in “a trauma, emotional shock… or moral conflict which ultimately derives from the apparent impossibility of affirming all of one’s nature [italics mine]”.  A complex involving basic trust vs mistrust might entail an inability to live out the parts of oneself that want to trust and to be secure — when one is conflicted by radical insecurity.

Depth psychotherapists know that complexes take us back to the unresolved issues in our lives, leading us to see current life events through the lens of the past.  With each new occurrence of the complex, its emotional power can become more intense.

As depth psychotherapists well know, a powerful complex, such as a complex rooted in the experience of certain negative experiences of the mother, could easily block or completely bar the way to basic trust.

How Can I Move Towards Trusting Life, and Myself?

basic trust vs mistrust

Takes Trust!

Taking the power out of a complex that orients a person to mistrust of life is much more than just an intellectual activity.  As psychoanalyst Theodore Jacobs puts it, “Understanding and insight… are only part of the process of change….  Also important is experience: the patient’s lived experience with the analyst, which along with insight, has the effect of altering fixed positions, fixed views and fixed automatic responses.”  The analyst has to take an active role in helping to take the energy out of the complex.

As Daryl Sharp tells us, the role of the analyst is to work with the person to create a “container” where the intensity of the conflicting feelings of basic trust vs mistrust “can safely play in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.” This atmosphere of positive regard and the experience of being trusted and giving trust is a central part of the journey toward compassionate self-acceptance, which is essential to moving from mistrust to trust, and is a central part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Dealing with Feelings: Some Depth Psychotherapy Reflections

November 7th, 2016 · dealing feelings

Dealing with feelings is complex and demanding, especially for those of us who are naturally much more at home dealing with rational thinking.

dealing feelings

Yet, even for the most dyed-in-the-wool “thinking type”, there will come times when we absolutely must deal with our feelings, if we are to make any kind of meaningful sense of our lives.

Feelings Are Facts!

Here’s a point that C.G. Jung was always making: there can be no dispute that, if a person is in the grips of a feeling, that’s a real thing.

The feeling may not be a reality in the external word, like a sushi roll or a subway train, but make no mistake — it’s real and really effects the person that has it, and possibly other people as well.

We’re Socialized to Mask Our Feelings

As noted Chicago psychotherapist Joyce Marter suggests, in modern culture, we’re socialized to cover up our feelings.

We frequently get the message that we have to cover up our feelings in order to behave “appropriately” in social environments, or to act professionally, or, we are told, to avoid conflict and to make relationships work properly for us.

Certainly, it’s true that we often have to control our feeling in social settings.  But does that mean that we’re not supposed to feel them?  From a depth psychotherapy perspective, that seems not only wrong, but psychologically impossible.

Your Feelings are There to Help You

Feelings exist not to give us trouble, but to serve incredibly vital psychological functions.

We need to listen to our feelings, to understand them.  If we do not, our unacknowledged feelings are going to trip us up at every turn.  This becomes particularly true at times like major life transitions.

Our feeling states can very often lead our more rational mind to a better understanding of situations that we are in, and their true impact upon us.  We need the feeling parts of ourselves!

dealing feelings

Dealing with Feelings: You Don’t Have to Act; But You Do Need to Process

If we want to stay connected to inner and outer reality, we really have no alternative but to pay attention to our feeling states.  Sometimes, it can be very hard to easily identify what we’re feeling.

You don’t have to act on your feelings, or even verbalize them to others.  But it can be extremely valuable to acknowledge them, and to know what they are.

There are a range of ways we can begin to get closer to our feelings.

Journaling or therapeutic letters.  Sometimes it can be very useful to write about what we are going through emotionally, or even just our ordinary daily lives.  This can take the form of a journal entry, or of a letter written to someone who has evoked strong feelings in us, (which we may or may NOT decide to send to them.)  Sometimes showing such writings to a trusted therapist can be of a great deal of help in processing feelings.

Identifying emotions.  Sometimes we recognize that we don’t even have the right vocabulary to really identify what it is that we’re feeling.  There are tools, such as feeling charts that we can use.  Here’s a simple one  — but still very useful.

Using art to identify feelings (and intuitions!).  Painting, clay, drawing, making music … these are all natural forms of human expression, and they can all help greatly in getting us down and in touch with our feelings.

Depth psychotherapy can be extremely helpful in processing emotions, often in conjunction with one of the above approaches.

For all of us, but particularly for thinking oriented people, the journey towards wholeness is going to take us through the territory of processing our feelings.  It might be good territory to go through with the help of a trusted therapist.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Major Change in the Life of a 50-Plus Individual

October 24th, 2016 · change in the life

If you are in that age bracket, you know that major change in the life of individuals aged 50-plus can require sizable psychological adaptations.

 change in the life

Meeting these challenges can require great strength and resilience.  And often, the right kind of support can help immensely.

Common 50-Plus Life Changes

What major changes do people commonly encounter in the 50-plus age bracket?  Here’s a few startling examples.

Divorce.  Leaving a marriage of many years duration in the 50-plus age bracket can be a very difficult, grief-filled experience — even if it’s the best thing for all concerned.

Retirement.  This is very big.  Leaving the work world, to do something entirely different with your life, is an enormous transition, and it can be extremely stressful.

Relocation.  It’s not at all uncommon for people in later life to move or re-locate, possibly for the first time in many years.  This can be very powerful psychological experience.

Coming Out.  It’s one thing to tell the world you have a non-straight sexual identity in your early 20s.  It’s quite another thing in your 50s or 60s, if you’ve led a life that was apparently “straight”.

Bereavement.  The loss of dear loved ones, and the attendant grief, is one of the biggest psychological blows in human life.

Fundamental changes in priorities or worldview.  These can happen in later life!  The person who was apparently “corporate all the way” may find that very different values emerge as they do through the second half of life.

change in the life

Common Characteristics of Major “Change in the Life” Experiences

These are diverse experiences, but there are certain things that people undergoing these “change in the life” experiences very often share in common.

People Experience Fear

The kinds of changes listed above can all be associated with an element of fear.  They’re associated with moving into unknown territory, and that can easily provoke an atmosphere of fear and anxiety.  It can be essential to find some way to move through this, allowing me to retain a sense of dignity and meaning in my life.

People Experience Sadness

People are sad at what the changes might mean.  They experience actual or potential loss.  Losses necessarily have to be grieved in a way that allows the person to move through them, and into the good things that life is presenting.

Those Whom We Love

People worry greatly about those close to them, or who depend on them.  What will happen to those who love us, as we go through the crucible of truly life-altering change?  We feel their vulnerability: that makes us vulnerable, too.

How Am I Going to Get Through?

In conjunction with such sizable changes, people often worry about their survival — economic or physical.  It’s hard to imagine how life will be on the other side of a major life change — how I’ll get through, how I’ll stand the stress.

Loss of an Identity

Many of the situations described above involve the loss of at least one important identity, or “persona”, to use the Jungian term.  Divorce entails the loss of identity as a married person.  Coming out means loss of identity as a perceived straight person; retirement, as a member of the work force; relocation, as someone who “belongs” in a certain place, and so on.  Each such loss of identity has enormous impact on the person (and is probably worthy of its own blog post.)  Finding the way to find a new identity, and how to “live into” it, can be a very major piece of psychotherapy or psychoanalytic work.

“Change in the Life”

When it comes to the major transitions described in this post, it’s clear that, in undergoing them, post-50 individuals seek to avoid chaos, and to ultimately find meaning, in their major “change in the life” experiences.  For the 50-plus individual, this is an essential element of journeying towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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The Goal of Psychotherapy: A Depth Psychotherapy Perspective

October 17th, 2016 · goal psychotherapy

Before beginning psychotherapy to improve your life, it’s good to think carefully about the goal psychotherapy is seeking. 

 goal psychotherapy
This post explores the goal psychotherapy of the “depth” varieties known as analytical, archetypal or Jungian would seek.  All forms of therapy have their unique strengths and perspectives.  In the types of depth psychotherapy we’re considering, the goal is more oriented toward the wholeness of the person than might be found in some other varieties of psychotherapy.
So, what actually is it that we’re actually after in psychotherapy?  The answer to this question may well have a lot to do with what we’re really after in life…

It’s Not Just Removal of Symptoms

Most forms of psychotherapy agree that the goal is not just removal of symptoms.  Very often, what actually brings a person into therapy is a particular symptom, that causes difficulty, possibly quite a bit of difficulty, in his or her life.  For instance, the person may be very angry at a significant person, such as a spouse.  Or, the person may have quite a bit of depression or anxiety connected with going into their workplace.  Understandably, the person is seeking to get the symptom to disappear — they just want it gone.  And it happens reasonably frequently that someone will start to come to therapy, have a few sessions, and start to feel better, as the symptom becomes less intense.  The person may then decide to end therapy.  All too often, the symptoms then will come back, perhaps with a vengeance.  The individual may then reach the conclusion that “psychotherapy doesn’t work.”

Getting to the Deeper Issues

Is that a fair conclusion?  We get symptoms most often because they reflect underlying, deeper issues.  If those deeper issues aren’t dealt with, little may change in the long run.

It’s not just about “being happy.”  “Happiness” might seem like a suitable goal for therapy, but, it’s a very slippery thing.  It can be here one moment and gone the next, to return in a while.  The goal of therapy needs to be something much more lasting.

It’s not just about the pain stopping, either.  Psychological pain, when it occurs, is usually a warning signal that something is not right in our lives.  To get rid of the pain, momentarily, without understanding the underlying cause, is like disconnecting the engine warning light in your car, without doing anything about the fact that the engine is dangerously low on oil.

goal psychotherapy

It’s Connected to “Authenticity”, but Also a Lot More

“Authenticity” is a term used in therapy to refer to being true to oneself.  Yet, to be true to oneself, one has to know the identity of that self.  The same is true of the term “self-actualization”, a term originating with humanistic psychologists like Abraham Maslow. To actualize oneself, to live out one’s personal potential is a worthy goal, associated with a sense of meaning in life. Yet, to achieve it, it’s essential to be in connection with your fundamental identity.

Meaning in Life, and the Undiscovered Self

For depth psychotherapy of an analytical, archetypal or Jungian variety, the goal psychotherapy is seeking fundamentally involves creating a vital relationship between the conscious and the unconscious parts of the personality.  It’s only as the unconscious starts to be connected to consciousness that I begin to get a more complete sense of my own identity.  As that begins to happen, I may gain new kinds of awareness about aspects of myself of which I was unaware.  For analytical, archetypal or Jungian depth psychotherapies, the unconscious mind is not just a repository of repressed memories, but a source of psychic energy and healing vitality, that empowers our inner urge to become the unique individual persons that we truly are.  It’s on that journey that we discover our fundamental sense of meaning.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Moving Into A New House: The Impact on Psyche

October 3rd, 2016 · moving into a new house

Moving into a new house is a big life event and a major life transition.  It has a huge impact on the psyche of the individual.

moving into a new house

We have an extremely strong psychological connection with the particular place where we live.  In addition, in dreams and other symbolic material, the house can often be a symbol for the whole of the personality.
In my part of the world at this particular point in time, so many people are involved with moving into a new house, or consumed with planning for the time when they will move into a new house.  Immense psychological energy swirls around this  whole subject.
Why is where we live so important to us psychologically?  How does moving into a new house affect us so profoundly?

The Bond of Home

People are immensely bonded to geographical locations that have figured prominently in their lives.  This is especially true of places that they have called “home“.

The research of Prof. Jerry Burger of Santa Clara University with hundreds of people who had returned to see their family homes from the elementary school years bears this out powerfully.  As he says, “Among the unexpected findings to emerge… was the depth of emotion many people feel for their childhood home… [O]ne in five people cried… Many brought photographs to share with us.”  He goes on to say something of profound importance:

One’s home is a part of personal identity for many people… an extension of their self.

Symbolic Home

This consciousness of home can be further amplified symbolically and mythologically.  In an important sense, our first “home” is the maternal womb, and anthropology shows that many of the first homes that humans devised were, in the words of the Book of Symbols, “intimate, encompassing, womblike”, like African mud huts formed like female torsos, with vaginal slits for entrances.  Home can be all of: jail-like, or a sanctuary; a place of domestic harmony, or domestic violence; a symbol of the nurturing of the self, or of most profound violation.  Home is a symbol of the complete Self, the symbol of a final destination, and of spiritual and psychic transformation.  It is this whole, powerful symbolic universe that we conjure with, in moving to a new house.

moving into a new house

“My house” or “my home” can take many different forms

Floating Above the Psychic Reality?

Yet, we live in a culture that often seems blithely unaware of the profound depths of this symbolism of home. In modern real estate parlance, we “flip” homes, “gut” homes, “bridge” homes, “close” homes, “balloon” homes — and goodness knows what else!

The selling of homes is treated as a business, and most often as a business where there is a great deal of money to be made.  That’s fair enough.  But what is often not realized are the ways in which this house we’re selling — and, yes, just as much, the house we’re buying — is going to be an enormous presence in our emotional and psychic lives, and will impact us tremendously on the unconscious level.

Often people plunge into the real estate and moving process, with no awareness of the incalculable emotional impact that this transaction is having on their soul, and on the rest of their lives.

The Inner Process of Moving

Moving into a new house is a very major life event, occurring as part of a very major life transition.  It has implications deep within the psyche, even though our culture seems to largely ignore this fact.

Exploring the meaning of a major move, either before, during or after it has occurred, and understanding the importance of such a life transition for our whole psyche, can be a very beneficial and healing journey, and one with which depth psychotherapy can be of immense assistance.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Accepting The Stranger, Embracing Shadow Self

September 26th, 2016 · embracing shadow self

On a certain level, human beings have a primal fear of strangers, the unfamiliar, the other, which connects with fear of embracing shadow self.

embracing shadow self

Depth psychotherapy, like all psychology, knows there is a natural fear of the unknown that is built into our biology.  As Jung and many others have noted, the fear, caution and natural conservatism of animals has immense survival value in the unpredictable circumstances of nature.  When instinct is your only guide, taking unnecessary risks — like trusting strangers — could prove disastrous, or even fatal.

Enter Humans

However, even though we have a strong set of instincts, human beings are able to function in ways that are not purely determined by instinct.  Because of our unique make up, we’re able to do things that our instinctual side could only be completely opposed to, like use a potentially deadly thing, like fire, to warm ourselves and cook our food.  We can learn to overcome our fear, and do things that are new and that are good for us.

Humans have a fear and anxiety response to unknown people.  Our instinctual side can scream at us not to associate with unknown others, and yet throughout human history and pre-history, we have consistently overcome that fear to create larger and larger groupings of people.  And that’s a good thing, because it’s hard to create things like art, literature, mathematics, airline travel, or even a nutritious meal all on your own, from absolute scratch.

We know all this, and yet each of us can find ourselves caught by fear of the stranger, even the stranger who looks harmless and has merely been through very difficult circumstances and who needs our help.  Why exactly is that?

Enter Human Shadow

To understand the answer to that question, we must connect to this question of embracing the shadow self.

What is the shadow?  Jungian psychotherapy uses the term to refer to those parts of our total personality of which we are unaware, or which we don’t want to acknowledge.  Shadow contains all our weaknesses, all our moral failings, all the things about our own being that make us feel small, vulnerable and ashamed.  And if we’re really unaware, rather than embracing the shadow self, we can start painting others in its colours — what psychologists call projection.


Projecting Shadow – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

The way we feel about strangers can tell us a lot about how we feel about the unfamiliar parts of ourselves.  Extending the welcome to the stranger — within us and outside of us — may be an essential part of our own healing and self understanding, and is a key part of the journey to wholeness in depth psychotherapy.

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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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

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  Jay Galvin ; _G2 ; Matt Debnam
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  raindog808 ;  Alan Levine
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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