Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Making Room for New Journeys: Healing Toxic Shame

January 9th, 2017 · healing toxic shame

The New Year, with all its overtones of hope and new possibility, is actually a very good time to talk about healing toxic shame.

healing toxic shame

Depth psychotherapists know that toxic shame can be a very effective barrier between ourselves and realizing many important aspects of who we are.  Often, we don’t even realize the power of shame in our lives.
Yet sometimes the negative power of shame is all too visible in the life of someone who has undergone the harrowing experience of public shaming.  The terrible experience of such individuals shows us a great deal about the power that shame can very easily have in any of our lives.

The Virulence of Shame: Monica Lewinsky

healing toxic shame

A recent CBC Radio program concerned a professor’s initiative at a prominent Canadian business school.  The prof invited activist Monica Lewinsky to speak about her experience as the first person to have her reputation destroyed worldwide on the Internet.  Ms. Lewinsky’s name became a household word as the result of massive degradation, villainization, scandal and shame.  She has much to teach us as a result of the experience. Infamously referred to as “that woman” by President Clinton in his denial, she writes

So far, That Woman has never been able to escape the shadow of that first depiction…. [T]hat brand stuck….

Unlike the other parties involved, I was so young that I had no established identity to which I could return. I didn’t “let this define” me—I simply hadn’t had the life experience to establish my own identity in 1998. If you haven’t figured out who you are, it’s hard not to accept the horrible image of you created by others. [Italics mine]  …I remained “stuck” for far too many years.

Ms. Lewinsky’s remarks about the devastating impact of shame on a person in her early 20s who hasn’t arrived at a well-developed sense of self ring all too true.  Much less public, but even be more devastating, can be intense and on-going shame encountered at much younger ages.

Healing Toxic Shame: the Vulnerability of the Young

For many people, devastating toxic shame arrives at a very young age. The family of origin or the early years of school can be a cauldron of roiling, inescapable shame.  It can be extremely difficult for a vulnerable person to escape the acid power of the message that “you should be ashamed of yourself”, if it is received at an early age from parents, or authority figures such as teachers.

Shame can distort and corrode a person’s sense of self in ways beyond what any other emotion can do.  From a Jungian perspective, it can create complexes which feed on self-revulsion, inferiority, feelings of worthlessness and and inability to connect with others. If enough shame is experienced, self-loathing and self attack can even lead to self-destructive impulses.

When we experience shame, we carry the vulnerable and young place that experiences the shame within us, and we can easily get drawn back [“triggered”] into re-experiencing the feelings of shame with all the original intensity.

What can we do?

Compassion and Healing Toxic Shame

One thing that can contribute greatly to healing toxic shame is compassion.  The compassion of others towards our shamed self can be very important; as social psychologist Kristin Neff has shown, even more important is finding compassion that we direct towards ourselves.  Fundamental to healing from toxic shame is the ability to connect with our own experiences of suffering, and to recognize how our earlier selves were wounded by shaming from others or from the circumstances of our lives.

Depth psychotherapy can assist greatly in developing this sense of self compassion, as we discern the emotion at the heart of complexes which is tied to excruciating experiences of shame.  As we more and more take the corrective perspective of the unconscious into account, through dreams and other means, we develop the capacity to genuinely see ourselves, and to be kind.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Fear of the Holidays: Gateway to Major Life Transition?

December 19th, 2016 · fear of the holidays

Today, we’re increasingly aware that many people experience fear of the holidays.  Might such fear be the gateway to a major life transition?

fear of the holidays

This might seem like a disconnected, even outrageous thought.  Yet, might it be that examining the roots of “fear of the holidays” might teach us something important about ourselves, and our wants and needs?
Why might any of us experience fear of the holidays?  Here are some possible reasons.

Family of Origin and Fear of the Holidays

Many people experience difficult, stressful encounters with members of their family of origin over the holiday period.  For adults, these are often rooted in long standing issues and situations in the life of the family of origin.  There may be issues that stem from addictions situations, or from physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

These long-standing situations can often have a very powerful impact on adult children.  In not a few cases, experiencing such situations in the family of origin again at the holiday season can be the catalyst for real change.  People may feel a real need to change the ways they are prepared to encounter family members, or, in some cases may even temporarily or permanently cease from contact.  The decision to do so can constitute a major life transition.

Present Life Situation and Fear of the Holidays

Sometimes the holidays, and the amount of time spent with spouses, partners or other members of the family that a person currently lives in can bring about powerful confrontations with hard truths about where things actually stand in relationships, marriages and families.  Individuals may dread the holidays, precisely because they can bring us up against the reality of relationship breakdown, due to more time being spent at home and the facts of where things actually stand in relationship are more apparent.  Again, this may be a time when individuals decide to embark on major life transitions such as separation or divorce, and when the individual is strongly in need of the kind of clarity that comes through depth psychotherapy work.

Confrontation with the Self, and Fear of the Holidays

Similarly, the holidays can result in time away from hyper-busy routines, allowing us to come into contact with ourselves in some surprising ways.

It can be very difficult to be alone with ourselves at times, but it may be a time when we start to uncover important aspects of who we are, and important truths about what we really want.  Embarking on Jungian psychoanalysis can often help individuals to focus in a fruitful way upon these questions.

 

fear of the holidays

New Year Candle

Major Life Transitions, and the Individuation Process

Along with other possible causes, any of the above — family of origin issues, our present life situation or a forthright confrontation with the self — may be the catalyst that leads us into a major life transition.  The fear of the holidays that stems from these causes may contain the seeds of our renewal.

Human beings most often undergo a number of major life transitions in the course of a life time.  These events often involve the definitive ending of one way of living, and a transition to another quite different orientation or way of life.

Sometimes an experience associated with the holidays, and with some aspect of fear of the holidays, may act as the catalyst that propels us into the midst of a major life transition.  Depth psychotherapy, especially of the Jungian variety, sees such transitions as a fundamental part of the individuation process.  Individuation is the process by which an individual moves towards living and being in accord with their most fundamental identity.  As Jungian Analyst Warren Colman tells us, “The self is the goal towards which the process of individuation strives.”  This is the fundamental core of the journey to wholeness that is the heart of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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The Holidays — and The Psychology of Saying No

December 5th, 2016 · psychology of saying no

The Holidays are here: the season of peace and goodwill towards all. That’s exactly why the psychology of saying no is so important at this time!

psychology of saying no

Now, why would I say anything so Scrooge-like?  Have I no respect for the season?  Actually I have tremendous respect for it!  I think the message of love and acceptance for all has tremendous importance for humanity.  However, in company with depth psychotherapists wiser than myself, I believe that the love of the other has to start with a fundamental love and acceptance for oneself.

Does Being a Good Person Mean Saying Yes?

We get lots of moral and inspirational messaging telling us that we should be saying “Yes” to what others want of us.  They even take a semi-psychological form in urgings or pressure to be a “positive person” — often a spin on being a compliant person who goes along with the desires and agendas of others.

These pressures take very tangible forms at the holidays.  We can feel enormous pressure to invite Uncle Morris to the family dinner, knowing that he’ll arrive intoxicated, drink more, and verbally abuse others.  Yet, it wouldn’t be “nice” to challenge the status quo.  Or I might feel enormous pressure to have “that relative”, visiting from Waha, WI stay for ten days, who is hypochrondriacal and hyper-critical, and who makes me feel like a stranger in my own house.

If I listen to my “gut”, my instinct, it tells me that giving way to these demands isn’t good for me.  Yet I face pressure, internal and external, to be “nice”.

Most of us are trained to be nice and make family gatherings conflict-free.  But what about situations where ignoring my own needs concretely hurts me, psychologically — and perhaps also hurts my health?

psychology of saying no

The Psychology of Saying No: Why Do I Feel the Guilt?

The situations described above, and a whole range of others, including pressure to spend money we don’t have at the holidays, or to entertain or go to social events when we may simply be exhausted, may make us feel something we don’t want to feel: guilt.  Guilt feelings can be excruciating.

Why do I feel guilt?  Well, healthy guilt occurs when I’ve done something that genuinely is at odds with my own particular moral compass.  It’s there to help us stay true to what we really value.  Therapists know that it’s possible to have guilt feelings when we’ve crossed a social taboo, or haven’t met someone else’s expectations.  Yet, just because I feel guilty does not mean that I am guilty.  We owe it to ourselves to discern the difference between genuine guilt, and the guilt feelings that occur because we dare to violate the expectations of others.

Individuation: Before You Can Say “Yes”, You Must Say “No”

Jungians and depth psychotherapists speak of individuation, which Andrew Samuels defines as

“A person’s becoming [him or her]self, whole indivisible and distinct from other people or collective psychology (though also in relation to these).

In order to be oneself “whole indivisible and distinct” from others and from collective psychology, we often have to begin by clearly marking where we begin, and where the expectations of others and of groups end.  This we call “saying no”.  It is almost always essential that we say no in these ways, so that we can begin to say yes to our own fundamental being.

Your Own Way

Poet Gerard Manly Hopkins in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”, writes,

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

‘Deals out that being indoors each one dwells:

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

What I do is me: for that I came.  The Holidays serve to remind us that saying “No” in some contexts, to imposed obligations and the expectations of others may be a very important way of saying “Yes”.  Yes to our own being, our own real identity, and Yes to our own particular journey through life.  Depth psychotherapy is continually moving toward this fundamental “Yes” to the uniqueness and fundamental intrinsic value that we each in our uniqueness are.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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The Importance of Self Understanding in Personal Transformation

November 28th, 2016 · importance of self understanding

“Therapist talk” emphasizes the importance of self understanding in personal transformation, but, what does this really mean, for you or me?

importance of self understanding

The most accurate answer is that it means different things to different types of psychotherapists.  Both “self understanding” and “personal transformation” will mean quite different things, if you should ask, for instance: a) an existential therapist; b) a therapist who emphasizes mindfulness techniques; or, c) a cognitive behavioural therapist.
I work from a Jungian and depth psychotherapy perspective.  This framework has an expansive view of the importance of self understanding.

Self Understanding: Not the Same as Self Awareness

From this perspective, self understanding is not just identical with self awareness.  Self awareness is a very good thing, of course!  It’s infinitely better to be more aware of yourself, your unique characteristics and reactions rather than less aware.  Yet, even with such awareness, there remains the outstanding question of what do all these things I’m aware of about myself actually mean?  Into what kind of a context am I going to put all these things?

Context matters!  I may be aware of a lot of things about myself, but until I can get some sense of myself and my life as a whole, these bits of self awareness may appear as scattered and meaningless details.

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, the most important ways I understand myself are not ideas or concepts used by the ego in its never-ending search for security and control.  Rather, symbols, which often emerge in dreams, artwork or in active imagination perform a unifying and contextual role in a powerful way that includes intellectual understanding, but that brings in other dimensions such as our feeling and our intuition.

importance of self understanding

Out Past the Berlin Wall of the Soul

Where Conscious Meets Unconscious

For depth psychotherapy, the importance of self understanding viewed in this broad way cannot be overstated.  It is truly the foundation stone for a genuinely meaningful process of personal transformation.

Symbols come from the interaction of the conscious and the unconscious minds.  Jung was aware long ago of the importance of the unconscious mind, and the research results of neuroscience in more recent times have only served to confirm and underline the importance of unconscious processes to the existence of consciousness.  As psychiatrist Erik D. Goodwyn puts it, citing neuroscience authorities such as Profs. Michael Gazzaniga and Antonio Damasio;

“A consciousness that rests upon a mighty edifice of unconscious processes, which do not depend upon it, but without which it would be nonfunctional [is] a view so well supported by cognitive neuroscience that one may consider it a settled matter.”

Symbols are not mired in the ego’s myopia.  Hollis describes ego as “Nervous Nellie”, always trying to make things safe, easily controllable, with what Adam Phillips describes as “defensive knowingness”.  Properly understood, symbols rooted in our unconscious reality show us much more expansively who we are.

The Individual’s “Experiment with His/Her Own Nature”

It is this connection with the hitherto unknown aspects of ourselves in the unconscious, which is truly transformative.  As Jungian analyst Josephine Everts-Secker has it,

“Neither imagination nor individuation can be taught.  Experience of psyche itself educates….  Working metaphorically / mythically  creates new neural pathways more effectively than working cognitively….  

How then might we nourish… ‘the experiment with one’s own nature’…?”

The answer lies in psychotherapy that opens a person to the riches of the unconscious.  Jung emphasizes that

“Richness of mind consists in mental receptivity…  Real increase of personality means consciousness of an enlargement that flows from inner sources.  Without psychic depth, we can never be related to the magnitude of our object.” 

Are we willing to enlarge ourselves through attention to the parts of ourselves that are not immediately available to the conscious mind?  It’s there that we find the reality of soul, and the journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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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

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  A. Omer Karamollaoglu ;  Jim Larrison
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  Mike Mozart ;  Timothy Brown
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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