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Individuation in Psychology: Emergence of the Individual Person

July 4th, 2016 · individuation in psychology

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

individuation in psychology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Fear of the Future and the Need for Meaning, 2

June 27th, 2016 · fear of the future

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

fear of the future

                          …Or, is there an alternative?

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

Meaning is Subjective

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

Human Beings Suffer When There Is No Meaning

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

fear of the future

The Discovery of Meaning

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

 

 

Meaning and Personal Myth

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

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

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

…And What About You and I?

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

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Fear of the Future and the Archetype of Meaning

June 20th, 2016 · fear of the future

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

fear of the future

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

Why is There So Much Fear Now?

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

fear of the future

Where Fear of the Future Fits into Psyche

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

anxious-early-human

Where Fear Doesn’t Fit

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

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

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

Is There Any Way Out of this Dilemma?

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

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

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

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

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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The Pain and Joy of Parenting Young Adults

June 13th, 2016 · parenting young adults

At this time of year the pains and joys of parenting young adults are very much on the minds of many.

parenting young adults

The end of a high school year, graduation, or making plans for post-secondary or beyond can make this transition a vivid reality for many parents.
What is more, this is a powerful life transition for parents and young adults both at the same time.

From Adolescence to Young Adulthood

The transition out of adolescence begins in the later teens and often ends at some point in the twenties, with the attainment of a fairly high degree of psychological, social, and economic independence.

Psychological independence refers to an authentic felt sense of individual identity , with an appropriate understanding of that identity as distinct from others.

Social independence is about the individual seeing her- or himself as an autonomous unit, over against parents and others.  It leads to a commitment to one’s own belief structure and to pursuit of one’s own priorities.

In keeping with these two characteristics comes striving for economic independence.  This entails a growing movement toward financial self-sufficiency, and an increasing drive to support oneself without the aid of the parents. Today, this can be a great source of stress in parenting young adults.  In our time, many young adults struggle with finding economic independence, and parents are forced to face hard decisions about how to support their young adult children, without sacrificing their children’s autonomy — or the parents’ own need to grow.

The end of a young person’s adolescence is not the end of a parenting relationship: that goes on for life.  Yet parenting young adults marks a transition to a new set of changes and challenges.

Tolerance and Patience

Transitioning to parenting young adults will often require tolerance and patience.

Young adults are going to make mistakes, just as all adults make mistakes.  It’s an essential part of exploring their own autonomy to try things in their own way, and not all of these things will succeed.  Just as an essential part of the individuation process is accepting our own imperfection, so we must do the same for our children, and extend the same compassionate acceptance to them.

Letting Go of Control

Here is a real issue in the individuation process of the parents of adult children.  For much of those parents’ lives, it has been essential to provide a dimension of order and control in the lives of their children.  Now, it becomes more and more apparent that the role of the parent is to provide steadily increasing room for their child to live out their own values and decisions about what is important without interfering, respecting the ways in which the child chooses to allow his or her life to unfold.

parenting young adults

                   “First Year Parents’ Farewell Breakfast”

To accept this role in our era, when parental bonds are often closer than in the past, may not be easy for the parent. Out of fear or genuine belief that they know better, parents can easily cling to a sense of control over their children.  This may have a grave negative consequence for the child, leading him or her to either “bottle up” who they are, inappropriately, or else forcing them to undertake very strident acts to establish independence.

Freeing Ourselves

But what, actually does striving to retain power and control do to the parent of the young adult?  It can often be that, clinging to the old parental role, the parent confines him- or herself to a cramped restrictive role that gets in the way of his or her own becoming and individuation.  It’s only by a gradual letting go of the active parent role, and moving into a more receptive parenting role, in which the child takes more of the initiatives, that the individual can gradually release his or her energy from the parenting task.  That energy can go to the task of his or her own individuation, in whatever form that might take.

Love, A Different Relationship, A New Horizon

Parental love changes its form, and the ways in which it manifests.  As children move more and more into adulthood, there is pain as the directive, protective dimensions of parenthood diminish.  The role shifts more to creating space in which the adult child can flourish — and to finding the definite, but unfamiliar joys in this new territory.

Depth psychotherapy also acknowledges that this transformation provides a unique opportunity to the parent to explore their unique identity beyond the parenting role.  This, too, is a key part of the process of individuation.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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True Identity and Healing: Depression and the Unexplored Self

June 6th, 2016 · depression and the unexplored self

The devastating personal impact of depression may well lead us to open up the connection between depression and the unexplored self.

 depression and the unexplored self

A creative approach to depression, rooted in the insights of depth psychotherapy, may help us to gain freedom.

While there are those forms of depression which are chronic and physically based, much depression has its roots in our emotional life, and in the experiences which have touched our core selves, conscious and unconscious, remembered and unremembered.  Very often, what makes depression so hard to move is those parts of the experience of depression which are locked away within us of which we are unaware.
Depth psychotherapy, in seeking to deal with depression, will take us on a journey to the unexplored self.  As we begin to unfold our story, and understand the roots of our depression, we move towards aspects of who we are of which we may have been unaware.

Where is Beauty and Reality?

One of the key roots of depression, as Jung often reminded those who sought his help, is being cut off from the instinctual roots of life.  In many ways, shapes and guises, this feeling of being cut off, isolated, kept away from anything real in life, is one of the most often reported characteristics of depression.

This may manifest is in a perceived inability to experience anything as engaging or beautiful.  And so, Jung would recommend to those suffering from depression that they re-connect to beauty, in whatever way beauty might speak to them.

depression and the unexplored self

Beauty in Instinctual Strength

Experiencing beauty, however beauty might come to us in its particular uniqueness, can reconnect us to the stream of life.  This is an awareness found in many modern forms of therapy, such as Prof. Seligman’s positive psychology, but Jung and his followers put a particular interpretation on it that is quite striking.  These depth psychotherapists emphasize that we learn something precious about the self through our unique experience of beauty.  We are learning about the particular things that make our souls vibrate with life.

In an extreme way, when it is at its worst, and to a lesser but nonetheless potent degree when it is less extreme, depression can bring an atmosphere of unreality to our lives. The depressed individual can feel as if moving through interminable greyness.  To move towards what we value brings reality back into our picture, connecting the manifestation of depression and the unexplored self.

Confronting the Depression Head-On

Another important approach is to confront the depression directly, dialoguing or wrestling with it strongly, to get at its fundamental meaning.  While not easy, this can be very fruitful.  As Jung himself said:

When the darkness grows denser, I would penetrate to its very core and ground, and would not rest until amid the pain a light appeared to me.

We could think of depression as an absence of psychological energy.  However, the “missing” energy doesn’t simply vanish.  It goes into the unconscious, activating unconscious contents such as fantasies, memories and wishes or yearnings.  Yet to restore vitality to the individual, these unconscious materials need to be brought into consciousness and made part of our thinking, feeling and imagining.  Again in Jung’s words,

Depression should therefore be regarded as an unconscious compensation whose content must be made conscious if it is to be fully effective.  This can only be done by… integrating the [psychic contents] so activated into the conscious mind.

He is speaking of the integration of previously unconscious but energetic mental materials into the conscious mind.  As Prof. Andrew Samuels reminds us, the process can often take the form of a conversion of a vague feeling into a more precise idea or image, to which the depressed individual can then relate.

Dam Burst

depression and the unexplored self

This undamming of thoughts, yearnings feelings and emotions is often the place where depression and the unexplored self most strongly come together.  Such a process can lead to genuine, deep renewal of the personality, and a potentially powerful release of personal creativity.

Depth psychotherapy regards the evolutionary purpose of much depression — its goal, if you will — as the integration of hitherto unknown aspects of ourselves with the conscious mind.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Donald Trump, Soul Guide

May 30th, 2016 · soul guide

Probably when you think of the phrase “soul guide”, Donald Trump is not the first person who pops into your mind.

soul guide

You’re probably thinking that The Donald is not exactly the type of guy that you’d expect to go swimming in those waters, or that you’d expect to engage in a lot of psychological exploration.
Based on what we see in the media, at least, I think we’d have to conclude that such an assessment is probably correct.  Yet, there’s a lot that we can learn about psyche and soul from Donald Trump…
The way The Donald acts in his various social and political dealings is very instructive.  Let’s start with…

Donald Trump Scapegoats the Weak and Vulnerable

Experience in psychotherapy shows that it can be a wonderful distraction from feelings of anger or alienation or anxiety to blame a scapegoat for all one’s problems.  For instance, I can blame illegal immigrants for everything, or engage in blanket condemnation of all Muslims in the United States.  Or, I can gain feelings of superiority by mocking the disabled.

It definitely reduces anxiety to turn it into blind hostility and direct it at a specific, definite object.  By resolutely refusing to engage in any introspective inquiry into my inner psychological state, I can easily convince myself that the problem is them, not me.  If only we take care of the “Muslim problem”, or the “illegal immigrant problem” then things will be fine

So long as we do that, it will mean that we don’t have to face the anxiety we harbour, which might force us to ask some deep questions about our lives.  Which might in turn threaten the horrifying prospect of leading to insight and actual psychological growth.

Our Soul Guide Donald Trump Believes He Has NO Personal Weaknesses

As is very well known, The Donald makes it his consistent practice to talk incessantly of himself and his own greatness.

As Jungian Andrew Samuels might tell us, so far as his public self is concerned, Trump seems to completely lack awareness of his own shadow — those parts of himself with which his ego is not comfortable.

Insofar as Donald’s public self or persona is concerned, he shows no desire to know anything about his shadow.  He gives the impression that, if he talks fast, hard and long enough about his own greatness, he may never have to confront his weaknesses, and with them, the alarming (yet potentially liberating) awareness of parts of himself that were hitherto unknown…

Donald Trump Tells People What They Want to Hear

soul guide

Donald Trump achieved success by telling people exactly what it is that they want to hear, even if it has little or no actual connection to what is really the case.  Now he imports this people-pleasing behaviour to the realm of presidential politics.

He talks of building an enormous wall along the border with Mexico — but there’s no discussion of the cost.  He tells us that he wants to deport all illegal immigrants from the U.S., but he is very short on information as to how such an enormous task would ever be accomplished.  He tells us that Muslims in New Jersey danced in the streets after 9/11, but provides no evidence whatsoever for this claim.

By telling people what they want to hear, Donald never has to confront the difficulty of speaking truth to the other that the other doesn’t want to hear.  That way, he never has to ask himself what his real values are and stand up for them.  In a way, this is much less anxiety producing than standing up for who you really are.

If You Can’t Stand Donald Trump — He May Still Have Something to Teach You

Understandably, many people find such characteristics to be the exact opposite of what they wish for in a soul guide.  Yet, from a depth psychotherapy point of view, maybe there’s a way Trump can be a “soul guide” after all.

If Donald Trump really bothers you, you could ask yourself — what is it that bothers you about him the most?  His seeming arrogance?  His seeming ignorance?  Something else?

Once you’ve done that, you could go on to ask yourself a very hard question: whether there is something, anything that somehow — no matter how grudgingly — you actually admire about The Donald?  Because if there is, then it may well be true that there is some part of your soul that wants and needs more of that attribute.  And, if you can do that kind of psychological work, so fundamental to psychotherapy, then, in however an unlikely way, Donald Trump, unintentionally, has been a sort of soul guide.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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The Psychology of Spirituality and the Second Half of Life, Part 2

May 23rd, 2016 · psychology of spirituality

In part 1 on the psychotherapy of spirituality we looked at issues of reality and connection; here, we look at the crucial issue of meaning.

psychology of spirituality

It’s no overstatement to say that, here in the 21st century, many people are undergoing a genuine crisis of meaning.  This can be particularly true for those in the second half of life.  This issue can become acute at any point in the life journey, but life can ask us some crucial, unavoidable questions as we pass its midpoint.

Psychology of Spirituality and the Crisis of Meaning

In our age there is a genuine and widespread sense of vacuity in the lives of many people.  Many are afflicted with an overall sense of meaninglessness.  And, as individuals move beyond the various socially prescribed tasks of the first half of adulthood, they can find that these issues become particularly pressing, even to the point of what might be called existential crisis.

It’s at this stage in life, when the kids start to go to university, and move out of the house, and much less of the parents’ energy is consumed by them, that people confront “the empty nest”.  It’s at this time, too, when individuals often realize that there are very real limits on what they will be able to achieve in their careers, and they struggle to accept those limitations.  Simultaneously, the individual may become aware of a whole range of other limitations: financial; health, and many others.

The 19th century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote on how existential despair could appear in the individual’s life when an inherited or borrowed view of the world no longer proves adequate to help the individual in unexpected and particularly difficult experiences in life.  Depth psychotherapists well know that this is very often the experience of self-aware individuals as they move through the second half of life.

Psychology of Spirituality: The Politics at God’s Funeral

Those who watch House of Cards on Netflix will be familiar with the nefarious doings of the nihilistic antihero of that drama, Frank Underwood (played by the formidably talented Kevin Spacey).  At one point, Underwood describes a religious discussion he had with a professor:

psychology of spirituality

And then he asked if I had no faith in God. I said, ‘You have it wrong. It’s God that has no faith in us.’

For Underwood, the conventional idea of God that he has inherited doesn’t convey to him any fundamental feeling of being loved, or valued or believed in — it’s basically an unreal abstraction.  This fits the whole pattern of House of Cards, which portrays the reality of the politics at God’s funeral — life amidst a crisis of value and meaning.

Meaning as Essential

The need for meaning is not quite the same as the sense of reality that we described in the last post.  It becomes apparent in the course of psychotherapeutic work that meaning revolves around the sense that there is something inherently worthwhile, something that really intrinsically matters about our lives.  The sense that this has value, this is worth going on for, this makes a powerful difference in my living.

Having meaning in one’s life is not something optional.  Whether there is some transpersonal, transcendent meaning in our lives, can literally make the difference between life and death, as Dr. Viktor Frankl continually reminded us.

The sense of having found meaning, or lacking meaning, has profound implications for what we value, and for what we purpose, and so, ultimately, the course we choose and the path we walk on the journey of life.

Emphasis on the Unique Individual

Depth psychotherapists continually stress that, throughout the journey of the second half of life,  there must always be an emphasis on the unique individual, and on the symbols that speak to that individual, and that carry a sense of meaning and of touching the deepest parts of his or her being.  In whatever form these symbolic realities manifest, they form the basis of the individual’s true spiritual search or spiritual journey.

Those who have worked with individuals confronting their unconscious selves in psychotherapy well know that meaning for the individual is not contained within the routine affirmations of organized religiosity or conventional piety.  Rather, meaning and spirituality are contained in the deeply symbolic encounters that touch the individual’s mind, heart, imagination — and soul.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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The Psychology of Spirituality and the Second Half of Life

May 16th, 2016 · psychology of spirituality

“Psychology of spirituality?” some readers will say, “Oh boy, here it comes…“, and I think I understand pretty well what they’re feeling.

psychology of spirituality

by Marc Chagall

Many who were brought up in the confines of conventional organized religion have become quite “allergic” to the language, feeling, sights, sounds and even the smell of traditional religiosity.  And, equally, many brought up outside of that kind of religious framework simply don’t feel that it has the credibility to allow them to enter into it.  Depth psychotherapist C.G. Jung would be the first to acknowledge that the symbols of conventional religion have lost much of their power, and their ability to influence the psyches of a great number of people in our culture.

That’s exactly why I decided to use the word “spirituality”, rather than “religion” in the title.  I wanted to emphasize the individual spiritual dimension, rather than the formalized and structured aspects of organized religion.  This is a journey that we have to go on in our own right.

However, the word “spirituality” brings its own problems.  To my formerly Protestant ear, this word can have a decidedly “other worldly”, “next life” ring to it.  But that’s not really the core meaning, or the dimension that I want to get at here.  Rather, I’m using the word to point to that part of ourselves that seeks out the essence of things.

How do issues of the psychology of spirituality take on particular urgency for us in the second half of life?

Reality

A key aspect of spirituality is that it is concerned with what is ultimately real.  In whatever form it occurs, spirituality is about connecting the individual to the fundamental realities of existence, whether that is God, Goddess. multiple Deities, the Universe, the Atman, the Tao, the Ground of Being, or any of the many other forms of expression or symbols that humans use to embody what Paul Tillich called Ultimate Concern.  In the second half of life, our confrontation with mortality makes that sense of connection with something permanent and lasting an ever more crucial quest.

All humans want the experience of reality in their lives, in some form or other.  In the second half of life, the question of “What is ultimately real?” often becomes ever more important.

Connection

Another dimension of the psychology of spirituality in the second half of life is the move away from isolation to the reality of connection. This can take a number of forms.

One dimension of connection that is very important is the sense of real and genuine connection with others.  The impulse for connection with others, through what Jungians would call eros, is a tremendously important impulse in the second half of life.  For many, it only tends to grow in significance as they continue to age.  For these individuals, this sense of united connection with others is at the heart of what they would call spirituality.

Another, perhaps surprising aspect of connection is that of genuine connection with oneself in depth.  There can often be a sense in the second half of life of encountering aspects of oneself that have not been fully visible to ourselves at previous life stages.  We come to experience these unknown parts of ourselves, and in the process, we obtain a growing sense of unity and wholeness.

Then there is also, for many, a sense of connection with the universe, the All, the whole of reality.  Some experience this in the sense of participation in the “ocean of being”.  Others might frame this in terms of connection with the Author or Origin of everything that exists, the One in whom “we live and move and have our being”, in the words of St.Paul.

An Expanding Field of Vision

In the second half of life, spirituality may bring us to the sense of having an ever expanding field of vision.  For many from a traditional religious framework, there may be a feeling of relief that we can be on the individual journey of spirituality, without necessarily having to go back to the forms of “that old time religion”, in the sense of having to enter into the trappings of organized religion.

psychology of spirituality

On the other hand, it can be very re-assuring to know that, in the spiritual journey, from a depth psychotherapy perspective, as we work on the contents of the deepest and most profound parts of psyche, we are connecting with some of the key archetypes.  In doing so, we are connecting with the ancestral stream of humanity back as far as the Paleolithic era, and even well before that.

In the second part of this post, we’ll look in depth at the dimension of meaning in the psychology of spirituality, and the particular importance of our human uniqueness in the spiritual journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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Loss and Complicated Grieving: the Ft. McMurray Wildfire

May 9th, 2016 · complicated grieving

Great loss and trauma bring what psychotherapists call complicated grieving.  We see a powerful example of this in the Ft. MacMurray wildfire.

complicated grieving

Anyone with any compassion who has watched recent events unfold in the Ft. McMurray area will appreciate the enormous psychological blow sustained by the residents of this small northern Alberta city.  The fire and evacuation have been the subject of constant media attention in Canada and around the world.  What can we learn about our own lives from their experience?

Can You Have Grief if No One Has Died?

The loss of life in the Ft. McMurray wildfire is apparently minimal, but certainly this doesn’t mean that the people who have suffered through the fire have not experienced enormous loss. Very many of them have experienced the destruction of their homes.  All of them have been confronted with the loss of the city and community that they previously knew, and took as a given in their lives.  Many people have lost nearly everything that they had in terms of possessions, pets, and memorabilia.  Experience from previous disasters assures us that a certain percentage of those affected have left Ft. McMurray, and will never go back again.

Certainly this experience of loss has many of the characteristics of a grief reaction.  Depth psychotherapists know that, rooted in psyche is a visceral attachment to our homes, strong enough to describe it as archetypal.  This connection can be so powerful that losing it can be every bit as great a loss as losing a cherished loved one.

complicated grieving

Remains of Super 8 Motel, Fort McMurray

The Three Tasks of Grief

In the aftermath of loss, according to Dr. Therese Rando, the individual faces three tasks:

  1. Emancipation from bondage to the lost object.  We invest part of ourselves in an emotional bond with home, community or city.  When they are gone, we must withdraw the emotional investment we have made in the no longer existent thing.  While it doesn’t mean that that which is lost is forgotten, this “untying” can be incredibly painful.
  2. Adjusting to an environment where that which has been lost no longer exists.  We must accommodate to a world without the presence of that which is lost.  This might mean adapting to a world without the old house, or community — or many other possible adaptations.
  3. Reinvesting in new locations, relationships.  The emotional energy that has been withdrawn must be invested again in new objects, for life to go on being lived.

The Criteria of Trauma

It’s important for us to compassionately realize that those who have undergone the Ft. McMurray wildfire experience may also have had genuine experiences of trauma.  In other words, they had horrific experiences that left them feeling completely overwhelmed and helpless, as if they had no control whatsoever in the situation.  So, while undergoing grief, these individuals may also experience some of the powerful reactions associated with post-traumatic stress:

• Distressing recollections;
• Distressing dreams about the event;
• Feelings of reliving the experience;
• Feeling numb;
• Feeling emotionally detached from others;
• Always feeling “on guard”;
• Difficulty working;
• Difficulty in social situations;
• Difficulty falling or staying asleep;
• Irritability or outbursts of anger;
• Difficulty concentrating, or
Hypervigilance

If these elements mix with feelings of intense loss, then the individuals affected may need specialized assistance with the traumatic aspects of what  they have experienced, before they are going to be able to go through the normal grieving process.  Depth psychotherapists know that grieving is an archetypal healing process, but it can be interfered with by trauma.

Complicated or Traumatic Grief: Is It Part of Your Experience?

Have you encountered experiences of heartbreaking loss, associated with experiences of traumatic overwhelm?  Then, in company with many survivors of the Ft. McMurray wildfire, you may need specialized psychotherapy to deal with complicated or traumatic grief.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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Immigrating to Canada: a Multi-Generation Major Life Transition

May 2nd, 2016 · immigrating to canada

The experience of my psychotherapy clients clearly shows that immigrating to Canada, or, really, anywhere, is a very major life transition.

immigrating to canada

Also, there are frequently equally profound life transitions that figure prominently in the lives of the children of immigrants.  Immigrating to Canada can have a very sizable psychological impact on those who immigrate, their children, and even their children’s children.

Immigration as a Stressor

Like very many Canadians, I’m the child of immigrants.  My parents experienced the process of immigration to Canada as one of the most stressful events in their lives — and they were immigrating to Canada from the United Kingdom, one of the more culturally similar of places.

Canada is a nation of immigrants, yet the immigration process is full of enormous stressors.  It begins with the process of saying good bye and letting go of so much of one’s life in the country of origin.  Such a loss must be grieved, and sometimes leads to depression.

Often immigrants make hard decisions about what to leave behind.  Many possessions cannot make the trip.  Even more difficult is the experience of leaving people and places associated with important memories behind.

immigrating to canada

Security

Depth psychotherapists know that feeling safe is a primary psychological need  It’s a primary issues for those immigrating to Canada.  Safety takes a number of forms.

First there is the basic question of physical safety.  Many immigrants in times past, and at present, have had to struggle on arrival to get and keep the basic necessities of life — appropriate housing, for instance.

Also, for some, there is the very real question of feeling a sense of psychological safety.  In some cases, immigrants may come from war zones, or from other situations that have left them with truly traumatic experiences.

Then, there is the broader question of economic safety over the long term.  The ability to find suitable and sufficiently lucrative work to ensure a reasonably secure future.  Stress about money, and the sense of having less than is the norm in Canadian culture may lead to a pervasive, and difficult to escape, sense of deprivation.

Belonging

Beyond mere safety, the immigrant faces the huge question of belonging and fitting in.

Acculturation is the term used for the psychological change that results following the individual’s introduction into a new culture.  It refers to the very demanding, and very individual process of the individual coming to terms with the culture that they find themselves immersed in, and includes the degree to which the individual adapts to the new culture and/or retains certain valuable aspects of their original culture.  This is connected with psychologically vital issues such as food, language and culture.  Sorting all of this out is an extremely demanding and potentially stressful experience.

Connected with acculturation, regrettably those immigrating to Canada may face discrimination. Prof. P. Nangia has studied and documented extensive discrimination faced by landed immigrants in Canada in the media, the workplace, stores, banks, at the border and many other places.  The struggle to overcome these attitudes may have a profound effect on  immigrants — and an even profounder effect on their children.

The experience of the children of those immigrating to Canada around belonging will vary greatly, and will have a huge connection to the experience in their particular family, the specifics of the social setting in which they find themselves, and their particular individual characteristics.

The depth psychotherapist is aware that, for these children of immigrants, born at the interface between two cultures, there are archetypal issues that are equally deep, and quite possibly deeper, in some ways, than those experienced by their parents.  In particular, the second generation immigrant may confront in profound ways the question “Where is home?” and also the nature of the individual’s life journey, finding his or her unique way between two different worlds.

The process of depth psychotherapy may well shed essential light on this precious individual journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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