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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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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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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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Performance Anxiety at Work: Persona & Soul

April 26th, 2016 · performance anxiety at work

At this point in time, performance anxiety at work is pretty pervasive.  More people than ever before feel high levels of pressure and demand in the workplace.

performance anxiety at work

As we face the demands of 21st century work, we can easily start to pressure ourselves.  It’s easy to end up questioning whether you’re performing at the requisite level, — or even just outright living in the fear that you’re not.

Can I Perform?

In our time, as psychotherapists know, most workplaces are places of ever-increasing, ever-changing expectations for employees.  It’s fairly easy for employees to feel that their performance, and, in fact, everything that they do, is under intense scrutiny.  This can make us anxious and fearful.

We can fear scrutiny on several levels.  There is the question of just feeling competent at the tasks in our job description.  With ever increasing expectations, it would be the rare human being who never questioned his or her own competence.  On another level, in many organizations, the politics of the environment may be complex and difficult to negotiate, and staying on the right side of power can be a task that requires considerable effort and skill.

The Tyranny of Persona

It’s important for us to be conscious of our workplace persona.  For depth psychotherapy, the persona is our social self, the self we show to those with whom we work.  It functions both as a mask, concealing our true selves and true feelings, and also as a sort of window, allowing others to see those parts of our true selves that we allow, consciously or unconsciously, to come into the work place.

A lot depends on how we sit with our persona in the workplace.  Let’s say I’m a software engineer.  I could choose to be totally identified with that role.  In that case, everything — every last little shred of self-esteem I have, for instance — may hang upon how those I work with view me, or how the organization as a whole views me, as a software engineer.  If I’m given a poor performance rating, my self-esteem may be down the drain.  If I get a great evaluation, my self-esteem may be over the moon — but I will still depend completely on those who evaluate me for positive self-esteem.

So a lot hinges on how tightly or loosely I cling to my work persona.  The more I cling to my workplace professional identity, the more likely I am to have performance anxiety at work.

performance anxiety at work

Soul and Work, Anxiety and Individuation

Social psychologist Prof. Henri Tajfel (1979) of Bristol explained how social groups have an innate need to establish belonging by dividing the world into “them” and “us”.  The pressure to continually prove that one is one of the in group in a work place will always be there to feed our anxiety.

But, what would it be like to gain our identity from somewhere other than the work place?

I know some people in their 20s and 30s who are very fond of the singer Regina Spektor.  One of her songs seems very apt here:

 

Perfomance anxiety at work might actually be the impetus to lead us to a deeper exploration of our unique identity.  This can lead us to a much deeper understanding of our unique story and individual being than we can ever hope to obtain by fusing with our workplace persona.

The discovery of this deeper identity is a key part of the process that depth psychotherapists refer to as individuation.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Controlling My Impulses: Return of the Repressed After Midlife

April 18th, 2016 · controlling my impulses

“Controlling My Impulses” — such an emotionally charged phrase.  Often it assumes great importance in midlife and the second half of life.

controlling my impulses

For people who see themselves as moral, psychologically normal people, these powerful impulses can be surprising, even shocking.  The struggle with controlling my impulses in the second half of life often has to do with what Dr. Murray Stein calls “the return of the repressed.”  These impulses usually begin in the unconscious mind, and the individual becomes subject to “a compulsive and unconsciously determined set of actions.”  This can be disturbing, and even dangerous.
Example.  Mary has an uncontrollable impulse to steal cosmetics when she goes to department stores in Toronto.  She is married to a prominent politician, has the reputation of being a good mother, is embarrassed and ashamed of this behaviour and terrified at the prospect of getting caught.  Mary has no understanding of why she does it, when she could easily afford the items in question.  She is starting to feel as if the whole underpinning of her life is giving way…

Controlling My Impulses in the Second Half of Life

This example might seem extreme, almost melodramatic.  Granted, it’s at the more serious end of the spectrum, yet wrestling with such a distressing impulse is not uncommon.  Why might controlling my impulses become such a pressing issue, as I move into midlife, and later life?

Individuals often lose touch in some fundamental ways with who they are in terms of needs, hopes and aspirations in what Jung called “the first adulthood” — that is, adult life leading up to midlife.  We can be so intent on “doing the right thing”, and on “being good”, in the sense of putting ourselves and our true needs and wishes last, after spouse and spouse’s career, children, parents, and all the myriad other demands, that we lose our way.  Usually, this loss of direction, satisfaction and meaning is not something that the unconscious mind will just take lying down.

The Return of the Repressed After Midlife

The result, very often, is what Jungian psychotherapists like Stein refers to as the “return of the repressed”.  By this, is meant the return of some repressed piece of the personality, as opposed to just the repression of some unacceptable thought or quirky motivation.  The compulsion to steal described above isn’t rooted in just a bad impulse to take the pretty lipstick.  It is a symbollic representation of the inmost part of the person, the soul, if you like, that is trying to get something that it needs.  The soul is trying to heal itself. 

controlling my impulses

How is Psyche Trying to Heal Itself?

After half a lifetime or more of ignorring our own needs and our deepest yearnings, and/or just reflexively people-pleasing, the thing that stops me from controlling my impulses may be a cry for help from the deepest part of me.  Or a warning shot, fending me off from loss of soul.

Psychotherapists know that the voice of the shadow may be heard in some very strong impulses, some of which can be quite dangerous:

  • Kleptomania, as an expression of some yearning deep within us;
  • Anger or rage, as an expression of a need to defend the boundaries of the self;
  • Driving irresponsibily, as possibly an expression of a deep yearning for freedom; or,
  • Compulsive sexuality, as an expression of deep yearnings for love, for union, for abandonment, or many other things.

There are many other possible impulses, as well. The way is very individual.

The unconscious seeks to heal itself.  It is wise, but cannot put its wisdom into practice without the help and cooperation of our conscious selves.

Often, the journey of depth psychotherapy into the depths, and contact wth the basic energies of our lives, is our true need.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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What is the Unconscious Mind — and Why Should You Care?

April 11th, 2016 · what is the unconscious mind

What is the unconscious mind?  Is it just a woolly idea… or does it make some kind of concrete difference to your real life?

what is the unconscious mind

Like an Iceberg, Most of the Mind is Below the Surface

Depth psychotherapists emphasize what’s going on “in the unconscious.”  Well, where the heck is that?  And how does what goes on there make any real difference?  To answer “What is the unconscious mind?” we first need to be aware that…

…The Unconscious is Largely Inaccessible to the Ego

“The ego” is that part of the mind that you’re consciously aware of, that’s subject to the control of your will.  It’s mostly what we know of our minds.

Yet, the ego is not the sum total of your mind.  Modern neuroscience shows us that a huge amount goes on in the unconscious parts of the brain.  James Bursley, David Cresswell and colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University’s Scientific Imaging and Brain Research Center used MRIs to establish that unconscious thought and decision-making really does occur in the brain.  This supported the research of Prof. Dijksterhuis (Radboud University, Nijmegen) on unconscious thought and decision-making.  As Bursley tells us,

…the idea of the brain processing complex information unconsciously is hardly new: Freud and Jung posited a complex unconscious… mind [which influences] our conscious thoughts and behavior. With elegant continuity, then, modern techniques in neuroscience and psychology are beginning to reveal the brain’s unconscious inner workings, bringing today’s scientists… face-to-face with the progenitors of our field.

As depth psychotherapists assert, the unconscious exists.  It “thinks” and influences us as part of our mind — beyond conscious control.

what is the unconscious mind

The Unconscious Has Its Own Characteristic Ways of Functioning

Jung, and some other depth psychotherapists believed that the unconscious possesses a special kind of knowledge, and even of thought.  The evidence tends to confirm that this is correct.  As psychiatrist and researcher Erik Goodwyn, surveying the scientific literature on “unconscious systems” puts it,

Unconscious systems are therefore capable of perception, symbolic processing, social judgment and motivated action, which becomes “activated” by the internal or external environment, and… works to orient and bias conscious processing [italics mine] to “serve its own ends” so to speak.

This means that the purposes of the conscious mind are strongly influenced by the unconscious — for its own purposes.  This is something we should care about.

what is the unconscious mind

The Unconscious is Primarily Creative

The unconscious is not just a pit of refuse, as Freud often seemed to believe.  Rather, as archetypal depth psychotherapy affirms, the “sake” or reason something happens in the unconscious is to further the expression and meaning of a person’s individual life.

If the conscious mind is working at cross purposes to the unconscious mind, however, the result can be chaos and stagnation, even decay.  It’s essential for the conscious ego to understand the concerns and purposes of the unconscious, and to align itself with these more fundamental goals.

Example.  Sue’s in Corporate Finance.  She’s worked long and hard, learning her field and working tirelessly to get ahead.  She’s succeeded, but at the cost of her health, her relationships and badly disrupted sleep. When she remembers dreams, they’re of titanic struggles and battles, where she is defending against huge, overwhelming armies.  Yet, in recent dreams, the opposing army’s battering ram is gradually breaking down the main gate of her castle.

Psychotherapeutic work revealed that Sue had deep conflicts between her conscious goals, and what the unconscious was actually seeking.

Depth psychotherapy is concerned with understanding the voices of the unconscious, and aligning the conscious ego with its underlying creative purposes.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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Dealing with Death of a Parent

April 4th, 2016 · dealing with death of a parent

Dealing with death of a parent in adulthood is a process that often fundamentally alters the lives of those who experience it.

dealing with death of a parent

Psychotherapists know that experiences of the death of a parent will vary widely.  In this post, we’ll confine ourselves to the situation of adults losing a parent.  But, even so, there’s immense variation in peoples’ experience.  Furthermore, as University of California psychologist Robert E. Kavanagh reminds us, there is great importance for us in being honest about our unique emotional response in the face of death.

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Forms of Grief

dealing with death of a parent

Adult loss of a parent takes many forms, and many, but not all occur during the mid-life transition or later.

Now, certainly, an adult may experience the loss of one or more parents while still relatively young, often with a great sense of  loss, grief — and unfairness.

Or, perhaps the parent may pass away in later life, possibly after a short illness, leaving us with a grateful sense that he or she lived a good, long life.

Then again, there are many instances where the person passes after a prolonged difficult physical illness or after suffering from a debilitating condition such as dementia/alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s, or Parkinson’s disease.  Such a condition may require intense care-giving, and may result in burn-out, exhaustion or illness, and/or even in outright trauma in an adult child who is a care-giver.

In any of these cases, the adult child undergoing the experience will likely feel that they have undergone a major life transition.

Loss of the Same Sex Parent

In particular, loss of the same sex parent can have a profound effect.

In important ways, the child models her- or himself, consciously and unconsciously on the same sex parent.  This means that her/his persona, the way he/she presents to the world, has been formed greatly by the same sex parent.  It also means that the shadow, those parts of ourselves that we prefer not to acknowledge, has similar linkages and congruities to the way that our parent was with us, and the way that we perceived them interact with others.

In the loss of a same sex parent, the individual may end up acutely feeling his or her own mortality.  It can be as if we see a kind of an image of our own passing, in the same sex parent.  It may also mean that we feel a certain sense of aloneness in the world.

dealing with death of a parent

The Orphan Archetype

If the parent who has passed away is the last living parent of the individual, this may be the occasion of the activation of the orphan archetype.  The individual may confront aspects of him- or herself that are like an abandoned child.  As James Hillman tells us, this

…implies a collapse into the infantile realm of the child.  Our strong, ego-centered consciousness fears nothing more than just such a collapse.

Yet such an emergence of the adandoned child in us may be just what we need. It can be very hard to feel such aloneness, and to feel that we now exist fully in our own right in the world.  Yet, simultaneously, it can mean that we have the chance to determine our own direction in life, and to live out our own most basic passions, in a way that is truly and uniquely our own.  Grief and the opportunity to live out our own legacy may be woven together.

Dreams and the Reality of Death

Depth psychotherapy recognizes that it’s not unusual or abnormal to encounter a deceased parent in our dreams.  Certainly dreamwork seems to have some important connections with the ways that we undergo the process of grief work.  Dreams of our parents may also have very important roles in the individuation process, as we work through the true — and often very complex — meaning of who a parent was for us, and the impact they have had on us, in both conscious and unconscious ways.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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The Meaning of Severe Situational Depression: 4 Solid Insights

March 28th, 2016 · severe situational depression

Severe situational depression differs from clinical depression, but psychotherapists know it can greatly impact the individual who is experiencing it.

severe situational depression

Often, today, the attention of the public and of the media is on long-term, chronic depression, which truly is a serious issue.  However, we can often lose sight of the fact that an intense situational depression can have a huge impact on a person’s life.  Here are four solid insights around coping with severe situational depression.

1.  Just Because Depression is Situational, Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Severe

We tend to contrast depression that is caused by some specific event or situation in our lives with “clinical depression”, the on-going depression that can be a nearly constant factor in the lives of those who struggle with it.  While clinical depression is often severe, it would be a mistake to think that there is no such thing as severe situational depression.

Severe situational depression exists because severe situations exist, such as job loss, difficult marital breakdowns, failure or setback in a major life goal, serious illness in a child, loss of a loved one.  Any of these or many other circumstances can lead us into a situational depression that is severe, and that finds us asking very major questions about our lives.

2.  Severe Situational Depression Needs Attention — Not A “Stiff Upper Lip”

severe situational depression

“Solitary Stoic Soldiering” Won’t Help!

Because situational depression stems from something that has happened to us, it’s easy to tell ourselves to “just toughen up.”  We often feel that we should be able to simply power through these kind of setbacks by strength of will alone.  On the other hand, we may tell ourselves that no one is going to be able to understand or feel what it is that we’ve been through, and so we just stay silent.  These attitudes are widely present in our culture, but given the kind of socialization that boys receive, they are particularly prevalent amongst men.

Yet, it may not be easy or even possible to “power through” the wounds and the feelings that lie behind situational depression.  Often, it’s essential to open up to another, in a safe environment such as therapy for depression, as  a way of moving forward.

3.  Severe Situational Depression May Well be Telling You Something Important About Your Life

The meaning of severe situational depression may not be what it initially appears.  When a life event triggers severe situational depression, the depression is often connected to other important factors in life, and to the core ways in which we perceive and understand ourselves.  It can be very important to examine the depression, and what it might be “saying to us” about how we approach our lives as a whole, especially where major life transitions are concerned.

4.  Situational Depression Has An Unconscious Dimension

Often, severe situational depression can be connected to important and powerful things going on in the unconscious mind.  Prof. Calvin Colarusso, of U. California, San Diego, and others have documented how deeply held beliefs and experiences in the unconscious mind can have a profound impact on depression that occurs when our life situation changes.  Getting to the bottom of these unconscious factors can often enable the individual to move beyond the depression, and may bring very significant change to how the individual approaches life.

A severe situational depression may be more than just a liability or an obstacle.  If dealt with appropriately, it may open important doors in a life, and show the way to renewal, as depth psychotherapists such as Jungian analysts are well aware.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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