Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Here in the Middle Years of Life: Is That All There Is?

February 28th, 2010 · Anxiety, depression, depth psychology, Hope, Identity, inner life, life passages, Meaning, midlife, Psychotherapy, soul, stress, suburbia / exurbia, The Self, therapy

The great jazz artist Peggy Lee performed the following beautiful, highly disturbing yet haunting song in 1969, at midlife, in her 50th year:

I doubt that questions get much more real than those in this song.  And the question that Peggy Lee sings about here is of the type, that, for many people, can become achingly urgent at the middle of life. 

For many people, especially in our tumultuous times, the middle years of life can come to feel like an endless process of coping with chaos.  It can feel like life has become a time of just responding to one crisis after another: issues with maturing children, issues with the health of parents; job issues; issues of financial security.  At times, life can come to seem endlessly wearying, and very much as if there is nothing to it, but “just going through the motions”.  From such a place, for very many people, there can come a deep heartfelt cry: “Is this really all that there is to my life?  Is this all that I get?”

This moment, the moment of this question, is highly important in the life of the individual.  This is true, even especially true, if the time when this question arises is filled with depression, anxiety — even despair.

From experience with clients, I can almost guarantee that there will be no canned, pre-packaged answer to this question that will slake the desperate thirst of those who ask such a question. Only an answer rooted in the individual’s life will bring any peace, any hope, any meaning — any sense of value.

By an individual answer, I mean one that emerges from the very depths of the individual.  Not something that the individual’s intellect or conscious mind has cobbled together, but something that emerges from the very depths of the person, from what they most fundamentally are.  Something to which they can say “Yes!” with their whole being.

It is the task of good therapy (and of Jungian analysis) to assist the individual in finding the symbolic dimension that conveys meaning, to find the deep story or myth of an individual’s life.  There are many in suburban places like Oakville, Burlington and Mississauga for whom the question “Is that all there is?” has become urgently real.  I invite you to enter into the therapeutic journey inward, to find your own inner treasure.

I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections from readers.  Have you had the experience of wondering in this way “is that all there is”?  How has that question affected your life?  If you were willing to share this important and personal part of your life, I’d be deeply interested to dialogue with you.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

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© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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Depth Psychotherapy: Beyond the Cookie-Cutter

February 22nd, 2010 · depth psychology, Identity, Psychotherapy, therapy


Cookie Cutter Therapy for Vibrant Jung Thing In recent years, there have been certain strong and notable trends emerging in the field of psychotherapy.  Some have been very valuable, but some, unfortunately, have not been for the better.

In many cases what’s on offer doesn’t seem to be anything that really helps people deal with their own personal uniqueness, or the individuality of their lives.  Nothing that really helps people to truly feel at home and alive within their own skin.

For instance, cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT] undoubtedly has some aspects that render it useful.  By attempting to change peoples’ thought patterns, it does offer a very valid tool for people caught in obsessive thought patterns, or patterns of behaviour.  The relief that it provides in this way can be of great benefit to many people.  Yet, often, people who go through a course of such therapy are left with the feeling that, at the end of it, there is something important missing.

I believe that this is because of the emphasis in CBT on purely rational thinking.  There is an underlying belief in CBT that all that is really significant is the conscious mind, and that, if only the individual can be trained to think about their life situations in a reasonable, rational way, then everything will be OK.

But not everything in human life is purely rational.  If rationality were all that we had in human life, our lives would seem dramatically impoverished.  

If you have ever been in love with someone, is the manner in which you look at them and think about them purely rational?  If you did look at them that way, thinking about that person as just a purely biological entity, for instance, a primate of the species homo sapiens composed of various amounts of certain organic compounds, which interact in various complex ways, would you still be able to love them?  Likely not.

Similarly, are you really capable of looking at yourself that way?  As a bundle of chemicals, and metabolic and neural impulses?  Or as something that is like a variant of your laptop computer?  I think that it is much more likely that you look at yourself as a person, as a whole.  

Attempts to reduce human persons to bundles of physical processes are nothing new in philosophy and psychology, or for that matter in medicine.  They have been going on for hundreds of years.  A famous example, which many people find quite chilling is found in the 1971 book Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner. 

Skinner advocates that decision-makers move beyond “outmoded” ideas of human personhood to govern the world with a sophisticated combination of classical and operant conditioning that would supersede such “obsolete” notions as viewing humans as free and autonomous agents and as having human dignity.  Thinkers like Skinner are very often trying to reduce human persons to something more understandable and manageable, but they never quite seem to be able to capture the essence of what it is to be human.

In addition, please consider the whole added dimension of the human unconscious.  Here is an entire realm of human existence that is never going to be reduced to simplistic notions of goal-directed rationality.  And it is in the symbolic material that emerges from the unconscious, found in the realms of art, literature, mythology, and religious expression that the deepest and profoundest expressions of what it is to be human are found.  Can these dimensions of life be reduced to causal and rational explanations?  Not really.  You can try, of course, but only at a terrible cost: the price to be paid is that our very humanity goes missing.

In the words of the famous poet of the self, Walt Whitman, “Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.”  When it comes to therapy, it’s essential to find a mode of therapy that honours the richness and intricacy of your own deepest being…

 

I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections from readers.  Have you had experiences of therapy that really honoured your uniqueness, your freedom and your dignity?  On the other hand, have you experienced forms of therapy that have not done so?  I’d be very interested to dialogue with you about this important subject.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

Email: brian@briancollinson.ca

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PHOTO CREDITS: © Hdconnelly|Dreamstime.com 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

 

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Between Childrens’ and Parents’ Needs: the Generational Anxiety Sandwich

February 15th, 2010 · complexes, compulsion, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Jungian analysis, parent-child interactions, parental complex, Psychotherapy, The Self, therapy, unlived life, wholeness

 

Sandwich for Vibrant Jung Thing In this post, I would like to write about something that may have a sense of “taboo” about it.

For many of us in the present day world, a powerful struggle goes on in our middle years.  There are greater and greater demands on our personal reserves of compassion, empathy, time, energy and money.  These resources are streaming out in two directions, both towards our children, and also towards our parents, and possibly other aging relatives, who are living to a greater age than ever they have in the past.

As many people in their middle years try to meet the needs of the younger and older generations, they find themselves nearly impossibly stretched.

In such a climate, it can feel almost impossible to meet the needs of others.  In addition, many people end up feeling like callous ingrates if they give any consideration to their own needs as people.  “How can I consider myself?” one often hears people in this position say, “My parents gave me so much.  I owe them so much–everything!”

The really difficult thing is when the inner complex gives such guilting messages to an adult child, when the parents have actually not been kind or supportive to their children.  I experience this as a very frequent occurrence in my practice.  Many times, people who have been seriously emotionally or physically neglected by their parents — or worse — are the very people who respond in the most dutiful and self sacrificing manner.

And then again, it is often those same people, dutiful to their parents, who turn around and are completely self-sacrificing to their children.  And sometimes those children can be every bit as demanding unreasonable and narcissistic toward their parents as their grandparents are toward them.  And often that same mass of guilt and obligation that whips these people into unreasonably self-denying behaviour toward their parents will do the same when it comes to their children.

The particular psychological forces that bring this about are as individual as the people involved in the situation.  Very often, in dealing with these situations, healthy ordinary people need therapy to get to the root of the problem, and to free themselves from the crushing guilt.  Guilt can be an extremely powerful emotion and motivator, and it is often necessary to confront it in the safe environment of therapy to be able to remove its power.

The other hugely difficult component of these intergenerational binds is that they often lead to enormous amounts of anxiety.  This can prove as difficult, if not more so, than the guilt.  However, what I am going to say next about that guilt may prove surprising, even shocking!

Which is, that it may actually be quite a good thing that the individual is experiencing the guilt!  “Wow, Brian” you might be thinking, “what a horrible thing to say!  …Speaking of callous!…  How can you possibly wish anxiety on already-burdened people?”

Now, I don’t wish anyone unnecessary pain, and, all other things being equal, I would wish that no one would have to deal with excessive anxiety.  But in a situation like this, I believe that it is often the case that the anxiety has a psychological purpose.  Simply put, the intense anxiety makes us aware that there is a conflict, and that the status quo is simply untenable for the individual

It may be that the guilt is intense for such a person, but the anxiety shows us that there is tension, that the needs of the self are not willing to just continue being put on the shelf and denied.  The complex of guilt and obligation within us may spur us on to utterly altruistic self-destruction…but that complex is not all that there is to us.  There is the part of us that recognizes that the purpose of human life is to become the person who is latent within us, that that is why we are here in this life.  That part will allow us to make some compromises, but it will not allow us to completely sell ourselves out — not without our paying a very dire, wrenching psychological price.  

It’s easy for many people to feel a strong impetus to self-sacrifice, but, psychologically speaking, it’s important to realize that there may be very real limits to the degree to which we can put our own needs on one side to care for and meet the needs of others.

This awareness might lead us to face an even more fundamental questions like, “How do I begin to live my own real life?” and “What is meaningful to me?”  These questions takes us to the very heart of Jungian analysis, and true depth psychotherapy.

I’d gratefully welcome comments from readers on these issues, which affect very many of us.  How have you experienced the “generational sandwich”?.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

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PHOTO CREDITS: © Lukyslukys|Dreamstime.com 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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