Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part 1

June 22nd, 2010 · Anxiety, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, mythology, persona, popular culture, Psychotherapy, soul, wholeness

When I was 9 or 10 years old, I was an insatiable Iron Man fan.  I used to race to the local drug store every day to see if a new issue of my hero’s adventures had hit the stands yet.  I still admire Stan Lee and those who developed the Iron Man character: he was truly an iconic figure for a pre-adolescent boy in the mid-1960s.  Well, it’s 45 years later, and Iron Man is receiving great attention — arguably much greater than in earlier days.  “Iron Man 2” was the lead-grossing movie for much of the 2010 Spring season, and the Iron Man 1 and 2 movies are estimated to have grossed in excess of $935 million.

There is no question that the Iron Man figure captures the imagination of many in our culture.

What is the fascination that Iron Man exerts?  Why is this figure a cultural icon—and not just for 9 year old boys?  What is it that he shows us about ourselves as a culture, and the issues and problems that we collectively face?  Please bear with me as I relate some of this modern myth – for it actually has a surprising amount of symbolic and psychological depth.

According to the story line, Iron Man is the alter ego of the wealthy industrialist Tony Stark (played in the recent movies by Robert Downey).  In order to escape a situation where he is held hostage by some despicable outlaws, Stark fashions a suit of practically invincible armour, and overcomes his foes – all details covered in the original “Iron Man” movie.  Stark then goes on to improve and enhance this very sophisticated flying suit of armour, to the point where it is mighty, mobile, and both beautiful and technologically advanced to an incredible degree.

In Jungian terms, Iron Man as a symbol for our relationship between the social mask, the persona and the inner human.  It represents the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable: the fantasy of being beyond weakness, mistake and humiliation.

Undoubtedly, we need a social mask – we cannot just “let it all hang out” in social situations.  The result would be chaos, and we would be extremely dangerous to ourselves and to others.

But how devastating must the underlying shame be, to lead me to wrap myself in the fantasy of untouchability, to strive for invulnerability, to ensure that nothing is ever going to touch me.  We have to admit that it is a seductive fantasy–one that we might easily be tempted to try and pull off.  Particularly in a culture like ours that so values external appearances.

We are so utterly afraid of our own vulnerability and weakness.  We can so easily live in terror of our own true nature.  It can be so hard to let ourselves be what we are, to know ourselves, and to let ourselves be known.  Part of us is utterly convinced of the need for the pretense of invulnerability.  Yet part of us knows what we really are.

Stark says, “I am Iron Man.  The suit and I are one.”  That’s great for a myth and a fantasy hero.  Heroes in myth are always something other than simply human.  However, complete identification with the persona,  “the suit and I being one” would be a form of living death for a real human being.  It’s easy for us to live in such terror of our vulnerable selves, those parts of ourselves which are not strong and beautiful.  Yet they are there, and if we cannot acknowledge them, and give them their due, they will surface in very destructive ways, such as anxiety and depression, as symptoms of the underlying shadow self.

Somehow, we’ve got to come to terms with the human inside the armour, and to learn compassion and acceptance for that person, just as he or she is. We have to abandon perfectionism, and get beyond the toxicity of shame.  Often, it’s just at this point that psychotherapy or Jungian analysis is a necessity.

To be continued in “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II: Imprisoned in the Armoured Self”.

I’d welcome your reflections on the nature of “social armour”, and the social mask.  Have you ever experieced situations where, to your surprise, someone was suddenly vulnerable?  Where you were?

I wish you every good thing as you travel on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDITS: © Turkbug| Dreamstime.com ; marvel.com

VIDEO CREDIT: ©Marvel Entertainment, LLC  //marvel.com/movies/iron_man.iron_man_2

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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The Creative Fire & Feelings of Guilt

June 20th, 2010 · creativity, depth psychology, guilt, inner life

We may seek to avoid feelings of guilt, but we will never really succeed.

As Jung frequently pointed out, the burden of guilt is the unavoidable accompaniment in any situation when we cross any of the taboos inherent in social structures and actively, creatively express ourselves and live our lives.  And while guilt feelings will occur, it’s important to emphasize that feeling guilty is not the same thing as actually being guilty.

Recently, Jungian analyst Larry Staples was interviewed in the Huffington Post.  Staples is the author of The Creative Soul, an examination of the psychology of creation from a Jungian point of view.  In the interview he makes the point that we experience feelings of guilt anytime we do things that go against authority — religious, secular or parental.

Somehow, if we are going to do that which really belongs to ourselves as opposed to the bidding of the internalized authorities in our lives, and live a life that is truly creative and authentic, we are going to find ourselves impelled to cross certain “inviolable” taboos.  As a result the hounds of guilt will pursue us.  And they can easily keep a person from embarking on creative pursuits — whether it’s writing, working with clay, dancing, dressing the way you really want or even speaking your own truth.

But as Staples acknowledges, if we can cross through that wasteland of inner resistance and taboo, and press into the inner realm of creativity that really does come from the inner impulse of the Self, often something powerful happens, and we are caught up in the intoxicating life of it.  At that point, creation can be something even rapturous, and we can feel that this, this very thing is what we were meant to do.

That’s how you know it involves the real you.

Depth therapy is one of the most powerful ways of addressing the crippling power of guilt in your life, and of accessing your own authentic creative power.

I’d welcome your reflections on the relationship between guilt and creation in your life.  Are they related?  Are there particular taboos that you have to move beyond to express your real self?

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PHOTO CREDITS: © Medveh | Dreamstime.com
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Depth Psychotherapy Heals

June 14th, 2010 · complexes, depth psychology, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, Science, unconscious, Wellness, wholeness

  The research paper that I have linked to below is both striking and very important.  It provides strong empirical evidence of the effectiveness of “psychodynamic psychotherapy”.  That’s a technical term for those forms of psychotherapy, like the Jungian approach, which:

 

In this study, Shedler’s “Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy”, evidence shows psychodynamic therapies to have a treatment effect as large as those reported for other therapies whose proponents stridently proclaim them to be “empirically supported” and “evidence based.” What is particularly noteworthy, though, is that people who receive psychodynamic therapy maintain therapeutic gains and appear to continue to improve after treatment ends.  The study also tends to indicate that non-psychodynamic therapies may be effective in part because the practitioners who are the most skilled at using those methods bring techniques into their practice that essentially originated in the theory and practice of psychodynamic psychotherapy.  The researcher makes it clear that any perception that psychodynamic approaches lack empirical support “does not accord with available scientific evidence.”

 

These results, while not entirely new, are very striking.  They are worthy of very careful consideration by the therapeutic profession as a whole.

I’d gratefully welcome your comments and reflections on any of your experiences with Jungian or other forms of depth psychology.

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: © Cristi111|Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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The Symbolic Power of Home, Part 2: Where is Home?

June 10th, 2010 · Carl Jung, depth psychology, Halton Region, Home, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Meaning, Mississauga, Oakville, Peel Region, Psychology and Suburban Life, Relationships, The Self, therapy, wholeness

In the first part of this series, I wrote about how the experience of connection to a specific place that is home can be powerful and profound. However, there are also many people for whom there is no connection to a sense of home.  And, for any of us, there can be many times–perhaps long periods–when we feel that we have lost anything that resembles that connection.

There are many real people for whom the experience of not having a place where they belong is overwhelmingly powerful and poignant.  We may not be that sort of person, may not feel that way.  And yet, very often, there is something in the experience of these people that can profoundly resonate with us.

OK, I admit it: I am really dating myself with the video below.  It’s from 1970, but, nonetheless, I’ve decided to include it, because I think that it represents a remarkable musical expression.  The group is Canned Heat, a blues-rock band from California, and the singer/blues harmonica/group leader is a young man named Alan Wilson.  In my opinion, Wilson’s singing here, in his inimitable blues manner profoundly touches on the experience of what it is to feel without a home.  By today’s standards, the video is very rudimentary, and the band seems far from polished in its stage presence.  However, as you watch and listen to Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson sing and play “blues harp”, it is hard to avoid the feeling that he is putting the whole of himself, the whole of the pain in his life, into those lyrics of endless wandering, “on the road again”.

“The first time I travelled on, in the rain and snow / I didn’t have no fare, not even no place to go…”

“My dear mother left me, when I was quite young / She said, Lord have mercy, on my wicked son…”

This is really an aspect of all of us.  It’s an archetypal theme.  Homer’s Ulysses on his seemingly endless 10 year struggle — and all he wants to do is get back home to Ithaca.  Aeneas, in Virgil’s Aeneid, sole Trojan survivor and refugee from the sack of Troy, for whom there is no home to which he can go back–he must just keep on moving, that’s all there is.

As good as the human experience of home may be, there are those voices that would remind us that the welcome is never quite complete and total enough.  In the words of the German writer and poet Hermann Hesse, “One never reaches home, but wherever friendly paths intersect the whole world looks like home for a time.”  But there is always a sense in which we are journeying onward.

The truth seems to be that our deepest yearning for home is something that cannot be fully met by an outer place, however wonderful. We may feel deeply connected to the place of our birth or family life, for instance, and yet something is missing, something for which we yearn.  This is because home, the real home we are seeking is something within ourselves and our own being.  Symbollically, it is the center of the mandala.  Home is connection with the centre of our own being; it is to be accepting of and at home with the deepest part of the self.  But to find that, we must undertake an inner journey.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you yearned for a feeling of security and rootedness?  Do you know what it is to be “on the road”?

Are there people who make you feel at home with their warmth and acceptance, as Hesse suggests?

Have you had the experience of feeling at home in yourself, of accepting who and what you are, and accepting your life?

I’d gratefully welcome your comments and reflections on the archetypes of home and homelessness.  What would it mean in your life in your life for you to truly “come home”?

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: © Teokcmy |Dreamstime.com

VIDEO CREDIT:

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Trust and Betrayal, Part 2: 4 Simple, Difficult Truths

June 2nd, 2010 · depth psychology, Hope, Meaning, parent-child interactions, psychological crisis, Psychotherapy, Relationships, The Self, therapy, trust

Following on from my last blog post on trust and betrayal, the following are four truths about the experience of betrayal of trust.  They are surprisingly easy to state.  However, really taking in what they mean for our lives is likely a much bigger psychological task.

1. An Experience of Betrayal Can Deeply Impact A Person’s Ability to Trust Others.  Not surprisingly, someone who has had their trust violated in a profound way is wary of giving that trust again.  It may be that they find that it is only with the greatest degree of effort that trust can be restored.  It may well be that, on an unconscious level they withhold trust or sabotage relationships — or they just don’t get into them.

2. An Experience of Betrayal Can Really Impact a Person’s Ability to Trust Him- or Herself.  The experience of betrayal not only impacts a person’s attitudes and response to others.  It can also have a profound impact on the way an individual regards his or her own being.  The reflection that he or she trusted someone deeply, and was betrayed, can lead to profound self-doubt and lack of confidence in her or his own judgment.

3. Experiences of Betrayal Can “Snowball”.  If Someone Has Undergone Betrayal, It Can Be Easy to Repeat the Pattern.  On the other hand, the reverse of point 2. can occur to a person.  An individual who has suffered a deep betrayal may unconsciously seek to get into a relationship of trust with someone who is as similar as possible to the initial betrayer.  They may hang onto a deep hope in the unconscious that they will be able to be in an intimate relationship with one like the former beloved, and instead of having the same tragic outcome as in the first relationship, there is a deep yearning for it to “turn out differently this time”.  Needless to say, such an individual may be unconsciously setting themselves up for a econd, maybe even more devastating betrayal.

4. Betrayal Can Lead to Bitterness, Revenge, Hatred — or to New Awareness.  Probably all of us know someone who has been through an experience of betrayal, who “can’t let go”.  Sometimes people are consumed by bitterness, hatred or an overwhelming desire for revenge, and as a result, that person’s life ends up “on ice”.  They are stuck, and can’t move past what has been done to them.  Such a person needs to find a way to begin to let go of the pain and the outrage, and to find a source of hope, and an awareness of  something that gives meaning and in which he or she can invest themselves.  Something that beckons him or her on, pulling him or her into his or her life.

I am not engaging in uttering some glib bit of fake sunshine here.  Make no mistake: such “letting go” can be the biggest single piece of psychological work that a person may undertake in his or her life.  It is a work that cannot just come from the ego.  It is something that comes from the Self.

In one form or another, betrayal is an experience common to humanity.  To find a way to let go of the experience enough to allow it to be transformed, to move through it and into our lives — is unfortunately not as common.  It can only be accomplished through engagement with the deepest parts of ourselves.  Often this is a place in life where depth psychotherapy can have an important role in the journey toward wholeness.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness — especially if at this point in your journey you are seeking healing around issues of trust.  If you were willing to share any of your experiences around this very important area of life, I would welcome and honour your comments or emails.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: ©  Ciapix |Dreamstime.com © 2010 Brian Collinson

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