Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Jungian Psychology, Caregiving and the Self

August 31st, 2010 · aging, Jungian psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, Self

Here is a very striking article by Andre Picard from the Friday, August 27 Globe and Mail.  It is entitled “Caregivers suffering depression, rage“, and it concerns two studies of family members who are caring for those suffering from dementia by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.  I think that it should give great pause to all of us, and particularly those who are middle-aged caregivers.

Jungians tend to be rather suspicious of statistics about human experience, and I think that there are often very good reasons for some scepticism.  However, I think that studies like Supporting Informal Caregivers – The Heart of Home Care  and Caring for Seniors With Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Forms of Dementia  show us an important aspect of a social reality that impacts our society, and in Jungian terms, has a huge impact on the individuation processes of very large numbers of individuals.

It needn’t take studies like these for us to be aware that there are some huge problems in this area.  In particular, I’m very aware from my practice of the large number not only of elderly, but also of middle-aged people, often but not always children of seniors, struggling with the demands of elder care.  Those who are trying to assist seniors suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease are finding the burden especially crushing.  The actual care can be demanding, but what is especially difficult for many people are the burdens of stress and intense emotional suffering associated with being this type of caregiver.

However, the new studies bring home the reality of this picture with some cold hard numbers.  In a survery of some 20,000 caregivers:

 

  • 16% of informal caregivers of seniors receiving home care reported distress related to their role;
  • that figure went to 28% if the the caregiver was providing more than 21 hours of care per week; and,
  • to 32% if the senior had symptoms of depression.

 

 

There are an estimated 2 million plus informal caregivers in Canada.  If anywhere near 16% of that number are in distress, that is a huge number of people who are struggling.

Unquestionably, this kind of informal care provision imposes a huge burden, one that is only poorly understood by those who have not had to carry it, and by our society as a whole.  Few who have not had to face the burden of a relative who slowly becomes consumed by delusions and paranoia can have any idea of how difficult that can make relationships with someone who was once a vital family member.  Similarly, loss of memory, language and reasoning abilities can make it impossible for such a person to do even simple daily tasks, e.g., answering the phone.  Generally, grief is thought of as an emotional experience that follows a death.  However, with dementia, grief is attendant upon every loss and just goes on and on.

These elder care situations highlight some enormous questions for the well-being and the individuation process of the caregivers involved.  How much sacrifice can society expect of the family members of the elderly suffering from various forms of dementia?  How much sacrifice should such caregivers expect from themselves?  Is it even in any sense a good thing for physical life to go on, after dementia has obliterated the personality of a person?

There can be little doubt that people carrying the burdens of caregiving for seniors need very substantial support.  They also need the opportunity to explore in depth the emotional issues that such caregiving brings up, along with generally trying to make meaning of the often very difficult situations in which such caregivers find themselves.  Often psychotherapy of a Jungian type can serve as the best possible gateway into exploring and accepting the deep feelings and emotions that occur as a part of this time of life.

Questions to Ponder about Dementia and Individuation

  1. Does dementia eventually bring an end to the individuation process?  Jung apparently thought that it brought the end so far as we could know in this life: was he right?
  2. How might a person’s obligations to the Self and as a caregiver fit together?  How would you fit them together, if you found yourself in such a position?
  3. How do you feel about your own aging?
  4. On an even more fundamental level, what do you believe about the end of life?

Wishing you every good thing on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Evgeniya Parfenova | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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The Not-So-Simple Task of Simply Being Honest, Part 1

August 25th, 2010 · depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, persona, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, Shadow, truth, unconscious

Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.

-Ludwig Wittgenstein

We all like to feel that we know ourselves, and that we are fundamentally honest with ourselves, but is it so?  Often we not only deceive other people — something we may or may not have very good reasons for doing.  We also deceive ourselves.  That is a problem, because sometimes deliberate not-wanting-to-know keeps us from being conscious of things that we really need to understand for our own individuation process.

To see what I mean, let’s consider one of the most common questions that is asked in this world.  This question must surely also receive one of the highest proportions of deceptive responses worldwide:

“So… How are you?”

It is not merely that the answers given to the questioner in response to this question are knowingly false.  It is, that on a deeper level, we very often are untruthful or inaccurate in what we allow ourselves to know in response to this question.  If we were to reflect, we would realize that our answers are not only superficial, they are often untrue.  For instance, we humans are quite capable of responding by telling people, “Fine, thank you!” when in fact we may be wrestling desperately with anxiety or depression.  It is not merely that we are choosing to be deceptive of others.  It is that we are choosing not to know — to deceive ourselves.

Sometimes the truth is very hard to look at, head on.  We can become acutely aware of this when there are aspects of ourselves at which we would rather not look.  For instance, it can sometimes take people a great deal of effort to look at their early life, and to acknowledge the ways in which it was  filled with sadness.  Or similarly, loyalty to parents may prevent a person from acknowledging that the relationship with that parent was, or is, a very difficult one.  Again, because we often have such an ego investment in relationships, acknowledging that  a marriage or a partnership may not be good for us may hold similar difficulties. Similarly, the capacity of individuals to rationalize or deny in situations of addiction or abuse are well known.  And the whole realm of sexuality is frequently full of things that we would rather not admit to ourselves.

To set yourself on the course of being fundamentally honest with yourself is to set yourself on the path of encounter with the unconscious.  In particular, being honest with oneself often sets one on a course for in-depth encounter with the shadow, in Jungian terms.  In the next Part of this series, I will be examining this encounter with shadow in more depth.

Questions to Ask about Truth and Honesty in the Inner Life

  1. What do I have a vested interest in believing about myself?
  2. What do I have a vested interest in believing about other people in my life?
  3. Are there things that I would really rather believe, that I have to admit are just not true?

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the whole subject of truth in our relationship to ourselves.

Wishing you every good thing on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Jose Elias Silva Neto | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Jungian Therapy Looks Under the Surface of Suburbia

August 20th, 2010 · Jungian therapy, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, suburbia / exurbia, therapy

Under the surface of suburbia, life is the same here as it is anywhere else.  The endless communities of single family dwellings stretch out and stretch out, beyond where the eye can see.  Everyone, so the story goes, is sharing the same life, wanting the same things, holding the same shared values.  And everyone is at pains to seem happy and healthy, like their neighbours.  Oakville, Mississauga, Burlington, Waterdown, Dundas… the list of communities goes on and on.

Yet beneath the appearances, there are a myriad of individual lives.  People are moving through life towards their individual destinies, with happiness or with discontent, with sorrow or exultation, with unresolved pain and grief, or with yearning.

Each seeks something.  He or she may have a name for what he or she seeks, or an image, or perhaps just an inchoate ache and a yearning.  Some, perhaps slumber, not wishing to be reminded of life’s strong feelings, and what they evoke.

Each has an individual story, and, Jung tells us, a personal mythology, waiting to be uncovered.  Each is unique, a bundle of subjective awarenesses that will never repeat itself in any place or time.

Under the surface of suburbia, we each seek to become the one whom we know we are destined to be.  We wrestle with accepting what we are, and with the life-long project of finding others to accept and love us for who we are.  We look with awe at the vastness of the universe, and recognize that we are small as dust.  Yet somehow we know that what we are, and even that we are, is miraculous.

Some say the story is settled and known, and that the story is the same for everybody, and that it only needs to be told and told again, in the same old form, for every person in every town.  But some say that the story is new, and needs to be written in flesh and blood in each individual life, and that each and every human has a particular part of the story that only they can write.

Some people say that each of us is a story, and each of us is a journey, and that the only real freedom is in finding our own true nature.  Carl Gustav Jung said this, and stressed that the invitation to embark upon the journey of our own real lives is always there, ready to be accepted.

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the whole subject of finding your own individuality in suburban life.

Wishing you every good thing on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Jeff Whyte | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Sarah Palin, “Mama Grizzlies” and the Mother Archetype

August 15th, 2010 · archetypal experience, archetypes, Carl Jung, collective consciousness, depth psychology, mother archetype, parent-child interactions, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, symbolism, unconscious

Andrea Huffington commented recently  in the Huffington Post on Sarah Palin’s use of archetypal imageryin the political ads that she has recently run with incredible success online.  Huffington seeks to use the concepts of Jungian psychology to analyze Palin’s message.  In my opinion, it’s a fruitful approach.

The ads are remarkable for the fact that they do not discuss the political issues at all, presumably leaving it to the viewer to draw his or her conclusion about what the issues are that are under discussion.  What they in fact do is evoke the symbolism of the bear, and in particular the mother grizzly bear.  Palin at one point says,

“I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when somebody is coming to attack their cubs… you don’t wanna mess with the mama grizzlies!”

Huffington believes that Palin has unconsciously used images that are archetypal, and that, because of that, these images resonate with people powerfully on the unconscious level.  Certainly, “mother” is a powerful archetype, as is the symbol of the bear, which has possessed great meaning in human cultures throughout the world.  While Palin may have unconsciously hit upon this approach, historians can point to similar highly manipulative tactics used by propagandists throughout history.  Of course, the past masters of this kind of thing were the Naziis, particularly Hitler’s propanganda genius Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler himself.

Palin tells us, “Moms just kind of know when something’s wrong.”  Perhaps.  But it is important to distinguish between two very different aspects of the mother archetype, and how they might affect us.

Like all archetypes, the mother archetype has a negative and a positive pole.  That is, there are manifestations of the archetype that foster human growth and individuation, and there are manifestations that hinder or hobble such development.

The archetype can manifest as “positive mother”.  This happens, for instance, when a mother gives messages to her child that are affirming, and that give a sense of fundamental rightness to the child’s existence.  A child growing up with this kind of message and support from the mother may very well grow to have a lot of confidence in themselves, and in life.

At the other end of the spectrum is the negative mother, including “smother mother”.  This is the mother who undercuts the child fundamentally, and destroys the child’s confidence in what he or she is, his or her own powers, and in the goodness of life.

So this leaves us with the question of what kind of mother it is that Palin is evoking with her “Mama Grizzly” images.  Is this mother life-giving and empowering, or fundamentally undercutting, disempowering, and perhaps smothering?  Is Palin’s “mama grizzly” a mother who affirms individuality and uniqueness, or a mother trapped in standardized, stereotypical and ultimately mother roles?  What’s your view?

The archetype of the mother is indeed powerful, and I hope to explore the nature of positive and negative mother archetypes in future posts.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Johnbell | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Escaping the Grip of Regret, Part 3: Through Phoenix Gate

August 11th, 2010 · complexes, depression, depth psychology, guilt, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, regret, Shadow, soul, therapy, unconscious, unlived life, wholeness

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on regret, I have tried to portray something of the nature and power of regret as it manifests in our lives.  Hopefully I have succeeded in making one very central thing clear: regret is not some peripheral thing in our lives that is going to be cleared away by simply improving our thinking.  It strikes deeper.  It is much more fundamental.  How then are we to deal with the presence of regret in our lives?

One of the first steps is to frankly acknowledge the danger to us that regret represents.  Regret, truly strong regret, has the power to deprive us of a meaningful life in the present, even though it concerns events in our past.

Neither will regret be skirted.  It often stands in the center of the road of our journey.  The way that it holds our energy can seem hopelessly entangling.

Acknowledging the sheer pain of regret can be very hard to do.  As is often the case with strong negative feelings, we try to deny their existence.  Yet it is only acknowledging the pain that really makes us aware of the life that has been lost, of which the regret reminds us.  And it is only in acknowledging the pain and sometimes the despair that is associated with regret that the energy that is tied up in it can begin to be freed up to move toward something else in our lives.  And that something may have real life and real meaning for us.

Despair is usually the last place we want to go.  The last thing we want to face in our lives.  Yet, it is in our despair that our energy gets caught.

What is it about what we regret that really keeps us from wanting to release it?  Can we face the hurt inherent in failed hopes?  Does regret really move us more deeply into the question of what our life is about, and whether we find it meaningful or not?  As the character Ivan says in the recent film Greenberg , can we really come to accept and cherish a life other than the one we planned?

Carl Jung frequently used a phrase that he took from the ancient world” amor fati .  Literally translated, it means “the love of one’s fate.”  This is not a phrase to be chucked around glibly, and Jung certainly did not do that.  However, the idea of loving one’s fate is the mirror opposite of living a life that is consumed by regret.

When one looks at the painful, and sometimes even horrific events that can be endured by human beings, one can only conclude that it would be a grim mockery to counsel someone to somehow love these actual events.  That would be the bitterest possible perversion of some idea of positive thinking.  I don’t think that is what Jung means when he uses the phrase amor fati. I think what he does mean is that the person who loves his or her fate somehow lives in hope, and sees a meaning emerging in the midst of the fabric of his or her life.  Such a life and such a hope offers the possibility of living passionately into life — beyond the chains of regret.

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the whole subject of dealing with regret.

Wishing you every good thing on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Guy Allard | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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