Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Jungian Therapy & the Heart of Soul Work: A Quote

June 29th, 2012 · Jungian, Jungian therapy, soul, soul work

jungian therapy

In the quote above, Jung tells us some very important things about the nature of Jungian therapy, and about soul work, or depth psychotherapy, at its very deepest.

It’s important to be clear here what Jung means by “soul”.  He is not concerned with the immortal, immaterial soul.  He is speaking to what it is that makes us the subtle, unique and staggeringly rich individual beings that we all are.

What does he tell us here about soul  and soul work?

1. The Soul is Complex; Souls are Diverse

Human beings embody overwhelming complexity.  However much one learns about another human being, there is more to learn.  And while we have much in common, each human being is incredibly diverse and different from the others, however much we try to hide that individuality.

2. We’re More Than Just Instinctive Reactions

There most certainly are a whole wide range of human instincts: this is something that evolutionary psychology and neuroscience are bringing home to us more and more.  Yet a human soul cannot be reduced to a bundle of instincts. We relate to our instincts differently than the rest of the animal kingdom.  Within us, the instincts are transmuted into another reality : the archetypal.

3. What Each Human Person Fundamentally is, is Beyond Imagining

We cannot take in the full reality of another human being.  Each is an incredible mystery.  We cannot be reduced to fully known or knowable quantities.

4. Each of us has Incredible Heights and Depths

There is a staggering range of possibilities that live within each one of us. There are within each of us incredible heights of nobility and wisdom to be discovered.  Simultaneously, there are incredible dark recesses: feelings and possibilities that we would just as soon not face.

This is the territory of Jungian therapy and of “soul work”.  To avoid turning the latter phrase into a glib slogan, we must take the soul, the inmost subjectivity of the individual in front of us, with utmost seriousness.  Each encounter in soul work, is true engagement with the psyche of another, a unique journey of discovery.

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Counselling for Anxiety & Depth Psychotherapy 4: Freedom

June 25th, 2012 · Anxiety, counselling for anxiety, depth psychotherapy, freedom, Psychotherapy

counselling for anxiety
Freedom is a word often heard in counselling for anxiety; it’s also a key concept in depth psychotherapy.  People who are really gripped by anxiety want nothing more than to be free of it.  We all deeply yearn for freedom; but can we really tolerate having it?

What kind of freedom would really help us deal with anxiety?

Freedom to Acknowledge Who We Are

The inability to accept our own deepest reactions, feelings and thoughts, and to give ourselves the freedom to experience them can be a major source of anxiety.  Often it stems from a deep fear that who and what we are is fundamentally unacceptable.  In the face of such fear, it often takes real courage to face and accept who we are, and what we think and feel.

As Jungian analyst Marion Woodman puts it in  The Pregnant Virgin :

Healing depends on listening with the inner ear – stopping the incessant blather, and listening.  Fear keeps us chattering – fear that wells up from the past, fear of blurting out what we really fear, fear of future repercussions.  It is our very fear of the future that distorts the now, that could lead to a different future if we dared to be whole in the present.

False Self and Taboos

We may experience taboos against acknowledging our real feelings and thoughts, and even accepting who we are.  We may well find elements of ourselves (“complexes”) that deflect us powerfully from being fully honest with ourselves.  As we get closer to penetrating this layer, we may find that the very anxiety we are seeking to get rid of flares up, as a layer of defense against the truth of who and what we are.

The Freedom of Acceptance

If we can accept our deepest selves, this acceptance is often accompanied by an immense sense of freedom and relief.  As I described in my earlier post, when counselling for anxiety has brought us to the place where we feel that we are “enough’, in this way, it has largely accomplished its task.

Choice

To be free is to have real choice.  It entails awareness that I’m free to choose to be and to live in accordance with my real nature, rather than shackled by external expectations and my own inner rejection of who I really am. The heart of the work of depth psychotherapy is to get us to this place of acceptance and genuine free choice.

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What Helps Depression During Major Life Transitions? 1

June 18th, 2012 · depression, life transitions, major life transitions, what helps depression

what helps depression

Do we really know what helps depression during major life transitions?  The surprising answer is yes. It has a lot to do with giving attention to what the particular depression may be trying to tell us.

It may seem surprising to many to think of depression as even occurring at the time of major life transitions.  But, in fact, major life transitions often have a lot to do with its onset and, also with what helps depressed states.

What are Major Life Transitions?

A major life transition, simply put, is any event or series of events that substantially and durably changes a person’s subjective experience of his or her life.  It is any of those experiences in life that entail moving from one way of life or means of life to another.  Examples include, but aren’t confined to:

  • job loss or change of job (or these days, fundamental changes in the nature of a job);
  • marriage; divorce or marital breakdown;
  • migration to a new country, or, in a huge country like Canada, migration from one region to another;
  • midlife transition, which is often caricatured as “mid-life crisis”;
  • major illness;
  • loss or death of a loved one; or,
  • retirement.

Primal societies so respected major life transitions that they often changed an individual’s name when one occurred, as in the Bible (e.g., Jacob to Israel; Saul to Paul).

What Does Depression have to do with it?

Often the changes that occur in a major life transition can seem to consume us.  They can feel like they become the sole object of our attention.  We may find ourselves unable to escape extreme sadness, lack of motivation, or listlessness.  Or we just may not know how to respond.

What Goes on in Depression, from a Depth Psychotherapy Perspective?

One way to think of it is as Jung did: the withdrawal of “psychic energy” from the external world into the inner life, and, particularly, the unconscious.  When this occurs, the unconscious mind is seeking to come to terms with the new situation, and to find a new attitude and response to what is happening in life.  When this can occur, life can move again, and flow.

OK, but What Helps Depression?

If depression is associated with a major life transition, it’s essential to get to the heart of the depression — its very nature.  It’s often only when a person understands how depressed mood may relate to a major life transition that he or she can understand what helps depression in his or her particular circumstance.

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Counselling for Anxiety & Depth Psychotherapy, 3: Enough

June 11th, 2012 · Anxiety, counselling for anxiety, depth psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

counselling for anxiety

Depth psychotherapy concerns self-acceptance, and counselling for anxiety emphasizes that we are “enough” to deal with the situations of our lives.  So, what does it mean to to feel that we are “enough”?  How do we gain that level of self acceptance?

The Sense of Insufficiency

To answer that question, we must probe the roots of our self-doubt and self negation. This is a step that many approaches to counselling for anxiety unfortunately often neglect.  Nonetheless, the deepest sources of self negation and self-doubt are rooted in the unconscious. They are also rooted in the unique experience that the individual has had with life.

Tree of the Self

One of the most frequent symbols of the Self in the depth psychotherapy of Jung is the tree.  It’s a fascinating and powerful symbol: the roots of the tree extend so firmly into the earth (matter), while the trunk and branches of the tree extend upward into the sky (spirit).  A tree is wonderfully, totally “enough”: it is planted and grows according to the laws of its own being — as should we.

Too Much… and Too Little

Contrary to the emotional meaning of the symbol of the tree, many of us, in our early lives, experienced that, in some area or areas of our lives, we suffered from radical lack or insufficiency. We got the sense that we were too weak, too intense, too rowdy, too unusual or too something to meet the challenges that life was putting before us. The other part of the message was that, because we were too [fill in the blank] we would have to strive absolutely heroically just to measure up — at all.  It’s this poisonous burden, counselling for anxiety knows, that stokes the fires of anxiety.

Life in Myself and Being Enough

Within us, there is a part of us that feels sufficient, and has never forgotten who and what we really are.  In most lives, there have also been special people who were outward mirrors of this inward awareness.  In serving as these precious mirrors, these people also often hold for us the power of the archetypes that reside deep in the human soul: the positive father or mother archetype; the wise old man or wise old woman archetypes; the psychopomp, or guide to the true self.  Their names are unfamiliar, but we experience their reality.

The experience of depth psychotherapy is a journey into that archetypal reality, and into connection with the reality that we are enough.

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Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 3: Thin Mask

June 4th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, masks

In “Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 2“, I dealt with the “overly thick” persona or social mask — but can the mask also be overly thin?

individual therapy
Wearing a fragile glass mask?

A number of my readers have pointed out in responses to that earlier post that it most certainly can — and that’s an individuation issue!

Not Guarding Our Treasure

Many of us can relate to the experience of feeling overly open or overly exposed in social situations.  Sometimes, we can put ourselves “out there”, and have the clear sense that others either don’t understand, value, or respect the aspects of ourselves that we have shown to them.

Vulnerable and Unprotected

Especially with those with who are not intimates, social interactions can feel dangerous without an adequately protective social mask or persona.  We can feel genuinely vulnerable, or at risk, facing issues of identity and anxiety.  Individual therapy shows that sometimes the injury done through inappropriate self-disclosure or social interaction with others can lead to real and lasting wounds.  Often those coming from different cultural environments can feel particularly vulnerable, when the persona or social mask required in a different social milieu may be very different.

Believing the Fun House Mirror

individual therapy

A danger of not adequately respecting or protecting our inner life or individuation process, is that we may end up accepting the evaluations that others place on us.  That’s the psychological equivalent of looking in the mirror in a fun house, and taking the distorted image to be our real face.  This can happen unconsciously before we are even aware of what has happened, and we can find ourselves now devaluing ourselves and dealing with shame on a deep and unwarranted level.

Sincerety AND Respect for the Inner Person

There’s a balance that we have to maintain when it comes to the social mask or persona.  A mask that is too thick hides us from the world, and keeps us trapped in an impersonal, unrelated place, where we cannot be ourselves in the social world.  A mask that is too thin threatens to allow others to see aspects of our inmost self and cherished inner life that can make social contact unbearable.  The crucial thing can be to find the appropriate balance, where we protect the treasures of the self, and are also able to be ourselves in the world with freedom.  Finding the freedom to do this is a key part of individuation, and individual therapy.

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