Journeying Toward Wholeness

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A Jungian Psychotherapist Looks at Hallowe’en as Symbol

October 30th, 2012 · Jungian, psychotherapist

Hallowe’en is one of the most enjoyable nights of the year in my opinion; as a Jungian psychotherapist, I’m also fascinated with its symbolism.

Jungian psychotherapist and Hallowe'en

As the young go around with their treat bags, dressed as ghosts, witches and fantasy figures, they’re have a great time, as all can see.  But are they also symbolically living out something important in psyche, for all of us?

What is this Hallowe’en thing, after all?  Why do 21st century people do it?  Its roots are a matter of great interest to a Jungian psychotherapist…

How Did Hallowe’en Get Started?

The most important root source of Hallowe’en is probably the pagan feast of Samhain, celebrated across the Celtic world. At Samhain it was believed that the ‘door’ to the Otherworld opened to allow the souls of the dead, fairies, and other beings to enter this world. It was expected that dead kinsfolk would revisit their former homes on Samhain.   The souls of dead kin were invited to feasts, and a place set at table for them.

Ghosts

Recently, on Twitter, I quoted Salman Rushdie:

“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.”

For a Jungian psychotherapist, those ghosts may be things from our individual past with which we simply haven’t dealt.  They may  be issues of pain or sorrow, or unresolved longings in our early life.  They may be unrealized possibilities in our later lives.  But whatever they are, if they come to us, we probably need to deal with them.

Ghosts may also be something other than personal.  Some of the ghosts that come back to us can belong to our family, our ethnic group, or the society as a whole.  The ghosts of racial and sexual attitudes, bigotries, collective fears, family or community complexes.  And even beyond this, there are the archetypal factors that dwell in the collective unconscious of the human race, and demand our attention.

Setting a Place at the Table

The ancient Celts knew that their ghosts would come back from the other side, and would need to be met and dealt with. The Celts knew that the ghosts had business with us.  Their myth and legend told them that the ghosts would be hungry, would  need a place at table, and would need the fellowship of breaking bread.  In essence, they showed their ghosts hospitality.

Hallowe’en As Symbol

Hallowe’en reflects to us our own need to show our “ghosts” hospitality, to break bread with them, feed them.  A Jungian psychotherapist sees this symbolism as reflecting an aspect of our own need for soul.  There are vital elements that need to come to life in our lives, and elements of the unconscious that we need to uncover for the first time.

So, give food to the ghosts, goblins or fairies at your door; in addition to being a good neighbour, you’re symbollically opening the door to your own soul, and to the journey of soul work

 

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved Fifikins |   VIDEO: OdessaWest  “Dead Man’s Party”  Oingo_Bingo © 1991 UMG Recordings, Inc.

 

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Jungian Therapy & the Meaning of Dreams, 4: Shadow

October 27th, 2012 · dreams, Jungian, Jungian therapy, meaning of dreams

Why does the Shadow have such an important part to play in understanding the meaning of dreams — and why does Jungian therapy care about it so much?

the meaning of dreams

What is the Shadow?

Jung once described it as “the thing a person has no wish to be”; Andrew Samuels describes it as “the negative side of the personality, the sum of all the unpleasant qualities one wants to hide, the ‘inferior, worthless and primitive’ side of man’s nature, the ‘other person’ in one, one’s own dark side.”  It’s easy to persuade ourselves that our Shadow doesn’t exist; but it does!

Shadow amounts to all those aspects of our personality that we don’t want to acknowledge, and that we wish weren’t there — but which are anyway.  The Shadow is, and particularly as we move through midlife and beyond, we increasingly have to deal with it.  That’s why it often shows up so powerfully as part of the meaning of dreams.

A brilliant, very humourous portrayal of the relationship of ego and the Shadow, and the ways ego often tries to “dress up” Shadow is embedded in a famous scene from the movie “Young Frankenstein“:

 

Some manifestations of unconscious, repressed Shadow are humorous; as in the notorious “Mr. Guilty” case ;

meaning of dreams

 

some are unspeakably tragic.  If the Shadow is not acknowledged by the conscious ego, we can pay a great price.

How Does It Appear in Dreams?

Jungian therapy knows that Shadow appears in dreams in many forms.  It may indeed appear as “Frankenstein’s monster”, something almost inhuman and threatening.  Or as a person of unfamiliar race or ethnicity. Or in the form of those stigmatized by our culture, such as criminals, prostitutes, addicts, or ne’er-do-wells.  Also, there may be Shadow elements in a character from your past whom you disliked, or dismissed — but who secretly shows you something important about an aspect of self.

Why Does It Matter?

What our dreams reveal about Shadow can be a of great importance, if we are able to understand it.  We really need to know about, and to come to terms with, the Shadow aspects of our personalities, especially in the second half of life.  There comes a point in life where the repressed thoughts and feelings, ways of perceiving reality, hard to face truths and possibilities in ourselves that have not been lived out demand our attention.  To have any sense of wholeness, completeness or integrity in our lives, we have to come to terms with the unacknowledged and devalued aspects of the self — the Shadow.

What Do I Do?

In some way or other, if we seek wholeness, we will have to confront and come to terms with the Shadow, and that portion of our lives that is held within it.  The journey of Jungian therapy affirms that the meaning of dreams has a lot to do with confronting the Shadow.

Next post in the series: Water

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved  JaneRahman |   VIDEO: “Young Frankenstein” © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation (1974) (USA)

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Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Loss

October 23rd, 2012 · Anxiety, grief, help for anxiety, life transitions, major life transitions

Grief and loss are often fundamental aspects of major life transitions, and individuals confronted with such situations often need help for anxiety of the type associated with such experiences of loss.

help for anxiety

No one wants to experience loss with respect to something that is valuable to him or her — that is, in some sense or other, treasured.

1.  Can I Grieve for What is Gone?

Whether a major life transition is anticipated or feared, there will be feelings about the loss of the old way of life or old state.

Most often, major life transitions involve a big alteration in the way an individual experiences his or her own life.  Even if the change is for the better, there is still often a great sense of loss that accompanies these fundamental changes. Sometimes the loss will be as tangible as losing a home, a workplace or a key relationship.  Sometimes the sense of loss will be just as real, but less easy to identify or describe.   In any case, such a loss will likely be something that we will carry either consciously or unconsciously.

2.  Who Was I Back Then?

In many cases, the sense of loss may pertain to the attachment that I have to an earlier version of myself.  Perhaps I have a sense that I was happier or more secure than I now feel as I undergo a major life transition, and I may yearn to go back to that state.

These feelings may be accompanied by a deep resentment toward any person or situation has disturbed my connection with this earlier time.

All of these feelings may be associated with a question that may provoke a lot of anxiety:  who am I now?

3.  Have I Lost My Innocence?

As the section above suggests, often, often a major life transition leaves us with the sense that our world is now more complex, or more difficult.  Or perhaps, it’s just that I’m now living with certain kinds of consciousness of my world that I wish I was not.  The dominant myth may be that of Adam and Eve cast out of the Garden: innocence lost, and a world suddenly full of shades of gray.  And it’s painful.

4.  Have I Lost My Connection to Others?

In the midst of major life transitions, part of a sense of anxiety may stem from the fact that my experience leaves me feeling that I cannot connect with others in the way I once did.  It may well be that it’s not easy to relate to people who haven’t confronted this type of situation, who simply do not know what it’s like to live through this type of thing.

Is There Something to be Found in My Loss?

Part of the help for anxiety that we need in dealing with major life transitions may stem from coming to accept that such situations combine loss — and finding.  Along with what is lost, the opportunity for new consciousness develops in us, promising a new awareness of the world and a new, deeper sense of our own identity — and of our own personal myth.

PHOTO: Attribution SomeRightsReserved | John-Morgan

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Jungian Psychotherapy for Spiritual Crisis 2: Reality

October 20th, 2012 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, psychotherapy for spiritual crisis, spiritual crisis

Issues of spirituality, and particularly, around psychotherapy for spiritual crisis, often confront us as questions about what is fundamentally real or important

psychotherapy for spiritual crisis

— questions which often are front and centre in Jungian psychotherapy.

 The Quest for the Real

We often deal with disconnect between what others — friends, employers, advertisers, the society as a whole — are telling us is real, and the disquieting sense that there must be something more.

We sense that what we are looking for is missing from what the society as a whole perceives as real or significant. The media and Internet do not often point us to things of substance or lasting value.

Often, psychotherapy for spiritual crisis encounters individuals experiencing a sense of emptiness, flatness, or even “vertigo”.  For such individuals, the quest for reality is not something “fluffy” or academic: it can well become fundamentally, even crucially important.

Experiencing Reality

When are we experiencing reality?  One indicator would be when we feel most alive or aware.

Meaning, value, significance and even joy: these are the things that make reality — and make it important.  This doesn’t mean that experiencing reality in our lives is always painless or easy, by any means.  Many experiences connecting us to a sense of spiritual reality may in fact involve pain.  But invariably, they bring with them the sense that we are living our lives, in a way connected to something bigger than the consci0us self.

To Live Here and Now

Psychotherapy for spiritual crisis concerns opening up for individuals a way of living that feels full of aliveness, radically in the here and now.  A spirituality that is only for the next life is no real spirituality at all.

It’s also more than living in the moment in a shallow way.  It involves connection to our unconscious depths, finding meaning in life, and rooting in archetypal reality.

It also entails being rooted in self-awareness of all the differing ways in which we experience life, whether it be through our feeling, our thought, the awareness of our senses, or the promptings of our intuition.  Often psychotherapy for spiritual crisis involves opening the “shut down” aspects of ourselves.

To Live My Reality in Depth

Living in a way that is open to everything in us involves being open to myth: to the true story of our lives.  Real myth, our own story gives us the true context for who we are, and  enables us to know that we belong in our lives.

In the following video, psychiatrist and Jungian Analyst Anthony Stevens reads from his book “Jung: A Short Introduction“:

“C.G. Jung and Reinvesting in Our Real Life”

The real healing that emerges from the psychotherapy of spiritual crisis entails the sense of being truly rooted in my life.  It is connected with my sense of feeling at home in my life and in the world… that there is a rightness to my being here and now.

Jungian psychotherapy for spiritual crisis involves opening to the call of my deepest being,

PHOTO:  © Bortn66 | Dreamstime.com  VIDEO: “Jung: A Very Short Introduction” © Anthony Stevens 1994

 

 

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Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Denial

October 15th, 2012 · Anxiety, help for anxiety, life transitions, major life transitions

Denial is one of the more characteristic reactions to major life transitions; a key part of help for anxiety is enabling people to gradually move beyond denial into acceptance.

help for anxiety

Denial has been defined as “the refusal to acknowledge the existence or severity of  unpleasant external  realities or internal thoughts and feelings.”  How can it manifest in our lives when we are undergoing major life transitions?

“It Just Doesn’t Exist”

Denial may take the form of a plain and simple lack of acknowledgement that a given situation or set of facts exists.  Sometimes the extent of this lack of acknowledgement can be absolutely breathtaking.  Individuals in the midst of major life transitions may deny the type of plain and straightforward facts, that at any other time they would never dream of denying.  They may even forget important facts that they have been told.

“It Just Doesn’t Matter”

Denial can also involve denying the emotional significance or impact of a state of affairs.  We may acknowledge intellectually the facts of the major change in our life, but still deny its emotional impact.  For example, a spouse may tell us that they are divorcing, or we may learn of the disability of a child, and even though we understand what we have been told, we go on acting as if nothing has changed, and we didn’t know.  An important part of the help for anxiety that individuals need at a time like this is help with facing this emotional impact.

The Gift of Denial

The ability to deny serves an important role in protecting the psyche.  It is a mechanism in the psyche that protects us from the overwhelming pain and anxiety that might otherwise crush us.  In Jung’s terms, we effectively dissociate from what we otherwise know to be the truth.  In this way, our capacity to deny may serve the Self, for a time.

Denial and Individuation

Denial manifests those parts of the psyche that seek to keep us in a good place, and safely away from psychological harm.  The broader Self is at work here, as is the unconscious mind.  However difficult it may be, when the time comes that we are ready to accept the denied into our conscious minds, we become more conscious, more aware …more ourselves.

Meaningful help for anxiety works with denial, supporting us in the pain of that which is denied, and helping us to move into the acceptance we need to move into life.

Next post: Loss.

PHOTO:  © Bortn66 | Dreamstime.com

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Jungian Therapy & the Meaning of Dreams, 3: Symbols?

October 13th, 2012 · dreams, Jungian, Jungian therapy, meaning of dreams

From the perspective of Jungian therapy, a good deal of the significance and meaning of dreams is carried by those very unusual creatures called symbols.

meaning of dreams

But what exactly is a symbol, the way that Jungian therapy uses the word?  How do symbols create the meaning of dreams?

A Symbol is Not a Sign

You can’t just translate a true symbol into words.  They aren’t like a stop sign, for instance ,or a skull and crossbones emblem which amount to alternate ways of saying “Stop” or “Poison”.  A symbol has far more depth that that.  It isn’t that what the symbol seeks to communicate is hidden, or in code.  Rather, it’s something extremely hard to express in the ordinary everyday language of consciousness.

As Jung states:

“Their pregnant “language” cries out to us that they mean more than they say.” 

 -Jung, CW 15

Not Created by the Conscious Mind

The meaning of dreams isn’t shaped by the kinds of thinking found in the conscious mind.  Also, the symbols that we find in dreams don’t communicate the same perspective on our personal reality that we find in our waking life.  One good way of looking at each symbol in a dream is to see it as a if it were a picture painted by the unconscious, showing what the unconscious “thinks”, for lack of a better word, of the attitude and perspective that the conscious mind or “ego” has, at any given point of time.

Jung sums it up by saying that a dream symbol is “An unconscious invention in response to a conscious problematic”.

Beyond Language

The symbols in dreams are more like art or poetry than they are like the articles in your morning newspaper.  They show us dimensions of ourselves that we can’t easily or simply put into a few words or paragraphs.  To dream is often to contact an amazingly eloquent portrait of your life situation, created by the genius of the unconscious.

meaning of dreams

Symbols Encapsulate Our Psychological Situation — and Show the Way

Very often, symbols in dreams capture conflicts with which we are confronted in our psychological situation.  As Andrew Samuels puts it, “The symbollic process begins with a person feeling ‘stuck’, hung up, forcibly obstructed in the pursuit of his aims and it ends in illumination, “seeing through”, and being able to go ahead on a changed course.” (Andrew Samuels CDJA, 145)  To enter this symbollic process in its fullness is often a key part of the journey of depth psychotherapy and Jungian therapy.

Next post in the series: Shadow.

PHOTO:  The Red Book © 2009 Foundation of the Works of C.G. Jung

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Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Shock

October 9th, 2012 · Anxiety, help for anxiety, life transitions, major life transitions

Major life transitions are often a very important time for individuals to seek out help with anxiety .

help for anxiety

This often includes help with the sense of shock and overwhelm that can surround such events.

 What Is Shock?

Psychological shock is not the same thing as physiological shock, but it can have a profound effect.

Shock occurs in highly emotionally laden situations in our lives.  Situations where shock comes together with major life transitions can include:

  • death of a loved one, or loss of a key relationship;
  • a traumatic event, such as accident, or serious crime, large financial loss, or sudden loss or dramatic change of employment;
  • sudden discovery of major life changing illness, or learning of the serious mental or physical illness of a loved one;
  • spiritual crisis; or,
  • suddenly feeling the emotional impact of apparently positive or neutral major life transitions (e.g., moving to a new community or country, finishing a serious program of academic study, empty nest, retirement)

What Happens in Us When We Experience Mental Shock?

Numbing.  When people confront the kind of overwhelming emotional impact that can be associated with major life transitions, it can often result in a kind of mental numbing.  We may simply find it hard to feel any of the emotional impact the event is causing for us.

Detachment.  Akin to numbing, we may find ourselves completely removed from the event, as if it had happened to someone else.

Derealization.  Even more, we may react to the overwhelming character of major life transitions by a strong sense that the whole event is just unreal.  Events can seem as if they were in a play, or happening to someone else.

Avoidance.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, we simply avoid the situation, or avoid contact with others that might bring us to acknowledge what we have been through.

Moving Beyond Shock

It’s essential that I get the help with anxiety that will enable me to move beyond the shock that can be so powerfully associated with major life transitions.  Shock is a kind of a liminal state or “between” state where I stay until I am ready to absorb and accept the emotional impact of major life transitions.  Ultimately, I need to incorporate these events and to make meaning out of them, as a part of my journey into the mystery of the self.  But the immediate need may be to acknowledge that I am in shock, which often reflects the magnitude of the impact of major life transitions.

Next post in the series: Denial.

PHOTO:  © Dphiman | Dreamstime.com

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Jungian Psychotherapy for Spiritual Crisis 1: Yearning

October 6th, 2012 · Jungian psychotherapy, psychotherapy for spiritual crisis, spiritual crisis

In describing Jungian psychotherapy for spiritual crisis, it would be easy to succumb to “foot-in-mouth disease”!

psychotherapy for spiritual crisis

The word “spiritual” can be hard to pin down.  As I use it here, I’m not necessarily meaning something heavenly or other worldly, nor something confined to organized religion.  I’m referring, broadly to all those desires in a human being to connect with something bigger and more lasting than one’s own ego.

To understand spirituality, we have to start from our yearning.

 Archetypal Yearning

“Yearning” evokes a sense of deep longing…the deepest longing.  And often the baseline sense of the word “spiritual”, at least today, in the western world, relates to a kind of very deep, possibly only partially conscious longing.

For many of us today, spirituality actually entails a yearning for something hard to tightly define.  But it entails a sense of connectedness, of belonging, and of finding meaning and value in life.

Is it OK to yearn? Or, should life solely be concerned with going to work, and paying the bills?  For the vast majority of the human race over its entire existence, yearning to be connected to something greater than the ego has been an essential part of life.

Yearning for Something Lasting

We humans yearn to find something lasting and permanent in our lives, the value of which is not going to disappear with the chances and changes of life.  We need to feel that we are somehow at home in our place in the universe, and that our living has meaning.

Change & the Death of Symbols

But we also live in an era of massive continuous change.  Things seemingly stable and permanent even 50 years ago now seems far more temporary and subject to change.  This pertains even to some of the key symbols in our lives.  Forms of religious and cultural symbol and story that spoke to earlier generations often seem to have lost the power to ground the lives of modern people.  This realization leads many on a spiritual search — and, at times, to spiritual crisis.

An Individual Way: Your Personal Myth

In our era, psychotherapy for spiritual crisis entails helping individuals to move forward on their own spiritual paths.  This means helping the individual to find symbols that connect him or her in a meaningful way to her or his own personal life.

Bruce Cockburn, “Understanding Nothing”

 
In C.G. Jung’s terms, this means that I must discover my own personal myth — the story and the symbols that give meaning to my individual life.  This is the primary focus of Jungian psychotherapy for spiritual crisis.

PHOTO:  AttributionSome rights reserved by jurvetson   VIDEO: Bruce Cockburn, “Understanding Nothing”

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A Depth Psychotherapist on Late Midlife Transition 1

October 1st, 2012 · midlife, midlife transition, psychotherapist

To a depth psychotherapist, late midlife transition has some characteristics different from earlier stages in the midlife transition process.  This is especially true in our time, when particular aspects of the late midlife transition get intensified by our way of life.

midlife transition

Individuals today experience a great deal of demand on their strength, time and resources, and the late midlife transition period is often a time when the stress level is particularly great.

Has It Been Worth It So Far?

The depth psychotherapist knows that this retrospective question is all too characteristic of much of the midlife transition process for individuals.  But the further the journey of midlife transition goes, the more this question can take on urgency.  Individuals strongly feel the need to get some concrete resolution to this question.

What Will Make It Worth It From Here on in?

Tied to the above is the question about the future: what is the direction that I really want in my life?  For some people, the problem becomes that they can’t even really imagine what it is that they might actually want in their lives.  What can give all of this journey value and meaning?  This might be a values or a religious or philosophical question, or it might be something else altogether.

Sometimes, as we move through midlife transition, even acknowledging what it is that we yearn for can be an extremely hard thing to do.

…If Only I Could Get Free From All These Pressures…

In our era, to an accelerated degree, people in late midlife transition face acute pressures.  Pressures from our kids, at the stage where they are making fateful decisions about vocation, the move into adulthood and leaving home. Pressures of rapidly changing workplaces, and of fighting to stay in the workforce.  Pressures of aging and increasingly dependent parents.  For individuals in the late midlife transition “sandwich generation”, individuation means finding meaning beyond and through major life transitions.

I Can’t Postpone Living Anymore!  …But What is it to Live?

What is it to live?  For many of us, even in later adulthood, this is a thorny question.  What is it for me to live?  Answers are intensely individual.  They will only come through exploration of personal depths and the unconscious, and through a deep level of acceptance of what life has been so far.  This is key to the work of the depth psychotherapist with clients in late midlife transition.

PHOTO:  AttributionSome rights reserved by Rememberwhen512 VIDEO: “Love After Love” by Derek Walcott joeystillfree

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