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Jungian Therapy and the Meaning of Dreams : Houses

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

Jungian therapy abounds with house symbols, because they are often central to the meaning of dreams — the house is one of the most common dream symbols.

Jungian therapy

It’s a very rich symbol, archetypal in fact.  Humans seek a secure place that is fundamentally their own in which to live, whether it is the troglodyte’s cave, or the King’s palace.

Our earliest home is the maternal womb, and all our subsequent physical homes carry its shades and tones.  In mythological traditions from all over the world, our first home is a paradise, and we are ever seeking to return to it.

 The House as Symbol of Personality

In dreams, the home often symbolizes the dreamer’s entire psyche or personality.  Is the dream house well-kept, or does it appear neglected?  Is it made of solid stuff or shoddy materials — and thus perhaps in need of renovation?  Does the house seem well proportioned?  Are its internal spaces cramped or spacious?

House as “Space” I Occupy

In waking life, some houses clearly symbolize and embody the people who live in them.  So it is in the dream symbolization of the inner world, where houses reflect the person that they contain / are.  Often a house can have different levels, which may reflect different periods of time, or different aspects of the being of the dreamer.  There may be different “rooms” in the house; some familiar, and some unknown, waiting to be discovered.  Jungian therapy knows that the meaning of dreams about houses partakes in the house as a universal symbol, and also in the experiences of the individual relative to the house.

Emotional Power of the House Symbol

Jungian therapy

Houses engender deep emotions in their occupants.   We can have a loving and intimate relationship with a house — or sometimes what seems like an anger or even hate-filled grim struggle.

Dream houses may reflect our inner psychic state — or we may project our inner psychic conflicts onto our outer house in the waking world.  Most of us know the terminally “house proud” individual, whose identity has completely fused with the outer house.

Jungian therapy fully recognizes the deep feelings at play around the house.

The Inner Housing Crisis: Where Will I Dwell?

jungian therapy

We all have to dwell somewhere; this is a truth in the inner world, as much as the outer.  And, as in the outer world, so in the inner: our house has characteristics, and our relationship to it is changed by our choices.

Often it’s a matter of greatest importance for an individual to pay attention to their inner “house”.  Its dimensions and proportions often fill our dreams.  Jungian therapy is very attuned to the theme or motif of the house in the dreams of the individual — especially at times of tension or crisis.  In addition to many other therapeutic techniques, work on the house as part of the meaning of dreams can be a powerful element in Jungian therapy.

How has the symbol of the house appeared in your dreams?

Next in series: Jewels

 

Attribution  Noncommercial Some rights reserved Andypiper ; hockadilly ; chicagogeek  | VIDEO: “Awesome tree houses” by ricsil2037

 

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Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Security

November 24th, 2012 · Anxiety, help for anxiety, life transitions, major life transitions

In major life transitions, as we see in Jungian therapy, whether an individual obtains effective help for anxiety often depends on whether he or she can find a rooted, deep sense of security.

help for anxiety

We all want to feel secure…

There are some ways in which a Jungian perspective on security closely aligns with the perspective of attachment theory.  But there are also some important additional factors.

For Jungians, as for C.G. Jung himself, the image of the tree with deep roots is a symbol of the security, rootedness and groundedness of the individual psyche.  How is your tree doing?

External Security

One aspect of help for anxiety that is necessary in major life transitions is to ensure that the individual feels secure from external threat.  With some major life transitions this is superfluous, but for others, it’s very important.  Do I have a basic feeling of safety from external threat?

An extreme example of this concern someone who has been through deep trauma, such as physical abuse or the death of a loved one — these, too, are major life transitions.  Sometimes an individual triggered or re-traumatized by external situations that in some way or another remind the individual of the original trauma.  Doing what can be possibly be done to restore a sense of safety can be essential.

Internal Security

By this, I mean something that  many people would not consider when they think about the aspect of personal security.  Am I secure in who I am?

Am I able to value myself — or are there inner critics in me that tear me apart with contempt and self-criticism?

I able to deal with my weaknesses, and accept who and what I am — because I have moved past expecting perfection for myself.  Or, do guilt and shame within me continually engage in self-attack, self doubt and resultant anxiety?

Symbols of Security

There are also important symbols of security, and these involve the archetypal layer of the psyche.  Symbols, many of them “religious”, spiritual, artistic, or from nature, may be essential in providing me with a sense of being secure in the universe.  Am I aware of which symbols are meaningful for me, and resonate with my inner life?  They can provide powerful help for anxiety.

Help for Anxiety: How Do I Experience My Sense of Security in the World?

A therapy relationship can be a key place to enhance the experience of a sense of safety in the world.  Jungian therapy knows that the therapeutic space contributes greatly to help for anxiety.

I also need to ask myself, “Does my story about my life make me feel secure?  or less?  Do I even know what the dominant stories or narratives that underlie my life are?

Have I taken possession of my own personalized, deep story?  The story that brings value and meaning to my life — what Jung would call my “personal mythology“?

Jungian therapy provides concrete help for anxiety on all the above levels, in the midst of major life transitions.

Next in series: Transition

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved LouisvilleUSACE

 

 

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Jungian Psychotherapy for Spiritual Crisis: Matter

November 20th, 2012 · crisis, Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, spiritual crisis

Jungian psychotherapy is aware of a profound and paradoxical truth: to understand spirit, and, often, to move beyond spiritual crisis, we must experience — take in, accept — the reality of matter.

Jungian psychotherapy

For Jungian psychotherapy, spirit and matter are not fundamentally opposed, but profoundly related.  Many a spiritual crisis erupts from a disconnect between the two.

Here in the Material World

Madonna sings the lines, “For we are living in a material world /  And I am a material girl.”  And the reality is that we are all material people.  The body is not an illusion.  It’s substantial, and real — it is what we are.

Our entire psyche is shaped by the fact that we are embodied creatures, living in a physical world.  It is virtually impossible to conceive what it would be like to live in an unembodied way.  Our whole manner of mental functioning stems from being in a body, and even the images generated by archetypal psyche are images of embodied existence — of physical being.

Matter, My Nature

To be human, we have to come to terms with animal life.  One of the great spiritual lessons to come out of the work of Charles Darwin and evolution has to do with recognizing that we live in continuity with all that lives in the material world, rather than existing in a separate and god-like apartness.  We are a part of the whole great living reality of the earth.

An important part of the journey of the spirit for us is a journey into accepting our own material, animal existence.  Accepting the simple, humble, yet wondrous organism that each of us fundamentally is.

To approach this simple, wondrous, poor, yet infinitely rich, fearful yet courageous, humble and yet deeply dignified being, our own animal self, with compassion and self acceptance, is a huge journey.

Dust, Perhaps, but Enchanted Dust

We are matter, surely, yet we move with a strange enchantment.  Looking at ourselves, we cannot help but wonder: do we have even the beginning of an understanding of the nature of matter — our own matter?  The fact remains that, of all the things that humanity has encountered in the universe so far, we ourselves are the most intricate and wondrous.

The matter which forms us, and by which we are surrounded is infinitely variable, subtle and complex.  We swim in it, we are it, and yet we cannot even take in the complete fullness of the mystery of matter in the apparently smallest and most insignificant of things.  A magnificently simple and eloquent scene from the film American Beauty (dir. Sam Mendes) captures this:

Living in the Flesh of the World

We live with and in the flesh of the world, subject to its necessities, its weaknesses and its wonder.  When we move away from material existence, and from our body existence, we move away from life, and from others.  Spiritual crisis?  Jungian psychotherapy knows that, without relationship to matter, there is no relationship to spirit.

Next in series: Spirit

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved nilsrinaldi ; familymwr  |   VIDEO: “American Beauty” © 1999 Paramount Pictures

 

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Midlife Transition & the Professional

November 17th, 2012 · midlife, midlife transition

The period in the middle years of life is often known as the midlife transition, and it can be a period of surprising forms of change for the professional person.

midlife transition

Is midlife transition important for the professional?  Yes, most definitely: but perhaps not in the ways you’d expect!

Not Necessarily “Mid-Life Crisis”

Midlife transition for the professional may not appear in a form that fits the stereotypical image of the “mid-life crisis.”

There may be no red sports cars, no decision to go climb Everest, nor any lost weekends in Vegas (although sometimes these things do occur).  But there will likely be some very serious re-evaluation of what is meaningful or important in life.

Mask Dance: Professional Persona

One of the big issues that professionals can come up against in the midlife transition involves a person’s whole relationship to their professional identity — what Jungians would call their professional persona

Most professions impart a very clear sense of professional identity to their members.  Those professional stereotypes all exist for a reason: they may not be completely accurate, but in many cases they pick up on elements of professional identity that the profession works very hard to instill in its members.  However, this can be a source of psychic pain, when the professional persona is not very well suited to who the individual actually is.

midlife transition

What is it All Really Worth?

Professional people make substantial sacrifices to obtain the education and professional experience to practice a profession.  Today, the lifestyle of a professional may also include a lot of ongoing sacrifice just to meet the responsibilities that he or she must carry, or even to work in the field.

This seems especially onerous during the midlife transition, if the professional identity has alienated person from his or her personal identity.  An individual may come to wonder if all the effort and role-playing has all been worthwhile — and whether it continues to be worthwhile to participate in the profession.

As the old saying goes:

midlife transition

What is Really Living?

In the midlife transition, it’s not uncommon for people to feel that they want an increased level of authenticity in their personal lives.  They want to feel really alive.

The tough question is how to get that.

Individuals start to ask, “What changes will enable me to live in such a way that I feel that I really am alive, that my life seems vital and fundamentally meaningful — to me?”

 

A scene from the movie “Parenthood” captures many of the sentiments that professionals can confront in midlife transition.

In this “quitting scene”, while the Steve Martin character is somewhat over the top, what rings true is his frustration with a role that doesn’t fit his real identity.

Living out who we really are is one of the dominant aspects of midlife transition.  Jungian psychotherapy focuses on discovering that unique identity in depth.  Who is trying to be alive in you, above and beyond your professional identity?

Next in series:

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved torbakhopper  © Yuri Arcurs | Dreamstime.com  |   VIDEO: “Parenthood” © 1989 Universal

 

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Jungian Therapy & the Meaning of Dreams, 5: Water

November 12th, 2012 · dreams, Jungian, Jungian therapy, meaning of dreams

Water: a powerful, multi-faceted symbol, often vital to the meaning of dreams, as interpreted by Jungian therapy.

meaning of dreams

I couldn’t possibly catalogue all the symbollic and psychological meanings of water in dreams!  But here are some of its many aspects.

Bodies of Water and the Unconscious

Often in dreams, large bodies of water (oceans, lakes, pools) symbolize the unconscious.  As with bodies of water, we often see the surface, but cannot easily see into the depths.

Also, the vastness of the ocean symbolizes the vastness of the unconscious mind.  Jung observed long ago that the unconscious mind was much vaster than the conscious portion.  His insight has been confirmed by fascinating developments in neuroscience, where new technologies, such as particularly sophisticated MRIs have enabled brain scientists to see that the unconscious processes in the brain dwarf the conscious mind in magnitude.

In those regions of the brain/mind lies the meaning of dreams.  Jungian therapy is always aware that, for each of us, much goes on in the depths of those oceanic waters…

The River

One of the most frequently encountered of water symbols in dreams is the river.  One of the most impressive characteristics of a river is the power of water flowing in a definite direction.

The river as symbol embodies the flow of life: the “teleology”, as Jungian therapy says, or goal-directedness of the psyche.  It also embodies the fatefully powerful direction of that flow — the flow of our lives.

meaning of dreams

Niagara River

Water as Rain — Fertility

In dreams, we also encounter the symbol of water as rain, blessed bringer of fertility to earth, crops, vegetation and ultimately all animal life — a crucial aspect of our experience of water.  In many cultures with limited rainfall, there is a god of rainfall, who is often a key member of the pantheon — such as Chac, the Mayan god of rainfall.

For such cultures, rain is the quintessential symbol of fertility, streaming down onto the earth.  This symbolic fertile abundance is often part of the meaning of dreams.

The Water of Life

One of the most important aspects of water is that we basically are water.  It’s essential for life, a fundamental human need.  Most North Americans don’t regularly live with thirst.  However, this relentless yearning should not be underestimated.  Many in the world know its power all too well.

A famous scene from the movie “Ben Hur” provides a gripping illustration of the symbolism of the “water of life” in both its physical and psychological sense.  Whether you accept the Christian premise of the movie, or not, William Wyler’s depiction is powerful.

The water of life for which we yearn relates directly to the waters of the unconscious.  Often, only by coming to terms with the meaning of dreams embodied in the unconscious can we find the vitality for which we yearn.

Jungian therapy is aware that the meaning of dreams is concerned with approaching and taking in this reality.  How does the symbol of water appear in your dreams, or imagination?

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved David Sifry , Francisco Diez |   VIDEO: “Ben Hur” © 2011 Warner Brothers Entertainment

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Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Rage

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

You or I might find that major life transitions can lead to intense rage; and, oddly enough, we might also find that the need to deal with our rage is closely related to our need for help for anxiety.

Rage isn’t a popular emotion, nor an emotion that many people feel comfortable with admitting that they have.  How do we deal with it, if we find it accompanying major life transitions?

 1.  Hard to Acknowledge

Rage has a very bad reputation.  In some ways, it’s deserved, but therapists sometimes make a serious mistake when it comes to rage.  So often, it gets associated with immaturity — even by therapists, who sometimes describe adults’ rage as “having a tantrum.”  In my opinion, such language is not useful, and offers little help for anxiety associated with latent rage.  The raw power of rage deserves more respect than that.

It can be hard to acknowledge our rage, because we’d have to own the vulnerability underlying it: pain so intense that we feel rage about it.

There are people who are rage-o-holics — who rage because they are addicted to the feeling of power in rage.  But there are also people who experience rage because they have been outraged.

2.  Major Life Transitions Can Foster Rage

Clearly, some major life transitions don’t trigger rage.  Equally clearly, some do.  Consider the person who is laid off unexpectedly with insufficient benefits after many years of loyal service to an employer.  Or,  a devoted spouse who comes to divorce counselling as a result of suddenly discovering that a partner is killing the marriage after years of deception about infidelities.

3.  Feeling Totally Justified — & Making Huge Mistakes

The big trouble with rage is it produces a state of God-like inflation — and God-like self-righteousness.

In such a state, I can feel that whatever I do is justified.  Consider the tale told by Buffy St. Marie, in the song “Smackwater Jack” — a grim, ironic tale of two states of rage, that seem like opposites, but that share a sense of out-of-proportion moral justification.

Such attitudes may have had survival value at a an earlier evolutionary stage — but not now.  As individuals, we can’t violently act out our rage anymore.

That can be a problem — because the feelings are so intense!

4.  Yes, but What Do I Do About It?

A rage state must be made conscious, and acknowledged.  Whether help for anxiety is effective often hinges on realizing the incredible intensity of what is there boiling below the surface.

Equally essential is not letting the rage or anger own you.  It’s vital to get some conscious distance from the rage, rather than being possessed by it, despite the sense of power, control and vindication that it may bring.  Often in major life transitions, this means expressing the rage, and bringing its power into conscious awareness and relaionship to the ego.  Often it is the journey of Jungian psychotherapy to bring soulful handling of rage to major life transitions.

Next in series: Security

PHOTO: Attribution © Sergey Galushko | Dreamstime.com |   VIDEO: Buffy St. Marie ,  “Smackwater Jack” ©

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Jungian Psychotherapy for Spiritual Crisis 3: Belonging

November 3rd, 2012 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, spiritual crisis

Belonging, or as modern psychology might refer to it, attachment, is a key element in spirituality; its absence can lead to spiritual crisis as Jungian psychotherapy affirms.

rose as symbol in jungian psychotherapy

Belong in the World

For many people, feeling a sense of truly belonging in the world is a deep issue.  Jungian psychotherapy stresses that uncertainty about belonging is central to many a spiritual crisis.

We come into the world ready to belong, to attach — we might well say that this instinct has something archetypal about it,   Yet, starting even from a very early age, it may be our experience that the world seems to offer little hospitality or welcome for who we actually are.  That, at least, is the experience of many individuals.

It may be essential to the resolution of any spiritual crisis for an individual to experience a sense of rightness to his or her life — a sense of genuinely belonging in life.

Belonging in the Self

Jungian psychotherapy refers to “relativization of the ego” as the process by which the individual ego comes to realize that it is not the sum total of who we are.  That role belongs to the Self, the fullness of all that we are, conscious and unconscious.  There are unconscious processes working themselves out in our lives, going on without conscious control, and even without consciousness.  This can be a very humbling realization, but it can also provide healing to the  individual in spiritual crisis to realize that the ego does not exist in splendid isolation– it is part of something greater, rather than heroically alone.

Jungian psychotherapy affirms that the Self has a sense of purpose it that goes beyond that of the ego.

The Numinous

What Jung stated about the numinous is very important for those in spiritual crisis.   The numinous is what gives religious experience its compelling power — but it is  found in many other places than organized religion.  As Jung said, the numinous is:

“a dynamic agency or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will…. [that grips] the human subject.”

As Andrew Samuels added:

“The numinous cannot be conquered; one can only open oneself to it.”

This experience is at the root of spirituality.  In addition to contact with something greater, it also implies contact with “a not-yet-disclosed, attractive and fateful meaning” (Samuels).

It’s not often put this way, but the numinous conveys profound connectedness and belonging, especially to those in spiritual crisis.

Destiny and the Love of Fate

Jung often spoke of “amor fati”, the ability to love one’s fate.

It may be a life’s work to come to the point where an individual can begin to have this kind of self acceptance and acceptance of life, and of the direction that life has taken.  It is no small thing, to say the least, and should never be spoken of lightly.

Yet, to love one’s fate, to be able to accept one’s life, can be central to the sense of belonging, and the journey to wholeness.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved ~suchitra~ |   VIDEO: Rumi,  “There is A Field”  aeneb1

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