Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Help for Midlife Issues: Loneliness & Solitude

November 24th, 2013 · help for midlife issues, midlife, midlife issues

In our time, when people seek out help for midlife issues, issues of loneliness and solitude are often among the most prominent issues that they face.

help with midlife issues

However, the experience of loneliness often only emerges gradually in the course of individual therapy.

Much research on loneliness, such as that of Prof. Ami Rokach of York University tends to suggest that loneliness is experienced in many very individual ways.  Nonetheless, the fact of loneliness is very prominent in individuals’ lives, and takes on a certain unique importance in midlife and later life.

The Loneliness Trend

We tend to quickly assume that loneliness and isolation are issues of importance for the elderly; yet other age groups experience them as well.  In the United States two studies have shown that 40% of respondents indicate that they are lonely, as do one quarter of Canadians living on their own.  It’s essential too not use such data to overly stereotype or pigeonhole individuals, but they do show the magnitude and impact of loneliness.

Connected but Isolated

Prof. Sherry Turkle of MIT and others have shown that technology, with all its possibilities for connection through texting, instant messaging and social media, actually often contributes to loneliness and isolation.  Many people at midlife are more and more engaged with social media.  Yet the fundamental need for human contact is not met by these technologies, and can be thwarted by them.

Loneliness and Solitude at Midlife

Studies, like those of Rokach and Neto have shown that loneliness is an issue of great importance at midlife, especially in countries with individualistic cultures like Canada and the United States.  These studies confirm the experience of many therapists who offer help with midlife issues.

Our experience at midlife and later adulthood is often very individual, and leads us right into consciousness of loneliness and solitude.

It’s actually necessary to experience loneliness at midlife transition, if we are to individuate.  As James Hollis tells us:

…it is precisely when we are thrown back on our own resources that we are obliged to find who we are, of what we are made, and generate from that soul-stuff the richest possible person we can manage in the transient moments we are allowed.  It is precisely our aloneness that allows our uniqueness to unfold. 

Hollis’ words are not glib or light.  The danger of social media and all the other distractions are that they will ultimately keep us from genuine encounter with ourselves.  We will never know our own uniqueness, and our true nature if we do not have aloneness in which to hear the very subtle voice of our own deepest yearnings, and to experience our own individual way of expressing what we are.  Much as we need other people, there is genuine help for midlife issues potentially inherent in solitude.

help for midlife issues

Connection — Inner and Outer

Experiences of loneliness and solitude brings us to the question of the value placed on the self.  Self-acceptance and tolerance for aloneness go hand in hand.

Help for midlife issues consists of fostering connection in both inward, and outward, directions.

Enabling individuals to find themselves in inner experiences of solitude, to experience, and then to express their uniqueness in outer life is a fundamental dimension of  individual psychotherapy and of help for midlife issues.


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Rob Ford & Shadow: 4 Jungian Psychotherapy Insights

November 17th, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

Rob Ford, Toronto’s crack-smoking Mayor, dominates the media: but, from a Jungian psychotherapy perspective, one thing we don’t talk about is what Rob Ford shows us about our own collective shadow.

Jungian psychotherapy

It’s easy to moralize about Ford’s very public, very sensational melt-down: he’s an easy target.  What is not so easy or comfortable is the awareness that Toronto elected Rob Ford into his current role.  The City of Toronto voted for him, and in many ways, he reflects aspects of the collective shadow of the entire Greater Toronto Area.

I understand that this may seem like an outrageous claim!  Let me explain: Rob Ford’s attitudes may be repugnant to us, but they reflect aspects of our collective psyche that we would really rather ignore.

1.  Convenient Self-Delusion

T.S. Eliot famously wrote that “humankind cannot bear very much reality.”  Many would see the public pronouncements of Rob Ford and his closest supporters as a case in point.

First we’re told that one newspaper has a vendetta against Mr. Ford, which is gradually widened out to the whole press corps and then eventually to the Chief of Police.  Similarly, Mr. Ford admits to outrageous public incidents of out-of-control alcohol use, smoking crack cocaine, and driving under the influence, but is in such denial that he seems to genuinely believe that it’s O.K. because “everybody does it”.

It’s commonly held that Mr. Ford maintains these self-delusions to avoid the necessity of threatening change.  Yet, dare we look at our own delusions, which allow us to stay locked in behaviors that, on the deepest level, we really know we must change?  For instance, how many people in our culture are locked into ever-increasing levels of debt, that they tell themselves will somehow be magically reversed?

Jungian psychotherapy

2.  Them: It’s Their Fault

Related to the above is the tendency to blame or scapegoat others for ills in society or our own lives.  When things are going wrong, we can easily blame others or outsiders for the bad developments.  Rob Ford is famous for his blaming of “left-wing elites” or the press or “thugs” for social ills or his own personal difficulties.

Prof. Nathanael J. Fast of Stanford University has researched the incredibly contagious properties of blaming and scapegoating others, and the ways in which they can spread with incredible rapidity through an organization or a society.

Many accuse Rob Ford of this kind of scapegoating.  But can we see our own shadow, and the ways in which we, too, scapegoat?  We do it on a social and political level: we also do it in communities, places of employment — and families.

3.  Enable Me — Or You’re No Friend of Mine

Many feel that Rob Ford surrounds himself with people who all reinforce a distorted view of the world.  They find this to be particularly true of his family’s apparent denial of his rampant substance abuse issues.

But, we also often surround ourselves with voices that reinforce the way we already see the world, or confirm us in existing behaviour patterns — because it makes us comfortable, even if it’s not true.

4.  Without My Job I’m Nothing

Some allege this is the real sticking point in terms of Rob Ford actually leaving the Toronto mayor’s job: without the job, he has no concrete identity to which he can cling .  Rather than be nobody, he clings to the mayor role like a life preserver.

We might regret such an attitude in Mr. Ford, if he does indeed hold it.  But it might be good to have a very serious look in the mirror.  How much of our own identity is tied up with our work persona?  Who would I be without my job?  Would I feel like I was anybody?  These are very serious questions for early 21st century people.

Rob Ford can be seen as a mirror of our own shadow.  It’s only through self-compassionately and courageously acknowledging the shadow and the undiscovered self that we can grow towards our own wholeness and completeness, and become rooted in ourselves.  This is the heart of the work of individual psychotherapy.


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4 Aspects of Self Compassion In Midlife Transition

November 10th, 2013 · midlife, midlife transition

To have compassion for oneself during midlife transition can sometimes feel like a tall order.

midlife transition

Often, midlife transition can be a time when the inner critic shifts into high gear, and it can be all too easy to find oneself deeply caught up in self-reproach, regret and self-criticism.

What are the most important ways self compassion needs to prevail during midlife transition?

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It can be hard for a person to admit to a strong sense of lostness during the midlife transition, yet, more often that people would care to admit, that can be the truth.

Is it possible to find compassion for the person whose maps no longer work?  Can we accept and be kind to that aspect of ourselves that doesn’t know where to go and what to do?

Often, the experience of lostness calls for compassion for the lost person within us, often a lost child.

It can be fundamentally important to simply acknowledge the state of being lost.  To recognize and admit this, to emerge from behind our omnicompetent mask: these  may be key parts of theprocess of finding a new direction.

midlife transition

With Specific Regrets

As life progresses, regret can become one of the most powerful of anti-life forces.

As anyone who has ever faced its full impact can attest, regret can feel overwhelming and devastating.

Full-blown regret can become a sink hole for our energy, sapping our will and seemingly eliminating our ability to get past it.

To truly move beyond regret involves the gradual development of forgiveness and compassion for the suffering self.  From this important psychological work gradually comes the capacity to find a way live beyond the regret.  Such work is neither fast nor simplistically easy.

Suffering and Humiliation

Similarly, it’s essential to move beyond contempt for the suffering and/or humiliated self.  Often people are subjected to states where they experience humiliation or a genuine sense of suffering and weakness largely through no fault of their own.  This can often be associated with suffering as children, although it can certainly happen at other key stages of life as well.

It’s often very hard to forgive ourselves for child-like weakness and neediness, and we often cannot forgive the self that has undergone humiliation.  We have contempt for our own weakness and vulnerability.  Attempting to get away from this humiliation can play a key role in obsessions with success and power, which often shield us from shame and self-contempt.  Yet no amount of success or power will ever shield us enough: only compassion for ourself can ever begin to heal.

Compassion for the Shadow

We also need to find acceptance and compassion for the shadow, the unacknowledged self.  As I have tried to suggest in a number of blog posts, the acceptance of those parts of the self that are not acknowledged by the ego is a very important matter.

Shadow work is acknowledging the person in us who is less kind, less knowledgeable or competent, less moral, more angry or vindictive, more self-centered — or even more full of life — than we would wish to be.  This is a major work of compassion and self-acceptance.

Discerning the Path That I Am

Jung seems to me to embody self compassion in the following quotation:

But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders… that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved— what then?

What if the biggest and most difficult task of love is to love the weak, wounded and shamed parts of ourselves? Yes, what then?

The journey to accept who and what we are, and to have compassion for all aspects of ourselves is the core of individual psychotherapy, and an essential dimension of moving through midlife transition and all major life transitions.

With every good wish for your personal journey,


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Jungian Therapy, Individuation & the Late Lou Reed

November 2nd, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian therapy, therapy

Does it seem shocking that a rock musician like the late Lou Reed should be in a post on Jungian therapy and individuation?

Jungian therapy

Lou Reed passed this week, and he was a very controversial figure — even polarizing.  But there is one thing that even his enemies admit: he was an individual.

Out of Long Island

Reed was born into Long Island suburban respectability.  He struggled with 1950s reality, not least of all because the homoerotic dimensions of his character didn’t fit into conventional 50s life.    So, it wasn’t long before he found himself in New York City, where he created the avante-garde rock group Velvet Underground and became part of the circle around artist Andy Warhol.

Shadow and the Wild Side

Many of us became aware of Lou Reed in 1972, when he released “Take a Walk on the Wild Side“.   Popular culture in North America had never seen the like: a completely unapologetic celebration of gay and transvestite life in New York City.  Astoundingly, it became a huge hit. As a Jungian, the powerful attraction of this song for many people who would not even remotely identify with the LGTB communities is striking.  Perhaps it stems from the sense of basic acceptance and groundedness that Reed communicates, as if he were saying, “Here I am. This is me.  I neither hide, nor sugar coat, nor apologize for who I really am.”  His straightforward expression and self acceptance resonated deeply with many who were neither gay nor transvestite, especially younger people.

Artistic Individuation

Reed was a pioneer in opening up issues of gender identity as experienced in our culture.   He challenged, and even shocked, in ways that later artists like David Bowie would emulate–in considerably tamer forms.  He opened up profound questions about masculine and feminine, the ways in which they relate, and how each of us experiences those realities.  He actually touched upon many themes found in Jungian therapy: masculinity and femininity; creativity and receptivity ; sexual and contrasexual. Similarly, he expressed much around shadow: things of which we are barely conscious, or, unconscious; things on the periphery or edges of society, propriety or respectability.

Reed was simple and direct in his art.  While seeing himself fully as a serious artist, not an entertainer, or “rock star”, Reed knew that his art was rock, and he was fiercely passionate about attaining his artistic vision.  He famously once said “Rock songs should have one chord, maybe two…three and you’re getting into jazz” — but he was a passionate admirer and student of the art of jazz genius Miles Davis, bringing a Davis-like focus to his own work.

Lou Reed was strongly and unabashedly always himself.

Jungian therapy

Playing the Part of Oneself

To me, his song “Sweet Jane” seems to embody the soul of Lou Reed:

There’s some evil mothers
They’ll just tell you that life’s just made out of dirt
That pretty women, baby, they never really faint
And that villains always blink their eyes
And that children are the only ones who blush
And that life — Life!– that life is just to die…
But I want to tell you something:
Anyone who ever had a heart
Oh, they wouldn’t turn around and break it
And anyone who’s ever played a part
They wouldn’t turn around and hate it…

Lou Reed passionately and courageously played the part of himself, and he embodied the self acceptance and journey to the self that Jungian therapy sees as fundamental to individuation.


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