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Self Awareness Helps with the Most Stressful Life Events, 1

September 29th, 2014 · most stressful life events

The most stressful life events can exact a tremendous toll on us.  How can an increased level of self-awareness help us to cope with them?

most stressful life events

It might seem that stress and self-awareness are unconnected.  Yet, the more conscious that we can be of such connections at times when we confront stress, the more in possession of ourselves we can remain.

In the demanding “fall start up” season, many find a vast array of personal, professional and family activities and obligations make claims on their energy and stamina.

What Makes for Stress?

There are many potential sources of stress.  It’s created by all sorts of situations that require certain levels of performance, or that demand that we endure certain circumstances or to adapt to changed situations.

One of the greatest sources of stress in the most stressful life events is the way in which an outer circumstance activates a particular unconscious part of ourselves that reacts, sometimes very intensely.  We may carry these clusters of potential reactivity within us, and yet be totally or partially unaware of their presence.  We’re then be taken by storm when they are suddenly activated by a stressful circumstance.

Analytical psychology calls these inner knots or sensitivities complexes.  Some key examples of this kinds of knots of emotional energy are below.

most stressful life events

 

Money Complex.  Very many of us have had traumatic or fearful experiences around money or finances in the past.  For some, even the slightest financial trigger may activate this complex, with all the fear and defensiveness this causes.

most stressful life events

 

Authority Complex.  Like the money complex, those gripped by such complexes have often had traumatic or fearful experiences associated with authority figures in the past, whether the police, teachers or parental figures.  For such people, contact with authority may be debilitating.

most stressful life events

 

 

Performance Complex.  For some people, experiences around having to give performances or meet expectations create a mass of negative emotional association that gets activated every time they have to meet certain types of externally imposed expectations.

There are a great many other complexes that can powerfully impact us when we are confronting the most stressful life events.

What do We Mean by Self Awareness?

So, if we are facing an activated complex in the midst of a stressful life event, how can something called “self awareness” possibly help us?  Well that depends very directly on what we mean by the term “self awareness.”

If we are talking about some purely intellectual  understanding of connections between events in early life, and current levels of stress, it likely won’t help much.  But if we enter experiences at the root of the complex, if we understand how those feeling-toned complexes have influenced our lives, and we experience and accept our feelings, we may experience a lessening of the power of the complex, and we can find ways to hold the experience at arm’s length, to some extent, and not just be steamrollered by its emotional power.

Example.  I understand intellectually that my anxiety around money takes its cue from the anxiety around money that dogged my father all his life.  Yet, it’s quite different to feel the impact on me of incidents like coming home at age three to find him on the sofa, head in hands, crying, because he didn’t know how to pay the bills, and feared losing the family home.

Depth psychotherapy is very often an effective therapeutic approach for removing the power from those highly-charged emotional knots, our complexes, and for holding onto ourselves in stressful life events.  In the next post on this subject, we’ll  look in more detail at just how this can occur,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Dealing with Death in the Family: Depth Perspectives, 2

September 22nd, 2014 · dealing with death in the family

Part 1 of this series on dealing with death in the family examined the real nature of grief; here, we look at what coming to terms with loss of a family member really means.

dealing with a death in the family

What are some of the things that actually go on within the psyche of a person dealing with death in the family?

The Inner Image of the Family Member

Self psychologists like Heinz Kohut see us as carrying within the psyche what they call the imago of loved ones, a kind of unconscious model or image of the family member, and of how we have experienced him or her.  When the individual dies, this inner partially unconscious image undergoes very powerful transformations.

An essential part of grieving is to find a way for psyche to move the departed individual from the realm of the living, to the realm of those who have passed.  This is an essential part of the grieving process, and is reflected in the dreams of those who are in grief.

That Which was Not Resolved

One of the hardest things to come to terms with can be the shadow of the deceased family member.  When an individual has passed it can seem unloving or disloyal to accept and face the aspects of the relationship with the individual that were painful to us, or dark.

To confront this reality may take us inside the entire shadow life of the family.  The grieving individual may need to confront and accept the ways in which the family as a whole required him or her to fit into a role that was inauthentic and that kept the individual from living contact with the true self.

Depth psychotherapy shows us that, sometimes it is only the grief of a great loss that can stir the forces inside an individual that lead to claiming his or her authentic individual life.  Jungian analyst James Hollis writes about an individual’s journey through grief that led him to face the ways in which his family of origin had disempowered, de-valued and used him, and how that pattern had been perpetuated in his marriage to a woman who died of alcoholism in her late 30s.

“Only great loss… provided the catalyst to encounter another loss which lay so deeply as to be unconscious–the loss of his own journey.  Only grief could stir him to finally face his estrangement from himself.  And only the betrayal of Anne could have led him to see the exploitative nature of his family relationships.

By dwelling in these dismal swamplands, and working through their grievous woundings, Devin recovered the life he was always meant to live — his own, not someone else’s.”

Ritual

dealing with death in the family member

 

SInce deep in pre-history, we humans have used ritual as an archetypal means of dealing with death in the family.  We know that humans have engaged in ritual around the death of loved ones for at least the last 100,000 years.

For many people the rituals of one or another organized religion fulfill this need, at least in part.  Yet, often individual created rituals in the midst of grief can also be of fundamental importance, and do much to heal the soul.  Individual ritual can participates in, and opens up, the archetypal character of human grief, the healing that can flow through it, and the on-going movement of life.

Grief counselling from a depth psychotherapy perspective assists the individual in accessing healing from the depths of psyche in the grieving process.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Ocskay Bence | Dreamstime.com  ;  Morgan  modified ; Dave Conner modified ; Jennifer Woodard Maderazo modified
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Dealing with Death in the Family: Depth Perspectives, 1

September 15th, 2014 · dealing with death in the family

We live in a culture that often gives the message that the best manner of dealing with death in the family is really to not deal with it at all.

grief-distance

Yet grief and grieving are an essential part of the psyche coming to terms with the loss of a close family member.  We may well speak of an archetypal pattern to human grief.  U. Mass. Prof. James Averill has made a strong case that grief is a process of biological evolution that actually helps us adapt and cope.

 Is It O.K. to Grieve?

Is it “O.K.” to grieve?  The answer to this question might seem to be an obvious “Yes!”  Yet sometimes there are deep barriers to an individual truly grieving the loss of a family member.  These barriers can be within the individual him- or herself, or in those around them — or both.

When people grieve, it often makes others uncomfortable.  Sometimes other people don’t know what to say or do around a grieving individual, and sometimes, the pain of the grieving individual is an uncomfortable reminder of a person’s own losses, either past, or anticipated in the future.

But if grief truly is a biological, or even archetypal necessity for the individual to come to terms with loss, we cannot trivialize the importance of engaging in grieving.  The individual needs to face the loss, and those close to him or her must allow them

In my experience as a psychotherapist, it is very concerning when a child has not been allowed to grieve.  Often adults remain psychologically stuck exactly at the place where grief has left them as a child.

Aspects of Grief

We must emphasize that these aspects are not stages.  There is no right or wrong order, nor any way it “should” go.

Avoidance of grief is often an early response.  The grieving individual is consumed with the urge to recover the lost person, to bring them back into the relationship that has always been with the person.

Confrontation with the loss is another aspect of the process.  Here, the individual often experiences confusion, disorganization, despair, acute sadness, anger, sometimes guilt, and a range of other feelings felt acutely.

Re-establishment is a third, often less recognized aspect of the process. In this aspect, the emphasis is on the gradual decline of grief, and the individual gradually coming back into social and emotional connection with the everyday world.

Each aspect must be met and accepted by the individual.  Grief counselling in a depth psychotherapy context can often be very useful in assisting with this.

Grief is Very Individual

Depth psychotherapy recognizes that grief is the uniquely specific experience of an individual personality, who is in a uniquely individual relationship with the deceased.  The meaning of the grief experience, and the best way of dealing with it, will be an individual journey.  But rather than leaving the person alone to do that, depth psychotherapy provides a solid and unwavering support to the individual dealing with death in the family.

dealing with death in the family

The Grief Work has to Get Done

The individual must be allowed and enabled to grieve in their own way, and supported throughout.  Otherwise life stays in a holding pattern, because the need to grieve is a powerful enough force in the life of the individual to require them to do this healing work before life moves on.

Depth psychotherapy often greatly assists the grief process in following its natural, individual course.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Ocskay Bence | Dreamstime.com  ;  Morgan  modified ; Dave Conner modified ; Jennifer Woodard Maderazo modified
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Finding the Right Career in Midlife

September 8th, 2014 · finding the right career

Many people rightly realize that finding the right career in midlife is an essential piece of soul business — yet they might miss the most important parts of meeting that necessity.

finding the right career

Why?  Well, because we often have an overly-romantic notion of career.

Dealing with the stresses and strains of mid-life, we can easily slip into a “magical” fantasy around changing one’s work.  We imagine that, in a new career, somehow the relationships will be great, the demands of work will be sufficiently low and the compensation and benefits so high that career change alone will facilitate our individuation, and surf us right through the second half of our lives.

Though career is important, this is magical thinking.  It keeps us from dealing with the deep issues of midlife.

The Central Question of Vocation

Before we can face the question of finding the right career, we have to face the question of what is the right individual vocation for me?

What is it that our fundamental being, our fundamental nature, calls us to do and to be?  We can’t answer that question in its entirety, but can we discern any clues?

Depth psychotherapist C.G. Jung speaks in very strong terms about vocation.  He couches it in the gender-limited phraseology of an earlier time, but what he has to say about vocation applies to both men and women today:

finding the right career

 

Jung holds that the only thing that distinguishes the individual personality is this awareness of the reality of vocation, of being called by one’s own fundamental nature.  So the question of vocation hits the nail of individuation directly on the head.

The Connection Between Career and Vocation

Vocation is more fundamental and specific than career.  It matters more than career, because it connects more directly with our fundamental deepest identity — what Jung referred to as the Self.

Yet career is important!  The way that someone’s career intersects with her or his life may crucially affect whether that person is fulfilling his or her vocation, or not.  But it’s not true that “career equals vocation”.

For individuation to take root and flourish, an individual’s career must certainly not block his or her vocation.  But sometimes career and vocation can have a surprising relationship.   The poet Arthur Gregor, one of the greatest poetic talents to emerge in the United States in the 20th century, spent many working days as an engineer.  Einstein created much of the theory of special relativity while working in a patent office.  Socrates was a leather worker.  The only way to approach career in light of individuation is to rigorously ask oneself, “How does this job or career fit with who I am, really?’

Self Knowledge

Many pay lip service to self knowledge in the context of career or vocation.  However, by midlife, the true importance of self-knowledge, and the effort involved in obtaining it, and remaining true to it, often become readily apparent.  Often, the individual has started to experience aspects of his or her personality that he or she has been reluctant to acknowledge.  As they emerge, these unacknowledged aspects of the self can have a powerful bearing on vocation, and on finding the right career.

The Nature of Midlife

In midlife, the awareness grows in the individual that, now, he or she is playing for keeps.  While earlier periods in life may have been right for choices that could readily be changed, now the stakes are higher.  There is no more room for the provisional life.  The second half of life is the time to truly create the work of art that is one’s life.  Finding one’s true vocation is central to that, and finding the right career that will support and uphold that vocation is fundamentally important.

Depth psychotherapy may be essential for the individual to come to terms with vocation, finding the right career, and coming to meet and accept the as yet undiscovered self.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Adapting to Change in Your LIfe, 2

September 1st, 2014 · adapting to change

In Part 1, we saw how adapting to change has become constant in the 21st century;  here we focus on the Self, and the nature of authentic change.

adapting to change

 

In some respects our culture seems addicted to very rapid change.  There’s a huge distinction to be made between the superficial churn that often characterizes our society, and deep changes or transitions in human life where something fundamental shifts.

Meaningful vs. Meaningless Change

Simply because our way of life is saturated with change doesn’t make all change meaningful or significant to the individual, or in line with the priorities of the self.  As a 21st century therapist, I’m well acquainted with clients in work situations who must deal with continual ever-churning change, and continual demands for adaptation — but where the required change in no way serves the individual’s true nature or need for growth.  Often, it doesn’t even enable them to better perform their work roles.  Change of this type is often a major source of burnout.

Yet, some change is meaningful.  It can help us to feel that we’re more aligned with our deepest selves, with who we really are, and that we are able to live in a way that honestly reflects our deepest values and yearnings.

As we move through the life cycle, it is this kind of change that we really need.  If we can’t find it, life tends to remain superficial , and we find ourselves increasingly alienated, and lost.  As C.G. Jung put it: Only what is really oneself has the power to heal”.

Change and Resilience

Many will tell you that change is good, if it is “more adaptive”.  But we have to be quite careful with this.  It depends what we mean by “more adaptive”.  Do we mean that the change in question allows the individual to express and live out more of themselves, more of who they are at the deepest level?  Then, from a depth psychotherapy point of view, that is genuinely good.  Such adaptation serves the person’s individuation, the on-going process of the individual becoming more and more who they truly are.

However, if “adaptive” change means that the individual merely alters themselves to survive under conditions hostile to their true identity, this clearly doesn’t serve individuation.  It would very likely not be a good thing for the soul to be “well-adjusted” in North Korea, or Nazi Germany.

adapting to change

 

There is a persistent self, or identity in the deep levels of the psyche, that each of  us possesses.  We ignore this reality at our peril.

The Self as Abiding

Our era perceives everything as being in continuous, relentless flux.   The human self is commonly seen as completely malleable, insubstantial and re-structurable.  Yet the self is a solid, persistent reality.  It is essential to our resilience in adapting to change that we experience that reality, often symbolized by an ancient tree, with deep, persistent roots:

adapting to change

 

or by mandalas:

adapting to change

A key part of depth psychotherapy for those undergoing major life transitions is enabling individuals who may be overwhelmed by the challenges of adapting to change, to realize that there is a persistent solid center to the self, on which they can rely.

In the next post on this subject, we’ll  look in more detail at just how this can occur,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Ocskay Bence | Dreamstime.com  ;  Morgan  modified ; Dave Conner modified ; Jennifer Woodard Maderazo modified
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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