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How to Make Difficult Decisions: 8 Questions to Ask Yourself, B

March 30th, 2015 · how to make dIfficult decisions

So, what can psyche tell us about how to make difficult decisions?

how to make difficult decisions

In Part One, Questions 1. to 4., we looked at the pressures, conscious and unconscious, that might bear on how we make decisons.  Here we deepen the questioning.

5.  What does my body tell me about this decision? (or how do I feel?)

Isn’t the body irrelevant to decision making?  Actually, not at all. If we listen to our bodies, they tell us a great deal about what is right and wrong for us in the decisions we have to make. Many times, our bodies reflect our real feelings, when we’re not conscious of them. The body’s state can show us much about the emotion that we’re carrying deeply within us.

To feel this, we have to understand the language that the body speaks. Consider an individual who decides to accept a promotion and transfer to a far away city, who immediately upon doing so starts to experience stomach trouble to the point vomiting and diarrhea. That person might tell themselves that this response is just a natural expression of nerves. But therapy might well reveal that a more appropriate interpretation is that the body simply “can’t stomach” the transfer.

Modern Jungian therapy knows it’s wise to try and hear, rather than ignore, the deeper wisdom of the body. It can make all the difference between a decision that is fundamentally affirming of self and life, and a decision that rides roughshod over who we really are.

Disrupted sleep, rock-hard muscular tension and the racing heart of anxiety all speak volumes.  The conscious mind might not know, but the body knows something about how to make difficult decisions.

6.  What Are my Dreams Saying?

how to make difficult decisions

My dreams may also speak an earthy and earnest wisdom. In many ways, dreams may show us how a decision relates to the deepest self.  They may put the decision in the context of our earlier experience, our fundamental personal makeup, and our most basic biological, evolutionary and cultural heritage. Depth psychotherapy on dreams may reveal that we are being pressured into a certain course of action by a bullying father complex.  It can also show when a particular course of action holds the promise opening up a whole range of psychological possibilities, or a way to move forward and out of a seemingly insoluble dilemma.

Noting our dreams and getting help to understand their language is an excellent aid to decision making.

7.  Do I Need to Make this Decision, or to Hold the Tension?

how to make difficult decisions

In the last post, we saw how an overly strong sense of urgency about making a decision might be caused by a psychological complex.  But even if we’re not being needled by a complex, it may be very valuable to ask whether it’s the right time for us to make an important decision.

Sometimes, especially with key decisions, it may be important for us to just sit for a time with two incompatible options.  As Jung might tell us, sometimes just considering the two irreconcilables can lead to the emergence of a third completely unexpected alternative that leads out of a dilemma in a completely expected way.

As leading neuroscientist Prof. Joseph LeDoux of NYU tells us, most of mental processing is unconscious. If the conscious part of ourselves which is always trying frantically to plug every hole in the dyke can stand back, sometimes what emerges from the unconscious mind is an unbelievably apt contribution to solving our dilemmas.

8.  Who am I — Really?

This can be an important question because, often, it’s possible to be just too definite about “who I am”.

Certainly, I can try to map out what kind of person I am, and see how that helps me decide for this or that option.  “I’ve never been a dancer; there’s no way I’m going to salsa classes with my wife.”  “My partner might like the suburbs, but that’s not who I am as a woman — I’d never go there!”

Yet, more often , it’s easy for our preconceptions about ourselves to influence our decisions, and even to interfere with our decisions.

It’s wise for me to stay open, and not have too pat an idea of who I am.

Depth psychotherapy can help us to bring the whole of who we are as a person to the challenges of major life decisions.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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How to Make Difficult Decisions: 8 Questions to Ask Yourself, A

March 23rd, 2015 · how to make dIfficult decisions

As therapists know, decision-making is tough: sometimes, brutally so.  We all wonder how to make difficult decisions that feel integral and good.

how to make dIfficult decisionsWhat questions should you answer before you make a decision?

These questions aren’t “magic bullets”, taking all difficulty out of the process.  But, if you can stay with them, you might find that you’re making better decisions that are more reflective of who you really are.

1.  Does this situation seem familiar?  Have I been here before?

I might be struggling with a decision that, on a certain level, has a very familiar deja vu feeling.  Could it be that the type of decision that I’m called upon to make is just very difficult for me?  Perhaps this type of decision repeatedly trips me up.

If I’ve really wrestled with this type of question before, it may hook some emotional aspect of my past experience.  My past history, either in early life, or at some later point, may repeatedly get involved in the decision.

Or, I might be running into an issue that concerns personality type.  Maybe I am not at my strongest making decisions that involve intuiting future possibilities, or managing a great deal of detail — or any of the other possible “Achilles heels” that can ensnare each of us when it comes to using our weaker psychological functions.

2.  Where does the urgency come from?

how to make difficult decisions

Decisions may feel urgent to us for all sorts of reasons.

There can be objective outer factors that make us aware of the decision as urgent.  Work deadlines or financial pressures would be examples.  Yet sometimes we’re driven by a strong sense of subjective urgency.  We can feel an inner pressure to make a decision when there is no objective outer cause for this feeling.

If nothing objective is driving my need to make a decision, it might be best to not make it right now, and take a “wait and see” approach.

If nothing objective is really pushing me to make a decision, I might want to look at the subjective, possibly unconscious roots of my sense of urgency.  A complex may be pushing me to make the decision.

Example: L has been looking for an accounting job, to replace her old job.  Finally she gets two offers.  She feels great urgency to make the decision and get on with a new job.  Yet L’s sense of urgency stems from the fact that she doesn’t really want another accounting job, but it makes her anxious to face that fact.

Sometimes, it’s right to take a decision slowly, and let your unconscious mind work on it.

how to make difficult decisions

3.  What are my biases?

We all have biases that affect our decisions — and we’re often not even aware of them.  Sometimes bias is in the unconscious.  Researchers like Prof. David Amodio of New York University have revealed our unconscious biases around race and gender role stereotypes.  Yet these are far from the only areas where unconscious biases exist.

Depth psychotherapy sees such biases as stemming from complexes, clusters of emotional energy gathered around an archetypal core.  Only by making such biases conscious can we gradually free ourselves from their influence, and make choices that truly line up with who we are and what we really want.

4.  Do different parts of me want different things?

People often use the word “torn” when describing a major decision that they have to make.  It might feel that part of me wants a certain thing, while part of me wants another.

Do “different parts of me” or “different people inside of me”  want different things?  This isn’t an abnormal state: it’s a fairly normal situation.  The human psyche has many different elements, which sometimes want very different things.  Understanding those different people inside of me might change not only the particular situation I’m dealing with, but actually the entirety of my life.

how to make difficult decisions

Who are the different voices inside of me?  What does each of them want?  How can I make a decision that all of me will be able to live with?

Questions about Decisions

Major decisions often occur during major life transitions.  They also often form an important part of the midlife transition.  In Part B of this post, we’ll examine four other key questions we should be asking about our descisions.

Depth psychotherapy reveals important ways to confront and work with the decisions in our lives, and help us to make choices that honour our entire personhood.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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What is Personal Growth, Really? Part 2

March 16th, 2015 · personal growth

How are you and I going to deal with this issue of personal growth?  In Part 1 of “What is Personal Growth” we explored appropriate and inappropriate uses of that term.

personal growth

In this post, we’ll go after the question, “How, practically, can I find personal growth?”

The Invitation to Personal Growth

Where does the invitation to personal growth appear in our lives?

Contrary to what we expect in our culture it doesn’t usually stem from heroic efforts of the will.

In fact, it seems most often to come from encounters with those aspects of our lives that we’d rather not be dealing with.

For instance, in my own case, I know that the experience of dealing with the deafness of my son was life-changing.  I realize many people have dealt with much harder things, but this was extremely hard for me.  Often, I didn’t know how to cope.  Those experiences brought personal growth into my life, and continue to do so today.

These experiences changed me, not because I set out on a ego project of “self improvement”, but because I had to come to terms with what life brought, and unexpected aspects of myself.

In the Deepest Personal Growth, the Ego is Not Really Running the Show

Often, it’s growth for the ego to learn to stand back.

In Western culture, we have learned to see the ego as absolutely predominant.  We tend to highly exalt its power, and those activities which exalt the power of the ego over virtually everything else.

Consider, for instance, Iron Man Marathons.  They’re a remarkable acheivement, no doubt, but we tend to celebrate them as a triumph of ego or will over the body.

personal growth

In our culture, we tend to exalt the ability of the ego to get whatever it wants.  Our cultural heros are very often the people who get what they want no matter what.  Consider television like”the Apprentice” with the all-conquering Donald Trump.  More recently, we have the character of Frank Underwood on the wildly successful House of Cards.

These collective heroes are often suffused with a “narcissistic” self-obsession, referring to the mythical young man who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool..

personal growth

Contrary to what we often think, narcissism is not based in an excess of self-love, but, rather, its opposite.  As the prominent Jungian psychiatrist Edward Edinger reminds us,

Narcissisus represents the alienated ego that cannot love… because it is not yet related to itself. To fall in love with the reflected image of oneself can only mean that one does not yet possess oneself….  Narcissism in its original mythological implications is not a needless excess of self-love but rather just the opposite, a frustrated state of yearning for a self-possession that does not yet exist….
In the case of Narcissus, fulfillment of self-love, or union with the image in its depths, requires a descent into the unconscious…

Response to the Deep Self

For Edinger, the important stage of personal growth that concerns love for, and compassion for the self requires an in-depth encounter with the unconscious aspects of the personality.  This means an encounter with the self, and a compassionate love for the self — especially for those aspects of the self that do not fit the projects, goals and tastes of the ego, including its tendency to demand excessively idealized and perfectionist standards of achievement, and conduct.  This is what we commonly call the shadow.

Personal Growth, Self Acceptance — and Acceptance of the Self

This encounter with and acceptance of the Self is the heart of what we call personal growth.  As Jung tells us, such experience of the Self is often more of a defeat for the ego, than a fulfillment of its ideals of personal triumph.  Yet it’s what we need to begin to live in life, health and a growing sense of peace with who we fundamentally are.

Depth psychotherapy is fundamentally about the encounter with the depths of the person.  It’s about the move to loving and accepting our complete “unedited” personhood.  This means not only our egos, but the fullness of the strengths, weaknesses and the new territory of the undiscovered self.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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What is Personal Growth, Really? #1

March 9th, 2015 · personal growth

A lot of depth psychotherapists are fairly wary of the term “personal growth”; is there any legitimate way to use that term?

personal growth

One of the most prominent of depth psychotherapists to object to the notion of “personal growth” was the late archetypal psychologist James Hillman, Hillman frequently took the idea to task, especially as embodied in overly optimistic forms, such as the Human Potential Movement.

Here is the kind of thing Hillman would say about personal growth:

personal growth


Why Many Depth Psychotherapists Have Trouble with the Idea of “Personal Growth”

So, for Hillman, and many who share his outlook, “personal growth”, at least as embodied by people like the Human Potential Movement, is naive and Pollyanna.  It doesn’t take account of realities like aging, illness and physical and mental decline, nor of the ways we are constrained by our environment or genetics, nor by just how plain difficult it is to live everyday life.

These critics have a point.  Certainly, it would be incredibly naive to think that we can just go from strength to strength in life.  The realities to which Hillman and others refer do have a powerful and profoundly limiting impact on our human existence.

If the term “personal growth” amounts to what is embodied in the mantra that “Every day / And in every way / I’m getting better and better”, then it’s truly a hollow idea.  We are not moving towards some ideal state of human perfectibility, where we are always happier, more content, less judgmental, less defended or completely freed from the impact of a dysfunctional family.  If there is a journey of personal growth for us to undertake, it must mean something other than that.

personal growth

Why “Personal Growth” is Still a Useful Term

Yet, human beings can still grow in wisdom, and in acceptance of self and life.  We will never be all-wise, but surely it’s an increase in wisdom to stop flogging ourselves for not matching an idealized image of perfection that we carry inside, that’s completely at odds with our true nature.  In this sense, it can be most genuine growth to stop trying to be who we’re “supposed” to be, and, instead, to just let ourselves be who we really are.

Also, in a related way, it is genuine growth to be able to simply see ourselves as we really are.  We may never be able to see absolutely everything about ourselves in the depths of the unconscious.  Yet, each new hard-won piece of awareness brings us to some greater measure of understanding, self-acceptance and compassion for our own struggling and wounded selves.  Without this kind of growth, our capacity for real acceptance and compassion for anyone else is likely to be extremely stunted.

Giving up these idealized images and genuinely seeing ourselves as we are increases our overall capacity to accept life itself for what it truly is.  To accept life as it is, rather than trying to blindly and compulsively make it into something it is not — surely this is a very important kind of wisdom, and personal growth.

Will we ever succeed in doing these things perfectly and completely?  —No.  Does that negate the value of obtaining as much of this type of wisdom as we can?  –Most certainly not.

The Invitation to Personal Growth

personal growth

The continual striving to enter into this kind of wisdom, this kind of self-knowledge, and this kind of growth is at the very heart of depth psychotherapy .

In Part 2 of “What is Personal Growth, Really?” , we’ll look at personal growth and how it relates to our ego and our overall psychological wholeness, the Self.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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Feeling Betrayed: Emotions, Archetypes and Recovery, 2

March 2nd, 2015 · feeling betrayed

As we described in the first part of “Feeling Betrayed”, betrayal can be a devastating experience.  So, how could anything good possibly ever come from it?

feeling betrayed

Often, discovery of betrayal is a huge emotional blow.  Before anything can occur to bring an individual back into the flow of life after a major betrayal, this enormous impact must be acknowledged and accepted.


The individual must get past denial or splitting off of the grievous emotional pain.  He or she must also get past the temptation to pass punishing — and unjust — judgement on him- or herself for being the victim of a betrayal.

Seeing Oneself in Betraying Relationships

feeling betrayed

We can learn a great deal about ourselves in the process of understanding how a betrayal comes to occur in our lives.

Sometimes feeling betrayed arrives with no warning, and nothing in the relationship that led up to it, but most often, this is not true.

Acts of betrayal often occur in relationships of one kind or another where weaknesses go unacknowledged.  That is to say, that the relationship may have aspects of which we are unwilling to become conscious.  For instance, in a marital relationship, one or both partners may compartmentalize, showing one aspect of who they are in the marriage, and another, quite different, outside.

To deal with betrayal is often to be in the realm of shadow.  Betrayal forces us to quit idealizing the other.  Yet it also makes us less naive or idealizing about ourselves.  I may be taken past sunshine illusions, and realize how my denial, my complexes, my deep childhood yearning to be loved at any cost, may have all helped to set the stage for the devastation of betrayal.

A Meeting with Our Instinctual Selves

If we can stand to see it, betrayal can often lead to encounter with our core and instinctual selves, which are non-rational, but very real.

Often, in retrospect, the individual recognizes that the unconscious instinctive self warned of the betrayal prior to its occurrence.  Dream images, or even a direct voice urging the individual to “pay attention to John (or Jane)” are typical warnings from the unconscious.  Many individuals who ended up in betrayal situations recount having such warning experiences.

Connection with these instinctual aspects of the self can lead us to a different understanding of who we are, and a different journey through life.

Self-Honesty and Self-Acceptance

Betrayal represents a threat to the integrity of the self, leading to self-devaluation.  To see beyond the betrayer’s rejection to the love of oneself, as one is, is often the call of the self in the midst of the pain of betrayal.  This entails accepting our vulnerable, flawed selves, and the recognition of how much we yearn for love, and how fundamental it is to us.  This painful journey is essential.

Betrayal, Self-Betrayal and Power

feeling betrayed

Self-acceptance in the light of betrayal can take us deep into vulnerability and shadow.  Betrayal in our adult lives may take us to fundamental issues rooted in early life.

Professor Arno Gruen of Rutgers writes of how, deprived of basic love and the security of true acceptance at an early age, a child can be forced into destruction of the true self and pursuit of power and social status.  This requirement to betray self by surrendering autonomy to get the “love” of those who wield power over us can lead to self-hatred.  A betrayal later in life can reactivate intense feelings around early self-betrayal.

The depth psychotherapy of individuals in betrayal situations focuses on compassionate acceptance of our frail, needy selves, and our need to move into our lives from that place of self-love and deep acceptance.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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