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Summer, & the Importance of Self Awareness

June 29th, 2015 · importance of self awareness

Here we are at the height of the summer sun; it seems a strange time to reflect on the importance of self awareness, but symbolically, it’s very appropriate.

importance of self awareness

Nordic Summer Solstice Bonfire – “Ligo 2015”

Archetypally, the sun symbolizes conscious awareness, shedding light on things and enabling us to distinguish things and discern what they really are.

Symbolism of the Solstice

The solstice just occured on June 21, the first day of summer, with the sun at its high point in the sky.  The sun’s light is as strong as it gets, and it is the longest day of the year.

In many religious and spiritual traditions, the summer solstice is a high holy day.  Why?

Well, the human organism responds to additional light.  Consequently, midsummer gives many a feeling of physical and emotional empowerment, and increased capacity to start new endeavours, connect with others, explore new frontiers, and to feel the vital importance of self awareness, as it grows.

On the unconscious level where symbols are created, solstice beckons us to use our increased resources to become more conscious, more aware, more fully alive.

Yet, as the ascent of light reaches its maximum, the days slowly get shorter and darker, and we also move toward the decline of the year.

Solstice in Folklore

At summer solstice, the Sun reaches its northern limit.    It’s both the time when the Sun is at maximum intensity, and  when that intensity slowly and subtly begins to decrease.   So, these are two aspects of traditional celebration of the summer solstice.

Traditional cultural practices include round dances and bonfires,  marking the yearly height of the sun’s intensity.  Yet,  in contrast,  it’s also a time of fairies and spirits,  lust and love,  and trickery —  opposites are combined, as Dr. Ismail Wali shows in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.   Our consciousness may be at its most intense at the Solstice,  but it won’t remain so.   We should make hay —  or increase conscious self awareness —  while the sun shines.

importance of self awareness

Seeing Ourselves, Being Ourselves

There are two large errors that consciousness can fall into when it comes to dealing with the unconscious.

The first of these would be arrogance of consciousness, which assumes that conscious will and awareness is all that there is to oneself as a human being. Both recent neuroscience, and insights gained from depth psychotherapy show us that this is a hazardous way to think and act. The analogy I often use is to imagine a flea perched on the top most hair on the head of an enormous bull elephant,  crashing through the bush, and congratulating itself on its marvelous rate of travel. Clearly the flea of consciousness would do well to take better account of the huge forces at work which are not under the control of its will.

The second error is lethargy of consciousness. Here it’s as if the flea, despite every opportunity to understand the elephant simply–doesn’t. Given our gift of consciousness, doesn’t it actually make a lot of sense to know what we can about our unconscious selves, especially when it can have a huge bearing on concerns such as anxiety and depression?

Savour the Gifts of Summer

When summer arrives our conscious powers may well be at their height.  Consider what this consciousness might bring to our journey:

 

Do you feel clear-sighted at the height of summer?

Is there a special “summer place” where you feel your strongest, best, most relaxed?

If you have the chance to get away this summer, and the chance to rest, recreate and perhaps reflect, please take note: what kind of insights or awarenesses start to come into your life?

Depth psychotherapy stresses the importance of self awareness, and seeks to enable the healing such understanding can bring into the individual’s life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Emotional Burnout, Recovery & Living Your Real Life, 2

June 23rd, 2015 · emotional burnout recovery

Can emotional burnout be an important part of your life journey?  How does emotional burnout recovery relate to our major life transitions?

emotional burnout recovery

When Everything Gets Like Volcanic Ash…

In my last post, we began looking at the anatomy of emotional burnout, and what it might mean to experience emotional burnout recovery. Now let’s examine burnout more closely as a part of the individuation process.

Emotional Burnout Itself as Major Life Transition

Often, the experience of emotional burnout can itself have the character of a major life transition. By this I mean that the actual experience of burning out, itself, and of emotional burnout recovery can have a kind of death and rebirth character. The individual may experience a complete loss of flavor and color in the things he or she is doing in professional life, and/or in other aspects of life. This may be accompanied by a complete loss of energy and motivation. Whatever zest or enthusiasm the individual may have had for the career or other life activity at some earlier point in their journey, it becomes apparent to the individual that that particular way of living is over and gone for him or her.

It becomes apparent to the person that some new way must be found. There must be a kind of rebirth that gives life value, enabling the individual to find energy for living. The individual will find themselves on a journey to restore the lost joy of life and zest in working. When the he or she does find it, there will be a strong sense of having been through a major passage.  Emotional burnout is itself the bridge from one way of being in the person’s life to another.

emotional burnout recovery

Emotional Burnout Occurring Alongside Another Major Transition

Yet, emotional burnout may also accompany any of a large number of other significant life transitions.  Below are only some of the other life transitions that can lead to emotional breakdown:

emotional burnout recovery

In addition to each of these, emotional burnout has a complex relationship to anxiety and depression.  A person who is struggling with pre-existing anxiety or depression may very well find that emotional burnout, with its sense of the loss of value and meaning, eventually becomes part of what they are experiencing.  And, from a depth psychotherapy perspective, that brings us clearly to the question of the relationship between emotional burnout recovery and the unconscious mind — more specifically, the shadow.

Emotional Burnout and Shadow

Shadow is the term that is used for all those aspects of the personality of which the person is unaware, and /or which they do not want to acknowledge.  People often assume that the shadow embodies all that is wrong, weak or morally deficient in a person, and, very often, there is truth in this.  However, it’s not the whole story.  There are many elements of ourselves that are in the shadow which we actually need to find a subjective sense of wholeness and completeness, and, often, to find a forward direction in our lives.

This can be particularly true in situations of emotional burnout.  It may well be that aspects of the burnout sufferer’s personality which have been unable to find expression through a certain career or series of life commitments are now simply demanding the attention of the individual, whether the person’s conscious ego likes it or not.  It may well be time to listen to this aspect of the self, even though it takes us into unfamiliar, unexplored territory.  As the Sufi poet Rumi puts it so well:

 

 

Sometimes, it can be hard to even visualize an alternative to the work world and commitment world that we have created for ourselves.  And very often, the work of psychotherapy is discovery that life-giving altenatives exist, if only we can be open to them.

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Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Emotional Burnout, Recovery & Living Your Real Life, 1

June 15th, 2015 · emotional burnout recovery

Emotional burnout can take the wind out of your life’s sails.  How do you know if you have it, and what can you do to foster emotional burnout recovery?

emotional burnout recovery

Here, we’ll look at what psychotherapy can show us about what burnout really is, and what it has to say to us about our lives, and why we need to respond to it, before it’s too late.  In the next post, we’ll look at how best to respond to the signs of encroaching burnout.

Professional, Yes, But Also Profoundly Personal

It would be a mistake to think that burnout is exclusively a professional matter.  It can afflict other, non-professional areas of life, just as profoundly.

Many people experience emotional burnout from emotionally demanding caregiver roles — another form of what Profs. Brotherridge and Grandey call “emotional labor”.  This can be true of those who have the responsibility for dealing with infirm or elderly parents; those dealing with children facing illness, emotional crises, or extraordinary needs; people living in communities struck by natural disasters; or even those in difficult, emotionally demanding marriages.

Depth psychotherapists know that emotional burnout doesn’t just happen all at once: you slide into it gradually.  So, how do I know if I need to think about emotional burnout recovery?  What are the signs?

A Key Element: Exhaustion

emotional burnout recovery

 

Physical and emotional exhaustion are the hallmarks of emotional burnout. We can be sure that you are starting to encounter this when you experience chronic fatigue, which begins with a lack of energy and general tiredness, and leads to a sense of absolute physical and emotional exhaustion and depletion. This is often associated with insomnia, which can start as struggling to fall asleep one or two nights a week, but can lead to a generalized inability to sleep. Impairment of concentration and attention are also characteristic, and can become serious enough that you simply cannot get through the demands of the day. Physical pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches can all be signs, as can increased illness and loss of appetite.

Depression, including feelings of hopelessness and guilt, entrapment and feeling that the world would be better off without you can all be characteristic of emotional burnout. So, too, can serious angry outbursts. Anxiety of varying degrees of intensity can accompany emotional burnout, to the point where it interferes with your ability to work productively and to relate your personal life. If any of these symptoms occur with any intensity, seek professional help right away.

Loss of Enjoyment and Detachment

emotional burnout recovery

“The Joyless Winter Day” – Joseph Farquarson

Nearly all emotional burnout recovery will involve dealing with some level of loss of enjoyment around work and social relations, which, at its extreme, can lead to downright aversion.  This can be associated with genuine pessimism about oneself and the future.  It can also lead to dangerous levels of isolation, detachment and disconnection from others.

Weakness and Powerlessness, Real and Imagined

In the grips of emotional burnout, a person may experience a real loss of productivity, an inability to complete basic tasks, and a generalized sense of being powerless to “climb out from under” the burden.  As we saw above with depression, this can lead to a sense of apathy and hopelessness.  Not surprisingly the individual often finds that this is accompanied by a growing sense of irritability.

Questions of Vitality, Self and Meaning

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, what are we to make of emotional burnout and emotional burnout recovery?  Are there insights that can help with this very big issue?

 

In the next post, we’ll look further at emotional burnout recovery, its connection with major life transitions, what it might imply to take the self and its needs seriously, and the importance of all of this for the individual’s journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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How Could Talk Therapy EVER Possibly Help Me? #2

June 7th, 2015 · talk therapy

“Could talk therapy ever possibly help me?” As we started to examine in the last post, the evidence shows it most definitely can.

talk therapy

What’s more, research shows that the benefits of talk therapy go on and increase after the therapy is over.
Here’s why that’s true.

The Power of Talking with a Supportive Witness

There’s real value in speaking with others to gain clarity.  Often what we feel or think can be indistinct and vague until we start to try and express it.  Then, as we try and make clear to another what we mean, it becomes much more distinct and understandable.  An emotion or an intuition or a vague idea becomes vclear and inwardly, we feel, “Yes — that’s it.”  And if this happens while we’re speaking with someone highly supportive, we also feel that this sharing of what’s within us validates and affirms us.  We not only understand and are more conscious of our inmost feelings and thoughts — we feel that they are valid, that another human “gets us”, and our feelings connect us with the broader human race.  This leaves us freer to accept our feelings and ideas, to manage them, to take steps to alleviate them, or, to fulfil our desires.

In the particular focussed space created by psychodynamic therapy, also know as “talk therapy”, a rare type of conversation goes on.  In it, the dialogue revolves around the inner live of the client.  Things become clearer, more visible — more conscious — and easier to address.

Getting Past Repressed Emotions

If a person doesn’t talk about the emotionally powerful and difficult things in life,  and represses them, or dissociates from them,  they will make likely make their presence felt,  often in destructive ways,  in all kinds of situations in the person’s life.   Contrary to what many think,  pushing down and trying to forget one’s real feelings doesn’t work all that well,  in the long run.   If we refuse to give our feelings attention,  at some later point,  those emotions will force us to attend.   This often happens in midlife transition,  but that’s is far from the only place where this occurs.   Strong emotions that are left unexamined and unchallenged produce powerful complexes  that distort our relationships,  and sap our energy and happiness.   Talk therapy offers a safe container to process and explore  this kind of emotional dynamite.

talk therapy

Research: Long-Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Rewires the Brain

An arresting fact about about talk therapy is that, at least in some situations, it can bring about changes that are observable by brain imaging in the way the brain functions. We tend to think that this is something only medication can do, but there is strong evidence of talk therapy bringing about such changes.

Here’s additional information on the studies referenced in the slides above:

Symbolic and Archetypal Connections Made Through Talk Therapy

talk therapy

Talk therapy enables clients to process symbolic material such as comes up in dreams.  Brain science and neurolinguistics have discovered how our brains innately use metaphors to comprehend things difficult to understand, both in waking and in dreaming.  As U. Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff puts it,

The metaphor system plays a generative role in dreaming….  Of course, upon waking, the dreamer may well not be aware of the meaning of the dream….  [yet] dreams are not just the weird and meaningless product of random neural firings, but… a natural way by which emotionally charged fears, desires and descriptions of difficulties in life are expressed.

Discussing dreams in the course of talk therapy with a skilled depth psychotherapist often yields up new understanding of life situations, which may have great importance for the individual’s journey.

Talk therapy can make a profound difference.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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How Could Talk Therapy EVER Possibly Help Me? #1

June 1st, 2015 · talk therapy

Talk’s proverbially cheap… so how could talk therapy — talking about the issues in my life — ever really benefit people in distress, seeking to find concrete help?

talk therapy

How can just talk — without drugs, surgery, electrical stimulation, etc. — have a positive effect on a person’s well-being?  It seems that the answer lies in the kind of talk that goes on in talk therapy.
Here are some basic things to know about talk therapy — and why it works.

Human Beings are Hard-Wired to be Social

Evolution has made human beings a social species.   Important parts of our brain are made to function specifically in social interactions.    Deep in the unconscious parts of the brain we’re programmed to look for interaction and connection with others.   In fact there are important centers of the brain that only “light up” when we are interacting socially.   Because of the social nature of human beings, one of the best ways for us to process things in our inner life, often, is to talk about them in the right kind of supportive environment.

This doesn’t mean that we benefit from just any environment where idle social chitchat occurs.   What works well for us is the specific type of environment found in “talk therapy” or as it is also known,  psychodynamic therapy.   Here,  the individual is encouraged to talk openly and freely about his or her life in the presence of a supportive, attentive, non-judgemental listener,  who is highly trained to identify patterns, both conscious and unconscious.

“Mirroring” is Essential

talk therapy

At the deepest level, individual human beings want and need to be “positively mirrored”. By this we mean that the individual wants and needs to see him or herself positively valued by another from the individual respects in values. The person wants to know that they are held up by the other, and guarded in a positive and and affirming light.

Although we have a strong need for this type of mirroring in the early stages of life, many of us do not get nearly enough of it. As a result we find ourselves incapable of valuing ourselves in the way that we otherwise would. And it is precisely here that we see one of the ways in which talk therapy shows that it is not merely about idle talk. Very often, talk therapy becomes the vehicle for receiving vital affirmation that is essential for the growth and development of the self.  This is much more than navel gazing or the exchange of idle chit-chat.

Fundamentally, Talk Therapy Involves Insight

talk therapy

One of the fundamental characteristics of talk therapy, and one of the most characteristic things which distinguish it from idle chitchat, is that talk therapy is about gaining insight into oneself. Although other profound things occur in the course of talk therapy, at least some new insight is certainly needed if the process is to be meaningful.

What types of insight into the self are needed? In the slides below are some prominent examples:

 

Talk Therapy –Works!

talk therapy

The evidence is quite clear that talk therapy does work for people.  U. of Colorado psychiatry professor  Jonathan Schedler’s research review shows that effect sizes for psychodynamic psychotherapy are as large as those reported for other therapies that have been actively promoted as “empirically supported” and “evidence based.  Some studies suggest the effect may even be larger.  What’s more, the benefits of talk therapy can be shown to go on and even increase after the therapy is over.

Talk therapy can be shown to be an effective and genuinely helpful technique.  We’ll examine its benefits more in the second part of this post.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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