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False Self vs. True Self: 5 Second Half of Life Realities A

November 30th, 2015 · false self vs. true self

As people move through the middle of life, the false self vs. true self distinction becomes more and more meaningful.

false self vs. true self

The false self vs. true self distinction is always important — and certainly always important in depth psychotherapy.  Yet, as one moves through life, the question of “how can I be my authentic self?” starts to grow more and more urgent.

Now, why is that?  Probably for many reasons, but one fundamentally compelling one is that there seems to be something deep within us that is convinced that a key part of the reason that we exist is to express who and what we most fundamentally are.

To help us understand this, the archetypal psychologist James Hillman quotes the ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus:

“ETHOS ANTHROPOI DAIMON”

Well, what does that mean?

False Self vs. True Self: the Real Goods

The true self begins to appear very early in our lives, as we experience our bodily life and begin to express ourselves in our early life world.  We simply are, and we express ourselves in a way that flows spontaneously from the core of our being.

false self vs. true self

However, the child can easily absorb the message from the world that their spontaneous self is not very welcome.  We can get the message that the family or other environments are requiring us to “edit” and “censor” ourselves and our genuine reactions.  As Winnicott pointed out, when that happens, the infant’s spontaneity is in danger of being encroached on by the need for compliance with other’s wishes and expectations.

These expectations can become so powerful that they supercede our original genuine and spontaneous sense of self, and flood the self with anxiety.

The individual can be left with a sense of inner emptiness within an outer social shell that appears independent and self motivated.  This is the false self to which Winnicott and others refer.  Jungians often refer to this as the individual being identified with his or her persona.

We Often Don’t Know The True Self

It can often be that, by the time and individual reaches the middle of life’s journey, they have been reflexively meeting the social expectations of others for so long, and so completely that they can no longer distinguish what is truly part of the self, from the false self or persona they have constructed to meet the demands of the world. This would be a situation of strong identification with the persona.

Often, when this situation occurs, it is reflected in the appearance of shadow figures in the dream life of the individual. Dark or aggressive individuals may appear. They may be pounding on the door, they may slip in as burglars, or they may arrive in a myriad of other ways. We know that when they do, there are repressed or dissociated parts of the self, often having to do with strong feelings, that are trying to make themselves part of conscious awareness.

Example:  A female clergyperson, long conditioned to meet the expectations of parishioners to be “nice” and “unselfish”, has a long series of dreams where she is locked in a church, and outside, bikers and thugs are breaking in the doors, and smashing the stained glass, trying to get in.  Ongoing depth psychotherapy work allowed her to explore and stand up for her own desires and needs.

In the second part of this post, we’ll be exploring ways that depth psychotherapy opens up the consciousness of false self vs. true self, and facilitates the journey into the undiscovered self, especially through symbols and images of the Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Terrorism, Psychology of Identity & Major Life Transitions

November 23rd, 2015 · psychology of identity

The psychology of major life transitions may seem to have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism — until we look at both from the perspective of the psychology of identity.

psychology of identity

“OK, I give up — how ARE they connected?”

Examining terrorist psychology from a depth psychotherapy perspective can teach us a very great deal about identity, alienation and belonging.  When we look closely, we can see that prospective terrorists exhibit characteristics that shed light on what many people going through intense changes may also feel, only they exhibit them in a very extreme and unregulated form.

Characteristics of Terrorist Psychology

There are certain typical characteristics in the outlook of those who commit terrorist acts.  Experts on the psychology of terrorism like Prof. John Horgan of GSU have shown us that perpetrators of terror again and again exhibit these same characteristics:

 

Psychology of Identity: Identity and Belonging are Fundamental Human Needs

The twin issues of identity and belonging are fundamental to the human psyche.  As social beings, we have an incredibly strong need to feel that we belong to a supportive human group, and that we have a recognized status and identity within that group.  At an even more fundamental level, there is a need for each of us to feel that we are in touch with our own fundamental identity as person — that we “know ourselves“, as the Oracle at Delphi put it, and that we accept and fundamentally value ourselves.

A Tragic Figure

Evidence suggests that often, people who are at risk for becoming terrorists are in profound crisis about their sense of identity and belonging.  For example, there is the tragic story of Hasna Aït Boulahcen.  Boulahen was killed when Abdelhamid Abaaoud,  ringleader of the recent Paris bombings,  blew himself up next to her in the seige of a terrorist cell in St. Denis, Paris, France.   Apparently, Boulahcen had an extremely troubled childhood with very disrupted attachment to family, or anyone, and a succession of foster homes, and became an “unstable lost soul” who “lived in her own world” as an adult, drinking and partying heavily.  Apparently, only 6 months ago, she adopted radical Islamist views and joined the cell run by Abaaoud.

A young woman with no sense of belonging or individual identity, who only found identity by joining a murderous terrorist group.  Tragic on many levels.

Psychology of Identity and Major Life Transitions

transition-town

What this reinforces for us is the importance of the psychology of identity for humans in general, and particularly for those undergoing major life transitions,  It is essential that we accept and value the essence of our own unique personhood.  That is the only road to grounding in our own true identity.

A person undergoing a major life transition, such as career change, divorce, major illness of a spouse or child, or moving from one area or life situation to another, may well find that questions around personal identity become front and center.  As circumstances change in life, we’re brought back to the question of our fundamental identity — what is it that really makes us who we are?

The work of depth psychotherapy is fundamentally concerned with taking individuals into their authentic identity, especially through grounding in the as-yet undiscovered parts of the self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Just My Type: Jungian Personality Theory & Why It Matters

November 16th, 2015 · Jungian personality theory

Many people know Jungian personality theory; it’s the basis of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and other major tests of personality type.

 jungian personality theory

Also, Jung invented terms like “introvert” and “extrovert”, which are still commonly used and discussed today.
What’s less well known is how Jung used these terms, and why he thought that they were important for people’s depth psychotherapy work.  I think that he had some great insights, which are well worth considering.
The following SlideShare is a thumbnail sketch of Jungian personality theory:

The Inferior Orientation and Function

Each personality type has areas of strength, and areas where its capabilities are very weak and limited.  When it comes to orientation, the introvert may quite inept in certain types of social situations.  Similarly, the extrovert may find him- or herself lost when it comes to understanding or even accepting thoughts and feelings that well up from deep inside.

Likewise, a person strong in any one function will face dire difficulty coming to terms with at least one other function.  The true thinking type will have difficulty accessing her feeling; the feeling type his thinking; the sensation type will be all at sea and scared of his intuition; and the intuitive may be blissfully disconnected from his sensation.

Yet, it’s very important for psychological completeness, and for just being comfortable in our lives, that we start to come to terms with these undeveloped and unexplored parts of our personalities.  This is an on-going aspect of depth psychotherapy.

jungian personality theory

The Problem with Many Approaches to Personality Type

Many otherwise good writers on the subject of personality type have a static view of the personality.  They seem to just feel that once you’re learned that you’re an introverted person with a strong thinking and a fairly strong intuition, you’ve learned all that you need to learn for career, relationships and basically the rest of your life.

However, this is far from true.  Our personality type moves and shifts as we progress through the life journey.  For instance, a person who is strongly extroverted in their 20s may find that they are considerably more introverted by the time they arrive in their 50s.  This is an important thing to know, and it makes a huge difference in our lives — career and vocation, love life, recreation, and family life.  In Jungian work, we need to be aware of our typology, and we need to be aware of how it’s changing.

What’s Trying to Emerge — In You?

So, it’s important to know your personality type.  Otherwise, many aspects of your personality will remain inexplicable to you.  Yet, it’s also very important to start to discern where new things are beginning, in the form of new attractions, new stirrings in the unconscious, and new types of reactions to people in your life.

One of the most important parts of depth psychotherapy work, can be experiencing your personality type, and also developing awareness of changes in personality type as part of the journey to wholeness and the undiscovered self.

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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The Angst of October: Anxiety and the Future

November 9th, 2015 · anxiety and the future

Anxiety and the future have always been bound together, but, in our time, they often weave together in particularly formidable ways.

anxiety about the future

How can we deal with our anxiety, when the future comes calling, and asks us hard, painful questions?

anxiety about the future

Canada’s October Election: One Great Big Ball of Anxiety

Canada has just been through a very demanding and stress-laden election.  It was a remarkable election, especially for the way in which anxiety and the future injected itself into every aspect of the election.

Anxiety drove events, through deep concerns about the economy, youth, terrorism, the environment, human rights — and so much more.  The two main contending parties showed this in their campaigning.  Stephen Harper’s Conservatives used the slogan “Protect Our Economy”, stressing the threats to Canada’s economic health.  Justin Trudeau’s Liberals asserted that survival of the middle class was at issue.  It’s not unreasonable to think that anxiety governed the decision of many at the polls.

Now, Canada is far from alone in these concerns.  Depth psychotherapists know that they are rampant across the globe.

Anxiety and the Future Come Together in Our Lives

As James Hollis tells us, entire generations may be plunged into anxiety “if the mythological carpet is pulled from under their feet.” In our society, it’s certainly true that, for most, cultural values have become less clear and traditional cultural and religious institutions have much less capacity to comfort.  Also, across our society, there’s much less of a shared understanding of the world.

What’s more, change –technological, economic, social — occur at breakneck speed.  We simply don’t know what to expect of our world, or how to control it.  To the depth psychotherapist, this is a clear recipe for anxiety!

Normal vs. Toxic Anxiety

We can focus our anxiety on the actions of politicians.  Yet, what’s really behind the anxiety is our lack of control over an uncertain future.  We get upset at politicians, perhaps with justification.  However, this masks the greater fear that anything  can and might happen in the future.  We must face, while yet moving forward into our lives.

As Hollis tells us, to be alive is to have anxiety — but, there is an essential difference between normal anxiety and anxiety that is neurotically crippling.  Our anxiety becomes a problem in psyche only when it restricts us from living our lives as fully as possible.

Security in Our Own Being

To deal with anxiety with resilience, we need to be grounded in secure acceptance and knowledge of ourselves, rather than repressing key parts of our feeling and emotional life, and being at war with ourselves.  Many of us learn in childhood and youth, though, that we have to split off the unacceptable parts of ourselves.  As commentators like famous psychoanalyst Dr.  Alice Miller have noted, splitting from ourselves only makes anxiety about the future worse.

anxiety and the future

To move beyond this splitting, and to allow the liberated feeling underlying the anxiety to express the true passions of our soul — this is the most solid and lasting way to have resiliency in the face of anxiety.  Such work is the flesh and blood of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Finding the Meaning of the Second Half of Life: 4 Creative Ways

November 3rd, 2015 · finding meaning of second half life

Finding the meaning of the second half of life matters a great deal, if the later part of life is going to give us the gift of discovering who it is that we truly are.

finding meaning of second half life

I don’t mean “the” meaning in the second half of life, as if to suggest that there’s a single one-size-fits all meaning.  Rather, experience from depth psychotherapy and Jungian work suggests that this sense of meaning is something very uniquely personal.
The exploration of what we personally find meaningful is essential for fulfillment in the second half of life, in particular.  What’s full of life for you?  It may well be a major part of a life’s work to find it, and live it out.
In the SlideShare presentation that follows, I look at some creative ways in which we can begin the essential soul work of finding the meaning of the second half of life.

 

Opening Doors to the Undiscovered Self

One very creative thing that we can do, is to open ourselves to new experiences, that may well be experiences that don’t fit with previous images or concepts of ourselves.  We can learn some surprised things about ourselves by doing this.

One man I know developed an interest in Pre-Raphaelite painters. after spending most of a working life as an accountant, and joined a group of afficionados.  Another, who had seen himself as rather introverted, joined an improv comedy group.  A female acquaintance bought a motorbike, and rode to the most remote parts of North America.

Creatively Retelling Your Own Story (Personal Myth)

An important way of connecting with the things of greatest meaning in our lives can be through re-visiting and retelling the fundamentals of our life story.  It may well be that, if we look at our lives from a somewhat different angle, we may find a sense of meaning and importance in our lives that we may not have seen previously.  A classical example of this would be someone who perhaps had a very difficult early life, who, looking at that life, realizes that certain themes and patterns have been apparent from an early age, and have made their life what it is and given it meaning.  It is no accident that Charles Dickens, himself virtually an orphan, wrote many of the 19th century’s most moving novels –precisely about orphans, drawing on the orphan archetype in a way to which all can relate.

finding meaning of second half life

This is one area where depth psychotherapy can be of vital importance as it helps us to open up our life experience, and to understand the psychological meaning of all that has happened to us as the quotation of Prof. James Hillman above suggests.

Setting the Arts Free

Not surprisingly, working with the arts can be of profound importance in accessing our creativity, and, connected to it, the meaning of our lives.  It is surprising how much of the unconscious mind is reflected in art work that we do.  This enables us to see aspects of ourselves that are not as well known to our conscious selves — perhaps not known at all.  Contained within that revelation of ourselves often are the germs of finding the meaning of the second half of life.

Dealing Creatively with Your Dreams

A final creative way to find meaning is often available through understanding and dealing creatively with the dreams that appear in your life.  This is very hard to do on your own, and is another area where being in depth psychotherapy can be of tremendous help, in enabling dreams to be a springboard for creative insight, and creative living that carry us into our life’s meaning.  This is a topic I hope to discuss much more in the near future.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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