Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Performance Anxiety at Work: Persona & Soul

April 26th, 2016 · performance anxiety at work

At this point in time, performance anxiety at work is pretty pervasive.  More people than ever before feel high levels of pressure and demand in the workplace.

performance anxiety at work

As we face the demands of 21st century work, we can easily start to pressure ourselves.  It’s easy to end up questioning whether you’re performing at the requisite level, — or even just outright living in the fear that you’re not.

Can I Perform?

In our time, as psychotherapists know, most workplaces are places of ever-increasing, ever-changing expectations for employees.  It’s fairly easy for employees to feel that their performance, and, in fact, everything that they do, is under intense scrutiny.  This can make us anxious and fearful.

We can fear scrutiny on several levels.  There is the question of just feeling competent at the tasks in our job description.  With ever increasing expectations, it would be the rare human being who never questioned his or her own competence.  On another level, in many organizations, the politics of the environment may be complex and difficult to negotiate, and staying on the right side of power can be a task that requires considerable effort and skill.

The Tyranny of Persona

It’s important for us to be conscious of our workplace persona.  For depth psychotherapy, the persona is our social self, the self we show to those with whom we work.  It functions both as a mask, concealing our true selves and true feelings, and also as a sort of window, allowing others to see those parts of our true selves that we allow, consciously or unconsciously, to come into the work place.

A lot depends on how we sit with our persona in the workplace.  Let’s say I’m a software engineer.  I could choose to be totally identified with that role.  In that case, everything — every last little shred of self-esteem I have, for instance — may hang upon how those I work with view me, or how the organization as a whole views me, as a software engineer.  If I’m given a poor performance rating, my self-esteem may be down the drain.  If I get a great evaluation, my self-esteem may be over the moon — but I will still depend completely on those who evaluate me for positive self-esteem.

So a lot hinges on how tightly or loosely I cling to my work persona.  The more I cling to my workplace professional identity, the more likely I am to have performance anxiety at work.

performance anxiety at work

Soul and Work, Anxiety and Individuation

Social psychologist Prof. Henri Tajfel (1979) of Bristol explained how social groups have an innate need to establish belonging by dividing the world into “them” and “us”.  The pressure to continually prove that one is one of the in group in a work place will always be there to feed our anxiety.

But, what would it be like to gain our identity from somewhere other than the work place?

I know some people in their 20s and 30s who are very fond of the singer Regina Spektor.  One of her songs seems very apt here:


Perfomance anxiety at work might actually be the impetus to lead us to a deeper exploration of our unique identity.  This can lead us to a much deeper understanding of our unique story and individual being than we can ever hope to obtain by fusing with our workplace persona.

The discovery of this deeper identity is a key part of the process that depth psychotherapists refer to as individuation.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © James Thompson ; Erica Firment
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

Controlling My Impulses: Return of the Repressed After Midlife

April 18th, 2016 · controlling my impulses

“Controlling My Impulses” — such an emotionally charged phrase.  Often it assumes great importance in midlife and the second half of life.

controlling my impulses

For people who see themselves as moral, psychologically normal people, these powerful impulses can be surprising, even shocking.  The struggle with controlling my impulses in the second half of life often has to do with what Dr. Murray Stein calls “the return of the repressed.”  These impulses usually begin in the unconscious mind, and the individual becomes subject to “a compulsive and unconsciously determined set of actions.”  This can be disturbing, and even dangerous.
Example.  Mary has an uncontrollable impulse to steal cosmetics when she goes to department stores in Toronto.  She is married to a prominent politician, has the reputation of being a good mother, is embarrassed and ashamed of this behaviour and terrified at the prospect of getting caught.  Mary has no understanding of why she does it, when she could easily afford the items in question.  She is starting to feel as if the whole underpinning of her life is giving way…

Controlling My Impulses in the Second Half of Life

This example might seem extreme, almost melodramatic.  Granted, it’s at the more serious end of the spectrum, yet wrestling with such a distressing impulse is not uncommon.  Why might controlling my impulses become such a pressing issue, as I move into midlife, and later life?

Individuals often lose touch in some fundamental ways with who they are in terms of needs, hopes and aspirations in what Jung called “the first adulthood” — that is, adult life leading up to midlife.  We can be so intent on “doing the right thing”, and on “being good”, in the sense of putting ourselves and our true needs and wishes last, after spouse and spouse’s career, children, parents, and all the myriad other demands, that we lose our way.  Usually, this loss of direction, satisfaction and meaning is not something that the unconscious mind will just take lying down.

The Return of the Repressed After Midlife

The result, very often, is what Jungian psychotherapists like Stein refers to as the “return of the repressed”.  By this, is meant the return of some repressed piece of the personality, as opposed to just the repression of some unacceptable thought or quirky motivation.  The compulsion to steal described above isn’t rooted in just a bad impulse to take the pretty lipstick.  It is a symbollic representation of the inmost part of the person, the soul, if you like, that is trying to get something that it needs.  The soul is trying to heal itself. 

controlling my impulses

How is Psyche Trying to Heal Itself?

After half a lifetime or more of ignorring our own needs and our deepest yearnings, and/or just reflexively people-pleasing, the thing that stops me from controlling my impulses may be a cry for help from the deepest part of me.  Or a warning shot, fending me off from loss of soul.

Psychotherapists know that the voice of the shadow may be heard in some very strong impulses, some of which can be quite dangerous:

  • Kleptomania, as an expression of some yearning deep within us;
  • Anger or rage, as an expression of a need to defend the boundaries of the self;
  • Driving irresponsibily, as possibly an expression of a deep yearning for freedom; or,
  • Compulsive sexuality, as an expression of deep yearnings for love, for union, for abandonment, or many other things.

There are many other possible impulses, as well. The way is very individual.

The unconscious seeks to heal itself.  It is wise, but cannot put its wisdom into practice without the help and cooperation of our conscious selves.

Often, the journey of depth psychotherapy into the depths, and contact wth the basic energies of our lives, is our true need.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Daniel Lobo ; Harry Rose
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


→ No Comments

What is the Unconscious Mind — and Why Should You Care?

April 11th, 2016 · what is the unconscious mind

What is the unconscious mind?  Is it just a woolly idea… or does it make some kind of concrete difference to your real life?

what is the unconscious mind

Like an Iceberg, Most of the Mind is Below the Surface

Depth psychotherapists emphasize what’s going on “in the unconscious.”  Well, where the heck is that?  And how does what goes on there make any real difference?  To answer “What is the unconscious mind?” we first need to be aware that…

…The Unconscious is Largely Inaccessible to the Ego

“The ego” is that part of the mind that you’re consciously aware of, that’s subject to the control of your will.  It’s mostly what we know of our minds.

Yet, the ego is not the sum total of your mind.  Modern neuroscience shows us that a huge amount goes on in the unconscious parts of the brain.  James Bursley, David Cresswell and colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University’s Scientific Imaging and Brain Research Center used MRIs to establish that unconscious thought and decision-making really does occur in the brain.  This supported the research of Prof. Dijksterhuis (Radboud University, Nijmegen) on unconscious thought and decision-making.  As Bursley tells us,

…the idea of the brain processing complex information unconsciously is hardly new: Freud and Jung posited a complex unconscious… mind [which influences] our conscious thoughts and behavior. With elegant continuity, then, modern techniques in neuroscience and psychology are beginning to reveal the brain’s unconscious inner workings, bringing today’s scientists… face-to-face with the progenitors of our field.

As depth psychotherapists assert, the unconscious exists.  It “thinks” and influences us as part of our mind — beyond conscious control.

what is the unconscious mind

The Unconscious Has Its Own Characteristic Ways of Functioning

Jung, and some other depth psychotherapists believed that the unconscious possesses a special kind of knowledge, and even of thought.  The evidence tends to confirm that this is correct.  As psychiatrist and researcher Erik Goodwyn, surveying the scientific literature on “unconscious systems” puts it,

Unconscious systems are therefore capable of perception, symbolic processing, social judgment and motivated action, which becomes “activated” by the internal or external environment, and… works to orient and bias conscious processing [italics mine] to “serve its own ends” so to speak.

This means that the purposes of the conscious mind are strongly influenced by the unconscious — for its own purposes.  This is something we should care about.

what is the unconscious mind

The Unconscious is Primarily Creative

The unconscious is not just a pit of refuse, as Freud often seemed to believe.  Rather, as archetypal depth psychotherapy affirms, the “sake” or reason something happens in the unconscious is to further the expression and meaning of a person’s individual life.

If the conscious mind is working at cross purposes to the unconscious mind, however, the result can be chaos and stagnation, even decay.  It’s essential for the conscious ego to understand the concerns and purposes of the unconscious, and to align itself with these more fundamental goals.

Example.  Sue’s in Corporate Finance.  She’s worked long and hard, learning her field and working tirelessly to get ahead.  She’s succeeded, but at the cost of her health, her relationships and badly disrupted sleep. When she remembers dreams, they’re of titanic struggles and battles, where she is defending against huge, overwhelming armies.  Yet, in recent dreams, the opposing army’s battering ram is gradually breaking down the main gate of her castle.

Psychotherapeutic work revealed that Sue had deep conflicts between her conscious goals, and what the unconscious was actually seeking.

Depth psychotherapy is concerned with understanding the voices of the unconscious, and aligning the conscious ego with its underlying creative purposes.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Christopher Michel ; 
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

Dealing with Death of a Parent

April 4th, 2016 · dealing with death of a parent

Dealing with death of a parent in adulthood is a process that often fundamentally alters the lives of those who experience it.

dealing with death of a parent

Psychotherapists know that experiences of the death of a parent will vary widely.  In this post, we’ll confine ourselves to the situation of adults losing a parent.  But, even so, there’s immense variation in peoples’ experience.  Furthermore, as University of California psychologist Robert E. Kavanagh reminds us, there is great importance for us in being honest about our unique emotional response in the face of death.


Forms of Grief

dealing with death of a parent

Adult loss of a parent takes many forms, and many, but not all occur during the mid-life transition or later.

Now, certainly, an adult may experience the loss of one or more parents while still relatively young, often with a great sense of  loss, grief — and unfairness.

Or, perhaps the parent may pass away in later life, possibly after a short illness, leaving us with a grateful sense that he or she lived a good, long life.

Then again, there are many instances where the person passes after a prolonged difficult physical illness or after suffering from a debilitating condition such as dementia/alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s, or Parkinson’s disease.  Such a condition may require intense care-giving, and may result in burn-out, exhaustion or illness, and/or even in outright trauma in an adult child who is a care-giver.

In any of these cases, the adult child undergoing the experience will likely feel that they have undergone a major life transition.

Loss of the Same Sex Parent

In particular, loss of the same sex parent can have a profound effect.

In important ways, the child models her- or himself, consciously and unconsciously on the same sex parent.  This means that her/his persona, the way he/she presents to the world, has been formed greatly by the same sex parent.  It also means that the shadow, those parts of ourselves that we prefer not to acknowledge, has similar linkages and congruities to the way that our parent was with us, and the way that we perceived them interact with others.

In the loss of a same sex parent, the individual may end up acutely feeling his or her own mortality.  It can be as if we see a kind of an image of our own passing, in the same sex parent.  It may also mean that we feel a certain sense of aloneness in the world.

dealing with death of a parent

The Orphan Archetype

If the parent who has passed away is the last living parent of the individual, this may be the occasion of the activation of the orphan archetype.  The individual may confront aspects of him- or herself that are like an abandoned child.  As James Hillman tells us, this

…implies a collapse into the infantile realm of the child.  Our strong, ego-centered consciousness fears nothing more than just such a collapse.

Yet such an emergence of the adandoned child in us may be just what we need. It can be very hard to feel such aloneness, and to feel that we now exist fully in our own right in the world.  Yet, simultaneously, it can mean that we have the chance to determine our own direction in life, and to live out our own most basic passions, in a way that is truly and uniquely our own.  Grief and the opportunity to live out our own legacy may be woven together.

Dreams and the Reality of Death

Depth psychotherapy recognizes that it’s not unusual or abnormal to encounter a deceased parent in our dreams.  Certainly dreamwork seems to have some important connections with the ways that we undergo the process of grief work.  Dreams of our parents may also have very important roles in the individuation process, as we work through the true — and often very complex — meaning of who a parent was for us, and the impact they have had on us, in both conscious and unconscious ways.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Tom Coady
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments