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Donald Trump, Soul Guide

May 30th, 2016 · soul guide

Probably when you think of the phrase “soul guide”, Donald Trump is not the first person who pops into your mind.

soul guide

You’re probably thinking that The Donald is not exactly the type of guy that you’d expect to go swimming in those waters, or that you’d expect to engage in a lot of psychological exploration.
Based on what we see in the media, at least, I think we’d have to conclude that such an assessment is probably correct.  Yet, there’s a lot that we can learn about psyche and soul from Donald Trump…
The way The Donald acts in his various social and political dealings is very instructive.  Let’s start with…

Donald Trump Scapegoats the Weak and Vulnerable

Experience in psychotherapy shows that it can be a wonderful distraction from feelings of anger or alienation or anxiety to blame a scapegoat for all one’s problems.  For instance, I can blame illegal immigrants for everything, or engage in blanket condemnation of all Muslims in the United States.  Or, I can gain feelings of superiority by mocking the disabled.

It definitely reduces anxiety to turn it into blind hostility and direct it at a specific, definite object.  By resolutely refusing to engage in any introspective inquiry into my inner psychological state, I can easily convince myself that the problem is them, not me.  If only we take care of the “Muslim problem”, or the “illegal immigrant problem” then things will be fine

So long as we do that, it will mean that we don’t have to face the anxiety we harbour, which might force us to ask some deep questions about our lives.  Which might in turn threaten the horrifying prospect of leading to insight and actual psychological growth.

Our Soul Guide Donald Trump Believes He Has NO Personal Weaknesses

As is very well known, The Donald makes it his consistent practice to talk incessantly of himself and his own greatness.

As Jungian Andrew Samuels might tell us, so far as his public self is concerned, Trump seems to completely lack awareness of his own shadow — those parts of himself with which his ego is not comfortable.

Insofar as Donald’s public self or persona is concerned, he shows no desire to know anything about his shadow.  He gives the impression that, if he talks fast, hard and long enough about his own greatness, he may never have to confront his weaknesses, and with them, the alarming (yet potentially liberating) awareness of parts of himself that were hitherto unknown…

Donald Trump Tells People What They Want to Hear

soul guide

Donald Trump achieved success by telling people exactly what it is that they want to hear, even if it has little or no actual connection to what is really the case.  Now he imports this people-pleasing behaviour to the realm of presidential politics.

He talks of building an enormous wall along the border with Mexico — but there’s no discussion of the cost.  He tells us that he wants to deport all illegal immigrants from the U.S., but he is very short on information as to how such an enormous task would ever be accomplished.  He tells us that Muslims in New Jersey danced in the streets after 9/11, but provides no evidence whatsoever for this claim.

By telling people what they want to hear, Donald never has to confront the difficulty of speaking truth to the other that the other doesn’t want to hear.  That way, he never has to ask himself what his real values are and stand up for them.  In a way, this is much less anxiety producing than standing up for who you really are.

If You Can’t Stand Donald Trump — He May Still Have Something to Teach You

Understandably, many people find such characteristics to be the exact opposite of what they wish for in a soul guide.  Yet, from a depth psychotherapy point of view, maybe there’s a way Trump can be a “soul guide” after all.

If Donald Trump really bothers you, you could ask yourself — what is it that bothers you about him the most?  His seeming arrogance?  His seeming ignorance?  Something else?

Once you’ve done that, you could go on to ask yourself a very hard question: whether there is something, anything that somehow — no matter how grudgingly — you actually admire about The Donald?  Because if there is, then it may well be true that there is some part of your soul that wants and needs more of that attribute.  And, if you can do that kind of psychological work, so fundamental to psychotherapy, then, in however an unlikely way, Donald Trump, unintentionally, has been a sort of soul guide.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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The Psychology of Spirituality and the Second Half of Life, Part 2

May 23rd, 2016 · psychology of spirituality

In part 1 on the psychotherapy of spirituality we looked at issues of reality and connection; here, we look at the crucial issue of meaning.

psychology of spirituality

It’s no overstatement to say that, here in the 21st century, many people are undergoing a genuine crisis of meaning.  This can be particularly true for those in the second half of life.  This issue can become acute at any point in the life journey, but life can ask us some crucial, unavoidable questions as we pass its midpoint.

Psychology of Spirituality and the Crisis of Meaning

In our age there is a genuine and widespread sense of vacuity in the lives of many people.  Many are afflicted with an overall sense of meaninglessness.  And, as individuals move beyond the various socially prescribed tasks of the first half of adulthood, they can find that these issues become particularly pressing, even to the point of what might be called existential crisis.

It’s at this stage in life, when the kids start to go to university, and move out of the house, and much less of the parents’ energy is consumed by them, that people confront “the empty nest”.  It’s at this time, too, when individuals often realize that there are very real limits on what they will be able to achieve in their careers, and they struggle to accept those limitations.  Simultaneously, the individual may become aware of a whole range of other limitations: financial; health, and many others.

The 19th century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote on how existential despair could appear in the individual’s life when an inherited or borrowed view of the world no longer proves adequate to help the individual in unexpected and particularly difficult experiences in life.  Depth psychotherapists well know that this is very often the experience of self-aware individuals as they move through the second half of life.

Psychology of Spirituality: The Politics at God’s Funeral

Those who watch House of Cards on Netflix will be familiar with the nefarious doings of the nihilistic antihero of that drama, Frank Underwood (played by the formidably talented Kevin Spacey).  At one point, Underwood describes a religious discussion he had with a professor:

psychology of spirituality

And then he asked if I had no faith in God. I said, ‘You have it wrong. It’s God that has no faith in us.’

For Underwood, the conventional idea of God that he has inherited doesn’t convey to him any fundamental feeling of being loved, or valued or believed in — it’s basically an unreal abstraction.  This fits the whole pattern of House of Cards, which portrays the reality of the politics at God’s funeral — life amidst a crisis of value and meaning.

Meaning as Essential

The need for meaning is not quite the same as the sense of reality that we described in the last post.  It becomes apparent in the course of psychotherapeutic work that meaning revolves around the sense that there is something inherently worthwhile, something that really intrinsically matters about our lives.  The sense that this has value, this is worth going on for, this makes a powerful difference in my living.

Having meaning in one’s life is not something optional.  Whether there is some transpersonal, transcendent meaning in our lives, can literally make the difference between life and death, as Dr. Viktor Frankl continually reminded us.

The sense of having found meaning, or lacking meaning, has profound implications for what we value, and for what we purpose, and so, ultimately, the course we choose and the path we walk on the journey of life.

Emphasis on the Unique Individual

Depth psychotherapists continually stress that, throughout the journey of the second half of life,  there must always be an emphasis on the unique individual, and on the symbols that speak to that individual, and that carry a sense of meaning and of touching the deepest parts of his or her being.  In whatever form these symbolic realities manifest, they form the basis of the individual’s true spiritual search or spiritual journey.

Those who have worked with individuals confronting their unconscious selves in psychotherapy well know that meaning for the individual is not contained within the routine affirmations of organized religiosity or conventional piety.  Rather, meaning and spirituality are contained in the deeply symbolic encounters that touch the individual’s mind, heart, imagination — and soul.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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The Psychology of Spirituality and the Second Half of Life

May 16th, 2016 · psychology of spirituality

“Psychology of spirituality?” some readers will say, “Oh boy, here it comes…“, and I think I understand pretty well what they’re feeling.

psychology of spirituality

by Marc Chagall

Many who were brought up in the confines of conventional organized religion have become quite “allergic” to the language, feeling, sights, sounds and even the smell of traditional religiosity.  And, equally, many brought up outside of that kind of religious framework simply don’t feel that it has the credibility to allow them to enter into it.  Depth psychotherapist C.G. Jung would be the first to acknowledge that the symbols of conventional religion have lost much of their power, and their ability to influence the psyches of a great number of people in our culture.

That’s exactly why I decided to use the word “spirituality”, rather than “religion” in the title.  I wanted to emphasize the individual spiritual dimension, rather than the formalized and structured aspects of organized religion.  This is a journey that we have to go on in our own right.

However, the word “spirituality” brings its own problems.  To my formerly Protestant ear, this word can have a decidedly “other worldly”, “next life” ring to it.  But that’s not really the core meaning, or the dimension that I want to get at here.  Rather, I’m using the word to point to that part of ourselves that seeks out the essence of things.

How do issues of the psychology of spirituality take on particular urgency for us in the second half of life?

Reality

A key aspect of spirituality is that it is concerned with what is ultimately real.  In whatever form it occurs, spirituality is about connecting the individual to the fundamental realities of existence, whether that is God, Goddess. multiple Deities, the Universe, the Atman, the Tao, the Ground of Being, or any of the many other forms of expression or symbols that humans use to embody what Paul Tillich called Ultimate Concern.  In the second half of life, our confrontation with mortality makes that sense of connection with something permanent and lasting an ever more crucial quest.

All humans want the experience of reality in their lives, in some form or other.  In the second half of life, the question of “What is ultimately real?” often becomes ever more important.

Connection

Another dimension of the psychology of spirituality in the second half of life is the move away from isolation to the reality of connection. This can take a number of forms.

One dimension of connection that is very important is the sense of real and genuine connection with others.  The impulse for connection with others, through what Jungians would call eros, is a tremendously important impulse in the second half of life.  For many, it only tends to grow in significance as they continue to age.  For these individuals, this sense of united connection with others is at the heart of what they would call spirituality.

Another, perhaps surprising aspect of connection is that of genuine connection with oneself in depth.  There can often be a sense in the second half of life of encountering aspects of oneself that have not been fully visible to ourselves at previous life stages.  We come to experience these unknown parts of ourselves, and in the process, we obtain a growing sense of unity and wholeness.

Then there is also, for many, a sense of connection with the universe, the All, the whole of reality.  Some experience this in the sense of participation in the “ocean of being”.  Others might frame this in terms of connection with the Author or Origin of everything that exists, the One in whom “we live and move and have our being”, in the words of St.Paul.

An Expanding Field of Vision

In the second half of life, spirituality may bring us to the sense of having an ever expanding field of vision.  For many from a traditional religious framework, there may be a feeling of relief that we can be on the individual journey of spirituality, without necessarily having to go back to the forms of “that old time religion”, in the sense of having to enter into the trappings of organized religion.

psychology of spirituality

On the other hand, it can be very re-assuring to know that, in the spiritual journey, from a depth psychotherapy perspective, as we work on the contents of the deepest and most profound parts of psyche, we are connecting with some of the key archetypes.  In doing so, we are connecting with the ancestral stream of humanity back as far as the Paleolithic era, and even well before that.

In the second part of this post, we’ll look in depth at the dimension of meaning in the psychology of spirituality, and the particular importance of our human uniqueness in the spiritual journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Loss and Complicated Grieving: the Ft. McMurray Wildfire

May 9th, 2016 · complicated grieving

Great loss and trauma bring what psychotherapists call complicated grieving.  We see a powerful example of this in the Ft. MacMurray wildfire.

complicated grieving

Anyone with any compassion who has watched recent events unfold in the Ft. McMurray area will appreciate the enormous psychological blow sustained by the residents of this small northern Alberta city.  The fire and evacuation have been the subject of constant media attention in Canada and around the world.  What can we learn about our own lives from their experience?

Can You Have Grief if No One Has Died?

The loss of life in the Ft. McMurray wildfire is apparently minimal, but certainly this doesn’t mean that the people who have suffered through the fire have not experienced enormous loss. Very many of them have experienced the destruction of their homes.  All of them have been confronted with the loss of the city and community that they previously knew, and took as a given in their lives.  Many people have lost nearly everything that they had in terms of possessions, pets, and memorabilia.  Experience from previous disasters assures us that a certain percentage of those affected have left Ft. McMurray, and will never go back again.

Certainly this experience of loss has many of the characteristics of a grief reaction.  Depth psychotherapists know that, rooted in psyche is a visceral attachment to our homes, strong enough to describe it as archetypal.  This connection can be so powerful that losing it can be every bit as great a loss as losing a cherished loved one.

complicated grieving

Remains of Super 8 Motel, Fort McMurray

The Three Tasks of Grief

In the aftermath of loss, according to Dr. Therese Rando, the individual faces three tasks:

  1. Emancipation from bondage to the lost object.  We invest part of ourselves in an emotional bond with home, community or city.  When they are gone, we must withdraw the emotional investment we have made in the no longer existent thing.  While it doesn’t mean that that which is lost is forgotten, this “untying” can be incredibly painful.
  2. Adjusting to an environment where that which has been lost no longer exists.  We must accommodate to a world without the presence of that which is lost.  This might mean adapting to a world without the old house, or community — or many other possible adaptations.
  3. Reinvesting in new locations, relationships.  The emotional energy that has been withdrawn must be invested again in new objects, for life to go on being lived.

The Criteria of Trauma

It’s important for us to compassionately realize that those who have undergone the Ft. McMurray wildfire experience may also have had genuine experiences of trauma.  In other words, they had horrific experiences that left them feeling completely overwhelmed and helpless, as if they had no control whatsoever in the situation.  So, while undergoing grief, these individuals may also experience some of the powerful reactions associated with post-traumatic stress:

• Distressing recollections;
• Distressing dreams about the event;
• Feelings of reliving the experience;
• Feeling numb;
• Feeling emotionally detached from others;
• Always feeling “on guard”;
• Difficulty working;
• Difficulty in social situations;
• Difficulty falling or staying asleep;
• Irritability or outbursts of anger;
• Difficulty concentrating, or
Hypervigilance

If these elements mix with feelings of intense loss, then the individuals affected may need specialized assistance with the traumatic aspects of what  they have experienced, before they are going to be able to go through the normal grieving process.  Depth psychotherapists know that grieving is an archetypal healing process, but it can be interfered with by trauma.

Complicated or Traumatic Grief: Is It Part of Your Experience?

Have you encountered experiences of heartbreaking loss, associated with experiences of traumatic overwhelm?  Then, in company with many survivors of the Ft. McMurray wildfire, you may need specialized psychotherapy to deal with complicated or traumatic grief.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Immigrating to Canada: a Multi-Generation Major Life Transition

May 2nd, 2016 · immigrating to canada

The experience of my psychotherapy clients clearly shows that immigrating to Canada, or, really, anywhere, is a very major life transition.

immigrating to canada

Also, there are frequently equally profound life transitions that figure prominently in the lives of the children of immigrants.  Immigrating to Canada can have a very sizable psychological impact on those who immigrate, their children, and even their children’s children.

Immigration as a Stressor

Like very many Canadians, I’m the child of immigrants.  My parents experienced the process of immigration to Canada as one of the most stressful events in their lives — and they were immigrating to Canada from the United Kingdom, one of the more culturally similar of places.

Canada is a nation of immigrants, yet the immigration process is full of enormous stressors.  It begins with the process of saying good bye and letting go of so much of one’s life in the country of origin.  Such a loss must be grieved, and sometimes leads to depression.

Often immigrants make hard decisions about what to leave behind.  Many possessions cannot make the trip.  Even more difficult is the experience of leaving people and places associated with important memories behind.

immigrating to canada

Security

Depth psychotherapists know that feeling safe is a primary psychological need  It’s a primary issues for those immigrating to Canada.  Safety takes a number of forms.

First there is the basic question of physical safety.  Many immigrants in times past, and at present, have had to struggle on arrival to get and keep the basic necessities of life — appropriate housing, for instance.

Also, for some, there is the very real question of feeling a sense of psychological safety.  In some cases, immigrants may come from war zones, or from other situations that have left them with truly traumatic experiences.

Then, there is the broader question of economic safety over the long term.  The ability to find suitable and sufficiently lucrative work to ensure a reasonably secure future.  Stress about money, and the sense of having less than is the norm in Canadian culture may lead to a pervasive, and difficult to escape, sense of deprivation.

Belonging

Beyond mere safety, the immigrant faces the huge question of belonging and fitting in.

Acculturation is the term used for the psychological change that results following the individual’s introduction into a new culture.  It refers to the very demanding, and very individual process of the individual coming to terms with the culture that they find themselves immersed in, and includes the degree to which the individual adapts to the new culture and/or retains certain valuable aspects of their original culture.  This is connected with psychologically vital issues such as food, language and culture.  Sorting all of this out is an extremely demanding and potentially stressful experience.

Connected with acculturation, regrettably those immigrating to Canada may face discrimination. Prof. P. Nangia has studied and documented extensive discrimination faced by landed immigrants in Canada in the media, the workplace, stores, banks, at the border and many other places.  The struggle to overcome these attitudes may have a profound effect on  immigrants — and an even profounder effect on their children.

The experience of the children of those immigrating to Canada around belonging will vary greatly, and will have a huge connection to the experience in their particular family, the specifics of the social setting in which they find themselves, and their particular individual characteristics.

The depth psychotherapist is aware that, for these children of immigrants, born at the interface between two cultures, there are archetypal issues that are equally deep, and quite possibly deeper, in some ways, than those experienced by their parents.  In particular, the second generation immigrant may confront in profound ways the question “Where is home?” and also the nature of the individual’s life journey, finding his or her unique way between two different worlds.

The process of depth psychotherapy may well shed essential light on this precious individual journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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