Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Accepting The Stranger, Embracing Shadow Self

September 26th, 2016 · embracing shadow self

On a certain level, human beings have a primal fear of strangers, the unfamiliar, the other, which connects with fear of embracing shadow self.

embracing shadow self

Depth psychotherapy, like all psychology, knows there is a natural fear of the unknown that is built into our biology.  As Jung and many others have noted, the fear, caution and natural conservatism of animals has immense survival value in the unpredictable circumstances of nature.  When instinct is your only guide, taking unnecessary risks — like trusting strangers — could prove disastrous, or even fatal.

Enter Humans

However, even though we have a strong set of instincts, human beings are able to function in ways that are not purely determined by instinct.  Because of our unique make up, we’re able to do things that our instinctual side could only be completely opposed to, like use a potentially deadly thing, like fire, to warm ourselves and cook our food.  We can learn to overcome our fear, and do things that are new and that are good for us.

Humans have a fear and anxiety response to unknown people.  Our instinctual side can scream at us not to associate with unknown others, and yet throughout human history and pre-history, we have consistently overcome that fear to create larger and larger groupings of people.  And that’s a good thing, because it’s hard to create things like art, literature, mathematics, airline travel, or even a nutritious meal all on your own, from absolute scratch.

We know all this, and yet each of us can find ourselves caught by fear of the stranger, even the stranger who looks harmless and has merely been through very difficult circumstances and who needs our help.  Why exactly is that?

Enter Human Shadow

To understand the answer to that question, we must connect to this question of embracing the shadow self.

What is the shadow?  Jungian psychotherapy uses the term to refer to those parts of our total personality of which we are unaware, or which we don’t want to acknowledge.  Shadow contains all our weaknesses, all our moral failings, all the things about our own being that make us feel small, vulnerable and ashamed.  And if we’re really unaware, rather than embracing the shadow self, we can start painting others in its colours — what psychologists call projection.

Projecting Shadow – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

The way we feel about strangers can tell us a lot about how we feel about the unfamiliar parts of ourselves.  Extending the welcome to the stranger — within us and outside of us — may be an essential part of our own healing and self understanding, and is a key part of the journey to wholeness in depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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Edward Albee and Integrity in the Second Half of Life

September 18th, 2016 · integrity in the second half of life

Edward Albee, the great American playwright, whose plays lay open issues of integrity in the second half of life, died last week.

integrity in the second half of life

Albee’s plays were never easy viewing — Zoo Story, A Delicate Balance, Sylvia,  and the visceral, devastating Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, one of the most powerful tsunamis of raw emotion in American theatre. Yet, in each of them there is an unrelenting return to one powerful question that very often hovers in the middle of the lives of individuals from midlife on.  As Albee himself expressed it:

The purpose of serious theater has always been to hold a mirror up to people and say, ‘Hey, this is you. If you don’t like what you see, why don’t you change?

It is in this sense that Albee’s plays take on the question of integrity in the second half of life.  We’re used to thinking of “integrity” as pertaining to stolid, stoic, morally upright individuals, who adhere, unflinchingly, to rigid moral codes.  But following Jungian analyst and psychiatrist John Beebe, I’m using the word in another sense here: the sense of taking responsibility for what one does, and, more fundamentally, for all that one is.  Albee’s plays provide a devastating portrait of individuals trapped into masks and postures that do not allow them to be what they truly are, and he keeps calling his characters — and we, his audience — back to their own fundamental being.  In so doing, he accords with one of the key themes of depth psychotherapy.

integrity in the second half of life

Taylor, Burton and “Games” in “Virginia Woolf”

Again, as Albee himself put it:

Each play of mine has a distinctive story to tell….  What unites them all is that I’m trying to make people more aware of whether they’re living their lives fully or not.

Edward Albee in Santa Fe New Mexican, 2001

Whether they — we — are living our lives fully or not.  It is this question, garbed in the power of his images and his language, that constitute Albee’s potent legacy, and that will live with all of us for a long time.

The question of integrity in this form, of authenticity in this form, is one of the central issues at the heart of depth psychotherapy.  It is of fundamental importance as we move through the second half of life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)




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Afternoon Trickster: Facing Ambiguity in the Second Half of Life

September 12th, 2016 · facing ambiguity in the second half of life

Facing ambiguity in the second half of life is one of the major challenges for people moving through the midlife transition and into later life.

ambiguity in the second half of life

Juneau City Hall: Raven, the Tlingit trickster, with first humans

An honest journey into the second half of life shows us many situations and circumstance that are ambiguous and paradoxical.  These can create great psychological discomfort.
Sometimes individuals will do almost anything to avoid the tension these realities create.  We all know older people who have succumbed to some of the well-known “exits” from ambiguity:
  • Hypochondria – often the displacement of the anxiety created by living into continual fantasies of physical illness;
  • Being a Curmudgeon – running away from the challenge and risk of confronting the other, through holding everyone at a distance through a thick crust;
  • Past Worship – You know them: people who are convinced that the life of some past time was real and valid, and that existence in the present time is some kind of sham or sick joke; and, last but not least,
  • Eternal Adolescence – people who are perpetually trying to demonstrate to themselves and to the world that they’re still young and strong; still “think young” (i.e., are up with the latest fads), and that they’re never going to age.

ambiguity in the second half of life

Paradox: Only Giving Up Illusions About Ourselves Brings True Self-Esteem

The giving up of false hopes and dreams and illusory views of ourselves can be a particularly hard part of the work.  In the great transition of midlife and the second half of life, there are often many major life transitions, requiring us to change our view of ourselves, and perhaps give up a cherished aspiration from an earlier point in life.

However, letting go of illusions and dreams that perhaps we can never attain can often open the door for our energies to flow into compassionate self-acceptance, and not infrequently, the emergence of new passions and new meaning.

Example.  A person might face the following awareness: “I’m never going to be a big noise.  Not as a business person, not as a writer as I once thought.  I went to good universities but I really didn’t capitalize on my opportunities.”  It’s quite probable that this person must grieve the loss of this promised future, before he can begin to focus on the present, and on valuing what now, at this time, is vital to do with her or his time, like making time for new connections with people, or giving time to causes that are genuinely meaningful.

Paradox: Good and Evil, Pain and Joy are All Part of the Fabric of Later Life

Contrary to the message of many ads for retirement living options, the future as we age is not going to be all unmitigated experiences of golf, card games and happy hour.  In fact, shame on those marketers who are trying to suggest such things to people at times of emotional vulnerability such as giving up their independent home or losing their spouse.

Growing older mixes joy and pain, and experiences of great good and great evil.  The wisdom of aging, if it is to be obtained, comes from experiencing both sides of those realities, and accepting that this is the nature of life.  Yet there is a wisdom in encountering life exactly where it is, here and now, and extracting everything possible from this unique moment.

Paradox: Only Living Into Aging’s Benefits Can Counter Its Great Challenges

What is the wisdom that I gain through my aging?  Fundamentally, it is wisdom gained from facing ambiguity in the second half of life.  It must be a wisdom that can withstand a great deal of grief and loss, and revisions of my view of the world.  It’s very true that “Aging is not for wimps!”

There is genuine suffering involved in the process of accepting who one fundamentally is, and accepting that one is limited in time and space, and must accept the end, at least of this form of life.  It is only the letting go that is implied in this acceptance though, that allows us to approach ourselves with compassion, and to be truly alive and truly here in this moment.  And to act in this moment, in ways that are in true authentic service of the deep needs of the Self.


Into the Centre of the Labyrinth

facing ambiguity in the second half of life

Eros at the Center of the Labyrinth

Individual depth psychotherapy can often lead to a deeper experience of life’s paradoxes and ambiguities.  It is only by holding this tension, by facing ambiguity in the second half of life, that a meaningful picture or understanding of the individual’s life begins to emerge, that is truly relevant and sustainable for the second half of life’s journey.

As Jung tells us,

“The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own, and cannot merely be a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.”

Only by examining and affirming all that we are, and affirming the rich complexity and even the contradictions of our lives, can we find the means to move into later life with affirmation, joy and above all, meaning.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  Jay Galvin ; _G2 ; Matt Debnam
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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