Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Importance of Self Understanding in Personal Transformation

November 28th, 2016 · importance of self understanding

“Therapist talk” emphasizes the importance of self understanding in personal transformation, but, what does this really mean, for you or me?

importance of self understanding

The most accurate answer is that it means different things to different types of psychotherapists. Both “self understanding” and “personal transformation” will mean quite different things, if you should ask, for instance: a) an existential therapist; b) a therapist who emphasizes mindfulness techniques; or, c) a cognitive behavioural therapist.
I work from a Jungian and depth psychotherapy perspective. This framework has an expansive view of the importance of self understanding.

Self Understanding: Not the Same as Self Awareness

From this perspective, self understanding is not just identical with self awareness. Self awareness is a very good thing, of course! It’s infinitely better to be more aware of yourself, your unique characteristics and reactions rather than less aware. Yet, even with such awareness, there remains the outstanding question of what do all these things I’m aware of about myself actually mean? Into what kind of a context am I going to put all these things?

Context matters! I may be aware of a lot of things about myself, but until I can get some sense of myself and my life as a whole, these bits of self awareness may appear as scattered and meaningless details.

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, the most important ways I understand myself are not ideas or concepts used by the ego in its never-ending search for security and control. Rather, symbols, which often emerge in dreams, artwork or in active imagination perform a unifying and contextual role in a powerful way that includes intellectual understanding, but that brings in other dimensions such as our feeling and our intuition.

importance of self understanding

Out Past the Berlin Wall of the Soul

Where Conscious Meets Unconscious

For depth psychotherapy, the importance of self understanding viewed in this broad way cannot be overstated. It is truly the foundation stone for a genuinely meaningful process of personal transformation.

Symbols come from the interaction of the conscious and the unconscious minds. Jung was aware long ago of the importance of the unconscious mind, and the research results of neuroscience in more recent times have only served to confirm and underline the importance of unconscious processes to the existence of consciousness. As psychiatrist Erik D. Goodwyn puts it, citing neuroscience authorities such as Profs. Michael Gazzaniga and Antonio Damasio;

“A consciousness that rests upon a mighty edifice of unconscious processes, which do not depend upon it, but without which it would be nonfunctional [is] a view so well supported by cognitive neuroscience that one may consider it a settled matter.”

Symbols are not mired in the ego’s myopia. Hollis describes ego as “Nervous Nellie”, always trying to make things safe, easily controllable, with what Adam Phillips describes as “defensive knowingness”. Properly understood, symbols rooted in our unconscious reality show us much more expansively who we are.

The Individual’s “Experiment with His/Her Own Nature”

It is this connection with the hitherto unknown aspects of ourselves in the unconscious, which is truly transformative. As Jungian analyst Josephine Everts-Secker has it,

“Neither imagination nor individuation can be taught. Experience of psyche itself educates…. Working metaphorically / mythically creates new neural pathways more effectively than working cognitively….

How then might we nourish… ‘the experiment with one’s own nature’…?”

The answer lies in psychotherapy that opens a person to the riches of the unconscious. Jung emphasizes that

“Richness of mind consists in mental receptivity… Real increase of personality means consciousness of an enlargement that flows from inner sources. Without psychic depth, we can never be related to the magnitude of our object.”

Are we willing to enlarge ourselves through attention to the parts of ourselves that are not immediately available to the conscious mind? It’s there that we find the reality of soul, and the journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike © image copyrights Moyan Brenn ; Heather Cowper
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What is Self Doubt? Depth Psychotherapy’s View of How to Cope

November 21st, 2016 · what is self doubt

What is self doubt?  What really is this questioner that comes calling, sometimes bringing agonies that can be nearly intolerable?

what is self doubt

For many people, coming to terms with self-doubt is one of the most urgent needs in their lives. Yet, a real understanding of self-doubt can sometimes be elusive.
The doubt I’m referring to here is not a matter of doubting some intellectual proposition, such as “I doubt there is life on Mars” or “I doubt that vegan diets are healthy”.  It’s something much more fundamental.  From a depth psychotherapy perspective, what is self doubt, really?

Self Doubt as Toxic and Paralyzing

Self doubt can certainly stop us in our tracks.  Genuine self doubt may stem from extremely early wounding in our lives, sometimes so early and so fundamental that it is too painful to look at the root cause.  Emotions associated with these wounds can be so painful that they get pushed into the unconscious.  The situation can be so painful that it cannot easily be tolerated, and so it stays behind the scenes, out of the view of the ego.  From that hidden place it distorts perceptions, and influences decisions, often poisoning relationships.  The individual cannot tolerate the pain of the wounding, or even start to let in the healthy self doubt that would actually challenge the ego’s distorted view of the situation.

Self Doubt as Potentially Freeing …Really!

Fortunately, most of us are not so wounded by our early life experience that we cannot face or be aware of our self doubt.  Often, we are all too aware that it exists, and interferes in our living of our lives.  This may seem like a curse.  But are there any dimensions of blessing that are contained within this awareness of self doubt?

The psyche can easily arrive at a set, static, unchanging posture or stance.  A posture that keeps us from having to confront any of the painful kinds of awareness that we have in our lives.  This can feel very comfortable, but it can keep us from any kind of growth or change, or from key things of which we need to be aware in order to accept ourselves and our lives.  As James Hollis tells us, doubt, even self doubt, can be the necessary fuel for change, and therefore growth.  Self doubt can keep us from getting stuck in attitudes and images of ourselves that are stuck in yesterday’s reality.  Actually, it is often only self-doubt that can free us from the tyranny of the ego.

what it self doubt

Getting Beyond the Stuckness of the Ego

The seat of consciousness in our psyche, the ego, would tend to tell us one particular story about our identity and our lives.  But it ain’t necessarily so.  A Jungian or depth psychotherapy perspective emphasizes that there are more — many more — than one version of one’s story in psyche, and many more than one aspect of our personal identity.  Hollis puts it well:

While the ego would like to make the universe of the soul monocratic and monotheistic, the psyche is in fact polytheistic and powerfully democratic, with many split-off energies or complexes.  The enlarged sense of self requires a dialogue with these energies and an ego both open and humble.  

He ends with a sentence that powerfully resonates with my own experience:

Most of us have only truly grown when our ego’s haughty power was brought down. 

We need to be compassionate to our ego, and all the other parts of ourselves, and yet realize that a false certainty about who and what we are will not lead to more self-understanding and self acceptance.

What is Self Doubt?  Well, What Will We Make of It?

Is self doubt the enemy of soul?    Suppressing doubts about ourselves and the direction of our lives often forces us into molds of rigidity and self-deception.  Often self-doubt exists because we are on the threshold of acknowledging some previously unknown truth about the self, and taking the next step on our journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  anna gutermuth ;  Paul Sableman
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Basic Trust vs Mistrust: Can I Feel Secure in My LIfe?

November 14th, 2016 · basic trust vs mistrust

Basic trust vs mistrust in life can be an issue that comes to the fore extremely powerfully in our lives at times of major life transition.

basic trust vs mistrust

Everyone at some point or other in their journey confronts the question of whether life is trustworthy, whether I can place my hope in it.  Certain situations, like mid-life transition, can bring those questions powerfully to the fore.  Also, for certain individuals, because of their life experience, this question is much more to the front and center than it is for other individuals.

Erikson and Basic Trust vs Mistrust

Trust vs. mistrust represents the first stage in Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development.  This stage begins at birth and lasts through one year of age. In it, either infants learn to trust that their caregivers will meet their basic needs, or, if basic needs are not consistently met, the infant may learn to react out of mistrust and suspicion, and may develop strong anxiety.

While the issue of basic trust vs mistrust is rooted in early life, it often would not confine its impact to earliest life.  It can certainly raise its head in potent ways at much later stages in the life journey.

The Issue is Larger…

Issues of basic trust vs mistrust can easily present in the form of a complex.   Jung in his research on complexes posited that a complex originates in “a trauma, emotional shock… or moral conflict which ultimately derives from the apparent impossibility of affirming all of one’s nature [italics mine]”.  A complex involving basic trust vs mistrust might entail an inability to live out the parts of oneself that want to trust and to be secure — when one is conflicted by radical insecurity.

Depth psychotherapists know that complexes take us back to the unresolved issues in our lives, leading us to see current life events through the lens of the past.  With each new occurrence of the complex, its emotional power can become more intense.

As depth psychotherapists well know, a powerful complex, such as a complex rooted in the experience of certain negative experiences of the mother, could easily block or completely bar the way to basic trust.

How Can I Move Towards Trusting Life, and Myself?

basic trust vs mistrust

Takes Trust!

Taking the power out of a complex that orients a person to mistrust of life is much more than just an intellectual activity.  As psychoanalyst Theodore Jacobs puts it, “Understanding and insight… are only part of the process of change….  Also important is experience: the patient’s lived experience with the analyst, which along with insight, has the effect of altering fixed positions, fixed views and fixed automatic responses.”  The analyst has to take an active role in helping to take the energy out of the complex.

As Daryl Sharp tells us, the role of the analyst is to work with the person to create a “container” where the intensity of the conflicting feelings of basic trust vs mistrust “can safely play in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.” This atmosphere of positive regard and the experience of being trusted and giving trust is a central part of the journey toward compassionate self-acceptance, which is essential to moving from mistrust to trust, and is a central part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  Carol Walker ;  Laura Bittner

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Dealing with Feelings: Some Depth Psychotherapy Reflections

November 7th, 2016 · dealing feelings

Dealing with feelings is complex and demanding, especially for those of us who are naturally much more at home dealing with rational thinking.

dealing feelings

Yet, even for the most dyed-in-the-wool “thinking type”, there will come times when we absolutely must deal with our feelings, if we are to make any kind of meaningful sense of our lives.

Feelings Are Facts!

Here’s a point that C.G. Jung was always making: there can be no dispute that, if a person is in the grips of a feeling, that’s a real thing.

The feeling may not be a reality in the external word, like a sushi roll or a subway train, but make no mistake — it’s real and really effects the person that has it, and possibly other people as well.

We’re Socialized to Mask Our Feelings

As noted Chicago psychotherapist Joyce Marter suggests, in modern culture, we’re socialized to cover up our feelings.

We frequently get the message that we have to cover up our feelings in order to behave “appropriately” in social environments, or to act professionally, or, we are told, to avoid conflict and to make relationships work properly for us.

Certainly, it’s true that we often have to control our feeling in social settings.  But does that mean that we’re not supposed to feel them?  From a depth psychotherapy perspective, that seems not only wrong, but psychologically impossible.

Your Feelings are There to Help You

Feelings exist not to give us trouble, but to serve incredibly vital psychological functions.

We need to listen to our feelings, to understand them.  If we do not, our unacknowledged feelings are going to trip us up at every turn.  This becomes particularly true at times like major life transitions.

Our feeling states can very often lead our more rational mind to a better understanding of situations that we are in, and their true impact upon us.  We need the feeling parts of ourselves!

dealing feelings

Dealing with Feelings: You Don’t Have to Act; But You Do Need to Process

If we want to stay connected to inner and outer reality, we really have no alternative but to pay attention to our feeling states.  Sometimes, it can be very hard to easily identify what we’re feeling.

You don’t have to act on your feelings, or even verbalize them to others.  But it can be extremely valuable to acknowledge them, and to know what they are.

There are a range of ways we can begin to get closer to our feelings.

Journaling or therapeutic letters.  Sometimes it can be very useful to write about what we are going through emotionally, or even just our ordinary daily lives.  This can take the form of a journal entry, or of a letter written to someone who has evoked strong feelings in us, (which we may or may NOT decide to send to them.)  Sometimes showing such writings to a trusted therapist can be of a great deal of help in processing feelings.

Identifying emotions.  Sometimes we recognize that we don’t even have the right vocabulary to really identify what it is that we’re feeling.  There are tools, such as feeling charts that we can use.  Here’s a simple one  — but still very useful.

Using art to identify feelings (and intuitions!).  Painting, clay, drawing, making music … these are all natural forms of human expression, and they can all help greatly in getting us down and in touch with our feelings.

Depth psychotherapy can be extremely helpful in processing emotions, often in conjunction with one of the above approaches.

For all of us, but particularly for thinking oriented people, the journey towards wholeness is going to take us through the territory of processing our feelings.  It might be good territory to go through with the help of a trusted therapist.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  Wrote ; Ann 

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