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How to Feel Safe: Finding a Sense of Psychological Home

March 27th, 2017 · how to feel safe

We human beings are fundamentally occupied with the question of how to feel safe. This is about as crucial as any question in human life can get.

how to feel safe

The anxiety that so many experience is a clear manifestation of this question. Even if the question never reaches conscious awareness, there are important parts of the unconscious human mind-brain that are always evaluating the question of the safety of our own being.

Physical Safety

Large parts of the brain, related to both the conscious and unconscious mind focus on preserving our sense of physical safety. Evolution has wisely provided higher mammals like humans with very good, very powerful safety mechanisms that have kept us out of trouble for millions of years. Instinctually, we humans have a wisdom about how to keep ourselves alive and healthy.

Issues of Trauma

Yet, an individual’s sense of physical or emotional safety can be deeply compromised. The individual may experience traumatic overwhelm in such a way that the question of how to feel physically and emotionally safe becomes vexing. You might automatically think of veterans returning from combat with PTSD, and you’d be right. Yet there are far, far more people who carry the scars of domestic violence, or emotionally insecure family environments; their traumatic experience doesn’t allow them to feel genuinely safe.

Such individuals may be subject to traumatic re-enactment where they re-live the emotional and physical impact of traumatic events over and over again, in different situations. Specialized techniques may be needed to enable the person to experience a reduction in the effects of trauma. And anything that helps the individual feel a sense of safety and control is essential.

Attachment

John Bowlby, the great psychiatric researcher who developed attachment theory, stressed that the ability that an individual possesses to form an emotional and physical “attachment” to another person gives the individual what he called a “secure base”. Such a safe connection with the other enables the person to feel a sense of stability and security that allows her or him to take risks, try new things and generally develop as a person. For Bowlby — and much of subsequent psychology — “how to feel safe” = “get yourself firmly and solidly connected to another person, who can be your ‘secure base'”. While attachment theory initially seemed to apply only to parent-child relationships, we now know that it applies to adult relationships, and also to relationship breakdown .

“Home”

The theory also applies to our attachment to place. A good part of the power of “home” as a symbol is connected to the sense of a particular place, home, which acts as secure base. We can feel safe and let our guard down “at home”, because it’s known, and won’t hurt us. Much great mythology, such as Homer’s Odyssey, or the Exodus as journey to the Promised Land in the Hebrew Bible emphasize the symbolism of home, and of the search for home as a symbolic representation of our lifelong attempt to finally and definitively answer the question of how to feel safe .

how to feel safe

“Home” is often powerfully symbolic in our dreams, also. Our first “home” is the womb; it’s striking to realize how many of the first human homes created by indigenous people are womb-like. In the words of Jungians Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin, “These correspond to, or contribute to something within, the experience of a vital center of both fixity and freedom, rest after striving, being fully oneself [italics mine].

We can look at the inner symbolization of home / house as at least in part an internalizing of our own “secure base”, an invitation to a secure and firm connection to our own inner being. In this way, as Prof. Andrew Samuels asserts, home symbolizes connection to your own fundamental inner being, which Jungians refer to as the Self.

An Abiding Inner Sense of Safety

Depth psychotherapy can be of vital importance in assisting individuals to find the answer to how to feel safe. This can come through helping the individual to find secure attachment in outer relationships, and, ultimately through a sense of inner unity and connection to the Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike © Kevin Dooley ; PRO Gail Frederick
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Adult Children of Alcoholics and the Individuation Journey

March 20th, 2017 · adult children of alcoholics

Adult children of alcoholics each have their own individual journey, yet they share some powerful factors in common.

adult children of alcoholics

These factors can very directly impact the course of the person’s individuation, the term that Jungian depth psychotherapists use to describe the path an individual follows to become fully her- or himself.
What are some of these key factors, or dimensions? And what do they mean for an individual travelling his or her own individual journey to meaning and purpose?

There are a Lot of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Estimates are that as many as 18.5% of U.S. children may be the children of alcoholics; we can expect that numbers would not deviate that radically in Canada. This is a huge number of people; and very many of them are carrying burdens of very nearly overwhelming pain, related to traumatic and other extremely painful experience in the past.

Dr. Claudia Black, Ph. D., a renowned expert on addictions and adult children of alcoholics notes that these individuals grow up with three rules particularly deeply ingrained in their lives: don’t trust; don’t feel; and, don’t talk. Each of these “rules” comes with a background history, often composed of incredible pain and sorrow.

Rule 1: Don’t Trust!

Alcoholic parents can often be so absorbed in concerns related to themselves and their drinking that they forget or are unconcerned with the needs of family members, to the point where they forget about key occasions like birthdays, or graduations, or they leave family members stranded. Children who are subject to a steady diet of such experiences absorb the message that there is no one in whom they can have any faith. In Jungian terms they encounter the devastating negative side of archetypal mother and father.

Rule 2: Don’t Feel!

adult children of alcoholics

“Post Secret” by KP

Alcoholic parents often inflict intense pain and shame on their children. As a result, these kids instinctively learn to shut off and suppress their emotions, because otherwise they would be so overwhelmed that they would not be able to get through their daily lives. This habit of emotional cut-off doesn’t end when the child grows up, and so adult children of alcoholics can often stay in a place where they don’t access their emotions. It can be extremely difficult for them to know what they feel, and even for those who want to be close to them to connect with them. Which leads us to…

Rule 3: Don’t Talk!

Kids of alcoholics become experts at denying the reality around them, both in terms of emotional reality, but often, also, in terms of just plain facts. They can easily become experts at avoiding talking about difficult areas of life. This can actually mean that they resist talking about anything painful, or urgent. But it can also mean that they unconsciously resist talking about anything that is truly important or meaningful, which can mean that they face particular difficulty at times like major life transitions.

Pain from the Past; Moving Into the Present and the Future

Adult children of alcoholics often strongly over-react to situations in the present, moving into emotional denial or defensiveness — or completely disproportionate responses. It’s important for these folks to know that such over-reaction to a present event is really the re-experiencing of pain rooted in the past. Depth psychotherapy speaks of it as being rooted in a feeling toned complex that began with traumatic experiences. Such a complex can be extremely touchy; when activated, it can easily bring the pain of the past into the present.

For adult children of alcoholics, being able to separate the present from the powerful emotional triggers that would send them back into past pain is essential, if they are to keep moving forward in their lives, and their individuation. The right kind of depth psychotherapy can be extremely helpful in assisting with this result.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike © Rob Bertholf ; K P
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Coping with the Death of a Loved One

March 6th, 2017 · coping with the death of a loved one

Coping with the death of a loved one is most often one of the very hardest of the major life transitions we will face.

coping with the death of a loved one

Soul Grief – Photo by Julie Jordan Scott

Many other things will try us, but the loss of a loved one can fundamentally impact our sense of who we are, and our sense of belonging in the world.

The Uniqueness of Your Grief

The ways in which you might be coping with the death of a loved one are probably quite unique, and probably are distinctly different from the grief experience of someone else. It depends crucially on your make-up, your life experience and the character of your relationship with the person you lose. Losing someone you love could mean a spouse, a parent — or a child. The impact on the individual plunged into grief will be enormous, but will be unique to you, and likely very unique to the particular character of the relationship you have had with the person whom you have lost.

The Physical Experience of Grief

As Dr. Therese Rando shows us, grief has a physical dimension, manifesting in deep ways in the body.

These include weeping and sighing, headaches, which can be severe, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, physical weakness, sensations of heaviness, aches, pains, and other stress-related ailments.

Emotional Experiences of Grief

Coping with the death of a loved one is a formidable emotional experience. There are usually intense feelings of sadness and yearning. Less common, but still within normal expectation are feelings of worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, and, not infrequently, guilt.

Detachment and Isolation

When experiencing grief, a person can often feel detached from others, and can want to isolate her- or himself from social contact. Other forms of behaviour that just seem to be abnormal for you may also appear.

Grief and Meaning

A few days ago, I attended a screening of the film Jackie, centered on the experience and memories of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In my opinion, this is a film of extraordinary emotional power, which deals with the experience of grief in a gripping and profoundly human way.

WARNING: THIS VIDEO MAY CONTAIN DISTURBING ELEMENTS, ESPECIALLY FOR TRAUMA SURVIVORS

Jackie shows many deep truths about grief. Above all, it shows how, like almost no other experience, grief opens up profound questions of meaning at the heart of our existence. Wrestling with these questions can be a very central aspect of the experience of grief.

It’s an entirely normal and understandable that, in the face of the loss of a loved one, the individual questions: why he or she has sustained this loss; what possible purpose such pain and suffering could serve; and, in conjunction with this, questions about the purpose of life, and the meaning we are to assign to death.

As Jackie also eloquently shows, it also contains a very crucial question, one that matters to us perhaps more than any: What is the meaning of the beloved’s life? We are confronted with this question both consciously and unconsciously, and it is often reflected in dreams experienced during the time of loss.

Grief and the Unconscious (Dreams)

Dreams do occur in grief; dreams of great power and vividness. Some are related to the trauma of loss, while others seem much more connected to the psyche’s attempts to make meaning out of what has happened.

As Jung’s associate Marie-Louise von Franz noted in her book On Dreams and Death,

[Whenever humans are confronted with] something mysterious, unknown… [the] unconscious produces symbolic, mythical, that is, archetypal, models…. In principle, individuation dreams do not differ in their archetypal symbolism from death dreams.

So, it seems that ultimately, the human psyche symbolically portrays the death of the individual as another stage in the psychic growth of the individual. The meaning that each of us assigns to this will probably depend on our individual beliefs about ultimate things and human destiny.

Creative, highly supportive depth psychotherapy can assist in the difficult process of coping with the death of a loved one, and of making that process part of individuation, which is our becoming who we most fundamentally are.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: © Creative Commons Julie Jordan Scott ; ;
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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