Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Why do People Self Sabotage? And How Can You Stop?

October 30th, 2017 · why do people self sabotage

Why do people self sabotage?  It’s an immensely important question for many people caught in self-defeating patterns.  And it’s a question with very individual answers.

why do people self sabotage

To at least some extent, all of us know the experience of a pattern of behaviour that prevents us from getting what we really want.  For many, such behaviour is connected with anxiety and depression.  Sometimes it can be a huge mystery to the individual as to why she or he does things that prevent him or her from realizing key desires and aspirations.  Sometimes, self-defeating behavior can actually be very important as it takes us back, and forces us to look at the question of what is it that we really do want?

What Does Self-Sabotage Look Like?

Self-sabotage occurs when an individual does things that prevent her or him from living out deeply held values, or that thwart the sincere aspirations of the individual.

There are quite a number of areas where people engage in self-sabotaging behaviour.  Some of the most prominent include: procrastination; self-medication using food, shopping, video games or the internet; imposing unconscious limitations on oneself often through excessive modesty, or, paradoxically, its opposite; pursuing unattainable goals

Why Do People Self-Sabotage? Often It’s About Uncomfortable Emotions

These behaviour patterns are only a representative sample.  Jungian depth psychotherapists would see them as all having unique characteristics, and as part of the unique life patterns of individual humans.  Yet they all tend to have one thing in common.  Very often these patterns of behaviour have to do with avoiding or evading uncomfortable emotional states.  Often, one way or another, those uncomfortable emotions may be connected to our self-esteem, and how we feel about ourselves in important ways.

When we procrastinate, for instance, it’s often because some other activity feels more pleasant than the task we have at hand — and this may be particularly true if our perfectionism and high standards make us feel bad about the quality of job we’re doing when we actually work on the task, because it’s “not good enough” or “not perfect”.  Similarly, an excessively modest person may hurt her- or himself by not putting the best foot forward.  Yet, that behaviour may save the person from the risk of repeating very painful experiences from the past in which they did put forward their best efforts, only to have them mercilessly attacked and criticized by someone whose approval and validation they desperately wanted and needed.

Introjection and Self-Sabotage

Depth psychotherapists know that messages that others have given to us at vulnerable points in our lives can lead us to self-sabotage.  Someone who has heard endlessly as a child that they are unintelligent and that no one is interested in what they have to say may want to share their thoughts and ideas with others.  On a conscious level, they may well believe that what they have to say is good, valid and worthwhile.  Yet they may face opposition from a very strong, quite possibly unconscious inner force that keeps them from making their contribution or speaking their truth.  Only by recognizing the power of this kind of largely unconscious messaging will the individual who has been subjected to it gradually learn to be able to protect themselves against it, to push back and to speak in their own voice.

Freedom From Self-Sabotage

To become free of these kinds of self-sabotaging behaviours can often be a matter of crucial importance to those in the grips of self sabotage.  Often an understanding of the unconscious forces at work can give the individual the necessary insight, and the necessary self-compassion to move forward on the path to freedom.

The goal of depth psychotherapy in dealing with the question “Why do people self sabotage?” is to give the individual the understanding and means to find the freedom to no longer be in conflict with themselves.   That understanding and power is rooted in the unique characteristics of the individual, and their unique, particular journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Like Gord Downie: Spirituality and Meaning in Crisis & Transition

October 23rd, 2017 · spirituality and meaning

Spirituality and meaning can seem fluffy and otherworldly, until we see how these things apply concretely to someone’s real, down-to-earth life.

spirituality and meaning

Canadians have had a real, very public opportunity to do this through witnessing the last period of the life of singer Gord Downie, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2016, and who died on October 17, 2017 at the age of 53. Downie was the leader of Canadian alt-rock band The Tragically Hip, whose music has succeeded in becoming a fundamental part of the national fabric of Canada.

Downie’s Focus

Downie identified himself with key social causes and commitments, and especially stood in solidarity with Canada’s First Nations, as in his participation in the Great Moon Gathering of the Cree people. Later, after his diagnosis, he became even more focused and passionate in his commitments, including founding The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to support reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and to promote healing for First Nations people around the immense damage done by residential schools in Canada.

Not that Downie wasn’t clear in his priorities and commitments prior to that. Yet, when he knew that his time in this life was limited, he chose to intensify his efforts around the commitments and connections to people that he found particularly meaningful. Why do people do that?

Meaning and Permanence

Depth psychotherapists are aware that, in situations of crisis and transition, and, often, when confronted with their own mortality, people will seek to connect with some over-arching value, commitment or meaning.

Such values may be explicitly, conventionally religious. Religious tradition and symbolism do promise connection to a stable, and lasting reality in life. When those symbols work in a positive way, people are given a sense of grounding and belonging in the universe, which is essential when we are confronting truly major, life-changing transitions — including the awareness of our own impermanence and mortality.

Yet, it’s important to realize that there are other symbols and traditions that may give such a sense of connection and rooting to something unchangeable for the individual. These can revolve around key commitments to specific people whom we love, who may or may not be biological or conjugal family, key groups or causes we connect with, the natural world — a huge range of things.

Spirituality and Meaning: Put Away The Stained Glasses

This word “spirituality” is a strange creature. It includes conventional religiosity, but in fact the word is much broader than that. Some would include yoga, meditation practice or T’ai Chi, but it’s much broader than even that. The word spirituality concerns transcendence, by which we mean something with the capacity to take the isolated individual human being and to connect him or her with a significance and meaning that is far greater than the individual ego.

When we reflect on this, we find ourselves in some places that are perhaps far from conventional western religiosity. It’s important that we stay open, to what may be beckoning us to connect. It may be time to put away our stained glasses, so that we can see better, and have awareness of how what Jungians refer to as the transcendent function, which is continually trying to bring the different aspects of our being into connection with each other, is working in our own real lives.

Spirituality and Meaning, and the Process of Depth Psychotherapy

As we examine the life journey of Gord Downie, from a depth psychotherapy perspective, we have that strong sense of a life that moves towards a pattern of connection with spirituality and meaning in this broader sense. It is the life of an artist who finds vitality and connection in — admittedly unconventional — symbols that connect the ego to the higher self. In Downie’s case, the symbols he explores in his art and in his commitment to people and causes resonated at a deep level with the lives of many of us.

Yet, each of us carries within us a profound yearning for the type of personal symbols and meaning that Gord Downie ultimately found. As Jungian Andrew Samuels tells us, the transcendent function does not operate without aim or purpose. Often, in the second half of life, or in the midst of major life transitions, it can become a matter of great importance to connect to this reality of spirituality and meaning.

The goal of depth psychology is to enable not only artists and public figures, but all people, to connect to this vital realm of symbolic reality, and thus to our own personal depths, and to a sense of connection with the depths of the collective unconscious, and the broader, deeper Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Masculine Traits vs Feminine Traits: Should They Matter to You?

October 16th, 2017 · masculine traits vs feminine traits

In discussing “masculine traits vs feminine traits”, I should point out that I really dislike that word “versus” in that phrase.

masculine traits vs feminine traits

It seems that, even today in our culture, femininity and masculinity are so often seen as incompatible opposites, when they should be seen as complementing each other. We often talk in “politically correct” ways about femininity and masculinity, trying to be very sensitive and careful about our language, yet, often, on the unconscious level that depth psychotherapy addresses, we are still carrying deep conflicts about the place of masculinity and femininity in our culture — and in our own lives.

The “Battle of the Sexes”: Is It Over Yet?

Recently, I saw the film “Battle of the Sexes”, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell (Dirs. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris; Fox Searchlight). This is the story of the famed 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King, then champion women’s tennis player and Bobby Riggs, former triple champion at Wimbledon.

In many respects the film transports us back to that 1973 world. Clearly, for many in that time, there was real resistance to women being in the working world, professional sports or any of a number of other kinds of endeavour. Steve Carrell’s Bobby Riggs character is full of bombastic sexist one-liners. We smile at them: it seems incredible to us that anyone could say such things publicly. Or, at least until very recently, it used to seem incredible that anyone could say such things.

Sobering Realities

Recent events are sobering. The last couple of weeks have seen the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, the former entertainment world giant now apparently undone by numerous allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and even outright rape. There seems to be very strong evidence that far too many people who could have spoken out turned a blind eye to this. This follows the actions of a U.S. presidential candidate caught not so long ago boasting of doing very much the same kinds of things and, like Weinstein, subject to allegations from many parties. In Canada, similar controversy swirled around broadcast personality Jian Ghomeshi not so long ago.

We live in an age that gives lip service to an attitude of equality of the sexes. We can reject figures like Bobby Riggs, with his boorishness and his sexism. Yet, in our own time, plenty of examples show how our society and many individuals within it continue to deny the validity of women’s perspectives. There is still widespread denial of women’s right to preserve appropriate boundaries with regard to their bodies, their sexuality and fundamental choices about how they live their lives. That this is the lived experience of very many individual women is a reality to which a vast number of psychotherapists can attest. We still see women dealing with these realities on a daily basis, as they negotiate key life transitions.

Masculine Traits vs. Feminine Traits: Is There a Better Way?

We need to accept that, in our culture, and within our unconscious minds, masculine strength, as defined by our culture, is still often put on a pedestal, while the feminine is associated with weakness, and is viewed with contempt. Ours is a society which exalts strength and power, and that shuns vulnerability and receptiveness. Not all cultures throughout human history have had this problem, but ours certainly does.

As a result, we live in a culture which still encourages men to ignore their emotional life, because having feelings would be to display weakness. This is still a culture that often shames boys growing up if they do show emotional vulnerability. A boy who is taught to regard his feelings as negligible, contemptible or shameful can easily respond negatively to women, who often show more openness to their feelings and vulnerable aspects, and who emphasize the importance of relationship and connection.

It’s not uncommon for a male to be accused of femininity or of being “not a man” if he expresses his feelings or acknowledges emotional pain. This outlook cripples men, alienating them from their own being, as they often become aware in midlife transition. It’s also closely associated with the tendencies that we have to devalue women. We still all deal with regarding the feminine as the mere absence of the masculine, rather than allowing particular women and their experience to have validity in its own right.

In our culture, when it comes to masculine traits vs feminine traits, as culturally defined, women and men would both benefit from an equal valuing of female and male experience. This is an area of on-going growth for our culture, and, if we are honest, it is most likely an on-going area of growth for each of us.

In the work of Jungian or depth psychotherapy, the opposition of masculine traits vs feminine traits disappears. Our on-going journey towards wholeness entails our acceptance of all of the “masculine” and “feminine” in others — and even more fundamentally in ourselves.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Tradition Meaning and Grounding for Your Life

October 2nd, 2017 · tradition meaning

“Tradition meaning and grounding” is a phrase that might conjure up some very staid images. Yet grounding and a sense of meaning are fundamental human needs — archetypal needs.

Food can be a powerful carrier of tradition…

Tradition is fundamental to our psychological health, and has its roots in archetype and the basic human need for meaning. Yet, tradition, which sometimes can seem so restrictive, can be lived out in ways that liberate us, and free us to be ourselves, in the best “tradition” of depth psychotherapy!
In Canada, we’re approaching the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which we celebrate considerably earlier than our American friends. Celebrating such a traditional holiday in 2017 brings up all kinds of issues. Is there any way to celebrate such holiday traditions, and to still be authentic, and truly ourselves?

Archetypal Roots of Tradition

From a Jungian perspective, we can say that most traditions in human life have an archetypal foundation. In holidays like Canadian or U.S. Thanksgiving, or the various harvest festivals celebrated worldwide, we certainly see an archetypal core to the celebration. The impulse to gratitude is fundamental in humans, whether it is expressed as gratitude to the ancestors, the spirits, the gods and goddesses, God or Goddess, or simply, the Universe or Life. From prehistoric times, humans have found ways to express their gratitude, and have found satisfaction, grounding, and perhaps even healing in doing so.

As with many characteristic human behaviours, traditions like Thanksgiving are tied to our need to feel rooted or grounded, or at home in the universe. They are also powerful forces that help us feel more connected to others, especially those close to us. There is also research, such as that of U. Minnesota’s Prof. Kathleen Vos and colleagues that shows that rituals of gratitude, or that are associated with positive occasions, just plain enhance our enjoyment of the event.

So, this urge to find tradition is deeply rooted in our conscious and unconscious minds, and our need to find a deep level of meaning in our lives.

Tradition Can be Powerfully Restrictive

tradition meaning

The shadow side of tradition, though, is that received forms of tradition may have exactly the reverse effect on people, and may make events seem meaningless. The received traditions for Thanksgiving or Hannakah or Christmas, for some people will be incredibly invigorating and full of life and good positive associations. For others these forms of tradition may feel shallow, meaningless, or worse, may even have negative or adverse associations. Traditions not firmly rooted in the psyche of the individual may make them feel like they’re trapped in the midst of a herd of sheep.

The Individual and Tradition

As applied to traditions like Thanksgiving, depth psychotherapy examines what traditional or ritual practices resonate with the individual. The focus is on what connects with her or his psyche both consciously, and in terms of deep unconscious connections or resonances, that are rooted in symbol or myth.

The individual may very well connect with the traditional symbolism of a holiday or festival. It may be very meaningful to an individual to have a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. In fact, that might well be the absolutely most meaningful way that the individual can keep the holiday. Such an individual should undoubtedly make turkey a central part of their holiday tradition!

Yet, for a considerable number of individuals the conventional symbolism of a holiday like Thanksgiving just doesn’t work. Yet tradition is important, as it provides grounding and meaningful connection to the human story and our shared collective unconscious stores of myth and symbol. So, it may be essential for the individual to work out their own unique expression of a tradition like Thanksgiving, which they then live out in connection with significant others in their lives. This might take surprisingly individual forms. Perhaps your family holiday repast may come to include a “traditional” Thanksgiving squash and duck pizza!

In the work of Jungian or depth psychotherapy, finding appropriate tradition meaning and grounding will often form the basis of a true expression of the individual self, rooted in psychological depth. This is all part of our on-going journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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