Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Anger Issues In Middle and Later Life

April 30th, 2018 · anger issues in

It’s not unusual for people to encounter anger issues in midlife, and throughout the second half of life.

anger issues in

Anger may not LOOK like anger…

Sometimes, people have issues with anger without even realizing it.

Often, we associate anger with childhood, or with adolescence.  Yet adults often carry considerable anger, for a lot of varied reasons.  Depending on the individual’s life journey, awareness of  this anger can become particularly acute during the midlife years, or at later points in the life journey.

What Does Anger Look Like?

Anger appears in ways that you might not expect!  A person may be extremely busy, as a way of defending oneself against having time to feel anything.  Workaholism and codependency (always being focused on the needs of others) are often powerful defenses against feeling difficult emotions, like anger.

As leading trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk continually tells us, the body tells the story.  Excessive muscular tension is often behind tense jaws, continually tense stomach, or upper back pain.  And excessive muscular tension can have everything to with anger that is repressed, as can nervous habits like nail biting, pulling out hairs, or picking at your skin.

Also, chronic pain or ongoing fatigue can be related to repressed anger, as can always being sick with colds or flu.  Repressed anger can lead to anxiety interfering with sleep and impairing the immune system.  Various kinds of addiction — shopping, exercise, food, internet gaming, porn — can all be ways of distracting ourselves from inner pain, which can often be associated with anger.

Anger: Not Just a Male Thing

In our culture, it’s still more acceptable for men to express anger than it is for women.  However, this doesn’t mean that women experience less anger than men.  It may be more of a process for women to get into the feeling of their anger, though, because there are many cultural taboos standing in the way of its expression.  Yet, if anger goes unacknowledged and unexpressed, in individuals of either sex, it can have a lot of negative impacts.

Anger Issues In the Second Half of Life

Many factors can contribute to anger issues in middle-aged or older people.  Some of these have long roots in our lives.  The individual’s early family environment may have given him or her the sense that expressing anger is dangerous, if there was ongoing serious family conflict.  Or, a family environment where emotions were rarely or never expressed, or led to punishment or rejection can give the individual the sense that expression of strong emotions like anger will lead to rejection by loved ones — leading the individual to shut off their emotions, and quite possibly experience depression.

Yet, at midlife, or at later points, or during major life transitions, there may be plenty of experiences that generate anger.  Just a few are listed below.

  • Work.  Today work environments are in constant flux.  People deal with constant change, and the degradation of meaningful work or work social experiences into something much less meaningful, for any of  a number of reasons, including takeovers, corporate re-organizations, role change and job loss.
  • Physical Health.  Changes in physical health or capability, issues of pain or physical limitation — these are all often experienced from midlife onward, and can all lead to significant anger and a deep sense of loss.
  • Family Issues.  A wide range of issues, including spousal health, divorce and issues with children, including adult children, may all leave the individual dealing with significant anger.
  • Sense of Regret; Feelings of Unlived Life.  It’s quite common for people at midlife and later to experience a sense of regret for directions not taken in life.  It’s not uncommon for individuals to feel angry about particular events or even about the entire course that their lives have taken.

Anger and Individuation

Depth psychotherapists take the individual’s experience of anger in middle and later life very seriously.  For many health-related and emotional reasons, it’s important that this anger be dealt with in safe and life-giving ways.

Depth psychotherapy works with the individual to identify creative and generative possibilities that might actually emerge from his or her anger.  It seeks to understand the energy in the anger, and then go further, by asking the question “where does the energy in the anger want to flow?”

This can often be a key part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Mic445 (Creative Commons Licence) ; Nathan Borror (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Depression and Anxiety Symptoms and Your Personal Journey

April 23rd, 2018 · depression and anxiety symptoms

Depression and anxiety symptoms are far more closely related than may at first appear.  What might such symptoms mean for your personal journey?

depression and anxiety symptoms

Research in recent years has shown that there is great overlap and interconnection between depression and anxiety.  How do depression and anxiety symptoms fit in to our journey towards wholeness?
There are actually two important things to be aware of in this regard.  One is that depression and anxiety are not discrete things. The best research indicates that they are really are two different aspects or forms of the same underlying issue.
Second, in the eyes of many experts, depression and anxiety symptoms are not really a disease.  They are really signs that key needs of the individual are going unmet.  Some psychologists would regard those as social or relational needs.  Depth psychotherapy would see these needs somewhat more broadly, in terms of the need for good relationship, certainly, but also in terms of a need for security and a sense of control of one’s environment, a need for self-esteem and self compassion, and, above all, to a sense of connection to meaning in one’s life.

Anxiety and Depression: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Clinical psychologist Michael Yapko states, “The shared cornerstone of anxiety and depression is the perceptual process of overestimating the risk in a situation and underestimating personal resources for coping.”  Also anxiety and depression both tend to make us avoid situations that create fear and discomfort, when we need the opposite: to find the resources that help in dealing with and moving through such situations.  One common type of situation that may be connected to anxiety and depression would be social encounters that the individual finds difficult.

Turning to Face Anxiety and Depression

In order to move through symptoms of depression and anxiety, we have to face and to explore them.  This can be challenging.  Depth therapists know that the strong negative feelings coming from depression and anxiety can easily make us avoid them.

To truly look anxiety or depression in the face requires self acceptance and self-compassion.  It can often be very hard to accept ourselves, or feel compassion towards ourselves.  Often, this has to do with hard lessons that we have be taught through shame.  We can be shamed at any point in our life journey, but some of the most toxic shaming that we experience may well be in our early lives.

Finding a Way Beyond Shame and Self-Rejection

Shame is an extremely difficult emotion for people, most of the time.  Most people want to avoid it at all costs.  When we need to deal with our shame, there can be great value in a good, supportive depth psychotherapy relationship, enabling the individual to support her- or himself, and to find compassion for themselves.

Jung, and Listening to the Exiled Voices

Renowned psychiatrist C.G. Jung went through a difficult period, in 1913 – 1919,  after ending his professional relationship with Freud.  He underwent a dramatic midlife transition, and also experienced much depression.  At that time, he explored many things in his psyche that he had not confronted previously.  In his writings, Jung makes it clear that his encounter with these hitherto unknown parts of himself actually enabled him to find a sense of hope and forward direction for his life.

depression and anxiety symptoms

Listening to Our Inner Life with Compassion

Similarly, dealing with our depression and anxiety symptoms requires us to listen to parts of ourselves that we would rather avoid.  It requires listening with understanding and self-compassion.  As the poet Rilke tells us, “Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

A key part of a depth psychotherapy approach to dealing with depression and anxiety symptoms involves listening to parts of ourselves that actually do feel helpless, and that are in need of our deepest compassion.  It also often involves parts of ourselves that carry unacceptable emotions, like rage, or jealousy, envy or shame.

Often we need the help of an experienced depth psychologist to find, listen to, have compassion for, and protect in the most appropriate way possible, those deeply fragile parts of ourselves, and to listen to their inner wisdom.  This is an essential part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Topher McCulloch (Creative Commons Licence) ; Nathan Borror (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Unconditional Self Acceptance? Approaches to Renewal, Part 4

April 16th, 2018 · unconditional self acceptance

Unconditional self acceptance, the ability to just be compassionate to everything in ourselves, can be a powerful approach to renewal.  As Jung noted, though, it can also be very difficult!

unconditional self acceptance

As with everything we’ve examined in this Approaches to Renewal Series, unconditional self-acceptance would take us to a different perspective on our lives than we often usually have.  In our normal way of mental functioning, we’re very ready to cut off or block out or censor parts of ourselves that might not “make the cut” in terms of who we feel that we “ought” to be. 
We often want to see ourselves as unfailingly strong, as moral, and as possessing no significant wounds or flaws.  Yet the reality of who we are can often make us confront truths about our lives that we find hard look at.

Everything Within Ourselves Belongs!

A remarkable quotation from respected Jungian analyst Robert Johnson powerfully highlights this whole issue of self-acceptance:

There is nothing in the psyche that doesn’t belong, though it may be expressed in a clumsy way or at an appropriate time.  The key is getting things on the correct level.  The more our potentials can be honoured in some way, the more whole and satisfying our lives become.  To redeem unlived life we need to change the question from ‘What should I do to get rid of this wrong thing in me?’ to ‘Why is the right thing in the wrong place‘ [Italics mine].

Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Living Your Unlived Life

So, this is quite a different message than we often hear from various voices in our culture.  So often, we are caught in the belief that there are wrong ideas, or wrong parts of ourselves that we must amputate, to deal with issues such as depression.  There are many things that are wrong with such an approach, and one of the most important is that — it doesn’t work.

What We Resist, Persists

One of Jung’s most famous sayings is that, “What we resist, persists.”  He stresses that, if we have troublesome thoughts or feelings, or predispositions to do certain things that we really don’t like, and we struggle mightily to rid ourselves of them– we’re bound for disappointment!  The more we seek to push these thoughts out of mind, and to label them as unacceptable, “wrong”, “bad” or “unhelpful”, and try to shut them out, the more they will find a way to seep back in through the cracks!

We cannot deal with unacceptable parts of ourselves by rejecting them and pushing them away.  So, what are we to do?

The parts of ourselves that we wall off are often the parts that carry healing and life

Accepting the “Unacceptable” Parts

There is an approach that may seem naive, yet it carries within it a great potential for healing.  We can accept those parts of ourselves, seek to understand them, and find a way to dialogue with them.  To have compassion for the rejected “unacceptable” parts of ourselves is one of the most healing gifts that we can give to ourselves.

Most of us have aspects of ourselves that we find hard to put up with, and that we wish would just go away!  Perfectionism, compulsive behaviours, self-medication, unwanted aggressive behaviours, persistent fears — and many more persistent behaviours or thought patterns are all things that many people wish that they could get rid of, but find they can’t.  To accept the unacceptable impulse or part of ourselves, and find an appropriate place or expression of it in our lives can bring a tremendous amount of positive value into our lives.

The journey towards wholeness in depth psychotherapy involves developing a compassionate acceptance of our previously unacceptable parts, and moving beyond shame, to listen to our own unknown or repressed voices.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: bark (Creative Commons Licence) ; bobistraveling (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Who am I Really? Approaches to Renewal, Part 3

April 2nd, 2018 · who am I really

“Who am I really?” If you “Google” this phrase, you get over 3 billion hits.  It’s a central question, reaching right to the core of our lives.

who am I really

As we continue from Part 1 and Part 2 in this Approaches to Renewal series, we might ask, “Why does this question of real, genuine identity matter?”
In part, the answer rests on the human need for belonging or inclusion.  It is certainly true that, as the late U. Michigan  Prof. Christopher Peterson succinctly put it, other people matter.  Bonds with other people, and a sense of belonging represent fundamental human needs.  This sense of belonging helps to create a sense of value and meaning in life, and can help with the pain in life.  Belonging does give us a certain kind of identity, which is very important.
Yet there are other pressing questions for the individual around identity, represented by questions like, “Who am I really?”  While a sense of belonging brings many benefits, at some point, for many people, the question becomes “So, this is who the group is… but who am I?”  There can be a sense of needing to understand that “I” — and to live out of it.

The Centrality of “I”

We need a fixed point from which to understand the world as it happens around us.  That is our subjective self, which depth psychotherapists call the ego, and which we usually call the “I”.  As Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson tells us, “Like a dancer or a child on a merry-go-round, we must fix our eyes on something solid so as not to become dizzy or lose our balance.”

We need this subjective to make our way in the world.  In the West, at least, this sense of self or “I” is a centrally important thing to the sense of value or meaning in life.  Yet, as many philosophers and others have pointed out, it’s hard sometimes to pin down what it is to which this sense of “I” refers.

who am I really

The Paradox of Identity

Johnson describes for us what he calls the “paradox of identity”.  He observes that we go through life trying to answer this question of “Who am I really?”, and,

As we create ourselves, it is inevitable that life will move into particular structures and forms….  Our choices become increasingly restricted as we rely on what is familiar and as we strive to be consistent with who we already are, and how others expect us to be….  We seek structure, form and meaning, and then we become limited by our structures, forms and meanings….  [T]he ego with which we identify is an accumulation of old habits conditioned by past experience…

Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Ph. D. Living Your Unlived Life

So, this is the paradox: we seek to find an identity by doing, thinking and being things that seem to us to be consistent with our understanding of “who we really are”.  Yet, by doing this, we end up getting stuck and confined to the parts of ourselves that we have already seen — and we end up alienated from the parts of ourselves that we have yet to get to know.

Wholeness vs. Provisional Identity

Jungians often emphasize the wholeness of the personality, stressing that there are always parts of ourselves that remain to be explored.  They stress that our idea of who we are is never as large or comprehensive as who we really are.  And, as with all depth psychotherapy, they stress that there is healing and wholeness to be found in those parts of ourselves that we have not yet explored, or lived out.  For the journey towards wholeness into those unknown parts of the Self brings the promise of freedom, self-compassion and meaning.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Alessandra del Tufo (Creative Commons Licence) ; John Eisenschenk (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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