Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Severe Emotional Distress: It’s a Part of Human LIfe

November 12th, 2018 · severe emotional distress

Severe emotional distress is a normal part of human experience, even though we might sometimes act like it isn’t.

severe emotional distress
I’m writing this on November 11th, when we commemorate the sacrifices of all those Canadians who served in the military and experienced war or conflict. This year saw something very significant happen in Canada’s remembrance of our veterans.
For the first time ever, Canada’s Silver Star mother, Anita Cenerini, was the mother of a soldier, Pte. Thomas Welch, who took his own life on a Canadian Forces base after returning from overseas combat duty.  She worked tirelessly for 13 years after her son’s death to gain official recognition that his suicide was directly connected to traumatic experience incurred in the Afghanistan war zone.
The recognition of Ms. Cenerini as a Silver Star mother marks a very important step in our growth as a nation.  We have just marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1.  Many soldiers came back from that war suffering from “shell shock” as it was called then, and struggled with the stigma of being perceived as weak or cowardly.  Canada now recognizes that Pte. Welch’s death was the direct result of untreated severe emotional distress from traumatic experience in active military service.  This is genuine growth in our consciousness as a nation.

The Pain of Severe Emotional Distress

We still see a certain tendency in our culture to regard severe emotional stress as some kind of a flaw or deficit in the individual who has it.  This is often true even when we ourselves carry the severe emotional stress.  As a therapist, I’ve often been privileged to witness individuals sharing their own experience. Often peoples’ stories involves a high level of emotional suffering.  Yet often the individual will follow up by assuring me that he or she is weak, or self-indulgent, or telling me, in a phrase well-known to depth psychotherapists, that “lots of people are worse off than me!”

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Such individuals are right, of course.  In almost all cases, it is possible to find someone somewhere who has had it worse.  Yet, recognizing that doesn’t change anything about the fact that the individual sitting in front of me is dealing with a harrowing amount of severe emotional distress.  We sometimes need to just face up to that fact, in a self-compassionate way.

Unacknowledged Severe Emotional Distress

If we deny the reality of our emotional pain, if we minimize it, or find some other way to run away without dealing with it, we can expect to pay a heavy psychological price.  We can certainly find ourselves experiencing intense anxiety or depression.  We may also find that our lives get diminished in a range of ways, as when we end up running to addictions — to food, alcohol, drugs the internet, work or a whole range of other things — as a means of coping with severe emotional distress.  Or, we may simply lead very small lives, in an effort to avoid situations where we might re-experience our pain.
How can we acknowledge our pain, and move towards finding some sort of healing or growth, without being overwhelmed by it?

Severe Emotional Stress & the Journey Towards Wholeness

There is a great deal of research evidence to back up what Jungian psychotherapy and other depth psychotherapies already know from clinical experience.  As UCLA Prof. Annette Stanton et al. have established through research in the area of physical illness, actively processing and expressing emotions reduces distress.  Conversely, avoiding and denying strong negative emotion can easily lead to worsening symptoms.  Very often, expression and processing of severe emotional distress is best done in a controlled, safe, accepting environment, and many have found that depth psychotherapy can provide an environment that facilitates healing and allows the individual to move more fully into his or her life.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Ben Seidelman (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Many Faces of Fear of Failure — and How To Get Past Them

November 5th, 2018 · fear of failure

A culture like ours, which so prizes and praises accomplishment, has a shadow side; among other things, it appears in our fear of failure.

fear of failure
As depth psychotherapists are acutely aware, the psychological atmosphere that most of us inhabit in North America is charged with tension.  That’s about a sense of opportunity, at times, to be sure, but in our particular contemporary time, many of us have an especially strong sense that our world is full of risk.  For many, this reality can generate a strong sense of fear of failure.  This fear can be so intense that it can pull people into a place where they are frozen into inaction, afraid to attempt anything that moves life forward.

Everyone Experiences Fear of Failure

We’ve all had experiences of failure.  If you’re anything like me, you’re probably had them in some high stakes situations, where you really wanted to succeed.  If you have, you recognize that failure can bring a range of emotions including sorrow, anger or rage, deep regret, a sense of overwhelm, confusion and disorientation, or feelings of frustration and powerlessness, among others.  Two of the most powerful feelings that failure can bring are a sense of self-recrimination, and above all shame.  It is this last, corrosive feeling that is most potently tied to the sense of fear of failure.

To experience shame in a very limited, moderate way is one thing.  To know it at its extreme, for which we use the expression to be ashamed of oneself — that’s quite another.  It’s that kind of shame that is associated with failure in the experience of the fear of failure.

Jungians know that shame of this kind is intimately involved with the part of the personality that Jung called the shadow.  Jung defined the shadow, broadly speaking, as that part of our personality that we do not wish to acknowledge.   Failure can be viewed as an invitation to accept, and love, those parts of ourselves that we would rather not acknowledge.

Fear of Failure Can Lead to Disengagement

If fear of failure, and the shame that often underlies it remain unaddressed, they can take a really deep hold in a person’s life. This is particularly true in the aftermath of a person encountering a sizable setback.  Such a setback can  be occupational, romantic, financial, or of some other kind.  The individual may come to avoid challenges, or even avoid the mainstream of life.  He or she may find him- or herself living a very small-scale life — all due to fear of failure.

What’s more, the fear of being a failure can intensify as we age.  As we move past midlife, and into the second half of life, the individual may even be consumed by the sense that he or she has been a failure.  This fear or sense of complete failure can manifest as something truly devastating in the individual’s life.

Fail Better!

Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No Matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

~ Samuel Beckett

As famed neuroscientist Gregory Berns emphasizes, the paralyzing power of fear of failure is often rooted in the sense of condemnation and shame from others that we anticipate experiencing if we should fail.

What will people think of me if I fail?” — this thought encapsulates much that lies at the core of the fear of shame that mires individuals in the ruts of life.  It paralyses them from trying the things that something deep within them calls to them to try.

C.G. Jung pointed us in another direction, the path of what he called “the law of fidelity to our own being.”  This means trying things that we genuinely feel drawn to, and moving beyond our fear of the condemnation of others, and our self-condemnation.  It means moving to a place where even failure can be seen as growth, and as life-giving — in Samuel Beckett’s words, to fail better.

This is a life-giving place, but it may be a part of the journey towards wholeness that we’re required to travel pretty much on our own.  It’s at this point that truly supportive depth psychotherapist may be of tremendous value.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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