Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

How to Deal with Adversity

January 28th, 2019 · how to deal with adversity

At times, we all struggle with how to deal with adversity. What can help us get through fundamentally difficult situations in life?

how to deal with adversity

Adversity can take many different forms, that vary a lot depending on people’s age, life situation and particular life experiences. I’ve previously written about emotional pain, which certainly can be a very great source of adversity, but it’s far from being the only kind.

The Many Faces of Adversity

Adversity is something that can come in many shapes and sizes. Starting from relatively early ages, often in our early teens, humans become aware of adversity in the lives of people close to themselves, and often in their own lives.

Teens begin to realize that people face adversity in very different ways. As they mature, they discern that sometimes people face and grow through adversity, even when it’s incredibly severe. They also realize that sometimes individuals can be devastated by their adversity.

The question of how to deal with adversity becomes very real for them. Like all of us, they start to develop their own approaches to dealing with life’s most difficult situations, on both a conscious and an unconscious level.

How Adversity Can Take Us Down

The adverse situations in life can have a very negative effect on us. They can play a major role in addiction, self-harm, helplessness, and many other types of difficulties.

As Jungian analyst Gary Trosclair describes, we often have a response to adverse situations in our lives on two levels. He describes how the initial reaction to emotional and adverse situations is a primary emotion like anger, sadness or anxiety. What can then make things a great deal worse is a secondary reaction that can involve a strong, tense reaction that takes us to a place of defensive body postures, secretion of harmful amounts of cortisol, and generally giving way to the feeling that we’re confronting absolute disaster.

However, as Trosclair tells us, and University of Pennsylvania’s Prof. Scott Barry Kaufman affirms, we don’t have to just sit in this destructive, corrosive place. There are creative alternatives.

Creative Responses to Adversity

One possible response to the question “How to deal with adversity?” is through exploration of the creative dimensions of the Self.

Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to hear prominent Jungian analyst Kathrin Asper lecture on the life and work of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who used her creativity to help her deal with adversity. Kahlo suffered numerous highly adverse experiences, including polio in her childhood, a nearly fatal accident, intense chronic pain and an extremely difficult marriage. Kahlo explored these experiences through her art, and was courageous enough to let her deepest pain be the foundation of her creative work. Through her art, she was able to find meaning in her most deeply painful experiences.

It’s striking that, in his book Wired to Create, Prof. Kaufman also sees the life of Frida Kahlo as illustrating the role of creativity in dealing with adversity. As they state:

Art born of adversity is an almost universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent creative minds…. Much of the music we listen to, the plays we see, and the paintings we look at—among other forms of art—are attempts to find meaning in human suffering. Art seeks to make sense of everything from life’s smallest moments of sadness to its most earth-shattering tragedies.

Nor is it just artists who respond creatively to suffering. We can see much the same in the vast creativity of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in response to the adversity of ALS, and in C.G. Jung’s Red Book, which is a response to a harrowing psychological crisis he experienced in midlife transition.

I can’t speak for you, but I’m no Kahlo or Hawking or Jung. But each of us can still use our creative capacity as a means of answering the question of how to deal with adversity. Instead of just succumbing to the type of secondary reaction Trosclair describes, I can make the choice of searching for a creative response to my adversity. I can get very curious about my reaction to the problems in my life, and I seek different ways to respond to those situations. I can also find ways to express what I’m feeling through writing, drawing, painting, or other forms of self-expression.

Depth psychotherapy can often greatly assist the individual in responding to the adverse experiences of life in creative, meaningful and life-giving ways.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS: Pat David (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

What Are the Goals of Therapy? Why Do It?

January 21st, 2019 · goals of therapy, goals of therapy, goals of therapy

Sometimes psychotherapists are not overly clear about the goals of therapy. Why should I bother getting therapy, anyway? What is it going to do for me?

Vague messages appear in mass media about the purposes of therapy. These might convey a sense that “therapy will help you to be a happier person” or “therapy will improve your mental health”. But what kind of a concrete difference will doing therapy really make in my life?

Therapy: Not Just About What’s Wrong with You

In earlier times, therapy was thought to be exclusively about healing an illness. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, was known to say things like the following;

A layman will no doubt find it hard to understand how pathological disorders of the body and mind can be eliminated by ‘mere’ words.

Freud certainly thought that the function of “talk therapy” was to treat and heal “pathological disorders”. He has been followed in this by many different types of therapists with very different approaches, who all have felt that the role of therapy is to heal mental sickness.

Beyond Healing Illness

But that’s certainly not true of all psychotherapies. So-called humanistic psychologies have long had a different view of their task. We see that in the following quote:

In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I heal treat or change this person? Now I would phrase the question this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his or her own personal growth?

~Carl R. Rogers

In more recent times, we have the assertions of the “positive psychology” movement which imply that psychotherapy should be focused on

…valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present)…. the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom.

~Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi

Jung’s View of the Goals of Therapy

Much is commendable in humanistic and positive psychology. However, as impressive as these views are, there’s still something missing. In my opinion, C.G. Jung, who actually predates many of these figures, captures much of that something when he tells us that

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.

The underlying idea in this quote is that each of us has a fundamental identity hidden in the core of our being that we are trying to live out. In the process of finding my true identity through the course of all the experiences and major transitions of my life’s journey, I gain a sense of my individual place in the world, and of the unique meaning of my particular life.

True therapy, effective therapy (or analysis as Jungians call it) is about discovering the human being that I truly am. The central goals of therapy are all intimately related to the living out of my true identity in the world.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS: Rick Obst (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

The New Year and the Psychology of Hope

January 7th, 2019 · psychology of hope

The early days of the New Year confront us with the question of the future, and the psychology of hope. Where can I find solid hope for my future?

psychology of hope

New Year’s: Crossing the Bridge to the Future

In our era, people face substantial anxiety about the future.  We’re bombarded with news and information from many directions — economic, environmental and political, among other sources — that often seem bleak. Additionally, each individual has to deal with their own particular life circumstances.  Where can we find some source or sense of abiding hope that will help us to move forward into a future that seems welcoming, that seems to be a place where we would actually want to live?

The Dominant Stories

That sense of hope may be difficult to find in some of the dominant stories that our culture gives us about what is really meaningful and valuable in life.

Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics, is an expert on the measurement of happiness.  He recently wrote an article in the Guardian Newspaper entitled

The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet?

Dolan is using the word “myth” here in a different way than Jungians use it, but his concern is that we can come under the influence of harmful stories, which he also calls narrative traps, such as the stories in our culture around wealth and success, that tell us that, no matter how much we have of these things, we ought to be reaching for more.  As he puts it, these stories tell us that “ever more happiness is achieved with ever more money and more markers of success”.  Dolan stresses that, beyond a certain point, this just isn’t true, and that the “happiness hit” that you gain from more money and more status actually gets smaller and smaller the more you get.

Dolan suggests that to be happier we need to move from a culture of “more please” to one of “just enough”.

We might agree with Dolan that the “more please” approach doesn’t really bring happiness — or hope.  Yet Dolan doesn’t seem to give us anything to put in its place that really could provide valid hope.  The idea of “just enough” may give us a sense of moderation or responsible environmental stewardship — but is that really something to live for?

What Really Brings Us Hope?

Humans fundamentally need hope!  This is especially true at the times in life that involve major life transitions.  As Paul Tillich told us, “Without hope, the tension of our life toward the future would vanish, and with it, life itself.”

However, we can’t go to the store, and just pick up hope off the shelf.  Jung stresses that, “Faith, hope, love and insight are the highest achievements of human effort.”  Contrary to what many voices in our society might tell us, we actually have to put concrete effort into creating hope in our lives.  As the positive psychologists would tell us, we have to live an engaged life, where we use our strengths and virtues to gain genuine gratification in the main areas of our lives.  We also have to use our abilities in the service of something much larger than ourselves.

How Do I Find My Hope?

All of this sounds good in general, but how do I go about finding what genuinely gives me, my individual self, hope?  “There is no recipe for living that suits all cases” Jung tells us, meaning that I have to go on an individual journey to find out what I need to live my own true life in my authentic way.  What works for other people, and brings meaning and hope for them, may be different than what works for me.  Again, as Jung asserted in one of his most profound quotations,

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.

The task of finding what gives us a truly individual sense of meaning and hope will take our real effort, and in many senses is the masterwork of a lifetime.  Yet we can begin to search for what is fulfilling right now, right where we are.  Often working  with a skilled depth psychotherapist can be an important part of opening up our individual journey to hope and meaning.

With best wishes for a New Year of Meaning and Hope!

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Daniel Jolivet (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments