Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Spirituality and Depression: The Surprising Relationship

June 24th, 2019 · depression, spirituality and depression

Spirituality and depression are not discussed together too often, but probably they should be!

spirituality and depression
Some might even see spirituality as potentially banishing depression, but the relationship between the two is not nearly that simple. We often tend to see spirituality in terms of light, and possibly joy, and we can easily slip into tending to view it as almost a kind of “cure” for depression. Yet the relationship between depression and spirituality is subtle and complex.

Spirituality May Not “Cure” Depression

There are diverse opinions about whether spirituality and religion can assist people in dealing with depression. Some studies suggest that there is a positive link, but some recent studies have been more cautious in their findings.

A common thing in our time is to find people who would describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”. There is a movement in our time away from formalized belief systems in favour of various types of more personal spiritual exploration, characterized by activities such as yoga, meditation and even pilgrimages like the Camino de Santiago. SUch exploration can be a very common part of the midlife transition.

Some studies done on those who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” have found that there is a higher incidence of the symptoms of depression amongst those who would describe themselves as “spiritual”, but who don’t participate in formal religious institutions or activities, than in those who might describe themselves as more conventionally religious. “Spirituality” can sometimes tend to be a bit ungrounded, and a bit disconnected from the realities of living everyday life, in ways that may even actively contribute to a sense of loneliness and isolation.

How do we get to a spirituality that doesn’t contribute to depression, and that may even help us to overcome depression?

How Do I Deal with Spiritual Realities?

Jung saw spirit as a non-material aspect of human existence that can’t really be fully described or defined. Yet, he certainly didn’t feel that this elusive character means that spirit is unreal — far from it! Spiritual realities have their own sense of purpose connected to them, quite distinct from our human expectations. Jung sees the appearance of this dimension of human life as usually associated with strong feeling, as researchers like Profs. Neal Krause and Kenneth Pargament have emphasized in more recent times.

But there’s something important to recognize here. In some ways, Jung and others like him see spiritual reality as basically the opposite of the material reality that we live in every day. So, potentially, we could live our lives, eat sleep, work and do all the regular things that we do, and not really have any connection to spiritual reality. On the other hand, we could choose to live almost entirely in spiritual reality, with as little connection with the pragmatic realities of the world as possible.

However, Jung argued that neither of these paths would ultimately lead to a very meaningful life. From his perspective, in Andrew Samuels’ words, “spiritual goals must be embodied for fulfillment.”

So, how can we bring spiritual and material realities together, so that the relationship between spirituality and depression is a positive one?

Living Out Our Spirituality

One of the key requirements of a spirituality that is truly grounded in, and connected with, our own real lives is that the spirituality genuinely emerges from our lived experience. There is only one way that this can happen, and that is, if we examine our own lived experience, and really seek to understand who we are and what has happened to us in our lives in an honest and self-compassionate way. Only a spirituality in which all that we are can be welcomed in an open-hearted way can be a spirituality that helps us move away from depression, rather than miring us deeper in it.

One very effective way of understanding and developing compassion for our own unique lives is through depth psychotherapy. Engaging in therapy or analysis with a therapist who is attuned and sensitive to spiritual values can be a powerful way of integrating one’s journey to wholeness, and one’s particular spiritual path.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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Rocketman: The Journey of Accepting Who You Are

June 17th, 2019 · accepting who you are

Accepting who you are sounds so simple, but that’s not many people’s experience. Rocketman, the recent film of the life of singer Elton John illustrates this powerfully.

accepting who you are

Elton John being Elton John
Rocketman is the story of a man who is very unusual in some ways. As the movie shows us, he is also a very vulnerable man. Basically, the whole film turns around the question of whether Elton John (born Reginald Dwight) is able to accept himself, have compassion for himself, and stop being so paralyzed by the opinions of others. In this respect, even though Elton John cuts an unusual and at times even bizarre figure — he has a great deal in common with us.
It’s clear from very early on in the story that young Reginald / Elton is really going to get very little from his family of origin. His father seems incredibly cold, while his mother is portrayed as deeply narcissistic. The only supportive person seems to be his grandmother — and she is the one who figures out that her grandson is a piano prodigy.

The Problem of the Public Self

As the story progresses, we gradually see that young Reginald Dwight realizes that there is no acceptance of who he really is in his family of origin. The way he copes with this is the way that many of us do: by developing an outer mask to present to the world that hides the pain. In Reginald / Elton’s case, this mask gradually takes on the form of the outrageous, bombastic, manic piano man: Elton John. On stage he has an unstoppable Dionysian energy — but away from the adoring crowds, an appalling loneliness.

It’s clear that the outer presentation is not just a complete counterfeit. There is a lot of the inner Reginald Dwight that wanted to be accepted and loved; those parts shine through in the defiance embodied in the outer presentation. The persona presents itself in a ferocious “couldn’t care less” way on stage, alongside an unspoken but insatiable demand: love me. But despite his enormous stage presence, and his ability to sweep people up in his music, love eludes him. He is surrounded by artificiality, superficiality, and, frequently, just gets used by others.

When the Mask Gets Too Painful

As is often the case in real life, the film conveys the sense that people looking at the formidable Elton John persona often seem to have no idea of how much difficulty the inner person is confronting. In Elton John’s case, this suffering inner person is further masked by numerous addictions, and by a blinding, breakneck schedule. The inner Elton John is confronting tremendous inner pain, but the world would never know it. In fact, Taron Egerton, who plays Elton, does a masterful job of conveying the sense that he does not know himself how much agony and depression he really carries.

Ultimately, however, we start to see that the pain is intolerable. John’s behaviour becomes more and more self-destructive. There is a battle raging between an enormous need to hide his vulnerability from the world, and a desperate need to acknowledge his own pain, and be affirmed for who he most fundamentally is — by both himself and others. Tensions of these kinds are often found at the heart of an individual’s journey toward wholeness.

Accepting the Exile

Finally, something happens that breaks the tension, and Reginald / Elton embarks on a course of action that is best seen as the action of the individual’s true self. I won’t spoil it here, because it’s a visually stunning movement in the film’s progression. However, I can say that it’s a moment in the film character’s life when he finally seems to stop valuing the opinions and valuations of others over himself, and begins to connect with the pain he has experienced in the relationships in his life, and with his own desire to be loved — by himself and others.

The challenge of accepting and loving the parts of ourselves that others may have rejected, rather than despising them and disowning them ourselves is a key movement in the journey to wholeness, and often can be a central part of a major life transition.

Throughout his long therapeutic and literary career, Jung continually emphasized the importance of extending self acceptance to the parts of ourselves that we might find easy to hate and to shun, continually emphasizing the healing to be found in such places.

Depth psychotherapy at its best continually emphasizes this process of accepting the parts in ourselves that we might find least acceptable, and finding strength in the parts of ourselves that may seem most vulnerable. As the movie Rocketman seems to affirm, accepting who you are is fundamental to finding the meaning and value of your own individual life.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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Amidst All the Pressure, Staying True to Yourself

June 10th, 2019 · staying true to yourself

Social pressure, of one kind or another, is a powerful, all-pervasive thing.  Staying true to yourself in the face of it can be a difficult task.

staying true to yourself

It’s easy for any of us to be unaware of, or to underestimate, the amount of pressure we all feel to fit into someone else’s idea of who we ought to be. Yet, if we truly going to find our own direction, it’s essential for us to be aware of just how much pressure to follow the desires and expectations of others we actually face.
The cost of social pressure can be high for individuals. Sometimes we realize this cost only in retrospect. Often, it’s only when we think about the roads not taken in our lives, that we start to realize how much letting others take us away from what we actually want has actually cost us.

Group Pressure is Surprisingly Powerful

Recent studies on the power of social pressure have a lot to teach us. Building on nearly 50 years of social psychology research, Emory University psychiatrist / neuroscientist Gregory Berns has demonstrated that social pressure can actually be strong enough to lead people to change their perception of reality, and that those who resist group pressure can experience very significant levels of emotional discomfort.

This has particular importance for us in relationships. Key relationships, such as families, are absolutely essential to human existence. Yet, at the same time, those key connections, like families, can do tremendous damage to our awareness of ourselves, and can enforce rigid forms of social conformity. Although we look to families for emotional shelter and support, often a family can be extremely intolerant of individual differences and the characteristics that make individuals unique. As Jung himself noted,

Children don’t belong to their parents… often they are about as characteristic of their parents as an apple on a fir-tree.

C.G. Jung, Correspondence

Given that group pressure has tremendous psychological power, and given that even our conjugal families and families of origin can be pressure vessels that induce conformity, what chance is there of staying true to yourself?

Individualism Isn’t the Same as Staying True to Yourself

Now, this all seems disquieting, because we live in a society that ostensibly values the individual and individual expression. We all give lip service to freedoms like freedom of mobility and freedom of expression. Yet it would probably be fair to say that we stress the value of individualism, of individual achievement, more than the value of individuation, which is the process of becoming the person you or I are most fundamentally meant to be.

Certainly, product marketers use the language and visual images of individuality to great effect in marketing campaigns. We all know the powerful images of the individual alone in his or her car, perhaps in some panoramic wilderness or some warm velvet night, putting pedal to the metal and sailing off in his or her Own Direction [capitals mine]. This must be very effective imagery: the automotive industry has used it for many years now. You can find similar usage of images in marketing a wide range of products — perhaps the most famous of all time being “The Marlboro Man”.

Yet it’s striking that this kind of advertising is itself a kind of social pressure, applied to induce thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or even millions of people to engage in the same behaviour. It raises the question, what would it be like to really “go in your own direction” — to really live in a way that fundamentally expresses who you are.

What’s more, the norms of whole communities, neighbourhoods and certainly family units get shaped by these kinds of social pressure. It’s easy for the individual to see themselves as functioning autonomously and independently, when there are all kinds of pressures at play that take us away from who are really are, and what we really want.

It’s very easy for each of us to delude ourselves, when it comes to “staying true to yourself”. We can think that we’re living out of our spontaneous selves, when we’re really living out of the long buried expectations of society, or some significant other, buried deeply and for a long time in our psyche. Is there any way past this dilemma?

illusions of individuality. marketing

Hearing Your Inner Voice: Staying True to Yourself

So then, is there no way to hear the voice of the self, and to live it out? Are we doomed to perpetually meeting the expectations of others and of our social surroundings?

Actually, there are things we can do that bring us more into contact with ourselves. It sounds incredibly simple, perhaps even simple-minded, but we can find ways to listen to ourselves.

As we explore our life story often we can begin to discern what is our true self, and the places where others, wittingly or unwittingly, have applied pressure upon us to do things other than what we wanted to do, to want things other than what we really want, and perhaps to be someone other than who we really are. The places in our lives where we have gotten the message that who we really are is not enough, or is even just plain “wrong”, are often places where we encounter anxiety and/or depression.

There are many ways of getting in contact with who we really are. One way is to explore what it is that we really like to do, and, especially, as C.G. Jung emphasized, getting in touch with the things that we really liked to do as a child, or as a young person. Finding ways to genuinely express ourselves in some way — through writing, through visual arts, through improv, through dance — can all be great ways to connect with the depths of you.

In addition, like many people, you may find that engaging in depth psychotherapy, especially Jungian analysis, can be a tremendous aid in staying true to yourself. Working with someone to investigate our unconscious and undiscovered self can be a tremendous benefit on the journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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