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Living a Life That Matters: Can Depth Psychotherapy Help?

August 19th, 2019 · living a life that matters

Everyone wants a life that is meaningful and valuable to them. The idea of “living a life that matters” rings true to nearly everyone.

Yet, how do we actually do that? What is it that is I need in my life to enable me to say, “my life matters” or “my life has value”? Very clearly, there’s great individual variation in each person’s answer to this question!
As the life cycle goes on for each of us as individuals, this question often takes on more importance. What is more, as the years go by, the question can often become more focused: what is it about my particular life, about specifically being me, that matters, and that gives my life dignity and meaning?

What Makes My Life Matter?

What exactly is it that makes me feel like my life matters? Well, pretty clearly, the answer to that question is going to vary greatly from person to person. We can talk in general terms about some key things, like love, meaningful work, and a sense of purpose, among other things. Yet, what really matters are the specifics.

If I’m going to understand what it is for me to live a life that matters, I’m going to have look in some real detail at myself, and at what it is that makes specifically my life matter. Through advertising, social media and other means, there are continual social pressures put upon us to find certain things meaningful or valuable. Our culture is always trying to tell us that this car, that vacation trip, or this mutual fund is going to take us straight to the things that really matter in life. This kind of messaging ignores individual differences between us — and if we ignore our individual characteristics, we can’t hope to find what it is that gives our own unique life value and dignity.

It’s a common experience for individuals to find that the question of what makes my life matter, or what makes life meaningful, takes on more and more importance as life goes along. (Although, as we saw in last week’s blog post, issues of meaning can be very important for people around the middle of life, or even well before that time.

Getting More Urgent in the Background

We can try to find refuge in what everyone else is doing, but it likely won’t enable us to get to the personal answers that we really need about our own unique lives. There can be a level of comforting numbness in just living a conventional life and “doing what everyone else does”. This is akin in some ways to the experience that Baudelaire calls “bathing oneself in the crowd”. Yet people who are basing their lives on convention can find it particularly painful and alarming to sense that they are just “going through the motions” in their lives.

Often, when an individual is living a life of “just going through the motions”, the unconscious mind starts to give urgent clues that this outward conformity is not reflective of who the person really is. An individual in this situation may have considerable anxiety and depression. Or, they may be subject to sudden inexplicable bouts of anger. They may also have a variety of violent and disturbing dream images. Terrifying dream images of strong, out of control angry figures, or hopelessly sad figures may appear.

Affirming The Value of Our Lives

To find the life that truly matters for us, as individuals, we’re continually drawn back to our own experiences of depth. Jung, when helping analysands to find what really matters to them, would often draw people back to their own childhood experience, and ask them what activity they enthralled them as a child in which they could completely lose themselves. It can also be very important for people to think about experiences they have had in later life that seemed charged with life and meaning. These are the experiences that humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow would refer to as “peak experiences’, while Jungians might call them “numinous”.

We also might find that the individual’s dreams overall have a great deal to say, as might the individual’s body. James Hollis tells us,

Transformation often comes to us in symbolic form. We have a dream image that perplexes, a symptom that will not go away, a relational pattern that continues to fester — each of these is a summons to ask What does the soul want of me? … this transformation has little if anything to do with the ego’s comfort or control, or the approval of others.

Hollis, What Matters Most

Hollis is not using the word “soul” here in a religious way, but in the sense of the deepest and most fundamental aspect of who we are. It is acknowledgment of that part of ourselves that leads most fundamentally to living a life that matters. Depth psychotherapy can be a vital tool in the process of connecting with those parts of our psyche.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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When Does Middle Age Begin — And What Does It Mean When It Does?

August 12th, 2019 · when does middle age begin

When does middle age begin? It might seem easy to determine whether someone is middle aged or not. But when does someone enter the psychological middle of life?

when does midlife begin
And what happens to a person when they do? The answer to these questions involves much more than determining the person’s chronological age.
Surveys show that people generally identify the middle of life as occurring roughly between the later 30s and age 60 or slightly earlier. But what exactly is the experience of being middle aged? What is psychologically different about the middle-aged period? And what does it mean for you or I when this midlife transition begins to occur?

When Does Middle Age Begin — Mentally?

There are all kinds of information sources out there which will tell you when middle age begins physically. They will point to all the issues around physical appearance, tiredness, aches and pains, eyesight, bladder, etc. However, the best of those articles will also tell you that the fundamental part of the arrival of midlife or middle age is psychological, and has to do with a specific midlife mindset.

What really characterizes this midlife mindset? Well, we have to bear in mind that there are huge differences psychologically between those who are in the midlife years. It’s essential that we respect the individual differences between people. Nonetheless, there are certain psychological characteristics that are shared very widely (if not universally) by those who are in middle age:

  • Awareness of mortality, and of the passage of time. The individual on some level comes to appreciate that they won’t live forever, and that time is passing.
  • Frequent feelings of discontentment and/or restlessness. The sense of the passage of time in life can lead us to wonder about how we’re spending our time, and “whether it’s all worth it.”
  • Questions of meaning and purpose. It’s not at all uncommon for people at midlife to start to ask some pretty fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of their lives
  • Experiences of depression or anxiety. Full-blown “midlife crisis” likely happens to only a minority of people undergoing the midlife transition. Yet, for all of the reasons above, it’s not at all uncommon for people to experience anxiety and depression in this phase of life.

Midlife: You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

What starts to make all of this very complex is that we live in a culture that prizes. This is linked to our society-wide fear of aging. As psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, noted, our civilization really has no cultural ideal of old age, or even middle age, and so,

our civilization does not really harbor a concept of the whole of life.

For many people, this can be extremely scary. With no ideals held out as we age, going into middle age, (or, even worse, the later years) can feel like slipping into a huge black hole. To use one of Erikson’s famous phrases, it can lead to a massive identity crisis. We can end up refusing to look at all he big issues described above — awareness of mortality, questions about whether its all worth it, and about the meaning of it all, and associated anxiety and depression.

We can find ourselves in grave doubt about who we are, and what our lives are worth — and, worst of all, we might not even be able to admit to ourselves that we’re wracked by fear and doubt.

When Does Middle Age Begin — For Me?

So, psychologically, middle age begins when I can accept and admit to myself that the big issues about the passage of time, and about being in the middle of life are real and alive for me. That may manifest in different ways for you than it does for me, or for someone else.

Each person will experience his or her journey through what Jame Hollis calls “the Middle Passage” in his or her own way. We can pretty much expect, though, that each of us will find that the middle of life poses deep questions to us about our own identity and the value and meaning of our lives. Finding personally meaningful answers to those questions — answers that are satisfying to you — can be a matter of vital importance.

Depth psychotherapy can be of great aid to individuals seeking to find a direction through the uncharted reaches of the middle of life. Working with a good depth therapist or Jungian analyst to become more aware of the undiscovered self can be a key part of our journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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