Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Anxiety About How to Be Myself

October 29th, 2019 · how to be myself

It may seem like it should be dead easy to figure out how to be myself. But the fact is, it’s often not that easy at all.

how to be myself

Why is it so hard? Shouldn’t it just be a matter of getting up, going through my daily routine at work, interacting with the people I care about in my life — and getting up and doing it all over again tomorrow?

The trouble is that we can be haunted by questions about ourselves that can be very hard to answer. Questions like, “Am I doing the things I do because they make me happy — or am I doing them to please someone else?”

When we start to realize that there may be immense pressure on us to meet the expectations of others, the question of “how to be myself” starts to seem more complex. Then we might start wondering whether the things we do as part of our daily routine are really what we like, or a result of the ways in which we’ve internalized the expectations of others: “Dad always voted for XYZ political party, and I always vote for them, too.” “In this neighbourhood, everybody drives an SUV.”

There can also be a big question about the less well known or undiscovered parts of ourselves. We tend to think that we know ourselves pretty well, and that we know what we want, and yet it can often be that we confront new, undiscovered or forgotten parts of ourselves at different key points in our lives.

Authenticity and Integrity

The question of “how to be myself” is fundamentally linked to ideas of authenticity and integrity. Authenticity refers to behaving and outwardly acting in accord with the nature of the true self. Jungian psychiatrist John Beebe defines integrity as:

1. an inner psychological harmony or wholeness;

2. a conformity of personal expression with psychological reality… of the outer with the inner self; and,

3. an extension of wholeness and conformity with time, through thick and thin [italics mine].

John Beebe, Integrity in Depth

What both these concepts share is the idea that the outer person should be consistent with the inner, and this is fundamental to the idea of being myself. We would say that a person is “being him- or herself” when we sense that the outer “presentation” or way of being of the person seems consistent with their inner being — with the whole inner way in which that person experiences her- or himself.

How can we respond to our outer lives in a way that is consistent with our inner selves? It sounds like it should be easy — but sometimes it’s not.

One key time when the question of how to be myself may become front and center is during major life transitions. It’s often the case that going through a major transition, such as the midlife transition, or a major career change, can bring questions like “Who am I, really?” right to the surface.

Anxiety and the Struggle to be Myself

The fact is that we have to watch carefully to keep our outer state consistent with what we most deeply think and feel. Sometimes, this can bring us anxiety, especially when it’s new and unfamiliar. Sometimes, we might have to fly right into the face of our own uncertainty, or the expectations of others.

Yet, much more intense experiences of anxiety may occur when we force ourselves to behave in ways that are at odds with who we most fundamentally are. If we find ourselves inexplicably anxious in an on-going basis, it may be important to ask ourselves whether the life we’re leading outwardly is genuinely reflective of who we are, deep in our interior. This can be particularly true during important transitions like the midlife transition. At times like that, an individual can either feel that he or she is moving in a direction that is consistent with a basic sense of who he or she most basically is, or else that person can feel marooned in a life script that is not their own.

Sometimes, we might even completely refuse to face or even acknowledge the question of “How to be myself?” People may seek to do all they can to avoid or deny the question of fundamental identity or selfhood. But it may well be that issues of authenticity and fundamental integrity will make their presence felt in the form of anxiety, depression, somatic effects or bodily illness.

Your True Self Does Exist!

An important part of dealing with the question of “How to be myself?” is recognizing that my true self does exist. Not only Jungians and depth psychotherapists, but therapeutic perspectives like Internal Family Systems have come to share this perspective. There is a part of me that really holds what I authentically am, even though it can be extraordinarily hard to have a concept or a mental model of it.

The call of the Self is something very real. Working on recognizing and responding to its voice is a very important part of a supportive and discerning depth psychotherapy relationship. In turn this is an integral part of our fundamental journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

→ No Comments

Perfectionism and Depression are Issues of Soul

October 22nd, 2019 · perfectionism and depression

There’s a strong connection between perfectionism and depression. By “perfectionism”, we’re not referring to those who are just very motivated to do well.

perfectionism and depression
A true perfectionist is a person who can’t bear to make a mistake, and who can’t let themselves off the hook when their performance falls short of what they regard as ideal. Most of us have some perfectionist in us; some of us have a great deal.
Are perfectionism and depression closely related? There’s some very good reasons for believing that they are, and that people who genuinely struggle with perfectionism are also struggling with depression.
Sometimes we refer to someone as “perfectionist” because they have a strong motivation to strive for excellence. But striving for big goals isn’t what makes someone a perfectionist. What makes someone a perfectionist is what they do if they don’t meet those high goals. A person who subjects themselves to relentless self-attack because they don’t measure up to some preconceived or arbitrary standard is demonstrating one of the key characteristics of perfectionism.

Perfectionism, Procrastination, Paralysis

A person with problematic perfectionism can accept nothing other than sheer flawless perfection. A true perfectionist can torture her- or himself if the result is anything less.

This can often result in the perfectionist person getting stuck in extreme procrastination. The individual will keep trying and re-doing the task, delaying completion, to make sure the result is absolutely perfect. Alternately, the individual may continually avoid ever starting the task, because the judgmental self-criticism starts from the moment that the task is commenced, and it’s just too hard to bear.

In a similar way, people struggling with perfectionism may be highly averse to trying anything new. The individual may have always wanted to dance salsa, study Spanish or play blues guitar, but intense fear of outright failure or not being good enough keeps her or him from taking the plunge and starting.

In many ways, perfectionism can work to shut down the spontaneity and joy of those who are in its control. It can keep individuals out of long term relationships, fill them with great anxiety in social settings, and result in a number of other unfavourable impacts.

Where Perfectionism Meets Depression

Researchers such as York University’s Prof. Gordon Flett have shown that perfectionism about oneself is often associated with fairly severe depression, especially when it is connected with stress in
achievement-oriented activities such as school or work. This is not really surprising: if an individual feels in such important areas of his or her life that they don’t and can’t possibly meet the standard, they are of course going to feel devalued and powerless.

Many perfectionists feel immense pressure to appear together, in control and competent to the rest of the world. Yet for many who deal with perfectionism, that “togetherness” mask is just a facade. Inside perfectionism is a highly devastating and painful tyrant, forcing the individual to lash themselves for the least little failure or shortcoming.

Sometimes, people will not even admit to themselves that they are in the grips of a highly corrosive form of perfectionism. They try to run from it, but can’t escape its devastating effects.

How can the perfectionist find healing and peace? How can she or he get beyond being crippled by depression?

Perfectionism and Depression are Both Matters of “Soul”

The perfectionist needs self-acceptance, self compassion and self love, certainly, but how will she or he ever get there, when the inner voices scream so loudly that she or he has so completely missed the mark?

I think that depth psychotherapist James Hillman gives us some important clues:

Each of us needs an adequate biography: How do I put together into a coherent image the pieces of my life? How do I find the basic plot of my story?

James Hillman

Perfectionism is many things. One aspect is that it’s about living my life in a way that’s bound to someone else’s story about my life, and someone else’s standards. My self-esteem becomes completely dependent on my living up to standards that someone else has imposed and that I have internalized. One key element that the perfectionist has absorbed is the judgment that I am not enough. This cruel message can easily keep us from understanding our inner worth and value.

We begin to take away some of the power of perfectionism if we can enter into our own story with love, or, if you prefer, self-compassion. In order to do that, we have to first accept ourselves. I’m put in mind of the famous C.G. Jung quote:

The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.

C.G. Jung

Self-acceptance can be terrifying, because it forces us to go up against our worst demons — the ones that tell us that who we are really doesn’t measure up. To push through this, and to get to the place where we can really see and acknowledge how hard we try, how difficult it is to hope, and how much we actually suffer is demanding soul work. To go further, and to have compassion and kindness for that suffering being — our self — takes even more.

Such work can be very hard to do on our own. We often need help, and it needs to be help that we can rely on. For many people, the safe container of depth psychotherapy is essential for this purpose. It is here that we can work to find what Hillman calls the basic plot of our own story, which is the same thing Jung calls our personal myth.

It’s essential to begin to claim our own story as our own, as something that ultimately no one but we ourselves can evaluate or appreciate. To understand that, in ourselves, we are a uniquely precious reality. This is the true meaning of soul, and the very heart of the journey toward wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

→ No Comments

What Does it Mean to be Creative — and to Live Creatively?

October 14th, 2019 · what does it mean to be creative, what does it mean to be creative

Ask very many people, and they will tell you they want to live creatively. But what does it mean to be creative — in actual fact?

Phillip Firsov, Russian-born British painter
If you ask most people what the phrase “creative person” evokes, you will probably get some pretty vivid examples of “creatives”. Someone might mention Lady Gaga, or Salvador Dali, or even J.K. Rowling.
Salvador Dali
These powerfully iconic figures are certainly striking, but they can be deceptive. Do I have to be such a figure to live in a creative way?
I’m very struck by a statement by the psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden on the nature of creativity, which runs counter to what we might first think or expect:

To be alive (in more than an operational sense) is to be forever in the process of making things of one’s own [italics mine], whether they be thoughts, feelings, bodily movements, perceptions, conversations, poems or analytic papers.

Thomas Ogden, Conversations on the Frontier of Dreaming
This is startling in one sense — while in another, it isn’t. Ogden doesn’t see creativity as the sole possession of the great writers, painters or musicians of history. That may run counter to all the preconceived notions of “creative” people that run through our heads whenever we think about this subject. Yet, I think that many of us will resonate with his description of creative living as “making things of one’s own”.

Making Things of My Own

I think that many of us have at least some intuitive sense of what it is to “make something of my own”. We know what it is to make something that comes out of who we genuinely are. And that doesn’t have to be painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, (no slight intended to Michelangelo’s wondrous creation!)

Often I can tell when I’m “making something of my own”. It has a certain feel; I can genuinely feel that this thing is “me” or “mine”. It might be my special creation on the bar-be-que, the particular way that I sew on sleeves or the way that I take photos of my dog — the list is endless.

I remember a particular time in my own life. Things were at a really difficult point for me, and I hadn’t been in Jungian analysis for very long. I was having a really difficult time expressing or even knowing what I felt in some important areas of my life. That was the moment when I was introduced to working with self-hardening model clay. It actually made a big difference in my life.

It wasn’t that I turned into a great sculptor. No, far from being the next August Rodin, other people could barely discern whether what I had made was a bison, a bear or a kitchen table. Yet what was significant about these little bits of clay was that what I was working on had really taken hold of me, and I was expressing my feelings and myself in a manner in which I was really “all in”. It also helped — for me — that this form of expression didn’t use any language, and wasn’t the least bit “thinky”: this enabled me to let parts of myself that didn’t usually even see the light of day show their colours.

Hiding From My Creative Self

It can be uncomfortable to reach down inside ourselves and experience elements that usually get obscured or silenced in the regular business of the day. It can seem so scary and so disruptive that some people never do it. People can end up running from the aspect of themselves that really wants to make things, and express itself. They may be conscious of doing this, but it can also happen without conscious awareness.

There’s a danger involved in this running away from the part of ourselves that wants to make things. It’s implied in the Ogden quote above. This is that, without that sense of making things, without putting our creative energy out into the world, life can start to seem pretty sterile and even dead. What does it mean to be creative? Well, one key thing it means is to be alive, and to know it — to feel it! Something deep within us yearns to get to the place where that’s a lived reality.

Making Your Life Your Own

A lot hinges on our ability to be in our lives, and to feel that we can do things or make things that are genuinely expressive of ourselves.  There’s a fundamental part of human nature that wants and needs to make something that allows some part of our inner life to be something that we and others experience “out there” in the world..  This may feel like “living into” our lives — making them our own in new and important ways.

For many people in search of a more creative approach to their lives, depth psychotherapy can play an important part in the process.  A trusting, dependable relationship with a depth psychotherapist or Jungian analyst can be a safe place to explore the creative parts of ourselves that are yearning to emerge. That was my experience when the therapeutic relationship gave me a safe place to explore working in clay. Such experiences can start to give us a wholly new and different answer to the question, “What does it mean to be creative?”

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

→ No Comments