Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Hope and Connection: Accepting the Other—and the Shadow

January 25th, 2021 · hope and connection

The phrase “hope and connection” feels very uplifting. It’s easy to feel strongly that “Yes, this is what we need now!” Surely, as we find our way through the pandemic, we yearn for—hope and connection.

Amanda Gorman at the Inauguration of U.S. President Biden

However, maintaining hope and connection can sometimes be a daunting thing. That’s because human beings are demanding, complex and imperfect. For many of us, accepting our own imperfection can be a painful and trying path. Yet, accepting the limitations of the other person can be just a whole other level of difficulty.

The poet Amanda Gorman, in her poem “The Hill We Climb”, explores hope, connection and community, and touches upon an important truth:

And yes we are far from polished / far from pristine / but that doesn’t mean we are / striving to form a union that is perfect / We are striving to forge a union with purpose

Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

This describes the nature of human connection so well. We can’t have a union that is perfect; that would be inhuman. Yet we can strive intentionally to create connection with others—“a union with purpose”.

This intention to connect with others is a key element in any relationship where we consciously wish to enter into depth or sincere common purpose with others. It is true of the whole spectrum of connection, from a nation seeking to develop a sense of unity and common identity, to two people in a relationship seeking a genuine and intimate connection.

Hope and Connection: What Are We Seeking?

Here we are, in late January, 2021, in the midst of a lockdown which can seem perpetual. As we make our way through this anxiety-laden time, we yearn to find hope, and we yearn for connection with others. Yet, what do we mean by that? What is it that we actually want?

Hope is of central importance to us. As famed hope researcher Prof. C.R. Snyder asserts, hope affirms and keeps alive the possibility of a better future. Hope lives in an active, rather than a passive approach to life. Hope occurs when we’re moving and finding our way toward something, even if we see where we’re headed only very dimly.

Similarly, connection with others matters a great deal to us. As we feel so strongly in the isolation of this time. It’s important to realize that the sense of feeling connected with others has to do with the sense of sharing things with them, such as our deep thoughts, dreams and aspirations, our biggest fears, and our strongest feelings. When this kind of sharing occurs, it’s well-documented that there is very powerful activation of key centres in the brain, and key hormones get released. In Jungian terms, such connection between people is very “numinous”, meaning it has a very powerful, very hard to explain attraction.

We can readily see when these two things are combined—hope and connection—something very strong and potent occurs. When people are connected, and share their hopes, the bond can feel overwhelmingly positive.

Connection and Shadow

Yet hope and connection can also be a very heady, very dangerous combination. We may feel connected to someone, or may want to feel connected to someone, or some group of people, and this may lead us to having huge hopes for the relationship with no possible downside.

This is unlikely to be a sound basis for relationship. As C.G. Jung would tell us, that it doesn’t take the shadow into account. Jung defines shadow as that part of our personality that we don’t wish to acknowledge. In a relationship, the shadow can have a profound impact. The shadow of the other may be very hard for us to see, because they keep it hidden. Hence, we can idealize the other person or group, and see them as a perfect fit with what we want. We may be in for a big surprise when reality hits home.

We also keep our own shadow, the parts of ourselves that we don’t wish to acknowledge, hidden from others. It may come as a real surprise to them when they see our shadow. It may bring up the other’s own shadow in powerful ways such as petulance, rage and manipulation.

On the other hand, far from idealization, our own shadow may get projected on the other, leading us to see them as having negative qualities that they don’t possess. This is very commonly seen in the ways that various groups in society can end up being negatively stereotyped by others.

Union with Purpose

It would seem that the only way to genuinely experience hope and connection is through what Amanda Gorman describes as “union with purpose”. To put that another way, this involves working hard to see others—and ourselves—in the most realistic way possible. Then, within that realism, striving to discover hope that will carry us through the demanding but worthwhile goal of connecting with others who are different from us, and who have their own weaknesses.

The process of self acceptance, that allows us to accept our own shadow and weaknesses, and the shadow and weakness of others, is at the very heart of the process of Jungian depth psychotherapy.

Wishing you every good thing on your individual 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)

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When Does A Lie Hurt Me the Worst? When I’m Lying to Myself

January 18th, 2021 · lying to myself

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

In our time, we’re deeply concerned with truth and lies. Often there are fiercely different, competing versions of the truth. Yet the greatest danger occurs, not when others lie to me, but when I’m lying to myself.

Many people might find this last observation to be very puzzling. “We live in a world full of horrible deception!” they protest. “Look at the level of lying that is perpetrated by our highest political leaders, or by those in positions of power in giant corporations. Or consider the lies that nations tell about their intentions and about what’s really going on in the world? How could you possibly say that our capacity for “lying to myself” is more damaging or more immoral that that?

Yet I believe that what I claim is true. Lying to ourselves can be more dangerous and damaging than all of the above. The lies that we tell ourselves can end up disconnecting us from reality in ways that are incredibly dangerous and painful. Also, often, the “big lies” that are told by governments, totalitarian political parties or manipulative corporations are so destructive because they build on lies that we have told ourselves, where we find it too painful to face what is really the truth

What’s Going On When I’m Lying to Myself?

The expression “lying to ourselves” or lying to myself gets used fairly frequently, but what do we actually mean when we say it? As Harvard Prof. Michael I. Norton notes, it is “one of the most puzzling things humans do.” Empirical psychology provides a great deal of evidence that lying to ourselves, which psychology refers to as self-deception is a very, very frequent type of human behaviour. Here are a few examples of self-deception or lying to myself:

  • Willful Ignorance. One way to deceive myself is to simply avoid learning the facts. E.g., if I don’t want to face the fact that my brother-in-law earns more money than me, I can simply avoid looking at what houses cost in the area he lives in.
  • Denial. In the face of facts that are very hard to confront or bear, people can tell themselves, “It isn’t really happening”
  • False Self-Image. We can all hold on to a lot of illusions about our attributes and abilities, in an effort to boost our self-esteem.
  • Cherry Picking Facts. When we want to convince ourselves of something, it can be easy to focus on the facts that support it, and ignore the facts that tend to refute it.

These are only a few of the many ways in which we can engage in self-deception. Now, we don’t tend to think of them as “ways I’m lying to myself”. But doesn’t mean that they aren’t.

The Hidden Hazards of Self-Deception

Some commentators emphasize that there can be situations where there is genuine benefit in lying to myself. For instance, the person who is in denial about a traumatic state of affairs may need that denial, for a time, to keep from being completely undone by the situation. Nonetheless, self-deception can lead to a great many painful and dangerous situations.

Self deception, “lying to myself” is often a big component in addictive behaviours. An individual may tell themselves that they aren’t addicted or that they “can’t help it”, or any of a number of other lies that just keep the addiction going. Similarly, we may all tell ourselves lies when the alternative is accepting a truth that is altogether too threatening or painful.

For instance, Jungian analyst Murray Stein describes how, as can often occur, a person faces a very difficult and defeating situation in the middle years of their life. Rather than accepting what has happened and starting to chart a new course for themselves as a part of a healthy midlife transition, the individual tells him- or herself that nothing has changed:

Who has not known a [person] whose climb to the top was to everyone but [him- or herself] decisively halted, yet who kept dressing up to go to work and forcing [herself] to believe that this was only a pause in the ascent, as [she] continued pursuing the same goal, all the while being profoundly uncommitted to it…? ~Murray Stein, In Midlife

As we can see, in midlife, or in any major life transition, self deception can be a powerful disruptor of our individuation process, the vital journey to becoming and expressing who we really are at the most fundamental level.

Self-Compassion and the Truth

The truth can be hard, yet compassion for oneself is rooted in what Jungian analyst John Beebe describes as a sense of “integrity in depth”. It’s only when we’re committed to the journey of being truthful to ourselves that we are truly embarked on the journey to wholeness. Jungian depth psychotherapy is fundamentally about this commitment to being truthful with oneself, to moving beyond lying to oneself, and to cultivating compassion—without apology—for who we really are.

Wishing you every good thing on your 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)

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Individuation, Individual Choice and Crowd Psychology

January 11th, 2021 · crowd psychology

This last week, along with all of our other challenges, we have had a stark object lesson in crowd psychology and the madness of crowds. How is this important for us, now?

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Not surprisingly, I’m referring to the recent riot at the Capital in Washington, D.C. In this shocking event, many otherwise ordinary people were swept up by crowd psychology into a mass storming of the primary seat of legislative government in the U.S. This led to very graphic negative consequences. These included the deaths of five individuals and a collective sense of desecration shared by many Americans, and by pro-democracy people the world over.

Stress, High Emotion & Group Think

It’s a fact that, in times of great stress and anxiety, events like this riot are more likely to occur. When individuals are highly stressed, and there are powerful emotions at play, as was the case at this pro-Trump gathering, it becomes easier for individuals to get caught up in crowd psychology, and to surrender their own personal sense of judgment and decision-making to the mob. Such crowds can often be driven by the responses of a small group of possibly irrational and emotionally disturbed individuals. It is certainly often the case that such a mob will function at the lowest common denominator of morality and responsibility.

As we look at the recent events at the Capitol, we’re reminded of the words of Charles MacKay in his 1841 study of crowd psychology:

[People], it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

MacKay, Charles, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds [not to be confused with a much more recent book entitled simply “The Madness of Crowds”}

Collective Psychosis and the Need to “Hang Onto Ourselves”

C.G. Jung was well aware of this tendency in human beings, and watched from Switzerland as it played out with particular ferocity in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In his writings he used the term “collective psychosis” to describe the way in which individuals are prone to surrendering their own intellect and feeling to the inferior, crude and often aggressive mindset of the crowd. As Jung famously put it, using the gender terms of his age,

…it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer, but man [sic] himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics.

One of the more poignant comments on the events at the Capitol came, unexpectedly, from former California Governor and movie superstar Arnold Schwartzenegger. Among other things, he movingly describes growing up in post-Nazi Austria, in the aftermath of the defeat of the Nazis. He describes the way that his father and many others of his age group, had been caught up in the rise of Nazism and misled by its lies and cruelties. He relates how they ended up as essentially broken men, living in great remorse, unable to escape the condemnation of their consciences for participating in something so horrific.

It’s easy to see how people could get caught up in the Nazi hysteria. Similarly, the Capitol rioters, many of whom are probably decent ordinary individuals, got caught up in something that turned ugly and went horribly out of control.

As noted above, this sort of distorted thinking and temporary loss of sanity often accompanies times of great stress, peril and uncertainty. As we face the difficulties of our current situation, how can we avoid falling into this kind of crowd- or mob-think?

What About Us, Now?

We Canadians could easily lapse into a sense of smug superiority and feel that the events that we’ve witnessed in the U.S. this week could never happen in “Our Home and Native Land”. That would be very naive. In times of great stress and uncertainty, the potential for losing ourselves in pack- or herd-think becomes much greater.

This could take the form of something as dramatic as the riot at the U.S. Capitol, but crowd psychology could also show up in forms that are less vivid, but perhaps no less destructive. One of the ways this appears is in black-and-white, us-and-them thinking of the kind that plays so great a role in political extremism, fanatic religious cults, and other groups that negate the value of the individual.

It could also include things as apparently innocuous as mindlessly giving in to pressure to conform from family, social group, neighbourhood or peer group. It even turns up in the kind of pandemic herd mentality that results in hoarding and irrational stockpiling of consumer items which are not in short supply, as UBC’s Prof. Steven Taylor has documented.

Jung emphasized that there is an impetus deep in each of us to individuate, to become conscious of our own individual nature, and to live in accord with “the law of our own being”. An important part of that work is to become as conscious as we possibly can of our own motivations and our own real nature, and to live in integrity with our own deepest values and nature. To live in this manner will lead us to continually confront and reckon with the impulses in us that could seduce us to mindlessly run with the herd–the essence of crowd psychology.

The path of individuation is fundamental to our journey towards wholeness, and forms a central part of the work done with clients by Jungian depth psychotherapists.

With very best wishes for the lifelong journey of becoming yourself,

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)

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Overcoming COVID: Holding the Hope; Coping with Impatience

January 4th, 2021 · holding the hope

COVID has been with us for quite a while now and we’re all finding that demanding. Holding the hope that we’ll move beyond it can be even harder.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Naturally, everyone wants the pandemic to be done and over. This is especially true now that we have arrived at the early days of the New Year. As it has since the time of the Babylonians, and even before, New Year’s celebrations symbolize that the world is being made all over again, fresh and new. That symbolism of the renewal of the world takes on an even greater power for all of us at this time, as we yearn to see the world freed of COVID, and our lives returned to their former richness and freedom—renewed indeed.

Things Seem to be Moving Slowly

The problem for many of us is that the new post-COVID world is being born, but it’s taking some time to get here. There’s a very big difference between wanting that renewal to occur, and actually seeing it take place.

At the present time, we’re dealing with a very mixed picture. It seems like the world now has three vaccines which experts view as being effective against COVID-19, which is very welcome news. However, it seems likely that it’s going to take quite a while before enough of the population is vaccinated to turn the tide and bring about the end of COVID. Simultaneously, we’re dealing with record or near-record levels of COVID infection and hospitalization, here in Ontario, and in many places worldwide.

Many of us are in the position of trying to have hope and be optimistic about the future. Many of us also find ourselves in the position of being frustrated and discouraged about how long it’s taking us to get through this COVID-19 period. In terms of what science knows about how epidemics play out, this is not surprising. As U. of Toronto epidemologist Ashley Tuite puts it, “There won’t be a V-day where everyone runs into the streets and hugs…. Just a gradual return to normal.”

Andre Picard, writing in the Globe and Mail, neatly sums up our situation:

History tells us that pandemics don’t have Hollywood endings. The denouement tends to be slow and messy and COVID-19 will certainly be no exception.

COVID Makes It Complicated

We can take this in intellectually, but where does it leave us on an emotional, or even a spiritual level? We are dealing with a collective major life transition, a situation where the way out requires a great deal of patience and perseverance over a long period of time. This is not something that comes naturally to humans.

Our nervous system is very good at responding to immediate, visible threats. Our ancestors in the stone age would have known very well how to respond to an immediate threat like a sabre-toothed tiger. Similarly, Londoners who faced the extended aerial bombardment of the Blitz in World War II were able to stay motivated for a long time because the threat and its effects were very clearly visible. But how do you maintain optimism and resilience in the face of an invisible foe, when you’re in a situation of social isolation?

Hold the Hope; Find the Meaning

It’s easy in a situation like the present for people to respond from a place of anxiety, and that’s something that occurs with great frequency at present. One form that anxiety takes is denying the existence of the threat. If I simply convince myself that COVID isn’t a threat, or is greatly exaggerated, then my anxiety will be lessened. I suspect that this dynamic is occurring in a lot of people who are “anti-maskers”, or who oppose social distancing, or who want businesses and public events to open up and “just be normal”,

But what if we recognize that we can’t allow ourselves to move into that kind of denial? How can we keep ourselves from lapsing into despair, or finding the lockdown unbearable?

This is a question of great importance for the many people who “just want to get through this thing”, and keep on “holding the hope”. There are a number of different and important answers that include things such as maintaining healthy social connections and getting exercise and healthy sleep. Yet, there is one dimension of situations such as this that psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl highlights that merits out attention:

Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Certainly Jungian psychology would agree with this assessment. From a Jungian perspective, there is a strong link between having a sense of hope, and finding meaning in our situation. This may be an important time to take stock of what it is that provides a sense of meaning in your individual life. That could be connection to people whom we love, religious or spiritual values, commitment to particular ideals or beliefs, or so much more. At this difficult time, exploring and committing ourselves to what we find meaningful is an essential source of hope.

Exploring the sources of meaning and hope in our individual lives will be one of the most important things that each of us does in this New Year of 2021, for ourselves, for those we love, and for the wider world.

I wish you every blessing and good thing in this coming year, and may the year find you “holding the hope” for your own individual journey towards 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)

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