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The Importance of Self Awareness 3: Letting In the Shadow

November 22nd, 2021 · importance of self awareness

In this third and final part of an ongoing series on the importance of self awareness, we focus on the psychological reality of shadow. Jung originated this term, now used by many who reflect on our psychological reality.

importance of self awareness
PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Just what is meant by “shadow” when we think about the importance of self awareness? At one point Jung describes shadow as,

“the thing a person has no wish to be”.

C.G. Jung, CW 16, para. 470

This is pithy and succinct, but Jung helps us when he tells us:

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.

C.G. Jung, CW 11, p. 131

Jung’s point is that, for each of us, there are parts of our personality of which we are unaware. He would add that there are parts of the personality of which we might prefer to remain unaware.

Sometimes, I would rather not be aware of certain aspects of myself because my ego doesn’t feel comfortable with them. The ego is the part of my personality of which I’m conscious, and with which I identify. Many times, ego doesn’t wish to acknowledge other parts of me that don’t fit with how my ego would like to see itself. This can create all kinds of issues for us.

Saving the Appearances; Deep Six-ing the Shadow

Jungian analyst James Hollis spells this out for us in some detail. He writes about how we “manage to dissemble, to deny, to lie to ourselves and believe our evasions”:

We are often called to save the appearances, to paper over the gap between our presumptive identity and values and our actual practices. This distressing gap is what Jung called the Shadow, those parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable with ourselves. Feeling discomfort, we repress these facts, project them onto others, are subsumed by them, or, occasionally, bring them to consciousness and integrate them into a more complex, more accurate sense of self.

James Hollis, What Matters Most, pp. 25-26

Jung and Hollis are in agreement that self awareness is not always easy! Certain parts of ourselves may strongly resist knowing important aspects of who we are, and being honest with ourselves about them. We can find it much easier, sometimes to live with fictions about ourselves.

Tolerating Our Shadow Parts

The shadow parts of ourselves may be difficult to tolerate. They may cause the ego all kinds of anxiety. Sometimes the ego may have values that it thinks are important, like being truthful. These may be challenged by things we actually do, but don’t readily acknowledge, like fudging a little on one’s income tax.

Also, we may have some aspect of our personality that we don’t wish to acknowledge. We might feel that something about us is shameful, like having a weakness or inability to do certain things. Or, there might be something about who we really are that’s at odds with how we see ourselves, One example would be an urban sophisticate who secretly yearns to perform country and western music. Or, someone might believe that it’s bad or selfish to stand up and firmly ask for what she or he actually wants—but whose shadow is determined to do it.

It’s certainly not true that everything in the shadow is dark or morally questionable—far from it! Many things in the shadow are not really “shady” at all; they just don’t fit with the way the ego sees itself. Nonetheless, we can spend an incredible amount of psychic energy trying to avoid being aware of such shadow contents.

This struggle to avoid our authentic selves can create anxiety and even depression. The struggle with avoiding the shadow part of our authentic selves often becomes acute and even excruciating at times of major life transition. The midlife transition, or the transition into our later years are examples of this. Tragically, an individual can spend much of his or her life running from who she or he really is.

Integrating Our Shadow & The Importance of Self-Awareness

Running from the shadow produces anxiety, exhaustion and distortion of the person. It’s immensely beneficial if a person can find a way to make peace with the shadow, and integrate it. This can give a renewed sense of energy for life. As British Jungian analyst Christopher Perry reminds us,

[The assimilation of the shadow] leads to self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. Grievance and blame give way to the taking of responsibility and attempts at sorting-out what belongs to whom. A fierce conscience, which tends to be self- and other-punitive can relax, and personal values can be set in counterpoint to collective morality.

Making contact with the shadow is often greatly assisted by working in a supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist. In the accepting environment of Jungian therapy or analysis, it’s often possible to look at ourselves with true clarity, and genuine compassion and insight. This can help us greatly to see the ways in which the shadow turns up in our own individual lives. We can then start to genuinely hear it, and to come to terms with it.

Do you have awareness of your shadow? When in the past might you have encountered it?

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

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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The Importance of Self Awareness 2: Become Who You Truly Are

November 15th, 2021 · importance of self awareness

In this second post in this series on the importance of self-awareness, we explore the idea of becoming who you truly are. “Become who I am?” someone might ask, “Really? What’s the big deal?”

importance of self awareness
Building self-awareness… PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Isn’t it all really very simple? As Popeye the Sailorman put it many years ago, “I YAM WHAT I YAM!” From this perspective, what else is there to be said about the importance of self awareness?

Well, pretty clearly, the above is a different understanding of our unique identity than Jung intended when he wrote:

The privilege of a lifetime [italics mine] is to become who you truly are.”

C.G. Jung

What could Jung possibly mean by this? Clearly, he feels that becoming who you are is a big deal—the “privilege of a lifetime”, no less! Is knowing who I am, and being who I am, really all that important?

True and False Identity

Often, there’s a clear difference between who we think we are, and the personal characteristics that we actually possess. We can have an image of ourselves that is quite different from who we really are. Often, the story we tell ourselves about who we are doesn’t quite match the reality.

Researchers often point to evidence that shows the contradictions between some idealized version of ourselves, and who we really are. For instance, research shows that many people who don’t see themselves as racially prejudiced actually carry substantial racial bias. Or that people who see themselves a compassionate can actually walk by starving or apparently gravely ill homeless people. It can be hard for us to acknowledge some of the less agreeable aspects of ourselves.

Yet, there are plenty of other ways in which our story about ourselves can be in error. Consider the individual who may have a career as a tough, steely go-for-the-jugular business person. Then consider what can happen at mid-life, as this person realizes that he or she is actually empathetic, and cares most deeply about building people up. Such people can often come to the realization that they have been living out someone else’s story.

This process of working out who we really are can be quite involved!

When the Real Me Shows Up

We can spend a lot of time and energy consciously or unconsciously avoiding who we really are. This can consume an enormous amount of effort, and it can cause an enormous amount of pain. It may be particularly difficult when we confront situations where the real me shows up, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

We know “the real me showing up” as a classic midlife motif, but it shows up at plenty of other times in a life as well. A wealth of clinical experience has shown me how extremely painful it is to feel a huge discrepancy between how an individual is living, and who they are and what they really want. This can lead us to situations of unhappiness, even misery, and to situations of inner and outer conflict.

If we can gain insight into what is motivating us on the unconscious level, we can help ourselves to feel less conflicted and generally better on the emotional level. Research by Oliver C. Schultheiss of Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg indicates that our sense of well-being tends to grow as our conscious goals and “implicit” or unconscious motives are more harmonized. We should not grind away at careers or patterns of living that give us things that are highly valued by society or our family if these things don’t fundamentally matter to us. Jung would certainly agreed with that conclusion.

This highlights our theme: the importance of self-awareness! How do we harmonize our deep unconscious motivations with what we are consciously trying to do? We have to open ourselves up to our unconscious feelings and motivations.

Making the Unconscious Conscious

[The human] task is to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.

C.G. Jung

Much of what C.G. Jung writes is focused on the importance of self awareness, and on becoming aware of the contents of our unconscious, however it manifests. For Jungian depth psychotherapy, this can involve using a variety of approaches to self awareness, including:

  • journalling and closely watching our emotional and bodily reactions;
  • closely examining our interactions with other people;
  • active imagination“, or the use of our imagination to get closer to the true contents of the unconscious; and,
  • looking at our dreams, as a way of understanding our unconscious reactions.

In addition, a supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can greatly assist in the whole process of “sorting the ‘I’ from the ‘Not I'”, as Jung puts it. Becoming who we truly are is vitally connected with coming to terms with the aspects of ourselves of which we aren’t yet conscious, and connecting them with our conscious awareness and goals.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

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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The Importance of Self Awareness: A Jungian Perspective – 1

November 7th, 2021 · importance of self awareness

The importance of self awareness: these days, you can find a lot in the media on this subject. The world seems to have woken up to the importance of being in touch with what we really feel, and our deepest reactions.

importance of self awareness
Who Am I Concept

Self-awareness has certainly become something of a buzzword. The importance of self-awareness is stressed by the most diverse range of people and voices imaginable. Your neighbourhood yoga instructor may exhort you to be more aware of yourself bodily, while the pages of the Harvard Business Review stress the importance of self-awareness for the effective manager. Just what IS this illusive beast we call self-awareness?….

New York Times columnist David Brooks highlights the importance of self awareness in a passage of startling, and even painful clarity:

One of the most unsettling findings of modern psychology is that we often don’t know why we do what we do. You can ask somebody: Why’d you choose that house? Or why’d you marry that person? Or why’d you go to graduate school? People will concoct some plausible story, but often they really have no idea why they chose what they did.

David Brooks, “Is Self Awareness a Mirage?”

Going Through Life Without Being Aware

“[O]ften they really have no idea why they chose what they did”—what a stunning statement. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, it can often be true. We can easily go through the stages of our life somehow moving from one thing to the next, often without really being aware of what we are choosing or why. I’m reminded of the lyrics of a popular song from some years ago:

And you may say to yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”

—By letting the days go by.

The Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”

Lack of Awareness Doesn’t Have to be Fate

A Jungian approach to the personality and to the psyche strongly asserts that this kind of lack of awareness is not inevitable. It is not fate to be unconscious. It is possible for us to become aware of our deep emotions and motivations and the things a that really drive us. This involves the process of becoming conscious of oneself as a unique individual, which Jungians call the process of individuation. Jungian analyst June Singer helps us to understand this process in more detail:

The individualation process moves along two tracks. The first is designed to help people recognize and fulfil their own unique potentials. This involves differentiating the self from the constraints of the conditioning that are imposed by family and other external influences. The second track requires differentiation from one’s environment: one asks, How am I part of that which surrounds me, and how am I different? Put another way, it is the development of an ability to discriminate between the “I” and the “Not I”.

June Singer, Boundaries of the Soul

“I” and “Not I”

Discriminating between the “I” and the “Not I” can be a crucial, life saving thing. This can be particularly true when we go through the crises often associated with major life transitions.

This post is the first in a series examining the importance of self-awareness. I will be specifically looking at what a Jungian depth psychotherapy approach can contribute to our understanding of self awareness. This is a vital topic, if we seek to take ownership and responsibility for our lives. It is also essential to developing a self-compassionate attitude to ourselves and our own precious life journey, a task that is at the heart of Jungian therapeutic work.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

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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Soul’s Call: Right Amidst Our Major Life Transitions

November 1st, 2021 · soul's call

Right off the bat, let me say that, in using the word soul, and referring to soul’s call, I’m referring to the essence of our personality, the core of who we are. This post is not about religious ideas like “saving your soul” or “your immortal soul”! It’s about who you most fundamentally are.

soul's call
PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

I’ve had occasion to reflect on this quite a bit recently, in the context of doing Jungian psychotherapy with several individual clients. Very often these are people who find themselves at major life transitions, who are faced with one or more major life choices. They may face a considerable amount of family, peer or broader societal pressure to go in a certain direction. Yet they find that, easy as it might be to go that way, something is keeping them from doing it—something that seems fundamental and important.

It may seem completely irrational. The person may have what appears on the surface to be an “excellent” career, that is prestigious and very lucrative, and yet find themselves yearning to pursue a vocation in the arts. Or a life-long stay-at-home person may find they suddenly wish to tour North America in an RV, for reasons which they find very hard to explain.

The Tension of Yearning

Our yearnings often come from parts of ourselves with which we are not very in touch. Yet we can be stunned by their urgency, even when we aren’t exactly sure of what it is they actually want. Often, they let us know that there is some full or partially obscured part of ourselves that wants to be included in our picture of ourselves. Some part of us that wants to come into consciousness and be fully alive. This hidden element wants to be uncovered in all its depth, even if we can’t yet fathom where it yearns to lead us. This brings to mind a poignant quotation from famed archetypal psychologist James Hillman:

Tell me what you yearn for and I shall tell you who you are [Italics mine]. We are what we reach for, the idealized image that drives our wandering.

That which I yearn for reveals who it is that I actually am; we are what we reach for. Some part of us is seeking healing, fulfillment and expression in the form of our keenest and most sublime desires.

The Peril of Ignoring Soul’s Call

Our yearnings can be very strong and persistent. Yet, it can be easy to ignore the voice of the self, even though we can pay a steep price when we do. Sometimes this turning away can lead us straight to anxiety or depression. Yet there are other ways that such a missed invitation can show up. While it is not exactly depression, there is a kind of sterility or flatness that can start to pervade our lives. We can also find ourselves filled with a profound sense of regret.

Often, it can be extremely difficult to sift and distinguish what it is the voice of the deepest part of ourselves, from the other influences and voices in our lives. The influence of families, peer groups, advertising and work environments can often be so pervasive and so seductive.

wants from of distinguishing that voice from other influences

Following Our Uncertain Yearnings

One hundred per cent certainty occurs rarely, if ever, in life. The most authentic decisions that we make and the paths that we tread are usually part of a process of groping toward something we feel has energy or life for us. We make these choices having weighed them as much as we can, and often we’re aware that there is a cost to making them. Again in the words of Hillman,

Anytime you’re gonna grow, you’re gonna lose something. You’re losing what you’re hanging onto to keep safe. You’re losing habits that you’re comfortable with, you’re losing familiarity.

Certainly growth often entails loss of the familiar and of things that contribute to our sense of safety. Yet, it almost goes without saying, we also gain, as we leave the familiar behind on our search for what is at the heart of soul’s call in our yearning.

Are you in touch with the yearning in your life? Are you in the process of trying to sift and identify what it is that is actually at the heart of soul’s call? If so, you know that it’s an important and at times demanding task. The process of working with a sensitive and supportive depth psychotherapist can often assist greatly in bringing the soul’s call experienced through our deepest yearnings, into clear perspective.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

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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