Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Meaning of the Feminine in Our Contemporary Psyche

June 27th, 2022 · meaning of the feminine

What do we mean when we talk about “the feminine” in psychotherapy today? What is the meaning of the feminine for women and men in our world?

What is the meaning of the Feminine? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

I can imagine some readers responding to this with a lot of scepticism. “Come on!” they might say, “Be reasonable! This is a topic on which Jungians, contemporary feminists and many many others have written literally thousands of pages! And you’re proposing to cover it in a blog post?

Well, I have to admit, those critics would not be wrong! It would be possible to write a huge amount on the meaning of the feminine. Clearly, I can’t write a vast tome in this blog post. I probably can’t even make all the highest-level important points that need to be made. Yet we can look at at least some aspects of the meaning of the feminine that Jungian depth psychotherapy would emphasize as important to take into our consciousness.

NEWSFLASH!!! Feminine is not the Same as Masculine!!!

This statement may seem utterly inane, but it isn’t! It’s very easy for societies like ours that are rooted in patriarchal culture to assume, consciously or unconsciously, that the two are really the same. That type of outlook can easily take us to the idea that the difference between masculine and feminine is really no big deal. Or, worse, a particularly poisonous outgrowth of patriarchal culture is the idea, held consciously or unconsciously, that the feminine is the mere absence of the masculine. This collapse into the underlying conviction that “everything that is real or strong is inherently masculine” is the poison right at the heart of sexism. Such a view of the world will ensure that we will never be truly conscious of either masculinity or femininity. It obliterates the meaning of the feminine.

The Interplay

A strongly contrasting image of masculine and feminine is to be found in the writings of Emma Jung. Her reflections on the nature of masculine and feminine had a profound effect on her husband C.G.Jung. In 1955 she wrote:

In our time when… threatening forces of cleavage are at work, splitting peoples, individuals and atoms, it is doubly necessary that those which unite and hold together should become effective; for life is founded on the harmonious interplay of masculine and feminine forces, within the individual human being as well as without. Bringing these opposites into union is one of the most important tasks of present-day psychotherapy.

Emma Jung, Anima and Animus

Emma Jung wrote of the “threatening forces of cleavage” that were splitting individuals and peoples in her time. In our time, perhaps we feel these forces even more than she did, especially when we reflect on current events both at home and farther afield.

If we really take in what she states, it has profound implications. Her statement that “life is founded on the harmonious interplay of masculine and feminine forces” emphasizes that masculine and feminine are most certainly not the same. What is more, for Emma Jung, life is founded on a harmony between masculine and feminine energies. So, apparently, it’s essential for the feminine and masculine to recognize, respect, and meaningfully interact with each other. And even more, this not only happens between individuals and groups, it also happens within the individual human being, as well as without.

The Meaning of the Feminine

What, then, is the meaning of the feminine? The answer is, that it is a fundamental part of reality, always inextricably in relationship to the masculine. Jungian analyst and embodiment therapist Marion Woodman describes the meaning and relationship of the masculine and feminine within each individual:

The true feminine is the receptacle of love. The true masculine is the spirit that goes into the eternal unknown in search of meaning. The great container, the Self, is paradoxically both male and female and contains both…. Without the true masculine spirit and the true feminine love within, no inner life exists…. To be free is to break the stone images and allow life and love to flow.

Marion Woodman, Addiction to Perfection

This true feminine is within each of us, and we need to acknowledge its presence as a central part of our journey towards wholeness. Yet, that acknowledgement on its own is not enough to allow us to safeguard our journey. We must also acknowledge and affirm the meaning and reality of the feminine beyond ourselves, in the world. This means to acknowledge that the lived reality of women is a sacred and different reality from the lived reality of men. We have to affirm the reality and experience of individual women, in order to respect the meaning of the feminine, not only within ourselves, but in the shared social, economic and political realities of our lives.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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Who Needs an Ego? When Ego Can Help Us—and When It Hurts

June 20th, 2022 · ego

Ego? What is that thing, anyway? We all talk about it, especially psychologists. But what are we really talking about? And how does it help or hurt?

We have a cultural stereotype of “ego”, and it isn’t pretty… (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

The term “ego” gets used a lot in ordinary language. Often it’s used when someone has a very high opinion of him- or herself, as in “He’s got a big ego.” (See the picture of our friend above!) But in a psychological sense, the word carries a different meaning. The word “ego” is taken from the Greek word for “I”. For psychology, the ego is the centre of consciousness—of our “I” awareness.

The ego may be the centre of our awareness of “I”, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the whole of our personality. Freud saw the ego as the central part of our personality. As the seat of our conscious awareness, he gave it the vital role of being the place where outer, external reality meets our inner subjective life. He saw it as a kind of mediator of the inner and outer worlds. Jung wouldn’t disagree with this assessment, as far as it goes.

Ego: Not the Whole Enchilada

However, Jung would emphasize that there is a lot more going on in the personality than just the functions of the ego. As Jungian Andrew Samuels tells us, “Though the ego is concerned with such matters as personal identity, maintenance of the personality, continuity over time, mediation between conscious and unconscious realms, cognition and reality testing”—it is still not the whole and complete sum total of what we are.

Both Freud and Jung held that, not only is there a conscious part of the personality, of which the ego is certainly the centre, but a large other part, called the unconscious. Freud saw the unconscious as a repository of everything that we have forgotten, along with everything that we’ve repressed because it’s too unpleasant or difficult to look at. Jung would agree with Freud as far as it goes, but would also emphasize that there are more things in the unconscious than Freud acknowledged:

…everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want and do; all the future things that are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness…

So, this unconscious dimension of who we are is a very important part of the whole picture!

When the Ego Thinks It’s Running the Show

Even though the ego certainly is not the sum total of what we are, it can sometimes act like it is! All too often, the ego can act like it’s “the only game in town”. This center of the conscious part of the personality can carry on as if our conscious thoughts, feelings and wishes are all that there is to us. It can be easy for people to feel that they “know themselves’, when it may be that all they’re aware of is the conscious portion of who they are.

There are many kinds of situations where the ego chooses to ignore, or repress, what other parts of the personality may know or feel. For instance, it may be that we’ve gotten the message from family or peers that our real feelings about family relationships are unacceptable, and so we repress them. If the ego operates while ignoring our deepest feelings about key matters in our lives, that’s a recipe for trouble. Among other things, we may fall into the depths of depression or intense anxiety, or even worse psychological situations.

Similarly, if the ego ignores or dismisses other kinds of promptings from the unconscious, we may lose a very great deal. For instance, if the ego ignores our intuition, which comes from the unconscious mind, we may lose a very precious source of perceptions about our lives and the world. In much the same way, if dreams are ignored or dismissed, a potentially invaluable communication channel with the deep workings of the unconscious gets lost.

The Ego in Right Relationship to the Self

The ego can certainly stand in the way of connecting with the whole personality, or, as Jungians call it, the Self. Yet, on the other side, the ego can definitely do things that help us to connect to the whole of who we are. There is a lot we can do for ourselves that opens up the connection with the unconscious personality, and the whole of who we really are. We can take advantage of techniques that increasingly open the ego up to everything that we are thinking, feeling or perceiving. There are many possible techniques. One fairly straightforward approach is the practice of journalling on a daily basis about what has gone on in your inner and outer life, and how you have reacted to it. As writers such as Rebecca Strong emphasize, the value of journalling is now widely recognized far beyond the Jungian world. Other viable techniques include noting and writing down your dreams.

Something that can certainly help the ego and the rest of the personality to get along better is entering into the process of Jungian depth psychotherapy or analysis. A supportive therapeutic relationship of the right type can certainly help the ego to hear and support the voices of the rest of the personality. This is a key part of the journey towards wholeness.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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How to Know What You Want, 3: Integrity & Holding Opposites

June 6th, 2022 · how to know what you want

In Parts 1 & 2 of “How to Know What You Want”, we’ve looked at a lot of the intricacies of genuinely understanding our desires. So, now what?

So, now what????!!!!

We know now that, to get to “How to Know What You Want”, there are a lot of different parts of ourselves, both conscious and unconscious, that we have to take into account. How exactly can we do that? How do we ever get to a genuine knowledge of our real desires? As we discussed in the last post, we’re likely not going to do it by creating a ledger sheet!

We are complex and intricate beings. Depth Psychotherapy asserts that we have many different aspects to our personalities, both conscious and unconscious. How do we find our way through all of this complexity and get to what it is that we really want?

To find this, we have to approach the question of what we want with integrity.

Integrity

Now, as soon as you use a word like “integrity”, it can conjure up some pretty unhelpful misconceptions. When many people hear that word, what arises for them is the idea of someone who has a very conventional, probably old-fashioned morality, and who follows moral rules in a completely unbending way. However, in his book Integrity in Depth, Jungian psychoanalyst John Beebe invites us to see the word “integrity” in a different way. He quotes American author Robert Grudin, who in part defines integrity as

…an inner psychological harmony and wholeness…. a conformity of personal expression with psychological reality….

Now this is a significantly different understanding of integrity. For Beebe, it’s clear that integrity has to do with taking all that we are into account. If we are to have an integrity-based approach to the question of how to know what you want, there has to be a harmony and wholeness between our inner and outer reality. Also our “personal expression”, or everything that we do in the outer world has to conform with our complete psychological reality. It has to take into account all that we’re thinking and feeling.

Holding the Opposites

To have this kind of “psychological harmony and wholeness” means to bring together what the ego wants, with what the shadow wants. As we’ve discussed before in this blog, the shadow was defined by C.G. Jung as “the thing a person has no wish to be”. To put it another way, the shadow is composed of everything that the conscious personality experiences as negative. Just what exactly is in the shadow differs greatly from individual to individual. The shadow of a Mafia Don is likely to look very different from the shadow of the Pope. Yet we can be sure that the ego doesn’t like whatever it is!

Part of what is in the shadow are wants and desires. Often, these can be desires that are completely unacceptable to the ego—so much so, that the ego may not even acknowledge their existence. Nonetheless, they are part of our actual desires.

The task of getting down to our real wants can take some real fortitude and courage. We may have to be prepared to really look at the shadow and recognize what it wants. Then, we need to hold that in tension with the more acceptable desires of the ego. If we can do this, then, over time, what it is that we “really want” will gradually emerge from the tension.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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