Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 2: Thick Mask

May 22nd, 2012 · individual, individual therapy, Individuation, masks, therapy

Individual therapy

In individual therapy, a huge obstacle to the individuation process can be a “thick mask”.  To put this another way, the persona (Latin for “mask”), or social self that the individual shows to the world can become so artificial and entrenched that no one — including the person wearing the mask — knows who the individual really is.

Expectations

We’re easily seduced into carrying the expectations of others.  This process often begins in the family of origin at an early age, but often gets more ingrained as a result of carrying expectations later in life.  Peers, school, work, kids, spouse or significant other can all contribute.  This may go on so thoroughly that we find ourselves completely out of touch with who we really are.  A key part of individuation and of individual therapy is to separate the excessive people pleasing and expectation meeting behaviours that we’ve internalized, from who we really are.

The Pain of Vulnerability

Individual therapy shows we put on thick masks because of the pain in our lives, and our vulnerability.  Where we have encountered the deepest pain in our lives, and perhaps the deepest sense of weakness, we can consciously or unconsciously try to hide our vulnerability, to avoid more pain.  But in the process, we may lose our spontaneity, our real feeling, and the sense of who it is we most fundamentally are.

Delusions About the Self

A thick mask seduces us into very mistaken beliefs about ourselves.  A very successful business person may adopt a delusional sense of entitlement, or can even start to believe that they are somehow fundamentally different than the average person on the street — a specially gifted “winner”.  Or, a cleric may start to believe that the saintly persona of sacrifice is who he or she really is — until the day his or her own needs, and/or resentments, surface.  We each have such seductive “thick masks” that can be mistaken for real identities.

Acceptance

One of my favorite C.G. Jung quotations about individuation and self-acceptance is “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely”.  It is — but it is also the most liberating.  To finally put down the weighty mask is incredibly scary, but brings immense freedom and relief.  Bruce Cockburn captures this in his powerful song “Fascist Architecture”.

 

The growth of that freedom is right at the core of individuation, and of Jungian individual therapy.

PHOTO:  Attribution Some rights reserved by cliff1066    VIDEO: © Copyright Bruce Cockburn and True North Records

 

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Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 1: Symbolism

May 7th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, masks, therapy

individual therapy

How do the masks we wear connect to our individuation, and how do they fit into individual therapyFor we do, all of us, wear masks, though many of them are not literal face coverings, but ways that we hide our real selves behind what we present — a smile, a “tough person look”, or a “poker face”.

Jung saw that we all conceal our true nature to at least some extent , and identified it with a particular structure in the personality: the persona, which means “mask” in Latin.  Mask is an deep thing in all of us.

Fascinated with Masks

Mask is an archetype: it appears all over the world.  They are virtually universal, even though the forms of masks vary greatly.  Coming to terms with mask is an important part of individuation.

Wearing a mask, we hide behind something that can almost be taken as a real face.

We can become identified with, and maybe inflated with, what the mask represents.  In primal cultures, one who donned the mask of a god or spirit became that spirit.  And today?  Doesn’t one who dons the Guy Fawkes mask of Anonymous become Anonymous?

Disturbed by Masks

Masks resemble living faces, but aren’t.  They are static, and that can make them seem eerily lifeless.

Masks can be fearsome. We fear that they might become so fastened to our face, that we will be unable to remove them. This was the theme of a famous 1964 Japanese horror movie, Onibaba, which centers around a demon-like mask that cannot be removed, and that causes the features of the wearer to become distorted.

The Truth Behind the Masks

We certainly all do wear masks.  We must, because we need them.  If we were just absolutely “raw and out there” with everything we think and feel, we’d get hurt and hurt others without end.  Yet, although we need masks, there’s good reason to have a healthy caution and respect for them, and sometimes even to be afraid of what they hide, what they reveal, and of being overly identified with them.

Relating to Our Masks

The ways in which we relate to tmasks we wear in individuation will be the subject of the rest of this series of posts, and we’ll explore it at some length.  We can say for sure that one essential way we need to relate to the masks we wear, is to be conscious that we are wearing them — and to be conscious of what exactly we are wearing — an essential part of the process of individual therapy.

PHOTO:  Attribution Some rights reserved by vreimunde ; VIDEO: © Contemporary Arts Media //www.artfilms.com.au
© 2012 Brian Collinson

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Individual Therapy & Overcoming Internet Addiction: Soul

April 16th, 2012 · individual therapy, internet addiction, overcoming internet addiction, therapy

individual therapy

It may seem strange to say that soul might be required in individual therapy for overcoming internet addiction.  Soul is a word that we don’t hear very often in the modern world.  It tends to conjure up visions of organized religion and stained glass windows, or maybe we even think of the late, great James Brown!…

But when depth psychotherapy refers to “soul” in  individual therapy, it refers to images that emerge from the depth of the personality, and the way in which psyche converts events into experiences of meaning and substance.

Inner Treasure

We each come into the world with the capacity for our own unique inner experience.  There are things that come from the depths of ourselves, from places that we don’t fully understand — images, fantasies, feelings.  Our capacity to experience these things is unique to us.  Only you have your particular, unique inner life, and only I have mine.  As that inner life flourishes, so does the uniqueness of the individual.

Food for Soul

The inner person needs a lot of rich inner images, fantasies and imagined experiences to flourish — these things bring our soul, our uniqueness, alive.  In an interview with Mary Nurriestearns, James Hillman noted that “You need a lot of food for the imagination. [A]dvertisers recognize our need to stir our imaginations.  Cars and shoes are two very practical items which, when advertised are sold through imaginative fantasies….  [T]hey are serving other purposes than nurturing the acorn [of the self], but advertisers recognize that human beings respond to imaginative images and fantasies.  That’s the first food.”

Imagination needs to grow, and find its unique form.  Often, advertising stifles this, by cramming the individual’s imagination into narrow, straightjacketing forms.  But that’s nothing compared to what the Internet can do to our imaginal selves.

 The Blizzard of the World

If we allow it, the sheer enormity of the Internet can have a huge impact on our imaginal life.  There’s always more of it; we’re never done.  We don’t need our imagination or inner life to animate the images of the Internet; they just keep coming: more porn to be seen; more people to be tweeted or FBed, more dating prospects to look at.  As the poet Leonard Cohen sang prophetically in his song The Future :

overcoming Internet addiction

Beyond Endless Hunger: Overcoming Internet Addiction

Overcoming Internet addiction involves return to our own real life.  First and foremost, that entails return to our own imagination, and our own soul.  Individual therapy in depth plays an important role in this.

PHOTOS:  Attribution Some rights reserved by michael_reuter ; © Helder Almeida | Dreamstime.com
© 2012 Brian Collinson

 

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Individuation, Individual Therapy & Work Related Stress

March 5th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, stress, therapy, work, work related stress

individual therapy

People expect work related stress to be a subject for individual therapy, but think less commonly about work and individuation — especially for today’s pressurized workers.  Individuation is the term Jung used to describe “the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology.”  Particularly in the last 10 – 15 years, as anxiety has crept more and more into the work place, the experience of work for many people may seem to be about anything but genuine individual development.

Yet… Something in Us Seeks Wholeness — Even at Work

For Jung, the human psyche is always in process, seeking to bring all the parts of our self into relatedness with each other.  Even at our work.  In our work experience, with specific tasks, co-workers, clients, etc., some aspect of our self is confronting us, trying to come into awareness.  There’s truth about ourselves that we need to take in — even in work related stress.

Vocation — What if It’s Not Just a Word?

Vocation can be overly spiritualized and dramatized, or trivialized, as in the so-called “vocational test”.  But what if there actually is something specific that life and my own nature has suited me to do?  That may be a matter of the job I do, or a vocation that I live out over and above my job.

Connecting Point recorded archetypal psychologist Jame Hillman on the subject of “What is Your Calling?”

Work Related Stress: Message from My Deep Self?

The fundamental question for individual therapy is, “What does my work stress tell me about my true self?”  Perhaps in relation to fellow workers?  Or about my trouble with saying “No” or setting boundaries?  Or the ways that I have been kidding myself about the type of work that suits me, or about my own true abilities or inclinations?  Or maybe my own deepest motivations, or compulsive need for success or status?  Or my driven-ness or workaholism as avoidance of life?  Or my fear to move on?

The Shadow in Working Life

My work may express who I really am, and allow me to give from my deepest self to the world.  Alternately, it might be that I’m really alienated from myself at work, unable to show anyone who I really am or what I really care about, and that this disconnect is a real source of work related stress.

If shadow is the unacknowledged part of the self, what is in your shadow that concerns work?

PHOTOS:  © Maria Paula Coelho | Dreamstime.com
 © 2012 Brian Collinson

 

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Coping with Change: Archetypal & Individual Therapy

February 15th, 2012 · archetypal, change, coping, coping with change, individual therapy, Psychology and Suburban Life, therapy

Individual therapy

To practice individual therapy in 2012 is to see how coping with change plays an ever greater role in peoples’ lives.  Many of my clients are forced to cope with a faster and faster pace of change almost month to month.  Change at work can be the most strenuous, but sometimes coping with change in other areas of life can be as much of a challenge.

“Embrace change” is the continual message.  But when is it too much?  Change can leave us empty and completely disoriented.  Can we protect ourselves?  Here are 4 insights from individual therapy about coping with change.

1.  Endless Demand

We all accept change as a given, in our era.  We’re continually told that we should comply with its demands, no matter how voracious they might be, and that resistance to any change is living in the past.  We continuously face external demands for change, which can turn toxic when mixed with our own  inner perfectionism and compulsiveness.

2.  Anxiety

The continual anxiety experienced in our time often pertains to a feeling that there is nothing firm to hold onto.  But this feeling often stems from the fact that we’ve been led to believe there is nothing to hold onto; we expect everything to slip between our fingers.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially with our personal needs and wants.

3.  Instinct, Archetype

We are so cut off from our instinct that we think it irrelevant.  Our culture endorses the idea that people are born as blank slates, devoid of instinct.  Only very slowly is evolutionary psychology reversing this.   In Jung’s phrase, coined long before evolutionary psychology, only now are we re-discovering “the 2 million year old man.”

As an archetypal symbol, “home” is incredibly multifaceted in its symbolic meaning.  But we seem to have forgotten one instinctual thing that any cave dweller could tell us : we need a real home to survive.  Many today act as if they need a mere dormitory or place to put their stuff.  Many more are so glued to their electronics that they invest nothing in creating the social fabric of their homes.

4.  The Part of Ourselves that Knows

In dreams, health concerns, and modern addictions, the instinctual and archetypal self cries out for something beyond rootlessness, anxiety and the relentless churn of the Next New Thing.  As we explore the wisdom of the self in therapy, we gain a greater and greater sense of those individual parts of our life that give value and stability.

PHOTOS:  Attribution Some rights reserved by 416style
© 2012 Brian Collinson 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)

 

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Jung Freud Individual Therapy & Major Life Transitions 2

February 6th, 2012 · individual therapy, life transitions, major life transitions, therapy

individual therapy
My first post on “A Dangerous Method” looked into the depths of the film to see what it could teach us both about the nature of individual therapy and the psychological character of major life transitions.  This post looks at two other insights that the film offers about major life transitions and the nature of the individuation process.  Both are in the latter part of the film, where, for a time, Jung the healer becomes one who is himself in need of healing.

Here are two further important aspects of Jung’s psychological development portrayed in the film.

3.  Often Growth is Preceded by Depression

At the end of the film, in his last encounter with Sabina Spielrein, we become aware that Jung is suffering from acute depression.  What the film only explores in a cursory way, though, is the way in which this experience of depression and going into the depths of the “night sea journey” eventually leads Jung to a closer and different relationship to himself, the discovery of hitherto unknown parts of his psyche, and eventually to the development of what we know today as his unique psychological perspective.

Jung’s experience highlights an important truth.  Depression involves a submergence of the person into his or her unconscious depths.  But if we can have the courage to go into our depression as Jung did, we often find that it contains within it the very things that the soul needs for its renewal.

4. Everyone Needs an Individual Way Forward

The film ends at the very beginning of a vital stage in Jung’s personal journey.  He has broken with Freud, and ended the relationship with Spielrein.  Implied, but not stated, is that the next few years of Jung’s life will involve an inward journey of the most profound kind, that will ultimately be chronicled in his great Red Book, and, later in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections.

individual therapy

 

This aspect of Jung’s journey sheds much light on each of our individual journeys.  For when we are confronted with the profoundest types of crisis in our lives, only an individual answer will suffice, as Jung came to know well.  There is a definite type of crisis that is only resolved by a very individual encounter with the unconscious, and within it, the as yet undiscovered aspects of the self.

Wishing you every good thing on your own individual journey to wholeness,

PHOTOS: ©  All rights reserved Sony Pictures Classics 2011

© 2011 Brian Collinson 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)

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Jung Freud Individual Therapy & Major Life Transitions 1

February 2nd, 2012 · individual therapy, life transitions, major life transitions, therapy

individual therapy

The relationship between Freud, Jung and Sabina Spielrein portrayed in the film “A Dangerous Method” provides great insights into effective individual therapy and the psychological impact of major life transitions.  But, both in the media and in the film, these insights are often eclipsed behind the drama of the relationship between Spielrein and Jung.

The film faces a big challenge to convey the nature of the break between Jung and his older mentor/colleague Freud, together with the relationship with Spielrein, a brilliant, forceful and complex personality in her own right.  The film also seeks to convey the immense struggles and conflicts undergone by Jung at this time.

In my next two blog posts, I want to look briefly at 4 major insights into individual therapy and major life transitions portrayed by “A Dangerous Method”.

1.  The Power of Acceptance and Listening

Spielrein came to the Burgholzli, where Jung was a psychiatrist, in grave crisis.   As the film portrays, she may not have been psychotic, but she wasn’t far off.  In using Freud’s novel “talking cure”, Jung took Spielrein seriously as an individual person and engaged with her in a very accepting and affirming way, even affirming her desire to be a medical doctor.  Whatever the weaknesses of Freud’s method, one key aspect of “the talking cure”, embodied in Jung’s deep acceptance of Spielrein — listening, engaging her and entering into her experience — had a profoundly positive effect on her life.  This is essential in good individual therapy to this day.

individual therapy

2.  Even Brilliant People Hit Impasses During Major Life Transitions

This movie is set prior to the beginning of the single greatest crisis in Jung’s life.  This took place in 1913 – 1918.  Looking forward, we know that he will emerge from this time transformed, and with his own developed psychology.  However, just at the time of this movie, Jung is really struggling.  It is characteristic of major life transitions, and especially those that come near midlife, that they can make incredible demands on people, and can often only be resolved by a fundamental change in outlook, and encounter with the hitherto undiscovered parts of the self.

This is not pathology. People with real difficulties at these points in life are not mentally ill.  These are the kinds of challenges that people — even brilliant, very successful people — often experience at times of major life transition.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll look at insights from the film pertaining to growth, depression and individuality.

PHOTOS: ©  All rights reserved Sony Pictures Classics 2011
© 2011 Brian Collinson 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)

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Individual Therapy & Dismantling the “Mid Life Crisis”

November 1st, 2011 · individual therapy, midlife, midlife crisis, Psychology and Suburban Life

individual therapy

Person overboard?

The term “mid life crisis” is a cliche in our society, which individual therapy must sometimes deconstruct.  Don’t get me wrong: a tremendous amount does happen to us at midlife.  But it isn’t usually the ridiculous caricature referred to in our society as a “mid life crisis.”

In that stereotype, the individual has a difficult period in the middle of life centering around regret for the passage of youth.  As a result, he or she goes “off the rails” for a time, possibly years, and then gradually “comes back to normal”, once again accepting his or her lot in life.

But is that actually how it goes for people?

A “Mid Life Crisis” Isn’t Necessarily a Crisis

It’s far better to refer to a midlife transition.  What the stereotype misses is that you don’t “come back to normal” from this process.  Something deep and profound starts at midlife, and then keeps going on through the entire second half of life.  And what starts might not be a crisis at all: it may just be a profound transformation, as an individual fundamentally re-evaluates his or her life.

Deconstructing the “Mid Life Crisis”

Articles abound now with titles like “10 Signs of a Mid Life Crisis”.  Such lists miss the point that mid life transition is very individual indeed.  There are no checklists that you can tick off to see if you “have it”, or “how you’re progressing”.  It’s a very personal and individual search for what will last in life as youth and even mature adulthood give way to the older years: an individual answer to the question, “What really matters — to me?”

Midlife Transition, and Beyond

As the life journey progresses, a person’s values may start to be less conventional.  While socially sanctioned goals for family, career and success may have held a lot of importance at earlier stages in life, the emphasis starts shifting to what it is that really matters to the individual.

Beyond the Security of False Identity

Conventional fixed, socially recognized identities seem to offer security.  An identity like “I’m an accountant”, or, “I’m an athletic parent” gives the sense of permanence, and stability.  But underneath, there is always the question, “Who am I, really?”,  and the sense that there is a great deal more of me that I need to get to know.  Often individual therapy is a key part of this journey, and this adventure, in the second half of life.

PHOTO:  © Kentannenbaum | Dreamstime.com
© 2011 Brian Collinson
2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)

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Individual Therapy, Overwork & Workaholism

July 22nd, 2011 · individual, individual therapy, overwork, therapy, workaholism

workaholism

There is a real difference between overwork and workaholism, and it makes a real difference to the issues that arise in individual therapy.  Both of these things are way too prevalent in our culture, but they are not the same.

  • Differences Between Overwork and Workaholism

Workaholism has an obsessive-compulsive, addictive character.  Workaholics often think continuously about work, and often use work as a way of avoiding pain or hardship — or intimacy — in other areas of life.  But someone may be subject to overwork, without any of these things being true.

  • Workaholics Overwork; Overworkers May Not be Workaholics

Workaholics do overwork, in terms of hours and/or effort put into work.  They are part of the general epidemic of overwork in our society.  In our culture, an increasing percentage of people work themselves into sickness, premature old age, even death, through work related stress.  Both the workaholic, who feels an inner compulsion to work, and the person who works harder and harder out of fear of job loss, form part of this picture of ever-increasing overwork — both often need individual therapy and burnout treatment.

  • Workaholism and Overwork May Feel Productive, but Actually Aren’t

Often those compelled to overwork in short bursts for specific goals feel that their additional work is effective and productive.  Workaholics may also feel this, but we know that they are wrong.  It may feel like more is getting done, as endless hours that are put in, but studies show clearly that, with increasing hours, productivity is declining.

  • Both Overwork and Workaholism Can Keep Life From Being Meaningful

Work is ultimately only meaningful and satisfying if life overall is meaningful.  Both the self-imposed, compulsively avoidant working of the workaholic, and the oppressively imposed burdens of the overwork culture can deprive life of much of its real meaning.  From a Jungian perspective, the goal of life is to find those things in life that are genuinely meaningful to the unique individual.  To acheive that requires a life in which there is meaningful work life balance in combination with other vital endeavours that each person’s unique being requires of him or her.  Often Jungian psychotherapy can play a key role in assisting the individual to reach this point.

What does genuinely meaningful work really mean to you? I’d welcome your comments.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst | Oakville, Burlington and Mississauga Ontario

1-905-337-3946

PHOTO: © Yuri Arcurs | Dreamstime.com
© 2011 Brian Collinson
2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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Individual Therapy, Women, Men & Marilyn Monroe

March 7th, 2010 · Anima, feminine, individual, individual therapy, masculine, therapy

 It’s very striking how the figure of Marilyn Monroe sometimes comes up in individual therapy.

Individual therapy

Few people have gripped the imagination of popular culture as she has.  An iconic and fateful figure for both women and men.  A figure combining elements of both the erotic goddess and the cautionary tale.  Her story is disturbing.  In some important sense, she will not leave us alone.

A recent book, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli sheds light on the last period before her death at age 36 in 1962.  However, a CBC network television program, The Passionate Eye last fall aired an even more informative documentary, Marilyn: The Last Sessions , which described the last sessions that Monroe had with her psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson.  This psychiatrist allegedly engaged in a wide range of boundary-violating behaviour, including seeing Marilyn twice a day, and involving her in his family life.  I wonder whether Greenson did not himself fall under the spell of the archetypal child-woman symbology that our culture had already imbued on Monroe. 

Even today, Marilyn Monroe is an unbelievably powerful symbolic figure — for both men and women, and on all kinds of levels.  In her persona and public image, Marilyn represents a female figure who is essentially conformed to the will of men.  In her whole bearing, in her breathy-voiced, man-pleasing manner, she represents a very powerful manifestation of the “anima woman”, a woman who is so permeated on the unconscious level by her need to conform herself to the inner image of woman in male fantasy that it takes over her entire outer presentation.  A woman who lives out her entire life in this mode is very often headed for a tragic outcome.  Such seems to have been the fate of Marilyn, the fatherless girl who so deeply yearned for male approval and love.

Marilyn is clearly a powerful image of male-dominated womanhood, and is a tragic figure for women.  What is not so often seen is how destructive a figure she can represent for a man, if she embodies a man’s “anima”, which is to say that receptive dimension of a man that enables him to relate to women and the feminine.  How could a man dominated by such an image really have anything but contempt for his own receptive, feeling “feminine” dimension?  Or anything but pity or contempt for the real women who occupy his life — if he sees them through the image of Marilyn, the child-woman?

Is the Marilyn Monroe type of feminity the only way in which our society or individuals in it can access the feminine?  If it is through “Marilyn lenses” that we view the world, how can we have any feeling connection to the feminine parts of reality — nature, the earth, our own feeling and relational dimensions, even those parts of ourselves that are receptive, gentle and creative?  If feminity can only be imaged as an absence of the masculine and its strength, then we are doomed to perceive only half of the world.  

Our culture is desperately yearning for the healing that the feminine can bring, but that healing is nowhere to be found in the tragic symbology of the female pushed into a mold created by the male.  In his 1975 film based on the “rock opera” Tommy by The Who, avant-garde film director Ken Russell captured our dilemma with a certain bizarre eloquence…”You talk about your woman…”

Tommy – “Eyesight to the Blind”

I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections on Marilyn Monroe specifically, and, more generally on the place of femininity in our culture.  How has the way our culture treats the feminine impacted you?  I think that this is a very important matter, and I’d very much like to share with you about your views.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

PHOTO CREDIT: © Konstantin32 |Dreamstime.com

FILM CREDIT: “Tommy”, Directed by Ken Russell, © Columbia Pictures, 1975 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 


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