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In Fall: Help with Anxiety & Individuation, 4

September 10th, 2012 · Anxiety, help with anxiety, Individuation

This last post in my series on issues of individuation and help with anxiety in the Fall start-up season focuses on the role of imagination.

help with anxiety

Imagination has a huge role in both our anxieties and also in our hopes and aspirations.  How does it affect us as we deal with the challenges of this time of year?

Imagination Has Formidable Power

In the Fall start up, whether we are aware or not, our imagination is powerfully activated.  We can imagine the greatest possible outcomes for ourselves or our children, and we can often imagine the most threatening and scary outcomes.

Often, imagination is the power behind anxiety.  Those with powerful imaginations often experience more anxiety, because they can vividly imagine negative possibilities.

But imagination is also strongly connected to individuation.  The things that come into consciousness, through dreams, daydreams, fantasies and even the images connected with internet addiction are powerfully related to what goes on in the unconscious.  Our deepest conflicts and fears, as well as new possibilities that try to break into our lives — all are vitally connected with imagination.

Imagination: Rooted in the Unconscious

We tend to think of imagination as under conscious control, but actually our control is rather limited.  Things we imagine burst into consciousness from the unconscious all the time, if we are honest with ourselves, and do not censor.  There are connections between these manifestations and the deep processes of the unconscious self.

Whether as adult or child, if we explore what we imagine, we learn a great deal about ourselves and our journey.

Taking What We Imagine Seriously

It’s striking how deeply that which emerges from imagination can affect us.  On the unconscious level, they come out of what we’ve experienced, combined with the deep level issues with which the unconscious concerns itself.

The power of the imaginal profoundly structures our relationship to our lives.

Fantasies of Fall

This Fall start-up season is laden with emotions.  They can produce joy, strong anxiety, or may even colour our expectations and experiences with dark foreboding.

Alternately, if we can explore and understand what our imagination is putting in front of us, and where it comes from, we may understand some profound things about what is trying to emerge and live itself out in each of our individual lives.

The fantasies and anxieties of Fall surround us.  They touch on our deepest hopes, fears and aspirations.  They invite us on the journey to ourselves.

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In Fall: Help with Anxiety & Individuation, 3

September 3rd, 2012 · Anxiety, help with anxiety, Individuation

As I’ve suggested earlier in this series, needing help with anxiety, and feeling the call of individuation may both be our experiences in the “September rush”.

help with anxiety

The busy-ness of this season can make it hard to find time to reflect on very much at all.  Yet, there may be some very profound things that we need to consider, as we try to open up the meaning of this time of year for ourselves.

Beginning September: Four Reflections

1. Life is Beckoning

We feel it all around us, as September begins.  The surge of renewed life as the Fall season commences.

We see it in our collective life, as kids go back to school, adults go back to university and college, and all manner of Fall activities start up again.  Everything urges us to jump into collective life.  But what about getting into our own, unique individual lives?

What is real life, for me?

2. The Gift Inside the Anxiety

Real anxiety is often associated with this time.  If I do need help with anxiety now, it may be important to ask — what does it mean?  What might I not want to face?  Is it tied to fear about the future, and possible mistrust of myself, or of life?  Or possibly to repressed feelings or yearnings?

Life’s energy often gets tied up in anxiety, rather than poured into those parts of our lives that need to be lived out.

What would it be like to give some unacknowledged part of yourself real, concrete life?

3. “Why be Happy When You Could be Normal?”…

…is the ironic title of Jeannette Winterson’s autobiography.  It’s an actual remark made by her adoptive mother, a woman of very narrowly conservative religious views, when Jeanette declared herself on certain key lifestyle issues.  It leads all of us ask where we have sacrificed happiness and meaning in our lives for the sake of being “normal”.

Might that need to change, for the sake of our psychological well-being?

4. The Divine Child

At this time, much gets stirred by the changes we experience.  We’re powerfully aware of the vulnerability of our children, their seeming fragility.  Yet we lose sight of youth’s resilience and adaptability, captured in the symbolism of the divine child.  Throughout the world we find the myth of a child born, seemingly fragile and “at risk”, who, despite the terrifying array of opposing forces, prevails.  So it is with the new life appearing in our children, and — dare we say it? — striving to appear in the lives of their parents.

Next post in Fall, Anxiety & Individuation Series

PHOTO:  AttributionSome rights reserved by Phil Roeder

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In Fall: Help with Anxiety & Individuation, 2

August 28th, 2012 · Anxiety, help with anxiety, Individuation

In my first post on Fall: Help with Anxiety and Individuation, I explored the connection between anxiety and our individuation at back-to-school time.  In this post, I’d like to take it further.

help with anxiety

Children, and the symbol of the child, produce an incredibly strong emotional/instinctual response in us.  And I think that there is scarcely any time of the year when the potential for that archetypal response gets more activated than in the “back to school” season.

The Symbol of the Child: Lightning Rod for Angst

Parents are both socialized and hard wired to bond with their children, and to meet their needs and protect them.  What is more, on a symbolic level, as in dreams, children often represent both potentiality, and the future.

That’s why popular culture in recent times is full of movies involving vulnerable kids in peril, like Gone Baby Gone, The Road and I am Legend, among many others.  They express a profound uncertainty that many feel  in our time about their own, and their children’s, future.

The Endless, Anxious Challenge of Kids

In our uncertain times, parents give continuously to meet children’s needs, struggling to feel confident that what they provide will be enough to enable their kids to “make it”.  Yet, at some point, we have to trust in our kids and their potential.  If we find it hard to do that, might we be projecting our own feelings of lack of trust in ourselves, and our own lives, onto them?

How is My Unlived Life with Me Now?

The symbol of the child can activate all our feelings about all our aspirations and yearnings that we have never made real.  We might then easily foist the burden of living that out onto our children: e.g.,  I always wanted to be a heart surgeon, but couldn’t… but my child will fulfil my dreams, damn it!

To be Myself in this Time

But time is a one-way door.  As Joni Mitchell expresses so well in her song “The Circle Game”, I cannot find help for anxiety in clinging to past possibilities:


Can I be open to what life brings to me, to what wants to be alive in me — now?  Here in the present, can I decide to open myself up to experiences and to possibilities in myself, to live now?

Often the journey of individuation in depth psychotherapy requires help with anxiety connected to the past… to allow real life in the present.

Next post in Fall, Anxiety & Individuation Series

PHOTO:  © PeJo29 | Dreamstime.com  MUSIC:  Joni Mitchell “The Circle Game” © Siquomb Pub. Co.

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In Fall: Help with Anxiety & Individuation, 1

August 21st, 2012 · Anxiety, help with anxiety, Individuation, individuation process

The demands of the Fall season make many feel a need for help with anxiety: the surprising thing is how this anxiety connects with our need for individuation.

help with anxiety

Often parents of school age kids feel a need at this time for help with anxiety — for many very good reasons.  But others feel restless and anxious as well, whether they have children or not.

What does Fall evoke ?  We may need help with anxiety, sure enough, but what about our individuation?

Hopes and Fears of the Past

For many children, embarking on another school year evokes hope, but also anxiety.  Returning students anticipate that the school year might be a time of personal growth and adventure, when they might find something really new and exciting in life — some new possibility.  Yet, the school year’s start may bring anxious forebodings that the year — and life — may not be like this.  Adults often feel some echo of this.

“Children Must be Realistic”

My earliest school memory is of a friend in my class who was slapped with a ruler for making 4s that were closed at the top, rather than open, as the teacher had shown us.  I think that he had intended to proudly show the teacher that he already knew how to make 4s, but instead he ended up humiliated and chastised.

For many adults, the association with school may be all about having to accommodate — to shut down parts of themselves that proved “too much” for the school environment.  Some people take that shutting down message to heart, and never recover from it.

Just how “realistic”, i.e., not ourselves, have we learnt to be?  If we need help with anxiety, could it stem from alienation from ourselves that forms a barrier to our individuation?

Onrush of Demands and Obligations

For parents, the re-commencement of school along with the whole multitude of kids’ activities can be an overwhelming burden at this time.  In my experience, many do need help with anxiety.  How do we take care of ourselves in the midst of this?  Is it even OK to think about what I might need to develop as a person?

Where are My New Beginnings?

Living through this time of year, we’re aware that kids have new beginnings, and kids have optimism about the future.  What about me?  Does my life open on any growth, any depth, any new beginnings?

The journey to individuation may call to us most strongly in Fall.

Next post in Fall, Anxiety & Individuation Series

PHOTO:  Attribution   Some rights reserved by ErikCharlton

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Individual Therapy & Individuation: Are You Born Yet?

August 6th, 2012 · Individuation

The quote below shows what astute individual therapy knows: individuation often places an individual on a path that often involves more than one “dying” and one “birth”:

individual therapy Jazz great Charlie Parker describes a technical change in his musical technique.  But then he says something remarkable:

“… I could play what I heard inside me.  That’s when I was born.

The Secret of Initiation

In major life transitions, humans experience the reality of dying to an older self, and being “re-born” into a new identity.  Here, Parker dies to who he formerly was, and is effectively re-born as an artist, as a person who can express his inner reality in powerful ways out in the world.  It is as if he went through a one-way door in his life.  He is not who he used to be.  It’s as if he was re-born.

Archetypal Re-Birth

Today, people throw around the phrase “being born again”.  It’s often used to describe the sloughing off of some old identity, and the assumption of a different conventional, stereotyped identity, often religious in nature.  However, throughout the ages, humanity has meant something much more profound by the expression.  In indigenous societies, when someone was undergoing initiation into adulthood, or as a shaman, the transformation was seen as literally dying to who the person previously was, and being born to a whole new and unique personal identity.

It is this kind of profound re-birth in Parker’s case.  Often, it’s transformation of this magnitude that we need in individual therapy, to re-orient ourselves to our lives.

“I Could Play What I Heard Inside Me”

Parker uses this expression to describe what happens as a result of this transformation.  He finds a way to access and express who he really is.  Similarly, this is what we all need.  I need to come to what is really me.

Re-Birth & Creative Receptivity

The type of re-birth Parker describes comes with the force of a revelation.  It’s not something that he “whups up” by force of will.  It’s something that happens to him.  He can only receive it, as an infant receives life through the process of being born.  This idea is alien to 21st century North Americans: our motto is, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Good individual therapy knows that often what we need is something that we can’t will to be, because we can’t yet even imagine it.  So, individual therapy can sometimes have the character of re-birth.

PHOTO:  Attribution    Some rights reserved by Yellow.Cat

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Individual Therapy, Men & Male Individuation, 2

July 23rd, 2012 · individual, individual therapy, Individuation, men, therapy

This is the second post in my series on men and male individuation, and how that all relates to individual therapy.

individual therapy

Being Male: Not As Simple as It Looks

The women’s movement, over the last 45 years, has strongly — and rightly — made the point that traditional male-dominated structures in society tend to keep women from being individual selves.  What isn’t as well appreciated is that, often, those same old patterns keep men from individuation, just as effectively.  These stereotypes even contaminate certain types of individual therapy.

The Last Thing Men Need is Another Stereotype

There is a stereotype waiting in the wings in our society, ready to fill the vacuum for individual men, but not in a helpful way.  The archetypal pattern of dominance and submission, or, as you often hear it put today, the “Alpha Male / Beta Male” image,  is rooted in the archaic instinctual division between competent, capable males who lead, and supposedly incompetent, clueless men who need to get led by Alphas.  Often, our culture holds out the image of these Beta Males — the majority, according to this view — as hopeless big kids, or even more toxically, stereotypical “failures” or “losers”.  Examples of this Beta Male stereotype abound in our culture:

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  • Al Bundy from the sitcom Married with Children;

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  • Raymond from Everybody Loves Raymond; and,

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  • last, but oh-so-far from least, Homer Simpson.

Not surprisingly, the only alternative that the culture holds up is to be the invulnerable, all-conquering Alpha Male:

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…like, say, “The Donald”…  Is this really all that there is for men?  If so, God help us.

Pressures Within; Pressures Without

The pressure is on, inner and outer, for men to either strive to embody the unassailable success of the Alpha Male, or else to accept the subtle but definite sense of failure with which our culture taints men who are not perceived as Alphas, and accept that humiliation by fleeing into the various distractions and anaesthetics our society offers.  Isn’t there any other possibility?

Individual Maleness

There is.  It involves creatively opening up and exploring who I am as an individual male person.  It entails going into my depths, and coming to accept and embrace who and what I am as a unique individual.  It requires accepting my woundedness, and being open to the healing that acceptance can bring.  It entails a new kind of awareness, stemming from what it is to uniquely be me.  Individual therapy can be key to this process of male individuation.

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Individual Therapy, Men & Male Individuation, 1

July 17th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, male, men

Male individuation is a man’s uniquely individual path; it’s the goal of individual therapy for men.

individual therapy

Often, discussions about “therapy for men” lapse into really regrettable stereotypes that would be completely unacceptable in discussions about therapy for women.  Is there a way beyond this?

Here are four profoundly worthwhile questions relating to men in individual therapy.

Can You be a Male and be an Individual?

Looking at the shallow and stereotypical images of men that abound in our culture, it may seem that the answer to that question is “No”.  However, when men closely examine their individual lives and stories, they often realize that they actually have been walking a highly unique path.  They have things in common with other men, but much that is truly their own.

What is it that our culture does to us that makes us think that this isn’t true?

Is It OK for a Male to Have Problems or Weaknesses?

Our culture socializes men to be intensely competitive with each other, about nearly everything.  As a result, even in 2012, it’s easy for a man to interpret any weakness — on his part, or other men’s — as losing, with all that implies in terms of shame and failure.   So, many men work extremely hard to avoid any evidence of “loser behaviour” — a.k.a. being human.

Can You be a Male and Have a Life Journey?

Males are supposed to be strong.  That image of being strong is supposed to include being — and staying — in control.  So, it isn’t surprising that men feel strong pressure to appear in control — to others, and especially to themselves.  Men are supposed to have it all together, and to have everything more or less figured out.  That sometimes makes it hard for them to acknowledge that they need to grow and become as part of the natural personal journey of life, and of becoming themselves.

What Does Male Individuation Really Mean?

Above all, it means that a man accepts everything that he is, and seeks, as much as he can, to integrate it all into wholeness.  It also means accepting himself in his identity as a man in his own way, whether or not that exactly accords with the images of men that have been held out to him by family, society and male peers.  It entails finding a freedom to affirm and rejoice in who or what he is, and to relate to others, male or female, out of that freedom.  The journey of individual therapy can affirm men, and greatly assist in the unfolding of that process.

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Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 3: Thin Mask

June 4th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, masks

In “Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 2“, I dealt with the “overly thick” persona or social mask — but can the mask also be overly thin?

individual therapy
Wearing a fragile glass mask?

A number of my readers have pointed out in responses to that earlier post that it most certainly can — and that’s an individuation issue!

Not Guarding Our Treasure

Many of us can relate to the experience of feeling overly open or overly exposed in social situations.  Sometimes, we can put ourselves “out there”, and have the clear sense that others either don’t understand, value, or respect the aspects of ourselves that we have shown to them.

Vulnerable and Unprotected

Especially with those with who are not intimates, social interactions can feel dangerous without an adequately protective social mask or persona.  We can feel genuinely vulnerable, or at risk, facing issues of identity and anxiety.  Individual therapy shows that sometimes the injury done through inappropriate self-disclosure or social interaction with others can lead to real and lasting wounds.  Often those coming from different cultural environments can feel particularly vulnerable, when the persona or social mask required in a different social milieu may be very different.

Believing the Fun House Mirror

individual therapy

A danger of not adequately respecting or protecting our inner life or individuation process, is that we may end up accepting the evaluations that others place on us.  That’s the psychological equivalent of looking in the mirror in a fun house, and taking the distorted image to be our real face.  This can happen unconsciously before we are even aware of what has happened, and we can find ourselves now devaluing ourselves and dealing with shame on a deep and unwarranted level.

Sincerety AND Respect for the Inner Person

There’s a balance that we have to maintain when it comes to the social mask or persona.  A mask that is too thick hides us from the world, and keeps us trapped in an impersonal, unrelated place, where we cannot be ourselves in the social world.  A mask that is too thin threatens to allow others to see aspects of our inmost self and cherished inner life that can make social contact unbearable.  The crucial thing can be to find the appropriate balance, where we protect the treasures of the self, and are also able to be ourselves in the world with freedom.  Finding the freedom to do this is a key part of individuation, and individual therapy.

PHOTO:  © Higyou | Dreamstime.com  ; Attribution Some rights reserved by ninahale

 

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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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