Journeying Toward Wholeness

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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life, 6: Cars

May 5th, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist, psychotherapist

The symbolic may be the commonplace, as a Jungian psychotherapist well knows; other than pets like dogs, what could be more commonplace in suburban life than cars?

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Not only are cars commonplace in suburban life; they are common in our dreams.  The ancient gods had their vehicles or mounts that they typically rode; so our vehicles often appear in dreams as representations of our “way of getting through life”.

Automobile as Possibility

When Henry Ford mass produced the automobile, he created a world of transportation possibility that had been previously unimaginable.  So often the auto represents a real dimension of freedom in the lives of individuals.

The Car and Our “Drive”

It’s not accidental, in our culture that we refer to a highly motivated individual as “driven”.  We can easily relate driving to a way of being aggressively in control: driving can be a direct expression of aggression.  This association with aggression is at the root of many road rage incidents.

The Car and Persona / Identity

in North American society generally, and in suburbia in particular, the car that a person drives is seen as directly connected to a person’s social mask or persona.  In modern suburbia, the car one drives can easily mark one as an estimable, successful person… or not.  So one aspect of car ownership is that it can become something that we hide behind — as something that hides a person’s individuality.  A Jungian psychotherapist knows that cars in general, and especially in suburbia, are part of personal identity, and also hide it.

The Isolating Container

Most cars constitute a sealed off vessel that travels down the road.  This can lead to a sense of being cut off from the external environment.  What happens in the world outside the car is something that doesn’t affect me, and from which I’m disconnected.

One complaint that Europeans often have about North American cities and suburbs is that they are “60 Kilometre / Hour Cities” where we whizz by things in our cars at 60 KPH, and we are disengaged from the outer world outside our automobile containers, except for the endpoints of our journeys.

Does our car dependency symbolize disconnection from other people and the world; life in a world of isolation, tunnel vision, alienation from nature, as John Brack’s painting seems to portray?

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The Car in Your Dreams

As 21st century people, and especially as suburban folk, we often find ourselves in our cars in our dreams.  Often, there can be a lot to be learned from these dream car journeys.

In your dream, where are you going?

How are you getting there?

Who’s driving your car?  You, or someone else?

The images of car travel in our dreams can often tell us a great deal about our lives, and the needed direction of our journey towards wholeness.

Does Hermes Drive A Mercury?

 

When a Jungian psychotherapist works in individual therapy with a client, material objects from our everyday lives can take on great symbolic importance, and reveal much about our individual lives.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

Oakville, Burlington & Mississauga Ontario 

905-337-3946

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

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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life, 5: Dogs

March 31st, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist, psychotherapist

A Jungian psychotherapist has a passionate interest in symbols, and one of the most strikingly visible symbols in suburban life must surely be: dogs.

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“CAVE CANEM” – “Beware the Dog”, Pompeii, Italy 1st C., A.D.

“Yes, Brian”, you say, “I get it.  There are dogs in suburbia.  OK.   Big deal.  So what?”

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Suburbia as Doggy Homeland

Dogs are almost omnipresent in suburbia.  Clearly, in our culture as a whole, and in suburbia in particular, dogs are very important to very many people.  To a Jungian psychotherapist, this importance is both psychological and symbollic.  The recent CBC documentary Dog Dazed opens up this more psychological aspect of dog ownership powerfully.

In suburbia, what is the psychological function of the dog?

Well, there are several important things to note about our dogs…

dog-at-starbucks

Dogs Don’t Desert

Dogs are by nature social, and instinctively adapted to life in packs.  This social aspect of dogs likely made them the first animal to ever be domesticated.

One of the things that endears us to dogs is that they are particularly responsive to human affection and care.  These are beings both very different from ourselves, and very open and eager to be emotionally connected to us.

Dogs don’t desert their masters.  As a result in myth, and many religious traditions they are portrayed as accompanying their masters to death and into the afterlife.  This symbolism was common in ancient Egypt, as Manchester Museum Egyptologist Campbell Price tells us.

As a result of these attributes, dogs have a very deep, even archetypal place in the human psyche.

Dogs as Instinct

Another aspect of dogs is revealed in the way that they represent the body and instinct in life.

Humans have long relied on the dog’s superior senses — superior hearing, ability to detect scents, sureness of direction — to extend the range of our own senses.  We are acutely aware that, in certain of these respects the dog’s abilities are unquestionably superior to our own.

Dogs in human life may also be symbolic of instinct.  Given their nature, they unquestionably represent  an instinctual desire to be social, to affiliate, to “be part of”.  Similarly, they can represent the sexual instinct for humans; the territorial or boundary-maintaining instinct, and the instinct to hunter and to track.

In addition, dogs embody for us a simple ease with bodily life.  We may say that a person is not comfortable in his own skin; we would never say that about a dog.

The Dog Within

A Jungian psychotherapist sees suburbanites’ love affair with the dog in terms of our deep yearnings for connection,  and for unconditional love and acceptance.  Similarly, that the dog is a symbol of our desire to be connected with the simplicity and self acceptance of bodily, instinctual life is not lost on a Jungian psychotherapist.  The journey of individual therapy is a journey to connection, beginning with acceptance and then love of oneself and welcome of instinct and body.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by Hanumann ; VIDEO: “Dog Dazed” ©Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 2013
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life, 4: Family

March 13th, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist

A Jungian psychotherapist who didn’t take into account the impact of family would have a pretty distorted picture of suburban life.

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There’s all kinds of material out there focusing on family dynamics, the importance of good parenting, and having a good marriage. There’s much less on the impact of the family on the life of the individual in suburbia.

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Two Parents, Two Cars and the Requisite Number of Kids

There’s a collective ideal of marriage and family that underlies suburban life, even to this day.

There is an expectation in suburbia of how families should look and function — an image.  While that has changed somewhat over the last 50 years, it’s not really that dissimilar from the vision of family life held out to people in early suburbias like Levitttown in the late 40s and very early 50s.  What’s more, it doesn’t fit the reality that many people live.

When Your Life Doesn’t Fit the Pattern

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Unconventional in suburbia?

A Jungian psychotherapist is well aware that, if the structure of an individual’s family is atypical for suburbia, it can sometimes be demanding to live here.  Single parents in a suburban situation often know this.  Often, so does the family with a member who is differently abled, or suffering from serious illness.  Or the family  that has lost a child, or suffered a serious economic setback.

All such experiences take persons out of the everyday awareness of suburbia, and bring them into a new consciousness concerning very difficult situations.  This is true for families, and even truer for the individual.

Family Has Meaning: So Does Individual Life

Family is meaningful, and has a great importance for the vast majority of people.  As Jung notes the archetypes that underpin family are some of the very most significant in human life — they powerfully affect us.

Yet, the clinical experience of the Jungian psychotherapist shows that, even if a person has an extremely meaningful, loving family life, the question still remains: “What is meaningful for me, as an individual?”

Family and Identity

Suburbia can pressure the individual to find meaning in life solely in terms of family, but that is often insufficient.

Individuals may respond to such pressure by floating above family life in disengaged ways, never really investing in the supposedly key relationships in their lives, like the relationship to a significant other, or the relationship to kids.

On the other hand, the individual may totally succumb to straitjacketing family roles, and avoid the necessity to individuate in fundamental ways.

Avoiding both of these dangers requires creative relationship to others — to letting in their needs and the individuality in empathic ways.  It also necessitates creatively taking the inner journey and exploring our own unique needs and individuality.  The work that the  Jungian psychotherapist does with individuals concerns itself in depth with the call of life to become and remain our individual selves in the midst of suburban life.

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

 

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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life, 3: Money

February 9th, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist, psychotherapist

Money in all its aspects is highly significant in suburban life, as any Jungian psychotherapist well knows.

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This isn’t surprising: money has immense psychological importance, overall.

What do I mean by that?

Money as Energy

Psychologically and symbolically speaking, a Jungian psychotherapist thinks of money as representing a form of stored energy.  The money we earn effectively results from the expenditure of our life’s energy.

As a result, money is fundamentally tied up with our hopes and dreams, for ourselves, and just as importantly, for those whom we love.  It is also powerfully associated with our fears and insecurities.   Let’s make no mistake: financial crises, recessions or other situations of financial threat, personal or collective, are powerful emotional events.

These psychological facts take on a particular nuance or flavour in suburban settings.  In suburbia, success and affluence are highly prized, and deeply tied up with personal identity.

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Money Complex and Social Self

Basically, everyone has a money complex.  Money issues can leave us in the grips of many different strong emotional states, but money “gets” to almost all of us, one way or another, whether as extreme competitiveness or extreme worry, or other emotional states.

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The world’s great financial organizations and institutions gives us the impression that money is one of the most rational — even mathematical — of things in human life.  Actually, money is one of the most emotional things on earth.  Again, this emotionality is often heightened in suburbia, where outward trappings of affluence and success are a highly prized part of our social masks.  The social collective stresses the need to be, and to be seen to be successful– in order to have any worth.

Songwriter Aimee Mann explores the complexity around “looking successful” and money in her insightful song, “Freeway” — “You’ve got a lot of money / But you cannot keep your bills paid.”

Suburban Life: A Troubled Marriage with Money

As a Jungian psychotherapist, a key area of investigation, and a key issue for people who see me in my practice, is the particular relationship between suburban life and money.  It’s a potent, potent mixture!

The constant message of suburbia?  Successful people live here.  In fact, that’s why many chose to live in the more affluent suburbs.    Certainly, “success” in this sense means financial success: having a lot of money.  The not-so-subtle message in our society, which screams from every brick in suburbia, is that self-worth is directly connected to worth in dollars.

Upscale suburb living symbolizes success.  And, very clearly, those living here need to appear successful.  This can be an extremely trying pressure in economically uncertain times.

Self Worth and Money?

Human beings are worth infinitely more than their assets.  There’s irreplaceable value in our individual uniqueness.  Our culture doesn’t always affirm this.  We need to live in the conscious awareness of our own uniqueness, and our own unique journey.  A Jungian psychotherapist focuses on grounding people in their unique identity and worth.

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

 

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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life, 2: Image

January 26th, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist, psychotherapist

Put a Jungian psychotherapist in suburbia and he or she soon realizes that an important part of suburban life is the process of dealing with expectations around image.

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People’s presentation of themselves to each other is key in suburban life.  And how we relate to our presentation to the world, to what Jung called the persona, can determine the whole course of a life.

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The Inevitability of Persona

We have to face it: we’re going to have a social mask.  People can’t appear unfiltered and emotionally raw to the world — it would be intolerable.

So, we all develop ways of protecting ourselves — and others — in our various social environments.  The way we do that is through our persona, which is a combination of what we show to others, and what we conceal.  For the Jungian psychotherapist, this is an inevitable activity, with identifiable common characteristics in the suburban persona across North America:

 

 Suburban Social Compromise

Persona is the sum total of all the compromises we make between the outer social reality and inner psychological reality.  All the social compromises we make in suburban living can amount to a lifestyle — and to a specific persona, a suburban way of presenting ourselves to the outer world.

In today’s suburbia, it’s not uncommon to have limited contact with others, but that doesn’t mean that we are not strongly influenced by their opinions and expectations.

Often there is considerable pressure to avoid patterns of behaviour considered “eccentric”, and sometimes strong fear and suspicion of behaviour that departs from the suburban pattern.  For instance, there can be considerable pressure to look prosperous and successful / “healthy” — and to give the impression of being “one of us”, and fitting in.

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Don’t Mistake the Mask for Your Face

Suburban patterns of persona sometimes work better for people in the first half of adult life than they do in the second.

In the second half of life, what is more individual becomes more important.  By this time people can be so confined by social role that they risk never getting to a position to express their true selves.  Social masks can prevent us from expressing our real identity, confining us to rigid patterns of thought and reaction that we can never get past.

Suburbia and the Dance of Persona

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For the Jungian psychotherapist, the key thing about image in suburbia is that individuals need to not be possessed by the social self, but to have the freedom to live from their authentic reality.  There is a dance of individuation and masks that is involved in suburban life, and in the issue of our persona in suburban living.

How to live authentically in suburbia?  Only by stepping away from the mask of suburban persona enough to gain some freedom.  A key part of the work of the Jungian psychotherapist, in suburbia or elsewhere, is to help individuals to find the authentic life within that brings freedom from the mask.

 

PHOTO:  © Yod Miansa-ard | Dreamstime.com ; Attribution Some rights reserved GanMed6  VIDEO:  SElighter “Rockin the Suburbs” © Ben Folds
Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life 1: Insights

January 6th, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist, psychotherapist

What would a Jungian psychotherapist say, specifically, about the meaning of suburban life?

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Well, having both practiced as a Jungian psychotherapist in suburban or “edge” cities and having extensively studied suburbias, it’s clear that individuals face particular challenges in living in this kind of environment, while remaining true to themselves.

Whatever else is true, the suburban places of my life, like Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington, have a unique character from the perspective of a Jungian psychotherapist.

That Funny Word “Suburban”…

A suburb, simply put, is a residential area that is neither fully urban, nor is it rural.  Often, the people who live in suburbia are people who hope to live closer to nature, or at least, with more space, than is possible in an urban setting.  Often, this kind of space appeals to people with families.

Living in the Suburbs Has Unique Pressures

From the perspective of a Jungian psychotherapist it’s clear that there are unique pressures on suburban dwellers.  Some of these are very tangible.

For instance, suburban dwellers often have a commute to somewhere in their metro area that substantially eats into their day.  Related to this is the fact that suburban folks pretty much need a car to do everything in their lives, and have to travel some pretty large distances to do the basics.  In most suburban communities you can’t get the goods and services you need via walking or transit.  So there can easily be a sense of disconnect from the physical environment, and from others living in the community.

A Jungian psychotherapist also knows that suburban community has two mirror opposite aspects: it can be both not enough and too much.  In the midst of suburban communities, people can feel incredibly alone.  Simultaneously, people can encounter immense pressure to meet collective expectations.  around lifestyle, levels of consumption. and being “like others” in the neighbourhood.  People can feel strong social pressure and feel extremely disconnected simultaneously.

The social pressure to be “like others” may result in huge financial pressure.

Being Yourself in the Suburbs is a Particular Challenge

At a certain point in life, often around the midlife transition, the challenge of living in a way that is uniquely one’s own takes on a level of urgency.

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Often, a way of life that once met certain key needs starts to feel like just “going through the motions”.  The need to find a way of living that is uniquely, authentically my own, may come from a pressing imperative — what a Jungian psychotherapist calls individuation.

Creative Individuation in the Suburbs

It can take a significant re-orientation to find a creative and meaningful life in the midst of a suburban lifestyle.  One must overcome the relentless pressure of advertising and marketing, which continually portrays commodity consumption as individual and creative, when it is often at heart abjectly conformist.  It can be an extensive process to get free of this and to get down to the discovery of what is uniquely me.  This is an essential aspect of the work of the Jungian psychotherapist in suburbia.

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The Jungian Psychotherapist & the Power of the Image

December 1st, 2012 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist, psychotherapist

If you work with a Jungian psychotherapist, he or she is going to want to know about the images at work in your life.

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For a Jungian psychotherapist, inner images have far more lasting and influential power over the way that you or I live our lives than do the concepts tossed about on a daily basis by the conscious mind.

Images?  What images?

The Image as Fantasy

What does Jung mean by an image?  As he says, “the image has the psychological character of a fantasy-idea… it never takes the place of reality, and can always be distinguished from sensuous reality by the fact that it is an ‘inner’ image.” [CW 6, para. 743]  So, he’s not referring to hallucinations, but to the images stirred up within us by fantasy, particularly unconscious fantasy.

Unconscious fantasies?  Do we have such things?  Yes.  How we react to people and situations, what we “project” or put on them is constantly conditioned by images that reside in the unconscious.  If you have ever had a violent emotional response to a person, place or thing come upon you out of the blue, it’s likely rooted in an unconscious image or fantasy.  Sometimes, we may even be aware of these images, or “fantasy ideas” being present in the background, as we confront various situations in our lives.

Images: Where Conscious and Unconscious Meet

As Jung says, “the image is an expression of the unconscious as well as the conscious situation of the moment.”  For the Jungian psychotherapist, those inner images coming up from the unconscious are interpreted and understood in a definite way.  They represent the way that our unconscious mental situation is interacting with our consciousness, as it deals with the situations in our lives.  If we can surface these images, we can understand a lot about what is going on within us as we encounter the situations in our lives.

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The Power of the Image Goes Beyond Language

Often incredible emotional power is associated with inner images and fantasies, and they can often be associated with a major complex. Consider an individual who has the semi-conscious image of sitting down across the kitchen table from his abusive, alcoholic father, every time he sits down in his bosses office, .  Or, on the other hand, the individual who cannot help the images of his lost first love that arise every time he sees his children’s nanny.  Individuals confronted with such compelling inner fantasies may find that the emotions generated in the situation powerfully affect their responses to life situations.

What are the Images in Your Life?

Becoming conscious of inner images may be a major, very important piece of soul work.  It can be very important to be aware of how these inner images affect the way that we experience and respond to outer reality.  What are the emotionally charged images that underlie the characteristic situations in your life?  Working with a Jungian psychotherapist is, in part, a journey into the emotionally charged images that structure our lives.

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