Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Self as Hidden Treasure in Jungian Psychotherapy

January 27th, 2011 · alchemy, art, C. G. Jung, collective consciousness, depth psychology, False self, Identity, parent-child interactions, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, Relationships, religious symbolism, Self, self-knowledge, symbolism

Jungian psychotherapy and Jungian analysis put a high value on the uniqueness of the individual, and on the treasure that is the inmost Self.  Jungians see symbolic reflection of the motif of the Self as hidden treasure in many texts from the world’s artistic, religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions.  For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew, and also in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, there is the famous parable comparing the “kingdom of Heaven” to a hidden treasure.  A Jungian psychological interpretation of this saying would portray the “kingdom of Heaven” as, broadly speaking, a symbol of the Self:

‘The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field

which someone has found; He hides it again,

goes off in his joy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

Matthew 13:44, The New Jerusalem Bible

The motif of the Self as hidden treasure also permeates alchemy, that esoteric pre-scientific approach to matter and the world, in which Jung took such an interest in the later part of his life.  The goal that the alchemists sought was not to create ordinary gold from lead, but to create something called “the philosophers’ stone”, an absolutely incorruptible and indestructible substance.

Jung acknowledges that, from a scientific point of view, the way the alchemists went after this goal made no sense, but what gripped him was the underlying symbolism.  Jung saw in the “philosophers’s stone” a potent symbol of the Self, in this case, hidden in matter and awaiting discovery, a treasure guarded in secrecy by the alchemists.  Jung believed that some of the later alchemists such as Gerhard Dorn came to realize that what they were seeking in their alchemical work was not a physical, but a psychological reality, and that it was that reality that the symbol of the philosphers’ stone or “son of the philosophers” as it was sometimes called was pointing.

The Core of the Self

At the base of all this symbolization there lies a profound and precious truth about human existence.  It is a truth about the nature of the human self.  At the core of each of us, there is that element in us, an awareness, that is unique and precious, that defines what we most fundamentally are.  Sometimes that is represented symbollically as a hidden treasure, sometimes as a gemstone, sometimes in a variety of other ways.

This is the core of ourselves, symbollically represented.  And there is a bit of a paradox about its nature.  Certainly, symbollically, it is often presented as something that is so precious because it is incorruptible, even indestructible.  Yet, there is a danger concerning the self to which symbol and myth point.  It seems that it is possible for us to lose this treasure, to have it taken away.  Somehow it needs to be guarded and treated with vigilance — like the individual in the parable who joyfully finds the treasure, but then hides it carefully again, until such time as he can go and buy the land in which it’s buried.

Self Protection, Self Possession

This issue of the core of the self, protecting it and keeping it, is one that I meet with on a very regular basis in psychotherapy practice.  It is something with which, in one way or another, very many people.  It is a sad truth that very many people have learned, one way or another, and very often early in life, that their self — their true uniqueness — can be stolen or devalued by others

Sometimes, people learn this lesson as a result of the guilting, shame or ridicule of those who are close to them.  Sometimes what happens really does look like a theft of the self: for instance, a young person will get the message very directly that a parent or other significant person cannot tolerate or deal with who the young person really is, and so that person (often unconsciously) manufactures a false self tp placate the other.  Sometimes a person will give themselves whole-heartedly in relationships — and then find her- or himself deeply betrayed.

Learning to Hide the Self Away

As a consequence, these people learn — sometimes unbelievably well — that the true self has to be hidden away, that they cannot dare reveal who they really are to the people closest to them.  It is then very easy for this lesson to get generalized out to take in the whole world.  It can be come a reflex to feel that nobody wants me, or wants to know who I really am.  Then the only way I get through life is to “keep my head down”, in despair, and just try and keep my joys, my needs — anything at all about me — from getting noticed, and that any encounter of another with me will only result in guilt, rejection and shame.

As is very often the case, it seems to me, when you are looking for someone to express some aspect of modern consciousness, you very often cannot do better than the Beatles.  Here they are, singing a song that is profoundly “on the money” about the need to hide the true self — “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away“.


Getting the Self Back

For such an individual, getting the self back, and spontaneously living out of it, is a key priority.  The reason for that is that, without that sense of acting and reacting out of our actual self, our life simply doesn’t feel real to us.

Psychotherapy with the right therapist may be an essential part of this self-recovery.  An effective psychotherapeutic approach will allow you to get at the deeper reasons for hiding the self.  Many of those reasons may reside in the unconscious, and it may be that only as a person uses the therapy as a “laboratory” for exploring him- or herself, that they can begin to develop a sense and a comfort for what it is to live out of the self.

Most people at one time or another have had to wrestle with the feeling that who and what they are is not acceptable to others.  Has that feeling ever been a part of your experience?  If you would be willing to share your experiences, either in a comment or an email, I would welcome the opportunity to share and dialogue with you.

Wishing you a fuller and fuller encounter with your deepest treasure, the Self, as you move forward on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:     Rembrandt “Parable of the hidden treasure” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

MUSIC CREDIT:      © Lennon / McCartney, EMI Music, 1965

© 2011 Brian Collinson

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

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Sarah Palin, “Mama Grizzlies” and the Mother Archetype

August 15th, 2010 · archetypal experience, archetypes, Carl Jung, collective consciousness, depth psychology, mother archetype, parent-child interactions, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, symbolism, unconscious

Andrea Huffington commented recently  in the Huffington Post on Sarah Palin’s use of archetypal imageryin the political ads that she has recently run with incredible success online.  Huffington seeks to use the concepts of Jungian psychology to analyze Palin’s message.  In my opinion, it’s a fruitful approach.

The ads are remarkable for the fact that they do not discuss the political issues at all, presumably leaving it to the viewer to draw his or her conclusion about what the issues are that are under discussion.  What they in fact do is evoke the symbolism of the bear, and in particular the mother grizzly bear.  Palin at one point says,

“I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when somebody is coming to attack their cubs… you don’t wanna mess with the mama grizzlies!”

Huffington believes that Palin has unconsciously used images that are archetypal, and that, because of that, these images resonate with people powerfully on the unconscious level.  Certainly, “mother” is a powerful archetype, as is the symbol of the bear, which has possessed great meaning in human cultures throughout the world.  While Palin may have unconsciously hit upon this approach, historians can point to similar highly manipulative tactics used by propagandists throughout history.  Of course, the past masters of this kind of thing were the Naziis, particularly Hitler’s propanganda genius Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler himself.

Palin tells us, “Moms just kind of know when something’s wrong.”  Perhaps.  But it is important to distinguish between two very different aspects of the mother archetype, and how they might affect us.

Like all archetypes, the mother archetype has a negative and a positive pole.  That is, there are manifestations of the archetype that foster human growth and individuation, and there are manifestations that hinder or hobble such development.

The archetype can manifest as “positive mother”.  This happens, for instance, when a mother gives messages to her child that are affirming, and that give a sense of fundamental rightness to the child’s existence.  A child growing up with this kind of message and support from the mother may very well grow to have a lot of confidence in themselves, and in life.

At the other end of the spectrum is the negative mother, including “smother mother”.  This is the mother who undercuts the child fundamentally, and destroys the child’s confidence in what he or she is, his or her own powers, and in the goodness of life.

So this leaves us with the question of what kind of mother it is that Palin is evoking with her “Mama Grizzly” images.  Is this mother life-giving and empowering, or fundamentally undercutting, disempowering, and perhaps smothering?  Is Palin’s “mama grizzly” a mother who affirms individuality and uniqueness, or a mother trapped in standardized, stereotypical and ultimately mother roles?  What’s your view?

The archetype of the mother is indeed powerful, and I hope to explore the nature of positive and negative mother archetypes in future posts.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Johnbell | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Trust and Betrayal, Part 2: 4 Simple, Difficult Truths

June 2nd, 2010 · depth psychology, Hope, Meaning, parent-child interactions, psychological crisis, Psychotherapy, Relationships, The Self, therapy, trust

Following on from my last blog post on trust and betrayal, the following are four truths about the experience of betrayal of trust.  They are surprisingly easy to state.  However, really taking in what they mean for our lives is likely a much bigger psychological task.

1. An Experience of Betrayal Can Deeply Impact A Person’s Ability to Trust Others.  Not surprisingly, someone who has had their trust violated in a profound way is wary of giving that trust again.  It may be that they find that it is only with the greatest degree of effort that trust can be restored.  It may well be that, on an unconscious level they withhold trust or sabotage relationships — or they just don’t get into them.

2. An Experience of Betrayal Can Really Impact a Person’s Ability to Trust Him- or Herself.  The experience of betrayal not only impacts a person’s attitudes and response to others.  It can also have a profound impact on the way an individual regards his or her own being.  The reflection that he or she trusted someone deeply, and was betrayed, can lead to profound self-doubt and lack of confidence in her or his own judgment.

3. Experiences of Betrayal Can “Snowball”.  If Someone Has Undergone Betrayal, It Can Be Easy to Repeat the Pattern.  On the other hand, the reverse of point 2. can occur to a person.  An individual who has suffered a deep betrayal may unconsciously seek to get into a relationship of trust with someone who is as similar as possible to the initial betrayer.  They may hang onto a deep hope in the unconscious that they will be able to be in an intimate relationship with one like the former beloved, and instead of having the same tragic outcome as in the first relationship, there is a deep yearning for it to “turn out differently this time”.  Needless to say, such an individual may be unconsciously setting themselves up for a econd, maybe even more devastating betrayal.

4. Betrayal Can Lead to Bitterness, Revenge, Hatred — or to New Awareness.  Probably all of us know someone who has been through an experience of betrayal, who “can’t let go”.  Sometimes people are consumed by bitterness, hatred or an overwhelming desire for revenge, and as a result, that person’s life ends up “on ice”.  They are stuck, and can’t move past what has been done to them.  Such a person needs to find a way to begin to let go of the pain and the outrage, and to find a source of hope, and an awareness of  something that gives meaning and in which he or she can invest themselves.  Something that beckons him or her on, pulling him or her into his or her life.

I am not engaging in uttering some glib bit of fake sunshine here.  Make no mistake: such “letting go” can be the biggest single piece of psychological work that a person may undertake in his or her life.  It is a work that cannot just come from the ego.  It is something that comes from the Self.

In one form or another, betrayal is an experience common to humanity.  To find a way to let go of the experience enough to allow it to be transformed, to move through it and into our lives — is unfortunately not as common.  It can only be accomplished through engagement with the deepest parts of ourselves.  Often this is a place in life where depth psychotherapy can have an important role in the journey toward wholeness.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness — especially if at this point in your journey you are seeking healing around issues of trust.  If you were willing to share any of your experiences around this very important area of life, I would welcome and honour your comments or emails.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: ©  Ciapix |Dreamstime.com © 2010 Brian Collinson

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Between Childrens’ and Parents’ Needs: the Generational Anxiety Sandwich

February 15th, 2010 · complexes, compulsion, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Jungian analysis, parent-child interactions, parental complex, Psychotherapy, The Self, therapy, unlived life, wholeness

 

Sandwich for Vibrant Jung Thing In this post, I would like to write about something that may have a sense of “taboo” about it.

For many of us in the present day world, a powerful struggle goes on in our middle years.  There are greater and greater demands on our personal reserves of compassion, empathy, time, energy and money.  These resources are streaming out in two directions, both towards our children, and also towards our parents, and possibly other aging relatives, who are living to a greater age than ever they have in the past.

As many people in their middle years try to meet the needs of the younger and older generations, they find themselves nearly impossibly stretched.

In such a climate, it can feel almost impossible to meet the needs of others.  In addition, many people end up feeling like callous ingrates if they give any consideration to their own needs as people.  “How can I consider myself?” one often hears people in this position say, “My parents gave me so much.  I owe them so much–everything!”

The really difficult thing is when the inner complex gives such guilting messages to an adult child, when the parents have actually not been kind or supportive to their children.  I experience this as a very frequent occurrence in my practice.  Many times, people who have been seriously emotionally or physically neglected by their parents — or worse — are the very people who respond in the most dutiful and self sacrificing manner.

And then again, it is often those same people, dutiful to their parents, who turn around and are completely self-sacrificing to their children.  And sometimes those children can be every bit as demanding unreasonable and narcissistic toward their parents as their grandparents are toward them.  And often that same mass of guilt and obligation that whips these people into unreasonably self-denying behaviour toward their parents will do the same when it comes to their children.

The particular psychological forces that bring this about are as individual as the people involved in the situation.  Very often, in dealing with these situations, healthy ordinary people need therapy to get to the root of the problem, and to free themselves from the crushing guilt.  Guilt can be an extremely powerful emotion and motivator, and it is often necessary to confront it in the safe environment of therapy to be able to remove its power.

The other hugely difficult component of these intergenerational binds is that they often lead to enormous amounts of anxiety.  This can prove as difficult, if not more so, than the guilt.  However, what I am going to say next about that guilt may prove surprising, even shocking!

Which is, that it may actually be quite a good thing that the individual is experiencing the guilt!  “Wow, Brian” you might be thinking, “what a horrible thing to say!  …Speaking of callous!…  How can you possibly wish anxiety on already-burdened people?”

Now, I don’t wish anyone unnecessary pain, and, all other things being equal, I would wish that no one would have to deal with excessive anxiety.  But in a situation like this, I believe that it is often the case that the anxiety has a psychological purpose.  Simply put, the intense anxiety makes us aware that there is a conflict, and that the status quo is simply untenable for the individual

It may be that the guilt is intense for such a person, but the anxiety shows us that there is tension, that the needs of the self are not willing to just continue being put on the shelf and denied.  The complex of guilt and obligation within us may spur us on to utterly altruistic self-destruction…but that complex is not all that there is to us.  There is the part of us that recognizes that the purpose of human life is to become the person who is latent within us, that that is why we are here in this life.  That part will allow us to make some compromises, but it will not allow us to completely sell ourselves out — not without our paying a very dire, wrenching psychological price.  

It’s easy for many people to feel a strong impetus to self-sacrifice, but, psychologically speaking, it’s important to realize that there may be very real limits to the degree to which we can put our own needs on one side to care for and meet the needs of others.

This awareness might lead us to face an even more fundamental questions like, “How do I begin to live my own real life?” and “What is meaningful to me?”  These questions takes us to the very heart of Jungian analysis, and true depth psychotherapy.

I’d gratefully welcome comments from readers on these issues, which affect very many of us.  How have you experienced the “generational sandwich”?.

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

Brian Collinson

PHOTO CREDITS: © Lukyslukys|Dreamstime.com 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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Coraline: The Real, the Ideal and the Substance of our Lives

April 7th, 2009 · archetypal experience, depth psychology, Film, Jungian psychology, parent-child interactions, puer aeternis, symbolism

Coraline E for Vibrant Jung Thing

Coraline is a recent movie, ostensibly geared to children.  Nonetheless, it tells a story deeply rooted in the realities of soul.  In that sense, its story is of deep relevance to all of us.

The film itself is something of a visual wonder.  It is an exercise in 3-D stop motion photography, giving a film experience that certainly I have never had before.  It's a very rich and imaginative world that is created, based on a story of fantasy and science fiction writer Neil Gaiman.

Coraline is a girl of about ten years of age, whose family moves from Michigan to "the Pink Palace Apartments", a big pink house near the mountains.  She is undergoing a difficult time accepting some of the realities of her life.  Her parents seem totally absorbed in their work as writers, and both the house and the environment in which she lives seem uninteresting and lacking in vitality.  Even the food she has to eat seems singularly boring and unappetizing.

In the midst of the house into which her family has moved, Coraline discovers a portal into another world.  In that world she discovers her "other Mother" and "other Father", who are, in essence, perfect, and geared to meeting all of Coraline's needs.  All the inhabitants of this world are more vivid, more interesting, more what Coraline would want them to be, with the one odd exception that they all have doll-like eyes made from buttons. 

Everything in this tiny parallel world seems ideal, and Coraline is highly tempted to flee to it to live in the realm of her "other Mother" forever.  But then she learns that the price of admission for entry to this world: she must give up her own real eyes, and have a pair of doll-like button eyes sewed into her eyes in their place, and then she will be imprisoned in the witch's world permanently.  With the help of an unusual cat, she is able to escape the witch's realm, and free her real parents from her grip. 

Like Coraline, sometimes the outline of our own real lives is something that we would rather not see, and in which we would rather not live. Perhaps we don't find it meaningful.  There can be a seductiveness to seeing things in our lives as the way that we wish they were, rather than the way that they are.  We willingly make the trade, and give up our own real eyes for illusory eyes that willing get caught up in the spider's web of illusion.  It is not without significance that the witch mother, seemingly so ideal, turns out to be a monstrous spider who devours the souls of her victims.  The ancient eastern symbol for Maya, or illusion, is the spider's web.

It's the cat — the ancient symbol for authentic feminine instinct — that is Coraline's aid and guide out of the witch world.  Through the earthy reality of the cat, Coraline finds her way back to her reality, which, once the seduction of "the ideal" or "what could be" is removed, turns out to be much more vital and alive than at first appeared.

It often takes real courage to give up our illusions and to live in the real non-idealized world that we actually inhabit.  It can take real strength to engage that world, and really dwell in it, rather than allowing fantasies of idealized possibilities to keep us hovering above our real lives.  We all know people whose lives never get grounded, who are always flitting from one idealized goal or dream to another, but who are never able to actualize any of their dreams or realize any of their aspirations in the real world.  Perhaps we recognize those tendencies in ourselves. 

The spider-witch can keep us so caught up Maya web to such an extent that we never materialize our projects, never really go after the things we really need in our lives, and perhaps we are never satisfied with our lovers, children or friends, and we always are looking for the "next great thing".

An important part of therapy can be finding ways to get "down to earth", and to really grapple with the lives and the selves that we actually have.  Like Coraline, we have to free ourselves from the witch's enchantment, and really live — right here, right now.

I highly recommend this wonderful, charming movie!

My very best wishes to each of you on your individual journeys to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

Website for Brian's Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca ; Email: brian@briancollinson.ca

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CORALINE

Directed by Henry Selick; written by Mr. Selick, based on the book by Neil Gaiman; director of photography, Pete Kozachik; edited by Christopher Murrie and Ronald Sanders; music by Bruno Coulais; production designer, Mr. Selick; produced by Mr. Selick, Bill Mechanic, Claire Jennings and Mary Sandell; released by Focus Features.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Dakota Fanning; Teri Hatcher Jennifer Saunders; Dawn French; Keith David; John Hodgman; Robert Bailey Jr.;  and Ian MacShane.

PHOTO CREDITS:  ©  LAIKA

© 2009 Brian Collinson 

 

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