Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Dream Interpretation in Jungian Psychotherapy: The Roadblock

December 22nd, 2010 · dreams, inner life, journey, Jungian, Jungian analysis, life journey, Mississauga, Oakville, Peel Region, persona, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, The Self, therapy, unconscious, wholeness

I thought that I would try and say a little bit in this post about how a Jungian approach to dream interpretation might look like “in action”.  Here’s a dream motif that appears sometimes in psychotherapy, in one form or another.  It’s one that at times will appear in the dreams of my clients.  In rough outline, it goes something like what follows below.

A Dream Motif

The dreamer is trying to get somewhere.  Perhaps the dreamer is in a vehicle, like a car, or on a bicycle, or possibly he or she is on foot.  However, there is some obstacle.  She or he might have to go down a narrow path in her car, and there’s a vehicle accident completely blocking the road.  Or it might be that he or she has to climb an impossibly steep hill.   However, when the individual starts to backtrack, something happens.  Perhaps they are injured, or otherwise hindered. 
In any event, going backward to retrace his or her steps is well-nigh impossible.

The specific interpretation of such a dream would be unique for such an individual, to be sure.  However, there are still a number of important things that Jungian psychotherapy could say about its meaning.

1.  The Individual is Not Going to be Able to Move Forward Travelling in the Current Direction

Very clearly, the dream is showing us that the dreamer cannot move forward.  There is a barrier, either in the form of an insurmountable obstacle, or something that would take an impossibly large amount of energy to overcome.  The dream is clearly giving the message that the direction that the individual is moving in, with respect to the situation that is being dreamt of, will simply not work.  The individual may have been moving in this direction for a long time, or may have just started on this path.  No matter: the import of the dream is the same.  You can’t keep doing what you’re doing.

2.  To Try to Go Back to a Previous State Will Only Cause Pain, Exhaustion or Loss of Vitality

However, that doesn’t mean that the dreamer can just go back to something that happened in the past.  He or she cannot simply retrace his or her steps.   There’s too much pain, or too many cuts of lacerations, too much loss of life-blood.  The older way, the “regressive restoration of the persona”, as a Jungian would say, doesn’t work either.  The person can’t do what he or she used to do.  Life isn’t going to let him or her get away with it, at least not without paying a fearful psychological price.  What may be recalled enthusiastically as “the good days” cannot be reproduced in the present moment.  What is the individual to do?

3.  Something New is Needed

A standard Jungian dream interpretation would be that the dream is painting a picture of a person in a dilemma.  Something new is needed: a different way, or a different approach.  This is not likely to come about as a result of the individual “just trying harder”.  The individual is going to have to explore aspects of her- or himself that have been unknown and undeveloped.  From the perspective of Jungian psychotherapy, the answer will have to emerge from the unconscious.

Is There Anything Across Your Path?

Have you ever encountered a dream of this type?  Have you possibly had such a dream recently?  As I stated, this type of dream is not particularly uncommon.  With the right kind of dream interpretation, the unconscious shows us quite an apt portrait of a person’s psychological situation.  If you’ve had this kind of “blocked path” experience, I would really welcome your comments below.

Wishing you a deep wisdom to know the way forward on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:      Some rights reserved by lumaxart under a Creative Commons license

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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

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Jungian Psychology Looks at Leslie Nielsen

December 2nd, 2010 · analytical psychology, Current Affairs, Jungian, persona, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, Shadow, unconscious

“Surely you can’t be serious!”

“I am serious.  And don’t call  me Shirley.”

On Sunday last, comic actor Leslie Nielsen died at age 84.  Like many Canadians I felt a special tie to Nielsen, because he was “one of us”.  I especially enjoyed him in his comedy roles in Airplane and Naked Gun.  From the point of view of Jungian psychotherapy, Nielsen’s characters played in some hilarious ways with what Jungians call persona and shadow.

Serious… but Absurd

It’s as the character of police Lt. Frank Drebin that most people will remember Nielsen.  Drebin always presented with absolute deadpan seriousness, completely the stereotypical image of a serious policeman while surrounded by situation after situation of the most gobstopping absurdity.  His good looks and serious, professional demeanour enabled him to pull this off, at least until we are caught right up in the situation — and then the clown comes out.

Roger Ebert called Nielsen “the Olivier of spoofs” and said of his deadpan antics, “You laugh, and then you laugh at yourself for laughing.”  That was always my experience of Nielsen, too.  I found myself laughing almost in spite of myself during his movies, but also, as in all great comedy, finding something in him that was familiar, something that made me feel “at home”.

The Inner Frank Drebin

I know Frank Drebin.  Part of me feels that I know him very well.  I know that there’s a Frank Drebin in me.  It’s that part of me that stays invested in my outer social role, even when the whole situation is falling apart.  That part of me that continues to desperately try to believe in fictions when everything shows me that my fiction is not the case. That part of each of us that wants to look oh-so-competent when there’s actually a 3 ring circus going on around us — and it turns out that we are in the spotlight at center ring!  We all have that part in ourselves that so desperately wants to “believe our own propaganda” about being totally good and competent and in control– and somehow deep down, knows it’s not true, and is damned if it will admit it.

Surprised by the Shadow

There are all kinds of parts of us that go into making up our shadow, as Jungians call it.  That’s the entire dimension of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge exists.  Part of that is the morally unacceptable parts of ourselves and part of it is those weaker, inferior or just less socially desirable aspects of ourselves that cause us to feel vulnerable or ashamed or just plain clown-like.  But they are all aspects of us, and we need to accept and acknowledge them.

That’s where the Leslie Nielsens — and the Charlie Chaplins, Laurel and Hardys, Roberto Benignis, Robin Williams, John Candys and Jack Blacks — all come in.  They help us to accept and even be kind to those parts of ourselves that we have trouble acknowledging.

Poor Old Persona

Sometimes our poor old persona goes on bravely, day after day, waving its flag that tells everyone that we are doing fine, and that everything’s under control — even when that’s sometimes the very last thing we feel, if we are honest with ourselves.  Rest in peace, Leslie Neilsen, and thank you for helping us to laugh at our pretensions and our obliviousness, and to be kinder to our struggling selves.  Surely you can’t be serious, Mr. Nielsen — and we love you for being anything but.

Caught in Our Own Schtick?

Have you ever one of those “Frank Drebin” moments?  When all your seriousness and self-importance just comes apart?  I remember once having to give a talk at a hospital.  I bent down to pick up my projector, and –with a big audible rip! — the entire seam in the middle of the back of my pants split, from top to bottom!  Shadow time!  If you’ve had a similar experience, I’d welcome hearing from you via  a comment or through a confidential email.

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: © David Fowler | Dreamstime.com

TRAILER CREDIT:  © 1988 Paramount Pictures .  The Naked Gun series is the property of Paramount Pictures  and is used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson
Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Anxiety, Regret and Persona in “Death of a Salesman”

November 19th, 2010 · Anxiety, Father, Marriage, persona, psychological crisis, Psychology and Suburban Life, regret, Self, soul, symbolism, unlived life

I love theatre, and I’m lucky enough to live in the Toronto, Canada area.  We have a lot of excellent theatre hereabouts, including the wonderful Soulpepper Theatre, which is not nearly so famous as it deserves. I was fortunate enough last Saturday to see Soulpepper’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.  which was arresting and raw.  It’s a profoundly psychological play, in the ways in which it deals with anxiety, regret and “persona“, or the false self.

Lots of people know the story of Willy Loman, the crumbling salesman at the centre of the play, and the drama of his decline and eventual death.  Clearly Willy is retreating more and more from reality and from life — but what pushes him into this?

Anxiety

Clearly, Willy and his family live in an atmosphere of intense anxiety.  In the initial scenes of Act 1, Willy has returned from a business trip because he cannot concentrate when driving, and has nearly driven off the road.  The interactions between Linda and Willy are full of an unacknowledged but agonizing anxiety that pervades the whole of the play until the tragic climax.  An important psychological question, though, is, “What is the source of this anxiety?”

Grandiosity and Failure

I believe the answer is found in the tension between Willy’s grandiose and idealized image of greatness, and his own very real sense of failure to live up to this idealized image of himself, to be the “well-liked” man whose fame precedes him, and for whom all doors open.  Willy does not dare become fully conscious of this profound sense of failure.   He can only look at it indirectly, or acknowledge it glancingly in his interactions with Linda.  It seems when he does do this, he expects to be re-assured by Linda, to be argued out of his feeling.  Right through the play Linda enables Willy by shoring up his illusions.

Willy’s Persona

In Jungian terms, Willy is firmly in the grips of a persona (Latin for “mask”) or false self with which he identifies and tries to present outwardly to the world.  But it is deeply at odds with who he really is, and his attempts to carry off this masquerade are costing him more and more emotionally and — dare we say it — spiritually.  Willy is in a horrible dilemma:  the only image he has of himself is as a “well-liked” salesman — and yet he knows that he has failed profoundly in realizing this ideal.  However, there is no other sense of himself that he can find to hang onto, and so he is drowning.

Biff

So Willy does what parents often do in this kind of situation: he transfers all of  his hopes for success and greatness to his sons, and in particular, onto his eldest son, Biff.  However, whatever wounds Biff may be dealing with, he cannot ultimately bring himself to live out the unlived life and fantasies of his father.  After initially succumbing to his father’s illusory picture, Biff refuses to enable his father further, saying “we’re a dime a dozen, you and I!” to Willy, which is the very thing that Willy cannot, will not accept.

Regret

The picture is further complicated for Willy by his profound regret, particularly for an incident in which he was discovered by Biff with another woman with whom he was having an affair in a hotel room.  This incident has a profound and fateful effect on Biff.  Miller’s dialogue masterfully shows how Willy can neither really face and be honest with himself for what he has done, nor can he release himself from the torture of his regret.  Finally, this regret will lead Willy to a horrific act of atonement, which is intended to restore Biff to the path of “greatness” — as imaged by Willy.

“The Woods are Burning”

What is it to be consumed by false self, by persona?  What are its inner psychological effects?  I believe that playwright Arthur Miller captures this powerfully in one phrase that Willy uses several times throughout the play: “the woods are burning!”  In dreamwork and in fairy tales, the deep woods, which are dark and where one’s view is limited, are often the image of the unconscious.  The image of the woods burning, of a huge forest fire in the unconscious symbolizes the psychological reality in a profoundly eloquent way.  The true self may be ignorred, and may be pushed into the unconscious, but not without powerful, often devastating consequences.

What about You and I?

The false persona and false self are real things in human life, not just art.  It can be a devastating thing to live with a false sense of who one is, and without any real connection to the true self.  I have had personal experience with the ways in which such an over-identification with the persona can bring a person into difficulties.  I was fortunate to have the help of a good psychotherapist to get me through that extremely difficult period.

Staying as true to the real self as possible is an ongoing process in life, a genuine psychological work.  This is especially true in a society like ours, which becomes more success and image-oriented with every year, or so it seems.  Are these issues which you, too, have encountered in your life, or are addressing right now?

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PHOTO CREDITS: © Maik Schrödter | Dreamstime.com
© 2010 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Not-So-Simple Task of Simply Being Honest, Part 1

August 25th, 2010 · depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, persona, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, Shadow, truth, unconscious

Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.

-Ludwig Wittgenstein

We all like to feel that we know ourselves, and that we are fundamentally honest with ourselves, but is it so?  Often we not only deceive other people — something we may or may not have very good reasons for doing.  We also deceive ourselves.  That is a problem, because sometimes deliberate not-wanting-to-know keeps us from being conscious of things that we really need to understand for our own individuation process.

To see what I mean, let’s consider one of the most common questions that is asked in this world.  This question must surely also receive one of the highest proportions of deceptive responses worldwide:

“So… How are you?”

It is not merely that the answers given to the questioner in response to this question are knowingly false.  It is, that on a deeper level, we very often are untruthful or inaccurate in what we allow ourselves to know in response to this question.  If we were to reflect, we would realize that our answers are not only superficial, they are often untrue.  For instance, we humans are quite capable of responding by telling people, “Fine, thank you!” when in fact we may be wrestling desperately with anxiety or depression.  It is not merely that we are choosing to be deceptive of others.  It is that we are choosing not to know — to deceive ourselves.

Sometimes the truth is very hard to look at, head on.  We can become acutely aware of this when there are aspects of ourselves at which we would rather not look.  For instance, it can sometimes take people a great deal of effort to look at their early life, and to acknowledge the ways in which it was  filled with sadness.  Or similarly, loyalty to parents may prevent a person from acknowledging that the relationship with that parent was, or is, a very difficult one.  Again, because we often have such an ego investment in relationships, acknowledging that  a marriage or a partnership may not be good for us may hold similar difficulties. Similarly, the capacity of individuals to rationalize or deny in situations of addiction or abuse are well known.  And the whole realm of sexuality is frequently full of things that we would rather not admit to ourselves.

To set yourself on the course of being fundamentally honest with yourself is to set yourself on the path of encounter with the unconscious.  In particular, being honest with oneself often sets one on a course for in-depth encounter with the shadow, in Jungian terms.  In the next Part of this series, I will be examining this encounter with shadow in more depth.

Questions to Ask about Truth and Honesty in the Inner Life

  1. What do I have a vested interest in believing about myself?
  2. What do I have a vested interest in believing about other people in my life?
  3. Are there things that I would really rather believe, that I have to admit are just not true?

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the whole subject of truth in our relationship to ourselves.

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Jose Elias Silva Neto | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III: Heart Trouble

July 11th, 2010 · Carl Jung, collective consciousness, collective unconscious, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian psychology, Lifestyle, Meaning, persona, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, soul, symbolism, unconscious, wholeness

 

Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III, Heart Trouble

…I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad. 

“They say that they think with their heads,” he replied.

“Why of course.  What do you think with?” I asked him in surprise.

We think here,” he said, indicating his heart. [Italics mine]

Conversation between Ochway Biano, Chief of the Pueblo Indians and Carl Jung, recorded in  CG Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections  (1961)

Everything has been “figured out”, except how to live.

Jean-Paul Sartre

 In Part I  and Part II of this series “Anxiety Behind the Mask”, I’ve been exploring the symbollic meaning of the pop cultural figure of Iron Man.  He is certainly a symbol for the relationship in our culture between the social mask and the inner human, and for the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable.   However, there is great psychological danger in complete identification with such an impervious persona: it can become a trap, become robotic, with no way left for the inner person to “get beyond the mask”.

One of the elements from the story of the origin of Iron Man is that Tony Stark, who becomes Iron Man, has heart trouble.  As the first Iron Man movie shows, he is injured in the process of his capture, and has to be fitted with a special magnetic device to keep shrapnel from ripping apart his heart.

There is of course a tremendous importance to the symbolism of the heart.  It is the seat of the feelings and of passion.  It is also the particular organ associated with eros, which includes but is more than the power of sexual love.  Eros is also the human capacity to connect and relate.  The place where our yearnings are located.  The place where hope and despair alike find their home.

Tony Stark is portrayed as a technical genius, someone who can create the most incredible machines.  As a hero figure, he symbolizes the incredible technical prowee of our culture.  This kind of technical knowledge exemplifies the tremendous power of rational thinking — what Jung identified as the principle of logos.  It is characterized by the ability to organize, quantify, discriminate, classify, and strategize.  But logos is always pulling things apart, using conceptual power to break things down into their component parts, and make them less than they are.  Our ability to do this as a species is a great strength, and has contributed mightily to the survival and success of our species.  It is a cornerstone of western civilization, and we all glory in our scientific and technical acheivements.

However, this scientific and technical prowess can leave us completely isolated and alienated from our world, nature, and other people.  And above all, it can leave us cut off from our inner selves, from our true ability to feel things, and to relate to others and to our world.

Like Tony Stark, the Iron Man, who is a symbol produced by our culture’s collective consciousness, it is all too easy for those of us who live in our culture to have “heart trouble”, to have lost touch with our ability to feel, to empathize, to relate.  But, as Leonard Cohen seeks to remind us, the truth of the heart is never really lost.  It is always there waiting for us, even when we seem to be in exile from ourselves, even when the world seems to say, “this heart, it is not yours”.

Four Questions about the Heart

Here are some questions that may help the conversation with your own heart.

Are there any feelings that you would find hard to share with the people closest to you? 
What are the three most painful experiences in your life?
 
 
 
What are the three most joyous experiences in your life?
 
 
 
 
What is it that you really yearn for?
 
 

What about your own heart?  It’s only by staying close to it that one can begin to be close to the spontaneity and aliveness that is one’s own real life.  Often, the course of analysis, therapy or counselling is following the road back to the deepest parts of the heart.

I’d welcome your reflections on the “heart trouble” of Iron Man and the ways in which it reflects our own struggles with our hearts, as individuals and as a culture.

My very best wishes to each of you as you make your individual journeys of wholeness and self-discovery,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDITS: © Marvel Entertainment, LLC  These images are the property of Marvel comics and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

VIDEO CREDIT: “By the Rivers Dark” by Leonard Cohen, from the album Ten New Songs ©  2001 Sony Music Entertainment Inc.  This music is the property of Sony Music Entertainment and is used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part 1

June 22nd, 2010 · Anxiety, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, mythology, persona, popular culture, Psychotherapy, soul, wholeness

When I was 9 or 10 years old, I was an insatiable Iron Man fan.  I used to race to the local drug store every day to see if a new issue of my hero’s adventures had hit the stands yet.  I still admire Stan Lee and those who developed the Iron Man character: he was truly an iconic figure for a pre-adolescent boy in the mid-1960s.  Well, it’s 45 years later, and Iron Man is receiving great attention — arguably much greater than in earlier days.  “Iron Man 2” was the lead-grossing movie for much of the 2010 Spring season, and the Iron Man 1 and 2 movies are estimated to have grossed in excess of $935 million.

There is no question that the Iron Man figure captures the imagination of many in our culture.

What is the fascination that Iron Man exerts?  Why is this figure a cultural icon—and not just for 9 year old boys?  What is it that he shows us about ourselves as a culture, and the issues and problems that we collectively face?  Please bear with me as I relate some of this modern myth – for it actually has a surprising amount of symbolic and psychological depth.

According to the story line, Iron Man is the alter ego of the wealthy industrialist Tony Stark (played in the recent movies by Robert Downey).  In order to escape a situation where he is held hostage by some despicable outlaws, Stark fashions a suit of practically invincible armour, and overcomes his foes – all details covered in the original “Iron Man” movie.  Stark then goes on to improve and enhance this very sophisticated flying suit of armour, to the point where it is mighty, mobile, and both beautiful and technologically advanced to an incredible degree.

In Jungian terms, Iron Man as a symbol for our relationship between the social mask, the persona and the inner human.  It represents the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable: the fantasy of being beyond weakness, mistake and humiliation.

Undoubtedly, we need a social mask – we cannot just “let it all hang out” in social situations.  The result would be chaos, and we would be extremely dangerous to ourselves and to others.

But how devastating must the underlying shame be, to lead me to wrap myself in the fantasy of untouchability, to strive for invulnerability, to ensure that nothing is ever going to touch me.  We have to admit that it is a seductive fantasy–one that we might easily be tempted to try and pull off.  Particularly in a culture like ours that so values external appearances.

We are so utterly afraid of our own vulnerability and weakness.  We can so easily live in terror of our own true nature.  It can be so hard to let ourselves be what we are, to know ourselves, and to let ourselves be known.  Part of us is utterly convinced of the need for the pretense of invulnerability.  Yet part of us knows what we really are.

Stark says, “I am Iron Man.  The suit and I are one.”  That’s great for a myth and a fantasy hero.  Heroes in myth are always something other than simply human.  However, complete identification with the persona,  “the suit and I being one” would be a form of living death for a real human being.  It’s easy for us to live in such terror of our vulnerable selves, those parts of ourselves which are not strong and beautiful.  Yet they are there, and if we cannot acknowledge them, and give them their due, they will surface in very destructive ways, such as anxiety and depression, as symptoms of the underlying shadow self.

Somehow, we’ve got to come to terms with the human inside the armour, and to learn compassion and acceptance for that person, just as he or she is. We have to abandon perfectionism, and get beyond the toxicity of shame.  Often, it’s just at this point that psychotherapy or Jungian analysis is a necessity.

To be continued in “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II: Imprisoned in the Armoured Self”.

I’d welcome your reflections on the nature of “social armour”, and the social mask.  Have you ever experieced situations where, to your surprise, someone was suddenly vulnerable?  Where you were?

I wish you every good thing as you travel on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDITS: © Turkbug| Dreamstime.com ; marvel.com

VIDEO CREDIT: ©Marvel Entertainment, LLC  //marvel.com/movies/iron_man.iron_man_2

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Identity and Anxiety in the Film, “Up In the Air”

January 22nd, 2010 · Anxiety, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Film, Identity, Individuation, life passages, Meaning, midlife, persona, puer aeternis, unlived life, wholeness, work

Make no mistake, moving is living.  -Ryan Bingham

 

“Up in the Air”, directed by Jason Reitman, stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.UpInTheAir for Vibrant Jung Thing  Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham is a full-time corporate down-sizer whose life consists of an endless stream of business travel (“322 days last year”).  He moves from place to place, letting people go from corporate roles when their employers cannot stomach doing it.  He has no permanent attachments to people, a desolate and hollow single bedroom apartment he never sleeps in, and he has accumulated 10,000,000 airmiles…

Up In the Air Official Website

Ryan Bingham’s life is in airports and hotel rooms and is filled with constant movement.  The stability and security in his life, his secure base, is found precisely in those things that others find impermanent and impersonal.  His finely orchestrated and choreographed travel routine, his mechanized method of moving constantly from place to place gives him re-assurance, and in an odd way a sense of belonging.  Which is good, because Ryan has no permanent connections to anyone in his life.

Ryan also has a budding career as an motivational speaker.  His message: “Make no mistake: your relationships are the heaviest components in your life….  The slower we move, the faster we die.”

Ryan is completely identified with his corporate role.   His aircraft-bound life is an appropriate symbol of his existence on a deeper level.  In the terms of Jungian psychology, Ryan, like Christopher McCandless, the subject of Into the Wild is a true puer aeternus (“eternal boy”).  He floats above life in his social self, and never puts down roots into the deep soil of his genuine self.  And he is danger of discovering that his life is tragic because there he has no remaining way to turn back.

In its own way, this is a very disturbing and provocative film, but it’s a very good one.  It raises the question for each of us about how connected we’re willing to be to the real substance of our lives.

I’d welcome comments below from readers on anxiety, identity and work.

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

Brian Collinson

PHOTO CREDITS: © DW Studios LL.C. and Cold Spring Pictures

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

 

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Looking Good… Feeling Empty

July 27th, 2009 · depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian psychology, Meaning, persona, popular culture, Psychotherapy

 

Looking Good for Vibrant Jung Thing Blog Out here in suburbia, great pressure is often placed on people to “look good”.  People feel all kinds of pressure to keep their image in the finest order.

We get the message that it’s important to keep your grass well-cut and your garden well-manicured.  It’s important to drive a car that makes you look (and feel) like you’re successful and upwardly mobile.  It’s important that your kids wear the right clothes, and belong to the right after-school activities.  When you go to your yoga class, you should be sure to have the right mat and outfit…

And people do look good!  My, do they ever!  A walk down Lakeshore Road in downtown Oakville, my town, will surely convince you of that.  To the extent that having good stuff and doing all the “right” things can give you a good life, boy howdy, we suburbanites have got it down!

If that was all it took, we suburbanites would surely have the best lives imaginable…

So, if that’s true, why do so many people seem to feel that they’re “just going through the motions”?  How is it that I hear from so many people that, at times, life can just “feel hollow”?

To a certain extent, we all have to bow to the necessity of looking good, if we want to make our way in the world.  There are social conventions that we have to live within, if we want to have a job, get an education and do all the many things that we have to do to make our way.  To choose an extreme example, showing up naked to a job interview would be career-limiting, to say the least!

However, just fitting the idea of others about “how we should be” isn’t enough for a fulfilling life — even if those “others” are lifestyle advertisers who spend untold billions to influence us to remake our lives around their products.

Sooner or later in life, we are going to be strongly confronted with the question of what is really ourselves.  If we really take that question seriously, it can be the beginning of the greatest adventure in life.

When I feel empty in my life, it is not a curse.  It can actually be a gateway.  That which is empty wants to be filled.  At least if I’m aware of my own feeling of emptiness, I can start to seek out what makes me feel full, what makes me feel real.

For a significant number of people, that’s where the journey of therapy begins…

I’d be interested in your comments about your journey, and about what is meaningful or important in your life.  

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

Brian Collinson


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

Email: brian@briancollinson.ca

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PHOTO CREDITS:  © Imagery Majestic | Dreamstime.com 

© 2009 Brian Collinson    

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Men’s Issues

April 28th, 2009 · collective consciousness, depth psychology, Identity, masculinity, mens issues, Mississauga, Oakville, persona, Psychology, psychotherapy for men

mens issues We live in a society and a time when this has become a burning question with which many men are struggling.  The old understandings of maleness and masculine identity don’t work any more, but what are we supposed to put in their place?

Recently, I attended a production by Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre of the David Mamet play Glengarry Glen Ross.  Director David Storch and the Soulpepper company have succeeded in giving us a very provocative production of a rather well-known play.  I had read the play, and was familiar with the excellent film version with Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino and Alan Arkin, but I feel that what Soulpepper’s version particularly opened up for me was the dilemmas around masculine identity in which the men in the play find themselves.

This is a play in which macho male identity fairly runs wild.  The setting is a suburban Chicago real estate office in the early 1980s — at the time of the last big economic downturn.   Things are obviously desperately difficult for the salesmen in this office.  Few sales are being made.  To make things that much worse, the management of the office initiates a particularly brutal sales contest: first prize, a new Cadillac; second prize, a set of steak knives; and, the bottom two sellers end up fired.

The atmosphere that is created is a hideous stew of competitiveness, bravado, insecurity and intrigue.  The salesmen are brutally competitive, and obsessed with the question of who is up and who is down.  The salesmen’s competitiveness co-exists with their deep yearning for respect from the other men, and with strange, agonizing moments when the men stand revealed in their desperate vulnerability. 

If there is a tragic figure in the play, it is Shelley “the Machine” Levine, a salesman in his 50s.  Once celebrated as an unstoppable selling machine, Shelley has now lost the ability to sell.  He oscillates between pathetic begging, verbal abuse of others, obnoxious triumph and utterly craven despair.  He is trapped by the outer situation in which he finds himself, but also by his own relentless drive for success, which in his case can only mean that he is able to demonstrate his power and virility by outstripping and What Is a Real Man for Vibrant Jung Blog 2 humiliating other men in the office.

These salesmen understand themselves to be “men”, i.e., “real men” as opposed to the bureaucrats and paper pushers whom they feel are taking over the world.  The world of cutthroat competitiveness, deceit and inescapable isolation is what they understand to be their masculine birthright.  In watching these men, trapped by their circumstances, certainly, but above all, trapped by their individualism (not to be confused witn individuation!), insecurities, and by the hard but brittle masks they are compelled to present to each other and the world, it is hard to avoid the question, “Is that all there is?”  If so, things must seem to be pretty bleak for males.

 

Clearly Mamet portrays an extreme situation in excruciating and eloquent detail, but the questions that Glengarry Glen Ross raises are deep indeed.

How can men relate to each other without the demon of competitiveness destroying the possibility of friendship or even respect?

Is male self-esteem only to be achieved by winning competitions with other men?

Can a man show his vulnerability and humanity to another man without being humiliated for doing so?

How can I ever feel secure in my identity as a man?

These are questions I hope to explore in the next part of this series.


If you have any comments on this blog post, as always, I’d welcome them.  Also, if you have any topics or subjects that you’d like to see here, please let me know.  I value greatly the input of those who take the time to read this blog!


 

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

Brian Collinson


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

Email: brian@briancollinson.ca

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PHOTO CREDITS:  © Tjurunga | Dreamstime.com ;  © Hemul | Dreamstime.com

 

© 2009 Brian Collinson 

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"People Don't Say What's On Their Minds"

March 26th, 2009 · Carl Jung, depth psychology, Identity, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Lifestyle, persona, Psychology, Psychotherapy, soul

Masked Man for Vibrant Jung Thing 

This has been an extremely busy time for me, and I apologize to those of you who may have been expecting that I would be posting before now.  I have a number of somewhat longer posts that I expect to put up on the blog before very long, but I thought that today I would leave this quotation with you from Jung.  It's the latest in the series of Jung quotations that I have been posting on this blog. 

It's a fascinating little comment in which Jung tells us something of how he himself first became interested in psychology and psychological growth ,and ultimately, in identity and individuation and the shadow.  It's from an interview of Jung called "On Creative Achievement" by Emil Fisher, which appears in that great little book called C.G. Jung Speaking.  Fisher asks Jung,

What were the circumstances that induced you to work in the field of psychological research?

To which Jung replies,

"Even as a small boy I noticed that people always did the contrary of what was said of them.  I found some of the people who were praised quite unbearable, whereas I though others who were criticized quite pleasant.

I noticed the inconsistencies in the behaviour of adults quite early on, because I spent my formative years in Basel, in a rather odd environment, which was frequented by people with a complicated psychic structure.

When I was barely four years old, someone said to me in an exaggerated childish tone: "Where do you think you are going with your rocking horse?"  I reacted quite the enfant terrible: "Mama, why does this man say such nonsense?"  Even as a child I clearly felt that people did not really say what was on their minds."

"Americans Must Say 'No' in McGuire, William, and Hull, R.F.C., eds.,

C.G. Jung Speaking (Princeton: University Press, 1977)

 

I think most of us share the sense that Jung had at a very early age, that there is a lot more going on inside people than they really show us on the outside.  And then, it's also true that there's a lot more going on inside ourselves than we show on the outside.  It's something that we've all known for a very long time, and we all really want to understand it.  When it comes to ourselves, there may well come a time in our lives when it's absolutely vital for us to understand what makes us tick.  To open ourselves up to self-knowledge may well be the true beginning of wisdom.

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

Get "Vibrant Jung Thing" posts delivered to your email using the "FeedBurner" box in the left column.

PHOTO CREDITS: © Richard Nelson| Dreamstime.com

© 2009 Brian Collinson 

 

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