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What is Personal Growth, Really? Part 2

March 16th, 2015 · personal growth

How are you and I going to deal with this issue of personal growth?  In Part 1 of “What is Personal Growth” we explored appropriate and inappropriate uses of that term.

personal growth

In this post, we’ll go after the question, “How, practically, can I find personal growth?”

The Invitation to Personal Growth

Where does the invitation to personal growth appear in our lives?

Contrary to what we expect in our culture it doesn’t usually stem from heroic efforts of the will.

In fact, it seems most often to come from encounters with those aspects of our lives that we’d rather not be dealing with.

For instance, in my own case, I know that the experience of dealing with the deafness of my son was life-changing.  I realize many people have dealt with much harder things, but this was extremely hard for me.  Often, I didn’t know how to cope.  Those experiences brought personal growth into my life, and continue to do so today.

These experiences changed me, not because I set out on a ego project of “self improvement”, but because I had to come to terms with what life brought, and unexpected aspects of myself.

In the Deepest Personal Growth, the Ego is Not Really Running the Show

Often, it’s growth for the ego to learn to stand back.

In Western culture, we have learned to see the ego as absolutely predominant.  We tend to highly exalt its power, and those activities which exalt the power of the ego over virtually everything else.

Consider, for instance, Iron Man Marathons.  They’re a remarkable acheivement, no doubt, but we tend to celebrate them as a triumph of ego or will over the body.

personal growth

In our culture, we tend to exalt the ability of the ego to get whatever it wants.  Our cultural heros are very often the people who get what they want no matter what.  Consider television like”the Apprentice” with the all-conquering Donald Trump.  More recently, we have the character of Frank Underwood on the wildly successful House of Cards.

These collective heroes are often suffused with a “narcissistic” self-obsession, referring to the mythical young man who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool..

personal growth

Contrary to what we often think, narcissism is not based in an excess of self-love, but, rather, its opposite.  As the prominent Jungian psychiatrist Edward Edinger reminds us,

Narcissisus represents the alienated ego that cannot love… because it is not yet related to itself. To fall in love with the reflected image of oneself can only mean that one does not yet possess oneself….  Narcissism in its original mythological implications is not a needless excess of self-love but rather just the opposite, a frustrated state of yearning for a self-possession that does not yet exist….
In the case of Narcissus, fulfillment of self-love, or union with the image in its depths, requires a descent into the unconscious…

Response to the Deep Self

For Edinger, the important stage of personal growth that concerns love for, and compassion for the self requires an in-depth encounter with the unconscious aspects of the personality.  This means an encounter with the self, and a compassionate love for the self — especially for those aspects of the self that do not fit the projects, goals and tastes of the ego, including its tendency to demand excessively idealized and perfectionist standards of achievement, and conduct.  This is what we commonly call the shadow.

Personal Growth, Self Acceptance — and Acceptance of the Self

This encounter with and acceptance of the Self is the heart of what we call personal growth.  As Jung tells us, such experience of the Self is often more of a defeat for the ego, than a fulfillment of its ideals of personal triumph.  Yet it’s what we need to begin to live in life, health and a growing sense of peace with who we fundamentally are.

Depth psychotherapy is fundamentally about the encounter with the depths of the person.  It’s about the move to loving and accepting our complete “unedited” personhood.  This means not only our egos, but the fullness of the strengths, weaknesses and the new territory of the undiscovered self.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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What is Personal Growth, Really? #1

March 9th, 2015 · personal growth

A lot of depth psychotherapists are fairly wary of the term “personal growth”; is there any legitimate way to use that term?

personal growth

One of the most prominent of depth psychotherapists to object to the notion of “personal growth” was the late archetypal psychologist James Hillman, Hillman frequently took the idea to task, especially as embodied in overly optimistic forms, such as the Human Potential Movement.

Here is the kind of thing Hillman would say about personal growth:

personal growth


Why Many Depth Psychotherapists Have Trouble with the Idea of “Personal Growth”

So, for Hillman, and many who share his outlook, “personal growth”, at least as embodied by people like the Human Potential Movement, is naive and Pollyanna.  It doesn’t take account of realities like aging, illness and physical and mental decline, nor of the ways we are constrained by our environment or genetics, nor by just how plain difficult it is to live everyday life.

These critics have a point.  Certainly, it would be incredibly naive to think that we can just go from strength to strength in life.  The realities to which Hillman and others refer do have a powerful and profoundly limiting impact on our human existence.

If the term “personal growth” amounts to what is embodied in the mantra that “Every day / And in every way / I’m getting better and better”, then it’s truly a hollow idea.  We are not moving towards some ideal state of human perfectibility, where we are always happier, more content, less judgmental, less defended or completely freed from the impact of a dysfunctional family.  If there is a journey of personal growth for us to undertake, it must mean something other than that.

personal growth

Why “Personal Growth” is Still a Useful Term

Yet, human beings can still grow in wisdom, and in acceptance of self and life.  We will never be all-wise, but surely it’s an increase in wisdom to stop flogging ourselves for not matching an idealized image of perfection that we carry inside, that’s completely at odds with our true nature.  In this sense, it can be most genuine growth to stop trying to be who we’re “supposed” to be, and, instead, to just let ourselves be who we really are.

Also, in a related way, it is genuine growth to be able to simply see ourselves as we really are.  We may never be able to see absolutely everything about ourselves in the depths of the unconscious.  Yet, each new hard-won piece of awareness brings us to some greater measure of understanding, self-acceptance and compassion for our own struggling and wounded selves.  Without this kind of growth, our capacity for real acceptance and compassion for anyone else is likely to be extremely stunted.

Giving up these idealized images and genuinely seeing ourselves as we are increases our overall capacity to accept life itself for what it truly is.  To accept life as it is, rather than trying to blindly and compulsively make it into something it is not — surely this is a very important kind of wisdom, and personal growth.

Will we ever succeed in doing these things perfectly and completely?  —No.  Does that negate the value of obtaining as much of this type of wisdom as we can?  –Most certainly not.

The Invitation to Personal Growth

personal growth

The continual striving to enter into this kind of wisdom, this kind of self-knowledge, and this kind of growth is at the very heart of depth psychotherapy .

In Part 2 of “What is Personal Growth, Really?” , we’ll look at personal growth and how it relates to our ego and our overall psychological wholeness, the Self.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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Therapy, Personal Growth & Self Knowledge …Really?

August 8th, 2011 · growth, personal growth, Self, self-knowledge, therapy

personal growth

Many speak about therapy and/or psychotherapy as a route to personal growth and self knowledge, but can it really deliver? That depends a lot on the kind of therapy, the attitude of the person undertaking it, and the knowledge and attitude of the therapist.

The famous passage quoted below illustrates this very well.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost … I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But, it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in … it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

from Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk , © Portia Nelson 1993

The good outcome in this story is due to three things.

1) Reflection

The author of the poem has the courage to look at what is going on in her life.  Not at first, because panic and confusion are in the driver’s seat.  But eventually, she faces the questions: “What is going on?’, “What caused this?”  And, actually, at an even more basic level, she’s able to admit that “I’m in a hole!”

2) Willingness to Honestly Look at Oneself

Gradually, the poem’s author is able to put down her knee-jerk self defense, and to clearly see her role in creating this situation.  She is able to do this with compassionate self acceptance.

3) Willingness to Put Insights Into Action

Once she has these insights, she acts on them and experiences personal growth.

Very often, these three steps need the fertile ground, compassion and support of the right therapy to best come into being.

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



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


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Jungian Psychotherapy & Personal Growth

July 15th, 2011 · growth, individual psychotherapy, Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy, personal growth, Psychotherapy

personal growth

Personal growth isn’t something you hear Jungian psychotherapy speak about very much.  I got to really wondering, “Why not?  You hear it all the time from self-help gurus, etc.”  That got me thinking.  It’s not that depth psychotherapy opposes personal growth — far from it.  I think that the real reason is that what personal growth means from this perspective is very different from what lots of other people mean when they use the term.

“Personal growth” now has quite a conventional meaning — but the reality may be something rather different.

  • Real Personal Growth Isn’t What Everyone Expects

Often, when people talk about “personal growth”, you sense  that they have a very definite idea of what everyone has to do.  A definite roadmap that everybody has to follow.  Actually, growth is much more individual than that.  Each person has a unique path that they have to uncover and follow.  It’s not “what everyone expects“: it’s a very individual discovery.

  • True Growth is Not Ego Centred

Depth psychotherapists are wary of the “PG” phrase, fearing that people will think they refer to something that just involves the conscious mind and ego.  But real personal change involves more than an ego project, like “I will conquer my shyness and become a top salesperson”, or, “I will quit smoking”.  Real growth involves encountering parts of ourselves which we don’t acknowledge — and letting them change our self-perceptions, and our actions.

  • Personal Growth Involves Major Psychological Change

When people talk about “PG”, it often sounds like the change involved is measured and incremental.  But depth work can result in a major change of perspective, and a different relationship to the fundamental things in your life.

  • Personal Growth May Mean Never “Having It All Together”, but it Will Mean, Well… Growing!

In much self-help literature, you get the sense that, even though the author may not explicitly say so, there is a bright line distinction between those who have “arrived” at the new understanding / condition / awareness, and others.  Actually, it’s not that way.  There may be a distinction between those who are growing, and those who are not, but there is no “arrival”.  So long as we’re alive, we’re on a personal journey.

What does personal growth really mean to you? I’d welcome your comments.

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



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


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Twitter, Personal Growth, Self Discovery and Self Creation

January 7th, 2011 · Jungian, life transitions, personal growth, Psychotherapy

If you’re interested in quotations on Twitter that concern psychotherapy, Self and personal growth, as I tend to be, you start to notice a very interesting to-and-fro of ideas about what it is to grow as a person.  If you look closely, you can see that there is a deep division into two distinct camps on a very fundamental question concerning the nature of the Self.  We could call one school of thought the “Self Discovery” camp, and the other, the “Self Creation” camp.  They seem to have very contrasting ideas about the nature of growth and maturation as a person.

Self Discovery

One kind of Twitter person will emphasize the joys of the adventure of self discovery.  The implication here is that the self in some sense pre-exists, that the fundamental nature of an individual human being is there to be known, and that the business of a human is to explore and find what is already there.  “You can’t be something other than your true nature”, those who adhere to this view will tell you, “you must find out who you really are, and live in accord with that.”  For such people, any attempt to “create yourself” is doomed to failure.  A good example of this kind of approach was recently tweeted by OctavioTomas :

Self discovery is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Not easy facing the ‘man in the mirror’.

Self Creation

Another whole approach would emphasize that we actually create ourselves through the choices we make, the steps we take, and our will power.  A good example of this approach would be this quote tweeted recently by liveaquote:

We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish..

For a person coming from this perspective, the self is pretty malleable, and it would certainly seem to be subject to the power of the will, to such an extent, in fact, that as individual persons we can “be exactly what we wish”.

These views don’t seem to be readily compatible.  So who’s right?  Well, as new developments in the emerging fields of neuroscience (as discussed by Lakoff and Johnson) and evolutionary psychology and psychiatry (as discussed by Stevens and Chance, among many others) are refuting the idea that human beings come into this world with no fundamental character.  Rather we have a nature that is already substantially determined.

This research supports what CG Jung continually stressed in his work in the first half of last century, that we do have a specific nature, and the task of psychological growth entails coming to the completest understanding that we can of what that nature imparted to us really is.  As Jung said vehemently on several occasions “man is not born a tabula rasa (blank slate)”.

So, does that settle it, that, as Popeye used to put it, “I yam what I yam“?

Detective and Gardener

Well, not exactly.  We do have a fixed nature with which we come into life, but that’s not the whole story.  For, once we get into our lives, we are continually confronted with all kinds of powerful influences on our development and our personality.  Our early experience in the family and in the institutions of early life can affect us profoundly.  We can find ourselves taken in directions deeply at odds with our true nature.  As an extreme example, consider what sometimes happens to extemely gifted, precocious children, where they are forced into molds or patterns that don’t represent who they really are.  There is a great deal of creativity and strength that is involved in finding our way back to our own true self nature, and bringing things out of the unconscious so that they no longer control us.  Much of this work is often done in the second half of life, and nowadays is often assisted by some form of depth psychotherapy, like Jungian analysis.

So there is both a process of self-discovery and a process of self-creation that is involved in personal growth.  There is also a third thing, which is perhaps the hardest for contemporary western people.  And that is the process of allowing our true selves to emerge, waiting on ourselves — almost tending ourselves.

What Is Growth Like for You?

Have you had experiences that you would describe as “experiences of self-discovery”?  Or, again as “experiences where I created or re-created (!) myself”?   How about experiences of watching yourself grow, and emerge?  I’d be very interested to hear from you about such experiences in your comments, either below, or via confidential email.

Wishing you the fullness of growth, and the depth of experience of yourself, on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst



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© 2011 Brian Collinson