Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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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Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 2: Getting Real

October 25th, 2010 · Anxiety, depth psychology, Existential crisis, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Meaning, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, stress, therapy

Recently, I started a series of posts about the growth of resilience, which is a very key part of the work of psychotherapy.  I’d like to share a personal experience of mine through which I became changed, and, I believe, much more resilient.  It’s not that I’m trying to suggest that I’ve “got it all figured out”, or that this set of experiences gave me “the key to life” — mine or anybody else’s.  But I do believe that this was an experience that affected me deeply, that it cost me a great deal, and that I genuinely grew through it.

Resilience is directly connected to our convictions at the deepest level about our lives — our basic trust.  And sometimes life can shake what we believe about our own individual lives to the very core.  I had occasion to learn this in a period between my mid-20s and early 30s.

The Journey to Upside Down

At the time this experience occurred, I was a  highly religious person, in a liberal Christian tradition.  I had a very clear conception of my life: how things had unfolded according to plan, and how they would continue to do so into the future.  I was recently happily married, and my wife and I had a baby on the way.

Then the baby arrived, and we learned that he was born pretty close to about as deaf as a child can be.

Suddenly, everything that I thought I knew about my life was turned upside down.  Through this crisis, everything I had hitherto believed about the nature of God, the world, suffering, even evil, and what was meaningful in life was shaken to the core.

Now, I’m not foolish enough to think that having a deaf child is the worst that can happen to a person.  Far, far from it.  It can get unbelievably more painful and difficult than that, I well know.  Nonetheless, when this happened to me, I was completely devastated.  I literally did not know which way to turn, and, for a long time, I seriously doubted that I would ever be happy — or even ever smile — again.

Life Crisis

I also know that, as the years went by, I was also plunged into a more and more  profound crisis of faith and life — an existential crisis, as they say.  It was not so much a question of “why me?”  With the crisis around my son’s deafness, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes, and I was finally seeing for the first time the depth of the suffering in the world.  In fact, I was seeing it very clearly and close up in the very people with whom I was working.  It was deeply apparent to me now how many people were struggling with so very much more than they knew how to handle, or felt that they could handle.  The question I found myself struggling with on the deepest level was much more, “How can there be a loving God, if this kind of thing happens to any one at all?”

By the time I was 30, I was completely shaken out of the very comfortable life path that I had seen mapped out for me.  Nothing was left of it.  It was apparent to me that life was never going to be possible with the old outlook I had once had.  At about that time, I made some very major changes in virtually every aspect of my life — faith, career, relationships — and moved in a new direction.

Rash, Raw, Risky … Lost

I didn’t know what was waiting for me, and I was making all kinds of rash decisions, without regard for the risks.  In many ways I was raw, and I wore my anger, my pain and my sense of betrayal on my sleeve, often for all to see.  My despair and cynicism were probably at their height at this point.

What I didn’t know, and couldn’t see, was that something was changing inside myself.  At the time, I could not have described to you what this change was, but it was real and it was deep.  It would take years for me to even begin to understand what was emerging in my life.  In my next blog post, Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 3: A Story of My Own, I’ll attempt to share with you something of what that change really meant.

Have You Had This Kind of Experience?

I am sure that many of my readers have had to confront real adversity or real crisis in their own lives.  I would respectfully welcome any of your comments on what it was like to cope with such things.  How did such experiences change you?  As always, I gratefully welcome any of your reflections.

Wishing you peace and resilience on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Elena Ray | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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The Psychological Meaning of the Chilean Miners

October 15th, 2010 · Current Affairs, Hope, inner life, mine rescue, Psychology, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, resilience, symbolism, therapy

I had just begun my series on “Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth” when our attention was again drawn to the fate of  the miners trapped at the bottom of the mine at Copiapo, Chile.  This is a story that embodies resilience, if there ever was one.  The world’s media have been following the fortunes of the miners with tremendous verve and intensity.  Why is it that this story grips us so?

Frankly, from a symbolic perspective, there is so much that could be said about a group of miners trapped in the bowels of the earth, and finally coming to the light of day again that you could write a very hefty book about it.

Clearly this story is an incredible embodiment of human resilience.  To wait in a precarious chamber of rock for 66 days for a tunnel to be dug down: could it really get much worse?  It would be a test of any human being’s sanity to have to wait in this manner is such confining and threatening surroundings.

And the world waited with the Chilean miners.  In an emotional, and even in a quasi-physical way, we experience to some degree what it is that they experience.  With them, we share in their longing for a return to the surface, to the world of light.  Their experience reminds us of all those aspects of human life where things seem to be beyond our control, where the only way to “get through” is to endure, to be patient, to be resilient.  We share in their hope for freedom, and for the restoration of their own lives, because, in their hope we find our own hope, our own need to “get through” in life, that we will some day get beyond the difficult things with which we have no choice but to deal.

Sometimes human life takes us into the darkness.  We are lost; we are disoriented; we are trapped.  What we need then is to find that hope in which we can endure, and find a way back into the world of the living.  This can be as true in the world of psychological growth and psychotherapy as it is in the mines of Copiapo.

Do you have reflections or thoughts on the meaning of the events around the Chilean mine rescue?  I would certainly love to hear about them if you do.  Does their story resonate in any way with your own?

Good wishes to all of you as you make your own personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

VIDEO CREDIT: © Russia Today These images are the property of  Russia Today and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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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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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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Escaping the Grip of Regret, Part 1

July 26th, 2010 · complexes, compulsion, depth psychology, guilt, life passages, midlife, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, regret, soul, therapy, unlived life, wholeness

Regret is a power that can bring you to your knees.  A great many of us have experienced its power.  Sinatra may sing “Regrets, I’ve had a few / But then again, too few to mention.”  This sounds admirable and enviable, but over the course of a lifetime, most of us have to deal with some very powerful rendez-vous with the way it might have been.

Regret can be experienced at any point in life, but often at mid-life, regret can start to take on a particular intensity.  As we go through the journey of life, the awareness that we have only a finite amount of life left, a finite number of possibilities open to us, can lead us to an exquisite hyper-sensitivity to the regret we have for all the choices we could have made differently, roads we could have walked, ways that it might have turned out that it did not.  In other words, the life unlived.

How can we live with this awareness?  We may attempt to shrug it off, pretend it isn’t there.  But very often for us it is there, often at times like 3 o’clock in the morning, when all the spirits tend to come out.  Not a few of our addictive and compulsive behaviours — including workoholism — can stem from attempts to run away from regret.  But how can you or I run away from something so close to ourselves?

In my next few postings, I will be examining the phenomenon of regret, and the way it impacts us.  It can have a huge grip on us.  It can even imprison us, and embitter us beyond words.  But, let me ask a question that might seem strange:  Is there health in regret?  It’s clear how regret can be a poison, but, oftentimes, the cure for the poison is made from the poison itself.

Does regret play a part in your life?  Do you ever find the experience of regret both inescapable and painful?  I’d welcome any of your comments on this post.

My Next Post: Escaping the Grip of Regret, Part 2: Understanding the Power of Regret

I wish you all the very best on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Cammeraydave | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Let’s Keep Jung’s Red Book Away from Spiritual Hucksterism

July 21st, 2010 · archetypal experience, archetypes, Carl Jung, collective consciousness, collective unconscious, Identity, Individuation, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology, Psychotherapy, The Self, unconscious, wholeness

It is now quite clear that Jung’s Red Book, which I wrote about in an earlier post, has created quite a stir in certain circles, and has been very well popularized.  It has had quite an impact in cultural and literary circles, and has gained a lot of attention in the media since its publication.

On the whole, those who appreciate Jung’s psychological work must necessarily feel good about this.  Those of us who are passionately convinced that Jung has something profound to say about the human psyche and about life in our time cannot help but feel joy that his message is getting out more widely and deeply in our society.

However, it is hard at times to avoid the feeling that Jung’s legacy is suffering from an approach that is overly-commercialized.  I don’t fault W.W. Norton for a moment for bringing the Red Book to publication, even though Jung himself was very clear that he did not want it published, at least not in his lifetime.

The Red Book documents Jung’s own profound psychological struggle in a manner so eloquent and deep that it is difficult if not impossible to describe.  The world owes the Jung family, the Philemon Foundation, editor Sonu Shamdasani and W.W. Norton a huge debt for bringing the Red Book to the world.  In the sincerest possible way, I thank them all.

But do we really need mystifying and sensationalistic messages associated with it, such as the following?

Jung’s Red Book is a magnificent record of his interior journey through the most profound crisis of his entire life.  It is as if at every turn of the page Jung meets us, personally, with the same wrenching, implacable questions that he meets himself as he descends into his own depths.  Who are you?  What are you?  What are the unknown elements of yourself?

Do we really need this profound encounter opened up for us on the lecture circuit?  Or in webinars?  Or in talk show formats with Jungian analysts and pop culture celebrities?

Can we honestly persuade ourselves that Jung would have wanted this?  Frankly, who are we trying to kid?

As Jungian analyst Wolfgang Giegrich is at pains to remind us, Jung’s Red Book is not “The New Bible”.  Those of us who love Jung need to be careful not to portray it as some kind of divine revelation composed by a semi-divinity which answers all questions.  It’s the record of a very human struggle by someone who was ready to encounter his depths and ready to try to acknowledge his weakness and the inferior and broken parts of himself.  If we read the Red Book carefully, we’ll encounter Jung’s shadow.  We may not always like that and may be uncomfortable or even shocked by it.  Nonetheless, it’s a reminder that here was a human being much like you or me, who really wrestled with his darkness, and fought his way into it and through it to his own unique selfhood, and his own healing.  And he invites us to do the same.

Have you had any experience with Jung’s Red Book, reading it or seeing one of the current exhibits?  I’d love to hear about it if you have.

I wish you all the very best on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

VIDEO CREDITS: © W.W.  Norton & Company; © Digital Fusion Creative Technologies Inc. These images are the property of W.W.  Norton & Company and/or Digital Fusion Creative Technologies Inc. and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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CG Jung’s Approach: Not for Everyone, but Essential for Some

July 16th, 2010 · Carl Jung, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, soul, The Self, therapy, unconscious, Wellness, wholeness

Let’s face it: there are a lot of different forms of therapy / counselling out there.  So, why would someone choose to work on themselves with a Jungian therapist, as opposed to another type of therapist?  Well, here’s a list of 6 prominent factors, which certainly led me to do Jungian analysis, and which ultimately convinced me to become a Jungian analyst.  These are not the only factors, but they are certainly 6 big ones.

6 Reasons to do Jungian Analysis

1.  A Jungian approach emphasizes individuality, and  plurality.  Jung’s psychological work was always oriented to the particular individual.  He felt that it was in our unique individuality that we are most human.  He also was among the first in modern psychology to recognize that there is not just one way to be a living growing human being: there are a plurality of ways, as he recognized in his psychological types.  So, I am unique, but also similar in some ways to other human beings, and very different from others.  There is real strength and value, in my opinion, in the way that Jung is always calling us back to our individual psychological paths.  Not everyone needs this kind of an emphasis — but it’s very significant and even essential for some people.

2.  The Jungian approach recognizes that human beings are not just simply rational.  Jung acknowledged that people have a rational component, and that some people — thinking types — are predominantly rational.  But there is a whole lot more going on within us than just rational deduction.  There is our feeling, our intuition and our ability to relate to the external world though our sensation.  When we are stuck, the Jungian approach offers hope that other aspects of ourselves than our thinking may help us to find our way through.

3.  The Jungian approach recognizes that, as people, we’re not just conscious.  Unlike those types of therapy that just seek to deal with the impulses and aspects of our behaviour that are purely conscious, and that the ego, or waking mind is aware of, Jungian analysis seeks to get at those aspects of us that are not connected to consciousness, and seeks to make them conscious.

4.  The Jungian approach is certainly not just about pathology.  While many forms of therapy center in on identifying what is “abnormal” or “pathological” in clients’ behaviour, a Jungian approach focuses on the client as a unique individual.  One of Jung’s favourite sayings was that the oak tree is potentially and latently in the acorn.  In a similar manner he saw that what the deepest parts of the psyche of any individual, what Jung called the Self was striving towards was the expression and living out of the uniqueness and wholeness of the individual’s personality.  To strive for this is not just about overcoming pathology and deficiencies: it is about growing, and becoming that which we have been destined to become.

5.  Jungian analysis is about finding ways to live fully and abundantly without having “all the answers”.  Jung and the Jungian tradition have always maintained that there are vast portions of the human psyche that we simply cannot fully understand.  In the face of this, some forms of psychology simply opt for very simplistic answers that turn the individual human being into a mere machine or puppet.  These approaches unfortunately leave the individual human being “beyond freedom and dignity”, as the behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner freely admitted.  By contrast, Jung’s approach emphasizes the uniqueness and individual dignity of each human being — and the fact that each of us represents something that fundamentally cannot be totally captured by the human intellect.

6.  Jungian analysis is about the sense that, as individual human beings, we share a journey with all other human beings.  Jung was ahead of his time in recognizing that each of us, while we are unique, also shares in a profound way in the journey that has been taken by the whole of the human race, in every place and time.  This emphasis gives us a sense of compassion and connection to the rest of the human race, and also a sense of sharing in something in which every human since the beginning has shared.  Jung always spoke about drawing on the resources of the “two million year old man” within us.  To me, at least, it’s good somehow, to know that, in my own unique way, I share a journey with all other humans — I and many others find that a very grounding realization.

Does this kind of an approach speak to you?  I’d be very interested to hear, and to see any comments that you might have on this post.  If there’s an aspect of Carl Jung’s thought that really resonates with you, I’d be more than eager to hear.

How important to you is it to feel that your life is the unfolding of a unique and meaningful path?

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 CREDIT: © Pilart | 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 II

July 2nd, 2010 · creativity, Film, Identity, Individuation, inner life, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, soul, spontaneity, The Self, wholeness

Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II, The Armoured Self, My Prison

In the course of thousands of years of mechanical development, the mechanistic concept, from generation to generation, has anchored itself deeply in man’s biological system.  In so doing, it actually has altered human functioning in the direction of the machine-like….   Man has become biologically rigid. He has armored himself against that which is natural and spontaneous within him, he has lost contact with the biological function of self-regulation and is filled with a strong fear of that which is alive and free.

Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933)

 In Part I of “Anxiety Behind the Mask” I began to explore the meaning of the pop cultural figure of Iron Man.  As seen in recent movies, Iron Man is a symbol for the relationship in our culture between the social mask, known in Jungian terms as the “persona”, and the inner human.  The Iron Man myth represents the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable, beyond weakness, mistake and humiliation.   However, as we discovered, there is also great psychological danger in complete identification with such an impervious persona.

In this post, I’d like to open up that idea in a fuller way.  In fact, the social armour which protects us can also be a prison.  We can so easily develop a way of relating that is very smooth, glib, almost machine-like.  It can be so effective that it can give me the strong sense that nothing is ever going to hurt me.  It can lead me to “pat” answers and attitudes that accord with the standard views and attitudes in our social grouping(s), that completely avoid vital questions about how we feel and what we want.

Our armour can persuade others and even ourselves that we are sleek and slick, even sophisticated.  But I can only ensure that I’m on top of things by ensuring that nothing is ever going to reach me, that nothing will ever break my stride.  I need to keep whatever might disrupt my performance at a distance.

So we armour ourselves not only against others, but against ourselves.  We do this by repressing any inner acknowledgment of our own inferior, weak, morally suspect or socially unacceptable parts – and the shame that often goes with acknowledging them.  We eliminate our vulnerability, but at the price of our vitality and spontaneity.

I have heard innumerable people relate nightmares to me with themes that resemble the following:

I am in a labyrinth, or a dark, unknown place.  I am being pursued by robots.  They advance relentlessly, despite all my efforts to destroy them or fend them off.  No matter how many I disable, they just keep coming…  closer and closer and closer.  I wake up, filled with fear.

Potentially a very disturbing dream, that reflects a very important reality in the psyche, about which we genuinely should be disturbed.  In the words of Eric Fromm:

The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots.

In a certain important sense, this is also the danger of the present, as the dream above reflects.  My armour, my social mask, may become robotic, particularly if I let it get to be thicker than it needs to be, as a result of my over-identification with my social role or roles.  Then I may find myself cut off from the instinctual and spontaneous sources of life deep in the psyche, and may find myself overwhelmed by anxiety, depression or even psychosomatic illness.  All are dangerous signs that the connections with the deep inner life of the human being are in danger of being severed.

To be continued in “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III: Heart Trouble

I’d welcome your reflections on the symbollic aspects of Iron Man and the trap of robotic social roles.   Do you ever see others trapped in their social roles?  Do you ever find that you are struggling to be your genuine self in situations?  In relationships?

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to 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.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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