Journeying Toward Wholeness

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5 Key Issues in Depth Psychotherapy for Men, Part 1

April 28th, 2013 · men, Psychotherapy, psychotherapy for men

The key issues in depth psychotherapy for men are not fundamentally different from the issues that confront women in therapy, but there are clear differences in the way that men experience them.

psychotherapy for men

This difference in experience is tied up with the whole meaning of what it is to be male.

In this post, here are the first three of five key factors that very often present themselves for males through the whole process of psychotherapy for men.

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1.  The Male Mask and Self Acceptance

The women’s movement has revealed many social masks that our culture forces upon women.  We’re somewhat less aware of the masks that men are pressured to adopt.

Clinical experience with psychotherapy for men shows the tremendous pressure on men to adopt certain roles and postures.  The culture is well-pleased with unemotional men — and there’s a particular unconscious cultural hostility to vulnerability in men.  In our collective mind, the ideal of the strong, self-sufficient, serenely independent male strongly influences women’s expectations of men, and men’s expectations of each other.

Men are lonely behind such masks.  They keep men from being themselves, and from authentically connecting with others.

We have to get out from behind this crippling persona  and be conscious of who we are — as opposed to living with illusory pictures of the self.

WARNING: Entails seeing areas of weakness and broken-ness.  PROMISE: Starts the journey to compassion for oneself.

2.  Emotion, Feeling, Sexuality

The limited emotional range which our culture leaves open to males makes it very difficult for males to meet their need for love and intimacy.  Intimacy is also connected with vulnerability, and that doesn’t fit well with the dominant male mask.

All of this impacts male sexuality and sexual issues.  Men are often very fearful of revealing themselves in sex in ways that leave them vulnerable and open to being shamed.  This leads to routinized sexual expression in which the male never lowers his mask.  Sheer sexual pressure may keep him sexually active, but he can easily fall into incredibly sterile patterns of sexual relating.

3.  Receptivity & Relation to the Feminine

psychotherapy for men

Another key issue for males is their relationship to receptivity, which is seen as a feminine characteristic.  Our culture, even in humour,  stresses that males should be aggressive, seizing initiative in situations from sports to management to sex.  But the places where a male is receptive can be the most important and life-giving in his existence.

This may entail the male entering territory which our culture sees as feminine.  But being receptive — to what his own being is telling him, to the reality of others and what they are bringing to him — may prove figuratively, or even sometimes literally, lifesaving.

These three fundamental issues often surface in depth psychotherapy for men.  Two other issues will feature in Part Two of this post.

We’re not talking about pathology or abnormal psychology here.  These are key aspects of the journey of male individuation.  Often individual psychotherapy for men can profoundly assist on that journey.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights  reserved lorenkerns ; NotionsCapital
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Individual Psychotherapy: A Golden Age of Workaholism 3

April 14th, 2013 · individual, individual psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

In individual psychotherapy for workaholism, it’s a matter of key importance to understand what it is in the person as a whole that underlies this dangerous and destructive pattern of behaviour.

individual psychotherapy

As with almost everything in psychotherapy, we can predict that this addictive pattern emerges in part from the individual’s story, and in part from the broader social and collective forces at work around the individual.

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The Golden Age: Our Culture Glorifies Workaholics

Without saying so in so many words, our culture glorifies a workaholic attitude.

individual psychotherapy

The people that inspire us as heroes in our culture are very often people we would characterize as “driven“: relentlessly single-minded in their pursuit of some goal, and as hard on others around them as they are on themselves.  Such larger-than-life figures, like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, captivate us, and, with their laser-like focus, can attain an almost god-like status.

Pullitzer Prize winning social scientist Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death described this type of obsession with the heroics of achievement as “a blind drivenness that burns people up; in passionate people, a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the howling of a dog.”

When Working Is Easier Than Facing Myself

Our culture is full of exhortations to this kind of heroic/obsessive goal-directedness.  This drug is readily consumed: its fantasy dimension can take us away from hard-to-deal with aspects of our personal lives.  Individual psychotherapy often shows that the workaholic hamster wheel can be easier than facing feelings of conflict or emptiness in our closest personal relationships.  It can be easier to immerse ourselves in work than to face who we are and what we really want in life.

Workaholism: What are We Looking For?

What is it that we are really looking for, from our work?  Certainly, we need work that provides for our own needs and those of our families.  In a time of increased economic insecurity, that need can drive us excessively hard all on its own.  But when it gets mixed up with the heroic idealization of work, it can be easy for work to take over an inhumanly large part of our lives.  Yet the truths remain true:

  • Work is not going to meet my deepest social needs, nor my need for love;
  • Work, on its own, is not going to provide me with real meaning in my life;
  • Work cannot function as the root source of my self-esteem; and,
  • Work is not going to enable me to escape the necessity of being who I am, and living my own life.

Something Better

Self-acceptance is a key element in the process of moving beyond workaholism.  It is tied up fundamentally with the process of journeying towards a sense of wholeness and completeness in my life.  I am, at base, an ordinary human — but unique, and that’s what’s precious about me.

The exploration of the uniqueness that we each possess is the only solid basis for a life, and it is the heart of meaningful individual psychotherapy.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by bettyx1138
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Individual Psychotherapy: A Golden Age of Workaholism 1

March 4th, 2013 · individual, individual psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, workaholism

In my clinical practice in individual psychotherapy in an affluent suburb, workaholism is one of the more common issues.

individual psychotherapy

I’d go so far as to say that the present time may one day be known as The Golden Age of Workaholism.

What is workaholism?  The simple answer is “a consistent and compulsive addiction to working too much.”   And certainly long hours are characteristic of the workaholic.  But there is much, much more that characterizes a work-addicted person, as pioneering psychologist Barbara Killinger has outlined.

Work-Obsessed

It’s common in individual psychotherapy to encounter individuals in whom work takes up inordinate amounts of psychological space.  It is not just that it takes up too many hours; work can almost completely absorb the energy and feeling life of the individual  As Dr. Killinger observes, it’s “a Gerbil-wheel, adrenalin-pumping existence rushing from plan A to B, narrowly-fixated on some ambitious goal.”  At the extreme, nothing may matter outside of work.

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Divorced from Emotion

In individual psychotherapy we regularly see people who are effectively divorced from their real emotional life as a result of addiction to work.  The fixation can be so extreme that little else — spouse, children, outside commitments, even religious affiliation — has any meaning alongside work.

Compulsive Drive for Approval

How does this diminished sense of  one’s life come to take hold of a person?  Very often, it stems from a need to assert power and control — perfectionism striving to completely “master” the work environment.

Such a drive for control can be rooted in a deep inner compulsion to win the approval of others, and/or to gain recognition of one’s success.  Often such a powerful and unrelenting drive can be rooted in a very deep-seated sense of feeling profoundly unfulfilled or unloved.

The Uncontrollable Chariot

individual psychotherapy

The myth of Phaethon captures much of the psychology of workaholism.  Phaethon was the son of the sun god, Helios.  Taunted by schoolmates when he tells them this, Phaethon visits the sun god Helios in his palace, to confirm that he is Helios’ son.  Helios affirms this, and lovingly grants Phaethon a wish.  But Phaethon asks to drive the sun chariot — great hubris, for not even Zeus could control those fiery horses.  Helios tries to dissuade him, but cannot.   Phaethon takes the reins at dawn, mounts the skies, but cannot control the fateful horses. His wild ride threatens the earth.  Zeus is compelled to destroy Phaeton with a thunderbolt.

individual psychotherapy

Phaethon is driven to ego inflation by deep questions about who he is, and about his own value as a person.  Consequently, he single-mindedly fixates on the power and prestige of driving the sun chariot, and, as a result, meets his end.

Similarly, emotional blunting and inflated single-mindedness can burn up the workaholic.  A key goal of individual psychotherapy for workaholism is to bring him or her into acceptance of what he or she is, and to move beyond work as the sole validation of worth.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by Raychel Mendez ; detail from “Apoteósis de Hércules” by Francisco Pacheco
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

 

 

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Help for Anxiety Through Depth Psychotherapy 4: Concern

February 24th, 2013 · Anxiety, depth psychotherapy, help for anxiety, Psychotherapy

Concern sounds like such a benign word, yet disproportionate concern can be a sign of needing help for anxiety.

help for anxiety

Well, Isn’t It Good to be Concerned?

Yes, of course it is !

Life is full of all sorts of things that need our concern — that’s the source of the meaning in our lives.  However, concern can get distorted into anxiety so intense that it gets in the way of our genuine living.

We have concerns because we value certain key things in our lives.  But when the concern becomes so intense that it destroys much of the value in our lives… well, …that’s a concern.

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Concern for Others

Inevitably, we’re going to be concerned for people in our lives whom we love — children and lovers, for example.  But that concern can escalate to a level where we definitely need help for anxiety.

In such cases,  the line may get crossed between our genuine caring for the security of the other, and other factors such as:

  • unconscious desire for power or control,
  • out of control guilt feelings,
  • unconscious identification with the other, and desires to live our unlived lives through them; or,
  • radical insecurity, and fear of the future.

Any of these, and many other factors, can masquerade as caring, and can get blurred and mixed in with genuine feelings of love.  Concern can get so extreme that it colours everything in my life — and becomes obsession.

help for anxiety

Obsession Colours Everything

We can defend ourselves from our own mixed feelings by wearing the mask of obsessive care — “I just love and care for her/him/it so much!”  Such “love’ can actually push away unconscious feelings about ourselves and our lives that we’d rather not have.

Overwhelming Concern

Where our concern becomes overwhelming, or disproportionate, or it completely violates tour personal boundaries, we need to examine, not only the impact of this concern upon our lives, but also its deepest roots.  In this way, our search for help for anxiety may take us into issues of depth that might not have been at all apparent initially.

This clip from WGN-TV in Chicago masterfully opens up one form of such overwhelming concern: the “helicopter parent” phenomenon:


In this clip, Linda, the mother,  does have very genuine and deep love for her son, Anthony.  However, her feelings of guilt and regret have built up her concern for him to such an extent that she cannot say “No”.  This must surely be debilitating both in her own life, and in its impact on her son.

What’s the Real Concern?

When our concern gets in the way of our freedom, our autonomy and our capacity to fully live our lives, we may very well require help for anxiety.  To free our concern from underlying entanglement with unconscious issues and conflicts can be a key part of our process of individuation, and a key part of work in depth psychotherapy.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by [ Roberto Bouza ] ; victoriapeckham   VIDEO: “Helicopter Parents” © 2010 WGN-TV Chicago
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Help for Anxiety Through Depth Psychotherapy 3: Worry

February 12th, 2013 · Anxiety, depth psychotherapy, help for anxiety, Psychotherapy

Relentless worry may well be the reason an individual seeks help for anxiety, and depth psychotherapy may play a key role in the process.

help for anxiety

The Unknown and Uncontrollable

One of the things that we have to accept is that a certain amount of anxiety is a perfectly normal part of life.  We have to expect that we will have — and we need — some anxiety.

But not crippling anxiety.  The famous therapist Rollo May differentiated between normal and unhealthy anxiety.  The unhealthy type is disproportionate worry that  results from consistent unwillingness to face the normal anxiety of life.  Even if only unconsciously, we know that anxiety is there: there’s nothing in the outer world that we have that we could not lose.  When we refuse to accept and tolerate anxiety as an inevitable part of life, we  set ourselves up for pathological anxiety and out-of-control worrying.

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Worry and Denial of Anxiety

Healthy anxiety is the kind that we can accept and deal with.  We can do something about it, and the anxiety dissipates.

But if we cannot accept the presence of  healthy anxiety in our lives, and of our true feelings, it intensifies, and we set ourselves up for out-of-control worrying.  Toxic worry can bring chronic tension and fatigue, disturbed sleep, headaches, hyper-alertness, irritability, reduced ability to concentrate, bodily problems, panic attacks, or even psychiatric symptoms. It can make us quite sick and quite miserable.  When it gets this intense, we definitely need help for anxiety.

Worry and Persona

Our inability to accept our normal anxiety often relates to our desire to be perceived by others in a certain way.  We get heavily invested in being seen by the world in a particular way.  We frantically guard what Jung called the persona — our image — often driven by fear that others will see us in a negative light.  We worry, often unconsciously, that the world might show us up as other than our carefully constructed social mask.

Is it possible that we’re too invested in this outer image, for whatever reason, and too out of touch with our real identity?

Worry and the Unacknowledged Self

Worry takes us back to the question of our ability to be conscious of, and to accept ourselves and life.

When we divorce ourselves from the hypnotic image of the social self, the persona, can we really accept who’s there?  Can we accept our real situation in life?  Can we get free of the often crushing weight of internalized expectations and perfectionism?

Self awareness and self acceptance is central to therapeutic help for anxiety, and indeed for any approach to therapy that truly has transformative power for the individual’s life, as Rollo May tells us:

The capacity for self acceptance, and for accepting one’s life as it is, without illusion, is at the heart of reducing the level of anxiety in our lives.  The journey of self-discovery that enables such acceptance is a key element in the kind of help for anxiety and worry provided by depth psychotherapy.

What are the circumstances that create worry in your life?

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PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by jonrawlinson ; VIDEO: © psychotherapy.net

 

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Restless: Help for Anxiety Through Depth Psychotherapy

February 3rd, 2013 · Anxiety, depth psychotherapy, help for anxiety, Psychotherapy

One kind of help for anxiety is to take the restless character of anxiety seriously, and to fully explore it, as depth psychotherapy does.

help for anxiety

Restlessness is a very frequently described symptom of anxiety.  There are many individual experiences of anxiety in which restlessness is prominent — even the most prominent symptom.

What if we were to really examine the restless aspect of anxiety, and approach it from the point of view of depth psychotherapy?  What might we learn about the nature of our restlessness?

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I Cannot be at Rest

In anxiety,  restlessness may be a continual companion.  It may be an inability to focus, or the sensation that I simply cannot be at peace, or relax.  In a restless state, we search for something that we never find.

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, such restless anxiety can often be rooted in what is going on the the unconscious, and the best help for anxiety may well be to help the individual to find what it is that is restless within the more fundamental parts of the self.

Denial of our Instinctual Grounding

Like all things in depth psychology, help for anxiety comes from understanding the uniqueness of the individual and his or her situation.  The roots of our restlessness may not be immediately obvious.  It may stem from living in a way that is fundamentally at odds with who we are in our individual nature.

As we examine ourselves in depth, we may well find that we subject ourselves to inhuman demands.  We may well be living in a manner where we are not listening to our deepest and most fundamental feelings, longings and yearnings — and may not even have the freedom to admit these things to ourselves.

What is it that I’m really feeling, or, really restless or longing for?  What part of me is it that believes that I must “suck it up”, and deny these feelings and realities in my life?

Truths of the Blood

Jung wrote about the the need to align our lives with the fundamental truths of our lives that lie at the basis of the human psyche, which he called the truths of the blood.  As he put it,

Deviation from the truths of the blood begets … restlessness, and we have had about enough of that these days.  Restlessness [in turn] begets meaninglessness… (Jung, CW 8)

I know of no better musical portrayal of the psychological reality of that restless meaninglessness than “The Good Life” by the avante-garde jazz musician Ornette Coleman:

 

So long as we are not listening to the reality of our own lives, our own feelings and our own instinctual reactions, we may experience our lives as restless and devoid of meaning.  The help for anxiety that we need may well be rooted in self-acceptance, and discovering the vitality in ourselves that lies out of sight in the depths — and that is the key work of depth psychotherapy.

PHOTO:  Attribution Some rights reserved bee wolf ray  VIDEO: “The Good Life” © Ornette Coleman © Verve Music Group, UMG Recordings Inc.
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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Uneasy: Help for Anxiety Through Depth Psychotherapy

January 20th, 2013 · Anxiety, depth psychotherapy, help for anxiety, Psychotherapy

When it comes to help for anxiety, depth psychotherapy can change our understanding and enable healing in depth.

help for anxiety

 Telling Someone to “Just Relax” Doesn’t Work

People with hypertension or other stress-related medical conditions often get told by medical personnel to “just relax”.  That’s much harder to do than it sounds.  While such advice is intended as help for anxiety, very often inf severely anxious or driven people it creates increased anxiety — “getting anxious about being anxious”.  Or else, people rage, either: 1) at themselves, because “I can’t even do a simple thing like relaxing”, or, 2) at external circumstances.

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Everyone Wants to Eliminate Anxiety; No One Wants to Understand It

As Dr. Cara Barker, the author of the “World Weary Woman” study reminds us, in medical literature on driven and/or perfectionist personalities,

“…the emphasis is on symptoms as negative, something to be eradicated.  Anger and anxiety are viewed as toxic, rather than in terms of what they might be trying to communicate.”

Here’s where depth psychotherapy provides unique help for anxiety.  It stays with the key question, “What might anxiety be trying to communicate about my life?”

Jungian Analyst Marion Woodman on “Healing as Making Whole”

Anxious Dreams

Anxiety will often manifest itself in dreams.  In fact, it’s often the anxious dreams that we remember, because they are the ones that wake us up, as Dr. Donald Broadribb reminds us.

Depth psychotherapy can often use dreams as important help for anxiety, because dreams often point to the root situation in the life of the individual that is creating the anxiety.   For instance, if an individual is dealing with a recurring dream that he or she has had since childhood, this may often indicate that the particular anxiety that the person is experiencing now is connected in some substantial way with anxieties or issues that have been present in a person’s life for an extremely long time, and that need to be explored.

The importance of dreams as a help for anxiety can be that they take us into the deeper meaning of the anxiety, and past the place of simply viewing it as a symptom.  Nonetheless, there are many other possible approaches to the meaning of anxiety.

The Meaning of Anxiety Symptom

In our culture, people are socialized to deal with difficulties by applying more and more effort to them.  Often latent, unexpressed perfectionism keeps us pushing harder and harder to solve the problems in our lives, and that keeps increasing anxiety levels.  Often, this is rooted in a deep-seated feeling that we are simply not good enough.  We are often not inclined to look inside ourselves until we encounter anxiety and pain so intense that we can’t use our ordinary strategies to defend against it.  Then we’re forced to realize that effort of will is not going to solve our problems; we really need to get in touch with what’s going on in our heart.  At that point, depth psychotherapy provides the most effective form of help for anxiety.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by danisabella  Video: © Marion Woodman ; inspirationandspirit

 

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Individual Psychotherapy & Holiday Stress: Renewal

December 31st, 2012 · holiday stress, individual, individual psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, stress

Working with people in individual psychotherapy around holiday stress teaches you a lot.

 individual psychotherapy

Among other things, you realize that, on some level, many of us do actually expect some kind of renewal at this time of year.

Does this result from expectations nurtured by our particular culture?  Perhaps so.  But there is also the age old reality of the solstice, and the effect of shortening and then lengthening days on all of us.  SAD, or seasonal affective disorder shows that many of us are deeply affected by the power of the light.

The sun’s power diminishes as we near solstice, and then ever so slowly comes back.  The expectation of renewal is part of our being, as it was for our ancestors thousands of years ago.  Jungian individual psychotherapy regards that expectation of renewal as archetypal.

But What Kind of Renewal?

Those in the second half of life know it’s not possible to simply wipe the slate clean, and start life again.  This reality of holiday stress is bluntly affirmed by one of the most popular Christmas songs of the last 30 years, “Fairy Tale of New York” by Kristy McColl and the Pogues [WARNING: Offensive Language]:

It’s hard to imagine a more eloquent expression of lost hope and broken dreams than this song.  Why is it so popular — at the very season of renewal?  In my opinion, the answer rests on another aspect of the holiday season that I discussed in my last post: the deep yearning for reality that accompanies this season.  In individual psychotherapy, people often reveal that want to believe in the possibility of renewal in life — but, in our era, they refuse to accept a cheap sentimentalization that lacks any substance.  In truth, we simply cannot stand any more…

Humbug!

It’s striking that, given our wariness about sentimentality, we remain fascinated by another figure who embodies renewal at this season — Ebenezer Scrooge!  I recently attended Soulpepper Theatre‘s annual dramatization of Dickens’  A Christmas Carol, and was fascinated to watch the audience, and realize the power that this story has to draw us in.  Why does this story still resonate?

Part of the reason is its power to reach the Scrooge element within each of us.  We want to believe in new possibilities for the rigid, mistrustful wounded part of ourselves that could readily give up on the possibility of anything new or alive.  We want to believe in renewal.

The Archetype of Renewal

Renewal comes from acknowledging that wounded, shamed, weak, deeply disappointed part of ourselves as indeed ourselves, and showing it real compassion and acceptance.  It’s so easy to treat it with contempt, which can very readily turn into contempt for the weakness and brokenness of others.  If we can connect with and accept the Scrooge in ourselves, there is hope for connection with others, and, above all, with our own real lives.  This goal of recognizing  and accepting all that we are is the goal of individual psychotherapy in depth.

Attribution   Some rights reserved ItzaFineDay ; VIDEOS: “Fairy Tale of New York” © Warner Music UK Ltd 1988 ; “A Christmas Carol” © Soulpepper Theatre Company

 

 

 

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Individual Psychotherapy & Holiday Stress: Reality

December 22nd, 2012 · holiday stress, individual, individual psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, stress

One learning I’ve had from from practicing individual psychotherapy is that some holiday stress stems from people’s attempts to find reality at the heart of the holidays.

individual psychotherapy

That sounds like a surprising thing to say.  But the yearning for real, meaningful experiences around the holidays actually runs quite deep.

The Realm of Kitsch and Bling

In the holiday season, we are surely living in the realm of kitsch, that style of mass-produced artifact that uses well-worn cultural icons or images. It’s a term generally reserved for

holiday-stress-kitsch

things gaudy or lacking in substance, designed to appeal to a wide audience at a shallow level.  Unfortunately, much of holiday art, design and decoration is kitsch, which contributes to holiday stress.  The same is true of much of holiday storytelling, especially in the mass media.

We fill the holidays with kitschy symbols and images of Christmas in our culture, and we also fill up the holidays with extravagant gifts, which can easily pre-occupy us during this period.  Yet, for many, the “bling” that accompanies Christmas feels hollow and empty.

Reality vs. Sentimentality

Many people experience holiday stress because of the way in which the season is shrouded in sentimentality, which might be characterized as appealing to shallow, uncomplicated emotionality at the expense of depth and real, individual humanity.  It’s not hard to find expressions of sentimentality tied to the key elements of the holidays.

Tired Symbols in Need of Renewal

The traditional symbols of the holiday season have lost some or all of their energy or vitality.  Jung would be the first to tell us that, when symbols lose their power and effectiveness in peoples’ lives, they must either be renewed or be replaced.  Over 40 years ago, Ian Anderson sang of the need in our culture for a renewal of holiday symbols, and of the need to get beyond the cloying sentimentality with which it has become encrusted.

What IS Real?

Individual psychotherapy shows that holiday stress often reflects our yearning for reality and genuine experience.  Few among us are really complete cynics about the holidays.  Even individuals without religious conviction look to them as a time of increased cooperation and goodwill among people, and, also, perhaps a hope for genuine connection with family members and friends.

Focusing on a sense of personal reality during the holidays relates to bringing a sense of reality and personal meaning back into our lives in general.  It’s always important to ask ourselves what in our lives carries a sense of deep meaning and reality.  Some of this may have to do with personal philosophy or meaning, worldview, or spirituality.  Some of it may have to do with deep and genuine connections and relationships with others in our lives.  Again, as individual psychotherapy knows, connection with those things for which we have genuine, deep passion is also essential.

Our yearning for reality during the holidays reflects our need for reality and substance in our lives in general, a key focus of individual psychotherapy that focuses on depth, like Jungian therapy.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

Oakville, Burlington & Mississauga Ontario

1-905-337-3946

Click below to arrange a no obligation initial session:

   
Attribution   Some rights reserved wellohorld ; VIDEO: “Christmas Song” from album “This Was” © Chrysalis Records Ltd 1968

 

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Individual Psychotherapy & Holiday Stress: Gifts

December 17th, 2012 · holiday stress, individual, individual psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

This is the season of holiday gifts, and, as individual psychotherapy well knows, gift-giving is often a major source of holiday stress.

individual psychotherapy

Does gift-giving create holiday stress for you?  Well if so, you’re in good company.  Anthropology tells us that gift-giving is a near-universal practice through the history of human cultures.

Gifts are Intensely Personal

Gift-giving — and especially gift exchanges — are immensely significant.  In cultures like the ancient Polynesian or the Haida First Nation, with its potlatch ceremonies, gift giving is tied up with maintaining and strengthening social bonds, maintaining social status — and it even has huge spiritual implications.

So this year, when you’re trying to decide what to get Uncle Fred, don’t be surprised to feel emotional complications and perhaps holiday stress surrounding the giving of gifts.  The anthropologist Marcel Mauss defines a gift as

“an object that contains spiritual elements and engages the honour of both giver and receiver.”
Haida Gwaii – Potlatch for New Chief Nang Jingwas

As individual psychotherapy shows, gift-giving is both personal and archetypal.  Among the Polynesians, or Haida, or even when considering the origin of Christmas gifts, the objects being exchanged don’t just have a monetary or physical value, but embody
a spiritual reality.  As Mauss says of Maori gift giving,”one clearly and logically realizes that one must give back to another person what is really part and parcel of his nature and substance, because to accept a gift from somebody is to accept some part of his spiritual essence, of his soul“.

Gifts are Archetypal

Gifts may seem like pretty mundane things, but they actually carry a significance so deep that it can properly be called archetypal.  Often in human culture, there is a higher spiritual agenda in gift-giving, and a deep feeling that the gift must be appropriate to the essence of the receiver, to who they really are.  The gift is an honouring and acknowledgement of who the receiver of the gift is, in their individual reality.

Our Gift Compulsion

The experience of individual psychotherapy shows that our culture is confused and conflicted about the meaning of gifts, in no small part because we are conflicted about the meaning of individual human existence.  In a culture in spiritual crisis, the meaning of human life is the acquisition of ever more expensive and splendid “stuff”, and not surprisingly, the meaning of gift-giving degenerates into ever-increasing pressure towards continually “bigger and better” gifts.

Our Need for Gift

The gifts that we and others need are not the most expensive or most luxurious, but the gifts that honour our true nature and substance.  To give such gifts, the giver must see who we really are.  Such a gift would bring us back to our souls, to self acceptance, and would connect us in profound ways with the giver.

What is the gift that you need, at this holiday season?  And, just as importantly, what gift do you need to give?  In its own way, individual psychotherapy at its best is profoundly concerned with these questions.

Attribution   Some rights reserved Cali4beach ; VIDEO: Colin Richardson, Elan Michel, High Tech Totem

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