Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Individual Psychotherapy & Holiday Stress: Relations

December 3rd, 2012 · individual, individual psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

Every year, I post something on individual psychotherapy and holiday stress.

individual psychotherapy

My intent in doing this is not to be a “downer”, but rather to plead with all of us to be real at this time of year.

Interacting with certain relatives in holiday situations can be a debilitating stressor.  Individual psychotherapy knows, that if there is any time of the year when we really need to “hang onto ourselves”, this is it.

Interacting with Some Relations is a Major Holiday Stress

Of the several issues that make the holidays difficult for my clients, the number one factor cited is encounters with relatives.

These can include encounters with just about any type of relative.  The biggest single factor that seems to contribute to anxiety, depression and overall discomfort is the prospect of spending extended time in the presence of a toxic relative — and feeling aversion, powerlessness or even complete defeat.

Why is Interacting with Toxic Relations So Difficult?

The reasons that certain relatives can be so problematic are very diverse, and depend on the individual’s situation.

The most extreme factors are situations of abuse.  Such abuse can be verbal, physical or sexual.  Here, the individual may risk re-traumatization by even seeing the person, or being in their presence.  Such trauma situations must be approached with extreme caution.

Some relatives endlessly inflict shame. This may be connected with overt verbal abuse, or it may not.  A related experience may be that a relative makes me feel negligible or inferior.

Often, any or all of the above may relate to the inability of a given relative to let me be who I am in my own right — even a little.  This can be painful in the extreme, and it may lead to feelings of deep misgiving and foreboding as Christmas approaches.

Is There Any Chance for Healing?

In individual psychotherapy people often find themselves asking if there is any chance for repair of such a relationship.  It is not uncommon to find oneself oscillating between optimism and pessimism on this point.

Sometimes such repair may be a possibility.  Or, it may be that healing in the relationship with this relative simply isn’t an option.  In such cases, it may well be that the healing that has to go on in this situation is something that must go on inside of me, where I find ways to maintain my own boundaries, and keep valuing myself and living my life — the archetype of individuation.

Living in My Own Story

Whether I go into situations involving a toxic relative, or I don’t, there are some truths that I need to keep in mind.

The first of these is that my life is my own.  I belong to myself.  The perception of even the closest relative does not define who I am.  I have a right to live my life in a manner that respects who I am, and respects my needs.

Living in my own story — even amidst holiday stress — is a key part of the journey of individual psychotherapy.

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Jungian Psychotherapy for Spiritual Crisis: Matter

November 20th, 2012 · crisis, Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, spiritual crisis

Jungian psychotherapy is aware of a profound and paradoxical truth: to understand spirit, and, often, to move beyond spiritual crisis, we must experience — take in, accept — the reality of matter.

Jungian psychotherapy

For Jungian psychotherapy, spirit and matter are not fundamentally opposed, but profoundly related.  Many a spiritual crisis erupts from a disconnect between the two.

Here in the Material World

Madonna sings the lines, “For we are living in a material world /  And I am a material girl.”  And the reality is that we are all material people.  The body is not an illusion.  It’s substantial, and real — it is what we are.

Our entire psyche is shaped by the fact that we are embodied creatures, living in a physical world.  It is virtually impossible to conceive what it would be like to live in an unembodied way.  Our whole manner of mental functioning stems from being in a body, and even the images generated by archetypal psyche are images of embodied existence — of physical being.

Matter, My Nature

To be human, we have to come to terms with animal life.  One of the great spiritual lessons to come out of the work of Charles Darwin and evolution has to do with recognizing that we live in continuity with all that lives in the material world, rather than existing in a separate and god-like apartness.  We are a part of the whole great living reality of the earth.

An important part of the journey of the spirit for us is a journey into accepting our own material, animal existence.  Accepting the simple, humble, yet wondrous organism that each of us fundamentally is.

To approach this simple, wondrous, poor, yet infinitely rich, fearful yet courageous, humble and yet deeply dignified being, our own animal self, with compassion and self acceptance, is a huge journey.

Dust, Perhaps, but Enchanted Dust

We are matter, surely, yet we move with a strange enchantment.  Looking at ourselves, we cannot help but wonder: do we have even the beginning of an understanding of the nature of matter — our own matter?  The fact remains that, of all the things that humanity has encountered in the universe so far, we ourselves are the most intricate and wondrous.

The matter which forms us, and by which we are surrounded is infinitely variable, subtle and complex.  We swim in it, we are it, and yet we cannot even take in the complete fullness of the mystery of matter in the apparently smallest and most insignificant of things.  A magnificently simple and eloquent scene from the film American Beauty (dir. Sam Mendes) captures this:

Living in the Flesh of the World

We live with and in the flesh of the world, subject to its necessities, its weaknesses and its wonder.  When we move away from material existence, and from our body existence, we move away from life, and from others.  Spiritual crisis?  Jungian psychotherapy knows that, without relationship to matter, there is no relationship to spirit.

Next in series: Spirit

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved nilsrinaldi ; familymwr  |   VIDEO: “American Beauty” © 1999 Paramount Pictures

 

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Jungian Psychotherapy for Spiritual Crisis 3: Belonging

November 3rd, 2012 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, spiritual crisis

Belonging, or as modern psychology might refer to it, attachment, is a key element in spirituality; its absence can lead to spiritual crisis as Jungian psychotherapy affirms.

rose as symbol in jungian psychotherapy

Belong in the World

For many people, feeling a sense of truly belonging in the world is a deep issue.  Jungian psychotherapy stresses that uncertainty about belonging is central to many a spiritual crisis.

We come into the world ready to belong, to attach — we might well say that this instinct has something archetypal about it,   Yet, starting even from a very early age, it may be our experience that the world seems to offer little hospitality or welcome for who we actually are.  That, at least, is the experience of many individuals.

It may be essential to the resolution of any spiritual crisis for an individual to experience a sense of rightness to his or her life — a sense of genuinely belonging in life.

Belonging in the Self

Jungian psychotherapy refers to “relativization of the ego” as the process by which the individual ego comes to realize that it is not the sum total of who we are.  That role belongs to the Self, the fullness of all that we are, conscious and unconscious.  There are unconscious processes working themselves out in our lives, going on without conscious control, and even without consciousness.  This can be a very humbling realization, but it can also provide healing to the  individual in spiritual crisis to realize that the ego does not exist in splendid isolation– it is part of something greater, rather than heroically alone.

Jungian psychotherapy affirms that the Self has a sense of purpose it that goes beyond that of the ego.

The Numinous

What Jung stated about the numinous is very important for those in spiritual crisis.   The numinous is what gives religious experience its compelling power — but it is  found in many other places than organized religion.  As Jung said, the numinous is:

“a dynamic agency or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will…. [that grips] the human subject.”

As Andrew Samuels added:

“The numinous cannot be conquered; one can only open oneself to it.”

This experience is at the root of spirituality.  In addition to contact with something greater, it also implies contact with “a not-yet-disclosed, attractive and fateful meaning” (Samuels).

It’s not often put this way, but the numinous conveys profound connectedness and belonging, especially to those in spiritual crisis.

Destiny and the Love of Fate

Jung often spoke of “amor fati”, the ability to love one’s fate.

It may be a life’s work to come to the point where an individual can begin to have this kind of self acceptance and acceptance of life, and of the direction that life has taken.  It is no small thing, to say the least, and should never be spoken of lightly.

Yet, to love one’s fate, to be able to accept one’s life, can be central to the sense of belonging, and the journey to wholeness.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved ~suchitra~ |   VIDEO: Rumi,  “There is A Field”  aeneb1

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Jungian Psychotherapy for Spiritual Crisis 2: Reality

October 20th, 2012 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, psychotherapy for spiritual crisis, spiritual crisis

Issues of spirituality, and particularly, around psychotherapy for spiritual crisis, often confront us as questions about what is fundamentally real or important

psychotherapy for spiritual crisis

— questions which often are front and centre in Jungian psychotherapy.

 The Quest for the Real

We often deal with disconnect between what others — friends, employers, advertisers, the society as a whole — are telling us is real, and the disquieting sense that there must be something more.

We sense that what we are looking for is missing from what the society as a whole perceives as real or significant. The media and Internet do not often point us to things of substance or lasting value.

Often, psychotherapy for spiritual crisis encounters individuals experiencing a sense of emptiness, flatness, or even “vertigo”.  For such individuals, the quest for reality is not something “fluffy” or academic: it can well become fundamentally, even crucially important.

Experiencing Reality

When are we experiencing reality?  One indicator would be when we feel most alive or aware.

Meaning, value, significance and even joy: these are the things that make reality — and make it important.  This doesn’t mean that experiencing reality in our lives is always painless or easy, by any means.  Many experiences connecting us to a sense of spiritual reality may in fact involve pain.  But invariably, they bring with them the sense that we are living our lives, in a way connected to something bigger than the consci0us self.

To Live Here and Now

Psychotherapy for spiritual crisis concerns opening up for individuals a way of living that feels full of aliveness, radically in the here and now.  A spirituality that is only for the next life is no real spirituality at all.

It’s also more than living in the moment in a shallow way.  It involves connection to our unconscious depths, finding meaning in life, and rooting in archetypal reality.

It also entails being rooted in self-awareness of all the differing ways in which we experience life, whether it be through our feeling, our thought, the awareness of our senses, or the promptings of our intuition.  Often psychotherapy for spiritual crisis involves opening the “shut down” aspects of ourselves.

To Live My Reality in Depth

Living in a way that is open to everything in us involves being open to myth: to the true story of our lives.  Real myth, our own story gives us the true context for who we are, and  enables us to know that we belong in our lives.

In the following video, psychiatrist and Jungian Analyst Anthony Stevens reads from his book “Jung: A Short Introduction“:

“C.G. Jung and Reinvesting in Our Real Life”

The real healing that emerges from the psychotherapy of spiritual crisis entails the sense of being truly rooted in my life.  It is connected with my sense of feeling at home in my life and in the world… that there is a rightness to my being here and now.

Jungian psychotherapy for spiritual crisis involves opening to the call of my deepest being,

PHOTO:  © Bortn66 | Dreamstime.com  VIDEO: “Jung: A Very Short Introduction” © Anthony Stevens 1994

 

 

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Depth Psychotherapy, Mass Man & Finding Meaning in Life

September 22nd, 2012 · depth psychotherapy, finding meaning in life, Meaning, Psychotherapy

Finding meaning in life is a key challenge for the individual in our era, and a key way that depth psychotherapy can help in this process is by enabling the individual to separate his or her thinking and feeling from that of the mass.

depth psychotherapy

In our highly wired, content saturated era, this entails helping the individual distinguish him- or herself from the messages conveyed by all the endless variety of contemporary media.

Menaced by Message

It is often no exaggeration, in our era, to say that the person on the path of individuation can easily find her- or himself drowning in a tsunami of message.  In Jung’s time, the power of media persuasion was already so pervasive that he could see in it an obstacle to the individuation process.  In our time the intrusiveness of media both isolates the person, and makes it that much harder to know what is really the inner voice on the personal journey to finding meaning in life.  An explosion of images can lead to a shrivelling of feeling and imagination.

Inner Crowding

In our era, many of us are subject to a kind of “inner crowding” stemming from the continual presence of social media.  Recently, a client told me about the experience of going to a bar that he has frequented for years, and finding that where the bar used to be full of conversation, now all the patrons were quietly sitting and typing into their smartphones.  The bar was “crowded” with the presence of a whole number of people who weren’t physically there.

I Tweet Therefore I Am

Depth Psychotherapy and the” Voice of the Self”

A connected world isn’t inherently bad!  On the contrary, there are many things about it that have the potential to serve and augment key human values and finding meaning in life.  However, it’s essential to distinguish my individual identity and authentic inner voice from the ever increasing din of background noise from relentlessly pressing and persuasive messages .

“Counsel for the Defence”

Depth psychotherapy has a vital role in fostering awareness of the authentic inner voice — the thoughts, feelings and images that emerge from my real identity.  In the quiet container of depth psychotherapy or Jungian analysis, the authentic essence of the individual is discerned, emerges and strengthens.  The therapist or analyst does play the role of “counsel for the defence”: often, the voice of the unique, individual self and its yearnings must be strengthened against the endless noise of social convention and the crowd.

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Counselling for Anxiety & Depth Psychotherapy 4: Freedom

June 25th, 2012 · Anxiety, counselling for anxiety, depth psychotherapy, freedom, Psychotherapy

counselling for anxiety
Freedom is a word often heard in counselling for anxiety; it’s also a key concept in depth psychotherapy.  People who are really gripped by anxiety want nothing more than to be free of it.  We all deeply yearn for freedom; but can we really tolerate having it?

What kind of freedom would really help us deal with anxiety?

Freedom to Acknowledge Who We Are

The inability to accept our own deepest reactions, feelings and thoughts, and to give ourselves the freedom to experience them can be a major source of anxiety.  Often it stems from a deep fear that who and what we are is fundamentally unacceptable.  In the face of such fear, it often takes real courage to face and accept who we are, and what we think and feel.

As Jungian analyst Marion Woodman puts it in  The Pregnant Virgin :

Healing depends on listening with the inner ear – stopping the incessant blather, and listening.  Fear keeps us chattering – fear that wells up from the past, fear of blurting out what we really fear, fear of future repercussions.  It is our very fear of the future that distorts the now, that could lead to a different future if we dared to be whole in the present.

False Self and Taboos

We may experience taboos against acknowledging our real feelings and thoughts, and even accepting who we are.  We may well find elements of ourselves (“complexes”) that deflect us powerfully from being fully honest with ourselves.  As we get closer to penetrating this layer, we may find that the very anxiety we are seeking to get rid of flares up, as a layer of defense against the truth of who and what we are.

The Freedom of Acceptance

If we can accept our deepest selves, this acceptance is often accompanied by an immense sense of freedom and relief.  As I described in my earlier post, when counselling for anxiety has brought us to the place where we feel that we are “enough’, in this way, it has largely accomplished its task.

Choice

To be free is to have real choice.  It entails awareness that I’m free to choose to be and to live in accordance with my real nature, rather than shackled by external expectations and my own inner rejection of who I really am. The heart of the work of depth psychotherapy is to get us to this place of acceptance and genuine free choice.

PHOTO:  Attribution Some rights reserved by mattwi1s0n

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Counselling for Anxiety & Depth Psychotherapy, 3: Enough

June 11th, 2012 · Anxiety, counselling for anxiety, depth psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

counselling for anxiety

Depth psychotherapy concerns self-acceptance, and counselling for anxiety emphasizes that we are “enough” to deal with the situations of our lives.  So, what does it mean to to feel that we are “enough”?  How do we gain that level of self acceptance?

The Sense of Insufficiency

To answer that question, we must probe the roots of our self-doubt and self negation. This is a step that many approaches to counselling for anxiety unfortunately often neglect.  Nonetheless, the deepest sources of self negation and self-doubt are rooted in the unconscious. They are also rooted in the unique experience that the individual has had with life.

Tree of the Self

One of the most frequent symbols of the Self in the depth psychotherapy of Jung is the tree.  It’s a fascinating and powerful symbol: the roots of the tree extend so firmly into the earth (matter), while the trunk and branches of the tree extend upward into the sky (spirit).  A tree is wonderfully, totally “enough”: it is planted and grows according to the laws of its own being — as should we.

Too Much… and Too Little

Contrary to the emotional meaning of the symbol of the tree, many of us, in our early lives, experienced that, in some area or areas of our lives, we suffered from radical lack or insufficiency. We got the sense that we were too weak, too intense, too rowdy, too unusual or too something to meet the challenges that life was putting before us. The other part of the message was that, because we were too [fill in the blank] we would have to strive absolutely heroically just to measure up — at all.  It’s this poisonous burden, counselling for anxiety knows, that stokes the fires of anxiety.

Life in Myself and Being Enough

Within us, there is a part of us that feels sufficient, and has never forgotten who and what we really are.  In most lives, there have also been special people who were outward mirrors of this inward awareness.  In serving as these precious mirrors, these people also often hold for us the power of the archetypes that reside deep in the human soul: the positive father or mother archetype; the wise old man or wise old woman archetypes; the psychopomp, or guide to the true self.  Their names are unfamiliar, but we experience their reality.

The experience of depth psychotherapy is a journey into that archetypal reality, and into connection with the reality that we are enough.

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Counselling for Anxiety & Depth Psychotherapy, 2: Flow

May 15th, 2012 · Anxiety, counselling, counselling for anxiety, depth psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

counselling for anxiety

Counselling for anxiety shows us that anxiety pulls us out of the flow of life, and depth psychotherapy can show us how and why this occurs.  How can we avoid this hijack, and push through our anxiousness to live life in our natural rhythm?

Anxiety Rips Us Out of the Present

Our own experience of anxiety shows that we’re not really in the present when gripped by an anxious state.  Psychologically, that state pulls us into the past or the future — and possibly both.  Counselling for anxiety shows that our struggle with anxiousness will either maroon us in the past, in past failures struggles or conflicts, or in the future, paralyzed by fear around future outcomes.

It All Relates to the Self

Anxious states pose big questions for us about either our own security or capability — or both.  The questions most often associated with anxiety refer to oneself, such as,  “Am I going to be alright?” or “Am I going to be able to do or accomplish XYZ?”  In one way or another, our anxious unease poses questions to us about the well-being and preservation of the self, and/or about personal identity.

Anxious States are Rooted in Our Complexes

From a Jungian perspective, anxious states are rooted in persistent mental objects called complexes.  These are knots or clusters of emotional energy that gather around a certain stimulus.  When a complex is activated, we are drawn back into old emotions and feelings, which keep us disconnected from the present situation.  Often, because of the way that the brain works, when we are caught up in the intense emotion produced by a complex, we do not think clearly, and we do not have a good sense of ourselves, and of our boundaries.  We get tangled up, and are unable to move through the challenge of the situation with any sort of natural flow.

Acting From Ourselves in the Now

In the process of counselling for anxiety, the primary question faced is a question that is also found in depth psychotherapy.  Put basically, that question might be stated as “How can I truly be myself in this situation, with confidence in who I am?”  A creative answer to that question can only be found when we understand in ourselves the emotional obstacles that stop us from “flowing” in the present – the complexes.  Untangling these knots, and getting to their sources, is a key goal in depth psychotherapy work.

PHOTO:  Attribution Some rights reserved by Yogendra174

 

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Counselling for Anxiety & Depth Psychotherapy, 1: Roots

April 30th, 2012 · Anxiety, counselling, counselling for anxiety, depth psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

counselling for anxietyCounselling for anxiety involves the client growing to understand the roots of anxiousness, and depth psychotherapy gives us insight into unconscious factors that lie behind our being consciously anxious.

Yearning for Return

Depth psychotherapy reminds us of that part of our psyche which yearns for a return to somewhere warm, safe and non-threatening — the womb.  Yet, here in our real lives, we’re alone, isolated, and trying to cope with challenges we all face.  With these many challenges in our individual lives, we enter anxious states.  A depth psychotherapy perspective on counselling for anxiety /  therapy for anxiety affirms that.  The question is, how can we best respond to these states?

Counselling for Anxiety and the Self

Jungian analyst James Hollis sees counselling for anxiety as engaging with

“… a free-floating disease which may be activated by nearly anything, which may light for a while on something specific, but which usually originates from the general insecurity one feels in one’s life.  The level of that insecurity… is partly a function of one’s particular history.  The more troubled one’s environment, family of origin and cultural setting, the more free-floating anxiety will be generated.”

Being anxious is also connected to situations.  Sudden shifts in realities that we have taken as certainties, for instance, can greatly increase our anxiousness.  In the film Jerry McGuire, Jerry (Tom Cruise) has the rug pulled from under his professional life, and responds with a classic film portrayal of a hyper anxious state:

Energy and Avoidance

Using Jung’s characteristic metaphor of emotion or affect as energy, we could see anxiety as energy that doesn’t know where to go, or how to flow.  It can often lead to us avoiding the situations where we’re anxious, or else, we can find ourselves “getting anxious about becoming anxious”.  But can counselling for anxiety use it as a guide for finding what is stable and lasting in the self?

Potential Benefit in Anxiety?

“How could depth psychotherapy possibly find any good in this?” a severely anxious person might wonder.  Yet, often, getting to the root of anxious states takes us to places in ourselves where we are wounded, or in conflict, where our spontaneity and energy is bound into knots, called complexes, that need to go free.  A depth psychotherapy approach to counselling for anxiety is fundamentally about getting an ally to help in understanding, accepting and having compassion for ourselves at the deepest levels, and in moving into basic trust.

PHOTO:  Attribution Some rights reserved by Sodanie Chea ; VIDEO: © TriStar Pictures
© 2012 Brian Collinson

 

 

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Depth Psychotherapy, Shadow Work & Dealing with Shame

April 2nd, 2012 · dealing with shame, depth psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, Shadow, shadow work, shame

dealing with shame

Dealing with shame is essential psychological work, and it is closely tied to shadow work, from a depth psychotherapy point of view.

Shame is a fundamental aspect and problem of human existence.  We need to find ways to cope with it.  But it’s a thing that we can often find hard to talk to anyone about, even though we may feel a great need.

No One Gets Through Life Without Shame

All of us experience shame acutely in our lives.  Most of us can feel right into times and places where it was acute.  Times when who and what we are was exposed to the core and felt to be lacking.  Depth psychotherapy knows such experiences mark us with wounds that we often feel that we can’t show to anyone.

Dealing with Shame When It’s Toxic

The times when we feel genuinely ashamed of ourselves can be truly toxic.  Depth psychotherapy reveals that we are often most ashamed when we are unable to know and accept who we are.  As Jungian analyst Mario Jacoby states:

At a certain intensity, shame has the power to make us feel

completely worthless, degraded from head to foot,

sometimes without our having done anything bad at all.

When it cuts across the partially conscious image we have within ourselves of how we want to be seen, valued and respected, it does particular violence.  How can we then find value in ourselves?

Dealing with Shame: Escape?

Given the experiences of shame we all carry in our lives, how can we recover our self esteem, and value what we most fundamentally are?  Only in fundamental self acceptance can we hope to move past our bondage.

Shadow Work: What Shadow Knows

A famous radio program in the 1940s and 50s had the tag line, ” Only the shadow knows…”  There’s some truth in that.  The shadow, in the sense of the unacknowledged and unconscious parts of the personality, knows many important things about shame.

Shadow work shows that there is no perfection in this life.  That we all struggle with our inability to match the idealized self image that we carry within.  Only when we begin to encounter that part of ourselves that knows and accepts all that we are, can we put off our pretensions, and with them, our shame, and realize the ways in which our broken-ness and weakness make us one with the rest of the human race.   As depth psychotherapy knows, this enables us to move into our own unique destiny.

PHOTOS:  Attribution Some rights reserved by pinksugarface
© 2012 Brian Collinson

 

 

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