Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Self as Hidden Treasure in Jungian Psychotherapy

January 27th, 2011 · alchemy, art, C. G. Jung, collective consciousness, depth psychology, False self, Identity, parent-child interactions, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, Relationships, religious symbolism, Self, self-knowledge, symbolism

Jungian psychotherapy and Jungian analysis put a high value on the uniqueness of the individual, and on the treasure that is the inmost Self.  Jungians see symbolic reflection of the motif of the Self as hidden treasure in many texts from the world’s artistic, religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions.  For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew, and also in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, there is the famous parable comparing the “kingdom of Heaven” to a hidden treasure.  A Jungian psychological interpretation of this saying would portray the “kingdom of Heaven” as, broadly speaking, a symbol of the Self:

‘The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field

which someone has found; He hides it again,

goes off in his joy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

Matthew 13:44, The New Jerusalem Bible

The motif of the Self as hidden treasure also permeates alchemy, that esoteric pre-scientific approach to matter and the world, in which Jung took such an interest in the later part of his life.  The goal that the alchemists sought was not to create ordinary gold from lead, but to create something called “the philosophers’ stone”, an absolutely incorruptible and indestructible substance.

Jung acknowledges that, from a scientific point of view, the way the alchemists went after this goal made no sense, but what gripped him was the underlying symbolism.  Jung saw in the “philosophers’s stone” a potent symbol of the Self, in this case, hidden in matter and awaiting discovery, a treasure guarded in secrecy by the alchemists.  Jung believed that some of the later alchemists such as Gerhard Dorn came to realize that what they were seeking in their alchemical work was not a physical, but a psychological reality, and that it was that reality that the symbol of the philosphers’ stone or “son of the philosophers” as it was sometimes called was pointing.

The Core of the Self

At the base of all this symbolization there lies a profound and precious truth about human existence.  It is a truth about the nature of the human self.  At the core of each of us, there is that element in us, an awareness, that is unique and precious, that defines what we most fundamentally are.  Sometimes that is represented symbollically as a hidden treasure, sometimes as a gemstone, sometimes in a variety of other ways.

This is the core of ourselves, symbollically represented.  And there is a bit of a paradox about its nature.  Certainly, symbollically, it is often presented as something that is so precious because it is incorruptible, even indestructible.  Yet, there is a danger concerning the self to which symbol and myth point.  It seems that it is possible for us to lose this treasure, to have it taken away.  Somehow it needs to be guarded and treated with vigilance — like the individual in the parable who joyfully finds the treasure, but then hides it carefully again, until such time as he can go and buy the land in which it’s buried.

Self Protection, Self Possession

This issue of the core of the self, protecting it and keeping it, is one that I meet with on a very regular basis in psychotherapy practice.  It is something with which, in one way or another, very many people.  It is a sad truth that very many people have learned, one way or another, and very often early in life, that their self — their true uniqueness — can be stolen or devalued by others

Sometimes, people learn this lesson as a result of the guilting, shame or ridicule of those who are close to them.  Sometimes what happens really does look like a theft of the self: for instance, a young person will get the message very directly that a parent or other significant person cannot tolerate or deal with who the young person really is, and so that person (often unconsciously) manufactures a false self tp placate the other.  Sometimes a person will give themselves whole-heartedly in relationships — and then find her- or himself deeply betrayed.

Learning to Hide the Self Away

As a consequence, these people learn — sometimes unbelievably well — that the true self has to be hidden away, that they cannot dare reveal who they really are to the people closest to them.  It is then very easy for this lesson to get generalized out to take in the whole world.  It can be come a reflex to feel that nobody wants me, or wants to know who I really am.  Then the only way I get through life is to “keep my head down”, in despair, and just try and keep my joys, my needs — anything at all about me — from getting noticed, and that any encounter of another with me will only result in guilt, rejection and shame.

As is very often the case, it seems to me, when you are looking for someone to express some aspect of modern consciousness, you very often cannot do better than the Beatles.  Here they are, singing a song that is profoundly “on the money” about the need to hide the true self — “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away“.


Getting the Self Back

For such an individual, getting the self back, and spontaneously living out of it, is a key priority.  The reason for that is that, without that sense of acting and reacting out of our actual self, our life simply doesn’t feel real to us.

Psychotherapy with the right therapist may be an essential part of this self-recovery.  An effective psychotherapeutic approach will allow you to get at the deeper reasons for hiding the self.  Many of those reasons may reside in the unconscious, and it may be that only as a person uses the therapy as a “laboratory” for exploring him- or herself, that they can begin to develop a sense and a comfort for what it is to live out of the self.

Most people at one time or another have had to wrestle with the feeling that who and what they are is not acceptable to others.  Has that feeling ever been a part of your experience?  If you would be willing to share your experiences, either in a comment or an email, I would welcome the opportunity to share and dialogue with you.

Wishing you a fuller and fuller encounter with your deepest treasure, the Self, as you move forward on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:     Rembrandt “Parable of the hidden treasure” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

MUSIC CREDIT:      © Lennon / McCartney, EMI Music, 1965

© 2011 Brian Collinson

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

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Jungian Psychotherapy on Job Search and Self Search

December 15th, 2010 · Identity, Individuation, Jungian, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, Self, self-knowledge, The Self, vocation

Does Jungian psychotherapy with its emphasis on the Self have anything to do with job search?  I emphatically believe that it does.  I recently came upon the following remark online.  It seems to me that it is pretty representative of a whole approach to searching for work within our society at the present time:

“A job search is a sales & marketing exercise with you as the product.

Are you wrapped to seduce a decision maker?”

Frankly, I find this kind of remark offensive.  Now, clearly, there’s a huge self-marketing component to finding a job.  But is that all that a job search is, a “Sales and marketing exercise”?  And is that all that we can hope for, to be “wrapped to seduce a decision maker”?  Certainly, I think if I were a woman, I would find such a suggestion to be blatently demeaning and repulsive.  (Actually, I do anyway.)

Does Job Search Mean Being a Chameleon?

If all that we can expect for and hope for from a job search is to fit ourselves, chameleon-like, to the expectations of some decision-maker who has all the power and choice, when we have none — then God help us.  This seems to me like nothing so much as a working life that is trapped within the expectations of the false self.  A life that doesn’t allow for what a Jungian psychotherapy would call individuation.   Surely there must be a possible way to pursue a job search that has more connection with soul!

Job Search and Depth in the Self

The issue of job search actually takes us right inside some deep inner questions, if we let it.  If we are open, it will lead us to ask questions like: “What is it that I really, most deeply, want to do?”; “What is most meaningful to me?”; and, “What is my vocation?”.  To even begin to answer those questions, a person must start to get to know themselves.  In other words, a job search is not just a job search.  Every time we encounter job search, if we’re to find something that’s going to work for us, it must necessarily turn into Self search.  To find what we need to know about ourselves, to encounter those dimensions of the Self that we need to take into account in a job search, it may well be that the journey leads us into psychotherapy, if we are truly to come to individual, rather than canned, answers.  This is especially true at mid-life or later.

Is the Issue of Career or Vocation Prominent in Your Life at this Time?  Or, Can You Recall a Time When it Was?

Sooner or later the question “What should I be doing with my life?” comes to occupy a prominent place in our lives.  Perhaps it will do so numerous times over the course of a lifetime — this is not uncommon.  Have you ever had an experience where job search turned into self or soul search?  Have you ever been transformed by the experience of looking for a job, or just faced with very deep questions as a result?  If you’ve had this kind of experience, and you were willing to comment below or send me a confidential email, I’d be thrilled to read it.

Wishing you a sense of meaning and vocation on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety

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

Grandiosity and Failure

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

Willy’s Persona

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

Biff

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

Regret

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

“The Woods are Burning”

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

What about You and I?

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

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

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

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Stress, Power, Resilience and Myth, Part 3: In Myself

October 31st, 2010 · depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, personal myth, psychological crisis, resilience, Self, soul, therapy, wholeness

This is the third in my series of posts about resilience, and its role in the work of psychotherapy.  In my last post, I wrote about personal experiences through which I was changed, and, through which the issue of resilience really came home to roost in my life.  In this post, I would like to try and say something about the places in which I believe I really found some sources of resilience.  As I stressed before, this is not to say that what I will describe is exactly “the answer”, for anyone other than me.  The “answers” that any of us find are of necessity very individual, and if what I describe points anyone to move any further on their own individual path to being grounded in their own being, then I think that is all that I can hope to do.

Fortunately, Things Became Sufficiently Painful

When I left off my story, in my late 20s and early 30s, I was in the midst of making a lot of rash decisions, and taking a lot of risks.  My anger, pain and despair were very near the surface, and I was volatile in the extreme.  I do not believe that I was very easy on the people who were nearest to me at that time, and I was certainly “acting out” in some nasty ways.  Fortunately, in my late 20s, things became painful and difficult enough that I realized that I needed to reach out for some highly skilled help, and I got into therapy with someone who was very highly skilled, and who got what was at stake.  This was the first of a group of very good therapists, all of whom had a psychodynamic orientation, to whom I owe a very great debt, perhaps even my life.

Down Into Me

Through my 30s, much of my therapeutic work was involved with getting me out of my head, and down into my body and my emotions.   A lot of the work focussed on things that had occurred in my earlier life.  They also helped me  to understand what it is to feel your own life, in every sense of the word.  To be in your body.  To really feel your own emotions.  The work evolved in a more and more symbolic direction, and I was fortunate to have  therapists, in particular Jungian analysts, who were able to help me come to some deep insights into my own being from my own patterns of behaviour, and from my dreams.  They helped me greatly with the process of uncovering my own symbols, and my own personal myth.  They knew how to work with the symbols that emerged from my dreams, and could help me to see how they eloquently express the reality of my particular selfhood and life.  This is something very hard to espress in an intellectual way, but when it happens, it’s something you know.

Above All, They Really Listened

However, if I had to point to one single characteristic of this small group of therapists that helped me more than any other, it was this: they really, really knew how to listen.  And in addition, they really, really knew how to ask questions.  As I moved through my therapy, this intent listening — this belief of theirs that they had never heard my story from anyone before, and would never hear it from anyone again —  really helped me to grasp the real nature of my own story, and to come to an ever better understanding of who and what I really am.

Acceptance

My therapeutic journey has enabled me to find a kind of acceptance of my life.  An ability to feel that this life, as outwardly ordinary and unheroic as it may be, is unique, and that it is truly mine.  To feel that, even in my suffering, there is a kind of rightness to my life, a rightness to being here in this time and this way, and to being alive.  That my life is my life, me… and that I can accept that, and welcome it.  For me, this means feeling rooted in my life, much more solid in it, than I have ever felt.  Insofar as I can make any meaningful sense of psychologists’ use of the word “resilience”, this is it.

How Does All This Seem to You?

Are these experiences to which you can relate?  I would really welcome any comments that you might have.  Are reslience and feeling at home in your life things which concern you?  If so, I would really welcome hearing from you.

Wishing you all good things on your journey to wholeness, and to your self,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 

PHOTO CREDIT: © Socrates | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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

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“They Want Google to Tell Them What They Should be Doing”

September 6th, 2010 · Carl Jung, decision, freedom, Individuation, Psychology and Suburban Life, Self

Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of Google in a recent interview  said the following:

“I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions. 

They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”

Renowned science fiction writer William Gibson has tried to explore this idea in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, “Google’s Earth”.  Gibson takes a good hard look at the role that Google has assumed in our lives, and asks some tough questions about the implications for who we are becoming as people, at this point in time. 

In discussing the growing capacity of Google to assist, or even replace human decision-making, Gibson observes:

“We never imagined that artificial intelligence would be like this. We imagined discrete entities. Genies….  Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical. Making Google a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world. This is the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before. But empires and nation-states weren’t organs of global human perception. They had their many eyes, certainly, but they didn’t constitute a single multiplex eye for the entire human species.”

So Google is pervading more and more aspects of our lives.  But do we actually want Google to tell us what to do?  To take our previous behaviour, and to extrapolate from that, and so to indicate to us, on the basis of artificial intelligence and algorithms, what it is that we should do next, according to Google?

It seems apparent that the technology to do this is going to be more and more within reach for Google in the not-too-distant future.  Is it what we really want?

Perhaps we do want Google to make some choices for us.  For instance, Google might greatly assist me if it would simplify certain types of choices about acquiring consumer goods — the best new smartphone for me to acquire, perhaps.  But do we want Google to tell us what we should be doing when it comes to the fundamental choices of our lives?  Who we love, for instance?  Or what we really value and strive for in our lives?

How do we know that the choices which I have made in the past are really my authentic choices?  Perhaps the choice which is authentically mine — this time, now — is quite different from and quite inconsistent with the choices I might have made in the past?

This whole discussion is much bigger, really, than Google.  It takes us right into questions about what it is that makes us fundamentally human.  And into the question of whether, in the process of our making choices, there is something indefinable and indescribable that is fundamental to our unique identity.  Jung held that there was such a mystery at the heart of our human uniqueness, and that is the reality that he called the Self.  It is the process of coming into contact with that reality that forms the basis of Jungian analysis, and of any psychotherapy that is founded on principles of depth psychology.

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the importance of the subjective experience of free decision-making in relation to our identity.  Do you feel that it matters, is fundamental to your identity as a unique human, or not?

My best wishes for your unique personal journey towards wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 

PHOTO CREDIT: © Aleksandar Nikolov | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Jungian Psychology, Caregiving and the Self

August 31st, 2010 · aging, Jungian psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, Self

Here is a very striking article by Andre Picard from the Friday, August 27 Globe and Mail.  It is entitled “Caregivers suffering depression, rage“, and it concerns two studies of family members who are caring for those suffering from dementia by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.  I think that it should give great pause to all of us, and particularly those who are middle-aged caregivers.

Jungians tend to be rather suspicious of statistics about human experience, and I think that there are often very good reasons for some scepticism.  However, I think that studies like Supporting Informal Caregivers – The Heart of Home Care  and Caring for Seniors With Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Forms of Dementia  show us an important aspect of a social reality that impacts our society, and in Jungian terms, has a huge impact on the individuation processes of very large numbers of individuals.

It needn’t take studies like these for us to be aware that there are some huge problems in this area.  In particular, I’m very aware from my practice of the large number not only of elderly, but also of middle-aged people, often but not always children of seniors, struggling with the demands of elder care.  Those who are trying to assist seniors suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease are finding the burden especially crushing.  The actual care can be demanding, but what is especially difficult for many people are the burdens of stress and intense emotional suffering associated with being this type of caregiver.

However, the new studies bring home the reality of this picture with some cold hard numbers.  In a survery of some 20,000 caregivers:

 

  • 16% of informal caregivers of seniors receiving home care reported distress related to their role;
  • that figure went to 28% if the the caregiver was providing more than 21 hours of care per week; and,
  • to 32% if the senior had symptoms of depression.

 

 

There are an estimated 2 million plus informal caregivers in Canada.  If anywhere near 16% of that number are in distress, that is a huge number of people who are struggling.

Unquestionably, this kind of informal care provision imposes a huge burden, one that is only poorly understood by those who have not had to carry it, and by our society as a whole.  Few who have not had to face the burden of a relative who slowly becomes consumed by delusions and paranoia can have any idea of how difficult that can make relationships with someone who was once a vital family member.  Similarly, loss of memory, language and reasoning abilities can make it impossible for such a person to do even simple daily tasks, e.g., answering the phone.  Generally, grief is thought of as an emotional experience that follows a death.  However, with dementia, grief is attendant upon every loss and just goes on and on.

These elder care situations highlight some enormous questions for the well-being and the individuation process of the caregivers involved.  How much sacrifice can society expect of the family members of the elderly suffering from various forms of dementia?  How much sacrifice should such caregivers expect from themselves?  Is it even in any sense a good thing for physical life to go on, after dementia has obliterated the personality of a person?

There can be little doubt that people carrying the burdens of caregiving for seniors need very substantial support.  They also need the opportunity to explore in depth the emotional issues that such caregiving brings up, along with generally trying to make meaning of the often very difficult situations in which such caregivers find themselves.  Often psychotherapy of a Jungian type can serve as the best possible gateway into exploring and accepting the deep feelings and emotions that occur as a part of this time of life.

Questions to Ponder about Dementia and Individuation

  1. Does dementia eventually bring an end to the individuation process?  Jung apparently thought that it brought the end so far as we could know in this life: was he right?
  2. How might a person’s obligations to the Self and as a caregiver fit together?  How would you fit them together, if you found yourself in such a position?
  3. How do you feel about your own aging?
  4. On an even more fundamental level, what do you believe about the end of life?

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Evgeniya Parfenova | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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