Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 1

October 10th, 2010 · Anxiety, Carl Jung, depth psychology, Hope, Meaning, mythology, Oakville, power, Psychology and Suburban Life, resilience, stress, trust, work

Some of the greatest stressors that people experience in the second decade of the 21st century stem from the things which people feel powerless to control.  At times, individuals can feel like life is a dice-roll.

I think that’s why a lot of people in Oakville are so happy about the cancellation of the Oakville Power plant.  Here in Oakville, the mood almost borders on euphoria.  It seems that the feelings are associated with a sense of release, though.  I think that this may be due to the fact that many in Oakville felt that the Power Plant was something close to an an inevitability because of the array of formidable powers (Ford, Trans-Canada and the Premier and Provincial Government) that apparently wanted to see it come to completion.  Fortunately, there were many in Oakville, in organizations like Citizens for Clean Air, who kept up a formidible fight.  And they succeeded, to their very great credit!

There are many things in the 2010s that can easily make people feel powerless.  Many of those things have to do with economics.  It is not that long since the 2008 market meltdown and the Great Recession which followed it, and the recovery which is underway can certainly seem precarious.  Many people have had to contend with job loss, and many more feel that their jobs–and the lives that they have built around those jobs–are precariously balanced.  To a lot of people, dreams that seemed readily attainable for their parents’ generation do not seem at all easily attainable for them.  And many worry about their children’s education and future — and their own later life.

In addition, the majority of us struggle, or have had to struggle with our own inner wounds.  For many people, there can be a strong sense that their experience growing up has not equipped them to feel strong and confident in meeting the challenges that they are facing in their lives.  It can be very hard to the people who feel that “something fundamental  was missing” in the kind of love and affirmation that they received from those who were supposed to love them.  For others, it can feel that events in their lives — loss of love, marital breakup, personal tragedy, trauma — have deprived them of the wherewithal to meet the challenges that life is putting in front of them.

What we each need to meet our lives is what psychologists increasingly refer to as resilience.  Simply put, resilience is the power to “roll with the punches” that life throws at us, and to “have the stamina to go the distance” in our lives, and to “hang in”.

What psychologists and sociologists have noticed in their study of the coping patterns of people, even people dealing with some of the most difficult situations imaginable, is that there are huge differences in how people respond, and whether they are able to cope and endure.  Even in appalling situations, there are some people who have the capacity to overcome their circumstances, and to find the courage to live meaningful and courageous lives.  Resiliency has been defined by psychiatrist Steven Wolin as:

the capacity to rise above adversity—sometimes the terrible adversity of outright violence, molestation or war—and forge lasting strengths in the struggle.

Clearly, we all need resilience.  But we have to be careful that the resilience that we seek is the real thing, not the fake kind.  I think most of us have had some experience with this less-than-authentic resilience.  The fake kind is kind found in the “you can do anything, rise above anything” variety of pep talk, that unfortunately is often found in self help literature.  Regrettably, it is also espoused by some psychologists and therapists.  This heroic version tends (consciously or unconsciously) to over-emphasize will power, and it papers over the cracks and the pain that often run unbelievably deeply in peoples’ lives.  This emphasis on “where there’s a will there’s a way” (a phrase Carl Jung hated) will not sustain when the chips are really down in life.

Mark Bolan’s Cosmic Dancer , which many of you may know from the movie Billy Elliot, itself an incredible celebration of resilience, uses the metaphor of dancing for resilience — “I was dancing when I was 12 / I danced myself right out of the womb / I danced my way into the tomb” :

So, how do we get to the real thing — to a resilience that is rooted in our own real lives?  This is a subject I’ll be pursuing in the next part of this series on “Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth”.

What are your “impressions” on the whole subject of resilience?  What is it for you?  What is it rooted in?  I’d welcome any of your reflections.

I wish you every good thing as you make your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Lawrence Wee | Dreamstime.com

MUSIC CREDIT: Mark Bolan and T Rex performing “Cosmic Dancer” from the album “Electric Warrior” © 1971 Warner  This music is the property of Warner and is used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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G20 Toronto: What the Heck Just Happened?

July 6th, 2010 · Carl Jung, collective consciousness, collective unconscious, complexes, Current Affairs, depth psychology, G20, Ontario, panic, popular culture, Psychology and Suburban Life, Toronto, Trauma, trust

On June 26 and 27, the leaders of the G20 nations and numerous other nations met in downtown Toronto.  For many living in this area, what happened in the course of those two days has something of the character of a nightmare in the collective psyche of the City of Toronto, and indeed, the whole of the Greater Toronto Area [“GTA”] and much of Canada.

For those of you who don’t know Toronto, let me explain that it is one of the more decent and livable large cities on the North American continent.  This is a city that is genuinely, vibrantly diverse, and one that is characterized by a great deal of openness and tolerance.  As I started to write this post on Sunday, July 4th, the City’s 30th Gay Pride parade –North America’s largest — was taking place.

But you wouldn’t have recognized Toronto during the two days of the G20 summit.  As many of you will be aware, we had burning police cars,  police arrests for which there was apparently no actual legal authority, shop windows of not only large corporations but also small merchants vandalized, and a small minority of so-called “Black Bloc” rioters who effectively kept the voice of thousands who were legitimately exercising their right of free speech from being heard.

In a democracy, people often have widely divergent views.  The exchange of those views can sometimes become very heated, especially when those of more left-leaning and more right-leaning perspectives encounter one another.  And especially when the issues being considered involve concerns as fundamental as debt, poverty, economic health, globalization and the environment.

However, what occurred in Toronto over these two days was not any encounter of this kind.  It was a fundamentally different kind of experience.  People on all sides seem to have been caught up in fear and confusion.  Over the last week, there has been a sense that the GTA is gradually emerging from some kind of fog, and coming back to itself.

I don’t think that it is an over-statement to say that the G20 events and their aftermath have affected many people in a manner that has the character of trauma.   Just what it was in the course of the G20 that any particular individual found traumatic varied.  It might have been the images of burning police cars, or the windows of shops broken in, or stories of individuals arrested and held without proper authority, or video images of overwhelming police presence.  Regardless of which particular images or stories it was, the response of individuals to the G20 events seems to have been “This isn’t the Toronto I grew up in and trusted!  What has happened to my city?”

In my opinion, that’s the right question.  What happened to our city?  More specifically, what happened to the psyche of our city?  And it’s at this point, I believe, that CG Jung has some things to say that are specifically relevant.  For instance, he states at one point in his Collected Letters:

Any organization in which the voice of the individual is not heard is in danger of degenerating into a subhuman monster.

I believe that this is the essence of what was wrong with the whole G20 summit experience in Toronto.  The individual, and his or her meaning and significance, became completely lost. The whole event was completely disconnected from the life of the City of Toronto, and the experience of its citizens.  Everything about the G20, and especially its titanic size, just serves to dwarf the significance of the individual.  The forces grinding and clashing at such an event are so huge that the voice of the individual simply cannot be heard in any meaningful way.

A democracy cannot afford to do politics in this manner.  At least, it cannot do so, and expect to remain a democracy.  In my opinion, there is a deep need at this point in our history to bring political decision-making down to a more human scale.  I don’t know whether that is a point that favours the right or the left, but it is a simple reflection of human psychological reality.  If we lose the individual, we will find ourselves submerged in crowds and mobs which we cannot influence, governed by unconscious psychological forces that we cannot begin to control or even understand.  That kind of mass psychology leads to disaster.

It’s up to each of us to take a personal stand to keep our political and social life fundamentally human, and to deliver a message to politicians, officials and others: individual persons–and only individual persons–count.

My next blog post will return to my “Iron Man” series, with “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III: Heart Trouble

I’d welcome your reflections on the G20 in Toronto.   Do you agree with me that it took us to some pretty unsatisfactory places, or do you have another perspective on these events?  Do you agree or disagree with me that now is a particularly important time to focus on the value and dignity of individual persons in our collective and political life?  As always, I greatly value your comments and reflections — and you certainly don’t have to agree with me!

My very best wishes to each of you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDITS: © Turkbug| Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Trust and Betrayal, Part 2: 4 Simple, Difficult Truths

June 2nd, 2010 · depth psychology, Hope, Meaning, parent-child interactions, psychological crisis, Psychotherapy, Relationships, The Self, therapy, trust

Following on from my last blog post on trust and betrayal, the following are four truths about the experience of betrayal of trust.  They are surprisingly easy to state.  However, really taking in what they mean for our lives is likely a much bigger psychological task.

1. An Experience of Betrayal Can Deeply Impact A Person’s Ability to Trust Others.  Not surprisingly, someone who has had their trust violated in a profound way is wary of giving that trust again.  It may be that they find that it is only with the greatest degree of effort that trust can be restored.  It may well be that, on an unconscious level they withhold trust or sabotage relationships — or they just don’t get into them.

2. An Experience of Betrayal Can Really Impact a Person’s Ability to Trust Him- or Herself.  The experience of betrayal not only impacts a person’s attitudes and response to others.  It can also have a profound impact on the way an individual regards his or her own being.  The reflection that he or she trusted someone deeply, and was betrayed, can lead to profound self-doubt and lack of confidence in her or his own judgment.

3. Experiences of Betrayal Can “Snowball”.  If Someone Has Undergone Betrayal, It Can Be Easy to Repeat the Pattern.  On the other hand, the reverse of point 2. can occur to a person.  An individual who has suffered a deep betrayal may unconsciously seek to get into a relationship of trust with someone who is as similar as possible to the initial betrayer.  They may hang onto a deep hope in the unconscious that they will be able to be in an intimate relationship with one like the former beloved, and instead of having the same tragic outcome as in the first relationship, there is a deep yearning for it to “turn out differently this time”.  Needless to say, such an individual may be unconsciously setting themselves up for a econd, maybe even more devastating betrayal.

4. Betrayal Can Lead to Bitterness, Revenge, Hatred — or to New Awareness.  Probably all of us know someone who has been through an experience of betrayal, who “can’t let go”.  Sometimes people are consumed by bitterness, hatred or an overwhelming desire for revenge, and as a result, that person’s life ends up “on ice”.  They are stuck, and can’t move past what has been done to them.  Such a person needs to find a way to begin to let go of the pain and the outrage, and to find a source of hope, and an awareness of  something that gives meaning and in which he or she can invest themselves.  Something that beckons him or her on, pulling him or her into his or her life.

I am not engaging in uttering some glib bit of fake sunshine here.  Make no mistake: such “letting go” can be the biggest single piece of psychological work that a person may undertake in his or her life.  It is a work that cannot just come from the ego.  It is something that comes from the Self.

In one form or another, betrayal is an experience common to humanity.  To find a way to let go of the experience enough to allow it to be transformed, to move through it and into our lives — is unfortunately not as common.  It can only be accomplished through engagement with the deepest parts of ourselves.  Often this is a place in life where depth psychotherapy can have an important role in the journey toward wholeness.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness — especially if at this point in your journey you are seeking healing around issues of trust.  If you were willing to share any of your experiences around this very important area of life, I would welcome and honour your comments or emails.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: ©  Ciapix |Dreamstime.com © 2010 Brian Collinson

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Trust and Betrayal

May 24th, 2010 · betrayal, depth psychology, Individuation, psychological crisis, trust, wholeness

In my recent blog post on “Crisis“, I indicated that one of the gravest things that can happen to people is the experience of betrayal in those close relationships with others whom they trust deeply, and upon whom they depend.  I feel strongly that this is an area worth exploring further, and some of my readers have indicated to me that they felt that this was an important topic.

Please consider for a moment the story of Jesus in the Christian New Testament, but with a psychological, rather than a religious perspective.  A prominent feature of that story is the betrayal of Jesus by his own disciple, Judas Iscariot.  This element of the narrative clearly functions to show us that Jesus went through one of the very bitterest things that can occur to a human being, that this was one of the most appalling torments that a human can undergo.  To me, this just seems psychologically accurate.  It doesn’t get much worse than being betrayed by someone that you love and trust.

We can experience the awful bitterness of betrayal in a great variety of ways, and at very different stages in life.  When it is a real betrayal, it undercuts the individual in such a radical way that it can sometimes lead people to even question the worthwhileness of living.

In our culture, we often associate the terms “trust” and “betrayal” with lovers, whether married or not.  Betrayal can appear in the lives of couples through infidelity, through physical, sexual or verbal abuse, through addictions, or through allowing a family to fall into a vulnerable and/or seriously damaging financial position — among various other ways.  When it occurs, it can deliver wounds to the one whose trust is breached that are not at all easy to overcome.

It is perhaps less frequently realized, but, within the family of origin, there are many ways that the family can betray a child in his or her vulnerability.  One of the greatest fears for the child is the fear of abandonment.  This can occur in purely physical ways, that is, through actually leaving the child in his or her helplessness.  It can also occur in emotional ways, through rejection, or withdrawal of love.

There are other areas where children or young people can have the experience of betrayal.  Many have the experience of religious leaders and institutions in which they have put their faith, that become associated with physical, sexual or emotional abuse.  Educational institutions can do the same things, along with other gravely negative things, such as labelling or humiliating the individual in such a way that he or she feels fundamentally violated or devalued as a person.

It is essential to respect the impact of betrayal, if we encounter it in our lives.  It is very likely that it will impact the degree to which we can give ourselves in trust in other situations in our lives.  It may even have an overall effect on what we call “basic trust“: the capacity of individuals to trust that life is good, and to trust that they can make their way and find what they need from their lives.

To come to terms with betrayal can be one of the greatest challenges that an individual will ever face.  It can be a fundamental part of the process of becoming oneself, the process of individuation.  Often the difficult road to moving beyond betrayal passes through the journey of therapy.  At its best, therapy in depth can be a way of renewing the trust in the other, and simultaneously, the trust in myself.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness — especially to those who at this time wrestle with the dilemmas of trust and betrayal.  If you would like to share any part of your journey through a comment or email, I would welcome it.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: ©  Eszawa|Dreamstime.com © 2010 Brian Collinson

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