Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Individuation, Individual Therapy & Work Related Stress

March 5th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, stress, therapy, work, work related stress

individual therapy

People expect work related stress to be a subject for individual therapy, but think less commonly about work and individuation — especially for today’s pressurized workers.  Individuation is the term Jung used to describe “the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology.”  Particularly in the last 10 – 15 years, as anxiety has crept more and more into the work place, the experience of work for many people may seem to be about anything but genuine individual development.

Yet… Something in Us Seeks Wholeness — Even at Work

For Jung, the human psyche is always in process, seeking to bring all the parts of our self into relatedness with each other.  Even at our work.  In our work experience, with specific tasks, co-workers, clients, etc., some aspect of our self is confronting us, trying to come into awareness.  There’s truth about ourselves that we need to take in — even in work related stress.

Vocation — What if It’s Not Just a Word?

Vocation can be overly spiritualized and dramatized, or trivialized, as in the so-called “vocational test”.  But what if there actually is something specific that life and my own nature has suited me to do?  That may be a matter of the job I do, or a vocation that I live out over and above my job.

Connecting Point recorded archetypal psychologist Jame Hillman on the subject of “What is Your Calling?”

Work Related Stress: Message from My Deep Self?

The fundamental question for individual therapy is, “What does my work stress tell me about my true self?”  Perhaps in relation to fellow workers?  Or about my trouble with saying “No” or setting boundaries?  Or the ways that I have been kidding myself about the type of work that suits me, or about my own true abilities or inclinations?  Or maybe my own deepest motivations, or compulsive need for success or status?  Or my driven-ness or workaholism as avoidance of life?  Or my fear to move on?

The Shadow in Working Life

My work may express who I really am, and allow me to give from my deepest self to the world.  Alternately, it might be that I’m really alienated from myself at work, unable to show anyone who I really am or what I really care about, and that this disconnect is a real source of work related stress.

If shadow is the unacknowledged part of the self, what is in your shadow that concerns work?

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 © 2012 Brian Collinson

 

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Psychotherapy for Work Related Stress: 4 Realities

October 20th, 2011 · stress, work, work related stress

work related stress

Psychotherapy for work related stress is increasingly essential for many people.  In our present era of privation and job uncertainty, it is abundantly apparent that work stress has more than purely psychological consequences, and deeply impacts the physical well-being of workers — for stress is a mind-body phenomenon.  A recent article from the Manchester Guardian on a report on a U.K. survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)  shows that worries about job losses have caused stress to become the most common cause of long-term sick leave in Britain.

Now, these statistics are for the U.K.  Is it similar in North America?  The fact is, it is similar enough.

Here are 4 factors pointing to the urgency of finding ways to address work related stress.

1. Work Related Stress Can be a Personal Crisis

Stress related to work accumulates in ways that cause emotional damage to workers.  In particular, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that continued anxiety over job loss is even more damaging emotionally than actual job loss.

2. Self Esteem is Involved

When dealing with something as fundamental as work identity, continual anxiety about job loss can easily engender endless anxiety about the self.  The question of self-esteem can be relentless for someone dealing with these issues.

3. Work-Related Stress Can Bring Serious Illness

In a similar way, serious stress can and does lead to serious illness.  Stress reduction research has clearly established the connection to coronary disease, ulcers and many other  illnesses.  It’s essential for the individual facing such stress to avoid these extremely negative consequences.

4. There are Deep Questions Within Work Stress

Work stress opens up questions that we would rather not face.  The most fundamental of these are around resilience in the face of great fear and stress, and also around maintaining a sense of abiding personal identity, in the face of grave assaults on personal dignity, our sense of ability to control our lives, and our self worth.  It is in these areas that psychotherapy can have the greatest and most lasting effect.  The particular message of Jungian psychotherapy, that the Self is something greater and more lasting than the ego, and is drawing us towards a meaningful wholeness that we cannot fully anticipate, can be something that is essential for us to experience in our turbulent and demanding times.

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PHOTO:  Copyright  All rights reserved by herr klamm
© 2011 Brian Collinson
2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)

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Overwork and Workaholism, Part 2: Work and Soul

July 29th, 2011 · work, workaholism

This post continues the themes of overwork and workaholism .  It further explores some of the soul and feeling dimensions of overwork and workaholism through musical expression.

  • When You Know You Can’t Slow Down

One of the outstanding aspects of overwork and of workaholism, is a compulsive, potentially all-absorbing character.  It can take more and more of a person’s thoughts, and has a way of demanding more and more of a person’s waking hours and energies, as a person tries to meet ever-increasing inner and outer demands.  It can create a kind of tunnel vision in a person’s life that excludes all possible alternatives.  In this respect, it truly is like addiction.

Although it is 40 years old, there is probably no piece of music that captures this sense of uncontrolled driven-ness as well as Jethro Tull’s Locomotive Breath , with its image of a workaholic man’s life as an out-of-control locomotive hurtling down the track — “no way to slow down…“:

  • Disconnect

Another dimension of overwork and workaholism is what it does to a person’s sense of relationship and connection, especially to significant others.  That is, it has the capacity to profoundly disconnect.  I relate to the following music on a very personal level, as it keenly reminds me of the workaholism of my own father.  It’s also an insightful comment on the way that workaholism can get passed down through the generations — “The Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin:

On the feeling level, both of these pieces of music convey something very powerful about the emotional and relationship cost of overwork and workaholism.  The overidentification with the work role is a very dangerous fusion with the false self.  Or, as Jungians would say, it is selling out your true self for the sake of persona, in the hope that love and positive self regard can be found in this way.  This locomotive starts rolling slowly, and just gradually picks up speed, until we are hurtling along on something demonic that we have no idea how to stop.  If you’re the engineer on this ride, it’s time to get help to make it better.

In your experience, when does work contribute to self-realization, and when does it take away? I’d welcome your comments.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst | Oakville, Burlington and Mississauga Ontario

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PHOTO: © Yuri Arcurs | Dreamstime.com
© 2011 Brian Collinson
2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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An Oakville Psychotherapist’s View of Work Life Balance

November 4th, 2010 · Identity, Individuation, Jungian analysis, Lifestyle, Meaning, personal myth, psychotherapist, stress, therapy, work

 

The Toronto Globe and Mail has been running a series of articles on “Work Life Balance”.  There is one of these articles that I found myself reacting to rather strongly.  The article is entitled “Work-Life Balance: Why Your Boss Should Care” .  In particular, the article contains the following paragraph:

“Our inability to balance our jobs and our home life is costing corporate Canada as much as $10-billion a year in rising absenteeism, lost output, lower productivity, missed deadlines and grumpy customers, according to estimates by business professors Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario.”

Now, in fairness to this article, it is part of a series of articles that the Globe has been running, that all have somewhat different perspectives on work-life balance.  It is also true that this article states  that it focuses on the management perspective in a very up-front way.  Nonetheless, I feel that, from the perspective of a therapist, this article loses sight of a number of important things.

Work Life Balance is an Individual Thing

First, it’s not the job of corporations to sort out the individual’s work-life balance issues, nor is it within the corporation’s competence.  The task of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders, plain and simple.  The large corporation, as much as the state, is an entity composed of masses of human beings.  However, the matter of work-life balance is a matter that is important to individuals, and it is only on that individual level that the question of the right relationship of life and work can be solved.

Work Life Balance is Not Fundamentally an Economic Issue

Second, the study emphasizes the cost to employers of distorted work-life balance.  However, it doesn’t appear that any corresponding analysis was done of the financial benefits to corporate Canada of people working hours that are weighted on the heavy end.  If that calculation were done, and if it were established that there was a net financial benefit to corporate Canada in encouraging overwork, would that conclude the matter, making overwork a good thing?  Unquestionably not.  Otherwise, you have reduced the value of the individual’s life purely to their economic role.

Work-life issues are not properly analyzed in terms of financial cost-benefit or markets.  They are only properly analyzed in terms of individual decisions, and in terms of what the individual values in his or her life.

Individuals Have to Take Responsibility for Their Own Lives

Individuals can’t offload their responsibility to find a personal solution to these issues to any corporation or other employer — or to any other collective entity.  Individuals have to really take hold of this issue, take personal responsibility for it, and examinine it deeply in the light of their own deepest values.  From the point of view of the therapist or Jungian analyst, the answers to those life questions are going to be fundamentally tied up with the individual’s understanding of his or her own personal identity, and with the story that the individual tells him or herself about her or his life — his or her own personal myth.

A Question of Identity

And that requires that individuals distinguish their work identity and social self — the roles they play, what Jung would call the persona — from their true identity, which rests upon the things that the individual most fundamentally values.  The journey of psychotherapy is to go in search of what that true identity is, even when it may conflict in some ways with the standards and norms of society and family.

How Does This Affect You?

Are you wrestling with issues around balancing work and life?  Have you faced particular times when this issue has come to the fore for you, and required decision, discernment or endurance?  I would really welcome any of your comments or life stories, either as comments on this post or as confidential emails.  I would really appreciate your thoughts and reflections.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: © Sepavo | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson
Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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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

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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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Work and the Heart

May 15th, 2010 · Hope, Identity, Jungian analysis, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, soul, Wellness, wholeness, work

An article from the Globe and Mail of 12 May 2010 , “Working regular overtime linked to increased heart attack risk” raises some very serious questions about the way that we’re living now:

//bit.ly/99TwPg

The article cites a study published in the European Heart Journal, which finds that employees who regularly put in 11- to 12-hour days have an almost 60 per cent greater risk of having a heart attack than those who put in a standard 7 to 8 hours daily.  The scary thing, of course, is that, in our world, that group who are putting in the 11 to 12 hour days is very large.  As the article suggests, “the overtime hours were not, in and of themselves, causing heart problems, but rather that they likely reflect the stress being felt by those who work long days”.  So, to be literal-minded, stress and endless days are making people sick at heart.

What is it about work and the heart?  There is true symbolism here, that comes right out of the midst of flesh and blood.  For events in the body are very often symbols or metaphors of what is going on in the psyche.  Psyche will reflect in the stomach, or in the neck and back what psyche has to bear, or finds unbearable.  Psyche and soma (Greek for body) are a unity, and they reflect each other.

At the risk of sounding childish or naive, this whole area begs our consideration because it draws attention to a huge very personal, very human question: what is our heart’s desire?

Down through the millenia, the symbolism of the human heart has represented that dimension of the human being that interacts with life through feeling.  The psychic reality is that the feeling dimension of life cannot be ignorred.  The overall question of what we want, really want, from our lives is not going to leave us alone, not really going to go away, even if it gets repressed.  Endless work and/or the complete blurring of the distinction between work and home leaves the heart in a desert wasteland.

We have to come to terms with the true depth of our yearning.  The only way to do that is to trust that our deepest yearnings are not meaningless.

How can we possibly find a way to make a living and keep our health?  Only by giving the heart what it needs.  What does your heart need?  Can we dare to even ask that question?  Do we dare to hope for it anymore, or has that hope gotten submerged or lost in the midst of cascading demands and obligations?

Stay with your heart.  Trust that it knows what you need.  Strive to find the ways to get closer to the things that matter to you, and to be less and less driven by urgencies and agendas that have nothing to do with your own real life.  As the Book of Proverbs, that compendium of age-old human wisdom in the Hebrew Bible has it:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

 My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness — and your journey to your heart.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: ©  Vladimirdreams|Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Identity and Anxiety in the Film, “Up In the Air”

January 22nd, 2010 · Anxiety, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Film, Identity, Individuation, life passages, Meaning, midlife, persona, puer aeternis, unlived life, wholeness, work

Make no mistake, moving is living.  -Ryan Bingham

 

“Up in the Air”, directed by Jason Reitman, stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.UpInTheAir for Vibrant Jung Thing  Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham is a full-time corporate down-sizer whose life consists of an endless stream of business travel (“322 days last year”).  He moves from place to place, letting people go from corporate roles when their employers cannot stomach doing it.  He has no permanent attachments to people, a desolate and hollow single bedroom apartment he never sleeps in, and he has accumulated 10,000,000 airmiles…

Up In the Air Official Website

Ryan Bingham’s life is in airports and hotel rooms and is filled with constant movement.  The stability and security in his life, his secure base, is found precisely in those things that others find impermanent and impersonal.  His finely orchestrated and choreographed travel routine, his mechanized method of moving constantly from place to place gives him re-assurance, and in an odd way a sense of belonging.  Which is good, because Ryan has no permanent connections to anyone in his life.

Ryan also has a budding career as an motivational speaker.  His message: “Make no mistake: your relationships are the heaviest components in your life….  The slower we move, the faster we die.”

Ryan is completely identified with his corporate role.   His aircraft-bound life is an appropriate symbol of his existence on a deeper level.  In the terms of Jungian psychology, Ryan, like Christopher McCandless, the subject of Into the Wild is a true puer aeternus (“eternal boy”).  He floats above life in his social self, and never puts down roots into the deep soil of his genuine self.  And he is danger of discovering that his life is tragic because there he has no remaining way to turn back.

In its own way, this is a very disturbing and provocative film, but it’s a very good one.  It raises the question for each of us about how connected we’re willing to be to the real substance of our lives.

I’d welcome comments below from readers on anxiety, identity and work.

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

Brian Collinson

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PHOTO CREDITS: © DW Studios LL.C. and Cold Spring Pictures

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

 

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Job, Identity, Anxiety

January 13th, 2010 · wholeness, work

 

Work and Identity for Vibrant Jung Blog I don’t know what might motivate an employer to choose to lay people off 3 weeks before Christmas.  However, judging from the calls I received from clients and potential clients prior to the New Year, there were quite a few employers who took such action this year.

Having been on the receiving end of such news myself in prior times, my thoughts and very best wishes are with anyone who had to confront that reality this holiday season.  Here’s to better times and a better job market for all. 

This is difficult for people all on its own — just dealing with the economics of job loss.  However, when it’s compounded by issues of identity and self-worth, it can become incredibly painful, to the point where it is almost unbearable.

It’s all too easy for all of us to allow our identity to become completely bound up with our social role and with others’ expectations of us, especially where work is concerned.  In his writings, Jung warned incessantly of the dangers of becoming over-identified with the social self, the “persona” as he called it. 

Today, for many people, the pace of work simply increases and increases as organizations make new demands on their employees.  More and more consideration, energy and time is demanded by the workplace, and, for many, there is intense and endless anxiety about work, about whether one’s job is stable and sustainable, about relentless change, and often about the endless political complexities of workplaces where resources are scarce and communication and leadership are inadequate for the task at hand.

You might think that these factors would lead individuals to be less and less identified with work, but in an odd way, the effect seems often to be just the reverse.  Even though work is fraught with anxiety, people become strangely identified with their work role.  Perhaps it’s precisely because so much effort has to be put into keeping working life on an even keel, and so much worry and anxiety keep pulling individuals back to confronting their work. 

However, it’s essential for each of us to hold on to the realization that I am not identical with my work role.  Don’t allow work to consume the substance of your life.

Easy to say, but doing it is often not as simple as that.  Often it is not just the identity at work that confines us.  It can be just as much about the way that we are perceived in various social settings, and in the community at large, through our work roles, as it were.  Very many of us are powerfully addicted to the drug of success.  Or, perhaps more accurately, we are highly invested in being seen as a success, perhaps to such an extent that all of our self-esteem and self-respect is riding upon it.

This gives rise to some fundamental questions:

  • What really is it for me to be a success?  How will I know when I get there?
  • Who gets to say whether I’m a success?  Me, or some outside authority to which I’ve given the power to say whether I’ve made it or not?
  • Is it what I own that makes me a success, or is it what I am?
  • And simply, am I over-identified with my work role?  How do I understand myself independent of it?

Don’t let your work keep you from your life.  Don’t let it persuade you that it is your life.  Don’t let it keep you from your vocation, what it is that you are really meant to be and do.

I’d be interested in your comments about how you experience work, and how you understand yourself and your identity independent of your job, and, as always, any other comments that you might have.

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

Brian Collinson

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

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© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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