Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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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Jungian Therapy for Anxiety & the Overly Driven Person

January 26th, 2012 · Anxiety, driven person, Jungian, Jungian therapy, therapy, therapy for anxiety

Jungian therapy

It’s actually painful to be an overly driven person, as both Jungian therapy and therapy for anxiety in general recognize.  When we allow ourselves to get caught in this way, we run a great risk of chronically devaluing our inner life, and our true worth.

The overly driven person :

1. Never Relaxes or Feels Secure

The overly driven person can’t afford to lower his or her level of alertness, or level of effort, for fear of being overtaken or overcome.  She lives by the old sports maxim: “You’re Only as Good as Your Last Game”.

For the overly driven person links self-worth and specific achievements.  Now, Jungian therapy would acknowledge that we should have particular achievements of which we are proud.  But if our sense of identity is built around socially recognized achievements, then we are on very shaky ground.

2.  Fears Chaos; Continually Struggles to Maintain Control

Often the driven person strives to fend off their greatest fear: the collapse of a situation into chaos.  Often that fear is rooted in experiences of chaos in their past at some point, or in a fear of chaos inherited from the family of origin.  Therapy for anxiety knows that the response to this threat is to strive for greater control — of others, of ourselves, of the environment.

3.  Thinks in Absolutes

In Steve Jobs’ biography, I was struck by the fact that he had only two attitudes to the work of others.  He would either say “This is excellent! Amazing!”, or else he would say, “This is s–t!”.  Excrement or excellence: no in-between.  Overly driven people are often locked into perfectionism in their demands and expectations of themselves and others.  So if a thing isn’t perfect, then it’s a complete miss and worthless.

4.  Pushed by Unconscious Factors

Jungian therapy would emphasize the unconscious forces at work in the overly driven person.  They may be rooted in past traumatic experience, past emotional dynamics in the family of origin, or overidentification with an archetype.  Often, if a person is to gain freedom from  driven-ness, she must become more conscious of what’s doing the driving.  Therapy for anxiety includes healing around basic issues of self acceptance, satisfaction in what has been accomplished, and security.

 “Is It Ever Gonna Be Enough?“…  Metric – Gold Guns Girls

Often depth psychotherapy can assist greatly in untangling the knot of drivenness.

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PHOTOS: ©  All rights reserved by ray_wilson_jr
VIDEO: © “Gold Guns Girls”  ©  2009 Metric
© 2011 Brian Collinson 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)

 

 

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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 2: Getting Real

October 25th, 2010 · Anxiety, depth psychology, Existential crisis, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Meaning, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, stress, therapy

Recently, I started a series of posts about the growth of resilience, which is a very key part of the work of psychotherapy.  I’d like to share a personal experience of mine through which I became changed, and, I believe, much more resilient.  It’s not that I’m trying to suggest that I’ve “got it all figured out”, or that this set of experiences gave me “the key to life” — mine or anybody else’s.  But I do believe that this was an experience that affected me deeply, that it cost me a great deal, and that I genuinely grew through it.

Resilience is directly connected to our convictions at the deepest level about our lives — our basic trust.  And sometimes life can shake what we believe about our own individual lives to the very core.  I had occasion to learn this in a period between my mid-20s and early 30s.

The Journey to Upside Down

At the time this experience occurred, I was a  highly religious person, in a liberal Christian tradition.  I had a very clear conception of my life: how things had unfolded according to plan, and how they would continue to do so into the future.  I was recently happily married, and my wife and I had a baby on the way.

Then the baby arrived, and we learned that he was born pretty close to about as deaf as a child can be.

Suddenly, everything that I thought I knew about my life was turned upside down.  Through this crisis, everything I had hitherto believed about the nature of God, the world, suffering, even evil, and what was meaningful in life was shaken to the core.

Now, I’m not foolish enough to think that having a deaf child is the worst that can happen to a person.  Far, far from it.  It can get unbelievably more painful and difficult than that, I well know.  Nonetheless, when this happened to me, I was completely devastated.  I literally did not know which way to turn, and, for a long time, I seriously doubted that I would ever be happy — or even ever smile — again.

Life Crisis

I also know that, as the years went by, I was also plunged into a more and more  profound crisis of faith and life — an existential crisis, as they say.  It was not so much a question of “why me?”  With the crisis around my son’s deafness, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes, and I was finally seeing for the first time the depth of the suffering in the world.  In fact, I was seeing it very clearly and close up in the very people with whom I was working.  It was deeply apparent to me now how many people were struggling with so very much more than they knew how to handle, or felt that they could handle.  The question I found myself struggling with on the deepest level was much more, “How can there be a loving God, if this kind of thing happens to any one at all?”

By the time I was 30, I was completely shaken out of the very comfortable life path that I had seen mapped out for me.  Nothing was left of it.  It was apparent to me that life was never going to be possible with the old outlook I had once had.  At about that time, I made some very major changes in virtually every aspect of my life — faith, career, relationships — and moved in a new direction.

Rash, Raw, Risky … Lost

I didn’t know what was waiting for me, and I was making all kinds of rash decisions, without regard for the risks.  In many ways I was raw, and I wore my anger, my pain and my sense of betrayal on my sleeve, often for all to see.  My despair and cynicism were probably at their height at this point.

What I didn’t know, and couldn’t see, was that something was changing inside myself.  At the time, I could not have described to you what this change was, but it was real and it was deep.  It would take years for me to even begin to understand what was emerging in my life.  In my next blog post, Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 3: A Story of My Own, I’ll attempt to share with you something of what that change really meant.

Have You Had This Kind of Experience?

I am sure that many of my readers have had to confront real adversity or real crisis in their own lives.  I would respectfully welcome any of your comments on what it was like to cope with such things.  How did such experiences change you?  As always, I gratefully welcome any of your reflections.

Wishing you peace and resilience on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: © Elena Ray | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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