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Jungian Therapy, Individuation & the Late Lou Reed

November 2nd, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian therapy, therapy

Does it seem shocking that a rock musician like the late Lou Reed should be in a post on Jungian therapy and individuation?

Jungian therapy

Lou Reed passed this week, and he was a very controversial figure — even polarizing.  But there is one thing that even his enemies admit: he was an individual.

Out of Long Island

Reed was born into Long Island suburban respectability.  He struggled with 1950s reality, not least of all because the homoerotic dimensions of his character didn’t fit into conventional 50s life.    So, it wasn’t long before he found himself in New York City, where he created the avante-garde rock group Velvet Underground and became part of the circle around artist Andy Warhol.

Shadow and the Wild Side

Many of us became aware of Lou Reed in 1972, when he released “Take a Walk on the Wild Side“.   Popular culture in North America had never seen the like: a completely unapologetic celebration of gay and transvestite life in New York City.  Astoundingly, it became a huge hit. As a Jungian, the powerful attraction of this song for many people who would not even remotely identify with the LGTB communities is striking.  Perhaps it stems from the sense of basic acceptance and groundedness that Reed communicates, as if he were saying, “Here I am. This is me.  I neither hide, nor sugar coat, nor apologize for who I really am.”  His straightforward expression and self acceptance resonated deeply with many who were neither gay nor transvestite, especially younger people.

Artistic Individuation

Reed was a pioneer in opening up issues of gender identity as experienced in our culture.   He challenged, and even shocked, in ways that later artists like David Bowie would emulate–in considerably tamer forms.  He opened up profound questions about masculine and feminine, the ways in which they relate, and how each of us experiences those realities.  He actually touched upon many themes found in Jungian therapy: masculinity and femininity; creativity and receptivity ; sexual and contrasexual. Similarly, he expressed much around shadow: things of which we are barely conscious, or, unconscious; things on the periphery or edges of society, propriety or respectability.

Reed was simple and direct in his art.  While seeing himself fully as a serious artist, not an entertainer, or “rock star”, Reed knew that his art was rock, and he was fiercely passionate about attaining his artistic vision.  He famously once said “Rock songs should have one chord, maybe two…three and you’re getting into jazz” — but he was a passionate admirer and student of the art of jazz genius Miles Davis, bringing a Davis-like focus to his own work.

Lou Reed was strongly and unabashedly always himself.

Jungian therapy

Playing the Part of Oneself

To me, his song “Sweet Jane” seems to embody the soul of Lou Reed:

There’s some evil mothers
They’ll just tell you that life’s just made out of dirt
That pretty women, baby, they never really faint
And that villains always blink their eyes
And that children are the only ones who blush
And that life — Life!– that life is just to die…
 
But I want to tell you something:
Anyone who ever had a heart
Oh, they wouldn’t turn around and break it
And anyone who’s ever played a part
They wouldn’t turn around and hate it…
 

Lou Reed passionately and courageously played the part of himself, and he embodied the self acceptance and journey to the self that Jungian therapy sees as fundamental to individuation.

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike  Some rights reserved by Man Alive! ;
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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4 Advantages of Individual Therapy Over Self Help Books

March 25th, 2013 · individual, individual therapy

Self-help books are unbelievably popular, but they don’t meet many of the needs that individual therapy can meet.

individual therapy

It’s not that self-help books aren’t good or useful.  But there are some key, bedrock things that we need in our lives that we can get from individual therapy, particularly depth psychotherapy, that we can’t get from books or videos.

Four key advantages of one-on-one therapy are …

1. An Empathic Witness

A very important thing about individual therapy: you’re not alone with whatever you’re carrying or trying to sort out

The reality is that many people in our world have never really been truly witnessed, or seen in their own right, as who they really are.  It can make a profound difference when, in individual therapy, a person actually gains consciousness of this.

To sit with a therapist committed to a non-judgmental, unconditionally accepting stance, who helps me to move towards full acceptance of who I am can be powerfully transforming. It can humanize my experience — help me to feel that, even the things that I have the greatest difficulty revealing or talking are all comprehensible and essentially human.

Hand in hand with this experience comes another…

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2. Recognition of Individuality

Through telling the story of my life with a truly listening witness, I become aware of the dimensions of my story that I share in common with others, but also of the ways my own story is unique to me and defines me as an individual.

Often only the acceptance of a non-judgmental other, who helps me discern the patterns in my life, can help me gain real understanding of my own character and unique identity.

3. Therapist’s Insight & Experience

A self-help book, published for the masses, will necessarily deals in generalities, and only speaks to my life insofar as I can extract meaning from its generalizations.

But an individual therapist can take in, and respond to my individual reality, providing meaningful insight and specific interpretations of my situation and what I’m going through.

Work with an individual therapist reveals aspects of my situation where I have “blind spots”, or where I don’t understand my own reactions, or make meaningful connections.

individual therapy

4. Awareness of the Unconscious Personality

Depth psychotherapy , as defined by Eugen Bleuler, affirms the self healing nature of the psyche.

But unless a person understands how those dynamics are at work in their specific case, he or she will likely not be able to connect with and cooperate with that healing.  To do this may mean confronting the part of myself that I don’t know — what Freud, Jung, Adler and others call the unconscious.

To understand this, we generally need help to discern where the unacknowledged parts of ourselves are appearing: actions and motivations that we don’t understand; unique anxieties and obsessions; our dreams.

It’s nearly impossible to get this kind of deep insight in a way that is anything like specific enough from a book.  Such insights are key, valuable parts of the journey of individual therapy.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by arhatproblems ; Akuppa
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

 

 

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Help for Anxiety Through Depth Psychotherapy 4: Concern

February 24th, 2013 · Anxiety, depth psychotherapy, help for anxiety, Psychotherapy

Concern sounds like such a benign word, yet disproportionate concern can be a sign of needing help for anxiety.

help for anxiety

Well, Isn’t It Good to be Concerned?

Yes, of course it is !

Life is full of all sorts of things that need our concern — that’s the source of the meaning in our lives.  However, concern can get distorted into anxiety so intense that it gets in the way of our genuine living.

We have concerns because we value certain key things in our lives.  But when the concern becomes so intense that it destroys much of the value in our lives… well, …that’s a concern.

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Concern for Others

Inevitably, we’re going to be concerned for people in our lives whom we love — children and lovers, for example.  But that concern can escalate to a level where we definitely need help for anxiety.

In such cases,  the line may get crossed between our genuine caring for the security of the other, and other factors such as:

  • unconscious desire for power or control,
  • out of control guilt feelings,
  • unconscious identification with the other, and desires to live our unlived lives through them; or,
  • radical insecurity, and fear of the future.

Any of these, and many other factors, can masquerade as caring, and can get blurred and mixed in with genuine feelings of love.  Concern can get so extreme that it colours everything in my life — and becomes obsession.

help for anxiety

Obsession Colours Everything

We can defend ourselves from our own mixed feelings by wearing the mask of obsessive care — “I just love and care for her/him/it so much!”  Such “love’ can actually push away unconscious feelings about ourselves and our lives that we’d rather not have.

Overwhelming Concern

Where our concern becomes overwhelming, or disproportionate, or it completely violates tour personal boundaries, we need to examine, not only the impact of this concern upon our lives, but also its deepest roots.  In this way, our search for help for anxiety may take us into issues of depth that might not have been at all apparent initially.

This clip from WGN-TV in Chicago masterfully opens up one form of such overwhelming concern: the “helicopter parent” phenomenon:


In this clip, Linda, the mother,  does have very genuine and deep love for her son, Anthony.  However, her feelings of guilt and regret have built up her concern for him to such an extent that she cannot say “No”.  This must surely be debilitating both in her own life, and in its impact on her son.

What’s the Real Concern?

When our concern gets in the way of our freedom, our autonomy and our capacity to fully live our lives, we may very well require help for anxiety.  To free our concern from underlying entanglement with unconscious issues and conflicts can be a key part of our process of individuation, and a key part of work in depth psychotherapy.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by [ Roberto Bouza ] ; victoriapeckham   VIDEO: “Helicopter Parents” © 2010 WGN-TV Chicago
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Can Midlife Transition Bring Renewal? 1: Out of Decay

February 19th, 2013 · midlife, midlife transition, transition

Midlife Transition is a key part of our life journey, but can it bring renewal?

midlife transition

In midlife, often the values and activities that have been meaningful for us to that point, start to die or change.  Could good or life-giving things ultimately come from this transformation?

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Fruitful Exhaustion

We embark upon adulthood embracing key values and fundamental attitudes which carry us up to the second half of life.  They may be around education, occupation, relationship, family… all the things that carry meaning in the first half of life.

But, in midlife transition, those values and attitudes may not carry the same meaning for us.  A career that was once energizing may now feel gray, empty and valueless.  A relationship with a partner or significant other, once full of promise and life, may now be something that we only endure.  Things once full of life, and joy [e.g., “the gang”, “playing hockey”, “working on home improvements”], may lose their magic at midlife.  We may feel plunged us into confusion and disorientation.

day-of-the-dead-mexico-city

When the Past is Dying

When in this kind of midlife experience, it’s easy to feel that “this funny state I’m in” is the culprit, and is responsible for my despondancy.  We can end up trying to eliminate our “messed up state of mind”, and attempting to return to the past.  But we may find that’s impossible.  Often those in midlife transition find themselves trying harder and harder to get back the sense of vitality from things that used to have value or meaning, but do so no longer.  This can bring the individual considerable anxiety and/or depression.

Emergence of the Unfamiliar

Often, the only way forward is to fully understand what is actually emerging from the unconscious at midlife.  It may very well be that shadow aspects of the personality long submerged in the unconscious are now demanding to be acknowledged.  At this stage in life, we may well surprise ourselves!

midlife transition

The Green Man, Symbol of Renewal, Crowcombe, Somerset, 1535

Psychologist Mary Ann Mattoon  notes that the the non-dominant attitude emerges from midlife on.  The person who has been a strong extrovert may find  that the need to turn inward becomes more apparent.  The introvert may experience a strong desire to connect more with others.

Similarly, the complementary functions may start to emerge.  The person whose life has been dominated by rationality may suddenly find that emotion and feeling are coming into her life with surprising force.  The person strongly in touch with feeling may suddenly feel the need for a more rational framework  in his life.

Jung referred to this as the “reversal of values”: values, attitudes, and commitments that once served us no longer do so.  New values are needed.

Renewal Out of Decay

Midlife transition approached with the right attitude contains vitality, even if its onset seems only like collapse and loss.  As a depth psychotherapist, I work with individuals to uncover the seeds of renewal within their own unique experience of midlife transition.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by Bogdan Migulski ; Jacqueline Ross  

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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life, 3: Money

February 9th, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist, psychotherapist

Money in all its aspects is highly significant in suburban life, as any Jungian psychotherapist well knows.

Jungian psychotherapist

This isn’t surprising: money has immense psychological importance, overall.

What do I mean by that?

Money as Energy

Psychologically and symbolically speaking, a Jungian psychotherapist thinks of money as representing a form of stored energy.  The money we earn effectively results from the expenditure of our life’s energy.

As a result, money is fundamentally tied up with our hopes and dreams, for ourselves, and just as importantly, for those whom we love.  It is also powerfully associated with our fears and insecurities.   Let’s make no mistake: financial crises, recessions or other situations of financial threat, personal or collective, are powerful emotional events.

These psychological facts take on a particular nuance or flavour in suburban settings.  In suburbia, success and affluence are highly prized, and deeply tied up with personal identity.

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Money Complex and Social Self

Basically, everyone has a money complex.  Money issues can leave us in the grips of many different strong emotional states, but money “gets” to almost all of us, one way or another, whether as extreme competitiveness or extreme worry, or other emotional states.

jungian psychotherapist

The world’s great financial organizations and institutions gives us the impression that money is one of the most rational — even mathematical — of things in human life.  Actually, money is one of the most emotional things on earth.  Again, this emotionality is often heightened in suburbia, where outward trappings of affluence and success are a highly prized part of our social masks.  The social collective stresses the need to be, and to be seen to be successful– in order to have any worth.

Songwriter Aimee Mann explores the complexity around “looking successful” and money in her insightful song, “Freeway” — “You’ve got a lot of money / But you cannot keep your bills paid.”

Suburban Life: A Troubled Marriage with Money

As a Jungian psychotherapist, a key area of investigation, and a key issue for people who see me in my practice, is the particular relationship between suburban life and money.  It’s a potent, potent mixture!

The constant message of suburbia?  Successful people live here.  In fact, that’s why many chose to live in the more affluent suburbs.    Certainly, “success” in this sense means financial success: having a lot of money.  The not-so-subtle message in our society, which screams from every brick in suburbia, is that self-worth is directly connected to worth in dollars.

Upscale suburb living symbolizes success.  And, very clearly, those living here need to appear successful.  This can be an extremely trying pressure in economically uncertain times.

Self Worth and Money?

Human beings are worth infinitely more than their assets.  There’s irreplaceable value in our individual uniqueness.  Our culture doesn’t always affirm this.  We need to live in the conscious awareness of our own uniqueness, and our own unique journey.  A Jungian psychotherapist focuses on grounding people in their unique identity and worth.

PHOTO:  Attribution Some rights reserved bee wolf ray ; francisco.j.gonzalez  VIDEO: “Freeway” © 2008 SuperEgo Records, Aimee Mann  BebingtonGirl
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life, 2: Image

January 26th, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist, psychotherapist

Put a Jungian psychotherapist in suburbia and he or she soon realizes that an important part of suburban life is the process of dealing with expectations around image.

Jungian psychotherapist

People’s presentation of themselves to each other is key in suburban life.  And how we relate to our presentation to the world, to what Jung called the persona, can determine the whole course of a life.

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The Inevitability of Persona

We have to face it: we’re going to have a social mask.  People can’t appear unfiltered and emotionally raw to the world — it would be intolerable.

So, we all develop ways of protecting ourselves — and others — in our various social environments.  The way we do that is through our persona, which is a combination of what we show to others, and what we conceal.  For the Jungian psychotherapist, this is an inevitable activity, with identifiable common characteristics in the suburban persona across North America:

 

 Suburban Social Compromise

Persona is the sum total of all the compromises we make between the outer social reality and inner psychological reality.  All the social compromises we make in suburban living can amount to a lifestyle — and to a specific persona, a suburban way of presenting ourselves to the outer world.

In today’s suburbia, it’s not uncommon to have limited contact with others, but that doesn’t mean that we are not strongly influenced by their opinions and expectations.

Often there is considerable pressure to avoid patterns of behaviour considered “eccentric”, and sometimes strong fear and suspicion of behaviour that departs from the suburban pattern.  For instance, there can be considerable pressure to look prosperous and successful / “healthy” — and to give the impression of being “one of us”, and fitting in.

jungian psychotherapist

 

Don’t Mistake the Mask for Your Face

Suburban patterns of persona sometimes work better for people in the first half of adult life than they do in the second.

In the second half of life, what is more individual becomes more important.  By this time people can be so confined by social role that they risk never getting to a position to express their true selves.  Social masks can prevent us from expressing our real identity, confining us to rigid patterns of thought and reaction that we can never get past.

Suburbia and the Dance of Persona

jungian psychotherapist

For the Jungian psychotherapist, the key thing about image in suburbia is that individuals need to not be possessed by the social self, but to have the freedom to live from their authentic reality.  There is a dance of individuation and masks that is involved in suburban life, and in the issue of our persona in suburban living.

How to live authentically in suburbia?  Only by stepping away from the mask of suburban persona enough to gain some freedom.  A key part of the work of the Jungian psychotherapist, in suburbia or elsewhere, is to help individuals to find the authentic life within that brings freedom from the mask.

 

PHOTO:  © Yod Miansa-ard | Dreamstime.com ; Attribution Some rights reserved GanMed6  VIDEO:  SElighter “Rockin the Suburbs” © Ben Folds
Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Uneasy: Help for Anxiety Through Depth Psychotherapy

January 20th, 2013 · Anxiety, depth psychotherapy, help for anxiety, Psychotherapy

When it comes to help for anxiety, depth psychotherapy can change our understanding and enable healing in depth.

help for anxiety

 Telling Someone to “Just Relax” Doesn’t Work

People with hypertension or other stress-related medical conditions often get told by medical personnel to “just relax”.  That’s much harder to do than it sounds.  While such advice is intended as help for anxiety, very often inf severely anxious or driven people it creates increased anxiety — “getting anxious about being anxious”.  Or else, people rage, either: 1) at themselves, because “I can’t even do a simple thing like relaxing”, or, 2) at external circumstances.

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Everyone Wants to Eliminate Anxiety; No One Wants to Understand It

As Dr. Cara Barker, the author of the “World Weary Woman” study reminds us, in medical literature on driven and/or perfectionist personalities,

“…the emphasis is on symptoms as negative, something to be eradicated.  Anger and anxiety are viewed as toxic, rather than in terms of what they might be trying to communicate.”

Here’s where depth psychotherapy provides unique help for anxiety.  It stays with the key question, “What might anxiety be trying to communicate about my life?”

Jungian Analyst Marion Woodman on “Healing as Making Whole”

Anxious Dreams

Anxiety will often manifest itself in dreams.  In fact, it’s often the anxious dreams that we remember, because they are the ones that wake us up, as Dr. Donald Broadribb reminds us.

Depth psychotherapy can often use dreams as important help for anxiety, because dreams often point to the root situation in the life of the individual that is creating the anxiety.   For instance, if an individual is dealing with a recurring dream that he or she has had since childhood, this may often indicate that the particular anxiety that the person is experiencing now is connected in some substantial way with anxieties or issues that have been present in a person’s life for an extremely long time, and that need to be explored.

The importance of dreams as a help for anxiety can be that they take us into the deeper meaning of the anxiety, and past the place of simply viewing it as a symptom.  Nonetheless, there are many other possible approaches to the meaning of anxiety.

The Meaning of Anxiety Symptom

In our culture, people are socialized to deal with difficulties by applying more and more effort to them.  Often latent, unexpressed perfectionism keeps us pushing harder and harder to solve the problems in our lives, and that keeps increasing anxiety levels.  Often, this is rooted in a deep-seated feeling that we are simply not good enough.  We are often not inclined to look inside ourselves until we encounter anxiety and pain so intense that we can’t use our ordinary strategies to defend against it.  Then we’re forced to realize that effort of will is not going to solve our problems; we really need to get in touch with what’s going on in our heart.  At that point, depth psychotherapy provides the most effective form of help for anxiety.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by danisabella  Video: © Marion Woodman ; inspirationandspirit

 

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Winter of Our Discontent: Winter & Burnout Treatment 1

January 13th, 2013 · burnout, burnout treatment

What we call “winter blahs” may be a seasonal reflection of burnout, and the need for burnout treatment.

burnout treatment

January and February are months when many are aware of experiences similar to burnout.  Often people can become fully aware of burnout-like symptoms that have been semi-conscious for a long time.

Burnout often relates to work, but can be much broader, often representing a whole disengaged and discouraged stance in life.

Emotional Exhaustion

Post holidays, it’s common enough for people to experience a sense of emotional exhaustion.  Leading burnout expert Dr. Christina Maslach defines this as physical and emotional depletion  resulting from excessive job and/or personal demands and continuous work related stress.

The intensity of the holiday lead up causes many to feel that they are depleted.  Personal and work demands can be just too much.

Often people anticipate the Christmas period with great enthusiasm as a respite from extremely demanding routines.  If for whatever reason the Christmas season isn’t able to fulfil those expectations, we may experience exhaustion and depletion.  Many find themselves lacking the necessary energy to engage the challenges of everyday living that return to confront us in January.

Reduced Sense of Personal Fulfillment

Often people experiencing burnout find that things which we hoped would be fulfilling, or that were fulfilling at a previous point in life, are not now.

They are either not able to reach things that would bring a sense of personal satisfaction, or else we have gotten to the point where those things seem like they just don’t matter

Feelings like these are a very common experience in the midlife transition , and, often throughout the second half of life, but can certainly occur at other points in life, too, and they point to the need for burnout treatment.

Struggling to Deal with My Life

Demands and commitments all come rushing back after the New Year.  I may find that I don’t have the energy or vitality to cope with everything on my plate.  It may be that everything just seems too overwhelming, or that I can’t find the motivation to take on all that lies in front of me  in the long march toward spring.  My struggles may stem from a deep level of emotional exhaustion, or from the awareness that my way of life or the values that I have lived for to this point are not serving me nearly as well now as they once did.

I’m not generally a fan of country music, but this song by Alabama is very eloquent:

“All I really gotta do is live and die” — and that’s the real art

How Can I Re-Engage?

If need burnout treatment, the first step in the process is to genuinely take self-care seriously, and to show myself genuine compassion.  It may well be that my burnout is telling me something essential about the fundamental attitudes in my life.  Burnout treatment in depth may entail a process of encounter with the undiscovered aspects of the self, and a discovery of the symbols and values that really matter to me at the present stage in my life.  This is the fundamental work of the depth psychotherapist.

PHOTO: © Astrid228 | Dreamstime.com  VIDEO: “I’m In A Hurry” © The Alabama Band and BMG Music, 1992

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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life 1: Insights

January 6th, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist, psychotherapist

What would a Jungian psychotherapist say, specifically, about the meaning of suburban life?

Jungian psychotherapy

Well, having both practiced as a Jungian psychotherapist in suburban or “edge” cities and having extensively studied suburbias, it’s clear that individuals face particular challenges in living in this kind of environment, while remaining true to themselves.

Whatever else is true, the suburban places of my life, like Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington, have a unique character from the perspective of a Jungian psychotherapist.

That Funny Word “Suburban”…

A suburb, simply put, is a residential area that is neither fully urban, nor is it rural.  Often, the people who live in suburbia are people who hope to live closer to nature, or at least, with more space, than is possible in an urban setting.  Often, this kind of space appeals to people with families.

Living in the Suburbs Has Unique Pressures

From the perspective of a Jungian psychotherapist it’s clear that there are unique pressures on suburban dwellers.  Some of these are very tangible.

For instance, suburban dwellers often have a commute to somewhere in their metro area that substantially eats into their day.  Related to this is the fact that suburban folks pretty much need a car to do everything in their lives, and have to travel some pretty large distances to do the basics.  In most suburban communities you can’t get the goods and services you need via walking or transit.  So there can easily be a sense of disconnect from the physical environment, and from others living in the community.

A Jungian psychotherapist also knows that suburban community has two mirror opposite aspects: it can be both not enough and too much.  In the midst of suburban communities, people can feel incredibly alone.  Simultaneously, people can encounter immense pressure to meet collective expectations.  around lifestyle, levels of consumption. and being “like others” in the neighbourhood.  People can feel strong social pressure and feel extremely disconnected simultaneously.

The social pressure to be “like others” may result in huge financial pressure.

Being Yourself in the Suburbs is a Particular Challenge

At a certain point in life, often around the midlife transition, the challenge of living in a way that is uniquely one’s own takes on a level of urgency.

Jungian psychotherapist

Often, a way of life that once met certain key needs starts to feel like just “going through the motions”.  The need to find a way of living that is uniquely, authentically my own, may come from a pressing imperative — what a Jungian psychotherapist calls individuation.

Creative Individuation in the Suburbs

It can take a significant re-orientation to find a creative and meaningful life in the midst of a suburban lifestyle.  One must overcome the relentless pressure of advertising and marketing, which continually portrays commodity consumption as individual and creative, when it is often at heart abjectly conformist.  It can be an extensive process to get free of this and to get down to the discovery of what is uniquely me.  This is an essential aspect of the work of the Jungian psychotherapist in suburbia.

Attribution Some rights reserved Brett VA , halseike

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Individual Psychotherapy & Holiday Stress: Gifts

December 17th, 2012 · holiday stress, individual, individual psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

This is the season of holiday gifts, and, as individual psychotherapy well knows, gift-giving is often a major source of holiday stress.

individual psychotherapy

Does gift-giving create holiday stress for you?  Well if so, you’re in good company.  Anthropology tells us that gift-giving is a near-universal practice through the history of human cultures.

Gifts are Intensely Personal

Gift-giving — and especially gift exchanges — are immensely significant.  In cultures like the ancient Polynesian or the Haida First Nation, with its potlatch ceremonies, gift giving is tied up with maintaining and strengthening social bonds, maintaining social status — and it even has huge spiritual implications.

So this year, when you’re trying to decide what to get Uncle Fred, don’t be surprised to feel emotional complications and perhaps holiday stress surrounding the giving of gifts.  The anthropologist Marcel Mauss defines a gift as

“an object that contains spiritual elements and engages the honour of both giver and receiver.”
Haida Gwaii – Potlatch for New Chief Nang Jingwas

As individual psychotherapy shows, gift-giving is both personal and archetypal.  Among the Polynesians, or Haida, or even when considering the origin of Christmas gifts, the objects being exchanged don’t just have a monetary or physical value, but embody
a spiritual reality.  As Mauss says of Maori gift giving,”one clearly and logically realizes that one must give back to another person what is really part and parcel of his nature and substance, because to accept a gift from somebody is to accept some part of his spiritual essence, of his soul“.

Gifts are Archetypal

Gifts may seem like pretty mundane things, but they actually carry a significance so deep that it can properly be called archetypal.  Often in human culture, there is a higher spiritual agenda in gift-giving, and a deep feeling that the gift must be appropriate to the essence of the receiver, to who they really are.  The gift is an honouring and acknowledgement of who the receiver of the gift is, in their individual reality.

Our Gift Compulsion

The experience of individual psychotherapy shows that our culture is confused and conflicted about the meaning of gifts, in no small part because we are conflicted about the meaning of individual human existence.  In a culture in spiritual crisis, the meaning of human life is the acquisition of ever more expensive and splendid “stuff”, and not surprisingly, the meaning of gift-giving degenerates into ever-increasing pressure towards continually “bigger and better” gifts.

Our Need for Gift

The gifts that we and others need are not the most expensive or most luxurious, but the gifts that honour our true nature and substance.  To give such gifts, the giver must see who we really are.  Such a gift would bring us back to our souls, to self acceptance, and would connect us in profound ways with the giver.

What is the gift that you need, at this holiday season?  And, just as importantly, what gift do you need to give?  In its own way, individual psychotherapy at its best is profoundly concerned with these questions.

Attribution   Some rights reserved Cali4beach ; VIDEO: Colin Richardson, Elan Michel, High Tech Totem

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