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How Do I Deal with Imposter Syndrome? A Jungian View

March 21st, 2022 · deal with imposter syndrome

How do I deal with imposter syndrome? This is a vital question for many people who outwardly seem to be very accomplished and capable.

Fake It and Hope to Make It? …How Do I Deal with Imposter Syndrome?
(PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

“Imposter syndrome” refers to the psychological state in which  people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. It’s not an officially recognized psychological disorder, but the term “imposter syndrome” has been around since clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes published their paper on “The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women” in 1978. Their initial work was on the imposter syndrome in high achieving women, but over time, it came to be realized that people of all kinds were subject to, and forced to deal with imposter syndrome.

When people are subject to imposter syndrome, they doubt their own accomplishments and they have a deep fear of being exposed as a fraud. People who are dealing with this issue may have ample evidence that they are successful and capable, and yet, they often fear that others will see “that I’m not really the person I pretend to be”.

If you’re subject to “imposter syndrome”, the anxiety and fear can be excruciating, and the effort to hide what are experienced as “failures and inadequacies” can be exhausting. So, how do I deal with imposter syndrome? How can I feel good about who I really am?

The Inner Narrative of Imposter Syndrome

In order to deal with imposter syndrome, we first have to become conscious of the inner story that it generates in us. Imposter syndrome produces anxiety-laden narratives that undercut our accomplishments.

If we land a good job, imposter syndrome tells us that we either put one over on the interviewers, or that they were short on good candidates, and “desperate, and so they had to pick me”. A common feature of imposter narrative is the feeling that our inadequacies and general ineptitude are just about to be exposed. The senior executive riding the elevator up to her office finds the inner voice telling her that “today will be the day”. This means that the day when her professional weaknesses and general lack of skills get exposed has finally arrived. The professional who has demonstrated great skill in doing one professional activity is bombarded with a sense of foreboding and failure if he has to do something slightly different from the familiar. “Now everyone will see who you really are”, the inner voice tells him.

What makes it essential to deal with imposter syndrome is the way it can stop us from seeking new opportunities, exploring new areas of our lives, and putting our energy out into the world.

In Jungian terms, the imposter syndrome is a powerful affect-laden complex. It is sensitive to, and triggered by. situations where we might be capable and confident in our own abilities. It seems to want us to not trust ourselves. Why?

Avoidance is Not the Way to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Avoiding looking at our imposter syndrome, and avoiding the feelings that go with it, is not going to help us to get out from under its self-sabotaging energy. Research shows that people with imposter syndrome tend to greatly doubt their abilities and to have a deep fear of failure. They often have a perception of phoniness about themselves that others often don’t experience. They often perceive others as having very high expectations of them, and that can often align with their own sense of perfectionism. They also tend to be people who have a strong need to achieve something of significance, and have a very strong need to be liked.

If we can stand to look at our imposter syndrome, we can see that it is often rooted in shame that originates very early in life. We may have experienced deep toxic shame at an early point in life’s journey, and now something in us is defending us from ever experiencing that again. As a defence against shame, it keeps us in a place of self-doubt and disengagement from life’s challenges. If this is the dynamic, we need to confront our need for healing.

Persona and Imposter Syndrome

From a Jungian perspective, imposter syndrome is rooted in the persona, that part of ourselves that we show to others and the social world. This social aspect or mask is something we can easily over-identify with, and mistake for being who we really are. Yet we’re actually much more than that.

We can deal with imposter syndrome by working on affirming our strengths and abilities. That may be very worthwhile. Yet a more lasting, deeper healing may come from the place of deep acceptance, when we are finally ready to experience, to be kind to, and to love the whole of who we are.

Working in a stable, trusting relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be one of the best ways to reach this deep acceptance and cherishing of who we are, both conscious and unconscious. To have respect and love for our own personal way through our life, and to feel that we are living that life out, is ultimately the best way to deal with imposter syndrome.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Dealing with Family Conflict and Family Rupture

March 7th, 2022 · dealing with family conflict

The reality is that many more people than you might think are dealing with family conflict. If family conflict is a reality you’re facing in your life, you are far from unique.

Family Conflict Can Take Many Different Forms (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

What does it mean for our personal journey when we’re dealing with family conflict? The answer to that question can vary immensely. It depends on the type of conflict involved, the personalities of the individuals in conflict, and the nature of the family system. One thing that we know for certain is that individuals often deny or downplay the impact that conflict with family members has on their lives.

There are aspects of family conflict that properly belong in the realm of couples’ therapists or family therapists. Yet there is also real importance in looking closely at the impact on the individual who finds her- or himself dealing with family conflict. What is the impact on us personally and individually of dealing with conflict within our families? How does it affect the individual psyche? Is it part of a major life transition? What gets stirred up in the unconscious?

Clearly, family conflict is a matter of importance at all times and seasons. However, the pandemic has brought home the reality of dealing with family conflict in a way that is unprecedented. Long bouts of lockdown have led to tensions in families. Many have had the experience of deep rifts in families resulting from differing attitudes and values around COVID.

It is now clear to me that the family is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the family: issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world.

~ Virginia Satir

The greatest tragedy of the family is the unlived lives of the parents.

~ C.G. Jung

When We’re Dealing with Family Conflict

Needless to say, dealing with family conflict can have a huge psychological effect on people. We expect that conflict will have an enormous effect on the emotional security of children. However, what may be less apparent is the impact on the sense of security and well-being of adults. Certainly, conflicts between parents and children, between spouses, between siblings of any age, and all other forms of family conflict impact us in profound ways.

So, here are some of the most common examples of family conflict:

  • Issues over finances and jobs;
  • Issues related to in-laws;
  • Issues related to marital fidelity;
  • Conflict over family events;
  • Sibling conflict over care of an elderly parent;
  • Divorced parents in conflict over care of a child; and,
  • Conflicting political or social values within a family or extended family

These are only some of a large number of possible sources of conflict.

The Unconscious Aspects of Dealing with Family Conflict

When it comes to family conflict, we may be dealing with an “iceberg” situation. We may be consciously aware of feelings, attitudes and emotional responses engendered by conflict. Yet there may be a great deal of unacknowledged and/or unconscious material below the surface in the unconscious. It may be essential to try and make this material conscious, and to come to terms with as much of it as we can.

For instance, we may be carrying long-held unconscious resentments. Or, there may be repressed parts of ourselves that we could never bring forward into the family. Then again, there may be parts of our shadow bearing emotions or attitudes that are not even acceptable to ourselves, let alone to the family. These various factors may be linked to experiences of depression and anxiety. If we are to find any kind of healing or any sense of integrity around family conflict, we may need to explore such psychic contents.

Journeying Towards Wholeness and Healing

When an individual is cast into the depths of family conflict, it can be profoundly disorienting. It may be essential to seek healing and to discover ways to make meaning of what has occurred. As I write this, I’m thinking of clients who have experienced conflict with spouses and parents over the last two years. In many cases, this has been extremely painful, and has left individuals feeling that they have lost their bearings. As a result, they have a strong sense of wanting to recover their compass.

When dealing with family conflict, it can be of tremendous benefit to rely on the support of a relationship with a Jungian psychoanalyst or depth psychotherapist, who can help in processing all the aspects of the conflict.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Facing Disillusionment with Life, and Finding a Way Through

February 28th, 2022 · disillusionment with life

At this point in our collective journey, disillusionment with life has almost become a pandemic of its own. A great many people in our time are having to deal with disillusionment, in one of its many forms.

disillusionment with life
In our time, disillusionment cuts deep for many people (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

For a good number of people, the experience of the pandemic has led to a sense of disillusionment with life. However, prior to the pandemic, many modern people were having their own particular disillusioning experiences. There are a good many factors in modern life that can weigh heavily on our sense of optimism and our trust in others.

Yet, what do we actually mean when we refer to disillusionment? Essentially, disillusionment is the feeling state that arises from the discovery that something—of importance—is not what it was anticipated to be. Often, there can be a traumatic element to disillusionment. This is because it can involve discovering that a belief or perception central to our sense of identity, or to our sense of basic trust in life, is no longer true. Or, possibly, that it never was true.

During the pandemic many people have experienced deep disillusionment in connection with work, career or profession. Others have uncovered a profound sense of disillusionment with life in the context of close relationships and family.

What Seemed to be True, Isn’t

We can see a very clear example of disillusionment if we look at the experience of many people in the education or health care professions over the course of the pandemic. People who enter these fields usually have high professional standards and a very strong ethic of care for the people for whom they provide services. However, many who work in these fields have found themselves subject to extraordinary demands throughout our COVID-19 experience.

During this period, many in these professions have found themselves dealing with extreme situations. They have been expected to meet very high professional standards, in which they themselves deeply believe. Yet they found themselves lacking the capacity to meet those standards. For a variety of reasons, the institutions for which they worked either could not, or would not, provide them with the means to fulfill their professional obligations in a way that aligns with their personal values. Sometimes this had to do with demands imposed by new technology, or with situations of being hopelessly short-staffed, or with conflicts between highly important obligations.

The nursing profession even has a term for this type of experience. Dr. Marian Altman of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses refers to “moral distress”. Both educators and nurses have been strongly affected by having to work in environments where they are:

  • performing care or activities perceived as futile;
  • carrying out unnecessary or unneeded treatments or activities;
  • witnessing needless suffering or distress;
  • coping with inadequate staffing; or
  • experiencing poor, inadequate or misleading communication.

Life Experience and Disillusionment

While the pandemic has made these issues particularly apparent for those in education or healthcare, the experience of disillusionment is shared by people from all walks of life. CBC As It Happens host Carol Off is stepping back from her role, and recently spoke of an acceptance of “mediocrity”, or an “It’s all we can do” mentality in fields like business and journalism.

Similarly, through the pandemic, many people have discovered that relationships that seemed secure and reliable, with friends, or within families, are more fragile. I have heard numerous clients describe family conflict due to different perspectives on COVID-19, and many authorities attest to this. Sometimes this conflict can be so intense that key relationships, such as between spouses, or parents and children, come under great tension, or break down.

It’s a common experience in life to discover that organizations or institutions don’t live up to the values that they proclaim. It’s an equally common experience to find that relationships that are supposedly trustworthy, secure and supportive don’t prove to be reliable, perhaps when we most need them. This is especially true during major life transitions.

Getting Past Illusion and Finding Something Real

To experience disillusionment with life is often to experience a loss of some or all of the sense of meaning in life. There is a strange blessing in disillusionment. Where once we held onto an illusion, now we no longer do, and we know the truth. This truth may be very painful, but at least we are no longer clinging to manifest falsehood.

In saying this, I certainly am not meaning to minimize or dismiss the pain that accompanies disillusionment with life, What can we possibly to to help ourselves deal with that? Is there anything good that could possibly come from disillusionment?

C.G. Jung gives us this surprising quote:

A life of ease and security has convinced everyone of all the material joys…but it has never produced spirit. Probably only suffering, disillusion and self-denial do that [italics mine].

C.G. Jung, CW 18

Initially, this seems somewhat shocking. Disillusionment is such a harsh experience. How could it possibly produce spirit?

Disillusionment can easily lead to feelings of sadness, fear or even anger. If we find ourselves experiencing these feelings, we might sit in them and become paralyzed, and immobilized by feelings of anxiety and depression. But Jung seems to suggest another possibility. This is that we might somehow face our intense feelings around disillusionment and acknowledge them, including mourning the loss we have experienced in the death of our illusions, and then somehow work with that raw material in such a way that it becomes spirit.

Small Steps Beyond Disillusionment with Life

This might entail a number of seemingly small steps. It would include acknowledging the full range of feelings that accompany our disillusionment with life. This actually might not be small at all. It might then be important to see if there is any way that I can turn my anger, sadness and disappointment into some kind of meaningful action. Disillusionment might lead me to feel that I lack power. Yet, is there any way I can use the power I do have to affect something, to bring change to something, to make something happen?

Similarly, is there any way that I can use this time to make connection? This might take a number of different forms. Can I make connection with others who share my values, and perhaps work towards a common cause or just share my friendship or experience with them? Are there any possibilities for reaching out in a way that helps others? Finally, is there some way of connecting to God, the universe or the Ground of being, however you might conceive of it, and honouring that reality?

In many cases, people find it valuable to find support through an affirming relationship with a depth psychotherapist when dealing with issues involving disillusionment.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Keeping Up Appearances: What DO We Do with Our Persona?

February 14th, 2022 · keeping up appearances, keeping up appearances

“Keeping up appearances” is a necessary part of life; we all do it. As a social species, humans have to manage the way that they appear to each other.

One way of keeping up appearances: a sharp blue suit! (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Jungians have a name for that aspect of ourselves that each individual shows to the outer world. We call it the persona. It includes many things, from the way we dress to our speech, mannerisms and attitudes.

Jung pointed out long ago that we need the persona, (the Latin word for “mask”). It’s a way of keeping ourselves safe, feeling secure and getting along with others in a social world. It’s fairly closely related to the social psychology concept of “social self”. As neuroscience researcher Sapien Labs puts it:

Social self refers to how we perceive ourselves in relation to others. It involves relationship building, empathizing, and communicating.

The persona is always helping us to swim in the ocean of social interaction. And that’s a good thing, right?

Persona is a Good Thing, but…

The persona is always trying to mediate between our inner private world and the outer social world. It tends to do this by comparing us with others. Often it’s concerned to ensure our membership in social groups that have what it interprets to be “high status” or “the right characteristics”.

As social psychology research establishes again and again, the social self tends to divide the world into “inners” and “outers”. For better or worse, we tend to compare ourselves to others, in terms of the groups to which we belong. We have an unconscious tendency to see the groups that we belong to as somehow “better” than the other groups. And we tend to see ourselves as “of the better sort” because we belong to this or that group. To chose a fairly mundane example, say someone is a Montreal Canadiens fan. He or she will tend to view “Hab fans” as just more savvy when it comes to hockey, and her- or himself as sharing in that coolness (sorry, Leaf Fans!).

But what happens when the less acceptable parts of ourselves emerge? Enter the Shadow…

Unfavourable Comparisons

As discussed in previous posts, Jung very succinctly defined the shadow as being “that which we do not wish to be”. We tend to become aware of our shadow as the parts of ourselves represented by “repressed desires and uncivilized impulses, morally inferior motives… all those things about oneself one is not proud of”, in the words of Jungian Daryl Sharp. When we do become aware of these things, we often run into persona problems.

It may be that we’ve seen ourselves and presented ourselves to the world in a certain way. Moreover, the way that we present ourselves may indicate strongly the kind of person we see ourselves as being, the kind of groups we belong to, and the kinds of people who are “like us”. So, what happens when we see ourselves in a different light?

Consider the individual who is entirely identified with the work that they do. Let’s say that this person is so consumed with work that he or she might be described as a “workaholic”. Yet, that individual may be in a workplace and / or a profession where working extremely long hours is the norm—or is even a badge of honour. That person may be completely identified with their role of working long, grueling hours. Even if the hours and pace of the work are destructive of the individual’s health, the group may identify this work pattern as being “tough” and a “team player”.

So, what if, for whatever reason, an awareness begins to surface in the individual that they actually don’t want to work this hard? Or that this brutal work pace is actually wrecking their health? Or that they would rather be doing something else? This new awareness is likely to be dismissed by the individual. “I don’t really feel that way; I’m just being a wimp.” she or he may say. He or she may even feel ashamed, or like a failure, relative to peers and colleagues. There may be a great deal of anxiety. It may be easy to turn away.

Yet, what if that impulse comes from who the person really is? What if it’s the voice of the authentic self?

When Who We Really Are Shows Up

Such an awareness may be contrary to the voice of the peer group. It may even be contrary to the persona, to the story we have told ourselves and others about who we really are. Yet, often enough, it may be the voice of our real identity breaking into our lives. And it may be that “keeping up appearances”, the way we present ourselves to the outer world, will have to change.

The journey to our real identity often includes getting beyond over-identification with a certain specific persona. Equally as much, it often involves finding a new persona, or way to be in the social world. This process of finding a new persona that fits with the parts of ourselves that are emerging is often part of major life transitions.

It can be of tremendous value to work with an insightful and supportive depth psychotherapist, as we work through this process of adjusting our persona to fit our emerging self.

I wish you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Creative in Life: Finding the Wellspring Within Ourselves

January 31st, 2022 · creative in life

How do we find and stay with that which is creative in life? Many times, it seems so easy for life to get submerged in routine and rote procedure. This can be true at any age, but people often feel it particularly acutely around the time of midlife transition, or later, at the time of late life transition.

Through Creative Writing, For Instance! (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

There’s a deep natural desire to express who we fundamentally are, in some way, shape or form. That desire to be creative in life is, as Jungians say, archetypal. Human beings inherently are creators.

In an earlier post, I discussed psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden’s insight that

To be alive (in more than an operational sense) is to be forever in the process of making things of one’s own

This is true, or, at least, it has the potential to be true. Every single act that we do has at least the potential to be creative, and this includes the most mundane and seemingly routine of activities—if they are infused with a conscious and creative awareness. This is what Ogden seems to mean when he references the idea of “making things of one’s own”.

Yet, what is it to “make things of one’s own”? You and I can probably think of times in our lives when we’ve done something creative, and there’s been a sense of beauty and meaning about it. What exactly goes on inside of us when we do something creative?

What is Creativity?

What exactly is it to be creative in life? When we’re creative, in the sense of genuinely making things of our own, there’s a sense of being fully involved and “expressing” ourselves—letting some part of ourselves go out into the world.

There is also often a sense of being fully alive. We can create in an incredible range of ways, whether it’s a watercolour painting, a poem, a beautiful garden or a visually beautiful and wonderfully flavoured meal. However we do it, there is also a sense of participating in something that is bigger or deeper than our everyday ego.

Jung calls this sense of connection “living a symbolic life”:

Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul, mind you! And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this… banal, grinding life in which they are “nothing but.” . . .

When Jung is using the word “soul” here, he is not using it in the religious sense of the word. Rather he is referring to connection with the life-giving and creative parts of ourselves deep within our unconscious.

if you doubt that there is a creative part of you in the unconscious, my strong recommendation would be to explore your dreams. Nor is it only Jungians who are aware of this. Consider these words from the rigorous and empiricist neuroscientist Dr. Matthew Walker, Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science, UC Berkeley:

From [the] dreaming process… have come some of the most revolutionary leaps forward in human progress… We also know of precious artistic gifts that have arisen from dreams. Consider Paul McCartney’s origination of the songs “Yesterday” and “Let it Be”. Both came to McCartney in his sleep…. The creative muse of dreaming has also sparked countless literary ideas and epics [including Mary Shelley]…. Then there is the French surrealist poet St. Paul Boux [who] before retiring every night… is said to have hung a sign on his bedroom door that read “DO NOT DISTURB: POET AT WORK.”.

I wonder what your dreams might be able to show you about the greater, creative part of yourself. What might want to be expressed?

If We Turn Away from Our Creative Self…

None of this is to say that dreams are the only source or wellspring of creativity in our lives. The unconscious dimension of who we are, and our connection with the broader archetypal unconscious, can appear creatively in many ways.

Yet, for all kinds of reasons, people choose to turn away from, or repress that inner creative impulse. So, what happens to us when we do that?

When we leave behind the creative in life, we’re left with just being alive “in an operational sense”, as Ogden puts it. People end up stuck in “the banal, grinding life in which they are ‘nothing but'”, as Jung phrases it. Nothing but the dull plodding part of themselves that meets the expectations of others. The socially conditioned part that ticks the boxes and pays the rent, without hope for anything of greater significance, or that has any magic.

There is no one way to express our creativity. But we need to find a creative dimension to our lives if we’re to gain a sense of meaning and value.

Our Power to be Creative in Life

There is great value in exploring the kind of creativity that wants to emerge from your own real life. There’s almost no limit on the form that might take. It could be quilting, stand-up comedy, cooking creatively, writing that novel, or creating that landscape painting. Or, any of an almost infinite list of other things that draw you or call to you, in your uniqueness. The important thing is that we start to listen to our own unique selves.

Sometimes when people are dealing with depression or anxiety it can be of great help to find a form of expression that brings out of us what’s going on inside. This might be drawing, painting, collage, working with clay—any of quite a number of things.

A supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of tremendous value when we are seeking to explore our creativity. Having the opportunity to open up the creative side of ourselves within the container of an affirming analytical relationship can be tremendously helpful and healing

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Getting Past Our Shadow Projection

January 17th, 2022 · shadow projection

Shadow projection is a term you see a lot in self help books these days. It’s been popularized by writers like Connie Zweig, who emphasize the importance of “shadow work”. It really is important for us, especially right now.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

To understand “shadow projection”, we first have to understand “shadow”. As Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp tells us, the Jungian term “shadow” refers to “hidden or unconscious aspects of oneself, both good and bad, which the ego has either repressed or never recognized”. Jung referred to the shadow more bluntly as “that which we do not wish to be.”

This part of ourselves which is unacknowledged, either because we’ve repressed it, or because we just don’t know about it, is incredibly important. We all have such a part of ourselves, no matter how “conscious” or “self aware” we might be. The fact that the conscious mind doesn’t acknowledge this dimension of ourselves doesn’t mean that this part of us has no influence upon us. As a matter of fact, the influence of “the shadow” on our lives is enormous.

The shadow can impact us in a wide range of ways. Just as an example, shadow is often very visible when someone is undergoing the midlife transition. People at this stage of life may well connect with parts of themselves that they had completely forgotten about, or which they didn’t ever know were a part of their makeup. This can be very demanding for the ego. The ensuing interaction may take us to places we had never dreamed of going: out of marriages, careers and spiritual/religious commitments, and into entirely new ones, to name but a few possibilities. I mention this solely to illustrate the power of the psychological forces connected with shadow.

Keeping this awareness in mind, I’d like to consider the nature and power of shadow projection. Projection, according to Sharp is:

An automatic process whereby contents of one’s own unconscious are perceived to be in others.

Jungian Andrew Samuels elaborates on this:

Difficult emotions and unacceptable parts of the personality may be located in a person or object external to the subject. The problematic content is thereby controlled and the individual feels a (temporary) release and sense of well being. (Samuels et al, Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis)

So, shadow projection is when we unconsciously take the contents of our own shadow, and perceive them as belonging to another person or group of people. We take muck out of our own backyard, as it were, fling it onto someone else’s face, and are convinced that’s the way they actually look!

Mud, flung onto a wall! (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Dangers of Shadow Projection

As may be readily apparent, shadow projection is a very dangerous thing to do to others. It is also an extremely dangerous thing to do to yourself.

When we project our shadow on others, we see our own characteristics as being part of the other person. Let’s say we have two people who work in the same office. One [“the projector”] projects on the other [“the projectee”] that that person is lazy and unmotivated. This may be because “the projectee” has some other unrelated quality, such as a vague resemblance to someone “the projector” knew in the past—or a strange and unfamiliar-sounding last name. In that situation “the projectee” will particularly lose out, because they may well not have this characteristic at all. If “the projector” is a close working colleague, or worse, a supervisor, this may be quite damaging.

However, let’s not lose sight of the damage “the projector” does to themselves with this projection. The projection of laziness or lack of motivation onto another person, serves to make “the projector” less anxious about something in their own psyche. For instance, this individual may have a very strong investment in seeing themselves as a “good employee” who always meets the expectations and escalating demands of their employer. Yet they may be ignoring or repressing a part of themselves that actually deeply resents the demands of the employer, finds them excessive and wants to push back and assert boundaries.

This feeling may well be an essential and important part of “the projector” to which they need to listen. By projecting it, they get rid of some anxiety, it’s true. Yet, this can be at the cost of losing vitality and authenticity.

Facing Up to Shadow

It can be easy to run from our shadow, and shadow projection is one of the most common ways that we do this. It can be so extensive that it turns into a way of life. People can spend large parts of their life avoiding shadow through projection. They can pay a very heavy price for this, in that they fail to acknowledge essential parts of who they really are.

Shadow and Others

We need to be aware that shadow projection can creep into all of our interactions with others in profound ways. We need to stay alert to its possible presence in individual-to-individual interactions, but that is not all. Shadow projection can have an enormous impact on the way that whole groups are perceived by other groups in our society. This can have a profound impact on business, politics, and even the overall social cohesion of a society.

In our era, social differences on issues can be so polarizing. We see this in the tensions, stigmatization and vilification surrounding issues like “pro vax vs. anti vax” during COVID. How easy it is to lose sight of people in their individual uniqueness, and pigeon-hole them through unfair and demeaning stereotypes! In this era of social media, this is another type of “epidemic” of which all need to be aware.

Dealing with our shadow projection, and doing shadow work can be a great deal easier when we don’t have to do it in isolation. A close, supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can often be of tremendous support in this work. If you feel that you’re dealing with issues of shadow and shadow projection, I strongly recommend you seek out support from a qualified Jungian analyst.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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New Year: Building Resilience and Meaning in Uncertainty

January 10th, 2022 · resilience and meaning

It’s very early days in 2022, and I think that most readers will recognize the need for resilience and meaning in this uncertain time.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

In my home province of Ontario, as of today we’re once again still in lockdown. This is due to the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Schools and many retail businesses are closed or facing restrictions. Gatherings of people are also once again strictly limited in size. There’s a general feeling of restriction and uncertainty. No one is sure how long these restrictions will last, or when we’ll finally return to a sense of normalcy.

As the seemingly less virulent but highly contagious Omicron spreads, there’s hope that COVID might be changing from a pandemic to something much less threatening. Yet no one is certain if or when that might occur. It seems that we’re being called to patience and endurance—yet again.

Not surprisingly, the uncertainty of the present time is generating anxiety for all of us. How can we deal with our anxiety in such a way that a sense of hope and solidity is actually directing us? Where can we find resilience? Two things, a sense of resilience and meaning, are very relevant here.

Resilience and Meaning

How do we find resilience and meaning in challenging times? Resilience is that quality that enables an individual to face adversity and to come back from it with strength to meet challenges. When we’re discouraged and thwarted by setbacks, we can become more risk averse and more shut down as a result. However, the resilient person is someone who springs back from such experiences, and even uses what they learn from the setback to help them. Resilient people are characterized by a basic overall optimism, and a capacity to live their lives in the face of circumstances that others might find discouraging.

There are a number of factors that go into resilience. Some of them are founded in things we can’t change, like genetics. Yet there are a great many things that we can focus on that will build up our capacity for resilience, and enable us to deal with setbacks and experiences of disorientation—like the latest wave of the pandemic.

The Capacity for Resilience

One of the things that will help with resilience is to develop an attitude of kindness, starting especially with directing kindness toward ourselves. In difficult circumstances, many people find it easy to let their inner critic savagely beat them up. An experience of failure, for instance, can be something about which individuals rake themselves over the coals, often endlessly.

So, a starting point for building resilience is the willingness to work on seeing ourselves and our lives in a kinder light. This goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to work on treating ourselves better, in many ways. These include getting the sleep we need, perhaps driving ourselves less, and they go right through to the story we ultimately tell ourselves about our lives.

This last point is directly connected to another factor that builds resilience, namely finding ways to root our lives in a sense of meaning. There are many possible sources of gratification or “feel good” in life, but one of the greatest of these is a sense of meaning. This was a bedrock foundation of the psychology of C.G. Jung, as reflected in the following quote:

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”

And in this quote:

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.

We can be curious about our lives, and our own particular experience. We can identify parts of our lived experience that carry a particular sense of meaning or value or truth. We can find aspiration or hope to live for that connect us to a sense of lasting or indestructible meaning. Living for these things can give us a tremendous amount of resilience, if we can just find them and hang onto them.

What is your greatest hope, now?

How Can I Connect with Resilience and Meaning?

For many people, a key part of coping with the pandemic experience centers around finding resilience and meaning. This is generally true in life, but our experience of the pandemic highlights this reality. If we can find meaning in our particular experience of life at this time, and find a value in it, this heightens our resilience, and shows us a way to get through it. This work of finding meaning may well become an essential part of our daily life. What has meaning for you?

This ongoing search for meaning in our own unique, particular lives can often be enhanced by working in a supportive therapeutic relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist. The ongoing “living lab” of depth psychotherapy can allow us to becoming much more discerning about where meaning really lies—and to center our lives on it.

Wishing each of you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Feedspot: Vibrant Jung Thing is a 2021 Top 10 Jungian Blog!

December 31st, 2021 · Jungian blog

Warm thanks to Feedspot for naming “Vibrant Jung Thing” a Top Ten Jungian blog this year!

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Warm thanks to Feedspot for naming VJT as a Top Ten Jungian blog! Here’s a link to Feedspot’s listing:

It’s a real honour, and it extends the overall pleasure that I’ve found in blogging on Jungian subjects for these last dozen-plus years! The chance to explore our life journey from a Jungian perspective in company with all of you is a never-ending source of new insight and depth.

I look forward to continuing exploration of topics like individuation, major life transitions and the meaning of key archetypes like the archetype of home for our everyday lives during 2022, and beyond. Allow me to thank each of you personally for reading and reflecting on these blog posts and sharing your own feeling, thoughts and life experiences through the years.

Jung’s 4 Psychic Functions – Basis of Personality Type

I wish each and every one of you a fulfilling 2022 that will be full of greater awareness, connection with the unconscious and meaning.

With every good wish to each of you individually for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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How Do You Deal with Home and the Holidays?

December 5th, 2021 · home and the holidays

“Home and the Holidays”: there’s such a sense of natural and even sentimental warmth around this phrase. Home is a word that is full of emotional power for us.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

You know that you’ve reached that “Home and the Holidays” space when you again hear all the Holiday music playing in stores and on the radio. In my area, at least, we’ve been in that place for a while now. For many people, this time of year brings up a lot of feelings: positive, negative—or both! What is it that is so powerful about these twin themes of “home and the holidays”?

I’ve written about the powerful archetype of “home” previously. Here is something that has great emotional resonance in our culture.

One of the songs played frequently at this time of year has the chorus “There’s no place like Home for the Holidays”. Other than that rather sentimental chorus, the song is basically a description of people making all kinds of efforts to get back to wherever they identify as “home” for the Holiday season. They do this regardless of the expenditure of time, effort or money involved. Somehow, this resonates powerfully.

Something else is worthy of note about this particular song. The people described in the song all seem to be somewhere other than “home”, and they have to travel to get there. This probably resonates far more with our experience in the highly mobile world of the 2020s than when singer Perry Como recorded “Home for the Holidays” in 1959.

Trying to Get Home for the Holidays

This Holiday season, like every Holiday season, many of us will be “trying to get home for the Holidays”. That phrase can mean a wide range of things to a wide variety of people. For some, as for the individuals in the song, it will be a matter of trying to physically travel “home”, wherever and whatever that might be. In addition to physical travel, people will be trying to “get home” in a whole range of other ways.

It’s actually those other ways of “trying to get home” that I want to focus on. Consider that classic movie scene from “The Wizard of Oz”, where Dorothy repeats to herself with more and more fervour “There’s no place like home!” It’s evident that she’s referring to a geographical location—but also to much, much more. Just what exactly is she on about, and why has it stayed in our imagination for the last eighty years?

“There’s no place like home!” PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

It’s important for us to think about all the things that get symbolized by the image of “going home”. Among other things, “home” can symbolize:

  • the place where I was born;
  • the place where I grew up;
  • the place I lived the longest in my life;
  • the place where I connect with my family of origin, or certain key members of that family;
  • the place where I live surrounded by my current family and friends; or,
  • the place where my family is from (e.g., when members of my family referred to “over home”, they meant the UK, even though none of us were born there!)

In short, “home” is a symbol for the place in your life where you feel in control, physically and emotionally safe, and related to your life in the proper way. It’s a place of security, where I can be myself, meet with absolute acceptance, and feel my anxiety is at a minimum.. In the words of Knox College Prof. Frank Andrew, “In short, ‘home’ is the primary connection between you and the rest of the world.”

Things That Get in the Way of Going Home

So, all of these things—and considerably more—are in the background when we reflect on “home and the Holidays”. When we reflect on the Holidays with anticipation, we may very well be trying to connect with this “home” reality. Jung would stress that it’s important not to underestimate the strength of our drive to make this connection.

We may go to gatherings with our relatives. We may settle down for celebrations with our nuclear family. We may travel back to the place where we were born. We may do these things with the conscious and/or unconscious expectation of encountering some sharing in the longing for “home and the Holidays”. Perhaps we find some of that reality. Or, perhaps we meet with disappointment—for many people, an all-too-familiar disappointment.

Perhaps the place where we are longing to experience “home and the Holidays” is not “home-like” at all. Perhaps there are bits of “home”, mixed in with other difficult feelings and experiences.

We yearn for something that can be hard to find. Where can we experience the reality of home? Is it something that we can find externally, or is it something that we need to find within ourselves?

Our Real Home

What or where is your real home? When have you felt connected to “home”, and why? How can you take care of yourself, so that you feel more connected to home, and feel more “at home” in the world? In your world? These are key questions for our well-being.

A supportive, relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can greatly help in the process of finding our own way of feeling more at home in in the midst of our own world, and our own real lives.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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The Importance of Self Awareness 3: Letting In the Shadow

November 22nd, 2021 · importance of self awareness

In this third and final part of an ongoing series on the importance of self awareness, we focus on the psychological reality of shadow. Jung originated this term, now used by many who reflect on our psychological reality.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Just what is meant by “shadow” when we think about the importance of self awareness? At one point Jung describes shadow as,

“the thing a person has no wish to be”.

C.G. Jung, CW 16, para. 470

This is pithy and succinct, but Jung helps us when he tells us:

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.

C.G. Jung, CW 11, p. 131

Jung’s point is that, for each of us, there are parts of our personality of which we are unaware. He would add that there are parts of the personality of which we might prefer to remain unaware.

Sometimes, I would rather not be aware of certain aspects of myself because my ego doesn’t feel comfortable with them. The ego is the part of my personality of which I’m conscious, and with which I identify. Many times, ego doesn’t wish to acknowledge other parts of me that don’t fit with how my ego would like to see itself. This can create all kinds of issues for us.

Saving the Appearances; Deep Six-ing the Shadow

Jungian analyst James Hollis spells this out for us in some detail. He writes about how we “manage to dissemble, to deny, to lie to ourselves and believe our evasions”:

We are often called to save the appearances, to paper over the gap between our presumptive identity and values and our actual practices. This distressing gap is what Jung called the Shadow, those parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable with ourselves. Feeling discomfort, we repress these facts, project them onto others, are subsumed by them, or, occasionally, bring them to consciousness and integrate them into a more complex, more accurate sense of self.

James Hollis, What Matters Most, pp. 25-26

Jung and Hollis are in agreement that self awareness is not always easy! Certain parts of ourselves may strongly resist knowing important aspects of who we are, and being honest with ourselves about them. We can find it much easier, sometimes to live with fictions about ourselves.

Tolerating Our Shadow Parts

The shadow parts of ourselves may be difficult to tolerate. They may cause the ego all kinds of anxiety. Sometimes the ego may have values that it thinks are important, like being truthful. These may be challenged by things we actually do, but don’t readily acknowledge, like fudging a little on one’s income tax.

Also, we may have some aspect of our personality that we don’t wish to acknowledge. We might feel that something about us is shameful, like having a weakness or inability to do certain things. Or, there might be something about who we really are that’s at odds with how we see ourselves, One example would be an urban sophisticate who secretly yearns to perform country and western music. Or, someone might believe that it’s bad or selfish to stand up and firmly ask for what she or he actually wants—but whose shadow is determined to do it.

It’s certainly not true that everything in the shadow is dark or morally questionable—far from it! Many things in the shadow are not really “shady” at all; they just don’t fit with the way the ego sees itself. Nonetheless, we can spend an incredible amount of psychic energy trying to avoid being aware of such shadow contents.

This struggle to avoid our authentic selves can create anxiety and even depression. The struggle with avoiding the shadow part of our authentic selves often becomes acute and even excruciating at times of major life transition. The midlife transition, or the transition into our later years are examples of this. Tragically, an individual can spend much of his or her life running from who she or he really is.

Integrating Our Shadow & The Importance of Self-Awareness

Running from the shadow produces anxiety, exhaustion and distortion of the person. It’s immensely beneficial if a person can find a way to make peace with the shadow, and integrate it. This can give a renewed sense of energy for life. As British Jungian analyst Christopher Perry reminds us,

[The assimilation of the shadow] leads to self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. Grievance and blame give way to the taking of responsibility and attempts at sorting-out what belongs to whom. A fierce conscience, which tends to be self- and other-punitive can relax, and personal values can be set in counterpoint to collective morality.

Making contact with the shadow is often greatly assisted by working in a supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist. In the accepting environment of Jungian therapy or analysis, it’s often possible to look at ourselves with true clarity, and genuine compassion and insight. This can help us greatly to see the ways in which the shadow turns up in our own individual lives. We can then start to genuinely hear it, and to come to terms with it.

Do you have awareness of your shadow? When in the past might you have encountered it?

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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