Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Overwork and Workaholism, Part 2: Work and Soul

July 29th, 2011 · work, workaholism

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

  • When You Know You Can’t Slow Down

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

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

  • Disconnect

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Jungian Psychotherapy Symbol Book: A Personal Journey

November 23rd, 2010 · journey

The other night I watched the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?” again.  It’s one of my great favourites, for any number of reasons: it’s the directors, the Coen Brothers, at their finest; I think it’s as funny as can be; the music is wonderful; the cast is as talented as it gets; and, it’s — loosely — based on one of the greatest works of the human poetic imagination, Homer’s Odyssey.  But the number one reason I appreciate this movie is that it’s based upon the symbol and myth of the journey, which is one of the greatest of all human archetypal patterns, and one that is of great importance for psychotherapy.

The Journey Symbol

Artistic and religious symbolism worldwide reflects the archetype of the journey.  It’s one of the most universal expressions of the human condition and development of the course of human life.  It is central to the Hebrew Bible (Exodus), the Christian Bible (journeys of St. Paul), Islam (the Haj) and countless other religious traditions.  A vast amount of literature, poety and art reflects this theme.  Jung himself, when he sought to characterize the two great movements in human life, referred to them, by using this symbol, as “the hero journey” and “the night sea journey”.

Destination

The whole point of a journey is that it has a destination.  In both the Odyssey and O Brother, Where Art Thou? , the whole process may seem chaotic, but the process is actually moving somewhere, toward a specific end — imaged as the journey home.  That is what the journey symbol conveys to us: if life is imaged as a journey, it is going somewhere.  It has a specific end.  Our lives are capable of having a meaningful direction, even if the present circumstances are completely disorienting.  This is a constant theme in human myth, and it embodies a psychological truth.  There is something in us that knows the way, even when our conscious ego does not.

This can be a very important thing to know in therapy, and in human life in general.  But it must be something other than a glib platitude.  Vague assurances that “it’s going to be OK” will acheive very little for suffering, struggling people.  What people need is assurance, as they struggle, often with very deep, dark things that may have surfaced in their lives.  They need to know that, out of real chaos, something meaningful and healing can emerge.  The real therapist is someone who can go with the client on her or his journey, who can be right with the client, because the therapist knows, in some way that is deeper than merely intellectual, that this process has an inner meaning in the end.

Just for fun, here’s the official trailer from O Brother, Where Art Thou?:

What About Your Journey?

Do you ever think about your life in terms of it being a journey?  Are there times when you’ve been particularly aware that it is a journey?  Have there been times when it really feels as if you’ve lost the way?  If you have, or you are, I would welcome hearing from you via  a comment or through a confidential email.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: © Holger Karius | Dreamstime.com

TRAILER CREDIT:  © 2000 Touchstone Pictures and Universal Studios.  This trailer is the property of Touchstone Pictures and Universal Studios and is used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

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

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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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