Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Jungian Psychotherapy on Job Search and Self Search

December 15th, 2010 · Identity, Individuation, Jungian, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, Self, self-knowledge, The Self, vocation

Does Jungian psychotherapy with its emphasis on the Self have anything to do with job search?  I emphatically believe that it does.  I recently came upon the following remark online.  It seems to me that it is pretty representative of a whole approach to searching for work within our society at the present time:

“A job search is a sales & marketing exercise with you as the product.

Are you wrapped to seduce a decision maker?”

Frankly, I find this kind of remark offensive.  Now, clearly, there’s a huge self-marketing component to finding a job.  But is that all that a job search is, a “Sales and marketing exercise”?  And is that all that we can hope for, to be “wrapped to seduce a decision maker”?  Certainly, I think if I were a woman, I would find such a suggestion to be blatently demeaning and repulsive.  (Actually, I do anyway.)

Does Job Search Mean Being a Chameleon?

If all that we can expect for and hope for from a job search is to fit ourselves, chameleon-like, to the expectations of some decision-maker who has all the power and choice, when we have none — then God help us.  This seems to me like nothing so much as a working life that is trapped within the expectations of the false self.  A life that doesn’t allow for what a Jungian psychotherapy would call individuation.   Surely there must be a possible way to pursue a job search that has more connection with soul!

Job Search and Depth in the Self

The issue of job search actually takes us right inside some deep inner questions, if we let it.  If we are open, it will lead us to ask questions like: “What is it that I really, most deeply, want to do?”; “What is most meaningful to me?”; and, “What is my vocation?”.  To even begin to answer those questions, a person must start to get to know themselves.  In other words, a job search is not just a job search.  Every time we encounter job search, if we’re to find something that’s going to work for us, it must necessarily turn into Self search.  To find what we need to know about ourselves, to encounter those dimensions of the Self that we need to take into account in a job search, it may well be that the journey leads us into psychotherapy, if we are truly to come to individual, rather than canned, answers.  This is especially true at mid-life or later.

Is the Issue of Career or Vocation Prominent in Your Life at this Time?  Or, Can You Recall a Time When it Was?

Sooner or later the question “What should I be doing with my life?” comes to occupy a prominent place in our lives.  Perhaps it will do so numerous times over the course of a lifetime — this is not uncommon.  Have you ever had an experience where job search turned into self or soul search?  Have you ever been transformed by the experience of looking for a job, or just faced with very deep questions as a result?  If you’ve had this kind of experience, and you were willing to comment below or send me a confidential email, I’d be thrilled to read it.

Wishing you a sense of meaning and vocation on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:      Some rights reserved by lumaxart under a Creative Commons license

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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

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“They Want Google to Tell Them What They Should be Doing”

September 6th, 2010 · Carl Jung, decision, freedom, Individuation, Psychology and Suburban Life, Self

Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of Google in a recent interview  said the following:

“I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions. 

They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”

Renowned science fiction writer William Gibson has tried to explore this idea in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, “Google’s Earth”.  Gibson takes a good hard look at the role that Google has assumed in our lives, and asks some tough questions about the implications for who we are becoming as people, at this point in time. 

In discussing the growing capacity of Google to assist, or even replace human decision-making, Gibson observes:

“We never imagined that artificial intelligence would be like this. We imagined discrete entities. Genies….  Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical. Making Google a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world. This is the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before. But empires and nation-states weren’t organs of global human perception. They had their many eyes, certainly, but they didn’t constitute a single multiplex eye for the entire human species.”

So Google is pervading more and more aspects of our lives.  But do we actually want Google to tell us what to do?  To take our previous behaviour, and to extrapolate from that, and so to indicate to us, on the basis of artificial intelligence and algorithms, what it is that we should do next, according to Google?

It seems apparent that the technology to do this is going to be more and more within reach for Google in the not-too-distant future.  Is it what we really want?

Perhaps we do want Google to make some choices for us.  For instance, Google might greatly assist me if it would simplify certain types of choices about acquiring consumer goods — the best new smartphone for me to acquire, perhaps.  But do we want Google to tell us what we should be doing when it comes to the fundamental choices of our lives?  Who we love, for instance?  Or what we really value and strive for in our lives?

How do we know that the choices which I have made in the past are really my authentic choices?  Perhaps the choice which is authentically mine — this time, now — is quite different from and quite inconsistent with the choices I might have made in the past?

This whole discussion is much bigger, really, than Google.  It takes us right into questions about what it is that makes us fundamentally human.  And into the question of whether, in the process of our making choices, there is something indefinable and indescribable that is fundamental to our unique identity.  Jung held that there was such a mystery at the heart of our human uniqueness, and that is the reality that he called the Self.  It is the process of coming into contact with that reality that forms the basis of Jungian analysis, and of any psychotherapy that is founded on principles of depth psychology.

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the importance of the subjective experience of free decision-making in relation to our identity.  Do you feel that it matters, is fundamental to your identity as a unique human, or not?

My best wishes for your unique personal journey towards wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 

PHOTO CREDIT: © Aleksandar Nikolov | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Jungian Psychology, Caregiving and the Self

August 31st, 2010 · aging, Jungian psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, Self

Here is a very striking article by Andre Picard from the Friday, August 27 Globe and Mail.  It is entitled “Caregivers suffering depression, rage“, and it concerns two studies of family members who are caring for those suffering from dementia by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.  I think that it should give great pause to all of us, and particularly those who are middle-aged caregivers.

Jungians tend to be rather suspicious of statistics about human experience, and I think that there are often very good reasons for some scepticism.  However, I think that studies like Supporting Informal Caregivers – The Heart of Home Care  and Caring for Seniors With Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Forms of Dementia  show us an important aspect of a social reality that impacts our society, and in Jungian terms, has a huge impact on the individuation processes of very large numbers of individuals.

It needn’t take studies like these for us to be aware that there are some huge problems in this area.  In particular, I’m very aware from my practice of the large number not only of elderly, but also of middle-aged people, often but not always children of seniors, struggling with the demands of elder care.  Those who are trying to assist seniors suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease are finding the burden especially crushing.  The actual care can be demanding, but what is especially difficult for many people are the burdens of stress and intense emotional suffering associated with being this type of caregiver.

However, the new studies bring home the reality of this picture with some cold hard numbers.  In a survery of some 20,000 caregivers:

 

  • 16% of informal caregivers of seniors receiving home care reported distress related to their role;
  • that figure went to 28% if the the caregiver was providing more than 21 hours of care per week; and,
  • to 32% if the senior had symptoms of depression.

 

 

There are an estimated 2 million plus informal caregivers in Canada.  If anywhere near 16% of that number are in distress, that is a huge number of people who are struggling.

Unquestionably, this kind of informal care provision imposes a huge burden, one that is only poorly understood by those who have not had to carry it, and by our society as a whole.  Few who have not had to face the burden of a relative who slowly becomes consumed by delusions and paranoia can have any idea of how difficult that can make relationships with someone who was once a vital family member.  Similarly, loss of memory, language and reasoning abilities can make it impossible for such a person to do even simple daily tasks, e.g., answering the phone.  Generally, grief is thought of as an emotional experience that follows a death.  However, with dementia, grief is attendant upon every loss and just goes on and on.

These elder care situations highlight some enormous questions for the well-being and the individuation process of the caregivers involved.  How much sacrifice can society expect of the family members of the elderly suffering from various forms of dementia?  How much sacrifice should such caregivers expect from themselves?  Is it even in any sense a good thing for physical life to go on, after dementia has obliterated the personality of a person?

There can be little doubt that people carrying the burdens of caregiving for seniors need very substantial support.  They also need the opportunity to explore in depth the emotional issues that such caregiving brings up, along with generally trying to make meaning of the often very difficult situations in which such caregivers find themselves.  Often psychotherapy of a Jungian type can serve as the best possible gateway into exploring and accepting the deep feelings and emotions that occur as a part of this time of life.

Questions to Ponder about Dementia and Individuation

  1. Does dementia eventually bring an end to the individuation process?  Jung apparently thought that it brought the end so far as we could know in this life: was he right?
  2. How might a person’s obligations to the Self and as a caregiver fit together?  How would you fit them together, if you found yourself in such a position?
  3. How do you feel about your own aging?
  4. On an even more fundamental level, what do you believe about the end of life?

Wishing you every good thing on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Evgeniya Parfenova | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Escaping the Grip of Regret, Part 3: Through Phoenix Gate

August 11th, 2010 · complexes, depression, depth psychology, guilt, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, regret, Shadow, soul, therapy, unconscious, unlived life, wholeness

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on regret, I have tried to portray something of the nature and power of regret as it manifests in our lives.  Hopefully I have succeeded in making one very central thing clear: regret is not some peripheral thing in our lives that is going to be cleared away by simply improving our thinking.  It strikes deeper.  It is much more fundamental.  How then are we to deal with the presence of regret in our lives?

One of the first steps is to frankly acknowledge the danger to us that regret represents.  Regret, truly strong regret, has the power to deprive us of a meaningful life in the present, even though it concerns events in our past.

Neither will regret be skirted.  It often stands in the center of the road of our journey.  The way that it holds our energy can seem hopelessly entangling.

Acknowledging the sheer pain of regret can be very hard to do.  As is often the case with strong negative feelings, we try to deny their existence.  Yet it is only acknowledging the pain that really makes us aware of the life that has been lost, of which the regret reminds us.  And it is only in acknowledging the pain and sometimes the despair that is associated with regret that the energy that is tied up in it can begin to be freed up to move toward something else in our lives.  And that something may have real life and real meaning for us.

Despair is usually the last place we want to go.  The last thing we want to face in our lives.  Yet, it is in our despair that our energy gets caught.

What is it about what we regret that really keeps us from wanting to release it?  Can we face the hurt inherent in failed hopes?  Does regret really move us more deeply into the question of what our life is about, and whether we find it meaningful or not?  As the character Ivan says in the recent film Greenberg , can we really come to accept and cherish a life other than the one we planned?

Carl Jung frequently used a phrase that he took from the ancient world” amor fati .  Literally translated, it means “the love of one’s fate.”  This is not a phrase to be chucked around glibly, and Jung certainly did not do that.  However, the idea of loving one’s fate is the mirror opposite of living a life that is consumed by regret.

When one looks at the painful, and sometimes even horrific events that can be endured by human beings, one can only conclude that it would be a grim mockery to counsel someone to somehow love these actual events.  That would be the bitterest possible perversion of some idea of positive thinking.  I don’t think that is what Jung means when he uses the phrase amor fati. I think what he does mean is that the person who loves his or her fate somehow lives in hope, and sees a meaning emerging in the midst of the fabric of his or her life.  Such a life and such a hope offers the possibility of living passionately into life — beyond the chains of regret.

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the whole subject of dealing with regret.

Wishing you every good thing on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Guy Allard | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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CG Jung’s Approach: Not for Everyone, but Essential for Some

July 16th, 2010 · Carl Jung, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, soul, The Self, therapy, unconscious, Wellness, wholeness

Let’s face it: there are a lot of different forms of therapy / counselling out there.  So, why would someone choose to work on themselves with a Jungian therapist, as opposed to another type of therapist?  Well, here’s a list of 6 prominent factors, which certainly led me to do Jungian analysis, and which ultimately convinced me to become a Jungian analyst.  These are not the only factors, but they are certainly 6 big ones.

6 Reasons to do Jungian Analysis

1.  A Jungian approach emphasizes individuality, and  plurality.  Jung’s psychological work was always oriented to the particular individual.  He felt that it was in our unique individuality that we are most human.  He also was among the first in modern psychology to recognize that there is not just one way to be a living growing human being: there are a plurality of ways, as he recognized in his psychological types.  So, I am unique, but also similar in some ways to other human beings, and very different from others.  There is real strength and value, in my opinion, in the way that Jung is always calling us back to our individual psychological paths.  Not everyone needs this kind of an emphasis — but it’s very significant and even essential for some people.

2.  The Jungian approach recognizes that human beings are not just simply rational.  Jung acknowledged that people have a rational component, and that some people — thinking types — are predominantly rational.  But there is a whole lot more going on within us than just rational deduction.  There is our feeling, our intuition and our ability to relate to the external world though our sensation.  When we are stuck, the Jungian approach offers hope that other aspects of ourselves than our thinking may help us to find our way through.

3.  The Jungian approach recognizes that, as people, we’re not just conscious.  Unlike those types of therapy that just seek to deal with the impulses and aspects of our behaviour that are purely conscious, and that the ego, or waking mind is aware of, Jungian analysis seeks to get at those aspects of us that are not connected to consciousness, and seeks to make them conscious.

4.  The Jungian approach is certainly not just about pathology.  While many forms of therapy center in on identifying what is “abnormal” or “pathological” in clients’ behaviour, a Jungian approach focuses on the client as a unique individual.  One of Jung’s favourite sayings was that the oak tree is potentially and latently in the acorn.  In a similar manner he saw that what the deepest parts of the psyche of any individual, what Jung called the Self was striving towards was the expression and living out of the uniqueness and wholeness of the individual’s personality.  To strive for this is not just about overcoming pathology and deficiencies: it is about growing, and becoming that which we have been destined to become.

5.  Jungian analysis is about finding ways to live fully and abundantly without having “all the answers”.  Jung and the Jungian tradition have always maintained that there are vast portions of the human psyche that we simply cannot fully understand.  In the face of this, some forms of psychology simply opt for very simplistic answers that turn the individual human being into a mere machine or puppet.  These approaches unfortunately leave the individual human being “beyond freedom and dignity”, as the behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner freely admitted.  By contrast, Jung’s approach emphasizes the uniqueness and individual dignity of each human being — and the fact that each of us represents something that fundamentally cannot be totally captured by the human intellect.

6.  Jungian analysis is about the sense that, as individual human beings, we share a journey with all other human beings.  Jung was ahead of his time in recognizing that each of us, while we are unique, also shares in a profound way in the journey that has been taken by the whole of the human race, in every place and time.  This emphasis gives us a sense of compassion and connection to the rest of the human race, and also a sense of sharing in something in which every human since the beginning has shared.  Jung always spoke about drawing on the resources of the “two million year old man” within us.  To me, at least, it’s good somehow, to know that, in my own unique way, I share a journey with all other humans — I and many others find that a very grounding realization.

Does this kind of an approach speak to you?  I’d be very interested to hear, and to see any comments that you might have on this post.  If there’s an aspect of Carl Jung’s thought that really resonates with you, I’d be more than eager to hear.

How important to you is it to feel that your life is the unfolding of a unique and meaningful path?

My very best wishes to each of you as you make your individual journeys of wholeness and self-discovery,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Pilart | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II

July 2nd, 2010 · creativity, Film, Identity, Individuation, inner life, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, soul, spontaneity, The Self, wholeness

Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II, The Armoured Self, My Prison

In the course of thousands of years of mechanical development, the mechanistic concept, from generation to generation, has anchored itself deeply in man’s biological system.  In so doing, it actually has altered human functioning in the direction of the machine-like….   Man has become biologically rigid. He has armored himself against that which is natural and spontaneous within him, he has lost contact with the biological function of self-regulation and is filled with a strong fear of that which is alive and free.

Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933)

 In Part I of “Anxiety Behind the Mask” I began to explore the meaning of the pop cultural figure of Iron Man.  As seen in recent movies, Iron Man is a symbol for the relationship in our culture between the social mask, known in Jungian terms as the “persona”, and the inner human.  The Iron Man myth represents the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable, beyond weakness, mistake and humiliation.   However, as we discovered, there is also great psychological danger in complete identification with such an impervious persona.

In this post, I’d like to open up that idea in a fuller way.  In fact, the social armour which protects us can also be a prison.  We can so easily develop a way of relating that is very smooth, glib, almost machine-like.  It can be so effective that it can give me the strong sense that nothing is ever going to hurt me.  It can lead me to “pat” answers and attitudes that accord with the standard views and attitudes in our social grouping(s), that completely avoid vital questions about how we feel and what we want.

Our armour can persuade others and even ourselves that we are sleek and slick, even sophisticated.  But I can only ensure that I’m on top of things by ensuring that nothing is ever going to reach me, that nothing will ever break my stride.  I need to keep whatever might disrupt my performance at a distance.

So we armour ourselves not only against others, but against ourselves.  We do this by repressing any inner acknowledgment of our own inferior, weak, morally suspect or socially unacceptable parts – and the shame that often goes with acknowledging them.  We eliminate our vulnerability, but at the price of our vitality and spontaneity.

I have heard innumerable people relate nightmares to me with themes that resemble the following:

I am in a labyrinth, or a dark, unknown place.  I am being pursued by robots.  They advance relentlessly, despite all my efforts to destroy them or fend them off.  No matter how many I disable, they just keep coming…  closer and closer and closer.  I wake up, filled with fear.

Potentially a very disturbing dream, that reflects a very important reality in the psyche, about which we genuinely should be disturbed.  In the words of Eric Fromm:

The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots.

In a certain important sense, this is also the danger of the present, as the dream above reflects.  My armour, my social mask, may become robotic, particularly if I let it get to be thicker than it needs to be, as a result of my over-identification with my social role or roles.  Then I may find myself cut off from the instinctual and spontaneous sources of life deep in the psyche, and may find myself overwhelmed by anxiety, depression or even psychosomatic illness.  All are dangerous signs that the connections with the deep inner life of the human being are in danger of being severed.

To be continued in “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III: Heart Trouble

I’d welcome your reflections on the symbollic aspects of Iron Man and the trap of robotic social roles.   Do you ever see others trapped in their social roles?  Do you ever find that you are struggling to be your genuine self in situations?  In relationships?

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness and self-discovery,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDITS: © Marvel Entertainment, LLC  These images are the property of Marvel comics and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part 1

June 22nd, 2010 · Anxiety, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, mythology, persona, popular culture, Psychotherapy, soul, wholeness

When I was 9 or 10 years old, I was an insatiable Iron Man fan.  I used to race to the local drug store every day to see if a new issue of my hero’s adventures had hit the stands yet.  I still admire Stan Lee and those who developed the Iron Man character: he was truly an iconic figure for a pre-adolescent boy in the mid-1960s.  Well, it’s 45 years later, and Iron Man is receiving great attention — arguably much greater than in earlier days.  “Iron Man 2” was the lead-grossing movie for much of the 2010 Spring season, and the Iron Man 1 and 2 movies are estimated to have grossed in excess of $935 million.

There is no question that the Iron Man figure captures the imagination of many in our culture.

What is the fascination that Iron Man exerts?  Why is this figure a cultural icon—and not just for 9 year old boys?  What is it that he shows us about ourselves as a culture, and the issues and problems that we collectively face?  Please bear with me as I relate some of this modern myth – for it actually has a surprising amount of symbolic and psychological depth.

According to the story line, Iron Man is the alter ego of the wealthy industrialist Tony Stark (played in the recent movies by Robert Downey).  In order to escape a situation where he is held hostage by some despicable outlaws, Stark fashions a suit of practically invincible armour, and overcomes his foes – all details covered in the original “Iron Man” movie.  Stark then goes on to improve and enhance this very sophisticated flying suit of armour, to the point where it is mighty, mobile, and both beautiful and technologically advanced to an incredible degree.

In Jungian terms, Iron Man as a symbol for our relationship between the social mask, the persona and the inner human.  It represents the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable: the fantasy of being beyond weakness, mistake and humiliation.

Undoubtedly, we need a social mask – we cannot just “let it all hang out” in social situations.  The result would be chaos, and we would be extremely dangerous to ourselves and to others.

But how devastating must the underlying shame be, to lead me to wrap myself in the fantasy of untouchability, to strive for invulnerability, to ensure that nothing is ever going to touch me.  We have to admit that it is a seductive fantasy–one that we might easily be tempted to try and pull off.  Particularly in a culture like ours that so values external appearances.

We are so utterly afraid of our own vulnerability and weakness.  We can so easily live in terror of our own true nature.  It can be so hard to let ourselves be what we are, to know ourselves, and to let ourselves be known.  Part of us is utterly convinced of the need for the pretense of invulnerability.  Yet part of us knows what we really are.

Stark says, “I am Iron Man.  The suit and I are one.”  That’s great for a myth and a fantasy hero.  Heroes in myth are always something other than simply human.  However, complete identification with the persona,  “the suit and I being one” would be a form of living death for a real human being.  It’s easy for us to live in such terror of our vulnerable selves, those parts of ourselves which are not strong and beautiful.  Yet they are there, and if we cannot acknowledge them, and give them their due, they will surface in very destructive ways, such as anxiety and depression, as symptoms of the underlying shadow self.

Somehow, we’ve got to come to terms with the human inside the armour, and to learn compassion and acceptance for that person, just as he or she is. We have to abandon perfectionism, and get beyond the toxicity of shame.  Often, it’s just at this point that psychotherapy or Jungian analysis is a necessity.

To be continued in “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II: Imprisoned in the Armoured Self”.

I’d welcome your reflections on the nature of “social armour”, and the social mask.  Have you ever experieced situations where, to your surprise, someone was suddenly vulnerable?  Where you were?

I wish you every good thing as you travel on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDITS: © Turkbug| Dreamstime.com ; marvel.com

VIDEO CREDIT: ©Marvel Entertainment, LLC  //marvel.com/movies/iron_man.iron_man_2

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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