Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Jungian Therapy, Loneliness and Life Transitions

January 11th, 2012 · Jungian, Jungian therapy, life transitions, loneliness, Transitions

Jungian therapy

Loneliness is often the frequent companion of major life transitions; Jungian therapy recognizes that finding ways to cope with it can be essential at key turning points in life.

Recently, I’ve been struck by the number of clients who have come to see me in the course of undergoing very significant life transitions.  The situations of these clients bring home to me a lot of significant truths about the loneliness experienced at such times.

Here are 4 ways in which people can find themselves alone in the midst of such life transitions.

Not Being Understood or Accepted

Individuals can experience great loneliness in the course of life transitions when a previously taken-for-granted level of acceptance, understanding or connection is no longer present in a relationship.  The individual may feel that he or she has been understood and accepted for who he or she is, only to discover that those who previously seemed to accept them now can no longer do so.  The spouse who follows the inclinations of the inner self, and finds themselves in a place to which their partner simply cannot relate, would be a prime example.

Isolating Events or Circumstances

Intense loneliness can result for individuals when a life altering event fundamentally alters perception or consciousness.  Such individuals can feel completely isolated from others, even though they may previously have been close to them.  Serious illness, injury, job loss, or other personal tragedy would all be prime examples.

Difficult & Profound Transformations

Life transitions can stem from situations where an individual realizes that “I can’t go on living like this anymore”.  Often this type of loneliness occurs when an individual feels that they can no longer live confined by a given social mask, or persona.  Changes in professional, sexual or gender identity would all be prime examples.

Faced with Difficult Choices

Often a deep loneliness can result from struggling with major moral choices.  The need to courageously make a decision that transcends black and white moral answers, such as whether to keep and raise a child suffering from serious developmental issues, or to give up the child for adoption,  would be a case in point.

Jungian therapy

Often connecting with someone empathetic skilled in depth psychotherapy or Jungian therapy, who understands the issues around the loneliness of life transitions, can be of great assistance.

PHOTOS: © Anke Van Wyk | Dreamstime.com ; © Jerryway | Dreamstime.com
© 2011 Brian Collinson 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)

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Jungian Psychotherapy & Career Transition in Tough Times

August 21st, 2011 · career, career transition, Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy

career transition

Career transition is directly connected to Jungian psychotherapy because career and vocation are matters of importance to the inmost self.  This is especially true of career transition in economic times of crisis, when people face hard situations and hard choices.  Tough times push us back onto questions about the real meaning in our lives.


The movie “Company Men” opens up these issues in a hard-hitting way.  It focuses on a group of upper middle class and upper class men downsized from “GTX”, a heavy manufacturing company in Boston.  The film powerfully takes us into the “soul” issues surrounding forced career transition.  And it illustrates some bedrock realities.

 

1) I am Not My Career; I am Not My Social Status

It’s incredibly easy to become completely identified with a job and a social status.  Over years, we can get so invested in a particular job and lifestyle, that we feel like these things actually are us.  When the men undergo career transition, it ‘s an incredibly violent blow, and they are caught up in rage and denial.  They are forced to find their way into a different, more fundamental understanding of individual identity.

2) The Corporation (or Other Employer) Does Not Love Me

“GTX” makes large scale layoffs with little regard for the dedication or devoted labour of long-term employees.  Often, this is how layoffs occur, and often people are psychologically unprepared for it.  We tend to assume that the close personal contacts at the firm, or supportive or “team” language are expressions of real human warmth.  But it’s essential to let in a fundamental truth: my employer does not recognize that I have any right to my current position.

3) What is my Vocation?  And How Does it Fit with What I do for a Living?

Behind the above issues looms a larger question.  What am I here for?  What does my nature tell me that I really need to do with my life?  And how does all that fit with the kind of thing that I do (or want to do) for a living?

4) What about My Journey?

Amidst these issues, it’s essential to see my life as a journey toward my own individual nature.  My journey, my vocation, is bigger and deeper than what I do for a living.  Connecting with this journey is the real meaning of depth psychotherapy.

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

 

 

 

 

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Anxiety, Regret and Persona in “Death of a Salesman”

November 19th, 2010 · Anxiety, Father, Marriage, persona, psychological crisis, Psychology and Suburban Life, regret, Self, soul, symbolism, unlived life

I love theatre, and I’m lucky enough to live in the Toronto, Canada area.  We have a lot of excellent theatre hereabouts, including the wonderful Soulpepper Theatre, which is not nearly so famous as it deserves. I was fortunate enough last Saturday to see Soulpepper’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.  which was arresting and raw.  It’s a profoundly psychological play, in the ways in which it deals with anxiety, regret and “persona“, or the false self.

Lots of people know the story of Willy Loman, the crumbling salesman at the centre of the play, and the drama of his decline and eventual death.  Clearly Willy is retreating more and more from reality and from life — but what pushes him into this?

Anxiety

Clearly, Willy and his family live in an atmosphere of intense anxiety.  In the initial scenes of Act 1, Willy has returned from a business trip because he cannot concentrate when driving, and has nearly driven off the road.  The interactions between Linda and Willy are full of an unacknowledged but agonizing anxiety that pervades the whole of the play until the tragic climax.  An important psychological question, though, is, “What is the source of this anxiety?”

Grandiosity and Failure

I believe the answer is found in the tension between Willy’s grandiose and idealized image of greatness, and his own very real sense of failure to live up to this idealized image of himself, to be the “well-liked” man whose fame precedes him, and for whom all doors open.  Willy does not dare become fully conscious of this profound sense of failure.   He can only look at it indirectly, or acknowledge it glancingly in his interactions with Linda.  It seems when he does do this, he expects to be re-assured by Linda, to be argued out of his feeling.  Right through the play Linda enables Willy by shoring up his illusions.

Willy’s Persona

In Jungian terms, Willy is firmly in the grips of a persona (Latin for “mask”) or false self with which he identifies and tries to present outwardly to the world.  But it is deeply at odds with who he really is, and his attempts to carry off this masquerade are costing him more and more emotionally and — dare we say it — spiritually.  Willy is in a horrible dilemma:  the only image he has of himself is as a “well-liked” salesman — and yet he knows that he has failed profoundly in realizing this ideal.  However, there is no other sense of himself that he can find to hang onto, and so he is drowning.

Biff

So Willy does what parents often do in this kind of situation: he transfers all of  his hopes for success and greatness to his sons, and in particular, onto his eldest son, Biff.  However, whatever wounds Biff may be dealing with, he cannot ultimately bring himself to live out the unlived life and fantasies of his father.  After initially succumbing to his father’s illusory picture, Biff refuses to enable his father further, saying “we’re a dime a dozen, you and I!” to Willy, which is the very thing that Willy cannot, will not accept.

Regret

The picture is further complicated for Willy by his profound regret, particularly for an incident in which he was discovered by Biff with another woman with whom he was having an affair in a hotel room.  This incident has a profound and fateful effect on Biff.  Miller’s dialogue masterfully shows how Willy can neither really face and be honest with himself for what he has done, nor can he release himself from the torture of his regret.  Finally, this regret will lead Willy to a horrific act of atonement, which is intended to restore Biff to the path of “greatness” — as imaged by Willy.

“The Woods are Burning”

What is it to be consumed by false self, by persona?  What are its inner psychological effects?  I believe that playwright Arthur Miller captures this powerfully in one phrase that Willy uses several times throughout the play: “the woods are burning!”  In dreamwork and in fairy tales, the deep woods, which are dark and where one’s view is limited, are often the image of the unconscious.  The image of the woods burning, of a huge forest fire in the unconscious symbolizes the psychological reality in a profoundly eloquent way.  The true self may be ignorred, and may be pushed into the unconscious, but not without powerful, often devastating consequences.

What about You and I?

The false persona and false self are real things in human life, not just art.  It can be a devastating thing to live with a false sense of who one is, and without any real connection to the true self.  I have had personal experience with the ways in which such an over-identification with the persona can bring a person into difficulties.  I was fortunate to have the help of a good psychotherapist to get me through that extremely difficult period.

Staying as true to the real self as possible is an ongoing process in life, a genuine psychological work.  This is especially true in a society like ours, which becomes more success and image-oriented with every year, or so it seems.  Are these issues which you, too, have encountered in your life, or are addressing right now?

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PHOTO CREDITS: © Maik Schrödter | Dreamstime.com
© 2010 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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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