Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Anxiety, Stress and Decisions

May 11th, 2010 · Anxiety, decision, Individuation, midlife, Mississauga, Oakville, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, soul, unconscious, wholeness

A great deal of stress and anxiety in peoples’ lives is associated with making major decisions that deeply effect personal life.  Very often, people come into therapy because they are hung on the horns of a major dilemma, with a decision to be made between two or more possible decisions or paths to take.

As we all know, making a life-changing decision can be a time of real struggle.  Often the choice may be of a kind from which there is no easy turning back.  In such a situation, if the stakes are high enough on each side, the dilemma can seem insoluble, and the situation can seem absolutely paralyzing.

This is in part because, there is often no easy, logical set of steps to take in making the fundamental decisions in life.  Decision-making is not nearly the logical, rational proposition that it is often portrayed to be, and that we would like to think that it is.  This is true whether we look at individual or group decisions.  I appreciated this article in the Financial Post newspaper of date, which concerned research into the psychological processes around decision-making demonstrates this:    //bit.ly/cd0whp

In the course of an ordinary human life, there will be decisions that will be true forks in the road.  These decisions will not be made easily, and making them may well have a very real personal cost.  As one enters mid-life, the frequency of these difficult, uncharted decisions tends to increase.  From the middle of life on, there will be more and more of an individual character to such major choices.  As one really confronts one’s own unique identity, and one’s own unique values and sources of meaning, conventional cookie-cutter answers to these dilemmas will be less and less readily apparent and less and less helpful.  If an individual is to find an authentic way to move forward at such a point, it will require genuine self exploration, and confrontation with the unconscious elements in him- or herself.

Coming to terms with the unconscious element of ourselves, and becoming aware of its presence and its effect on the direction of our lives is a transforming process.  The self that makes the decision and moves forward will necessarily be somewhat different from the self that originally confronted the dilemma.  Often it is the support provided by the container of depth psychotherapy that can make the difference between an end result that furthers a sense of despair and stagnation, and a resolution to the dilemma that provides a sense of greater unification and integrity of the self.

I’d gratefully welcome your comments on the decision process.  Have you confronted times in the recent past where making a major decision or decisions has been a source of great stress?  Have you ever had to confront decisions that had the feeling of being a genuine “fork in the road” or “crossing of the Rubicon” from which, once made, there was no turning back?

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Main website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga practice: www.briancollinson.ca

PHOTO CREDIT: ©  Ffennema |Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Here in the Middle Years of Life: Is That All There Is?

February 28th, 2010 · Anxiety, depression, depth psychology, Hope, Identity, inner life, life passages, Meaning, midlife, Psychotherapy, soul, stress, suburbia / exurbia, The Self, therapy

The great jazz artist Peggy Lee performed the following beautiful, highly disturbing yet haunting song in 1969, at midlife, in her 50th year:

I doubt that questions get much more real than those in this song.  And the question that Peggy Lee sings about here is of the type, that, for many people, can become achingly urgent at the middle of life. 

For many people, especially in our tumultuous times, the middle years of life can come to feel like an endless process of coping with chaos.  It can feel like life has become a time of just responding to one crisis after another: issues with maturing children, issues with the health of parents; job issues; issues of financial security.  At times, life can come to seem endlessly wearying, and very much as if there is nothing to it, but “just going through the motions”.  From such a place, for very many people, there can come a deep heartfelt cry: “Is this really all that there is to my life?  Is this all that I get?”

This moment, the moment of this question, is highly important in the life of the individual.  This is true, even especially true, if the time when this question arises is filled with depression, anxiety — even despair.

From experience with clients, I can almost guarantee that there will be no canned, pre-packaged answer to this question that will slake the desperate thirst of those who ask such a question. Only an answer rooted in the individual’s life will bring any peace, any hope, any meaning — any sense of value.

By an individual answer, I mean one that emerges from the very depths of the individual.  Not something that the individual’s intellect or conscious mind has cobbled together, but something that emerges from the very depths of the person, from what they most fundamentally are.  Something to which they can say “Yes!” with their whole being.

It is the task of good therapy (and of Jungian analysis) to assist the individual in finding the symbolic dimension that conveys meaning, to find the deep story or myth of an individual’s life.  There are many in suburban places like Oakville, Burlington and Mississauga for whom the question “Is that all there is?” has become urgently real.  I invite you to enter into the therapeutic journey inward, to find your own inner treasure.

I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections from readers.  Have you had the experience of wondering in this way “is that all there is”?  How has that question affected your life?  If you were willing to share this important and personal part of your life, I’d be deeply interested to dialogue with you.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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Between Childrens’ and Parents’ Needs: the Generational Anxiety Sandwich

February 15th, 2010 · complexes, compulsion, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Jungian analysis, parent-child interactions, parental complex, Psychotherapy, The Self, therapy, unlived life, wholeness

 

Sandwich for Vibrant Jung Thing In this post, I would like to write about something that may have a sense of “taboo” about it.

For many of us in the present day world, a powerful struggle goes on in our middle years.  There are greater and greater demands on our personal reserves of compassion, empathy, time, energy and money.  These resources are streaming out in two directions, both towards our children, and also towards our parents, and possibly other aging relatives, who are living to a greater age than ever they have in the past.

As many people in their middle years try to meet the needs of the younger and older generations, they find themselves nearly impossibly stretched.

In such a climate, it can feel almost impossible to meet the needs of others.  In addition, many people end up feeling like callous ingrates if they give any consideration to their own needs as people.  “How can I consider myself?” one often hears people in this position say, “My parents gave me so much.  I owe them so much–everything!”

The really difficult thing is when the inner complex gives such guilting messages to an adult child, when the parents have actually not been kind or supportive to their children.  I experience this as a very frequent occurrence in my practice.  Many times, people who have been seriously emotionally or physically neglected by their parents — or worse — are the very people who respond in the most dutiful and self sacrificing manner.

And then again, it is often those same people, dutiful to their parents, who turn around and are completely self-sacrificing to their children.  And sometimes those children can be every bit as demanding unreasonable and narcissistic toward their parents as their grandparents are toward them.  And often that same mass of guilt and obligation that whips these people into unreasonably self-denying behaviour toward their parents will do the same when it comes to their children.

The particular psychological forces that bring this about are as individual as the people involved in the situation.  Very often, in dealing with these situations, healthy ordinary people need therapy to get to the root of the problem, and to free themselves from the crushing guilt.  Guilt can be an extremely powerful emotion and motivator, and it is often necessary to confront it in the safe environment of therapy to be able to remove its power.

The other hugely difficult component of these intergenerational binds is that they often lead to enormous amounts of anxiety.  This can prove as difficult, if not more so, than the guilt.  However, what I am going to say next about that guilt may prove surprising, even shocking!

Which is, that it may actually be quite a good thing that the individual is experiencing the guilt!  “Wow, Brian” you might be thinking, “what a horrible thing to say!  …Speaking of callous!…  How can you possibly wish anxiety on already-burdened people?”

Now, I don’t wish anyone unnecessary pain, and, all other things being equal, I would wish that no one would have to deal with excessive anxiety.  But in a situation like this, I believe that it is often the case that the anxiety has a psychological purpose.  Simply put, the intense anxiety makes us aware that there is a conflict, and that the status quo is simply untenable for the individual

It may be that the guilt is intense for such a person, but the anxiety shows us that there is tension, that the needs of the self are not willing to just continue being put on the shelf and denied.  The complex of guilt and obligation within us may spur us on to utterly altruistic self-destruction…but that complex is not all that there is to us.  There is the part of us that recognizes that the purpose of human life is to become the person who is latent within us, that that is why we are here in this life.  That part will allow us to make some compromises, but it will not allow us to completely sell ourselves out — not without our paying a very dire, wrenching psychological price.  

It’s easy for many people to feel a strong impetus to self-sacrifice, but, psychologically speaking, it’s important to realize that there may be very real limits to the degree to which we can put our own needs on one side to care for and meet the needs of others.

This awareness might lead us to face an even more fundamental questions like, “How do I begin to live my own real life?” and “What is meaningful to me?”  These questions takes us to the very heart of Jungian analysis, and true depth psychotherapy.

I’d gratefully welcome comments from readers on these issues, which affect very many of us.  How have you experienced the “generational sandwich”?.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

PHOTO CREDITS: © Lukyslukys|Dreamstime.com 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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Does February Bring Any GIfts?

January 31st, 2010 · depth psychology, Hope, Identity, Individuation, inner life, soul, The Self, therapy

February Gifts 2 for Vibrant Jung Thing  “April is the cruelest month” wrote the poet T.S. Eliot.  When I first read that line as a teenager, my thought was, “Obviously, this poet wasn’t a Canadian!”

Anyone who has consistently lived through winters in places like Oakville, Mississauga or Burlington will probably tell you that “the cruelest month” is either January or February.  I suspect that many would vote for February.

For many people, February can seem very bleak.  The year-end holidays are far behind us.  There is no major holiday to lighten our hearts, although we do now have “Family Day”.  Snow or brutal cold –this year we have little of the former and plenty of the latter–can turn trips out into an ordeal.  The days are lengthening, it’s true, but, at least in our part of the world, long strings of overcast days lead many people to feel starved for sunlight.

Does February bring us any gifts?  How could it?…

One of the most difficult aspects of this time of the year can be that we tend to feel shut in, and shut up with ourselves.  This can mean that we are left with what I often term the fundamental question of ourselves.  That is, with how to be who we are and feel good about it.  How to actively accept and cherish our lives, rather than just seeing ourselves as “one in a million”.

Many of the things into which we pour our energy at other times of the year are just not available now.  Our response to that can be to curse the luck and hang on grimly until spring.  Or, we could use the time to really encounter ourselves.

Here are some things that might be helpful to think about at this time.  They’ve proved valuable to me, so I leave them with you for your consideration:

 

Have you ever told yourself the story of your own life?  To sit down and actually write your own life story can be a truly revelatory thing to do.

Have you ever thought about what the happiest time in your life was?  Have you ever thought about what was the saddest?

Who are the three most significant people that you have encountered in your life, other than parents or siblings.  Why are they important to you?  What does that tell you about yourself?

In what do you put your faith?  This might be a formal religious belief, or a personal spirituality or philosophy, or it might be something quite different.  What you fundamentally value can tell you a tremendous amount about who you fundamentally are.

It may be that, as you live with these questions, they take on a fundamental importance that leads you to want to explore new dimensions of yourself, with someone “on your side” to witness your journey.  Certainly that was my experience, and that is what initially led me into psychotherapy and Jungian analysis.

 

I’d welcome comments below from readers on how any of these thoughts relates to your lives at this time of year.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

PHOTO CREDITS: © Yobro10 | Dreamstime.com 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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Identity and Anxiety in the Film, “Up In the Air”

January 22nd, 2010 · Anxiety, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Film, Identity, Individuation, life passages, Meaning, midlife, persona, puer aeternis, unlived life, wholeness, work

Make no mistake, moving is living.  -Ryan Bingham

 

“Up in the Air”, directed by Jason Reitman, stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.UpInTheAir for Vibrant Jung Thing  Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham is a full-time corporate down-sizer whose life consists of an endless stream of business travel (“322 days last year”).  He moves from place to place, letting people go from corporate roles when their employers cannot stomach doing it.  He has no permanent attachments to people, a desolate and hollow single bedroom apartment he never sleeps in, and he has accumulated 10,000,000 airmiles…

Up In the Air Official Website

Ryan Bingham’s life is in airports and hotel rooms and is filled with constant movement.  The stability and security in his life, his secure base, is found precisely in those things that others find impermanent and impersonal.  His finely orchestrated and choreographed travel routine, his mechanized method of moving constantly from place to place gives him re-assurance, and in an odd way a sense of belonging.  Which is good, because Ryan has no permanent connections to anyone in his life.

Ryan also has a budding career as an motivational speaker.  His message: “Make no mistake: your relationships are the heaviest components in your life….  The slower we move, the faster we die.”

Ryan is completely identified with his corporate role.   His aircraft-bound life is an appropriate symbol of his existence on a deeper level.  In the terms of Jungian psychology, Ryan, like Christopher McCandless, the subject of Into the Wild is a true puer aeternus (“eternal boy”).  He floats above life in his social self, and never puts down roots into the deep soil of his genuine self.  And he is danger of discovering that his life is tragic because there he has no remaining way to turn back.

In its own way, this is a very disturbing and provocative film, but it’s a very good one.  It raises the question for each of us about how connected we’re willing to be to the real substance of our lives.

I’d welcome comments below from readers on anxiety, identity and work.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

PHOTO CREDITS: © DW Studios LL.C. and Cold Spring Pictures

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

 

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