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The Self as Hidden Treasure in Jungian Psychotherapy

January 27th, 2011 · alchemy, art, C. G. Jung, collective consciousness, depth psychology, False self, Identity, parent-child interactions, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, Relationships, religious symbolism, Self, self-knowledge, symbolism

Jungian psychotherapy and Jungian analysis put a high value on the uniqueness of the individual, and on the treasure that is the inmost Self.  Jungians see symbolic reflection of the motif of the Self as hidden treasure in many texts from the world’s artistic, religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions.  For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew, and also in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, there is the famous parable comparing the “kingdom of Heaven” to a hidden treasure.  A Jungian psychological interpretation of this saying would portray the “kingdom of Heaven” as, broadly speaking, a symbol of the Self:

‘The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field

which someone has found; He hides it again,

goes off in his joy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

Matthew 13:44, The New Jerusalem Bible

The motif of the Self as hidden treasure also permeates alchemy, that esoteric pre-scientific approach to matter and the world, in which Jung took such an interest in the later part of his life.  The goal that the alchemists sought was not to create ordinary gold from lead, but to create something called “the philosophers’ stone”, an absolutely incorruptible and indestructible substance.

Jung acknowledges that, from a scientific point of view, the way the alchemists went after this goal made no sense, but what gripped him was the underlying symbolism.  Jung saw in the “philosophers’s stone” a potent symbol of the Self, in this case, hidden in matter and awaiting discovery, a treasure guarded in secrecy by the alchemists.  Jung believed that some of the later alchemists such as Gerhard Dorn came to realize that what they were seeking in their alchemical work was not a physical, but a psychological reality, and that it was that reality that the symbol of the philosphers’ stone or “son of the philosophers” as it was sometimes called was pointing.

The Core of the Self

At the base of all this symbolization there lies a profound and precious truth about human existence.  It is a truth about the nature of the human self.  At the core of each of us, there is that element in us, an awareness, that is unique and precious, that defines what we most fundamentally are.  Sometimes that is represented symbollically as a hidden treasure, sometimes as a gemstone, sometimes in a variety of other ways.

This is the core of ourselves, symbollically represented.  And there is a bit of a paradox about its nature.  Certainly, symbollically, it is often presented as something that is so precious because it is incorruptible, even indestructible.  Yet, there is a danger concerning the self to which symbol and myth point.  It seems that it is possible for us to lose this treasure, to have it taken away.  Somehow it needs to be guarded and treated with vigilance — like the individual in the parable who joyfully finds the treasure, but then hides it carefully again, until such time as he can go and buy the land in which it’s buried.

Self Protection, Self Possession

This issue of the core of the self, protecting it and keeping it, is one that I meet with on a very regular basis in psychotherapy practice.  It is something with which, in one way or another, very many people.  It is a sad truth that very many people have learned, one way or another, and very often early in life, that their self — their true uniqueness — can be stolen or devalued by others

Sometimes, people learn this lesson as a result of the guilting, shame or ridicule of those who are close to them.  Sometimes what happens really does look like a theft of the self: for instance, a young person will get the message very directly that a parent or other significant person cannot tolerate or deal with who the young person really is, and so that person (often unconsciously) manufactures a false self tp placate the other.  Sometimes a person will give themselves whole-heartedly in relationships — and then find her- or himself deeply betrayed.

Learning to Hide the Self Away

As a consequence, these people learn — sometimes unbelievably well — that the true self has to be hidden away, that they cannot dare reveal who they really are to the people closest to them.  It is then very easy for this lesson to get generalized out to take in the whole world.  It can be come a reflex to feel that nobody wants me, or wants to know who I really am.  Then the only way I get through life is to “keep my head down”, in despair, and just try and keep my joys, my needs — anything at all about me — from getting noticed, and that any encounter of another with me will only result in guilt, rejection and shame.

As is very often the case, it seems to me, when you are looking for someone to express some aspect of modern consciousness, you very often cannot do better than the Beatles.  Here they are, singing a song that is profoundly “on the money” about the need to hide the true self — “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away“.


Getting the Self Back

For such an individual, getting the self back, and spontaneously living out of it, is a key priority.  The reason for that is that, without that sense of acting and reacting out of our actual self, our life simply doesn’t feel real to us.

Psychotherapy with the right therapist may be an essential part of this self-recovery.  An effective psychotherapeutic approach will allow you to get at the deeper reasons for hiding the self.  Many of those reasons may reside in the unconscious, and it may be that only as a person uses the therapy as a “laboratory” for exploring him- or herself, that they can begin to develop a sense and a comfort for what it is to live out of the self.

Most people at one time or another have had to wrestle with the feeling that who and what they are is not acceptable to others.  Has that feeling ever been a part of your experience?  If you would be willing to share your experiences, either in a comment or an email, I would welcome the opportunity to share and dialogue with you.

Wishing you a fuller and fuller encounter with your deepest treasure, the Self, as you move forward on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:     Rembrandt “Parable of the hidden treasure” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

MUSIC CREDIT:      © Lennon / McCartney, EMI Music, 1965

© 2011 Brian Collinson

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

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In January, with Mind, Body, and Instinct

January 20th, 2011 · archetypal experience, archetypes, body, Carl Jung, consciousness, cravings, dreams, inner life, instinct, Jungian analysis, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, seasonal affective disorder, self-knowledge, The Self, unconscious, wholeness

This blog post, on our January mind set, and on mind, body and instinct, continues my last post, although it might look quite different.  My immediately previous post was centered around two quotations that painted pictures of the conscious and unconscious brains in relation to each other.  This post is much more directly concerned with the subjective experience of mind, body and instinct.  I include another quotation from Jung, speaking on primal “instinctual” humans and modern “rational” humans.  Jung’s prime concern here is the loss of human connection with nature — primal, fundamental human nature.

The holidays are over; spring is a long time off.  In the post-December winter months, it’s often easy to fall into a kind of robotic “just-gotta-get-through-it” mental state.  In my personal experience, it’s altogether too easy to just go to a kind of  place where we’re mentally divorced from our feelings, and we just stoically keep answering the “call of duty”, withour regard for the instinctual human we all carry within, and his or her needs.

The Instinct-Rationality Divide

Primitive man was much more governed by his instincts than his “rational” modern descendents. who have learned to “control” themselves.  In this civilizing process, we have increasingly divided our consciousness from the deeper instinctive strata of the human psyche, and even ultimately from the somatic [body] basis of psychic phenomena.  Fortunately, we have not lost these basic instinctive strata; they remain part of the unconscious, even though they may express themselves only in the form of dream images.

Jung, C.G., ed.,  Man and His Symbols, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964)

Modern humans can be very cut off from the instinctual basis of life, and even from being aware of our bodily existence.  In my experience, this can be particularly true when you’re bundled up, slogging down an ice-and-snow filled January street at -25 degrees with a high wind chill!

But, even so, as Jung was among the first to tell us, the instinctual side continues to function, along with the whole broad psychic processing of of inner and outer experience.  It’s always with us, and one important way to move closer to wholeness is to work actively to be aware of that.

Ways to Access the Instinctual Life Within You

Here are four questions to ask that can bring you nearer to the instincts and the life of your body.

1.  What is Your Body Telling You?

It is amazing the degree to which many modern people are completely oblivious to their bodies.  As a very simple step, what if you were to become aware of where in your body you carry tension, and when that tension appears?  If really thinking about this is something new to you, I think you would be amazed at the degree of awareness of your own psyche and your own instinctual self that can come to you through continually practicing this one simple step.

2.  Be Honest: How Do You Really Feel About That?

Of course, it’s just about the world’s oldest joke that therapists are always asking everyone, “Well, how do you really feel about that?”  But it can be so easy to drift into a place of non-awareness about your own feelings — particularly if you’re a personality type that leans heavily on thinking as opposed to feeling.  For such people (and I’m certainly a card carrying member of “Club Think”!) it can be a matter of great importance to be asking yourself continually, “Yes — but what am I feeling now?”

3.  What Do I Really Crave, Yearn for?  Why Do I Crave That?

Your cravings are important!  It may seem like a triviality in the midst of the great Project of Individuation to note that when I’m alone I experience a strong craving for Junior Mints, but don’t be too quick to assume that it’s irrelevant!  Try as much as you can to get into the question of “Yes, but why do I crave Junior Mints at such a time?”  Are they a distraction from the feelings, a self-medication?  Do they have symbollic importance in some ways — a connection with a happy, secure time in my life, for instance?  On the other hand, do the things I crave in some way or other symbollically embody spirit, or my deepest aspirations?

4.  What is Emerging in My Dreams?

And one very profound way in which instinctual life expresses itself is in dream images.  This is a big one for psychotherapists, and especially for Jungians, as we undergo a great deal of rigorous training in how to handle dream material.  I’ve written about this quite a bit, and you can expect me to write about it a lot more.  But we can certainly say here that the deepest aspects of ourselves, instinctual and otherwise, can be counted on to show up through our dreams — that aspect of ourselves that Jung sometimes referrd to as “The Two Million Year Old Man.”

What Are You Instinctually Disposed Towards?

Have you ever had times in your life where you have felt strongly that you were doing things by instinct? I’ve heard many stories that, for instance, mothers tell of getting through unbelievably difficult situations on the strength of their mothering instinct alone.   I’ve also heard of situations where something like raw instinct has led people at a certain point to make fundamental and life-changing decisions.  Indeed, I believe that I made such a change at one particular points in my life — that probably saved my life.  Has your instinct or your “animal side” ever moved you in directions that your intellect would have never thought of going?

I would be very interested to hear about your experiences: please leave a comment below, or if you prefer, send me an email!

Wishing you rich growth in your experience of all that you are, on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2011 Brian Collinson

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Jungian Psychotherapy, the Dream and the New Year

January 1st, 2011 · depth psychology, dreams, Identity, Individuation, inner life, life journey, Meaning, personal myth, personal story

Depth psychotherapy such as Jungian analysis knows that it’s not at all uncommon for the psyche to be particularly active with dreams at the end of the year, and at the beginning of a New Year.  Years are divisions of time which are artificially and, to some extent, arbitrarily created by humans.  Still they form important divisions in time, that the unconscious often seems to recognize in some form or other.  Individuals can sometimes have astonishing dreams at this time, or other experiences which show that the inner depths of the person are active, as we look forward into the open New Year, which waits like a newly painted room for each of us to fill it with our lives.

I think most of us find ourselves thinking about the year, and in a broader way, about our lives, at this time of year.  I certainly find myself thinking about what’s really important in my own life, what really matters to me as I move forward into the rest of my life.

Finite and Precious

Now that I’ve reached a certain age, each passing milestone, like the successive New Years, is a reminder that life is finite, and that it is precious,  SUch times are a confrontation with questions about what is truly meaningful in my life, and about the nature of my true identity.  As I think back over the year, and over all my years, I find myself asking, “Am I more aware of myself than I was?  Who am I, in the light of what I’ve experienced now?”

The Archetype of Renewal

However, there is even more than this.  As Stephenson Bond has shown in his book The Archetype of Renewal, the New Year’s season is deeply associated with the the archetypal theme of renewal, expressed through the mythological association of the New Year with the death and renewal of the King in traditions such as that of ancient Babylon.  As individuals, at the New Year are confronted with the problem of the death and renewal of our own conscious attitude, with the very deep level question of “What is meaningful for me now?” and “On what foundation can I base my life, as I move forward into it?”

Toward An Individual Foundation

There was a time when the answers to these questions were ready-made for many in our culture.  In our time, for many — and I certainly include myself in this number — pre-made answers of the kind afforded by organized religion or other social institutions will not suffice.  I need my own connection to realities that will sustain me through the journey of the rest of my life.  Often this individual foundation is only found through depth psychotherapy or Jungian analysis.  It’s always found through in-depth confrontation and exploration of the self.  As Jung himself put it:

All coercion ultimately proves to be nothing but an obstacle to the highest and most decisive experience of all, which is to be alone with [one’s] own self.  The patient must be thus alone if he is to find out what supports [one] when [one] can no longer support [oneself].  Only this experience can give [one] an indestructible foundation….  The way to the goal seems chaotic and interminable at first, and only gradually do the signs increase that it is leading anywhere.

C. G. Jung, Collected Works 12, Psychology and Alchemy , paras. 32-33

What Is the New Year Bringing to You?

Have you had a dream this New Year’s? Or another experience in which you really encountered yourself or the unconscious?   I’d be very interested in your experience and would really welcome your comments, either below, or via confidential email.

Wishing you a deep and lasting foundation on your personal journey to wholeness, and a very happy, prosperous and soulful New Year.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:  © Melissa King | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Dream Interpretation in Jungian Psychotherapy: The Roadblock

December 22nd, 2010 · dreams, inner life, journey, Jungian, Jungian analysis, life journey, Mississauga, Oakville, Peel Region, persona, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, The Self, therapy, unconscious, wholeness

I thought that I would try and say a little bit in this post about how a Jungian approach to dream interpretation might look like “in action”.  Here’s a dream motif that appears sometimes in psychotherapy, in one form or another.  It’s one that at times will appear in the dreams of my clients.  In rough outline, it goes something like what follows below.

A Dream Motif

The dreamer is trying to get somewhere.  Perhaps the dreamer is in a vehicle, like a car, or on a bicycle, or possibly he or she is on foot.  However, there is some obstacle.  She or he might have to go down a narrow path in her car, and there’s a vehicle accident completely blocking the road.  Or it might be that he or she has to climb an impossibly steep hill.   However, when the individual starts to backtrack, something happens.  Perhaps they are injured, or otherwise hindered. 
In any event, going backward to retrace his or her steps is well-nigh impossible.

The specific interpretation of such a dream would be unique for such an individual, to be sure.  However, there are still a number of important things that Jungian psychotherapy could say about its meaning.

1.  The Individual is Not Going to be Able to Move Forward Travelling in the Current Direction

Very clearly, the dream is showing us that the dreamer cannot move forward.  There is a barrier, either in the form of an insurmountable obstacle, or something that would take an impossibly large amount of energy to overcome.  The dream is clearly giving the message that the direction that the individual is moving in, with respect to the situation that is being dreamt of, will simply not work.  The individual may have been moving in this direction for a long time, or may have just started on this path.  No matter: the import of the dream is the same.  You can’t keep doing what you’re doing.

2.  To Try to Go Back to a Previous State Will Only Cause Pain, Exhaustion or Loss of Vitality

However, that doesn’t mean that the dreamer can just go back to something that happened in the past.  He or she cannot simply retrace his or her steps.   There’s too much pain, or too many cuts of lacerations, too much loss of life-blood.  The older way, the “regressive restoration of the persona”, as a Jungian would say, doesn’t work either.  The person can’t do what he or she used to do.  Life isn’t going to let him or her get away with it, at least not without paying a fearful psychological price.  What may be recalled enthusiastically as “the good days” cannot be reproduced in the present moment.  What is the individual to do?

3.  Something New is Needed

A standard Jungian dream interpretation would be that the dream is painting a picture of a person in a dilemma.  Something new is needed: a different way, or a different approach.  This is not likely to come about as a result of the individual “just trying harder”.  The individual is going to have to explore aspects of her- or himself that have been unknown and undeveloped.  From the perspective of Jungian psychotherapy, the answer will have to emerge from the unconscious.

Is There Anything Across Your Path?

Have you ever encountered a dream of this type?  Have you possibly had such a dream recently?  As I stated, this type of dream is not particularly uncommon.  With the right kind of dream interpretation, the unconscious shows us quite an apt portrait of a person’s psychological situation.  If you’ve had this kind of “blocked path” experience, I would really welcome your comments below.

Wishing you a deep wisdom to know the way forward 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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Life Crisis, Meaning and Psychotherapy

December 9th, 2010 · analytical psychology, crisis, depression, depth psychology, Existential crisis, Individuation, spiritual crisis

When a psychotherapist, and especially a Jungian analyst uses the expressions “life crisis” and “meaning” today, he or she means something specific.  It’s something different from a “major crisis“, which might be some major change and disruption in a person’s life due to changes in external events or relationships.  A life crisis is a crisis about the roots of a person’s life.  Some people might call it a spiritual crisis or crisis of meaning, and others, an “existential” crisis.  The things that characterize such an event are often deep emotional distress accompanied by persistent questioning about whether life is meaningful.  A person may, at times, even look at his or her life and ask her- or himself questions like, “Is it worth it?  or “What’s the point?”  As such, it’s something very fundamental in a person’s life, and something that she or he simply cannot ignore.

A Life Crisis is About Meaning

It’s very easy for helping professionals to look at someone suffering from this kind of crisis, and to simply conclude that the individual is suffering from some variant of depression, or possibly that he or she is having a grief reaction.  And what makes it complex is that there may well be depression that the person is experiencing.  Or else, it may well be that the person’s life crisis has been triggered by a major grief event of one kind or another.  However, if the person is simply treated for the symptoms of the depression, rather than the root causes, it will not lead to a complete resolution.  Putting an individual who is suffering from this kind of life crisis on anti-depressants, for instance, might “take the bottom out” of the depression, so that the individual won’t feel quite as low.  But if the individual is not helped in a very personal way to find what is meaningful in his or her life, nothing fundamental will have changed.

Life Crises are Very Individual

People who are confronted with life crises have to be helped in a very individual way to discover meaning and value to their lives.  This can only someone who has the necessary skills and depth to help the suffering person find the very personal, individual resources within her- or himself to move back into a place where he or she can gratefully and passionately embrace his or own particular, individual life.  This is the particular kind of thing that a therapist with extensive training and personal experience in depth psychology and Jungian analysis can provide.

Have You Ever Experinced a Life Crisis?  Are You Facing One Now?

Although “life crisis” moments can often come at the middle of life or later, they can come at any point in life?  Have you ever had a crisis of meaning, when it “just didn’t feel worth it”?  It’s amazing how many famous and very gifted or capable people have been through this kind of experience.  If you’ve had a similar experience, and you were willing to talk or write about it, I’d welcome the chance to hear from you via  a comment or through a confidential email.

Wishing you meaning and vibrant inner life on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: © Franz Pfluegl | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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

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Jungian Psychology Looks at Leslie Nielsen

December 2nd, 2010 · analytical psychology, Current Affairs, Jungian, persona, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, Shadow, unconscious

“Surely you can’t be serious!”

“I am serious.  And don’t call  me Shirley.”

On Sunday last, comic actor Leslie Nielsen died at age 84.  Like many Canadians I felt a special tie to Nielsen, because he was “one of us”.  I especially enjoyed him in his comedy roles in Airplane and Naked Gun.  From the point of view of Jungian psychotherapy, Nielsen’s characters played in some hilarious ways with what Jungians call persona and shadow.

Serious… but Absurd

It’s as the character of police Lt. Frank Drebin that most people will remember Nielsen.  Drebin always presented with absolute deadpan seriousness, completely the stereotypical image of a serious policeman while surrounded by situation after situation of the most gobstopping absurdity.  His good looks and serious, professional demeanour enabled him to pull this off, at least until we are caught right up in the situation — and then the clown comes out.

Roger Ebert called Nielsen “the Olivier of spoofs” and said of his deadpan antics, “You laugh, and then you laugh at yourself for laughing.”  That was always my experience of Nielsen, too.  I found myself laughing almost in spite of myself during his movies, but also, as in all great comedy, finding something in him that was familiar, something that made me feel “at home”.

The Inner Frank Drebin

I know Frank Drebin.  Part of me feels that I know him very well.  I know that there’s a Frank Drebin in me.  It’s that part of me that stays invested in my outer social role, even when the whole situation is falling apart.  That part of me that continues to desperately try to believe in fictions when everything shows me that my fiction is not the case. That part of each of us that wants to look oh-so-competent when there’s actually a 3 ring circus going on around us — and it turns out that we are in the spotlight at center ring!  We all have that part in ourselves that so desperately wants to “believe our own propaganda” about being totally good and competent and in control– and somehow deep down, knows it’s not true, and is damned if it will admit it.

Surprised by the Shadow

There are all kinds of parts of us that go into making up our shadow, as Jungians call it.  That’s the entire dimension of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge exists.  Part of that is the morally unacceptable parts of ourselves and part of it is those weaker, inferior or just less socially desirable aspects of ourselves that cause us to feel vulnerable or ashamed or just plain clown-like.  But they are all aspects of us, and we need to accept and acknowledge them.

That’s where the Leslie Nielsens — and the Charlie Chaplins, Laurel and Hardys, Roberto Benignis, Robin Williams, John Candys and Jack Blacks — all come in.  They help us to accept and even be kind to those parts of ourselves that we have trouble acknowledging.

Poor Old Persona

Sometimes our poor old persona goes on bravely, day after day, waving its flag that tells everyone that we are doing fine, and that everything’s under control — even when that’s sometimes the very last thing we feel, if we are honest with ourselves.  Rest in peace, Leslie Neilsen, and thank you for helping us to laugh at our pretensions and our obliviousness, and to be kinder to our struggling selves.  Surely you can’t be serious, Mr. Nielsen — and we love you for being anything but.

Caught in Our Own Schtick?

Have you ever one of those “Frank Drebin” moments?  When all your seriousness and self-importance just comes apart?  I remember once having to give a talk at a hospital.  I bent down to pick up my projector, and –with a big audible rip! — the entire seam in the middle of the back of my pants split, from top to bottom!  Shadow time!  If you’ve had a similar experience, I’d welcome hearing from you via  a comment or through a confidential email.

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: © David Fowler | Dreamstime.com

TRAILER CREDIT:  © 1988 Paramount Pictures .  The Naked Gun series is the property of Paramount Pictures  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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Persisting Imprints of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

September 16th, 2010 · Anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, psychological crisis, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, stress, Trauma

There has been a considerable amount of valuable recent research on changes to the brains of Americans as the result of 9/11, as a recent article on the Discovery website reports.  The article relies on the research of Judith Richman and colleagues published in 2008 in the American Journal of Public Health , which concluded, among other things, as the Discovery article has it, that:

Nine years later… the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, continue to affect the way we [meaning Americans] think, remember and react to stressful situations. The actual trauma ended long ago, but for many people, measures of brain activity and body chemistry are different than they were before it happened.

What this would seem to imply is that, when large-scale traumatic events occur, the impact is experienced not only by those who are proximate to the events, who may well experience post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions.  Also, many in the general population are impacted, who may be caused substantial distress by the events long after they occur, and who may have their reactions to stressful situations changed by their response to large-scale events.  Thinking about this in a broader context, I’m led to wonder what this research could tell us about the impact on people generally of the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

As I suggested in blog posts at the time, my clinical experience at that point strongly suggested that many people were in fact traumatized and subject to great stress as a result of the great financial uncertainties of that time.  Despite the fact that those experiences may not have resulted in diagnosable conditions under DSM-IV, I am still led to wonder about the ways in which those experiences may have changed the ways in which at least some people “think, remember and react to stressful situations”.  It may be important for each of us to ask ourselves how those events have affected us, and to seek appropriate psychotherapeutic help, if we feel that our approach to stress has changed.

I’d welcome your comments and reflections on the impact of intense stress of this kind in our lives.

Wishing you all the very best on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Ivan Paunovic | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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The Not-So-Simple Task of Simply Being Honest, Pt 2: Shadow

September 14th, 2010 · Carl Jung, depth psychology, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Shadow, soul, The Self, unlived life, wholeness

As I indicated in Part 1 of this post, if we really get serious about the task of being honest with ourselves, sooner or later, we are going to run into what Jung calls the Shadow.  The Shadow represents all those parts of ourselves that we do not, or do not want to, acknowledge as being parts of ourselves.  As Jung himself puts it:

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. 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.

If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that “they” do this or that, “they” are wrong, and “they” must be fought against.  Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.

CG Jung, CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. pp. 131 – 140

So a person’s shadow will often have a large element of moral difficulty attached to it.  It may be that I have certain strong ethical standards for instance, which I not only feel that I adhere to, but which I also proclaim to the world.  But it’s often the case that, underlying such a position, I in fact do not really act in a manner consistent with my conscious convictions — and, what’s more, I even hide the fact that I do so from my conscious awareness.

The above is the aspect of the shadow that preachers or moralists might easily pick up on, but there is more to the shadow than that.  For the shadow also contains those aspects of our personality associated with feelings of weakness, inferiority or shame.  These may be elements of our personality that we do not hide or fail to acknowledge for moral reasons, but more because we simply resist showing them to the world.  These shadow contents may often concern the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, including parts of ourselves that have been deeply wounded or shamed by others, or which we simply cannot accept about ourselves.  They may well have hidden themselves, not only from the view of the world, but also from my own view.  Remarkably, many memories may have been repressed and split off.

And this is certainly not all that there is to be said about the shadow.  There could easily be another 50 posts like this one on the subject!  But it’s important to recognize that the undeveloped potentialities in my personality reside in the shadow.  For instance, if I’m a fairly introverted person, in the way I present to the world, I may have a fairly extroverted shadow… or vice versa.  There are very likely aspects of myself in my shadow that I find very difficult to face or acknowledge — but it may also be that a great amount of undiscovered life is there in the shadow as well, waiting to be uncovered and encountered.

Questions to Ask Yourself about Shadow

  1. What do I have the hardest time admitting to be true about myself?
  2. Where do I feel weakest and most vulnerable in my innermost self?
  3. What kinds of people, or what individuals, do it have the hardest time putting up with?  If I’m really honest with myself, is there anything at all about them that I envy, or even admire, however grudgingly?  Is that which I envy a quality that I might find somewhere in myself?

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and your reflections on the whole subject of the shadow.

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Dmitry Maslov | 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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The Not-So-Simple Task of Simply Being Honest, Part 1

August 25th, 2010 · depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, persona, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, Shadow, truth, unconscious

Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.

-Ludwig Wittgenstein

We all like to feel that we know ourselves, and that we are fundamentally honest with ourselves, but is it so?  Often we not only deceive other people — something we may or may not have very good reasons for doing.  We also deceive ourselves.  That is a problem, because sometimes deliberate not-wanting-to-know keeps us from being conscious of things that we really need to understand for our own individuation process.

To see what I mean, let’s consider one of the most common questions that is asked in this world.  This question must surely also receive one of the highest proportions of deceptive responses worldwide:

“So… How are you?”

It is not merely that the answers given to the questioner in response to this question are knowingly false.  It is, that on a deeper level, we very often are untruthful or inaccurate in what we allow ourselves to know in response to this question.  If we were to reflect, we would realize that our answers are not only superficial, they are often untrue.  For instance, we humans are quite capable of responding by telling people, “Fine, thank you!” when in fact we may be wrestling desperately with anxiety or depression.  It is not merely that we are choosing to be deceptive of others.  It is that we are choosing not to know — to deceive ourselves.

Sometimes the truth is very hard to look at, head on.  We can become acutely aware of this when there are aspects of ourselves at which we would rather not look.  For instance, it can sometimes take people a great deal of effort to look at their early life, and to acknowledge the ways in which it was  filled with sadness.  Or similarly, loyalty to parents may prevent a person from acknowledging that the relationship with that parent was, or is, a very difficult one.  Again, because we often have such an ego investment in relationships, acknowledging that  a marriage or a partnership may not be good for us may hold similar difficulties. Similarly, the capacity of individuals to rationalize or deny in situations of addiction or abuse are well known.  And the whole realm of sexuality is frequently full of things that we would rather not admit to ourselves.

To set yourself on the course of being fundamentally honest with yourself is to set yourself on the path of encounter with the unconscious.  In particular, being honest with oneself often sets one on a course for in-depth encounter with the shadow, in Jungian terms.  In the next Part of this series, I will be examining this encounter with shadow in more depth.

Questions to Ask about Truth and Honesty in the Inner Life

  1. What do I have a vested interest in believing about myself?
  2. What do I have a vested interest in believing about other people in my life?
  3. Are there things that I would really rather believe, that I have to admit are just not true?

I’d welcome your comments on this post, and on the whole subject of truth in our relationship to ourselves.

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Jose Elias Silva Neto | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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