Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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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Escaping the Grip of Regret, Part 1

July 26th, 2010 · complexes, compulsion, depth psychology, guilt, life passages, midlife, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, regret, soul, therapy, unlived life, wholeness

Regret is a power that can bring you to your knees.  A great many of us have experienced its power.  Sinatra may sing “Regrets, I’ve had a few / But then again, too few to mention.”  This sounds admirable and enviable, but over the course of a lifetime, most of us have to deal with some very powerful rendez-vous with the way it might have been.

Regret can be experienced at any point in life, but often at mid-life, regret can start to take on a particular intensity.  As we go through the journey of life, the awareness that we have only a finite amount of life left, a finite number of possibilities open to us, can lead us to an exquisite hyper-sensitivity to the regret we have for all the choices we could have made differently, roads we could have walked, ways that it might have turned out that it did not.  In other words, the life unlived.

How can we live with this awareness?  We may attempt to shrug it off, pretend it isn’t there.  But very often for us it is there, often at times like 3 o’clock in the morning, when all the spirits tend to come out.  Not a few of our addictive and compulsive behaviours — including workoholism — can stem from attempts to run away from regret.  But how can you or I run away from something so close to ourselves?

In my next few postings, I will be examining the phenomenon of regret, and the way it impacts us.  It can have a huge grip on us.  It can even imprison us, and embitter us beyond words.  But, let me ask a question that might seem strange:  Is there health in regret?  It’s clear how regret can be a poison, but, oftentimes, the cure for the poison is made from the poison itself.

Does regret play a part in your life?  Do you ever find the experience of regret both inescapable and painful?  I’d welcome any of your comments on this post.

My Next Post: Escaping the Grip of Regret, Part 2: Understanding the Power of Regret

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Cammeraydave | 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 III: Heart Trouble

July 11th, 2010 · Carl Jung, collective consciousness, collective unconscious, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian psychology, Lifestyle, Meaning, persona, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, soul, symbolism, unconscious, wholeness

 

Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III, Heart Trouble

…I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad. 

“They say that they think with their heads,” he replied.

“Why of course.  What do you think with?” I asked him in surprise.

We think here,” he said, indicating his heart. [Italics mine]

Conversation between Ochway Biano, Chief of the Pueblo Indians and Carl Jung, recorded in  CG Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections  (1961)

Everything has been “figured out”, except how to live.

Jean-Paul Sartre

 In Part I  and Part II of this series “Anxiety Behind the Mask”, I’ve been exploring the symbollic meaning of the pop cultural figure of Iron Man.  He is certainly a symbol for the relationship in our culture between the social mask and the inner human, and for the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable.   However, there is great psychological danger in complete identification with such an impervious persona: it can become a trap, become robotic, with no way left for the inner person to “get beyond the mask”.

One of the elements from the story of the origin of Iron Man is that Tony Stark, who becomes Iron Man, has heart trouble.  As the first Iron Man movie shows, he is injured in the process of his capture, and has to be fitted with a special magnetic device to keep shrapnel from ripping apart his heart.

There is of course a tremendous importance to the symbolism of the heart.  It is the seat of the feelings and of passion.  It is also the particular organ associated with eros, which includes but is more than the power of sexual love.  Eros is also the human capacity to connect and relate.  The place where our yearnings are located.  The place where hope and despair alike find their home.

Tony Stark is portrayed as a technical genius, someone who can create the most incredible machines.  As a hero figure, he symbolizes the incredible technical prowee of our culture.  This kind of technical knowledge exemplifies the tremendous power of rational thinking — what Jung identified as the principle of logos.  It is characterized by the ability to organize, quantify, discriminate, classify, and strategize.  But logos is always pulling things apart, using conceptual power to break things down into their component parts, and make them less than they are.  Our ability to do this as a species is a great strength, and has contributed mightily to the survival and success of our species.  It is a cornerstone of western civilization, and we all glory in our scientific and technical acheivements.

However, this scientific and technical prowess can leave us completely isolated and alienated from our world, nature, and other people.  And above all, it can leave us cut off from our inner selves, from our true ability to feel things, and to relate to others and to our world.

Like Tony Stark, the Iron Man, who is a symbol produced by our culture’s collective consciousness, it is all too easy for those of us who live in our culture to have “heart trouble”, to have lost touch with our ability to feel, to empathize, to relate.  But, as Leonard Cohen seeks to remind us, the truth of the heart is never really lost.  It is always there waiting for us, even when we seem to be in exile from ourselves, even when the world seems to say, “this heart, it is not yours”.

Four Questions about the Heart

Here are some questions that may help the conversation with your own heart.

Are there any feelings that you would find hard to share with the people closest to you? 
What are the three most painful experiences in your life?
 
 
 
What are the three most joyous experiences in your life?
 
 
 
 
What is it that you really yearn for?
 
 

What about your own heart?  It’s only by staying close to it that one can begin to be close to the spontaneity and aliveness that is one’s own real life.  Often, the course of analysis, therapy or counselling is following the road back to the deepest parts of the heart.

I’d welcome your reflections on the “heart trouble” of Iron Man and the ways in which it reflects our own struggles with our hearts, as individuals and as a culture.

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

VIDEO CREDIT: “By the Rivers Dark” by Leonard Cohen, from the album Ten New Songs ©  2001 Sony Music Entertainment Inc.  This music is the property of Sony Music Entertainment and is used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 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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Depth Psychotherapy Heals

June 14th, 2010 · complexes, depth psychology, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, Science, unconscious, Wellness, wholeness

  The research paper that I have linked to below is both striking and very important.  It provides strong empirical evidence of the effectiveness of “psychodynamic psychotherapy”.  That’s a technical term for those forms of psychotherapy, like the Jungian approach, which:

 

In this study, Shedler’s “Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy”, evidence shows psychodynamic therapies to have a treatment effect as large as those reported for other therapies whose proponents stridently proclaim them to be “empirically supported” and “evidence based.” What is particularly noteworthy, though, is that people who receive psychodynamic therapy maintain therapeutic gains and appear to continue to improve after treatment ends.  The study also tends to indicate that non-psychodynamic therapies may be effective in part because the practitioners who are the most skilled at using those methods bring techniques into their practice that essentially originated in the theory and practice of psychodynamic psychotherapy.  The researcher makes it clear that any perception that psychodynamic approaches lack empirical support “does not accord with available scientific evidence.”

 

These results, while not entirely new, are very striking.  They are worthy of very careful consideration by the therapeutic profession as a whole.

I’d gratefully welcome your comments and reflections on any of your experiences with Jungian or other forms of depth psychology.

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Cristi111|Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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