Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Encountering Major Changes in Life During COVID-19

July 13th, 2020 · changes in life

Major changes in life are some of life’s most important events. Many people are continuing to experience such changes right in the midst of COVID-19.

Often referred to as major life transitions, major changes in life occur as a regular part of our life journey. These types of events or life experiences are often characterized by a strong sense of “before” and “after” when we look back upon them from a later point in our lives. As we tell ourselves our life story, we might say, “Before this event occurred, I was (fill in the blank), but after, I was different”, or, “I changed when I went through XYZ.

The Life Events That Change Us

To what types of life events or life experiences am I referring? There’s a very long list, but it would certainly include the following, for adults:

  • getting married;
  • getting separated or divorced;
  • having a baby;
  • undergoing a miscarriage
  • deciding to change careers;
  • losing a job;
  • major changes in job requirements or the workplace;
  • retirement;
  • moving to a new city;
  • bereavement, losing a close relative;
  • religious or spiritual crisis; and,
  • many, many more.

So, what happens if an individual is going through a major change in life, during this COVID-19 period, when it can feel like so much is changing already? It can be extremely demanding for people to go through a major life event at the same time that we, as a society, are more or less involuntarily going through this other major life event, that we call the COVID-19 lockdown period. How are people who have to go through both at the same time impacted?

Such individuals can certainly encounter a great deal of stress, which can manifest as anxiety and / or depression. If, in addition to the pressures and complications of the lockdown period, an individual is confronting another crisis that they cannot avoid, the demands can seem very nearly overwhelming.

In some cases, the COVID-19 crisis is even triggering other major changes in life. For instance, the experience of lockdown has certainly led to marital tensions, and sometimes, marital breakdown. The experience of isolation has also caused very serious re-evaluations of life priorities, in the form of individuals realizing the need to change career or vocation in some way, and, in some cases, has led to individuals confronting major spiritual, existential and moral awakenings.

Beyond Overwhelm

Individuals confronting major life changes in this time can find it very easy to stay in a state of emotional denial. It can be easy for the individual to tell herself that the major changes in life that she is confronting are not really that significant, and to try and “keep things on the back burner”. This is often the way that the psyche of an overwhelmed individual tries to deal with the situation: it dissociates, or cuts itself off from the emotional impact of the challenge that the individual faces, and tries to “soldier on”.

However, things can easily get to the point where the individual can no longer soldier on without acknowledging the emotional burden created by the marital breakdown, or the job loss, or the feelings of loneliness, isolation and meaninglessness. This can manifest in a crisis where the individual is simply failing to cope, or in substance abuse issues, or it can show up as physical issues, or even as severe illness. To keep moving forward in the life journey, rather than stuck at an impasse, something else is needed.

What Life is Asking Now

One useful way of looking at major life changes is to think about the question that life is asking of us at this particular moment. The questions that life has brought forward for many people in this time of COVID-19 are large indeed.

Depth psychotherapy can be a very effective way to help individuals to face the questions that life asks. It can provide invaluable holding support as they seek out workable ways to move through major changes in life, in a way that has integrity, while remaining true to the fundamental identity of the individual.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Canada Day, Attachment and the Meaning of Home

July 6th, 2020 · meaning of home

July 1, Canada Day, gave us the chance to reflect on the meaning of being Canadian—and on the meaning of home.

Finding a sense of home is something that is front and center for many people at this present time. If “home” is the place where we feel most secure and safest, many of us have found that sense of security to be challenged by lockdown requirements, and the many changes and demands that coping with the pandemic has brought to us. It’s a time when many of the conventional securities that we have taken for granted, such as the ability to go to our workplaces, the chance to go to a cafe or a restaurant, or the opportunity to send our children to school, have all be brought into question. It’s a time when, for many people, many of the most familiar aspects of their home life and community have felt somewhat, well…broken.

Forget Your Perfect Offering…

Against this background, the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper worked with prominent Canadian musicians, singers and dancers to create a unique Canada Day programming offering: a series of interpretations by seven Canadian dance companies of Canadian poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song, Anthem.

Like much of Mr. Cohen’s work, Anthem is an uncommon combination of a sobering realism about the human condition with a form of surprising yet very vibrant hope. The lyrics are well known to many, and seem to have risen to prominence on social media as particularly speaking to our circumstances in the midst of the pandemic:

Ring the bells that still can ring, /

Forget your perfect offering. / There is a crack, a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

Cohen urges us to realize that the world we inhabit rarely, if ever, matches up to our perfectionistic ideals—and that, in fact, we don’t measure up to our own standards of perfection. He bids us to realize that there is “a crack in everything”, yet then he follows up with this remarkable statement, that this broken-ness, cracked-ness, is in fact “how the light gets in”. This light that he refers to is presumably both the light of conscious awareness of ourselves, and of the world, and also the light of hope.

Accepting Our Limitations, and the World’s

How extraordinary that the artistic guiding lights at the Globe and Mail would conclude that this is the right message to deliver on our nation’s founding day! Usually, we would think of nations’ birthdays as times when a nation’s citizens would engage in a considerable amount of self-congratulation for the wonderful contributions that their nation has made to civilization, or their nation’s stirling character, military and economic strength and all-around wonderfulness. Yet, the words of Cohen’s song give us almost the opposite:

You can add up the parts: you won’t get the sum /

You can strike up the march—there is no drum /

Everyone, everyone to love will come, but as a refugee.

There is a very sober, dry eyed realism in these lines. Yet, as mentioned above, Cohen also gives us his deeply courageous hope. In the midst of the fallibility and imperfection that constitutes human life as we all experience it, Cohen affirms that “everyone to love will come”. Opinions might differ as to what he means here, but my view is that this is rooted in Cohen’s deep spirituality, and his conviction that what we need is a deep compassion for ourselves, and for others, who, like us, are dealing with their own woundedness and broken-ness. He expresses the same grounded but ultimately optimistic perspective in another of his songs when he declares that,

Love’s the only engine of survival.

Feeling at Home

C.G. Jung held a similar perspective when he stated that,

The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life. 

Jung recognized, correctly in my opinion, that being able to accept and love oneself, in the midst of one’s broken-ness, fallibility and strengths is a key requirement for being able to accept and act compassionately toward others, in their flawed and human state. In fact, Jung tells us that this is “the epitome of a whole outlook on life.” In other words, to be able to accept others, and to feel at home in the world, we must first come to terms with who we are, and must be able to accept ourselves in our entirety.

To be on the journey of self-acceptance, which is the same as the journey toward wholeness is to embark on the work of a lifetime. To come to terms with, and to accept and love who we really are is also to get at the root of many forms of human depression and anxiety.

The work of self-acceptance, and of finding a true sense of home in the world can be greatly assisted by working in a safe, secure, accepting depth psychotherapy relationship, whether in-person or online.

Wishing you the very best on your journey,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Meaning of Summer: Soul and the Solstice in 2020

June 22nd, 2020 · meaning of summer

As we pass the summer solstice on June 21, it’s important for us to reflect on the meaning of summer. This is particularly true, given the challenges we’ve faced in 2020.

Summer Solstice Sunset

The human race has celebrated the arrival of summer at the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, since prehistory. At many sites around the world, elaborate structures have been built to capture the sunlight of that special moment when the sun is at its highest in the sky. Chichen Itza in the Yucatan, Mexico, Stonehenge in Wiltshire, UK circa 1000 BC, and the “Scottish Stonehenge” at Callanish circa 3000 BC are all examples of humans building extraordinary structures to capture this unique moment of the beginning of summer.

The solstice issues in the extraordinary days of summer, with their heat. In temperate climates there is often the sense that the world has become fully alive. As the poet William Carlos Williams puts it,

In the summer, the song sings itself.

C. Day Lewis waxes in a similar vein:

Summer has filled her veins with light and her heart is washed with noon.

Summer has this sense about it of the wonderful fullness of life. Especially in the early days of summer, in late June, it’s easy to agree with sportscaster Al Bernstein:

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

Yet this time of the early days of summer in late June, just after the solstice has a dual character. After all, the solstice day is the longest day of the year. From now on, the days will start to shorten, at first imperceptably. Yet, gradually, we’ll head through the “dog days” of summer into the fall, and on toward the short, faintly lit days around the winter solstice in December.

What is the Meaning of Summer for Us?

Very often, these transitory warm days can make us feel that now is the time when we should live our lives to the full. We should be out doing things that are fun, travelling and seeing new places, having new adventures and connecting with the people who matter to us. The impulse is there to just generally live large, to relax and enjoy things and to “get while the getting’s good.”

For just this reason, the season of summer can generate anxiety, or even depression, for some people. It can often feel like there are all these wonderful opportunities out there at in these passing summer days, and that I should be out there enjoying them to the full. Yet, there can be fear that “I’m missing out”, or somehow not getting enough of the wonderful things that belong to this season, as it rushes by us all too quickly.

This Summer: A Particular Sense of Loss

In my opinion, this feeling of “missing out” on summer is something a great many people are particularly feeling at this time. We all feel that this is the season when we are wanting to get out into the world with our summer plans. Yet this year, much more than in the average year, many of us are intensely experiencing the sense that we may not get all the good things from summer–and ultimately from life–that we feel we want and need, due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

We feel deprived, and very much as if something has been lost. This feeling may serve to bring some key questions into focus in our lives. What is it that we actually do want in our lives? And how do we go about getting it?

It’s would be easy to get lost in a sense of stuckness about all this. After several months of lockdown, which will still continue in some form or other for some time to come, we could easily be left with the feeling that the situation is too big. We might feel that it’s too overwhelming for us to do anything about it, and so we could end up feeling paralyzed. What can often happen to us in the face of something that feels overwhelming is that we can move into emotional denial that there is even any issue, and then just ignore it. Such denial would make it that much more difficult for us to get what we need from life at this point in our life journey.

Getting Unstuck, and Getting What We Need

The early days of summer are unfolding. As we simultaneously deal with the unusual constraints of lockdown, it can be particularly important not to succumb to a sense of powerlessness and stuckness. It’s important to identify what we really want from summer, and from life. Then, it’s important to think carefully and creatively about how to go about getting it. Travel and hotel accommodation might not be in the cards this summer, but are there other things, such as creative day trips, or experiences at home or nearby, that might bring vitality and enhance the meaning of summer in my life?

Working with a supportive depth psychotherapist can be an excellent way of exploring creative options that make the most of your summer, and that open creative and life-giving doors in your life as a whole.

With warm wishes for your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Major Life Transition: Envisioning the Future After COVID-19

June 15th, 2020 · future after COVID 19

We’re currently undergoing a collective major life transition, due to the impact of coronavirus. We’re all striving to envisage the future after COVID-19.

It’s a big occurence when an individual undergoes a major life transition. What does it mean for us all, when a great many individuals in a society undergo related major life transitions simultaneously?

C.G. Jung was very wary of about using statistics to describe the journey toward wholeness of individuals. Yet there can be a place for statistics in discerning the impact of major events on the lives of many people in a society. A study by Nanos Research for the Mental Health Commission of Canada has indicated that the number of Canadians feeling stressed regularly has increased dramatically in the COVID era. However, it also showed that many Canadians were experiencing a greater appreciation for friends and family, an interest in returning to a simpler life, and less interest in buying and owning material possessions.

In research for the Globe and Mail, Nanos found that most Canadians don’t think that we will simply revert to our prepandemic lifestyle. Also, a great many people feel that COVID has generated a greater appreciation for life, and what is really important in life. Nanos interprets this as a return to self-reflection and “soul searching”–akin perhaps to the experience of “soul making” that I referred to in my last blog post.

Possibility

One of the things that can be very difficult for individuals in dealing with a crisis such as COVID-19 is the sense that the future has been foreclosed. Living with the amount of uncertainty that we are experiencing in many cases, it can easily feel like the door to the future is shut, and that there are no good possibilities open to us. It is very easy to feel powerless, both as individuals, and as a society.

Yet, it’s very important for us to be clear on the difference between actual powerlessness, and a lack of ability to imagine possible directions in which things might move. And, we might add, it’s particularly important to think about what direction we might want things to go, for our personal lives, and for our collective life as a society.

How can we engage or connect with possibilities that we might be able to live out? We’ve been living with a set of assumptions about how our world works that we carry in both our conscious lives, and in our unconscious mind. They condition us, and lead us to feel that they represent “the way the world is” Yet, they actually may represent merely our projections, individual and collective, upon that world. Could a situation such as the one we’re confronting at present possibly change our perceptions–in useful and life-giving ways?

Soul and Envisaging the Future

It can take a considerable amount of courage and strength to envisage a future that could be good for us and that could be well-suited to who we are. It could also require us to know a great deal about ourselves, and what we really want and need–as opposed to what others expect of us.

It can be easy to let ourselves be driven and motivated by the expectations of others. However the net effect of this can be that we get driven further and further away from who we really are. We can end up getting caught in a rut of conformity that feels futile, and lacks meaning. At a time like the present, when the conventional world that we have known seem to be rapidly changing, that could be a recipe for despair.

Envisaging Your Future After COVID-19

To envisage meaningful future possibilities for ourselves, we have to know what we want. This is true whether we are considering our own individual future, or the broader future, that embraces the entire future of our society. This may require exploring parts of ourselves which are not that familiar, and attitudes and feelings that have been in the background for a long time, yet are only coming to the fore in the present. In a huge number of peoples’ dreams at the present time, there is a common theme: something new is breaking in. It’s essential for us to be attentive what that might embody.

In the present time time, we’re called to self-exploration and a self-compassionate acceptance of who we fundamentally are. These things are actually fundamental to a vision of a future after COVID-29. It can be of tremendous assistance in developing that self-knowledge and self-love to work with a Jungian depth psychotherapist, as an individual works toward a viable, meaningful way to move into the future.

Wishing you every good thing on your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Coping with Anger–in the Midst of COVID-19

June 8th, 2020 · coping with anger

Alongside anxiety, one of the feeling reactions that many people are experiencing in the midst of COVID-19 is anger.

We experience this in quite a number of different forms. In fact, along with anxiety, fear and confusion, many of us may experience anger of more than one type, as we’re dealing with the unusual and difficult aspects of the COVID-19 experience.

It’s important to emphasize that anger is perfectly normal. In many cases, it’s a perfectly understandable and justified feeling. Many people feel anger or irritability at situations in their lives, and, usually those feelings are not a problem for us.

Before we look at the specifics of COVID-19 and anger, it’s worthwhile reflecting on the types of life situations where we experience anger. Generally speaking, anger occurs to let us know that something is wrong. Anger can occur: when things feel out of our control; when we feel frustrated or thwarted in reaching a goal or obtaining something that we feel we need or want; or when we, or someone we care about, gets really hurt, disrespected or violated.

Healthy anger has an important part to play in our lives. However, if it comes up for us in ways that are more intense than we might expect, or occurs so frequently that we can’t enjoy our lives anymore, or occurs in ways that injure our health or connections with people whom we love or care about, then we need to take steps to take care of ourselves, or to get the help that we need.

Accepting the Reality of Our Anger

As mentioned above, anger is the emotion that lets us know that something is wrong. Well, for many of us, the COVID-19 situation and related lockdown makes us feel like there is a whole lot wrong.

Many people find themselves confined to home, and unable to go to their workplace. They also find they can’t go to a restaurant, or to any kind of social gathering. Many find themselves with kids at home, whose school year is in jeopardy, or they have elderly relatives whose health they worry about. There’s a whole range of ways in which COVID-19 and the associated restrictions make us feel a very substantial lack of control. This combines with a deep sense of frustration at not being able to achieve desired outcomes or goals, and deep concern about the potential for harm to people whom we care about.

Can We Listen to Our Anger?

Some people are very in touch with this anger. However, there are many people who find the anger very hard to acknowledge. Yet, there may be some real importance in feeling and coming to terms with the anger associated with this COVID-19 time. A part of the messaging in our culture is that “nice people don’t get angry.” “After all,” many of us might tell ourselves, “what’s the use of talking about all this, and getting angry? It’s just getting upset for no good reason.”

Yet, there actually is a very good reason for acknowledging our anger around COVID-19 and related matters. It would be naive to think that, just because we don’t acknowledge our anger, it somehow goes away forever. As depth psychotherapists well know, if we repress something, which means pushing it out of our conscious mind, it keeps on going in our unconscious mind. From there, it can have a whole range of effects on us, many of them negative.

For instance, we can find that our anger “comes out sideways”, meaning that we find ourselves erupting into anger at other people or other situations, where the anger is completely unjustified. Or, we can find that unacknowledged anger leads us to be generally emotionally suppressed or “shut down”, and perhaps even depressed. In addition, anger that goes completely unacknowledged can have serious effects on our health, manifesting in terms of stress-related issues, and also having a strong negative effect on our bodies in areas like our cardiovascular system, or or digestive tract.

As we explore our anger, we may also find that other feelings, such as grief, sorrow, and even fear, hide within it. Acknowledging these feelings, dialoguing with them, and allowing ourselves to hear what they have to say to us may be a very important part of coming to terms with our lives as we move towards the post-COVID-19 period.

Anger and Soul Amidst COVID-19

Jungian depth psychotherapists use the terms “soul” and “soul-making” to refer to experiences that make us deeper, and that give us an enhanced awareness of who we are. In that sense, acknowledging and exploring our anger in the midst of this COVID-19 time can be an experience of “soul-making”. It can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, and of where we can find meaning and direction in our lives.

In a time like the present, we are facing a great deal of uncertainty, and difficulty in determining our future direction, both personally and collectively. It can be a matter of great importance to acknowledge the anger that we are experiencing, and to do so in a self-compassionate way.

In coming to terms with anger, the support of a relationship with a depth psychotherapist can be of great value. It can serve us by helping us to feel that we are not alone, that our feelings are legitimate, and that they are part of our overall journey towards wholeness.

Wishing you every good thing on the journey,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Understanding the Meaning of My Dreams During COVID-19

June 1st, 2020 · meaning of my dreams

One of the things that COVID-19 lockdown has led to is that people are dreaming more–and, often wondering “What is the meaning of my dreams?” Do they mean anything?

Surveys that have been done by authoritative sources indicate that, with the COVID-19 lockdown, we may be sleeping less well than we did, but we tend to be sleeping somewhat more. The result of this is that many people surveyed report that they remember more dreams than in pre-lockdown times. What’s more, these dreams tend not to be of the peaceful, relaxing variety.

Harvard psychologist Dierdre Barrett has conducted an international survey of dreams during COVID-19. She has found that numbers of dreams that we would classify as nightmares have increased dramatically. This is consistent with results found in previous times of trauma, disaster or dramatically heightened anxiety, such as in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks.

Around the time of 9-11, there was a dramatic increase in anxious dreams involving themes such as planes crashing into buildings or terrorist attacks. In the time of COVID-19, not surprisingly, dreams are featuring themes like masses of maggots, swarms of bugs and hoards of cockroaches or worms. As Barrett points out, in colloquial language we often refer to getting a virus as “catching a bug”, so such imagery would very aptly express our anxieties in the current coronavirus-obsessed world. It seems that we’re witnessing a new phenomenon: the pandemic dream.

Focusing on the Meaning of My Dreams in COVID-19 Times

It’s certainly true that many of the dreams that people are experiencing have strong roots in everyday experience. It’s not really surprising that dreams of “bugs” are appearing frequently at this time, when one of our biggest anxieties concerns “catching a bug”. It’s also clear that many of these pandemic dreams reflect our anxiety. However, I would suggest that this anxiety may be about considerably more than just the narrow anxiety around catching the virus.

This may take us back to a fundamental question: why does dreaming exist at all? There have always been those who view dreaming as “the rubbish dump of the brain”, or “the brain clearing its tapes”, but today, there are very many more people who feel that dreaming serves a valuable function for us as we seek to move forward in our lives. Why would we dream, if not to enable us to adapt better?

If we approach dreams symbolically, as depth psychotherapists do, we could see the appearance of bugs, roaches, worms etc. as themselves a symbolic representation of anxiety, or of gnawing thoughts. While it’s true that many people may be currently experiencing fear of the COVID “bug”, what might be less obvious but essential to recognize, is that there are a great many gnawing anxieties in the present situation: the disease itself, for sure; the economic situation; the impact the situation is having on our relationships and families, and many, many more important issues.

Why It’s Important to be Open to Dreams

This is why it may be very important to be attentive to the particulars of the dream. A dream may be pointing to a very great deal of anxiety, but its essential to get a sense of what the anxiety is actually about. Because dreams offer us the opportunity to gain a glimpse of what is happening within us on the unconscious level, they can give us an important “way in” to understand the nature of our anxiety. They may also offer us important clues as to how to move beyond the anxiety, and to enable us to gain a greater sense of fulfillment, meaning and direction in our lives.

This is why it’s so unfortunate if we don’t give our dreams and our unconscious personality the chance to be heard. If we miss out on taking our dreams seriously, we may well be missing our chance at connecting to resources that could actually help bring some sense of forward movement to us at times in our lives when we feel we are completely “stuck”.

In my opinion, the word “stuck” is very important here, given our current situation worldwide. The strong message that I’m hearing from very many people is that, with the COVID-19 lockdown, and all the restrictions, individuals are experiencing a strong sense of being “stuck”. We’re at a time of major life transition. For many people, both individually and collectively, there is a strong sense that things are not going to go back to the way that they were. For many of us, there is the sense that the future will look different, but its hard to get a clear sense of exactly how.

Paying attention to our dreams, and to what they tell us about our current life situation may be an important step in getting beyond our stuckness.

What Will You Do about Your Dreams?

Dreams can be an important source of self-understanding, and they can help us move forward in our lives. This is always true, but it’s especially true during this time of COVID-19.

I would strongly encourage anyone who remembers a dream to keep a record of it, and to reflect upon it, because there can be a wealth of understanding in dreams. It may also be valuable to consult with a therapist who is well-versed in dreams and dream symbolism, as Jungian depth psychotherapists are.

With every good wish that the meaning of your dreams will open itself to you, and grace your own personal direction in this challenging time,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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We Need to Think about Social Anxiety and Coronavirus

May 25th, 2020 · social anxiety and coronavirus

As a society, and as individuals, we’re going to have to deal with the realities of social anxiety and coronavirus.

As the picture above of our individual enjoying his socially distanced day at the beach might suggest, it’s likely that we’re going to be dealing with the effects and after-effects of the COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” policies for some time. How is that going to impact us?

One the things that is having the most dramatic impact is the increase in levels of social anxiety. It may be that some people are bursting at the seams, almost, to rush back into social interaction. However, as depth psychotherapists know very well from experience with clients, there are as many, and quite probably more, individuals who face the prospect of increased social interaction with genuine anxiety and dread.

Coronavirus Heightens Social Anxiety

For two and a half months now, we have lived with the realities of “social distancing” and “shelter in place”. Most of us “know the drill.” We avoid others on the sidewalk, wear face masks; wash hands frequently; submit to controlled passage through grocery stores; and disinfect after handing anything from outside the home. In short, we’ve adapted to a new environment. As we’ve done this, what was once a benign, friendly and inviting world has become, not exactly menacing, but uncertain, and many people find that difficult.

It’s clear that, for some people, going out into the coronavirus world is proving challenging. A surprising number of people have kept almost entirely confined to their homes. It’s not uncommon for clients to tell their analysts or therapists that they haven’t been outside of their homes more than a handful of times since “shelter in place” began. Some people add that they don’t even go to the grocery store, choosing to have all their groceries delivered and/or to have many of their meals delivered.

It’s particularly concerning when you ask individuals who are facing these issues about the future. As one person put it, “I can’t imagine going outside again, when this is all over. Even if there’s a vaccine, I’m going to have trouble getting out there.” There are strong grounds for concern that the impact of the lockdown on our psyche is going to be substantial. As has been said, perhaps the recession we should be most concerned about is not the economic one, but rather the social recession — people retreating into their private spheres, and finding it difficult to emerge.

Our Social Instinct

To be ourselves, to be fundamentally human, is to be social. Although the social instinct is expressed in a different way, this is just as true for introverted folks as it is for extroverts. We may not crave the concert of a pop superstar, or feel a great sense of solidarity with the fans at Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game, but even the most inward of us relies on social connection with others to obtain food, shelter, clothing and transportation, to make a living, and to feel appreciated and validated, through interaction with others.

Since our days in Africa’s Olduvai Gorge, and even before, we and our ancestors like the famous “Lucy” have been fundamentally social creatures, who exist in relationship to others. If we’re impaired in our social functioning, we lose part or all of our ability to live a full human life, and, in Jungian terms, to individuate (or, “journey towards wholeness”).

Surveys on mental health and COVID-19, such as that done by the Australian National University have shown that the social disruption caused by the lockdown is substantial. The data would suggest that people are feeling anxious about the prospects of social re-connection. Also, people who fear germs, such as people with obsessive compulsive issues, are concerned about going back into public spaces. It’s also quite possible that people who haven’t really experienced anxiety or depression could actually have a more difficult time than those who have, because they haven’t had to deal with this type of thing before.

It may well be important for people who haven’t had to deal with much anxiety or depression to monitor their own reactions as they go through the remainder of this lockdown process. If people are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression as this process goes on, it could be very important to reach out for help. Fortunately, in the age of online therapy, this can be easily done, even in the midst of lockdown conditions.

Through Social Anxiety Toward Meaning

It’s important for all of us to seek to stay socially connected, and to firmly but gently challenge ourselves to explore our anxieties and fears, as we get back into social interaction. It’s important for us to be kind and self-compassionate, if we notice any linkage in ourselves between social anxiety and coronavirus, but also to not be passive or complacent. Quality depth psychotherapy, such as Jungian therapy, may well be of great assistance in this process, which for all of us is a major life transition.

With best wishes on your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Extroverts and Coronavirus: Coping with “Shelter in Place”

May 11th, 2020 · extroverts and coronavirus

We started to look at issues around COVID-19 and personality type last week; this week’s post explores extroverts and coronavirus.

There are significant differences between introverts and extroverts when it comes to their experience of the coronavirus lockdown. Granted, it’s true that even strong introverts can have too much social isolation in similar ways to extroverts, and also that both introverts and extroverts struggle with the mixing of private home space and work space. Yet the strong extrovert runs into some issues that are quite unique to her or his personality type.

What exactly do we actually mean when we say that someone is an “extrovert”? It’s not widely known that C.G. Jung actually developed the concept of extroversion. As he described it, an extrovert is someone who seeks to be involved with other people and the external world with “a desire to influence and be influenced by events.” He was referring to the person who is brought to life by social interaction, quite possibly in groups and who is often “the life of the party”, the “people person”. Jung also defines an extrovert as someone who is energized by social interactions.

What Happens When You Lock Down an Extrovert?

If you’re an extrovert, you thrive on engagement with other people and with the wider world. Socializing with others gives you energy and makes you feel good. As an extrovert, you likely value being around different people, socializing with them, and doing a variety of activities.

Unfortunately, being around people, face-to-face socialization, and getting the chance to switch from activity to activity are just the things that the current COVID-19 lockdown situation makes difficult. If we abide with the lockdown restrictions, we can’t mix with people other than our immediate family. Social distancing at 2 metres apart is not the same thing as face-to-face interaction and the brain knows it. In addition, if you have each person in a conversation wearing a protective face mask — well, let’s just say, party’s over.

Extroverts and Coronavirus — and Denial!

One important way in which we see extroverts attempting to get the social connection that they need is by using various technologies to get it virtually. We’re all aware of the advent of online happy hours, Netflix viewing parties, Zoom group meetings, virtual yoga, Tai Ch’i and exercise classes and all the other varieties of virtual interaction which have arisen — including the true heyday of online therapy.

These virtual techniques can offer assistance with the effects of social isolation. They can actually help extroverted individuals to feel a little more at ease and more positive about their life situation during the lockdown period. However, they are probably not providing enough gratification to truly be sustaining throughout an extended lockdown.

The danger might be that outer-directed individuals might not notice the emotional effects of the lockdown. In fact, one of the features of the lockdown that seems very prevalent is a sort persistent tiredness and lack of energy that many people are experiencing. This seems like it might well be rooted in a kind of low-grade depression.

Expressing Extroverted Energy During Lockdown

If as an individual, you are experiencing this, it’s very important to acknowledge this feeling, as it may well be one of the accompaniments of extroversion and coronavirus lockdown. The Washington Post quotes human resources research scientist Dr. Michael Wilmot:

being active, engaging in activities that are new and exciting, and experiencing positive emotions are [all] important for extroverts.

While opportunities to do these things may be more limited during the lockdown than previously, they do still exist. Staying active is something of great importance to extroverts, so, if you live in a place where it’s still permitted, like Ontario, walking, hiking, running and biking are all great ways to do this. It may be, too, that there’s joy and life in dancing or playing “air guitar” while listening to loud music, and if you can do this with someone else over Facetime or another app, so much the better!

Another thing that might have meaning for extroverts in the course of lockdown is doing things that have a positive or valuable effect on the outer world, such as:

  • contributing in some way to your favourite cause or charity;
  • being active in some way such as letter writing for some political or social cause that is important to you; or,
  • expressing thanks in some meaningful way to first-line responders or essential workers.

Finally, it may be valuable and meaningful to extroverts to consider therapy such as Jungian depth psychotherapy to help explore their own feelings, and to discover particular things that each person can do to express their own feelings and to allow themselves to feel truly connected with others and with the world.

With very best wishes to each of you as we make our way through this period towards its hopefully rapid conclusion, and as you move on your journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Inner Life and the Lockdown: COVID 19 and Introverts

May 4th, 2020 · covid 19 and introverts

I’m looking at COVID-19 and introverts this week as part of a two-part series on personality type and the lockdown.

Understanding the ways in which the lockdown situation impacts different personality types is important As introverts and extroverts, it’s essential for us to understand how this strange situation is impacting us. It’s also vital for us to know how we can take care of ourselves, hopefully grow, and possibly flourish, under the present conditions.

This week the focus will be on introverts. Next week, we’ll take a closer look at the impact on extroverts.

Is Lockdown “Introvert Heaven”?

In speaking with quite a number of clients, it’s striking to hear the kind of messages that people recall receiving from the media and other sources back at the start of the COVID-19 period, when we were all just starting to think about lockdown. Many of us wondered, “How are people going to manage all the spare time they will have on their hands?” Often, observers and experts like therapists and psychologists also observed that introverts would probably have less anxiety and an easier time managing a stay-at-home environment than would extroverts.

It seems intuitive that introverts would have an easier time than extroverts with lockdown conditions. With more focus on the inner life, and less need for outer social interaction, wouldn’t a stay-at-home world be better for introverts?

Well, it may be that the lockdown is “better” for introverts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s “good”. There are things that introverts are finding very hard about being locked down.

For an introvert, “home” has typically been a sanctuary from the outside world, a place to get away from all the external social interaction. Yet now, home has become something different. As Abby Ohlheiser recently wrote in the MIT Technology Review, for many people, “[l]iving rooms that were once a sanctuary from people-filled offices, gyms, bars, and coffee shops became all those things at once.” As she goes on to say, people are attempting to virtually re-create what lockdown has taken away, but,

…[t]he new version, however, only vaguely resembles what we left behind. Everything is flattened and pressed to fit into the confines of chats and video-conference apps like Zoom, which was never designed to host our work and social lives all at once. The result for introverts, extroverts and everyone in between, is the bizarre feeling of being socially overwhelmed despite the fact that we’re staying as far away from each other as we can. [Italics mine]

So, it seems as if, under lockdown conditions, introverts may not be getting what they really want or need. So then, what do introverts actually need?

COVID-19 and Introverts: Awareness Needed

Pretty clearly, the capacity to get away from social contact and to relate to one’s inner thoughts and feelings, is fundamental to what it means to be an introvert. Whether you’re out in the busy entertainment district of a huge city, or on your own in the wilderness, the ability to connect with your inner self is the hallmark of an introvert. So, even if we’re in our homes on our own, and ostensibly “in private”, an introvert is going to need self-connection.

What is startling about the COVID-19 situation is the ways in which it can interrupt self-connection. In the midst of “social self-isolation”, the introvert can find him- or herself in the midst of his or her own home, surrounded by technologies that intrude on personal space, together with kids who can’t go to school, dealing with an endless flow of work. As one such introvert working from home put it, “I used to use two hours a day commuting. Now I don’t do that, but that two hours has just become part of the endless flow of work.” In this boundariless space, in the midst of the “privacy” or one’s own home, it’s easy for the personal dimension to get completely lost.

In the midst of lockdown, there is a great need for an introvert to be aware of the things that intrude on the space inside of her or him, and to safeguard that space. It’s a time when, for themselves, and for the people to whom they are connected, introverts have to be aware of, and faithful to, their innermost voices.

COVID-19 and Introverts: Staying Faithful

The challenge for introverts in the midst of lockdown is to connect with their inner life, to stay in touch with it, and to increasingly express that reality in the way they live their lives. This is really the same challenge that introverts face every day of their lives, if they wish to a satisfying life with integrity, that is a reflection of who they uniquely are.

These formidable challenges can also provide an opportunity, despite the fact that this particular period is so demanding. Never has the need been as great for introverts to accept, listen to, and live out who they most fundamentally are. To be faithful to oneself in this period may form the basis of a very significant major life transition.

Psychotherapy in the context of trusting and secure depth psychotherapy can assist the introvert greatly in his or her personal journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Finding Meaning and Resilience in Life (and During COVID-19)

April 20th, 2020 · meaning and resilience

In recent years, Jungian depth psychotherapists have become more aware of how finding meaning and resilience are connected in our lives.

Psychologists have studied the question of resilience in great depth over the last few decades. Although the term “resilience” gets thrown around rather loosely in the popular media, what psychology has learned is extremely important in its implications for our lives.

Among the great names in resilience psychology, one of the greatest is developmental psychologist Emmy Werner of UC Davis. She studied resilience across the lifespan, and was involved in a 32 year long study that followed 698 children in Kauai, Hawaii. As a result of this work, she identified characteristics that enabled some of these children to cope with adverse family situations or great life stressors in ways that some of their peers could not.

Meaning and Resilience Fit Together

Werner found that this particularly resilient group of kids had an “internal locus of control”. In other words, these kids believed on some level that they had the capacity to create their own achievements and to determine the direction of their lives, in important ways. These resilient kids saw themselves as creating their own outcomes by their life choices.

In addition, Werner found that, as they journeyed through their lives, the group of resilient children very often had sources of spiritual, philosophical or religious support that allowed them to make meaning out of events in life, including events that we might call traumatic. This doesn’t mean that they were necessarily “religious” in a conventional sense, but they were able to fit things that happened in their lives into a greater context that enabled them to feel that their lives had direction, purpose and meaning.

Werner’s work focused initially on children. However, the question of meaning and resilience is one that has great importance in the context of our adult journey towards wholeness also. It matters to our lives whether we are able to find a sense of meaning in what we are doing. It makes life much more sustainable, bearable, if we can feel that there is positive value in our actions. Humans need the sustaining sense that life is moving in a direction that has value to us. We also need to feel that we are empowered agents who can make a valuable contribution to some degree in making that occur.

Jung stressed the centrality of this point when he famously stated:

The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

Finding Resilience and Meaning in Our Time

In 21st century life, it can be difficult to feel that our individual lives matter. We live in a world where big impersonal forces seem to strongly influence the shape of our lives, and where large organizations like governments and corporations determine much of the shape of our personal worlds, and make decisions about vital interests like employment, education and the natural environment that the individual can often seem powerless to influence.

This COVID-19 period, and the current lockdown, can easily enhance this sense of powerlessness. Confined to home, with very limited interaction with others, individuals can very easily feel that they are disempowered and at the mercy of external events in the world. Many people are currently experiencing a sense of anxiety at this isolation, and quite a number are experiencing some level of depression.

It could be very easy to deny that this is what we’re experiencing, and to try to carry on in a business-as-usual kind of way, as if everything is “just fine”. However, conversations I’ve had with quite a number of people show clearly that this approach is frequently leading to people having unpredictable, out-of-nowhere angry eruptions, bouts of sadness, and periods of despondency. There’s a need to honestly face the particular difficulties of this major life transition.

Finding and Serving Your Meaning

Despite the hardships of the COVID period, this may be an important time in our individual lives. Whatever else this period signifies, it may be a very important moment to think deeply and carefully about what truly brings meaning and value into your life. This may also relate powerfully to the key story that you tell yourself about your life, your purpose and your meaning — what Jung would call your “personal myth”.

It’s true that we’re living in a time of limitation and constraint. There are definite limitations on the things that we can do in the outer world, without a doubt. Yet it may be very important to ask ourselves what we can do that allows us to exercise our power, to have an effect on ourselves, on those close to us, and / or on the outer world that, in some way or other, creates more of “the good stuff” in the world that we really value. To the extent that we can do that, and can contribute to a value that’s greater than ourselves, we are using our power, and contributing to the sense of meaning and value in our lives.

Depth psychotherapy can contribute a great deal to the development of the sense of meaning and resilience in our lives. Particularly now, as we deal with the COVID-19 situation, it may be a source of genuine support, as we look for sustaining depth in our lives.

Wishing you and all of those close to you all the very best during these demanding days,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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