Journeying Toward Wholeness

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When Does A Lie Hurt Me the Worst? When I’m Lying to Myself

January 18th, 2021 · lying to myself

In our time, we’re deeply concerned with truth and lies. Often there are fiercely different, competing versions of the truth. Yet the greatest danger occurs, not when others lie to me, but when I’m lying to myself.

Many people might find this last observation to be very puzzling. “We live in a world full of horrible deception!” they protest. “Look at the level of lying that is perpetrated by our highest political leaders, or by those in positions of power in giant corporations. Or consider the lies that nations tell about their intentions and about what’s really going on in the world? How could you possibly say that our capacity for “lying to myself” is more damaging or more immoral that that?

Yet I believe that what I claim is true. Lying to ourselves can be more dangerous and damaging than all of the above. The lies that we tell ourselves can end up disconnecting us from reality in ways that are incredibly dangerous and painful. Also, often, the “big lies” that are told by governments, totalitarian political parties or manipulative corporations are so destructive because they build on lies that we have told ourselves, where we find it too painful to face what is really the truth

What’s Going On When I’m Lying to Myself?

The expression “lying to ourselves” or lying to myself gets used fairly frequently, but what do we actually mean when we say it? As Harvard Prof. Michael I. Norton notes, it is “one of the most puzzling things humans do.” Empirical psychology provides a great deal of evidence that lying to ourselves, which psychology refers to as self-deception is a very, very frequent type of human behaviour. Here are a few examples of self-deception or lying to myself:

  • Willful Ignorance. One way to deceive myself is to simply avoid learning the facts. E.g., if I don’t want to face the fact that my brother-in-law earns more money than me, I can simply avoid looking at what houses cost in the area he lives in.
  • Denial. In the face of facts that are very hard to confront or bear, people can tell themselves, “It isn’t really happening”
  • False Self-Image. We can all hold on to a lot of illusions about our attributes and abilities, in an effort to boost our self-esteem.
  • Cherry Picking Facts. When we want to convince ourselves of something, it can be easy to focus on the facts that support it, and ignore the facts that tend to refute it.

These are only a few of the many ways in which we can engage in self-deception. Now, we don’t tend to think of them as “ways I’m lying to myself”. But doesn’t mean that they aren’t.

The Hidden Hazards of Self-Deception

Some commentators emphasize that there can be situations where there is genuine benefit in lying to myself. For instance, the person who is in denial about a traumatic state of affairs may need that denial, for a time, to keep from being completely undone by the situation. Nonetheless, self-deception can lead to a great many painful and dangerous situations.

Self deception, “lying to myself” is often a big component in addictive behaviours. An individual may tell themselves that they aren’t addicted or that they “can’t help it”, or any of a number of other lies that just keep the addiction going. Similarly, we may all tell ourselves lies when the alternative is accepting a truth that is altogether too threatening or painful.

For instance, Jungian analyst Murray Stein describes how, as can often occur, a person faces a very difficult and defeating situation in the middle years of their life. Rather than accepting what has happened and starting to chart a new course for themselves as a part of a healthy midlife transition, the individual tells him- or herself that nothing has changed:

Who has not known a [person] whose climb to the top was to everyone but [him- or herself] decisively halted, yet who kept dressing up to go to work and forcing [herself] to believe that this was only a pause in the ascent, as [she] continued pursuing the same goal, all the while being profoundly uncommitted to it…? ~Murray Stein, In Midlife

As we can see, in midlife, or in any major life transition, self deception can be a powerful disruptor of our individuation process, the vital journey to becoming and expressing who we really are at the most fundamental level.

Self-Compassion and the Truth

The truth can be hard, yet compassion for oneself is rooted in what Jungian analyst John Beebe describes as a sense of “integrity in depth”. It’s only when we’re committed to the journey of being truthful to ourselves that we are truly embarked on the journey to wholeness. Jungian depth psychotherapy is fundamentally about this commitment to being truthful with oneself, to moving beyond lying to oneself, and to cultivating compassion—without apology—for who we really are.

Wishing you every good thing on your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Individuation, Individual Choice and Crowd Psychology

January 11th, 2021 · crowd psychology

This last week, along with all of our other challenges, we have had a stark object lesson in crowd psychology and the madness of crowds. How is this important for us, now?

Really?

Not surprisingly, I’m referring to the recent riot at the Capital in Washington, D.C. In this shocking event, many otherwise ordinary people were swept up by crowd psychology into a mass storming of the primary seat of legislative government in the U.S. This led to very graphic negative consequences. These included the deaths of five individuals and a collective sense of desecration shared by many Americans, and by pro-democracy people the world over.

Stress, High Emotion & Group Think

It’s a fact that, in times of great stress and anxiety, events like this riot are more likely to occur. When individuals are highly stressed, and there are powerful emotions at play, as was the case at this pro-Trump gathering, it becomes easier for individuals to get caught up in crowd psychology, and to surrender their own personal sense of judgment and decision-making to the mob. Such crowds can often be driven by the responses of a small group of possibly irrational and emotionally disturbed individuals. It is certainly often the case that such a mob will function at the lowest common denominator of morality and responsibility.

As we look at the recent events at the Capitol, we’re reminded of the words of Charles MacKay in his 1841 study of crowd psychology:

[People], it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

MacKay, Charles, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds [not to be confused with a much more recent book entitled simply “The Madness of Crowds”}

Collective Psychosis and the Need to “Hang Onto Ourselves”

C.G. Jung was well aware of this tendency in human beings, and watched from Switzerland as it played out with particular ferocity in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In his writings he used the term “collective psychosis” to describe the way in which individuals are prone to surrendering their own intellect and feeling to the inferior, crude and often aggressive mindset of the crowd. As Jung famously put it, using the gender terms of his age,

…it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer, but man [sic] himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics.

One of the more poignant comments on the events at the Capitol came, unexpectedly, from former California Governor and movie superstar Arnold Schwartzenegger. Among other things, he movingly describes growing up in post-Nazi Austria, in the aftermath of the defeat of the Nazis. He describes the way that his father and many others of his age group, had been caught up in the rise of Nazism and misled by its lies and cruelties. He relates how they ended up as essentially broken men, living in great remorse, unable to escape the condemnation of their consciences for participating in something so horrific.

It’s easy to see how people could get caught up in the Nazi hysteria. Similarly, the Capitol rioters, many of whom are probably decent ordinary individuals, got caught up in something that turned ugly and went horribly out of control.

As noted above, this sort of distorted thinking and temporary loss of sanity often accompanies times of great stress, peril and uncertainty. As we face the difficulties of our current situation, how can we avoid falling into this kind of crowd- or mob-think?

What About Us, Now?

We Canadians could easily lapse into a sense of smug superiority and feel that the events that we’ve witnessed in the U.S. this week could never happen in “Our Home and Native Land”. That would be very naive. In times of great stress and uncertainty, the potential for losing ourselves in pack- or herd-think becomes much greater.

This could take the form of something as dramatic as the riot at the U.S. Capitol, but crowd psychology could also show up in forms that are less vivid, but perhaps no less destructive. One of the ways this appears is in black-and-white, us-and-them thinking of the kind that plays so great a role in political extremism, fanatic religious cults, and other groups that negate the value of the individual.

It could also include things as apparently innocuous as mindlessly giving in to pressure to conform from family, social group, neighbourhood or peer group. It even turns up in the kind of pandemic herd mentality that results in hoarding and irrational stockpiling of consumer items which are not in short supply, as UBC’s Prof. Steven Taylor has documented.

Jung emphasized that there is an impetus deep in each of us to individuate, to become conscious of our own individual nature, and to live in accord with “the law of our own being”. An important part of that work is to become as conscious as we possibly can of our own motivations and our own real nature, and to live in integrity with our own deepest values and nature. To live in this manner will lead us to continually confront and reckon with the impulses in us that could seduce us to mindlessly run with the herd–the essence of crowd psychology.

The path of individuation is fundamental to our journey towards wholeness, and forms a central part of the work done with clients by Jungian depth psychotherapists.

With very best wishes for the lifelong journey of becoming yourself,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Overcoming COVID: Holding the Hope; Coping with Impatience

January 4th, 2021 · holding the hope

COVID has been with us for quite a while now and we’re all finding that demanding. Holding the hope that we’ll move beyond it can be even harder.

Naturally, everyone wants the pandemic to be done and over. This is especially true now that we have arrived at the early days of the New Year. As it has since the time of the Babylonians, and even before, New Year’s celebrations symbolize that the world is being made all over again, fresh and new. That symbolism of the renewal of the world takes on an even greater power for all of us at this time, as we yearn to see the world freed of COVID, and our lives returned to their former richness and freedom—renewed indeed.

Things Seem to be Moving Slowly

The problem for many of us is that the new post-COVID world is being born, but it’s taking some time to get here. There’s a very big difference between wanting that renewal to occur, and actually seeing it take place.

At the present time, we’re dealing with a very mixed picture. It seems like the world now has three vaccines which experts view as being effective against COVID-19, which is very welcome news. However, it seems likely that it’s going to take quite a while before enough of the population is vaccinated to turn the tide and bring about the end of COVID. Simultaneously, we’re dealing with record or near-record levels of COVID infection and hospitalization, here in Ontario, and in many places worldwide.

Many of us are in the position of trying to have hope and be optimistic about the future. Many of us also find ourselves in the position of being frustrated and discouraged about how long it’s taking us to get through this COVID-19 period. In terms of what science knows about how epidemics play out, this is not surprising. As U. of Toronto epidemologist Ashley Tuite puts it, “There won’t be a V-day where everyone runs into the streets and hugs…. Just a gradual return to normal.”

Andre Picard, writing in the Globe and Mail, neatly sums up our situation:

History tells us that pandemics don’t have Hollywood endings. The denouement tends to be slow and messy and COVID-19 will certainly be no exception.

COVID Makes It Complicated

We can take this in intellectually, but where does it leave us on an emotional, or even a spiritual level? We are dealing with a collective major life transition, a situation where the way out requires a great deal of patience and perseverance over a long period of time. This is not something that comes naturally to humans.

Our nervous system is very good at responding to immediate, visible threats. Our ancestors in the stone age would have known very well how to respond to an immediate threat like a sabre-toothed tiger. Similarly, Londoners who faced the extended aerial bombardment of the Blitz in World War II were able to stay motivated for a long time because the threat and its effects were very clearly visible. But how do you maintain optimism and resilience in the face of an invisible foe, when you’re in a situation of social isolation?

Hold the Hope; Find the Meaning

It’s easy in a situation like the present for people to respond from a place of anxiety, and that’s something that occurs with great frequency at present. One form that anxiety takes is denying the existence of the threat. If I simply convince myself that COVID isn’t a threat, or is greatly exaggerated, then my anxiety will be lessened. I suspect that this dynamic is occurring in a lot of people who are “anti-maskers”, or who oppose social distancing, or who want businesses and public events to open up and “just be normal”,

But what if we recognize that we can’t allow ourselves to move into that kind of denial? How can we keep ourselves from lapsing into despair, or finding the lockdown unbearable?

This is a question of great importance for the many people who “just want to get through this thing”, and keep on “holding the hope”. There are a number of different and important answers that include things such as maintaining healthy social connections and getting exercise and healthy sleep. Yet, there is one dimension of situations such as this that psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl highlights that merits out attention:

Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Certainly Jungian psychology would agree with this assessment. From a Jungian perspective, there is a strong link between having a sense of hope, and finding meaning in our situation. This may be an important time to take stock of what it is that provides a sense of meaning in your individual life. That could be connection to people whom we love, religious or spiritual values, commitment to particular ideals or beliefs, or so much more. At this difficult time, exploring and committing ourselves to what we find meaningful is an essential source of hope.

Exploring the sources of meaning and hope in our individual lives will be one of the most important things that each of us does in this New Year of 2021, for ourselves, for those we love, and for the wider world.

I wish you every blessing and good thing in this coming year, and may the year find you “holding the hope” for your own individual journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Holiday Mental Health & 2020 Holiday Disappointment

December 14th, 2020 · accepting who you are, holiday disappointment, holiday mental health

Holiday mental health can be a genuine concern, and this year, many people are dealing with an especially high level of holiday disappointment.

Psychotherapists are acutely aware that the Holiday period produces high levels of stress, and of anxiety and depression, for very many people. It’s one of those paradoxes in our collective life. We’re supposed to be in high spirits, and in a celebratory mood for the “most wonderful time of the year”. Yet this season can be full of disappointment, and of difficult memories for many people. These are only compounded by the collective expectation that we are all to be full of mirth, and to quote Paul McCartney, “simply having a wonderful Christmas time”.

That’s the general psychological background of the Holiday season. Yet, this year we have a whole series of other factors to consider, due to the presence of the pandemic in our midst. We are confronting Holidays where the size of gatherings will be severely limited. Also, many activities that we might associate with the Holiday period—restaurants, theatre and other shows, movies—are all very seriously curtailed. It will be a challenge for many of us to avoid a feeling of holiday disappointment this year.

The Pressure to be Happy

There is a great collective pressure to be happy around the holidays, which can be very tough on people. There is an understandably strong yearning to make the Holidays as rich and memorable as possible, but it can be experienced as a very cruel kind of demand by those who are dealing with difficult things in their lives. This is true for many people who’ve experienced trauma or the loss of a loved one, or for those, like many children of alcoholics, who may have difficult memories associated with the Holiday period. It can also be a very difficult time for many who are undergoing major challenges, such as illness or the breakup of a marriage or family unit during the Holiday season.

And against this background, we’re confronting all the uncertainties and restrictions of the pandemic. This year’s Holiday season will be wildly different from any that we’ve experienced in our lifetimes, due to the range of restrictions that many of us will encounter. For many who feel a strong pressure to be happy in the Holiday season, the demands of the 2020 season may well compound the difficulties that they face.

Acknowledging the Feelings

It may be, for many, that the net effect of this combination of the pressure to be happy in the Holidays, and the unique difficulties of the 2020 Holiday season will be even stronger pressures to put on a happy face for the outer world throughout this Holiday season. This may mean repressing the feelings of holiday disappointment that they experience.

The difficulty with repressing or not acknowledging our feelings of Holiday disappointment is that, unacknowledged, they can have a deep impact on our Holiday mental health. By not consciously recognizing and accepting our disappointment and hurt about this years Holidays, we may find that our Holiday season is blighted by a pervasive sense of hollowness and flatness, no matter how much we try to seem “merry” to those close to us, and to the wider world.

What Has Meaning During the Holidays?

It may be essential to confront our Holiday disappointment, and to acknowledge what we really feel. But, as UBC psychology Professor Elizabeth Dunn expressed it in a recent Globe & Mail interview, you may need to “let yourself be disappointed, but then say, what can I do that I really care about“? [bold and italics mine]

The question of what we really care about—what really has meaning—is key to finding value in our 2020 Holidays. We will need to confront our grief that this Holiday period doesn’t bring many of the good things that we have either experienced in Holidays past, or had hoped to experience this year. We will also need to look at our power, at the capacity that we still have, right here and now, to bring about good things in our lives and the lives of others. This will involve engaging, and perhaps discovering capacities for connection, expression and creativity that we possess, and using them to bring about results that we find meaningful.

For Jungian depth psychotherapists, questions of what we care about as individuals, what really has meaning for us, are central not only to our “holiday mental health” but much more fundamentally to the whole process of discovering who we individually and uniquely are. Jungians refer to this as our journey towards wholeness. It may well be that engaging with a sensitive and attuned Jungian depth psychotherapist is part, not only of a meaningful Holiday experience, but of an ongoing process of finding meaning in our individual lives.

With every good Holiday wish, and with warmest wishes for your individual journey towards wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Feel Secure During the 2020 Holidays

November 30th, 2020 · how to feel secure

The question of how to feel secure is usually not something we would especially associate with the holidays—but this year is different.

Usually the Holidays are a time when we mostly don’t have to worry about how to feel secure. For many of us, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or other seasonal holidays are associated with feeling very secure, at least most of the time. However, this year, we may be having feelings that are at odds with this.

Most of us are heartened by the recent news of vaccines that are now just about ready to be manufactured and distributed, but, for many of us, there’s the feeling that we are facing a long winter of lockdown ahead of us. The holidays are normally a period when we’re cheered by contact with relatives and friends. However, this year, things have a different feel, as for many of us there will be restrictions on the number of people we can gather with for celebrations—in many cases, only one or two people beyond those who live in a household…

Easy to be On Our Guard

Given these pandemic realities, it’s easy to feel like our holidays might be disappointing. In fact, many people experience the present time as feeling very insecure, even though the holidays are coming. The uncertainty of the present situation can certainly put us on our guard.

Human beings, like all other creatures with a nervous system, have an innate system of responses to threats. We may fight back, physically or verbally, we may retreat or run away, or when the threat seems particularly grave, we may “shut down” or freeze. When we’re confronted with a unfamiliar and potentially threatening situation, like at present, it’s easy for us to respond from this kind of hypersensitive place.

If we look around carefully, we can observe all of these characteristic reactions as we try to get through the COVID period—fight, flight and freeze, sometimes in combination! When we hear of individuals responding with physical violence to those who either do or don’t wear masks, or when we find ourselves retreating from going out into the community, or when we find it hard to get up and go in the morning, we can see the presence of ancient responses to threat. It seems very likely that these responses will be with us throughout the Holiday period, and into the New Year.

Denial is NOT How to Feel Secure

Whether these responses and reactions are our own, or those of other people, they will influence the Holiday season, along with all the other experiences of unfamiliarity or strangeness that we might have as a result of the changes that have come about through COVID-19. We are all living with the reality of insecurity and anxiety that the pandemic creates, and inevitably, it changes the way that we experience the Holiday season.

As we go through the Holidays, we can try and pretend that “nothing is wrong”, but it’s apparent that things really are quite different this year. If we try to make out that this is “just like every other Holiday season”, we’re not likely to convince anyone—not even ourselves. It can be easy at times like this to try to deny uncomfortable realities, but we still continue to experience them.

Belonging and Meaning

What can possibly sustain us in this holiday period? What can help us to hang onto a sense of normalcy as we enter this season, when so many things in our world seem more than a little abnormal?

Well, one thing that we’ve learned as the result of the work of renowned brain-body researcher Prof. Stephen Porges and others is that, in addition to the other innate responses to threat in our nervous system, we have a “higher social brain”. This causes certain neural circuitry to be activated when we hear a calm, gentle voice, see smiles or relaxed facial features, and/or experience the calm gestures of others.

In short, we get calmer and feel more secure in the presence of others who give us relaxed “social safety cues”. We can even give ourselves social safety cues that will help ourselves, and others near us to feel secure and safe. In addition, just feeling compassion for others when we’re in their presence can lead to us giving social safety cues to others. Many of these social cues can even be given to others over online connections!

Also, connection with meaningful symbols can provide a sense of security and meaning, as Jungians continually emphasize. These might be symbols that belong to a particular faith or social group, symbols shared by a family, or even symbols that we have discovered to be personally meaningful. (Some of these can occur in dreams, in the arts, or in other parts of our life and experience.)

Some of most important exploration of how to feel secure can occur in the context of an affirming and supportive relationship with a well-attuned depth psychotherapist. This can help us to cultivate a sense of security through the holiday season, the time of COVID, and in our journey to wholeness well beyond that.

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Taking the Responsibility: What’s Enough & What’s Too Much?

November 23rd, 2020 · taking the responsibility

It might seem odd that a post on “taking the responsibility” is in my series on “Emotions of the Pandemic”, but there’s a good reason for including it.

That’s because “taking the responsibility” is connected with an individual’s feelings of responsibility. While “responsibility” certainly does have a thinking component, it also has a substantial emotional or feeling component. When we “feel responsible” for doing something, helping someone, or whatever may be the case, we are genuinely having feelings, meaning that—rightly or wrongly—we are positively valuing the responsibility or connection.

Sometimes, it’s entirely appropriate for us to be “taking the responsibility”. If I get into my car to drive somewhere, it’s entirely appropriate for me to take control of the vehicle and drive it in a manner that doesn’t endanger other people or others’ property. But if I started to feel responsible for how everyone in my neighbourhood drives, and I laid awake nights worrying about how I could get all these other people to drive in the manner that I feel they should, we might well say that I was taking the responsibility for something that I shouldn’t, because someone else should be looking out for those concerns.

It’s quite easy for people to end up taking the responsibility for more than they should. This is true in general, but it’s particularly true in the era of COVID-19.

Feeling Overly Responsible

Taking the responsibility for appropriate things in our lives is a good thing. Carrying appropriate responsibility is actually something that empowers us, and helps us to bring more of what we want into our lives. This is the opposite of a victim stance, where we blame other people or forces for the way that things are in our lives, and passively give the power to them, and just let things happen to us. In contrast to this, appropriate responsibility allows me to feel that I can take control, use my power and make things occur in my individual life that suit who I am and what I want.

In contrast, feeling overly responsible is very similar, in some ways, to a victim stance. If I feel responsible for something that I can’t control or change, I can end up feeling powerless in very much the same way as someone who is wrapped up in seeing themselves as a victim. However, taking the responsibility for too much has the added disadvantage that I may well feel guilty or blameworthy for something that I shouldn’t even be taking on, and that I don’t really have the power to change. It may be apparent that feeling overly responsible can also be accompanied by a great deal of anxiety as I ruminate or obsess about situations where I have limited or no power.

Examining Our Underlying Feelings

It can be challenging for people to realize when they are taking the responsibility for something that they really shouldn’t. It can also be challenging to face the real emotional causes for being overly responsible. The difficult question is, what emotional factors led the individual to feel that they have to take the additional responsibility.

In many cases, it’s necessary to look at someone’s experience in their family of origin to understand the forces that keep them locked into taking the responsibility when they really shouldn’t have to do it. The goal here is not to “blame our parents”. Yet the fact is that our experience in the family of origin has a huge impact on our personality and on the way in which we experience the whole of our lives.

Even the best of parents and families of origin are able to give us certain things we need, but not the whole of everything we need to move through our lives. We may find that our experience in the family of origin led us to experience heightened sense of guilt and responsibility that leads us into feeling overly responsible in the present. Clinical psychologist George Simon, an expert on manipulation, refers to what he calls “covert aggressions”, which might include phrases like the following:

  • “I’m counting on you” (using guilt);
  • “I really need you to do this” (playing the victim);
  • “Only you can do this” (guilting and misrepresenting); or,
  • “You’re such a good son/daughter” (flattery and guilt)

We may find that we’re harbouring a great deal of emotion about this, both in terms of guilt and fear, but also feelings of anger at having our boundaries violated by excessive demands for responsibility.

For some people, the pandemic lockdown that we’re experiencing may be a time when they experience a heightened sense of responsibility for things that are beyond their individual control, perhaps combined with feelings of guilt and fear. If you find yourself overwhelmed with demands at this time, perhaps including things that are really beyond your control, it might be time to ask whether you have a tendency to take on too much responsibility.

Taking the Responsibility—Responsibly!

Taking appropriate responsibility for our own lives, for the commitments we make, and for our own journey to wholeness, is a key part of what it is to be human. Yet, it’s an equally key part of that journey that we find the means to extend compassion to ourselves, and to not be overly responsible. Working with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist can be an excellent support as we sort through what authentically taking the responsibility means for our lives.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Am I a Loser? How Do We Deal with Experiences of Failure?

November 16th, 2020 · am I a loser

This week, we’re in the realm of shadow. Most people wouldn’t answer the question “Am I a loser?” in the affirmative. Yet perhaps we’ve suffered self-doubt, and asked the question.

We live in a culture where this term is bandied about, and all too often, applied to people. It seems sometimes that our world is determined to divide us all into “losers” and winners.

Very recently, we’ve had the opportunity to watch this play out in the political sphere. As we watch the recent results of the American Presidential election, we can hear the term loser bandied about very frequently. It’s featured in the rhetoric of some of the candidates, and it gets used by commentators and comedians alike. It’s apparent that, in this very high stakes political game, losing the election can often be equated with being a loser at life.

It probably goes without saying, but there is a great deal of anxiety that is associated with the question, “Am I a loser?”, because the term “loser” is here understood to mean “loser at life”. It’s implied in this terminology that life is a test or contest, and that some will pass, and some will fail.

Toxic Labeling

Speaking in terms of pure logic, if I am asking myself, “Am I a loser?” in this sense of loser at life, then I must also believe that, somewhere, there are winners in life. Speaking in Jungian terms, it’s very important for us to notice the symbolism of this.

The underlying image here is that life is a great game, and that each of us are players in this game. We all have our turn, and at the end of things, it would seem, each of us has either a “win”, or a “loss”. Presumably, then, if we are on what looks like the path to a “win”, we are a “winner”, while if we are on the path to a loss, well, sorry, Sir or Ma’am, but you’re a “loser”.

The underlying assumption here is that life is fundamentally about achievement or accomplishment. On this view of human life, if you accomplish valuable things in your life, then your life has value. On the other hand, if your accomplishments are of less or no value, then your life has no value, and so, sadly, you are a loser. Are we sure that we want to buy into this?

Life as a High Stakes Crap Shoot

It’s important to reflect for a bit on how deeply embedded in our collective view of life this metaphor is. It’s not that we necessarily go around saying it all the time, but it’s pretty clear that, as members of this society, we often do assign value to ourselves and others based on what the individual achieves, in terms of outward accomplishment.

Many people look at themselves and others this way, without really being consciously aware that they’re doing it, and this has a very deep level effect. When we look to our accomplishments as a means of establishing our worth as individuals, our positive feeling about ourselves is going to be dependent on the things that we’ve accomplished. Our self-esteem is going to rely upon whether we, or others, feel that we have put in good performances—done good things, or “won”. If we have, we’ll feel good about ourselves. If our performance is not good, we end up feeling that we’re worth less, or even that we have no value, that we’re “losers”.

What’s more, individuals can start to feel like they’re on a treadmill, and that even their good performances are never enough for them to feel really good about themselves. There are many, even very outwardly successful people who live in fear and anxiety that everything they’ve accomplished could come apart at any time, leaving them with nothing—and with no value.

Is there any alternative to relying on our accomplishments for our sense of worth? Or are we fated to be “only as good as our last performance”, and continually at risk of being “losers”?

Our Unique Worth

Is there a way for our worth to not be dependent on our accomplishments, and on whether we “win” or not? From a depth psychotherapy perspective, the answer depends on discovering our own unique self, and our own unique journey.

We often don’t reflect nearly enough on ourselves, and on what makes us unique. Often we only see ourselves the way that others see us, which may often mean viewing ourselves in terms of the success-failure measuring stick that the society holds out to us, as described above. Yet there are some very important ways we can look at ourselves that lead us to quite a different place.

In this time of COVID, if we judge by society’s conventional measures, there have been winners and losers in many ways that no one would have expected. This may be a very important time in our individual lives and in the life of our culture to examine the sources of our own unique identity and worth. Individual depth psychotherapy may be of great help in this essential part of our journey to wholeness.

With warm wishes for your personal journey,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.com (Creative Commons Licence)

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In This Strange Time, We Carry So Many Hidden Emotions

November 8th, 2020 · hidden emotions

Here we are, in the midst of the pandemic, and in the middle of a brutally stressful economic and political period. Is it any wonder that we carry hidden emotions?

In the other posts in this series on “Emotions of the Pandemic”, I have dealt with various specific types of emotion that we may experience during the pandemic. However in this post, I discuss more generally the hidden emotions that have been generated in us in this time, and that we carry in unconscious, or semi-conscious ways, often in our bodies.

I’m writing this on November 8, 2020, the day after Joe Biden was declared to be the President-Elect in the United States’ election. It was very striking to see the reaction of many people in that country as they erupted into spontaneous outpourings of joy on the streets of major U.S. cities. Certainly, we were watching displays of relief at what many regarded as a dramatically improving political situation, yet it seems that there was more to it than that.

I think that, for many people in that country, and for many in our own country of Canada, and around the world, there was a release of emotion that individuals have carried pent-up inside since the pandemic arrived, bringing change to our lives so suddenly and forcefully. Many of us have been carrying huge reserves of fear, anger, anxiety, grief, resentment, and a whole range of other feelings, as a result of the strange, dramatic and, at times, hard-to-comprehend changes in our lives that we’ve experienced in the recent past.

If we’re to have any kind of well-being in the present time, and any ability to continue on our journey to wholeness, it’s essential that we come to terms with the burden of hidden emotions we have been carrying in our lives through this time. It’s important for our health, our growth on our own personal journeys of individuation, and our own ability to make meaning out of our lives that understand and come to terms with these often very powerful affects.

There are quite a number of ways that we could begin to process our feelings, and to express the things that we may not even know we’re carrying. Yet one of the most effective of these may be to express these feelings in the safe container provided by the relationship with a skilled, compassionate and trustworthy depth psychotherapist. As Jung said, that which remains in our unconscious, we will experience as fate, because we will have no control over it. Yet the intense feelings that we can experience and own as ours can be fundamental to living our lives with creativity and freedom.

Wishing you every good thing on your individual life journey,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.com (Creative Commons Licence)

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Disgusted by People During COVID-19? It’s a Common Feeling!

November 2nd, 2020 · disgusted by people

If we’re going to honestly look at all the “Emotions of the Pandemic“, one emotion that many experience is being disgusted by people!

Being disgusted by people is a more frequent emotion during this unusual 2020 period than most of us would care to admit. Given the amount of pressure people in general are under, and the abnormal circumstances, it is actually fairly easy for the emotion of disgust to get triggered, sometimes when we’re not expecting it at all.

As I write this, I’m thinking of numerous experiences that friends, relatives and clients have related that involve the element of disgust. One person I know was sitting in a coffee shop, where masks and social distancing were supposedly being practiced, when a group of 10-15 unmasked people came in and sat right next to her, talking and laughing. Another person is a student from a family that takes social distancing very seriously, who finds that no one in his school classes views COVID-19 precautions as important. On the other hand, I’m aware of people who are disgusted because various professionals will not offer badly needed face-to-face services, due to the need to maintain COVID protocols.

In bringing up these various examples, I’m not trying to suggest who, if anyone, is in the wrong, or in the right. I’m seeking merely to point out how common this kind of reaction is under our current conditions. I know very few people who are happy to be feeling these kinds of things, and yet a great many of us are dealing with such reactions.

How Do We Get Disgusted by People?

There are a couple of different ways in which we can end up disgusted by people. Both of these major variants are affecting us here in the midst of our current situation.

First, as Prof. Val Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and colleagues have shown, the emotion of disgust is a device evolution has developed to help us avoid contact with potential disease and maintain hygiene. In primitive times our reactions of disgust served the evolutionary purpose of keeping us from consuming food and water and being near other sources of disease and parasites. They maintain that function today.

The second source of disgust probably grew out of the first in our development as a species and that is moral disgust. University of Texas Prof. Art Markman has summarized research that shows a strong linkage between feelings of disgust and moral outrage. If we find something particularly morally wrong, we will often find that we also have a sense of disgust, that is not all that different in character from the disease-avoiding type of disgust. We will often hear people use language that connects the two, e.g., “You make me sick!” or, “What a scumbag!”

So, these are two powerful sources of the emotion of being disgusted by people. I would suggest that they are both powerfully at play in our current situation. In a time when we are deeply concerned with disease, and with ensuring that everyone “does their bit to keep us all safe”, it’s easy to see how our sense of disgust can easily be activated towards others.

Hiding Our Reactions

We don’t always find it easy to acknowledge that we are disgusted by the behaviour of others. Lots of times, we may find it easier and less disturbing to hide our reactions of disgust, even from ourselves. We may start to feel moral revulsion, or the feeling that others are doing things that are unclean or unsanitary, and to suppress those feelings. Yet, if we don’t acknowledge such feelings, we may find that we start to experience more anxiety or depression in our lives. Or, they may accumulate and come out of us in the form of very powerful anger, or even rage. The media show us extreme examples of this, where actions such as wearing a mask, or refusing to wear a mask have led to hostile or even violent reactions.

It’s important to acknowledge our feelings of being disgusted by others—to ourselves at the very least. It’s important on the very fundamental level of just being honest with ourselves about how we feel. But, also, from a Jungian perspective, it’s important to acknowledge that, when are disgusted by people, or morally repelled by them, we may be projecting on the other aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge, that are part of our shadow, in Jungian terms. For instance, we may feel strong feelings of moral disgust towards the individual who doesn’t wear a mask, or refuses to wear it properly. Yet, could it be that, deep down inside us, there’s a rebel part of us that actually envies the mask denier his or her freedom?

Finding Healing in Our Disgust

If we’re in touch with feeling disgusted, the plain fact is that we probably wish that we were feeling something else. Yet that doesn’t mean that even our disgust has no gifts to give us. If we can tolerate it, and explore it, we may well find that it leads us to a deeper level of self-understanding, of acceptance of our own weaknesses, and of compassion for ourselves and others.

Often, exploring the ways in which we’re disgusted by people in a supportive relationship with a depth psychotherapist can bring a sense of healing, and an awareness of ourselves at a greater level of wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Hope and Trust, and Reclaiming the Future

October 19th, 2020 · adapting to change, hope and trust

In this post, I’m moving slightly away from my recent posts on “Emotions of the Pandemic”, to examine hope and trust.

Hope and trust might seem like they’re very important things in a major life transition such as this pandemic period, and of course they are. However, they’re equally important for any season in our lives. Many of the things that are true about hope during the pandemic are true, really, about a great many stages and points in our lives.

Hope is an essential part of human life. You may have heard some version of that old saying:

Humans can live about forty days without food, maybe three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only about one second without hope.

Yet what exactly is hope? How do we get it? As C.G. Jung tells us, it’s not just something that happens to us:

Faith, hope, love, and insight are the highest achievements of human effort [italics mine]. 

C.G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul

Jung ranks hope as one of the great accomplishments of the human spirit, and he recognizes that there’s more to it than might at first appear.

Hope and Trust: Not Exactly Emotions

Hope is not just a naive, feel-good emotion that carries us along. It’s a dynamic motivator that involves at least three of the four psychological functions: thinking, feeling and intuition. The emotional and feeling part of hope follows the thinking and intuitive part which generate motivating goals. There can be an inspirational aspect to hope, in that the things that really move us to persist and to strive can sometimes come in a full-blown way out of the unconscious.

Hope has an emotional part, a positive emotional charge that comes out of our capacity to imagine possibilities, and ways in which we might start to be able to realize them. It relates to our capacity to establish what psychologists like Prof. Charles Snyder call learning goals, which are goals that help us to aspire to improving our situation, and that of those we care about. This contrasts with those who lack hope, who tend to choose only mastery goals, which are easy goals that don’t require us to challenge ourselves, or do anything we haven’t tried before. These are goals that don’t aspire to anything better than the present situation. They are devoid of hope. Very often, they can be associated with high levels of depression and anxiety.

Where Can I Find Hope and Trust?

The road to hope starts with imagining possibility, ways in which things could be different and better than what we currently are experiencing. So there is definitely an element of imagination in hope.

Sometimes, our experience in life may prevent us from imagining possibilities that are different from the things we experience at present. This may be as a result of experience from even the early days of life, when perhaps the family dynamics, economic conditions or other factors led us to close the door on anything other than the particular situation in which we as children or young people found ourselves.

Or, it may be that, as a result of setbacks and issues that we face in the present that our capacity to imagine and take steps to move toward good things in the future has been damaged, or lost altogether. This situation is what we call “losing hope”. It can be caused by many types of life circumstances, but it’s an experience that a good number of people are encountering during this time of COVID-19 and lockdown.

We need to get back to our hope, and to trust in a future that can offer us good things.

Strength for Now and the Future

In order to move into a personal future that is worth having, we need to be able to envisage a better possibility for the future. We also need to have the motivation and resilience to pursue those possibilities, and we need to be able to see at least the outline of a way of getting to those goals. It can be a crucial and demanding piece of psychological work to move into a place of healing, from which hope is possible.

Working with a depth psychotherapist to develop the ability to imagine better future possibilities that can actually be achieved, and to find the inner motivation and resiliency to move toward them, can be a very important step towards recovering genuine hope and trust in our life journey.

Wishing you genuine and lasting hope and trust for your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.com (Creative Commons Licence)

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