Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

If Your Life is a Journey, How’s the Trip Going?

January 24th, 2022 · life is a journey

I can imagine some readers thinking, “Really, Brian? ‘Life is a Journey’? How cliche can you get?” Yet, it’s important for us to closely examine this metaphor of life as a journey. If we look, we find it everywhere. Why is that?

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

The idea that “life is a journey” is certainly widespread. We now know that it appears almost universally in human existence, throughout a vast array of cultures. As far back as 1980, George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley wrote about “metaphors we live by”. These are metaphors that are so fundamental, they pretty much structure the way that we take in life. Certainly one such metaphor is this image of life as a journey. If “life as a journey” is so fundamental in human life, how does it affect you or me, in our daily living?

Why is This Important?

Viewing our lives as a journey has important implications for psychotherapy, and for the way we see our individual selves. In thought-provoking reflections, Dr. Connie Zweig, a well-known depth psychotherapist points out that, much of today’s psychotherapy

…is a science, not an art. It’s about the brain…and meds, meds, and more meds…. And it’s about behaviour—brief, cognitive-behavioral therapy, which posits that human beings have no soul, that we need only change our thinking to relieve symptoms…. In the end therapy [is] no longer a… journey guided by the precept “Know thyself”. [Italics mine]

Connie Zweig, The Inner Work of Age

Please understand that I am not suggesting that scientific knowledge of the way the brain works is anything other than essential to psychotherapy. Nor am I suggesting that cognitive-behavioural therapy should be completely discarded. It has many useful applications. Rather, what is important here is the question of how we view the human individual.

The kind of fundamental story that we tell ourselves about ourselves and our lives makes a great deal of difference to therapy, and to our individual experience. It is possible to see ourselves as a very complex bag of chemicals and neural and physiological reactions, with no real unified sense of self or identity. But this fundamental metaphor that “life is a journey” gives us a sense of being a unified being, a person, who is going somewhere definite. This imparts a dignity and coherence to our lives that is essential if we are to experience a sense of meaning in our lives.

Jungians view the metaphor of “life is a journey” as something that is a fundamental part of the human psyche. It is what Jungians would refer to as an archetype.

Experiencing the Parts of the Journey

A journey has a beginning, a destination, and a variety of stages and transitions in between. It can be full of twists and turns, or it may go on the same relatively straight path for a long time before making a turn. When we examine it, we can see why a journey is such a powerful metaphor for our lives.

Very often, there are stages in a journey. In a similar way, there are stages in our lives. We may go on for substantial periods in our lives where relatively little changes, and then find ourselves confronted by a major life transition, like entering adulthood, the midlife transition or the transition to later life.

As in an outer, physical journey, we may get off the path that we’re trying to travel. As when we’re physically lost, there may be a process involved in finding our way back to our actual path. For Jungian depth psychotherapy, this path is the path of the Self, the expression of who we most fundamentally are.

Telling My Story as if Life is a Journey

The path traveled may offer many chances and changes, but there is something incredibly powerful in the realization that it is a path, that life is a journey. For many people, this sense of “journey” may be filled with religious or spiritual meaning, or a sense of something “meant to be” or fateful. There is something fundamentally life-giving in the awareness that the particular challenge that I face now is part of a coherent story. Each of us faces the challenge of finding and reminding ourselves of our own particular story. This is what Jung refers to as our “personal myth”.

Working with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be an excellent way to gain understanding of our personal journey, and to develop a connection with our personal myth. As individuals work on the situations in their lives, they often develop a sense of pattern, emerging connections and value and respect for where they have been in their lives.

With every good wish for your personal journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Getting Past Our Shadow Projection

January 17th, 2022 · shadow projection

Shadow projection is a term you see a lot in self help books these days. It’s been popularized by writers like Connie Zweig, who emphasize the importance of “shadow work”. It really is important for us, especially right now.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

To understand “shadow projection”, we first have to understand “shadow”. As Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp tells us, the Jungian term “shadow” refers to “hidden or unconscious aspects of oneself, both good and bad, which the ego has either repressed or never recognized”. Jung referred to the shadow more bluntly as “that which we do not wish to be.”

This part of ourselves which is unacknowledged, either because we’ve repressed it, or because we just don’t know about it, is incredibly important. We all have such a part of ourselves, no matter how “conscious” or “self aware” we might be. The fact that the conscious mind doesn’t acknowledge this dimension of ourselves doesn’t mean that this part of us has no influence upon us. As a matter of fact, the influence of “the shadow” on our lives is enormous.

The shadow can impact us in a wide range of ways. Just as an example, shadow is often very visible when someone is undergoing the midlife transition. People at this stage of life may well connect with parts of themselves that they had completely forgotten about, or which they didn’t ever know were a part of their makeup. This can be very demanding for the ego. The ensuing interaction may take us to places we had never dreamed of going: out of marriages, careers and spiritual/religious commitments, and into entirely new ones, to name but a few possibilities. I mention this solely to illustrate the power of the psychological forces connected with shadow.

Keeping this awareness in mind, I’d like to consider the nature and power of shadow projection. Projection, according to Sharp is:

An automatic process whereby contents of one’s own unconscious are perceived to be in others.

Jungian Andrew Samuels elaborates on this:

Difficult emotions and unacceptable parts of the personality may be located in a person or object external to the subject. The problematic content is thereby controlled and the individual feels a (temporary) release and sense of well being. (Samuels et al, Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis)

So, shadow projection is when we unconsciously take the contents of our own shadow, and perceive them as belonging to another person or group of people. We take muck out of our own backyard, as it were, fling it onto someone else’s face, and are convinced that’s the way they actually look!

Mud, flung onto a wall! (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Dangers of Shadow Projection

As may be readily apparent, shadow projection is a very dangerous thing to do to others. It is also an extremely dangerous thing to do to yourself.

When we project our shadow on others, we see our own characteristics as being part of the other person. Let’s say we have two people who work in the same office. One [“the projector”] projects on the other [“the projectee”] that that person is lazy and unmotivated. This may be because “the projectee” has some other unrelated quality, such as a vague resemblance to someone “the projector” knew in the past—or a strange and unfamiliar-sounding last name. In that situation “the projectee” will particularly lose out, because they may well not have this characteristic at all. If “the projector” is a close working colleague, or worse, a supervisor, this may be quite damaging.

However, let’s not lose sight of the damage “the projector” does to themselves with this projection. The projection of laziness or lack of motivation onto another person, serves to make “the projector” less anxious about something in their own psyche. For instance, this individual may have a very strong investment in seeing themselves as a “good employee” who always meets the expectations and escalating demands of their employer. Yet they may be ignoring or repressing a part of themselves that actually deeply resents the demands of the employer, finds them excessive and wants to push back and assert boundaries.

This feeling may well be an essential and important part of “the projector” to which they need to listen. By projecting it, they get rid of some anxiety, it’s true. Yet, this can be at the cost of losing vitality and authenticity.

Facing Up to Shadow

It can be easy to run from our shadow, and shadow projection is one of the most common ways that we do this. It can be so extensive that it turns into a way of life. People can spend large parts of their life avoiding shadow through projection. They can pay a very heavy price for this, in that they fail to acknowledge essential parts of who they really are.

Shadow and Others

We need to be aware that shadow projection can creep into all of our interactions with others in profound ways. We need to stay alert to its possible presence in individual-to-individual interactions, but that is not all. Shadow projection can have an enormous impact on the way that whole groups are perceived by other groups in our society. This can have a profound impact on business, politics, and even the overall social cohesion of a society.

In our era, social differences on issues can be so polarizing. We see this in the tensions, stigmatization and vilification surrounding issues like “pro vax vs. anti vax” during COVID. How easy it is to lose sight of people in their individual uniqueness, and pigeon-hole them through unfair and demeaning stereotypes! In this era of social media, this is another type of “epidemic” of which all need to be aware.

Dealing with our shadow projection, and doing shadow work can be a great deal easier when we don’t have to do it in isolation. A close, supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can often be of tremendous support in this work. If you feel that you’re dealing with issues of shadow and shadow projection, I strongly recommend you seek out support from a qualified Jungian analyst.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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New Year: Building Resilience and Meaning in Uncertainty

January 10th, 2022 · resilience and meaning

It’s very early days in 2022, and I think that most readers will recognize the need for resilience and meaning in this uncertain time.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

In my home province of Ontario, as of today we’re once again still in lockdown. This is due to the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Schools and many retail businesses are closed or facing restrictions. Gatherings of people are also once again strictly limited in size. There’s a general feeling of restriction and uncertainty. No one is sure how long these restrictions will last, or when we’ll finally return to a sense of normalcy.

As the seemingly less virulent but highly contagious Omicron spreads, there’s hope that COVID might be changing from a pandemic to something much less threatening. Yet no one is certain if or when that might occur. It seems that we’re being called to patience and endurance—yet again.

Not surprisingly, the uncertainty of the present time is generating anxiety for all of us. How can we deal with our anxiety in such a way that a sense of hope and solidity is actually directing us? Where can we find resilience? Two things, a sense of resilience and meaning, are very relevant here.

Resilience and Meaning

How do we find resilience and meaning in challenging times? Resilience is that quality that enables an individual to face adversity and to come back from it with strength to meet challenges. When we’re discouraged and thwarted by setbacks, we can become more risk averse and more shut down as a result. However, the resilient person is someone who springs back from such experiences, and even uses what they learn from the setback to help them. Resilient people are characterized by a basic overall optimism, and a capacity to live their lives in the face of circumstances that others might find discouraging.

There are a number of factors that go into resilience. Some of them are founded in things we can’t change, like genetics. Yet there are a great many things that we can focus on that will build up our capacity for resilience, and enable us to deal with setbacks and experiences of disorientation—like the latest wave of the pandemic.

The Capacity for Resilience

One of the things that will help with resilience is to develop an attitude of kindness, starting especially with directing kindness toward ourselves. In difficult circumstances, many people find it easy to let their inner critic savagely beat them up. An experience of failure, for instance, can be something about which individuals rake themselves over the coals, often endlessly.

So, a starting point for building resilience is the willingness to work on seeing ourselves and our lives in a kinder light. This goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to work on treating ourselves better, in many ways. These include getting the sleep we need, perhaps driving ourselves less, and they go right through to the story we ultimately tell ourselves about our lives.

This last point is directly connected to another factor that builds resilience, namely finding ways to root our lives in a sense of meaning. There are many possible sources of gratification or “feel good” in life, but one of the greatest of these is a sense of meaning. This was a bedrock foundation of the psychology of C.G. Jung, as reflected in the following quote:

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

And in this quote:

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.

We can be curious about our lives, and our own particular experience. We can identify parts of our lived experience that carry a particular sense of meaning or value or truth. We can find aspiration or hope to live for that connect us to a sense of lasting or indestructible meaning. Living for these things can give us a tremendous amount of resilience, if we can just find them and hang onto them.

What is your greatest hope, now?

How Can I Connect with Resilience and Meaning?

For many people, a key part of coping with the pandemic experience centers around finding resilience and meaning. This is generally true in life, but our experience of the pandemic highlights this reality. If we can find meaning in our particular experience of life at this time, and find a value in it, this heightens our resilience, and shows us a way to get through it. This work of finding meaning may well become an essential part of our daily life. What has meaning for you?

This ongoing search for meaning in our own unique, particular lives can often be enhanced by working in a supportive therapeutic relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist. The ongoing “living lab” of depth psychotherapy can allow us to becoming much more discerning about where meaning really lies—and to center our lives on it.

Wishing each of you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Feedspot: Vibrant Jung Thing is a 2021 Top 10 Jungian Blog!

December 31st, 2021 · Jungian blog

Warm thanks to Feedspot for naming “Vibrant Jung Thing” a Top Ten Jungian blog this year!

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Warm thanks to Feedspot for naming VJT as a Top Ten Jungian blog! Here’s a link to Feedspot’s listing:

It’s a real honour, and it extends the overall pleasure that I’ve found in blogging on Jungian subjects for these last dozen-plus years! The chance to explore our life journey from a Jungian perspective in company with all of you is a never-ending source of new insight and depth.

I look forward to continuing exploration of topics like individuation, major life transitions and the meaning of key archetypes like the archetype of home for our everyday lives during 2022, and beyond. Allow me to thank each of you personally for reading and reflecting on these blog posts and sharing your own feeling, thoughts and life experiences through the years.

Jung’s 4 Psychic Functions – Basis of Personality Type

I wish each and every one of you a fulfilling 2022 that will be full of greater awareness, connection with the unconscious and meaning.

With every good wish to each of you individually for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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How Do You Deal with Home and the Holidays?

December 5th, 2021 · home and the holidays

“Home and the Holidays”: there’s such a sense of natural and even sentimental warmth around this phrase. Home is a word that is full of emotional power for us.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

You know that you’ve reached that “Home and the Holidays” space when you again hear all the Holiday music playing in stores and on the radio. In my area, at least, we’ve been in that place for a while now. For many people, this time of year brings up a lot of feelings: positive, negative—or both! What is it that is so powerful about these twin themes of “home and the holidays”?

I’ve written about the powerful archetype of “home” previously. Here is something that has great emotional resonance in our culture.

One of the songs played frequently at this time of year has the chorus “There’s no place like Home for the Holidays”. Other than that rather sentimental chorus, the song is basically a description of people making all kinds of efforts to get back to wherever they identify as “home” for the Holiday season. They do this regardless of the expenditure of time, effort or money involved. Somehow, this resonates powerfully.

Something else is worthy of note about this particular song. The people described in the song all seem to be somewhere other than “home”, and they have to travel to get there. This probably resonates far more with our experience in the highly mobile world of the 2020s than when singer Perry Como recorded “Home for the Holidays” in 1959.

Trying to Get Home for the Holidays

This Holiday season, like every Holiday season, many of us will be “trying to get home for the Holidays”. That phrase can mean a wide range of things to a wide variety of people. For some, as for the individuals in the song, it will be a matter of trying to physically travel “home”, wherever and whatever that might be. In addition to physical travel, people will be trying to “get home” in a whole range of other ways.

It’s actually those other ways of “trying to get home” that I want to focus on. Consider that classic movie scene from “The Wizard of Oz”, where Dorothy repeats to herself with more and more fervour “There’s no place like home!” It’s evident that she’s referring to a geographical location—but also to much, much more. Just what exactly is she on about, and why has it stayed in our imagination for the last eighty years?

“There’s no place like home!” PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

It’s important for us to think about all the things that get symbolized by the image of “going home”. Among other things, “home” can symbolize:

  • the place where I was born;
  • the place where I grew up;
  • the place I lived the longest in my life;
  • the place where I connect with my family of origin, or certain key members of that family;
  • the place where I live surrounded by my current family and friends; or,
  • the place where my family is from (e.g., when members of my family referred to “over home”, they meant the UK, even though none of us were born there!)

In short, “home” is a symbol for the place in your life where you feel in control, physically and emotionally safe, and related to your life in the proper way. It’s a place of security, where I can be myself, meet with absolute acceptance, and feel my anxiety is at a minimum.. In the words of Knox College Prof. Frank Andrew, “In short, ‘home’ is the primary connection between you and the rest of the world.”

Things That Get in the Way of Going Home

So, all of these things—and considerably more—are in the background when we reflect on “home and the Holidays”. When we reflect on the Holidays with anticipation, we may very well be trying to connect with this “home” reality. Jung would stress that it’s important not to underestimate the strength of our drive to make this connection.

We may go to gatherings with our relatives. We may settle down for celebrations with our nuclear family. We may travel back to the place where we were born. We may do these things with the conscious and/or unconscious expectation of encountering some sharing in the longing for “home and the Holidays”. Perhaps we find some of that reality. Or, perhaps we meet with disappointment—for many people, an all-too-familiar disappointment.

Perhaps the place where we are longing to experience “home and the Holidays” is not “home-like” at all. Perhaps there are bits of “home”, mixed in with other difficult feelings and experiences.

We yearn for something that can be hard to find. Where can we experience the reality of home? Is it something that we can find externally, or is it something that we need to find within ourselves?

Our Real Home

What or where is your real home? When have you felt connected to “home”, and why? How can you take care of yourself, so that you feel more connected to home, and feel more “at home” in the world? In your world? These are key questions for our well-being.

A supportive, relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can greatly help in the process of finding our own way of feeling more at home in in the midst of our own world, and our own real lives.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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The Importance of Self Awareness 3: Letting In the Shadow

November 22nd, 2021 · importance of self awareness

In this third and final part of an ongoing series on the importance of self awareness, we focus on the psychological reality of shadow. Jung originated this term, now used by many who reflect on our psychological reality.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Just what is meant by “shadow” when we think about the importance of self awareness? At one point Jung describes shadow as,

“the thing a person has no wish to be”.

C.G. Jung, CW 16, para. 470

This is pithy and succinct, but Jung helps us when he tells us:

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.

C.G. Jung, CW 11, p. 131

Jung’s point is that, for each of us, there are parts of our personality of which we are unaware. He would add that there are parts of the personality of which we might prefer to remain unaware.

Sometimes, I would rather not be aware of certain aspects of myself because my ego doesn’t feel comfortable with them. The ego is the part of my personality of which I’m conscious, and with which I identify. Many times, ego doesn’t wish to acknowledge other parts of me that don’t fit with how my ego would like to see itself. This can create all kinds of issues for us.

Saving the Appearances; Deep Six-ing the Shadow

Jungian analyst James Hollis spells this out for us in some detail. He writes about how we “manage to dissemble, to deny, to lie to ourselves and believe our evasions”:

We are often called to save the appearances, to paper over the gap between our presumptive identity and values and our actual practices. This distressing gap is what Jung called the Shadow, those parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable with ourselves. Feeling discomfort, we repress these facts, project them onto others, are subsumed by them, or, occasionally, bring them to consciousness and integrate them into a more complex, more accurate sense of self.

James Hollis, What Matters Most, pp. 25-26

Jung and Hollis are in agreement that self awareness is not always easy! Certain parts of ourselves may strongly resist knowing important aspects of who we are, and being honest with ourselves about them. We can find it much easier, sometimes to live with fictions about ourselves.

Tolerating Our Shadow Parts

The shadow parts of ourselves may be difficult to tolerate. They may cause the ego all kinds of anxiety. Sometimes the ego may have values that it thinks are important, like being truthful. These may be challenged by things we actually do, but don’t readily acknowledge, like fudging a little on one’s income tax.

Also, we may have some aspect of our personality that we don’t wish to acknowledge. We might feel that something about us is shameful, like having a weakness or inability to do certain things. Or, there might be something about who we really are that’s at odds with how we see ourselves, One example would be an urban sophisticate who secretly yearns to perform country and western music. Or, someone might believe that it’s bad or selfish to stand up and firmly ask for what she or he actually wants—but whose shadow is determined to do it.

It’s certainly not true that everything in the shadow is dark or morally questionable—far from it! Many things in the shadow are not really “shady” at all; they just don’t fit with the way the ego sees itself. Nonetheless, we can spend an incredible amount of psychic energy trying to avoid being aware of such shadow contents.

This struggle to avoid our authentic selves can create anxiety and even depression. The struggle with avoiding the shadow part of our authentic selves often becomes acute and even excruciating at times of major life transition. The midlife transition, or the transition into our later years are examples of this. Tragically, an individual can spend much of his or her life running from who she or he really is.

Integrating Our Shadow & The Importance of Self-Awareness

Running from the shadow produces anxiety, exhaustion and distortion of the person. It’s immensely beneficial if a person can find a way to make peace with the shadow, and integrate it. This can give a renewed sense of energy for life. As British Jungian analyst Christopher Perry reminds us,

[The assimilation of the shadow] leads to self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. Grievance and blame give way to the taking of responsibility and attempts at sorting-out what belongs to whom. A fierce conscience, which tends to be self- and other-punitive can relax, and personal values can be set in counterpoint to collective morality.

Making contact with the shadow is often greatly assisted by working in a supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist. In the accepting environment of Jungian therapy or analysis, it’s often possible to look at ourselves with true clarity, and genuine compassion and insight. This can help us greatly to see the ways in which the shadow turns up in our own individual lives. We can then start to genuinely hear it, and to come to terms with it.

Do you have awareness of your shadow? When in the past might you have encountered it?

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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The Importance of Self Awareness 2: Become Who You Truly Are

November 15th, 2021 · importance of self awareness

In this second post in this series on the importance of self-awareness, we explore the idea of becoming who you truly are. “Become who I am?” someone might ask, “Really? What’s the big deal?”

Building self-awareness… PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Isn’t it all really very simple? As Popeye the Sailorman put it many years ago, “I YAM WHAT I YAM!” From this perspective, what else is there to be said about the importance of self awareness?

Well, pretty clearly, the above is a different understanding of our unique identity than Jung intended when he wrote:

The privilege of a lifetime [italics mine] is to become who you truly are.”

C.G. Jung

What could Jung possibly mean by this? Clearly, he feels that becoming who you are is a big deal—the “privilege of a lifetime”, no less! Is knowing who I am, and being who I am, really all that important?

True and False Identity

Often, there’s a clear difference between who we think we are, and the personal characteristics that we actually possess. We can have an image of ourselves that is quite different from who we really are. Often, the story we tell ourselves about who we are doesn’t quite match the reality.

Researchers often point to evidence that shows the contradictions between some idealized version of ourselves, and who we really are. For instance, research shows that many people who don’t see themselves as racially prejudiced actually carry substantial racial bias. Or that people who see themselves a compassionate can actually walk by starving or apparently gravely ill homeless people. It can be hard for us to acknowledge some of the less agreeable aspects of ourselves.

Yet, there are plenty of other ways in which our story about ourselves can be in error. Consider the individual who may have a career as a tough, steely go-for-the-jugular business person. Then consider what can happen at mid-life, as this person realizes that he or she is actually empathetic, and cares most deeply about building people up. Such people can often come to the realization that they have been living out someone else’s story.

This process of working out who we really are can be quite involved!

When the Real Me Shows Up

We can spend a lot of time and energy consciously or unconsciously avoiding who we really are. This can consume an enormous amount of effort, and it can cause an enormous amount of pain. It may be particularly difficult when we confront situations where the real me shows up, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

We know “the real me showing up” as a classic midlife motif, but it shows up at plenty of other times in a life as well. A wealth of clinical experience has shown me how extremely painful it is to feel a huge discrepancy between how an individual is living, and who they are and what they really want. This can lead us to situations of unhappiness, even misery, and to situations of inner and outer conflict.

If we can gain insight into what is motivating us on the unconscious level, we can help ourselves to feel less conflicted and generally better on the emotional level. Research by Oliver C. Schultheiss of Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg indicates that our sense of well-being tends to grow as our conscious goals and “implicit” or unconscious motives are more harmonized. We should not grind away at careers or patterns of living that give us things that are highly valued by society or our family if these things don’t fundamentally matter to us. Jung would certainly agreed with that conclusion.

This highlights our theme: the importance of self-awareness! How do we harmonize our deep unconscious motivations with what we are consciously trying to do? We have to open ourselves up to our unconscious feelings and motivations.

Making the Unconscious Conscious

[The human] task is to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.

C.G. Jung

Much of what C.G. Jung writes is focused on the importance of self awareness, and on becoming aware of the contents of our unconscious, however it manifests. For Jungian depth psychotherapy, this can involve using a variety of approaches to self awareness, including:

  • journalling and closely watching our emotional and bodily reactions;
  • closely examining our interactions with other people;
  • active imagination“, or the use of our imagination to get closer to the true contents of the unconscious; and,
  • looking at our dreams, as a way of understanding our unconscious reactions.

In addition, a supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can greatly assist in the whole process of “sorting the ‘I’ from the ‘Not I'”, as Jung puts it. Becoming who we truly are is vitally connected with coming to terms with the aspects of ourselves of which we aren’t yet conscious, and connecting them with our conscious awareness and goals.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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The Importance of Self Awareness: A Jungian Perspective – 1

November 7th, 2021 · importance of self awareness

The importance of self awareness: these days, you can find a lot in the media on this subject. The world seems to have woken up to the importance of being in touch with what we really feel, and our deepest reactions.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Self-awareness has certainly become something of a buzzword. The importance of self-awareness is stressed by the most diverse range of people and voices imaginable. Your neighbourhood yoga instructor may exhort you to be more aware of yourself bodily, while the pages of the Harvard Business Review stress the importance of self-awareness for the effective manager. Just what IS this illusive beast we call self-awareness?….

New York Times columnist David Brooks highlights the importance of self awareness in a passage of startling, and even painful clarity:

One of the most unsettling findings of modern psychology is that we often don’t know why we do what we do. You can ask somebody: Why’d you choose that house? Or why’d you marry that person? Or why’d you go to graduate school? People will concoct some plausible story, but often they really have no idea why they chose what they did.

David Brooks, “Is Self Awareness a Mirage?”

Going Through Life Without Being Aware

“[O]ften they really have no idea why they chose what they did”—what a stunning statement. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, it can often be true. We can easily go through the stages of our life somehow moving from one thing to the next, often without really being aware of what we are choosing or why. I’m reminded of the lyrics of a popular song from some years ago:

And you may say to yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”

—By letting the days go by.

The Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”

Lack of Awareness Doesn’t Have to be Fate

A Jungian approach to the personality and to the psyche strongly asserts that this kind of lack of awareness is not inevitable. It is not fate to be unconscious. It is possible for us to become aware of our deep emotions and motivations and the things a that really drive us. This involves the process of becoming conscious of oneself as a unique individual, which Jungians call the process of individuation. Jungian analyst June Singer helps us to understand this process in more detail:

The individualation process moves along two tracks. The first is designed to help people recognize and fulfil their own unique potentials. This involves differentiating the self from the constraints of the conditioning that are imposed by family and other external influences. The second track requires differentiation from one’s environment: one asks, How am I part of that which surrounds me, and how am I different? Put another way, it is the development of an ability to discriminate between the “I” and the “Not I”.

June Singer, Boundaries of the Soul

“I” and “Not I”

Discriminating between the “I” and the “Not I” can be a crucial, life saving thing. This can be particularly true when we go through the crises often associated with major life transitions.

This post is the first in a series examining the importance of self-awareness. I will be specifically looking at what a Jungian depth psychotherapy approach can contribute to our understanding of self awareness. This is a vital topic, if we seek to take ownership and responsibility for our lives. It is also essential to developing a self-compassionate attitude to ourselves and our own precious life journey, a task that is at the heart of Jungian therapeutic work.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Soul’s Call: Right Amidst Our Major Life Transitions

November 1st, 2021 · soul's call

Right off the bat, let me say that, in using the word soul, and referring to soul’s call, I’m referring to the essence of our personality, the core of who we are. This post is not about religious ideas like “saving your soul” or “your immortal soul”! It’s about who you most fundamentally are.

“Essence of You” PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

I’ve had occasion to reflect on this quite a bit recently, in the context of doing Jungian psychotherapy with several individual clients. Very often these are people who find themselves at major life transitions, who are faced with one or more major life choices. They may face a considerable amount of family, peer or broader societal pressure to go in a certain direction. Yet they find that, easy as it might be to go that way, something is keeping them from doing it—something that seems fundamental and important.

It may seem completely irrational. The person may have what appears on the surface to be an “excellent” career, that is prestigious and very lucrative, and yet find themselves yearning to pursue a vocation in the arts. Or a life-long stay-at-home person may find they suddenly wish to tour North America in an RV, for reasons which they find very hard to explain.

The Tension of Yearning

Our yearnings often come from parts of ourselves with which we are not very in touch. Yet we can be stunned by their urgency, even when we aren’t exactly sure of what it is they actually want. Often, they let us know that there is some full or partially obscured part of ourselves that wants to be included in our picture of ourselves. Some part of us that wants to come into consciousness and be fully alive. This hidden element wants to be uncovered in all its depth, even if we can’t yet fathom where it yearns to lead us. This brings to mind a poignant quotation from famed archetypal psychologist James Hillman:

Tell me what you yearn for and I shall tell you who you are [Italics mine]. We are what we reach for, the idealized image that drives our wandering.

That which I yearn for reveals who it is that I actually am; we are what we reach for. Some part of us is seeking healing, fulfillment and expression in the form of our keenest and most sublime desires.

The Peril of Ignoring Soul’s Call

Our yearnings can be very strong and persistent. Yet, it can be easy to ignore the voice of the self, even though we can pay a steep price when we do. Sometimes this turning away can lead us straight to anxiety or depression. Yet there are other ways that such a missed invitation can show up. While it is not exactly depression, there is a kind of sterility or flatness that can start to pervade our lives. We can also find ourselves filled with a profound sense of regret.

Often, it can be extremely difficult to sift and distinguish what it is the voice of the deepest part of ourselves, from the other influences and voices in our lives. The influence of families, peer groups, advertising and work environments can often be so pervasive and so seductive.

wants from of distinguishing that voice from other influences

Following Our Uncertain Yearnings

One hundred per cent certainty occurs rarely, if ever, in life. The most authentic decisions that we make and the paths that we tread are usually part of a process of groping toward something we feel has energy or life for us. We make these choices having weighed them as much as we can, and often we’re aware that there is a cost to making them. Again in the words of Hillman,

Anytime you’re gonna grow, you’re gonna lose something. You’re losing what you’re hanging onto to keep safe. You’re losing habits that you’re comfortable with, you’re losing familiarity.

Certainly growth often entails loss of the familiar and of things that contribute to our sense of safety. Yet, it almost goes without saying, we also gain, as we leave the familiar behind on our search for what is at the heart of soul’s call in our yearning.

Are you in touch with the yearning in your life? Are you in the process of trying to sift and identify what it is that is actually at the heart of soul’s call? If so, you know that it’s an important and at times demanding task. The process of working with a sensitive and supportive depth psychotherapist can often assist greatly in bringing the soul’s call experienced through our deepest yearnings, into clear perspective.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Finding Gratitude and Trust in Life

October 25th, 2021 · trust in life

To some, a title like “Gratitude and Trust in Life” might seem incredibly shallow. They might feel that an approach to life that involves “gratitude” isn’t really compatible with depth psychotherapy.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

“Oh, come on!” we might imagine such people saying, “as a Jungian depth psychotherapist, you should be in touch with the full range of human experience, not split off and focusing on ‘gratitude’! Human life involves so many ups and downs! Isn’t an approach that emphasizes gratitude or trust in life naive?”

It might seem so, yet trust in life is absolutely vital. Of course, it is important not to be gullible or naive. I’m sure each of us could relate cautionary tales of situations where well-meaning people have been too trusting, and have paid a terrible price. Quite possibly, we’ve had such experiences in our own lives; if so, it’s essential that we process them (and we might want to do that in therapy). But it’s also essential for our survival that we are able to act out of our trust in life.

The Essential Nature of Trust in Life

Always smile back at little children…To ignore them is to destroy their belief that the world is good.

~Website of the Buffalo Speech and Hearing Centre

I came across this remarkable quotation on a website of a speech and hearing clinic in Buffalo. Perhaps it seems unrelated. Yet, I think it’s essential to realize how crucial it is for us in our human development to get to the feeling and belief that the world is good and trustworthy. For psychosocial theorist Erik Erikson, the very first stage of the individual’s development is the stage of trust vs. mistrust. One of our first life challenges is to develop enough trust in the world to enable us to explore beyond our initial caregiver with a sense of trust. We need that trust to sustain us—even when we feel threatened.

We need to get to the place where we have enough experience of the goodness of life that we expect to find that goodness when we encounter new situations. Will we find that in absolutely every new experience that we have? Almost certainly not. But we need to have a belief that the situation will be “good enough”, in most cases that we’ll find it eventually. To have this faith is fundamental to doing the exploration that makes us fundamentally human.

Trust and Gratitude Can be Tough

Just because we get through this early stage of development doesn’t mean that we are done with the whole question of having trust in life. As researchers such as UNC psychiatry professor Stephen Porges have outlined, under threat our nervous system can easily lapse into emergency states. Sometimes situations can seem dangerous, and put our nervous system into the mode where we feel we have to either fight or escape: “fight or flight” mode. At even more intense levels, experiences may put us into immobilization, “shut down” states, or even collapse. Such experiences, however they come about, can be a grave threat to our sense of trust in life.

This matters because of what neuroscientists refer to as “negativity bias”. Our brains have a stronger tendency to remember and carry memories of bad things than good things! This tendency to remember the bad stuff more than the good stuff helped us to survive back to the early days of being human. It was more important to remember where we encountered the hungry sabre tooth tiger than where found the particularly nice berries. That’s because we can always find another berry patch, but one encounter with a sabre tooth tiger might be one too many.

That was then, and this is now, but our brains are still hard wired to cling onto the bad stuff. So, given the negativity bias, how do we find trust in life?

Genuine Gratitude and Its Connection to Trust

Thanks to our evolutionary past, each and every one of us is subject to the negativity bias. Each of us needs to counter it, by focusing our minds on the positive aspects of life, and of our lived experience. We need to be continually bringing ourselves back to the things in our experience that foster trust in life.

If we look at anthropology and early human history, it’s apparent that our human ancestors used specific means to overcome negativity bias, further their trust in life and reduce anxiety. Among other things, they did this through ritual and myth.

In their rituals, early humans gave thanks for the good things in their lives and expressed gratitude for the things that were most valuable to them. It may be invaluable for us to follow them in developing a sense of gratitude for all that is truly good in our lives, whether we give thanks to our particular sense of divinity, or to the universe or to life.

In suggesting this, I’m not suggesting a Pollyanna attitude. There are many things in any human life for which it is hard or impossible to give thanks. We have to acknowledge that, and, in many cases, we need to grieve these things. Yet, if we look, there are many things which do create a sense of gratitude, which perhaps we don’t always acknowledge. Sometimes, if we reflect on it, the “simple” experience of having the opportunity to be alive, to experience life, is awe-inspiring and numinous, to use Jung’s word.

Our ancient forebears also filled their lives with myth, with sacred stories, of the exploits of gods and heroes. They continually recounted these stories to themselves, especially at times of major life transition. In a similar way, we can benefit from recounting and participating in the stories of those who have gone before, and also celebrating the stories in our own lives, of our own capacity, resilience, strength and courage.

Working with a depth psychotherapist in a supportive relationship may be a key element in getting to gratitude, and in celebrating the gift of our unique and precious lives.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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