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Tomorrow is the last day of my first quarter of graduate school. The last ten weeks have been an interesting journey. The first three weeks were stressful and I began to question if I was truly cut out for grad school. Luckily, things fell into place and I felt like my old self. I was curious to see what life would be like in a clinical program devoid of depth psychology classes. I had a rough time at first. I was constantly arguing with and criticizing my textbooks. Many reading sessions involved me yelling at my book, slamming it shut, and then walking away to do something else to calm down. I swore I was going to write letters to all of the publishing companies and authors to let them know about their oversights. In retrospect, I can laugh at my frustration because it made me realize something important: Jung is my treble clef.

I have been playing piano for over 20 years. I rarely read music anymore, but when I do, I still struggle with reading the bass clef. The treble clef is easy because it’s the first one I learned. In fact, it’s probably the first one that most budding musicians learn. You know, the one where the spaces spell F-A-C-E and the lines are where Every Good Boy Does Fine. I can read the notes on a treble clef like I can read the words on this page. But the bass clef? Not so much.

The bass clef seems deceptively similar to the treble clef, but it’s not. Playing the bass line as a treble line is the recipe for a cacophonous disaster. The only way for me to navigate the fraternal twin bass clef is to transpose what I see. For instance, every note on the bass clef is three tones lower than it’s twin on the treble clef. What looks like an A is really a C, an F is really an A, and so on. In order to play properly, I have to use the treble clef that I know and love as my starting point. Every note I read on a bass clef is relative to my knowledge of the treble clef. Are you confused? (I’m hoping that I am not the only person who reads bass clef this way 😉

So what does this have to do with my graduate psychology program? Well, I am passionate about depth psychology, and, most specifically, analytical psychology, which most people call Jungian psychology. In my undergraduate program, I was very lucky to be able to take a multitude of depth psychology classes. It’s very, very rare to be able to study depth psychology in an undergrad program. As a result, I took as many depth psychology classes as I could. After all, my plan was to go on to Pacifica Graduate Institute, which is a school dedicated to depth psychological studies. But then my plans changed and I decided to stay in Seattle and do my masters degree here. The only problem was that my chosen program does not teach depth psychology. Luckily, I have a trick to help me make sense of all the new theories I am learning because I have discerned that Jung is my treble clef.

Each time I learn a new theory (and in my program it’s all family systems theory) I compare it with Jung’s ideas and see if I can find something approximate. If I can, and usually I do, then I catalog it in my mind’s eye. For example, what the object relations folks call “projective identification” is just plain ol’ “projection” as far as I’m concerned. And good and bad introjects are just the polarities of archetypes. At least, that’s how I see it. And, for now, it’s working for me.

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My whole life, I’ve considered myself to be an introvert of the card-carrying-you-can-tattoo-it-on-my-forehead-it’s-never-going-to-change variety. I never questioned my introvert status. In fact, in some ways it was like a security blanket I always carried around with me. Other times, I would use it as an excuse to not pursue more social activities. I was a hard-core introvert and nothing would ever change that. Or so I thought.

I recently completed a course in developmental psychology, in which my instructor mentioned that one’s personality is set by age three. Intrigued, I asked her if traumatic experiences could affect one’s personality. She replied that trauma could change one’s displayed personality; however, if the individual underwent psychotherapy, then the original personality would be restored. I was fascinated with this bit of information, especially because at recent Jung group meetings, we had discussed the differences between introverted personalities and extroverted personalities.

Our Jungian expert and facilitator explained that introvertism and extrovertism run on a continuum. Therefore, one could be an introvert but fall on the spectrum closer to the extrovert side. And in truth, the middle is the best place to be, because in traditional Jungian parlance, one-sidedness leads to neurosis. I began to think maybe the time had come to rethink my loyalty to the introvert club, but then the facilitator said something that really piqued my interest: we feel fatigued when we go against type. As such, social activities should make me feel tired or drained of energy. And this had been true in the past; however, I realized that recent social activities made me feel energized, rather than depleted. In fact, I had been preparing to give a 45-minute senior synthesis presentation—a feat that should have filled me fear and apprehension. Instead, I was excited about the public speaking engagement and was hoping to have a large audience. Clearly, I was working against my introvert nature, but I was not feeling fatigued. I felt as though I had made a definite shift on the introvert-extrovert continuum that had placed me closer to the extrovert side.

Another example of this shift came in my decision to apply for the Couple & Family Therapy graduate program instead of Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The Jung group facilitator says that CFT is about being a “Sage on a Stage,” whereas CMHC is for those wishing to be a “Guide on the Side.” I had always planned on applying for the CMHC program because I didn’t want to deal with a bunch of people in the room. But that was my hard-core introvert doing the thinking for me. I ultimately decided to do CFT because I want to work with children, especially those surviving violent home environments. Which brings me back to what my developmental psychology professor told me in class and the way I connected it to my history with agoraphobia.

Individuals are not born with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia typically develops in one’s early 20s, or the age when people start moving away from home and becoming independent. Jung said, “The more intensively the family has stamped its character upon the child, the more [the child] will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life.” Therefore, if home were a place where I was hurt as a child, then as an adult, I would perceive the world-at-large as a place where I could also be hurt. And so began the downward spiral of agoraphobia. In the same vein, what if I wasn’t always someone who avoided social situations? Many family members have told me I was always a happy, smiling child. What if my life experience turned my naturally extroverted-self into a person who displayed an introverted personality for over three decades? The math certainly adds up and while I still believe I am an introvert (and my Myers-Briggs type of INFJ would agree,) I have made a concerted effort to practice being an extrovert. After all, the way I ultimately overcame agoraphobia was to practice acting like someone who wasn’t afraid.

My senior synthesis presentation was an overwhelming success. Many people said that I looked like a natural public speaker and that I belonged leading a group. When I served jury duty last week, if selected to be on a jury, I was going to offer to be the foreman. My previous introvert-identified persona would never have dreamed of doing such things. And most importantly, these activities did not drain me of my energy. At the conclusion of my symposium, I wanted to do it all over again! For my final project for my lifespan development class, I opted to do a presentation and had a lot of fun sharing my topic with the class and enjoyed answering their questions.

I know many books and articles have come out recently to defend introverts. Certainly, being an introvert (or extrovert) is not bad or evil. But I encourage other card-carrying introverts to think about where they fall on the continuum and practice holding the opposite. When we can master holding the tension of the opposites, only then can we have wholeness.

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Who Needs To Know?

In my Abnormal Psychology class last week the professor posed two questions: What is life? And who needs to know? There were varying answers to the first query but none were truly surprising: love, happiness, growth, challenges and other platitudes. I was the first to offer an opinion to the latter “I need to know. As long as I know then it doesn’t matter if anybody else knows.” The next volunteer disagreed with me and said, “Everybody needs to know. If I know you then you need to know everything about me.” Several people nodded in agreement, “Yes, everyone needs to know.”

Part of me felt stupid because no one agreed with me but I was glad I spoke my truth and didn’t wish I had opted to remain silent. Still, I had to wonder why I saw things differently than they did but that’s as far as I got, until today.

I have been met with a spectrum of reactions since I announced that I was going back to school, not just to finish a degree, but also to eventually become a psychotherapist. To everyone else I guess it seemed to just come out of left field but this is something I had been pondering for well over a year. Most people are supportive, including the ones that count the most: loved ones, of course, but also the owner and general manager of the company for which I work. I was counting on them to be flexible with my schedule to allow for my studies and they obliged. You would think the hard part would be over. But no, enter the Shadow Struggle.

Shadow Struggle is a term I coined in therapy when discussing my office manager. She’s not the same office manager I have complained about in the past (she was demoted) but a gal who started working for the company about a year ago. Eight months into this gig she was promoted to office manager. I was a bit hurt at the time because I had always mentioned my desire to have a managerial position within the company. I was always told that position didn’t exist but it would one day, which made me think that when it did exist I would be in the running. I dusted off my bruised ego and told myself it’s not what I really wanted anyway. All I really needed to do was keep working to put myself through school. So where does the shadow struggle come in? Before Ms. Newbie was promoted and she was just a peon underling like me, I had told her about my plan to go back to school and kept her updated on my application process. She was very supportive while I was planning on going to a state university. Then things changed once my heart was set on a private university and I was accepted with record speed. There was a definite shift. I was no longer asked how my plans were coming along. If I offered information I was met with a cool “Oh, well that’s nice.” Enter the Shadow Struggle. I soon realized that the office manager would have liked to finish college but an unplanned pregnancy got in the way. She has the two things that I don’t have: a high paying job and a kid. I’ve always wanted both but life hasn’t worked them out for me yet. As I’m getting older I have accepted the fact that I will probably never give birth to my own child (but that’s a story for the future.) In turn, I am getting the education that having a child prevented her from having. Our phantom ambitions played foils to each other and prevent us from getting along.

So who needs to know? My answer is still the same: I do. I am the only one who can know my purpose and I am the only one who can get me to where I want to be. Just today I was on the receiving end of some petty, vindictive behavior for pointing out a mistake the office manager made. I didn’t do it to be mean but because her mistake caused an inconvenience for a client and as a company we pride ourselves on client care. In dealing with childish office politics I have to know what my life is about in order to navigate to the other side. The “I know” is my compass faithfully directing me to the True North of my potential.

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Accepted!

It’s official! I will be starting Antioch University in the fall. I opened the letter right in the middle of the driveway despite the drizzle and quickly scanned for the only word I cared about: accepted. Isaias gave me a huge hug and I immediately started sobbing so hard the tears filled up my glasses. I wasn’t crying merely because I was admitted because I knew I would be, even before I applied. In fact, the woman who interviewed me said that I was a strong applicant and exactly the kind of person they were looking for. She said she would recommend me for admission and “see me in the fall.” I was crying because my dreams are starting to come true and a dream realized is a strange feeling. I am going to finish my BA and eliminate all the guilt I had for not finishing it when I was so close over a decade ago. And then I will go to graduate school to get an MA in Counseling Psychology and I will be able to start a private practice. The Plan that I made for myself at the beginning of the year is coming into fruition…and fucking WOW.

There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. There will be a last day at my current job. There will be a day when I don’t have to dread dealing with those difficult dysfunctional people. There will be a day when I will do what I do best and make money doing it!

My interviewer asked me simply at the beginning of our meeting “Why Antioch?” I told her that I had a very specific goal of doing graduate work in depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and that an education at Antioch would be the best first step I could give myself. And so it begins, “the adventure the hero is ready for is the one that he gets,” said Joseph Campbell. I am ready for my adventure and I am equipped with everything that I need, including the thing that I haven’t had in the past—outside support. I have the support of a loving and wonderful man who has never discouraged me from following my path. And I have an excellent network of friends who have been my cheerleaders every step of the way. And I have my amazing psychotherapist who told me at our first session that everything I need to be successful can be found inside me. And that is why this time will be different.

I am on my way.

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>March 18, 2010

Platitudes, Psychotherapy and Personal Growth: Finding Meaning in the Mundane

“What do you do for personal growth?” he asked me. I was at my third job interview at the age of 32. Not third interview for this job, mind you, but third interview of my life. I started working for my parents at the age of 14 and continued working for them for 18 years. I had a brief break my first quarter of college and for a few months when the entire family left cold, cloudy Cleveland for the sunny grand adventure of Las Vegas, where we would open a store and run it as a family. You would think I was brave, trekking across the country to face the unknown. But neon lights, burnished mountains and 110-degree heat had nothing on what ultimately claimed me—agoraphobia.

I’m not exactly sure when it started. Perhaps it was before we even left, as I was terrified of driving my car across the country. So we traded it in and took my then-husband’s car instead. And I didn’t drive again for nearly six years. There wasn’t a good reason for it, I just didn’t and no one really pressed me on it and so it was. When we bought a house, we chose one that was only a few blocks from my parent’s house so they could easily pick me up on their way to work. Then my husband or my sister would take me home from work. “Jenny doesn’t drive,” they would say. But that wasn’t entirely true. I had had my license since I was 17 and knew how to operate a vehicle. In fact, one night before heading home from work my sister got sick and asked me to drive us in her car. I was panicked and frightened and don’t think I ever approached the speed limit on the highway, but I did it. That was the only time. Well, the only time until my husband and I decided it was time to get a second car.

In 2003 we purchased the first brand new car either of us had ever owned. I don’t remember what the impetus was, only that it was to be my car to drive even if I was only going to drive it to work and back. And even though I had this new semi-mobility it didn’t cure me of my fear of going places alone. I didn’t do my own grocery shopping or pump my own gas and if my husband was with me, he was certainly the one doing the driving, not me.

Fast-forward four years in which we bypass my divorce, my first-ever sessions with a psychologist (who ultimately diagnosed me as agoraphobic), and a burgeoning new relationship with the man who holds my heart to this day. A wonderfully supportive man who helped me to take the first steps in my recovery and ultimately drove with me the 1300 miles from Las Vegas to Seattle (each driving exactly half of the 18 hour journey) to make a home and a life together. Isaias always told me I could do anything I wanted to do. It would take me a while to realize and eventually I did and am now reaping the rewards of that conviction.

Don’t think that I think of myself as some fairytale princess who just needed her Prince Charming to come and save her. My story is not that succinct. After my move I became depressed for the first time in my life. I had never been so far away from the family I was used to seeing every day and it was taking its toll on me. Once again I decided to seek therapy. My previous foray into psychotherapy was less than a success. I learned a few things, like how to “build on my successes” in terms of conquering my fear of driving. But over time I began to see my therapist as a parent-type and wasn’t being totally forthcoming with her for fear of being reprimanded like a child. I stopped going after just a few months. I found my current therapist through a referral from a friend’s therapist and have been seeing her regularly for almost three years. And she’s not just any therapist—she’s a Jungian psychotherapist. I don’t know why the fact that she was Jungian resonated with me. I certainly didn’t know much about Jung. I owned a copy of “Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” but I had never gotten more than 20 pages into it. The referral list I was given had about 8 names on it. I called several and left messages for all and made an appointment with the first one who called me back. Then BTW returned my call. I don’t know what it was about her but I knew she was the one. I made an appointment with her and called the first one back to cancel and I’m so glad I did.

My confidence in driving began to regress once I moved and I was scared about having to take the highway to a place I’d never been to meet a woman with whom I was going to share my most intimate fears. I don’t remember much except that she was very nice and welcoming and understanding. I had told her that I moved here with Isaias yet I felt alone because Isaias had family and everything here and “I have nothing.” She plucked that phrase and made it the focus of the session. Before our next meeting I was to make a list of “What I Have.” And I did. And with it came hope. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey that has brought me to where I am now.

“What do you do for personal growth?” asked my soon-to-be boss. I loved the question and I loved the interview—the most Zen, non-interview ever, of that I’m sure. I told him that I was a singer/songwriter/pianist and that I use music to express myself and attain personal growth. He told me that he had a master’s degree in counseling and I shared with him my experience of agoraphobia and recovery and that I was in therapy still working on it all. He told me what a mentor once told him: Pain is our birthright. We shook hands, said our goodbyes and I was offered the job a few hours later.

In the two years since then we’ve had the opportunity to “wax philosophical” on a few occasions. Most recently he told me of a Sanskrit phrase “Neti neti” which translates to “not this, not that.” He used it to illustrate how to describe what God is or what Love is—we don’t know what it is, but we do know what it is not. Neti neti. I didn’t know the extent of how this would resonate with me.

The New Year found me agitated and feeling stagnated. I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere with my life. Sure, my job paid well and I had learned skills I never thought I would but somewhere deep inside I wasn’t satisfied. Enter: Death. No, I’m not being emo and I didn’t attempt suicide or have a near-death experience. This is Death from The Endless. The sister to Dream, Desire, Delirium, Destruction, Despair and Destiny. The Death of the Sandman graphic novel series by Neil Gaiman. More simply, I changed the desktop background on my computer at work to an image of Death—a pretty Goth girl with a charming smile. Written on it was “You get what anyone gets. You get a lifetime.” The words haunted me. I found myself avoiding the text and her exuberant gaze. I had decided a year prior that I wanted to become a psychologist but I was just waiting to save enough money to go to school. But then there’s Death looming over me telling me my time will be up eventually. My 35th birthday was just two months away. I had no plans to go to school but if I didn’t go now, when was I going to go?

I had recently read an article on a blog called Zen Habits entitled “The World Needs You To Do What You Love.” It listed seven steps to get started on doing fulfilling work. Work doesn’t need to be boring and mundane. Work should be something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid for it. One of the steps was to make time to attain your goal. So I made the time to research universities and make education my number one focus. I have applied to a state university and will apply to a private university soon. I already have my graduate school picked out. I am going to be a Jungian analyst with a private practice.

Oh yeah, Jung. Dr. Carl Gustav Jung. Remember when I said that something about Jungian therapy resonated with me? At the time I would have said, “hmmm, that’s kind of strange.” But now I would say that it was me connecting to the collective unconscious. Deciding to become a psychotherapist isn’t just a decision it’s part of my process of Individuation. I always knew I was an Introvert, but I didn’t know that Dr. Jung coined the term. BTW (Best Therapist in the World) told me early on that the answers to all of our problems were located in our unconscious. I nodded and I believed her but I didn’t think it would actually happen or realize the impact it would have on me when it did.

I feel like I’m part of a tradition. Carl Jung suffered a psychotic break when Sigmund Freud excommunicated him from the analytical community. Jung was able to heal himself by studying his Unconscious as it revealed itself in his dreams, paintings and visions. I, in turn, was able to heal myself (with BTW’s help) by heeding what my Unconscious was trying to impart to me. I’m also a part of another tradition. Many of Jung’s patients came to him after having been analyzed and told him that they had figured out what they wanted to do: they wanted to be an analyst just like him. This happened so frequently that Jung would slap his head and say “Not another one!”

And so it goes. Not this, not that. Neti neti. Eureka! I have found it! What do I do to attain personal growth? I grow. I continue to reach for that which will help me to actualize my full potential. A potential that wasn’t met in working in the family business or selling pest control and definitely not in hiding away, afraid to go out into the world. I embrace the difficult and the challenging so I can look back and say, “I accomplished that. What’s next? Bring it on.”

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I ordered a copy of Carl Jung’s The Red Book from Amazon just before Christmas. They kept stringing me along and changed the delivery date several times, with the most recent ETA being late March to early April. So I contacted the bookstore at Pacifica Institute where they were expecting a shipment this week and placed an order with them, thinking that I’ll get theirs first and can cancel the Amazon order. Of course, I get an email from Amazon saying they shipped my Red Book today and it’s too late to cancel it. I am looking on the brightside–I will have TWO copies of the Red Book!!! If they come sealed, I will keep one intact for selling in the future and one for me to devour page by lovely page! I have been waiting so lonnnnng for this 🙂

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