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  • Job, Identity, Anxiety


    Work and Identity for Vibrant Jung Blog I don’t know what might motivate an employer to choose to lay people off 3 weeks before Christmas.  However, judging from the calls I received from clients and potential clients prior to the New Year, there were quite a few employers who took such action this year.

    Having been on the receiving end of such news myself in prior times, my thoughts and very best wishes are with anyone who had to confront that reality this holiday season.  Here’s to better times and a better job market for all. 

    This is difficult for people all on its own — just dealing with the economics of job loss.  However, when it’s compounded by issues of identity and self-worth, it can become incredibly painful, to the point where it is almost unbearable.

    It’s all too easy for all of us to allow our identity to become completely bound up with our social role and with others’ expectations of us, especially where work is concerned.  In his writings, Jung warned incessantly of the dangers of becoming over-identified with the social self, the “persona” as he called it. 

    Today, for many people, the pace of work simply increases and increases as organizations make new demands on their employees.  More and more consideration, energy and time is demanded by the workplace, and, for many, there is intense and endless anxiety about work, about whether one’s job is stable and sustainable, about relentless change, and often about the endless political complexities of workplaces where resources are scarce and communication and leadership are inadequate for the task at hand.

    You might think that these factors would lead individuals to be less and less identified with work, but in an odd way, the effect seems often to be just the reverse.  Even though work is fraught with anxiety, people become strangely identified with their work role.  Perhaps it’s precisely because so much effort has to be put into keeping working life on an even keel, and so much worry and anxiety keep pulling individuals back to confronting their work. 

    However, it’s essential for each of us to hold on to the realization that I am not identical with my work role.  Don’t allow work to consume the substance of your life.

    Easy to say, but doing it is often not as simple as that.  Often it is not just the identity at work that confines us.  It can be just as much about the way that we are perceived in various social settings, and in the community at large, through our work roles, as it were.  Very many of us are powerfully addicted to the drug of success.  Or, perhaps more accurately, we are highly invested in being seen as a success, perhaps to such an extent that all of our self-esteem and self-respect is riding upon it.

    This gives rise to some fundamental questions:

    • What really is it for me to be a success?  How will I know when I get there?
    • Who gets to say whether I’m a success?  Me, or some outside authority to which I’ve given the power to say whether I’ve made it or not?
    • Is it what I own that makes me a success, or is it what I am?
    • And simply, am I over-identified with my work role?  How do I understand myself independent of it?

    Don’t let your work keep you from your life.  Don’t let it persuade you that it is your life.  Don’t let it keep you from your vocation, what it is that you are really meant to be and do.

    I’d be interested in your comments about how you experience work, and how you understand yourself and your identity independent of your job, and, as always, any other comments that you might have.

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

    Brian Collinson

    Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice:


    PHOTO CREDITS: ©Photovibes|

    © 2010 Brian Collinson


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