Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Saying Yes to Everything Means Saying NO to Being Myself

September 16th, 2019 · saying yes to everything, saying yes to everything

Saying yes to everything that other people want can be a very powerful pattern, into which we can very easily fall. It can also be very costly.

saying yes to everything
If we’re honest, we have to admit that constantly saying yes can become a kind of comfortable routine. After all, humans are social animals. We strongly want to get feedback from others that we’re liked, that we’re seen as valuable and competent, that we’re a valued member of the team. It’s easy when we’re tired or wanting positive feedback from others or feeling low on self-esteem, to just go with the flow and say yes. If we’re dealing with some measure of anxiety or depression, it can be even easier.

The Yes Trap

So why is saying yes to everything a problem? The simple answer is that what we want and really need may not be what others want us to do. If we don’t listen to our own inner voices about what we want and need, we can get badly lost and confused. We might well end up feeling violated, or, even worse, might lose our ability to know what we really think and feel at all.

That’s why modern depth psychotherapists emphasize the necessity of maintaining healthy boundaries — of being very aware of where other people end, and where I begin. Being aware of our own needs, and our own boundaries, is essential.

Some people might object, and say that focusing on our own needs and wants rather than the needs of others is a route to becoming narcissistic and self-preoccupied. However, I think that social scientist Brene Brown has it right when she states that self-affirming people

…say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment [italics mine].

Brene Brown, Rising Strong

Any route to compassion for others must begin with compassion for ourselves. That will entail saying yes to our inner voices, and sometimes saying “no” to the wishes of others.

The High Price of Saying Yes to Everything

Saying “no”, particularly in situations where there’s a lot at stake, can seem like a very costly thing to do. The temptation can be there to simply agree with others, and go the accepted way — because it’s a whole lot easier.

Sometimes we can end up just going along with what other people want us to do because it’s too scary or feels to costly to even think about the alternative. It’s a common enough experience to have someone sitting in my office who has:

  • stayed in a job, despite knowing it was wrong for them;
  • put up with aspects of a marriage relationship for decades, rather than challenging their partner;
  • despite being an adult, has accepted a mentally or verbally abusive relationship with a sibling or a parent; or,
  • a host of other circumstances where the individual has ignored their inner promptings, and just done what the other wanted.

When we do such things, consciously or unconsciously, we will often start to carry the gradually accumulating weight of our unlived lives. In a variety of ways, we start to find ourselves confronted with the need for transformation in our lives. That usually means saying “No” a lot more to other peoples’ expectations, and may entail looking at ourselves and our lives in a new way. Jungian analyst James Hollis writes:

Transformation often comes to us in symbolic form. We have a dream image that perplexes, a symptom that will not go away, a relational pattern that continues to fester — each of these is a summons to ask: What does the soul want of me? …. [T]his transformation has little if anything to do with … the approval of others.

James Hollis, What Really Matters

The Individuation Journey: Saying “Yes” to My Unique Individual Life

When we stop “saying yes to everything”, and start asking ourselves “Yes… but what does the deepest part of myself want and need?”, we begin to walk on the path toward our own individuation. Which is another way of saying we start to discover what it means to be uniquely ourselves.

Listening to the voices in myself and giving them flesh is essential for the journey of wholeness or individuation. We really need to clearing away enough of the external “noise” to be able to hear voices in ourselves that can be quite quiet, and hard to discern. So many things in our society work against us paying attention to our own inwardness. Yet one of the most formidable is the constant, subtle, often unconscious pressure from others to be who they want us to be, and to do what they want us to do.

At key points in our personal journey, there will be a very strong need for us to say “No” to the expectations, assumptions and pressure of others., and yes to something else — the true self. Finding that true self, listening to it and defending it — these are some of the most important tasks in our lives.

One of the great benefits of depth psychotherapy is that it creates a safe, protected place, with a supportive observer and witness, for us to hear our inner voices. that represent who we really are, and to let them emerge. This can be a vital part of our journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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Are You Facing “Autumn Anxiety”?

September 9th, 2019 · Anxiety, autumn anxiety

autumn anxiety

Autumn anxiety is very common. As we know, the autumn season often involves major life transitions.

Young people go back to school or post-secondary education, fall activities re-commence, and the days grow shorter, while we feel the approach of winter. All of these things can make autumn anxiety a profound reality. As Westchester Medical Center psychiatist Stephen Ferrando this can be an agitated and anxious depressive state.
There are very specific things that individuals can do for such anxiety. For instance, children or young adults experiencing anxiety around return to classes can learn various breathing and relaxation techniques, which can be tremendously helpful. If the shortening days trigger depression/anxiety, often there can be great benefit from properly using tools like light boxes, which expose the individual to very bright light for specific daily periods.
Yet, beyond these types of experience, adults may experience other kinds of autumn anxiety, which are very specific to the adult journey.

Passing Time, and the Unlived Life

With shortening days, the sun lower in the sky and falling temperatures, autumn reminds us powerfully of the approach of winter. It can be a very powerful symbol of the passage of time in the individual’s life, and it can lead us to ask some very searching questions.

The whole autumn season gives us the message that we should be getting ready, making preparations, doing more. Sometimes that can resonate with a powerful feeling that I’ve somehow missed out on my life or that I’m somehow not on the right track. These can be intensely disturbing, extremely anxiety provoking feelings.

We may need to really focus in our lives and identify where such feelings come from. We may also need to grieve lost opportunities, but also seek for ways in which the deepest yearnings within us can find some way to come to life, and to be made realities in our present lives.

Ignoring Our Inner Voices

We can keep trying what we’ve already been doing, and hope for a different, better outcome. Yet it’s likely that ignoring the pressing questions that life asks us about our success, our failure, our dreams and aspirations and about getting older, will just make the questions get louder.

Sometimes our autumn anxiety can be rooted in a deep anxiety about ourselves, and about intuitions that whisper to us that life has more for us than what we’ve experienced. Yet such intuitions can be deeply unsettling and anxiety-provoking. They may require us to move away from our preconceptions of who we are, so that we can let in the reality of who we are, and how we most deeply feel about our lives.

What About You?

Some people might tell you that it’s selfish or narcissistic to look at questions about meaning, about what I value or about living out the creative purpose of my life. Yet, it’s a psychological truth that, unless I can value who I really am, and listen to my own deepest self, my capacity to give to others is likely to be very limited. Compassion for others starts with self compassion, and as Jung would tell us, self-compassion starts with accepting who we really are.

So who am I, really? Who are you? What are the desires and abilities that have been locked up inside of you, never acknowledged or expressed, or perhaps just forgotten? Finding these things is all part of our journey towards wholeness.

Depth psychotherapy can help us to answer fundamental questions like these. It can be of tremendous value to sit with someone positive and non-judgmental, who can help to find self-acceptance, self-knowledge and the deep places within ourselves that carry the precious awareness of who we really are, and what we really desire for genuine fulfillment.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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Going Through Changes: The Stress of Fall Transitions

August 26th, 2019 · going through changes

going through changes
PHOTO: Charles Knowles, The Knowles Gallery
The late days of August, and early days of September are quite an extraordinary time of year. In this time period, we move from the more leisurely, and often more fun-oriented activities of the summer period into the whole avalanche of fall activity.
In some ways, you could argue that this time of year is almost more of the beginning of a new year for us than the New Year’s holiday! It’s time of immense change in our routine. And in many cases, it’s a time of major life transitions.
If we think about younger people at this time of year, there are some very evident ways in which they’re going through changes. Almost all school age kids begin a new school year. That’s a very significant change in the lives of young people and also certainly their parents. Some younger people will be going through changes that are even more significant, such as beginning their first year of high school, commencing university or going to another city for undergraduate or graduate studies. For some, it will be their first Fall after finishing post secondary education — also a very major shift.

Changing Seasons in Parenthood & Adulthood

These transitions are highly significant for the young person involved. What’s less obvious is that such major life transitions also have an enormous impact on the parents of those going through them. Also many adults who are not in the parenting role can find themselves strongly emotionally affected at this time of year.

For the parents of young people undergoing these changes, the change that a daughter or son is experiencing can mirror equally profound changes experienced by the parent in their sense of identity and their life journey. As I know from personal experience, a lot can be stirred in a parent by that first day on campus, helping your freshman child move into residence.

One aspect of this is separation anxiety. We naturally expect that the teen moving into residence for the first time will experience some separation anxiety along with the anticipation and excitement around what’s to come. It may be less expected that the parent will experience separation anxiety, yet that is often a part of the experience.

While high school may well be a significant adjustment for parents, they likely retain some aspect of surveillance or control over the teen’s life. But when a child goes away for post-secondary education, the parents knowledge of what is going on in their child’s life depends entirely on what the child communicates. Not surprisingly, the young adult may be feeling a need for independence, and may well share less than parents would wish to know. This lack of knowing can ratchet up parents’ anxiety.

Parenthood and Identity

Alongside of the parent’s separation anxiety, something even bigger may well be going on. The parent may be experiencing a big change with respect to role. That can run deep enough that it may even lead to some pretty fundamental questions about identity.

By the time a child is ready to start post-secondary education, parents have been involved in the parenting role for quite a long time. In fact, that role has probably been through quite a number of permutations and changes. In a typical suburban context, it has likely been a very involving, consuming role for both parents. Then, perhaps quite suddenly, it changes, and takes on another character. From this point on, to an increasing degree, the child will take control of his or her life.

The Call of the Self in the Midst of Our Changes

For the parent, this transition can lead to some pretty fundamental self-questioning. It may be that the individual asks her- or himself questions like:

  • What is changing in my life?
  • What’s really important to me, now?
  • What about all the things I wanted to do with my life, but didn’t?
  • What do I want to do with my life, moving forward?
  • Who am I, really?

These questions may have been waiting in the background of the individual for a very long time. They may be painful to confront. Yet they’re incredibly important, and, at this time in the life of a parent, they may be incredibly fertile.

Depth psychotherapy provides a safe supportive space in which to open up important questions like these and to find creative responses. That’s the essence of the journey toward wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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Living a Life That Matters: Can Depth Psychotherapy Help?

August 19th, 2019 · living a life that matters

Everyone wants a life that is meaningful and valuable to them. The idea of “living a life that matters” rings true to nearly everyone.

Yet, how do we actually do that? What is it that is I need in my life to enable me to say, “my life matters” or “my life has value”? Very clearly, there’s great individual variation in each person’s answer to this question!
As the life cycle goes on for each of us as individuals, this question often takes on more importance. What is more, as the years go by, the question can often become more focused: what is it about my particular life, about specifically being me, that matters, and that gives my life dignity and meaning?

What Makes My Life Matter?

What exactly is it that makes me feel like my life matters? Well, pretty clearly, the answer to that question is going to vary greatly from person to person. We can talk in general terms about some key things, like love, meaningful work, and a sense of purpose, among other things. Yet, what really matters are the specifics.

If I’m going to understand what it is for me to live a life that matters, I’m going to have look in some real detail at myself, and at what it is that makes specifically my life matter. Through advertising, social media and other means, there are continual social pressures put upon us to find certain things meaningful or valuable. Our culture is always trying to tell us that this car, that vacation trip, or this mutual fund is going to take us straight to the things that really matter in life. This kind of messaging ignores individual differences between us — and if we ignore our individual characteristics, we can’t hope to find what it is that gives our own unique life value and dignity.

It’s a common experience for individuals to find that the question of what makes my life matter, or what makes life meaningful, takes on more and more importance as life goes along. (Although, as we saw in last week’s blog post, issues of meaning can be very important for people around the middle of life, or even well before that time.

Getting More Urgent in the Background

We can try to find refuge in what everyone else is doing, but it likely won’t enable us to get to the personal answers that we really need about our own unique lives. There can be a level of comforting numbness in just living a conventional life and “doing what everyone else does”. This is akin in some ways to the experience that Baudelaire calls “bathing oneself in the crowd”. Yet people who are basing their lives on convention can find it particularly painful and alarming to sense that they are just “going through the motions” in their lives.

Often, when an individual is living a life of “just going through the motions”, the unconscious mind starts to give urgent clues that this outward conformity is not reflective of who the person really is. An individual in this situation may have considerable anxiety and depression. Or, they may be subject to sudden inexplicable bouts of anger. They may also have a variety of violent and disturbing dream images. Terrifying dream images of strong, out of control angry figures, or hopelessly sad figures may appear.

Affirming The Value of Our Lives

To find the life that truly matters for us, as individuals, we’re continually drawn back to our own experiences of depth. Jung, when helping analysands to find what really matters to them, would often draw people back to their own childhood experience, and ask them what activity they enthralled them as a child in which they could completely lose themselves. It can also be very important for people to think about experiences they have had in later life that seemed charged with life and meaning. These are the experiences that humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow would refer to as “peak experiences’, while Jungians might call them “numinous”.

We also might find that the individual’s dreams overall have a great deal to say, as might the individual’s body. James Hollis tells us,

Transformation often comes to us in symbolic form. We have a dream image that perplexes, a symptom that will not go away, a relational pattern that continues to fester — each of these is a summons to ask What does the soul want of me? … this transformation has little if anything to do with the ego’s comfort or control, or the approval of others.

Hollis, What Matters Most

Hollis is not using the word “soul” here in a religious way, but in the sense of the deepest and most fundamental aspect of who we are. It is acknowledgment of that part of ourselves that leads most fundamentally to living a life that matters. Depth psychotherapy can be a vital tool in the process of connecting with those parts of our psyche.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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When Does Middle Age Begin — And What Does It Mean When It Does?

August 12th, 2019 · when does middle age begin

When does middle age begin? It might seem easy to determine whether someone is middle aged or not. But when does someone enter the psychological middle of life?

when does midlife begin
And what happens to a person when they do? The answer to these questions involves much more than determining the person’s chronological age.
Surveys show that people generally identify the middle of life as occurring roughly between the later 30s and age 60 or slightly earlier. But what exactly is the experience of being middle aged? What is psychologically different about the middle-aged period? And what does it mean for you or I when this midlife transition begins to occur?

When Does Middle Age Begin — Mentally?

There are all kinds of information sources out there which will tell you when middle age begins physically. They will point to all the issues around physical appearance, tiredness, aches and pains, eyesight, bladder, etc. However, the best of those articles will also tell you that the fundamental part of the arrival of midlife or middle age is psychological, and has to do with a specific midlife mindset.

What really characterizes this midlife mindset? Well, we have to bear in mind that there are huge differences psychologically between those who are in the midlife years. It’s essential that we respect the individual differences between people. Nonetheless, there are certain psychological characteristics that are shared very widely (if not universally) by those who are in middle age:

  • Awareness of mortality, and of the passage of time. The individual on some level comes to appreciate that they won’t live forever, and that time is passing.
  • Frequent feelings of discontentment and/or restlessness. The sense of the passage of time in life can lead us to wonder about how we’re spending our time, and “whether it’s all worth it.”
  • Questions of meaning and purpose. It’s not at all uncommon for people at midlife to start to ask some pretty fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of their lives
  • Experiences of depression or anxiety. Full-blown “midlife crisis” likely happens to only a minority of people undergoing the midlife transition. Yet, for all of the reasons above, it’s not at all uncommon for people to experience anxiety and depression in this phase of life.

Midlife: You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

What starts to make all of this very complex is that we live in a culture that prizes. This is linked to our society-wide fear of aging. As psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, noted, our civilization really has no cultural ideal of old age, or even middle age, and so,

our civilization does not really harbor a concept of the whole of life.

For many people, this can be extremely scary. With no ideals held out as we age, going into middle age, (or, even worse, the later years) can feel like slipping into a huge black hole. To use one of Erikson’s famous phrases, it can lead to a massive identity crisis. We can end up refusing to look at all he big issues described above — awareness of mortality, questions about whether its all worth it, and about the meaning of it all, and associated anxiety and depression.

We can find ourselves in grave doubt about who we are, and what our lives are worth — and, worst of all, we might not even be able to admit to ourselves that we’re wracked by fear and doubt.

When Does Middle Age Begin — For Me?

So, psychologically, middle age begins when I can accept and admit to myself that the big issues about the passage of time, and about being in the middle of life are real and alive for me. That may manifest in different ways for you than it does for me, or for someone else.

Each person will experience his or her journey through what Jame Hollis calls “the Middle Passage” in his or her own way. We can pretty much expect, though, that each of us will find that the middle of life poses deep questions to us about our own identity and the value and meaning of our lives. Finding personally meaningful answers to those questions — answers that are satisfying to you — can be a matter of vital importance.

Depth psychotherapy can be of great aid to individuals seeking to find a direction through the uncharted reaches of the middle of life. Working with a good depth therapist or Jungian analyst to become more aware of the undiscovered self can be a key part of our journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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Canada Day and the Psychology of Home

July 8th, 2019 · psychology of home

I’m writing this shortly after Canada Day 2019, which is a very fitting day to be thinking about the psychology of home.  The same is true of the U.S. July 4th holiday.

psychology of home
Canada Day, July 1, Parliament Hill, Ottawa
Canadians, new and long-term, are all familiar with the words of the Canadian national anthem:

“Oh Canada, our home and native land”

Our national anthem clearly draws the connection between Canadians’ national identity and the symbol of “home”. This sense of home, what Jungians would call the archetype of home, gets deeply evoked by our national birthday. It’s clearly something that resonates deeply with many, many people.
We all seem to crave somewhere that we can call “home”. This could be on the national level — that sense of “belonging to” or “coming from” a “home and native land”. (Or home and adopted land, as is the case for many of us in Canada, this land of immigrants). It is also a very powerful need on a number of other levels, like having a specific place to live, being part of a family, being in a relationship with a significant other, and many, many other things.

Where Am I at Home?

For all of us at some times, and for some people most of the time, the question “Where is home?” becomes central. For all human beings, this question of “Where do I belong?” is a crucial one. The human psyche seeks always for a sense of secure base: a place where we can be safe, secure and be ourselves.

What this means can vary greatly, from individual human being to individual human being. Some people have experienced environments of radical physical insecurity, such as war zones or physically abusive families, and their primary need is for somewhere physically safe. Other people may have a strong need for an emotionally secure environment, if they have experienced early family life with great emotional turmoil. Others may seek an environment where they are understood, and their differences and uniqueness are acknowledged and accepted. We reflect our needs in our image of home.

What If I Can’t Find Home?

Like me, you may have had times in your life when it’s very hard to find any sense of home. Sometimes, we can go for long periods of time before we are even able to acknowledge that we lack this sense of home or belonging. Yet the lack of a sense of home or secure base or fundamental safety and acceptance can be a major factor in anxiety and depression.

Sometimes we can be in denial that we are unable to find a sense of home. Until someone points it out to us, we may not be aware that that is what we’re experiencing. For instance, an executive in a multinational corporation may have had a fast-paced career in 15 cities in 10 countries, and because the work is so involving, he never has the chance to notice that he is suffering from a deep sense of disconnect that pervades his life. Yet when he slows down, he feels a sense of anxious foreboding. It can be easy for such an individual to keep running at his or her flat-out pace, rather than acknowledging what he feels. When the driven activity ceases, the individual may find themselves in the middle of a major life transition.

It may be essential for us to stop and look at our lives, and acknowledge that we do experience alienation and disconnect. We may need to approach ourselves with kindness, rather than trying to ruthlessly drive ahead.

Being More and More at Home in Myself

In Homer’s great work, the Odyssey, the hero Ulysses struggles for many years, against untold difficulties, so that, in the end, he can finally come back to his home. For us, too, coming to that sense of being at home in ourselves can also be a long process, and yet it may be exactly what we need.

The process of depth psychotherapy can contribute greatly to a sense of home. It can help us to feel more at home in the world, and, even more fundamentally, at home in ourselves. “Travelling home” in the sense of greater self-knowledge, self acceptance and self compassion is right at the heart of the journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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Spirituality and Depression: The Surprising Relationship

June 24th, 2019 · depression, spirituality and depression

Spirituality and depression are not discussed together too often, but probably they should be!

spirituality and depression
Some might even see spirituality as potentially banishing depression, but the relationship between the two is not nearly that simple. We often tend to see spirituality in terms of light, and possibly joy, and we can easily slip into tending to view it as almost a kind of “cure” for depression. Yet the relationship between depression and spirituality is subtle and complex.

Spirituality May Not “Cure” Depression

There are diverse opinions about whether spirituality and religion can assist people in dealing with depression. Some studies suggest that there is a positive link, but some recent studies have been more cautious in their findings.

A common thing in our time is to find people who would describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”. There is a movement in our time away from formalized belief systems in favour of various types of more personal spiritual exploration, characterized by activities such as yoga, meditation and even pilgrimages like the Camino de Santiago. SUch exploration can be a very common part of the midlife transition.

Some studies done on those who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” have found that there is a higher incidence of the symptoms of depression amongst those who would describe themselves as “spiritual”, but who don’t participate in formal religious institutions or activities, than in those who might describe themselves as more conventionally religious. “Spirituality” can sometimes tend to be a bit ungrounded, and a bit disconnected from the realities of living everyday life, in ways that may even actively contribute to a sense of loneliness and isolation.

How do we get to a spirituality that doesn’t contribute to depression, and that may even help us to overcome depression?

How Do I Deal with Spiritual Realities?

Jung saw spirit as a non-material aspect of human existence that can’t really be fully described or defined. Yet, he certainly didn’t feel that this elusive character means that spirit is unreal — far from it! Spiritual realities have their own sense of purpose connected to them, quite distinct from our human expectations. Jung sees the appearance of this dimension of human life as usually associated with strong feeling, as researchers like Profs. Neal Krause and Kenneth Pargament have emphasized in more recent times.

But there’s something important to recognize here. In some ways, Jung and others like him see spiritual reality as basically the opposite of the material reality that we live in every day. So, potentially, we could live our lives, eat sleep, work and do all the regular things that we do, and not really have any connection to spiritual reality. On the other hand, we could choose to live almost entirely in spiritual reality, with as little connection with the pragmatic realities of the world as possible.

However, Jung argued that neither of these paths would ultimately lead to a very meaningful life. From his perspective, in Andrew Samuels’ words, “spiritual goals must be embodied for fulfillment.”

So, how can we bring spiritual and material realities together, so that the relationship between spirituality and depression is a positive one?

Living Out Our Spirituality

One of the key requirements of a spirituality that is truly grounded in, and connected with, our own real lives is that the spirituality genuinely emerges from our lived experience. There is only one way that this can happen, and that is, if we examine our own lived experience, and really seek to understand who we are and what has happened to us in our lives in an honest and self-compassionate way. Only a spirituality in which all that we are can be welcomed in an open-hearted way can be a spirituality that helps us move away from depression, rather than miring us deeper in it.

One very effective way of understanding and developing compassion for our own unique lives is through depth psychotherapy. Engaging in therapy or analysis with a therapist who is attuned and sensitive to spiritual values can be a powerful way of integrating one’s journey to wholeness, and one’s particular spiritual path.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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Rocketman: The Journey of Accepting Who You Are

June 17th, 2019 · accepting who you are

Accepting who you are sounds so simple, but that’s not many people’s experience. Rocketman, the recent film of the life of singer Elton John illustrates this powerfully.

accepting who you are

Elton John being Elton John
Rocketman is the story of a man who is very unusual in some ways. As the movie shows us, he is also a very vulnerable man. Basically, the whole film turns around the question of whether Elton John (born Reginald Dwight) is able to accept himself, have compassion for himself, and stop being so paralyzed by the opinions of others. In this respect, even though Elton John cuts an unusual and at times even bizarre figure — he has a great deal in common with us.
It’s clear from very early on in the story that young Reginald / Elton is really going to get very little from his family of origin. His father seems incredibly cold, while his mother is portrayed as deeply narcissistic. The only supportive person seems to be his grandmother — and she is the one who figures out that her grandson is a piano prodigy.

The Problem of the Public Self

As the story progresses, we gradually see that young Reginald Dwight realizes that there is no acceptance of who he really is in his family of origin. The way he copes with this is the way that many of us do: by developing an outer mask to present to the world that hides the pain. In Reginald / Elton’s case, this mask gradually takes on the form of the outrageous, bombastic, manic piano man: Elton John. On stage he has an unstoppable Dionysian energy — but away from the adoring crowds, an appalling loneliness.

It’s clear that the outer presentation is not just a complete counterfeit. There is a lot of the inner Reginald Dwight that wanted to be accepted and loved; those parts shine through in the defiance embodied in the outer presentation. The persona presents itself in a ferocious “couldn’t care less” way on stage, alongside an unspoken but insatiable demand: love me. But despite his enormous stage presence, and his ability to sweep people up in his music, love eludes him. He is surrounded by artificiality, superficiality, and, frequently, just gets used by others.

When the Mask Gets Too Painful

As is often the case in real life, the film conveys the sense that people looking at the formidable Elton John persona often seem to have no idea of how much difficulty the inner person is confronting. In Elton John’s case, this suffering inner person is further masked by numerous addictions, and by a blinding, breakneck schedule. The inner Elton John is confronting tremendous inner pain, but the world would never know it. In fact, Taron Egerton, who plays Elton, does a masterful job of conveying the sense that he does not know himself how much agony and depression he really carries.

Ultimately, however, we start to see that the pain is intolerable. John’s behaviour becomes more and more self-destructive. There is a battle raging between an enormous need to hide his vulnerability from the world, and a desperate need to acknowledge his own pain, and be affirmed for who he most fundamentally is — by both himself and others. Tensions of these kinds are often found at the heart of an individual’s journey toward wholeness.

Accepting the Exile

Finally, something happens that breaks the tension, and Reginald / Elton embarks on a course of action that is best seen as the action of the individual’s true self. I won’t spoil it here, because it’s a visually stunning movement in the film’s progression. However, I can say that it’s a moment in the film character’s life when he finally seems to stop valuing the opinions and valuations of others over himself, and begins to connect with the pain he has experienced in the relationships in his life, and with his own desire to be loved — by himself and others.

The challenge of accepting and loving the parts of ourselves that others may have rejected, rather than despising them and disowning them ourselves is a key movement in the journey to wholeness, and often can be a central part of a major life transition.

Throughout his long therapeutic and literary career, Jung continually emphasized the importance of extending self acceptance to the parts of ourselves that we might find easy to hate and to shun, continually emphasizing the healing to be found in such places.

Depth psychotherapy at its best continually emphasizes this process of accepting the parts in ourselves that we might find least acceptable, and finding strength in the parts of ourselves that may seem most vulnerable. As the movie Rocketman seems to affirm, accepting who you are is fundamental to finding the meaning and value of your own individual life.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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Amidst All the Pressure, Staying True to Yourself

June 10th, 2019 · staying true to yourself

Social pressure, of one kind or another, is a powerful, all-pervasive thing.  Staying true to yourself in the face of it can be a difficult task.

staying true to yourself

It’s easy for any of us to be unaware of, or to underestimate, the amount of pressure we all feel to fit into someone else’s idea of who we ought to be. Yet, if we truly going to find our own direction, it’s essential for us to be aware of just how much pressure to follow the desires and expectations of others we actually face.
The cost of social pressure can be high for individuals. Sometimes we realize this cost only in retrospect. Often, it’s only when we think about the roads not taken in our lives, that we start to realize how much letting others take us away from what we actually want has actually cost us.

Group Pressure is Surprisingly Powerful

Recent studies on the power of social pressure have a lot to teach us. Building on nearly 50 years of social psychology research, Emory University psychiatrist / neuroscientist Gregory Berns has demonstrated that social pressure can actually be strong enough to lead people to change their perception of reality, and that those who resist group pressure can experience very significant levels of emotional discomfort.

This has particular importance for us in relationships. Key relationships, such as families, are absolutely essential to human existence. Yet, at the same time, those key connections, like families, can do tremendous damage to our awareness of ourselves, and can enforce rigid forms of social conformity. Although we look to families for emotional shelter and support, often a family can be extremely intolerant of individual differences and the characteristics that make individuals unique. As Jung himself noted,

Children don’t belong to their parents… often they are about as characteristic of their parents as an apple on a fir-tree.

C.G. Jung, Correspondence

Given that group pressure has tremendous psychological power, and given that even our conjugal families and families of origin can be pressure vessels that induce conformity, what chance is there of staying true to yourself?

Individualism Isn’t the Same as Staying True to Yourself

Now, this all seems disquieting, because we live in a society that ostensibly values the individual and individual expression. We all give lip service to freedoms like freedom of mobility and freedom of expression. Yet it would probably be fair to say that we stress the value of individualism, of individual achievement, more than the value of individuation, which is the process of becoming the person you or I are most fundamentally meant to be.

Certainly, product marketers use the language and visual images of individuality to great effect in marketing campaigns. We all know the powerful images of the individual alone in his or her car, perhaps in some panoramic wilderness or some warm velvet night, putting pedal to the metal and sailing off in his or her Own Direction [capitals mine]. This must be very effective imagery: the automotive industry has used it for many years now. You can find similar usage of images in marketing a wide range of products — perhaps the most famous of all time being “The Marlboro Man”.

Yet it’s striking that this kind of advertising is itself a kind of social pressure, applied to induce thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or even millions of people to engage in the same behaviour. It raises the question, what would it be like to really “go in your own direction” — to really live in a way that fundamentally expresses who you are.

What’s more, the norms of whole communities, neighbourhoods and certainly family units get shaped by these kinds of social pressure. It’s easy for the individual to see themselves as functioning autonomously and independently, when there are all kinds of pressures at play that take us away from who are really are, and what we really want.

It’s very easy for each of us to delude ourselves, when it comes to “staying true to yourself”. We can think that we’re living out of our spontaneous selves, when we’re really living out of the long buried expectations of society, or some significant other, buried deeply and for a long time in our psyche. Is there any way past this dilemma?

illusions of individuality. marketing

Hearing Your Inner Voice: Staying True to Yourself

So then, is there no way to hear the voice of the self, and to live it out? Are we doomed to perpetually meeting the expectations of others and of our social surroundings?

Actually, there are things we can do that bring us more into contact with ourselves. It sounds incredibly simple, perhaps even simple-minded, but we can find ways to listen to ourselves.

As we explore our life story often we can begin to discern what is our true self, and the places where others, wittingly or unwittingly, have applied pressure upon us to do things other than what we wanted to do, to want things other than what we really want, and perhaps to be someone other than who we really are. The places in our lives where we have gotten the message that who we really are is not enough, or is even just plain “wrong”, are often places where we encounter anxiety and/or depression.

There are many ways of getting in contact with who we really are. One way is to explore what it is that we really like to do, and, especially, as C.G. Jung emphasized, getting in touch with the things that we really liked to do as a child, or as a young person. Finding ways to genuinely express ourselves in some way — through writing, through visual arts, through improv, through dance — can all be great ways to connect with the depths of you.

In addition, like many people, you may find that engaging in depth psychotherapy, especially Jungian analysis, can be a tremendous aid in staying true to yourself. Working with someone to investigate our unconscious and undiscovered self can be a tremendous benefit on the journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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How to Fix My Life? Some Bad News — and Some Good News…

May 27th, 2019 · how to fix my life

how to fix my life

“How to fix my life? ” is a huge question in our time. Self help books, TED talks, gurus on Oprah or Dr. Phil — all are devoted to answering this question.

We live in a time when there is a great obsession with trying to get our lives right, and finding the magic secret that will make us who it is that we really ought to be. It’s not really surprising that we think like this. We live in an era when our ingenuity and our technology have solved so many problems.
Only a hundred and fifty years ago, most people got around on foot or on the backs of animals. If you wanted to talk to someone, you had to go and see them face to face. Now everything has changed! Shouldn’t we expect the same kind of powerful fixes for our own personal lives, perhaps with issues like anxiety and depression?

First the Bad News: No Silver Bullets

It can be tempting to expect that the answer to “how to fix my life” should be as simple as buying a new car, or a new suit of clothes. However, the truth is,that the self-help gurus who have simple formulas for making your life or my life better are not really giving enough weight to how complex we are as creatures, or how complicated life can be.

There can be lots of talk of “re-wiring the brain” in this or that way, and change in the brain is possible, but it doesn’t usually come quickly. When it can occur, it requires quite a bit of time and effort. Experiences that have affected us very deeply, like experiences of the mother-child bond, or experiences that are difficult and overwhelming, that we call traumatic, have a profound effect on us that is not easily removed or erased. Many of the things that shape us as human beings remain with us, in some form, throughout the entirety of the human journey. We cannot expect some surgery to remove them as if they were a ruptured appendix.

What Do We Do With the Hand We’re Dealt?

WhIle we might be able to change some factors in our lives, and in our personal psychologies, there is much about our selves and our situation that we simply cannot change.

We have to accept that we have come to the place we are in our lives as the result of the action of many different factors. These factors include genetics, environment, family, cultural and others in combination with any experience that the individual may have had of trauma. We are who we are, in the particular place and time that we live in.

Life can be a real struggle if we cannot accept our own real lives. People can end up running from themselves in so many different ways, and yet never really be able to get away or escape.

We have to start by playing the hand we’ve been dealt. This life we’ve been given is the one life that we have: it defines who we are. It’s our starting place, and we can’t pretend that it’s not. If we can accept the hand we’ve been dealt, then perhaps we can start to play it. That might mean coming to greater understanding of who we really are, finding things we can change in our lives, and maybe finding ways to connect with others who can help us feel grounded and valued in our lives.

The Good News: Self Acceptance and Self Compassion

One of the very best things we can do for ourselves, as C.G. Jung frequently emphasized, is to actively work on bringing ourselves to a place of fundamental acceptance of who we really are.

It might sound very odd to say it, but to the degree that we can accept ourselves for who we are, we actually bring a profound kind of change into our lives. That might not seem at all like an answer to the question of “How to fix my life?” However, it is about a deep change in our relationship to ourselves.

The on-going work of understanding and accepting ourselves in depth psychotherapy, and living out of who we really are, is not an instant change or a magic bullet. However, if we stay with it, it is something that we can experience as deeply healing.

One very good starting point for this journey to wholeness can be a willingness to talk openly about ourselves in the context of therapy, and to work diligently toward self-understanding and self-acceptance. The real heart of the human journey, as Jung tells us, is the journey of individuation, the journey to become more and more who we are and to live that out in the world. To do this requires a fundamental kindness toward, and acceptance of, ourselves. The ongoing work of moving toward this goal is the very heart of Jungian depth psychotherapy.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Ella’s Dad (Creative Commons Licence)

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