Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Dealing with Stress and Anxiety Caused by — Society!!!

February 27th, 2017 · dealing with stress and anxiety

Recently, many people are dealing with substantial stress and anxiety — that has roots in social, political and economic factors.

stress and anxiety

Since Fall 2016, such anxiety has increased dramatically, as psychotherapy practioners are aware.  From many different social, political and economic perspectives, people are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety stemming from uncertainty around what may happen in our society, or in the broader social or political world.

Feeling Out of Control

For many, the hardest part of this anxiety and  stress is that they feel powerless and out of control.  Canadians, for instance, feel that many of the most stressful events occur outside of our country, and we have no say in their outcome.

It’s important to avoid moping, basking in feelings of powerlessness and resentment. We need to take a creative approach to this situation, and ask: what is within my power to do to feel more in control?

First: Don’t Make It Worse!

Dealing with stress and anxiety is extremely demanding.  We often self-medicate to feel better — which can actually make things worse.

dealing with stress and anxiety

Caffeine is Probably Not Helping

Caffeine is something many of us rely on to get through our days.  However it’s important to realize the extent to which it can make anxiety worse.  Oddly enough, alcohol, which we may take to relax in the short run, can also end up making us more anxious in the longer run.  The same is very much true of cannabis, and also, actually, of tobacco.

Something else that people use to quickly improve their mood, often unconsciously, are sweeteners.  Now, anyone who has ever seen a pre-schooler on a sugar high is aware of the potentially mood-altering properties of sugar.  Yet, sugar initially lifts mood, but ultimately leaves us very anxious.  Surprisingly, artificial sweeteners can do the same thing!  We also also see a pretty similar effect with fatty or fried foods.

Psychotherapists know that one of the very WORST forms of self-medication is: endless news.

dealing with anxiety and stress

Apps Galore!

Often, we seek increased control through ever greater amounts of information, but often, can get lost in endless unresolvable details, feeling less and less capable and in control.  Consider consuming less news, and doing things that increase a sense of control!

Broader Sense of Purpose or Meaning

Connecting with a broader sense of purpose or meaning can be of great importance in dealing with anxiety and stress.  Logotherapist Dr. Vicktor Frankl stressed that those who have a religious, spiritual or philosophical conviction, can gain from getting closer to these sources of meaning.  Depth psychotherapy stresses that a broader sense of identity may also come through experiencing the previously undiscovered self.

The wise have always stressed that it’s important in anxious times to connect with a sense of broader meaning or sanity.

Make Something Happen: Turning Anxiety into Passion

Anxiety consumes a great deal of psychic energy.  Its turmoil can wreak havoc.  If we can find a way to focus our energy on something that is meaningful to us, we will probably feel more creative, more empowered, and less churned up and miserable.  What do you really care about?

Music, Art, Drama

Jungians stress that art, music, drama and/or writing can help us get to an appropriate sense of ourselves and help move anxiety.  This is true both in terms of making your own creations, and in opening yourself up to the creations of others.  Writing can be a real source of calm and centering.  So can making or listening to the right kinds of music.

Here’s Yo-Yo Ma and Allison Krauss, performing an old Shaker song:

Anxiety is inevitable; none of us fully escapes it.  In our times, social and political currents shift and change, often erratically.  The creative question is, what can we do with our anxiety about these trends?  How can we take our anxiety, and turn it into something energizing and life-giving?  How can we take care of ourselves so that our society-related anxiety doesn’t become bottomless and inescapable?

Creative, self-compassionate ways of dealing with stress and anxiety open up important parts of our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Fiona Hendersonalisdair ; Doug Belshaw
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Impact of the Family: Loving Them, Yet Finding Yourself

February 19th, 2017 · impact of the family

Family Day is celebrated in much of Canada in February: it’s a time to reflect on the impact of family.  Depth psychotherapy emphasizes the impact of family on our unique selves, for good or ill.

 impact of the family
For Jungians, as for many other psychotherapists, the archetypes of father, mother and family are extremely important, and have an enormous effect on our development as individuals.  As Jung himself puts it:
“The deposit of [human]kind’s whole ancestral experience — so rich in emotional imagery — of father, mother, child, husband and wife… has exalted this group of archetypes into the supreme regulating principles of religious and even of political life, in unconscious recognition of their tremendous psychic power.” [CW 8, para. 337]
We are tremendously impacted by the symbolism of the family, in our social life, our political, economic and religious life, and above all, in the life of the individual — throughout the human life span.

Infant and Mother

As Andrew Samuels asserts, Jung was among the very first to spell out the relationship of mother and child in ways that sound at all like modern developmental psychology.  Jung writes, as early as 1927,

The mother-child relationship is certainly the deepest and most poignant one we know… it is the absolute experience of our species, an organic truth ….  There is inherent… [an] extraordinary intensity of relationship which instinctively impels the child to cling to its mother.  [CW 8, para. 723]

This specifically non-Freudian language sounds similar to modern attachment theory, emphasizing the primary self-creating character of the mother-infant bond, and showing how problems with this bond can be an on-going source of anxiety and depression.

We need the experience of good mother to move us on the path of individuation, the journey to our fundamentally individual selves.  The relationship with the father also has a key part to play in this journey.

the impact of family

The Fundamental Question: Unique Individual vs. Impact of the Family

Prof. Samuels also helps us to see that depth psychotherapy, as Jung, and those who have developed his ideas have understood it, takes us to a central question:

Are we to see a small child as an extension of the psychology of its parents… or more as a being recognizable from the first as possessing his or her own personality and intrapsychic organization?

In other words, can we sort out the parts of our identity that are uniquely, truly ours from those places in the psyche where parental influences, distortions or parentally-related trauma have hidden our true identity and a genuine sense of the unique value of who we individually are?

Discernment of our true individual identity is always at the heart of depth psychotherapy.  As pioneer family systems therapist Prof. Murray Bowen reminds us, “We all have an infant inside of us, but the infant doesn’t have to run the show.”  The capacity to love our family members, while simultaneously distinguishing our own unique identity from them, is fundamental to the journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Ian Parkes : ShaLynn Wren
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Finding Passion for Life, at Midlife and Beyond

February 13th, 2017 · finding passion for life

Valentine’s Day is a culture-wide celebration of love and passion, yet, for many, finding passion for life is one of the greatest challenges.  

finding passion for life

Passion can be hard to take hold of...

This proves particularly, urgently true for those of us at midlife and beyond.  The great danger for many of us in the second half of life is to become blase, jaded or disgusted by life, just when life might be becoming more intriguing, more colourful, more real.

OK, …Now What?

At midlife, it can easily feel like we’re on cruise control.  Day can blend into day, with the sense that there is nothing to show but “another day’s useless energy spent”, as a 1960s pop song put it.

Many at this age — to the extent that they are not caught up with simply coping with economic necessity — can easily feel that life is lacking in colour.   That the great challenges and thrills of life belong to a vibrant youth, either long gone, or that never really was, at least not for them.

Many people respond to this awareness with a kind of quiet despair, that never really gets fully acknowledged.  Instead many people hover above their real lives, never admitting to themselves that they’re struggling with a sense of banality.  Although not popular with the critics, in the 2014 film Hector and the Search for Happiness, actor Simon Pegg gives a very commendable portrayal of someone caught up in this kind of denial and compartmentalization — the kind of subtle, unacknowledged despair that philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called “the sickness unto death”.

finding passion in life

The Status Quo is Not Enough

The research underlying neuroscience and evolutionary psychology points strongly toward a conclusion: as organisms, human beings are purposive.  Our nervous system is oriented towards human beings striving after a purpose, or, if you prefer, a passion.

Long before this neuroscience work was ever completed, C.G. Jung wrote of what he called the “teleological” nature of the psyche.  What he meant by this is that the psyche is striving to meet some end

So we are at our best, most fulfilled, most complete, when we are striving toward something.  In other words, when there is a passion that grips us, when we are yearning and striving for something, it is then that we feel most alive.  And it is in the second half of life when the questions like “What is it that I really yearn for?” or “What is it that is really my life’s passion?” become most important and urgent.

finding passion for life

The Art of Alchemy: Finding Passion for Life

How do we find what we’re passionate about?  That may well be one of the key things that individuals need to seek out in the course of depth psychotherapy.

In the second half of life, finding passion for life that is genuine and as deep as our own souls may well require that we look in places that we might not expect.  There are many parts of ourselves that we don’t know well or at all — what Jung referred to as the Undiscovered Self.  There are many things we can learn from these unknown places within us.  Depth psychotherapy shows that, often, it is precisely in these disregarded shadows that we end up finding passion for life.  This can happen in many ways, both great and small.

Example.  Fred hated classical symphonic music.  This feeling was deep and real.  His parents had refused to have any music other than “the finest music” in their home, and in his teen years, they forbade him to listen to rock punk and new wave.  After that, Fred was resolute: nothing even remotely like classical music would make it even within earshot.

Years passed.  Fred and his wife, now in their 50s, were invited by an important business client and his wife to attend the opera.  “The opera?” Fred thought in disbelief, “You’ve got to be kidding!  No way!”  Still this was a crucial client…  Fred gritted his teeth, and attended.

Fred was amazed.  In spite of himself, as he listened and watched Mozart’s Magic Flute, he was drawn to the colors, the pagentry, the rich sound, the incredible singers.  Soon he and his wife would attend another opera, and then another.  In the most surprising of places, Fred found a deep and abiding passion.

Depth psychotherapy is fundamentally concerned with connecting the individual with the real wellsprings of deep and abiding life.  In surprising ways, it may involve us in a personal journey of finding our passion for life.


Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Winter and Depression: a Symbolic Connection

February 6th, 2017 · winter and depression

While there are many joys in winter, it’s easy for all of us to feel an intuitive linkage between winter and depression.

winter and depression

Hiroshige, Snow Falling on a Town, Mariko

There’s an importance to that symbolism that makes it well worth considering, from a depth psychotherapy perspective.
I live in Oakville, in Ontario, Canada.  We’ve had a remarkably mild winter this year, with very little snow in the month of January.  Yet, if the statistics are correct, we have had only twelve hours of sunlight during the month!  This has had a substantial impact on the mood of many.
It’s the absence of light, the cold, and the presence of much water in cloud and storm that gave winter its character in ancient mythology.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Although not “symbolic” per se, winter is the season of seasonal affective disorder, a mood condition in which depressive symptoms are induced by the low levels of bright sunlight during the winter season in northern climes. Seasonal affective disorder, (or SAD as it’s known) is quite widespread.  The Ontario CMHA estimates that between 2 and 3% of the population actually are debilitated to some degree by seasonal affective disorder, while up to another 15% suffer from a milder version, known as the “winter blues”.   If you experience depressive symptoms that seem to be associated with the winter season, you should consult a health or mental health professional.


winter and depression

Apollo’s Sun Chariot in Snow, Versailles

Apollo is Absent in the Three Months of Winter

According to Plutarch, the god Apollo was absent from his oracle at Delphi during the winter months; his place was taken by Dionysos.  Apollo, god of the sun, of music, and of bright, clear reason is, as it were, eclipsed in winter.  So it may seem in situational depression, when often individuals can find it hard to find their bearings, think clearly and to move forward on goals or projects.


winter and depression

Poseidon in Winter

Poseidon’s Season

In the ancient world winter was thought of as the season of Poseidon, the god of the Upper and Lower Waters, that is the waters of the oceans, and also those in the atmosphere.  In winter, the storm clouds are heavy with water, and the god of the depths can seem to also be in control of the sky.

Symbolically the watery depths often symbolize the depths of the unconscious.  As Jung tells us, in depression, our energy can be dammed up or brought down into the unconscious, trapped because of a life or coping problem that the individual cannot easily resolve.  As Prof. Andrew Samuels stresses that, somewhat counter-intuitively, Jung encouraged people to enter as deeply as possible into the feelings associated with the depression.  Why?  So that those feelings might be clarified — turned into a clearer idea or image, with which the person may relate, and work towards concrete resolution, change and movement in his or her life.

Beyond Winter and Depression

It’s easy for most of us to readily understand the symbolic joining together of winter and depression.  The season of sun may be overcome, and light and clarity disappear from consciousness for a time.  But in the depths, in the waters of the psyche, the unconscious is often active, as the individual seeks a resolution of fundamental issues in his or her life.

It’s the goal of depth psychotherapy to work with the winter of depression, its bleakness and barrenness, and to find in its midst the seeds of clear feeling and ultimately desire, and yearning for life.  The goal is the return of Apollo, with his sunlight and clarity — but, through working with depression, to have greater understanding of our own depths, and a greater capacity to move to the heart of our own true longings, and our own real life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Telegraph : David Santaolalla 
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What is my True Self? Our Inmost Voice in Major Life Transitions

January 29th, 2017 · what is my true self

What is my true Self?  The question may seem abstract, but it’s anything but, when you’re struggling in the midst of a major life transition.

what is my true self
It’s true that the individual in crisis or transition doesn’t look to the psychotherapist for some intellectual answer to this question.  A two page summary describing the major aspects of personal identity in answer to the question “What is my true Self?” would be hideously inappropriate.
Yet the individual has to feel that, however haltingly, he or she is headed in a direction that accords with her or his own true essence.  To feel good about a future direction, it’s essential to feel that there is something in the situation that corresponds in some way, to who I most fundamentally am.  In the midst of a chaotic career transition, for instance, it’s essential that the individual feel that his or her deepest wants, needs and values are going to somehow be maintained.

Does “Who I Really Am” Exist?

Some philosophers and psychologists question whether “who I really am” or “my true identity” is a reality, or just an illusion.

Now, while it’s true that modern neuroscience and psychology have shown that social interaction is absolutely essential to the emergence of the self, that’s very different from suggesting that the self is simply a socially constructed fiction.  Indeed, many of the most current and effective forms of therapy, such as Internal Family Systems Theory focus on the central importance and relevance of the self.

A Person’s “Daimon”

Long ago, the ancient Greeks called the voice of your deepest self your “daimon“.  One ancient Greek thinker, Empedocles (fifth century BCE) identified the daimon with the self.   Another, Heraclitus, (c. 500 BCE) writes that “man’s character is his daimon”.

Existential psychologist Rollo May tells us that daimon was translated into Latin as genius, and that, for the Romans, 

…the daimonic is the voice of the generative process in the individual. The daimonic is [that] unique pattern of sensibilities and powers which constitutes the individual as a self in relation to [the] world.

So your daimon is the heart of who you are, and the way that your own deepest being gets expressed in the world.

what is my true self

What is My True Self?  Hillman Summarizes

Archetypal psychologist James Hillman summarizes these myths:

The soul of each of us is given a unique daimon before we are born, and it has selected an image or pattern that we live on earth….  The daimon remembers what is in your image, and belongs to your pattern.

The myth leads also to practical moves…. [W]e must attend very carefully to childhood to catch early glimpses of the daimon in action, to grasp its intentions and not block its way…. [and we must]

(a) Recognize the call as a prime fact of human existence; [and]

(b) align life with it

…A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed.  It may also possess you completely.  Whatever; eventually it will out.  It makes its claim.

Whether we see this “daimon” mythologically, or in terms of genetic and epigenetic biology, we can see our lives as concerning the never ending, fundamental call to be who we really are.

The Call of the Self in Major Life Transitions and Crises

It’s important not to sugar coat the realities.  Major life transitions — for instance, divorce, job loss, retirement, the empty nest — can disorder our lives, or even create complete chaos.

In the midst of such struggles, the individual may well find orientation by coming into contact with some aspect of his or her most fundamental identity.  This might include connecting with something that was meaningful to that person as a child, or that is a deeply held life long passion.  The self, or as the Greeks might say, the person’s daimon, wants to point the way.

The process of depth psychotherapy is to bring connection with the individual’s deepest self, and to stay alert to the things that fundamentally express who the person is.  This can be profoundly transformative.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Dima Bushkov : Dave Gates 
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Work Related Depression: A Great Topic for Bell Lets Talk

January 23rd, 2017 · bell lets talk

Not all corporate initiatives have merit, but Bell Lets Talk does. It’s about eliminating the stigma around mental health and coping issues.

bell lets talk

It’s important for psychotherapists to support positive initiatives when we see them!  The Bell Let’s Talk site references 5 ways that we can all help.  These are some very valuable, very useful points.

Language Matters.  Bell Lets Talk emphasizes that the language used around mental health issues can either build people up, or unfairly knock them down.  We all know the negative and destructive terminology: let’s all make a point of not using it!

Educate Yourself.  There are facts about mental illness and coping issues, and then there are old wives tales that are fear based and stigmatizing.  Let’s Talk stresses educating ourselves so that we understand the truth about these issues.

Be Kind.  Simply treating people dealing with coping issues in a kind, respectful way can be a very healing thing.

Listen and Ask.  Mental illness of one kind or another is extremely common.  Listening and asking how you can help can make an immense difference to people struggling with real pain.

Talk About it.  The vast majority of people are touched in some way by mental health issues experienced by loved ones, relatives or friends.

bell lets talk

Why Work Related Depression is an Important Topic

Work related depression fits right in with the key themes of Bell Lets Talk.  This term refers to depression directly connected to people’s experience of their working lives.  Although it’s only one very specific type of situational depression, and situational depression is itself only one very specific type of depression, work-related depression is a very common phenomenon.

Can work itself cause depression?  There is some controversy among professionals, but there is solid evidence that it can.  In any case we know that there are a combination of internal and external factors that can lead to an individual being depressed in a way that’s attributable to work.

Work Related Depression: Internal Factors

Here are some of the factors more or less internal to the person that can lead to work-related depression.

  • A wrong-fit role;
  • Misalignment between company and personal values;
  • Working parent guilt;
  • Interpersonal discomfort, due to interfacing with difficult or incompatible people;
  • Office political pressures;
  • Work/life imbalance;
  • Introversion and extroversion issues, manifested in insufficient social contact, or way too many interruptions and no privacy;
  • Financial stress due to insufficient compensation or benefits; or,
  • Feeling trapped, either in reality, or due to unrealistic fears & inhibitions

Work-Related Depression: External Factors

On the other hand, a range of factors external to the person can contribute to work related depression:

  • Unreasonable demands from management.
  • Unclear guidance at work.
  • Sexism, sexual or sexual orientation harassment
  • Poor project practices, resulting in barriers to doing good work.
  • Bullying at work, by bosses, co-workers or clients.
  • Racial, ethnic or religious prejudice
  • Low morale or low engagement at work.
  • Inconsistent or poor payroll practices
  • Poor working conditions

A 2013 Danish study by a team led by psychologist Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup of Aarhus University found that, more than the workload in a workplace, it is the work environment and the feeling of devaluation and unfair treatment by management that has a defining effect on an employee’s mood.

In keeping with the theme of Bell Lets Talk, the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health  (of the American Psychiatric Foundation) has stated definitively that work-related depression is a huge burden on its own, often made greatly worse in the workplace as a result of the stigma attached to depression.

What is work related situational depression, viewed from a depth psychotherapy perspective?  It can be seen as a form of psychological pain that is trying to find a way to resolve itself into a greater sense of vocation, meaning and purpose for the suffering individual.  The work of depth psychotherapy is to uncover the meaning, vitality and yearnings that are hidden in the grey depths of the depression.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © reynermedia : Alper Çuğun
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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” No One Understands Me “: Our Yearning for Human Connection

January 16th, 2017 · no one understands me

“No one understands me !” is a very human cry.  Many, many people have such feelings at some point in their life journey.

no one understands me

You Know When Someone’s Really Listening

How can we deal with the feeling depth psychotherapists so often encounter in their clients, that ” no one understands me “?  How can we possibly hope to get past it?

Talking, Talking, Endlessly Talking… But Not Hearing

It’s often been said that talk is cheap.  Here’s a splendid example of just how cheap.

On a channel on Twitch, Google has set up two Google Home “smart speakers”, (robots equipped with artificial intelligence) named Vladimir and Estragon, after the characters in Samuel Becket’s play Waiting for Godot.  They have all the resources of the Google database behind them, and they just talk to each other –arguing endlessly.


no one understands me

“Vladimir” and “Estragon”


They just go on, interminably, talking about what it is they like, or whether they’re human or not, or even flirting with each other.  An endless array of topics, and an endless inexhaustible flurry of words.  It isn’t connection.  It isn’t understanding each another.  It’s just an endless, soulless exchange of words and phrases.  It has no human reality in it.

The sad thing is that there are many people who feel that, for their whole lives, they have been subject to just such banal, inhuman verbal barrages — often from key people in their lives.  To be an aware psychotherapist is to know that many people are all too well aware that being subject to such endless streams of language and apparent “dialogue” has nothing to do with being seen, valued — and met.

What It Is to be Met

What is it like to be met?  To be truly heard, understood and empathized with, by another person?  As Jungian analyst and psychiatrist Jean Knox reminds us, being truly, empathically listened to by another person can actually

“…provide a framework for…the ability to relate to and make sense of ourselves and each other in mental and emotional, not just behavioural terms….  The capacity to link experiences in a meaningful way is a crucial part of human psychological development….”

So being truly understood by another is often a truly essential part of making sense of our own deep life stories. And as U. North Carolina psychiatry prof Stephen W. Porges emphasizes, genuine connection and understanding promotes health, growth and restoration, both physically and mentally.

No One Understands Me vs. The Hope of Encounter

To find the hope of being understood, and the feeling of being valued, and therefore valuable, can be a very important experience in life.  In fact, it’s essential to making sense of our own lives, and feeling that they are coherent, and in our control.  It’s also essential in helping us feel connected to the significant people in our lives, to all our varied human communities, and to the world.

Depth psychotherapy can be of tremendous assistance in engendering this type of hope for our lives, and this sense of the reality and the possibility of connection.  It’s not uncommon for people to come into depth psychotherapy, and to feel that it is the first time that they have really been listened to. In other words, the first time they have met with an energetic, sincere effort to actively and deeply understand what they are communicating about their true thoughts and feelings.  There are many for whom such therapy has been the first real movement beyond the feeling that ” no one understands me “.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © kizzzbeth :  via Gizmodo, image via screengrab from
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Making Room for New Journeys: Healing Toxic Shame

January 9th, 2017 · healing toxic shame

The New Year, with all its overtones of hope and new possibility, is actually a very good time to talk about healing toxic shame.

healing toxic shame

Depth psychotherapists know that toxic shame can be a very effective barrier between ourselves and realizing many important aspects of who we are.  Often, we don’t even realize the power of shame in our lives.
Yet sometimes the negative power of shame is all too visible in the life of someone who has undergone the harrowing experience of public shaming.  The terrible experience of such individuals shows us a great deal about the power that shame can very easily have in any of our lives.

The Virulence of Shame: Monica Lewinsky

healing toxic shame

A recent CBC Radio program concerned a professor’s initiative at a prominent Canadian business school.  The prof invited activist Monica Lewinsky to speak about her experience as the first person to have her reputation destroyed worldwide on the Internet.  Ms. Lewinsky’s name became a household word as the result of massive degradation, villainization, scandal and shame.  She has much to teach us as a result of the experience. Infamously referred to as “that woman” by President Clinton in his denial, she writes

So far, That Woman has never been able to escape the shadow of that first depiction…. [T]hat brand stuck….

Unlike the other parties involved, I was so young that I had no established identity to which I could return. I didn’t “let this define” me—I simply hadn’t had the life experience to establish my own identity in 1998. If you haven’t figured out who you are, it’s hard not to accept the horrible image of you created by others. [Italics mine]  …I remained “stuck” for far too many years.

Ms. Lewinsky’s remarks about the devastating impact of shame on a person in her early 20s who hasn’t arrived at a well-developed sense of self ring all too true.  Much less public, but even be more devastating, can be intense and on-going shame encountered at much younger ages.

Healing Toxic Shame: the Vulnerability of the Young

For many people, devastating toxic shame arrives at a very young age. The family of origin or the early years of school can be a cauldron of roiling, inescapable shame.  It can be extremely difficult for a vulnerable person to escape the acid power of the message that “you should be ashamed of yourself”, if it is received at an early age from parents, or authority figures such as teachers.

Shame can distort and corrode a person’s sense of self in ways beyond what any other emotion can do.  From a Jungian perspective, it can create complexes which feed on self-revulsion, inferiority, feelings of worthlessness and and inability to connect with others. If enough shame is experienced, self-loathing and self attack can even lead to self-destructive impulses.

When we experience shame, we carry the vulnerable and young place that experiences the shame within us, and we can easily get drawn back [“triggered”] into re-experiencing the feelings of shame with all the original intensity.

What can we do?

Compassion and Healing Toxic Shame

One thing that can contribute greatly to healing toxic shame is compassion.  The compassion of others towards our shamed self can be very important; as social psychologist Kristin Neff has shown, even more important is finding compassion that we direct towards ourselves.  Fundamental to healing from toxic shame is the ability to connect with our own experiences of suffering, and to recognize how our earlier selves were wounded by shaming from others or from the circumstances of our lives.

Depth psychotherapy can assist greatly in developing this sense of self compassion, as we discern the emotion at the heart of complexes which is tied to excruciating experiences of shame.  As we more and more take the corrective perspective of the unconscious into account, through dreams and other means, we develop the capacity to genuinely see ourselves, and to be kind.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Mills Baker :  Ivey Business School
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


Fear of the Holidays: Gateway to Major Life Transition?

December 19th, 2016 · fear of the holidays

Today, we’re increasingly aware that many people experience fear of the holidays.  Might such fear be the gateway to a major life transition?

fear of the holidays

This might seem like a disconnected, even outrageous thought.  Yet, might it be that examining the roots of “fear of the holidays” might teach us something important about ourselves, and our wants and needs?
Why might any of us experience fear of the holidays?  Here are some possible reasons.

Family of Origin and Fear of the Holidays

Many people experience difficult, stressful encounters with members of their family of origin over the holiday period.  For adults, these are often rooted in long standing issues and situations in the life of the family of origin.  There may be issues that stem from addictions situations, or from physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

These long-standing situations can often have a very powerful impact on adult children.  In not a few cases, experiencing such situations in the family of origin again at the holiday season can be the catalyst for real change.  People may feel a real need to change the ways they are prepared to encounter family members, or, in some cases may even temporarily or permanently cease from contact.  The decision to do so can constitute a major life transition.

Present Life Situation and Fear of the Holidays

Sometimes the holidays, and the amount of time spent with spouses, partners or other members of the family that a person currently lives in can bring about powerful confrontations with hard truths about where things actually stand in relationships, marriages and families.  Individuals may dread the holidays, precisely because they can bring us up against the reality of relationship breakdown, due to more time being spent at home and the facts of where things actually stand in relationship are more apparent.  Again, this may be a time when individuals decide to embark on major life transitions such as separation or divorce, and when the individual is strongly in need of the kind of clarity that comes through depth psychotherapy work.

Confrontation with the Self, and Fear of the Holidays

Similarly, the holidays can result in time away from hyper-busy routines, allowing us to come into contact with ourselves in some surprising ways.

It can be very difficult to be alone with ourselves at times, but it may be a time when we start to uncover important aspects of who we are, and important truths about what we really want.  Embarking on Jungian psychoanalysis can often help individuals to focus in a fruitful way upon these questions.


fear of the holidays

New Year Candle

Major Life Transitions, and the Individuation Process

Along with other possible causes, any of the above — family of origin issues, our present life situation or a forthright confrontation with the self — may be the catalyst that leads us into a major life transition.  The fear of the holidays that stems from these causes may contain the seeds of our renewal.

Human beings most often undergo a number of major life transitions in the course of a life time.  These events often involve the definitive ending of one way of living, and a transition to another quite different orientation or way of life.

Sometimes an experience associated with the holidays, and with some aspect of fear of the holidays, may act as the catalyst that propels us into the midst of a major life transition.  Depth psychotherapy, especially of the Jungian variety, sees such transitions as a fundamental part of the individuation process.  Individuation is the process by which an individual moves towards living and being in accord with their most fundamental identity.  As Jungian Analyst Warren Colman tells us, “The self is the goal towards which the process of individuation strives.”  This is the fundamental core of the journey to wholeness that is the heart of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Steven Leonti ;  Maxpax
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Holidays — and The Psychology of Saying No

December 5th, 2016 · psychology of saying no

The Holidays are here: the season of peace and goodwill towards all. That’s exactly why the psychology of saying no is so important at this time!

psychology of saying no

Now, why would I say anything so Scrooge-like?  Have I no respect for the season?  Actually I have tremendous respect for it!  I think the message of love and acceptance for all has tremendous importance for humanity.  However, in company with depth psychotherapists wiser than myself, I believe that the love of the other has to start with a fundamental love and acceptance for oneself.

Does Being a Good Person Mean Saying Yes?

We get lots of moral and inspirational messaging telling us that we should be saying “Yes” to what others want of us.  They even take a semi-psychological form in urgings or pressure to be a “positive person” — often a spin on being a compliant person who goes along with the desires and agendas of others.

These pressures take very tangible forms at the holidays.  We can feel enormous pressure to invite Uncle Morris to the family dinner, knowing that he’ll arrive intoxicated, drink more, and verbally abuse others.  Yet, it wouldn’t be “nice” to challenge the status quo.  Or I might feel enormous pressure to have “that relative”, visiting from Waha, WI stay for ten days, who is hypochrondriacal and hyper-critical, and who makes me feel like a stranger in my own house.

If I listen to my “gut”, my instinct, it tells me that giving way to these demands isn’t good for me.  Yet I face pressure, internal and external, to be “nice”.

Most of us are trained to be nice and make family gatherings conflict-free.  But what about situations where ignoring my own needs concretely hurts me, psychologically — and perhaps also hurts my health?

psychology of saying no

The Psychology of Saying No: Why Do I Feel the Guilt?

The situations described above, and a whole range of others, including pressure to spend money we don’t have at the holidays, or to entertain or go to social events when we may simply be exhausted, may make us feel something we don’t want to feel: guilt.  Guilt feelings can be excruciating.

Why do I feel guilt?  Well, healthy guilt occurs when I’ve done something that genuinely is at odds with my own particular moral compass.  It’s there to help us stay true to what we really value.  Therapists know that it’s possible to have guilt feelings when we’ve crossed a social taboo, or haven’t met someone else’s expectations.  Yet, just because I feel guilty does not mean that I am guilty.  We owe it to ourselves to discern the difference between genuine guilt, and the guilt feelings that occur because we dare to violate the expectations of others.

Individuation: Before You Can Say “Yes”, You Must Say “No”

Jungians and depth psychotherapists speak of individuation, which Andrew Samuels defines as

“A person’s becoming [him or her]self, whole indivisible and distinct from other people or collective psychology (though also in relation to these).

In order to be oneself “whole indivisible and distinct” from others and from collective psychology, we often have to begin by clearly marking where we begin, and where the expectations of others and of groups end.  This we call “saying no”.  It is almost always essential that we say no in these ways, so that we can begin to say yes to our own fundamental being.

Your Own Way

Poet Gerard Manly Hopkins in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”, writes,

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

‘Deals out that being indoors each one dwells:

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

What I do is me: for that I came.  The Holidays serve to remind us that saying “No” in some contexts, to imposed obligations and the expectations of others may be a very important way of saying “Yes”.  Yes to our own being, our own real identity, and Yes to our own particular journey through life.  Depth psychotherapy is continually moving toward this fundamental “Yes” to the uniqueness and fundamental intrinsic value that we each in our uniqueness are.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © John Henderson ;  marc falardeau
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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