Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Severe Emotional Distress: It’s a Part of Human LIfe

November 12th, 2018 · severe emotional distress

Severe emotional distress is a normal part of human experience, even though we might sometimes act like it isn’t.

severe emotional distress
I’m writing this on November 11th, when we commemorate the sacrifices of all those Canadians who served in the military and experienced war or conflict. This year saw something very significant happen in Canada’s remembrance of our veterans.
For the first time ever, Canada’s Silver Star mother, Anita Cenerini, was the mother of a soldier, Pte. Thomas Welch, who took his own life on a Canadian Forces base after returning from overseas combat duty.  She worked tirelessly for 13 years after her son’s death to gain official recognition that his suicide was directly connected to traumatic experience incurred in the Afghanistan war zone.
The recognition of Ms. Cenerini as a Silver Star mother marks a very important step in our growth as a nation.  We have just marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1.  Many soldiers came back from that war suffering from “shell shock” as it was called then, and struggled with the stigma of being perceived as weak or cowardly.  Canada now recognizes that Pte. Welch’s death was the direct result of untreated severe emotional distress from traumatic experience in active military service.  This is genuine growth in our consciousness as a nation.

The Pain of Severe Emotional Distress

We still see a certain tendency in our culture to regard severe emotional stress as some kind of a flaw or deficit in the individual who has it.  This is often true even when we ourselves carry the severe emotional stress.  As a therapist, I’ve often been privileged to witness individuals sharing their own experience. Often peoples’ stories involves a high level of emotional suffering.  Yet often the individual will follow up by assuring me that he or she is weak, or self-indulgent, or telling me, in a phrase well-known to depth psychotherapists, that “lots of people are worse off than me!”

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Such individuals are right, of course.  In almost all cases, it is possible to find someone somewhere who has had it worse.  Yet, recognizing that doesn’t change anything about the fact that the individual sitting in front of me is dealing with a harrowing amount of severe emotional distress.  We sometimes need to just face up to that fact, in a self-compassionate way.

Unacknowledged Severe Emotional Distress

If we deny the reality of our emotional pain, if we minimize it, or find some other way to run away without dealing with it, we can expect to pay a heavy psychological price.  We can certainly find ourselves experiencing intense anxiety or depression.  We may also find that our lives get diminished in a range of ways, as when we end up running to addictions — to food, alcohol, drugs the internet, work or a whole range of other things — as a means of coping with severe emotional distress.  Or, we may simply lead very small lives, in an effort to avoid situations where we might re-experience our pain.
How can we acknowledge our pain, and move towards finding some sort of healing or growth, without being overwhelmed by it?

Severe Emotional Stress & the Journey Towards Wholeness

There is a great deal of research evidence to back up what Jungian psychotherapy and other depth psychotherapies already know from clinical experience.  As UCLA Prof. Annette Stanton et al. have established through research in the area of physical illness, actively processing and expressing emotions reduces distress.  Conversely, avoiding and denying strong negative emotion can easily lead to worsening symptoms.  Very often, expression and processing of severe emotional distress is best done in a controlled, safe, accepting environment, and many have found that depth psychotherapy can provide an environment that facilitates healing and allows the individual to move more fully into his or her life.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Ben Seidelman (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Many Faces of Fear of Failure — and How To Get Past Them

November 5th, 2018 · fear of failure

A culture like ours, which so prizes and praises accomplishment, has a shadow side; among other things, it appears in our fear of failure.

fear of failure
As depth psychotherapists are acutely aware, the psychological atmosphere that most of us inhabit in North America is charged with tension.  That’s about a sense of opportunity, at times, to be sure, but in our particular contemporary time, many of us have an especially strong sense that our world is full of risk.  For many, this reality can generate a strong sense of fear of failure.  This fear can be so intense that it can pull people into a place where they are frozen into inaction, afraid to attempt anything that moves life forward.

Everyone Experiences Fear of Failure

We’ve all had experiences of failure.  If you’re anything like me, you’re probably had them in some high stakes situations, where you really wanted to succeed.  If you have, you recognize that failure can bring a range of emotions including sorrow, anger or rage, deep regret, a sense of overwhelm, confusion and disorientation, or feelings of frustration and powerlessness, among others.  Two of the most powerful feelings that failure can bring are a sense of self-recrimination, and above all shame.  It is this last, corrosive feeling that is most potently tied to the sense of fear of failure.

To experience shame in a very limited, moderate way is one thing.  To know it at its extreme, for which we use the expression to be ashamed of oneself — that’s quite another.  It’s that kind of shame that is associated with failure in the experience of the fear of failure.

Jungians know that shame of this kind is intimately involved with the part of the personality that Jung called the shadow.  Jung defined the shadow, broadly speaking, as that part of our personality that we do not wish to acknowledge.   Failure can be viewed as an invitation to accept, and love, those parts of ourselves that we would rather not acknowledge.

Fear of Failure Can Lead to Disengagement

If fear of failure, and the shame that often underlies it remain unaddressed, they can take a really deep hold in a person’s life. This is particularly true in the aftermath of a person encountering a sizable setback.  Such a setback can  be occupational, romantic, financial, or of some other kind.  The individual may come to avoid challenges, or even avoid the mainstream of life.  He or she may find him- or herself living a very small-scale life — all due to fear of failure.

What’s more, the fear of being a failure can intensify as we age.  As we move past midlife, and into the second half of life, the individual may even be consumed by the sense that he or she has been a failure.  This fear or sense of complete failure can manifest as something truly devastating in the individual’s life.

Fail Better!

Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No Matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

~ Samuel Beckett

As famed neuroscientist Gregory Berns emphasizes, the paralyzing power of fear of failure is often rooted in the sense of condemnation and shame from others that we anticipate experiencing if we should fail.

What will people think of me if I fail?” — this thought encapsulates much that lies at the core of the fear of shame that mires individuals in the ruts of life.  It paralyses them from trying the things that something deep within them calls to them to try.

C.G. Jung pointed us in another direction, the path of what he called “the law of fidelity to our own being.”  This means trying things that we genuinely feel drawn to, and moving beyond our fear of the condemnation of others, and our self-condemnation.  It means moving to a place where even failure can be seen as growth, and as life-giving — in Samuel Beckett’s words, to fail better.

This is a life-giving place, but it may be a part of the journey towards wholeness that we’re required to travel pretty much on our own.  It’s at this point that truly supportive depth psychotherapist may be of tremendous value.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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I Need to Change My Life, But… HOW?

October 29th, 2018 · I need to change

Do you need something different?  Many of us get strongly hit by the awareness somewhere in our life journey that “I need to change my life”.

i need to change

In my case, this has occurred with great intensity twice, but with most intensity around age 45 — deep in the heart of the midlife transition.  This a frequent time for such an awareness, but there can be many other times where we’re struck by the realization that I need to change.

There’s a potential big difficulty, however.  It may be completely apparent that I need to change.  The difficult part is that it may not be easy to see how.

When the Need to Change is Inescapable

There are many different messages that I might get that would indicate to me that “I need to change my life.”  Sometimes these messages may be on the level of basic physical or economic survival.  If it is a matter of basic health or even life itself, the requirement for palpable change is clear and very hard to argue with, even if I’m very unclear on how to bring the change about.

However, sometimes the need to change is really just as inescapable, but we can’t see it — or we refuse to do so.  We might face a clear inner voice manifesting through anxiety or depression , an intuition, or “hunch”, something that comes through our dream life, or a physical health issue.  (Sometimes when we need to bring change into our lives, and we have not yet acknowledged this reality, or are ignoring it, the images in dreams can make this clear in very graphic ways!)

A – If I Ignore, or Run From My Need for Change

It’s possible to run from or deny the part of myself that’s giving me the message that “I need to change”.  It’s also possible to just continue on, doing what we’ve always done, staying stuck in a rut, even though we really know that we have to change our circumstances, or perhaps some fundamental attitudes.  If we do try to avoid the challenge of change, it often has real consequences.

Being in denial about the need for change can devastate our relationships with others.  For example, if I can’t control my anger, or if I can’t be more emotionally available, I may risk alienating or completely losing people who are important to me in my life.

Denial or avoidance of the need to change can even more dramatically impact our relationship with ourselves.  As psychiatrist Abigail Brenner stresses, impetus for change may come from an “inner voice” telling us that we have to move to a different place than where we are.  Awareness of this sense of call, which Jungians tend to think of as vocation may occur in any of the physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual aspects of our being.

To ignore our vocation can leave us feeling that we’ve missed something very important in our lives.  In some cases, it may even feel like our lives are drifting towards meaninglessness.

S – Facing That I Need to Change — Practically

At some point, the fact that I need to change may become inescapable.  This may become apparent through very strong emotions, such as intense anger or strong grief, motivate us to move towards something different.  Or, we may just come to the point of genuinely feeling intensely that “This is enough.  I need to change.”  Or our outer circumstances might combine to make it absolutely clear that I can’t continue as I’ve done to this point.  The awareness may come to us in a huge variety of ways.

While it’s essential for us to come to the point of recognizing that we genuinely need to change, depth psychotherapy can help us explore what we feel, helping us to uncover the undiscovered self, and helping us to find ways to make the change real in our lives.  The journey towards wholeness. centers on finding ways to move forward on the path of choice and change, so that we honour who we most fundamentally are.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Robert Couse-Baker (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How Do I Stop Being a People Pleaser?

October 22nd, 2018 · stop being a people pleaser

At some point in our individual journey, we may well end up saying to ourselves that “I need to stop being a people pleaser!”

Many depth psychotherapy clients confront this issue in one form or another.
A lot of us get the message at a very early age that what we’re supposed to do, is to meet the needs of others, and, often, to put those needs before our own.
This can occur in a range of different circumstances.  Sometimes an individual experiences a parent who models the pattern of putting others’ needs before his or her own.  Sometimes in difficult family situations where there is abuse or addiction, an individual learns that he or she must step in, forget their own needs and look after siblings, or even a parent.  Sometimes, in dealing with unreasonable parental demands, the message is clearly communicated that there is no room for the individual’s own needs.
As I know from my own experience, it doesn’t help things that distorted versions of major religious traditions reinforce the message that we should ignore our own needs, and always place the needs of others first. (Paraphrasing the poet Walt Whitman, we need to carefully examine our religious traditions, and discard any parts that insult our souls!)
But, we may say, isn’t it a good thing to make other people happy?  Well, that depends…

When I Can’t Stop Being a People Pleaser — and It’s Really Hurting Me

Being a people pleaser can really hurt you.  People suffer greatly when forced into roles that require them to ignore their own needs.  This can be true in romantic relationships, where one partner consciously or unconsciously ends up sabotaging basic needs, to meet the needs of another — who may consciously or unconsciously be reinforcing this behaviour.   Also, many parents continually end up giving in to the demands of children, and putting their own fundamental needs on the back burner.  In our intensely workaholic age, it can be true with bells on for the employee or worker in a pressurized workplace, whose inner voice keeps giving the message that it’s never enough.

People pleasing behaviour can also have powerful links to health issues and self-harming behaviours.  Case Western’s Prof. Julie Exline and colleagues have shown that there’s often a linkage between people pleasing and over-eating.

People Pleasing: Obstacle to Being True to Myself

From a Jungian perspective, there’s a whole other dimension of this.  Put simply, people pleasing  gets in the way of our being who we’re really meant to be.  Long ago, Jung used the analogy of an acorn and an oak to illustrate the potential latent within us that we’re meant to live out, realize or express.  This is the manifestation of our particular uniqueness, which we gradually realize through the process of individuation.

If I’m obsessed with pleasing others, it gets harder and harder to feel the beckoning of my own true nature and my own vocation, the call of what Jung referred to as the Self.  To travel my life journey, and then realize that I’m not actually expressing and being who I really most truly am — would be a grievous loss.  Missing this connection to who I fundamentally am, as a result of people pleasing, or other factors, results in a great deal of anxiety and depression.

S – Pleasing My Self

The path to stop being a people pleaser will lead us into a place of listening carefully to ourselves, to the voice of ourselves that may be trying to get through.  This voice may show up in shadowy ways — anger, or maybe even depression.  Yet listening may be crucial, even if it has things to say that are hard to hear.

There may be a great value in working with a depth psychotherapist to help us hear this voice of the Self, and to act on it, so that we’re honouring ourselves and our fundamental nature — not just seeking others’ approval.  This is often a key element n the journey to wholeness.

We can begin this work of self-acceptance which is tied to self-forgiveness, on our own.  However, it’s often of tremendous support to work with a compassionate, supportive psychotherapist.  A good therapist can help us find the way to make real peace with our vulnerable, fallible but preciously unique selves on the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: brett jordan (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How Do I Forgive Myself? For Many, A Crucial Life Question

October 15th, 2018 · how do I forgive myself

How do I forgive myself?  For a great many people, the importance of this question cannot be overestimated.

how do I forgive myself

For an awful lot of us, there may be events in the past (or present) that come with a crushing load of guilt.  Almost all of us at one point or another have suffered from an abiding sense of guilt about something that we’ve done, often that has affected others in a very painful way, that has involved the betrayal of some fundamental trust, or that has let others down in some fundamental manner.  Certainly that’s my experience, and I strongly suspect that it is the experience of many readers.
An individual can suffer from a general, pervasive sense of guilt, or they may have a small number of particular things that leave them with that feeling — or she or he may be struggling with both.  This feeling of guilt is often associated with feelings of shame.

 “I Just Can’t Let Myself Off the Hook”

Depth psychotherapists are very aware of just how big an issue self-forgiveness can be.  The issue appears with a stunning amount of regularity in our consulting rooms.  And with good reason.  Many experts would describe self-forgiveness as the most difficult psychological challenge that we as individuals will encounter in life.

The situations where individuals are most clearly seeking self-forgiveness often have to do with the feeling that the person has inflicted undeserved pain on another, or others.  So there is actually a complex relationship between guilt, empathy for others, and being tormented by the question, “How do I forgive myself?”  It may well be the most empathetic of people who actually feel the most need to find a way to forgive themselves.

In any case, there can be a great deal of pain associated with an inability to forgive oneself.

When A Person Runs From, or Ignores Guilt

If an individual finds that he or she can’t forgive him- or herself, it can result in serious problems.  This can be particularly true in individuals who deny or avoid the question of “How do I forgive myself?” when it is actually a pressing matter.

Individuals who carry a suppressed burden of guilt may find it “leaking out” in various ways.  It may turn into anger turned inward on the self.  When that happens, it may turn into self-defeating or self-destructive behaviour that can play out in all kinds of circumstances from work to relationships.  It may also result in physical illness or psychological coping problems, such as anxiety or depression.  Or, it may turn into a profound sense of over-obligation, with a overwhelming tendency to take on utterly inhuman levels of responsibility, commitment and sacrifice.

Unacknowledged unforgiven guilt may also turn into anger projected out at others.  This can have very negative consequences for the individual, or for other people.

Accepting Myself — In Detail

In many respects, the answer to the question “How do I forgive myself?” is inextricably bound up with the acceptance of what it means to be human.  To be a human being means coming to accept the human state as limited and imperfect.

We all acknowledge this to be true on the abstract big-picture level.  It can be quite a different thing for us when we have to accept it as being true about ourselves on a very concrete, down-to-earth level.  Acknowledging that I am human, that I am capable of doing things that are callous, cruel or brutally negligent — this takes us into the territory of what Jungian psychotherapists call the shadow.  The shadow can be described briefly as those parts of ourselves that we do not wish to acknowledge.  As Jung famously said, “The most difficult thing is to accept oneself completely.”

We can begin this work of self-acceptance which is tied to self-forgiveness, on our own.  However, it’s often of tremendous support to work with a compassionate, supportive psychotherapist.  A good therapist can help us find the way to make real peace with our vulnerable, fallible but preciously unique selves on the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Koshy Koshy (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What Do I Want To Do With My Life?

October 1st, 2018 · what do I want to do with my life

“What do I want to do with my life?”  Does this sound like a question relevant only to late adolescence?  Don’t be too sure of that!

what do I want to do with my life

Certainly, the question is very important to people in the post-high school period. At that time, individuals are confronted with big decisions about what studies they will undertake, and the potential career path they will follow, along with many other vital choices. Yet, this question has a great relevance long after that time in life.
For example, consider how important this question is for many people going through midlife transition.  At this stage in life, individuals are often well aware that time is passing and life is passing, and so the question of “What do I want to do with my life?” takes on a whole new level of meaning — and urgency.  It can become an absolutely crucial matter!
If anything, this may be even more true for an individual still further along his or her life journey, say, during the years immediate prior to, or immediately after, retirement.  The days and years have become even more valuable at this stage in life!  And the question of what to do with those precious days — what is good for me, now — is unavoidable.
This question is much broader than simply “What job do I want to do?”, although it often certainly includes that.  This is a question about what is meaningful and valuable in all aspects of my life.

How Do I Get to MY Answer to This Vital Question?

“What do I want to do with my life?” is an intensely personal question.  To come up with anything like a satisfactory and meaningful answer, it’s necessary to examine oneself very carefully.

When we initially ask ourselves this question, we may draw a complete blank!  We may be so used to “going with the flow” in terms of the expectations of others close to us, or of society as a whole, that we find it hard to even get in touch with what we really feel is important to do with life.  Sometimes, when people have been driven by necessity long enough, it can seem impossible to get in touch with our deepest real desires.  I recall a time in early mid-life when I felt just this way myself.  Yet, as I know from my own experience, seeking a satisfactory answer to this question is well worth the effort, in terms of feeling that one has had “the life well lived”.

Maybe surprisingly, as Jung pointed out, sometimes we find clues about what’s really important to ourselves by looking at what what we really loved to do as a child…

The Perils of Not Honouring My Individuality

Given our highly pressurized modern world, it can be easy to “keep on keeping on”, just doing what we’ve always done, without making the attempt to get in touch with what we really want for our lives.  Yet, if we’re really not doing what we want with our lives, the question can come back to us in some very powerful ways.  We may experience intense burnout; we may experience substantial anxiety and/or depression.  We may even get to the place where we feel that we have substantially missed our lives.

What I DO Want to Do with My Life

It doesn’t have to turn out like that.  We can find ways to cope with the question “What do I want to do with my life?” — and with the answers that emerge from it.  As Jungian Robert A. Johnson points out, we need to find a way to live out the life in us that remains unlived, either literally or symbolically, if we’re to feel at all fulfilled.  This just keeps getting truer and truer the further we go on our life journey.

Focusing on the question of “What do I want to do with my life?” helps us to bring into focus our deepest desires, and to get a sense of where we want to take our lives.  Depth psychotherapy can often help even more us to see ourselves clearly, however.  It often enables us to become more conscious of the unacknowledged parts of ourselves, and gives us a non-judgemental space in which we can explore how we might want to live out our truest calling — to be who we really are.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Jayanta Debnath (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Should I Leave My Marriage? — Some Further Reflections

September 24th, 2018 · should I leave my marriage

Should I leave my marriage?  As we saw in the last post, this is an agonizing question for many people.  In this post we’ll be looking at some other related key questions.

should i leave my marriage

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

Having been divorced, I’ve experienced how complex the question “Should I leave my marriage?” can be.  Often, it seems there are a lot of more specific questions about our lives that we may have to answer before we can give a firm “yes” or “no” to the question of leaving or staying.
Once again in this post, the focus will be on the questions that an individual must face, rather than those questions that might be more appropriately worked on by a couple in couples’ therapy.  There most certainly is a very important dimension of individual decision-making involved, and that’s what we’ll be looking at here.
So what kind of questions might precede a decision to stay or go in a marriage?  There are very many, but here are a few important ones that the individual may have to contend with.
Can I really find what I need in this marriage?  This broad question requires being generally honest about all aspects of the marriage, and how it really fits with what we need.
Is marriage really for me?  Perhaps I have to be honest in confronting whether I’m really well-suited to being tied down in any marriage?
Do I really love somebody else?  Have I gotten involved with someone else?  And, if I have, the real test of honesty may be in asking — is my “outside” relationship a love relationship, or is something else going on?
What about my unlived life?  Are there fundamental aspects of who I am that I really need to live out, in some form — and, if so, are they compatible with this marriage?
What, really, is keeping me in this marriage?  Love?  Kids?  Fear?  Money? Sense of duty or guilt?

Facing Key Questions May Mean Facing the Shadow

Answering the questions above may well mean that I have to confront what Jungians call the shadow, which C.G. Jung once defined as “that in ourselves which the ego refuses to acknowledge.”  In other words, it is those aspects of our whole personality that everyday consciousness is not comfortable with, and would sooner pretend don’t exist — all our thoughts, feelings, desires and intuitions that are not acceptable.

Is the shadow evil?  No, not necessarily.  It may contain parts of ourselves that, for some reason or other we find it very hard to acknowledge, but which may actually be very precious.  Does the shadow contain evil?  Yes it might well contain some things that don’t fit with our espoused values or morals at all.  It may be extremely hard to accept or admit that these thoughts or feelings are there.  Yet acknowledging their existence may be absolutely essential to our well-being, our wholeness as a person — and to having any kind of healthy perspective on our marriage.

You Can Run, But You Probably Can’t Hide

The shadow is hard to face.  It leads us to ask questions like those above, and the answers may not always be very easy to tolerate.  Yet,  depth psychotherapists know that a prolonged refusal to look honestly at our feelings, thoughts and reactions in marriage in a self-compassionate way can lead to lasting trouble.  If we fail to look at our real thoughts, feelings, yearnings and resentments, it can certainly pave the way to anxiety and/or depression, possibly quite severe in character.  It might also lead to a host of other issues, such as self-medication with various forms of addiction  — from gambling to alcohol to porn to drugs to work — or physical illness.

Leaving or Staying — But First, Facing the Questions

The best way to come to terms with the “should I leave my marriage” question is to identify, face, and do our best to answer some of those tough, more specific questions about your marriage as described above.  Trying to be as honest with yourself as you can be is a key element.  It’s often a great deal of benefit to consult with a depth psychotherapist when considering the question of leaving or staying in a marriage, or dealing with any other major life transition.  It can be of tremendous value to gain knowledge of yourself and to gain support for yourself in the midst of such a demanding time.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Annabella Moore (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Should I Leave My Marriage? — For Many, A Difficult Question

September 17th, 2018 · should I leave my marriage

Should I leave my marriage?  For many people, this is an agonizing question.  In many cases, people may have struggled with it for years — or even decades.

should I leave my marriage

Having been divorced, I know that facing the question of whether to end a marriage and, if so, when and how, can be extraordinarily difficult and painful.
In this post, I’ll be looking at this issue from the perspective of an individual seeking to make the decision of whether or not to stay in a marriage.  Certainly, this is an issue that might get worked on in couples’ work, but it there is also a very important dimension of individual decision-making that is involved, and that is what we’ll be looking at here.

The Dilemma

Someone who is struggling with staying in their marriage, or leaving it, may be doing so for any number of complex reasons.  And actually, it’s a very natural and normal thing for married people to wonder at some point in their life journey whether they want to remain married.  Actually, as Dr. Harville Hendrix stressed, it’s hard to be truly committed to another person and to mutual growth as a couple, if a person is not consciously aware that there’s an alternative to being married.

Yet, it can often happen that the question of “Should I leave my marriage?” becomes crucial and unavoidable.  The sense of happiness or meaning in life, and even a person’s mental and physical health, can hang upon this question.

Often the answer to the question, “Should I leave my marriage?” will not immediately appear to be clear cut.

Not to Decide is to Decide

As mentioned above, individuals can sometimes be stuck in indecision about this question for a very long time.  They may not even acknowledge that “Should I leave my marriage?” is a genuine question for them, effectively staying in a state of denial.  However, as Paul Tillich once said, not to decide is to decide.  If individuals don’t confront the question of whether to stay or go directly, when they are really feeling that their marriage is not fulfilling or affirming in its present form, it can often be a recipe for formidable levels of anxiety and depression.

If marriage is not bringing you the things you feel that you need from a relationship, it’s very important to bring this awareness into consciousness.  Being honest with oneself is crucial!  Pretending that “everything is OK” can be a recipe for spinning away the years and ending up with nothing to show for it but regret.

On the other hand, an impulsive or reactive approach to the relationship, whether staying in it, or leaving it, can also generate heartache.  To make a knee jerk decision to either stay or leave without understanding both why one is reacting the way one is, and also what it is that you really want, can be a recipe for disaster.

Should I Leave My Marriage? — Answering the Question Consciously

A decision to stay or leave a marriage will affect many lives, and not least of all your own.  It’s best to go into a major life transition like divorce — or like seriously re-committing to be in a marriage — with your eyes wide open, and knowing as much as you can possibly know about yourself and your deep motivations.

Depth psychotherapy , where the individual explores all the aspects of his or her marriage, conscious and unconscious, and explores thoroughly the question of “what is it that I really want?”  — can be of invaluable assistance to individuals as they wrestle with this weighty life question.  Knowing and accepting oneself can be an invaluable gift to give oneself, at a time when it may feel like many things in life are up in the air.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Simon Matzinger (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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After Labour Day: Meaningful Work, Workaholism and Perfectionism

September 10th, 2018 · workaholism

The intense period after Labour Day is a good time to look at meaningful work, workaholism and perfectionism.  These are big issues in our work-obsessed world!

workaholism

Work has at least two distinct faces in our place and time. We truly need to stay aware of both of them.
The one face of work is that it’s essential for our health and well-being.  This is true both in a physical sense, in that we need work to get the means to obtain the food, shelter, transportation and other things necessary to maintain life.
This is just as true psychologically: if an individual is to be healthy, growing, and, as Jungians would say individuating — becoming and expressing who is is that they truly are — then a human has to be engaged in meaningful work.
What that meaningful work is, varies greatly from person to person.  As they say, one person’s meat is truly another person’s poison!  In my case, I would probably rather do prison time than work as an accountant — for many people, it’s their dream job!

But the Trouble with Work Is…

The other face of work is, that while we need meaningful work, but we also run the risk of getting over-involved in work in unhealthy ways.  As I learned in my days in the legal world, two inter-related ways in which this can happen are workaholism and perfectionism.

Simply put, a workaholic is someone who is addicted to work.  Often workaholics enjoy their work, but sometimes they simply feel a compulsion to work overly hard.  A workaholic tends to neglect family and other social relationships and often loses track of time at work.  Psychotherapists know that workaholics are often perfectionistic people, for whom what they have done is never good enough.  The intense preoccupation with work often hides anxiety, low self-esteem, and intimacy problems.

Where the Workaholism Treadmill Can Lead

Workaholism isn’t benign in its effects.  Often, people are in denial about being workaholics, but if they just continue on the workaholic treadmill, with the compulsion to work becoming ever stronger, it can create devastating situations in the life of the individual.

The longer an individual continues on the treadmill of workaholism, putting in longer and longer hours, the more his or her productivity usually declines until they may not be able to produce in an 80 hour week what they could formerly have produced in 50 hours.

It is not at all uncommon for workaholics to experience deteriorating relationships as they go farther and farther down the path of workaholism, the whole time being in denial about the impact of their addiction to endless work hours.  This is one way in which workaholism resembles other types of addiction.

Workaholics may also come to the place where they experience profoundly debilitating burnout, where they have little alternative but to at least temporarily cease working.  Or, as the Japanese recognize, individuals may even suffer premature death as the result of overwork, referred to as karoshi.  This happened to the 31 year old Japanese reporter, who after doing 159 hours overtime in a single month, passed away with her cell phone clutched in her hand.

And we haven’t even begun to describe the agonies that a person struggling with workaholism can experience in connection with the major life transition to retirement.

Meaningful Life, Meaningful Work

Depth psychotherapy recognizes that the journey away from workholism has a lot to do with finding self-esteem, connection and relatedness to others, and meaningful in life, an important part of which is meaningful work.  An important part of this journey is finding our identity, distinct from our work identity or work persona.

The journey to uncovering our true identity hinges on accepting and valuing who we most fundamentally are.  The discovery that “I am bigger than my work”, and the process of moving towards a compassionate acceptance and valuing of the whole of who I am, can be a transformative adventure of which meaningful depth psychotherapy can be a vital and highly supportive part.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: rene.schlaefer (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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What is My Legacy? A Key Question in the Second Half of Life

August 27th, 2018 · what is my legacy

What is my legacy?  In other words, what will be the impact of my life on others, and on the world?

what is my legacy

It’s certainly a question that grows in importance for me, the longer that I’m alive.  I think that it becomes more important for most reflective people in the second half of life, as they travel further on life’s journey.
Some think of legacy as the things that they pass to other people after they die. — their material legacy.  Yet legacy is much broader.  It concerns the impact that our lives have on the lives of others — and continue to have on others long after we’re physically gone.  In this broader sense, it’s very much tied up with the overall question of the meaning of our lives, with questions like What difference has my life made? and How will I be remembered?
On Saturday, U.S. Senator John McCain died.  Without getting political, allow me to say that this is a man with whom I have little in common politically.  Yet, like many people who didn’t share his views, I have immense respect for him.  In his political life, and his personal life, Sen. McCain embodied a strong will to go in his own unique direction.  Yet, he combined this with a deep level of respect, courtesy and openness towards others.  He demonstrated this in his presidential contest with Barack Obama, but these attitudes marked his whole approach to political and personal life.  He will influence others for a long time to come.

Living out Legacy

We should live to express who we most fundamentally are.  To find what’s distinctive to ourselves, and to live it out is a matter of central importance for our well-being, and our sense of connection with our true identity.  As Cal State Prof. Loretta Breuning puts it,

You are hard-wired to care about what you leave behind when you’re gone. Animals focus on making babies… [Yet,] your unique individual essence can live on in myriad ways. The neurochemistry that drives animals to promote their genes is what drives you to care about your legacy. 

To express ourselves.  To be in the world and to be ourselves.  Something hardwired in us — or, as Jung would say, archetypal — drives us to do this.

Showing Up — Or Not

If we have no idea of who we are and what we want, the legacy we give to others, including to those near and beloved by us, will be nothing other than muddy and unclear.  If I’m governed by other people’s opinions for my whole life, afraid to express and live out who I most fundamentally am, then I can expect that my legacy will be pretty mediocre, without a lot of the real “me” in it.  If I don’t ever take the risk of being vulnerable and expressing myself — “putting myself out there” — as they say, then I can expect that people may not react very much to my presence in the world.

Or, they may be strongly influenced by the way I haven’t been in the world.  As Jung states in at famous quote,

Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

What we have not lived out in our own life, our unlived life may become our legacy, sometimes with quite a negative effect.

What is MY Legacy?

Even if we’re not famous figures, the potential exists to influence the people in our sphere, and to make a contribution to greater consciousness and connection.  This is a fundamental aspect of human reality as Jung notes,

If you are a gifted person, it doesn’t mean that you gained something. It means you have something to give back.

Jung is not just referring to Einstein and Mozart when he writes about giftedness.  In an important sense, Jung sees each of us as gifted with our own unique self, our potential for our own unique awareness, and our own unique capacity to express that awareness in some way or other.

Beginning to explore our unique legacy, and how to express it is a key part of our human journey.  Depth psychotherapy can be of immense help in connecting us with the unexplored and unexpressed aspects of ourselves, bringing fulfillment, meaning and joy in our life journey.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: eileenmak (Creative Commons Licence) ; (Creative Commons Licence) ;
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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