Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Major Change in the Life of a 50-Plus Individual

October 24th, 2016 · change in the life

If you are in that age bracket, you know that major change in the life of individuals aged 50-plus can require sizable psychological adaptations.

 change in the life

Meeting these challenges can require great strength and resilience.  And often, the right kind of support can help immensely.

Common 50-Plus Life Changes

What major changes do people commonly encounter in the 50-plus age bracket?  Here’s a few startling examples.

Divorce.  Leaving a marriage of many years duration in the 50-plus age bracket can be a very difficult, grief-filled experience — even if it’s the best thing for all concerned.

Retirement.  This is very big.  Leaving the work world, to do something entirely different with your life, is an enormous transition, and it can be extremely stressful.

Relocation.  It’s not at all uncommon for people in later life to move or re-locate, possibly for the first time in many years.  This can be very powerful psychological experience.

Coming Out.  It’s one thing to tell the world you have a non-straight sexual identity in your early 20s.  It’s quite another thing in your 50s or 60s, if you’ve led a life that was apparently “straight”.

Bereavement.  The loss of dear loved ones, and the attendant grief, is one of the biggest psychological blows in human life.

Fundamental changes in priorities or worldview.  These can happen in later life!  The person who was apparently “corporate all the way” may find that very different values emerge as they do through the second half of life.

change in the life

Common Characteristics of Major “Change in the Life” Experiences

These are diverse experiences, but there are certain things that people undergoing these “change in the life” experiences very often share in common.

People Experience Fear

The kinds of changes listed above can all be associated with an element of fear.  They’re associated with moving into unknown territory, and that can easily provoke an atmosphere of fear and anxiety.  It can be essential to find some way to move through this, allowing me to retain a sense of dignity and meaning in my life.

People Experience Sadness

People are sad at what the changes might mean.  They experience actual or potential loss.  Losses necessarily have to be grieved in a way that allows the person to move through them, and into the good things that life is presenting.

Those Whom We Love

People worry greatly about those close to them, or who depend on them.  What will happen to those who love us, as we go through the crucible of truly life-altering change?  We feel their vulnerability: that makes us vulnerable, too.

How Am I Going to Get Through?

In conjunction with such sizable changes, people often worry about their survival — economic or physical.  It’s hard to imagine how life will be on the other side of a major life change — how I’ll get through, how I’ll stand the stress.

Loss of an Identity

Many of the situations described above involve the loss of at least one important identity, or “persona”, to use the Jungian term.  Divorce entails the loss of identity as a married person.  Coming out means loss of identity as a perceived straight person; retirement, as a member of the work force; relocation, as someone who “belongs” in a certain place, and so on.  Each such loss of identity has enormous impact on the person (and is probably worthy of its own blog post.)  Finding the way to find a new identity, and how to “live into” it, can be a very major piece of psychotherapy or psychoanalytic work.

“Change in the Life”

When it comes to the major transitions described in this post, it’s clear that, in undergoing them, post-50 individuals seek to avoid chaos, and to ultimately find meaning, in their major “change in the life” experiences.  For the 50-plus individual, this is an essential element of journeying towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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The Goal of Psychotherapy: A Depth Psychotherapy Perspective

October 17th, 2016 · goal psychotherapy

Before beginning psychotherapy to improve your life, it’s good to think carefully about the goal psychotherapy is seeking. 

 goal psychotherapy
This post explores the goal psychotherapy of the “depth” varieties known as analytical, archetypal or Jungian would seek.  All forms of therapy have their unique strengths and perspectives.  In the types of depth psychotherapy we’re considering, the goal is more oriented toward the wholeness of the person than might be found in some other varieties of psychotherapy.
So, what actually is it that we’re actually after in psychotherapy?  The answer to this question may well have a lot to do with what we’re really after in life…

It’s Not Just Removal of Symptoms

Most forms of psychotherapy agree that the goal is not just removal of symptoms.  Very often, what actually brings a person into therapy is a particular symptom, that causes difficulty, possibly quite a bit of difficulty, in his or her life.  For instance, the person may be very angry at a significant person, such as a spouse.  Or, the person may have quite a bit of depression or anxiety connected with going into their workplace.  Understandably, the person is seeking to get the symptom to disappear — they just want it gone.  And it happens reasonably frequently that someone will start to come to therapy, have a few sessions, and start to feel better, as the symptom becomes less intense.  The person may then decide to end therapy.  All too often, the symptoms then will come back, perhaps with a vengeance.  The individual may then reach the conclusion that “psychotherapy doesn’t work.”

Getting to the Deeper Issues

Is that a fair conclusion?  We get symptoms most often because they reflect underlying, deeper issues.  If those deeper issues aren’t dealt with, little may change in the long run.

It’s not just about “being happy.”  “Happiness” might seem like a suitable goal for therapy, but, it’s a very slippery thing.  It can be here one moment and gone the next, to return in a while.  The goal of therapy needs to be something much more lasting.

It’s not just about the pain stopping, either.  Psychological pain, when it occurs, is usually a warning signal that something is not right in our lives.  To get rid of the pain, momentarily, without understanding the underlying cause, is like disconnecting the engine warning light in your car, without doing anything about the fact that the engine is dangerously low on oil.

goal psychotherapy

It’s Connected to “Authenticity”, but Also a Lot More

“Authenticity” is a term used in therapy to refer to being true to oneself.  Yet, to be true to oneself, one has to know the identity of that self.  The same is true of the term “self-actualization”, a term originating with humanistic psychologists like Abraham Maslow. To actualize oneself, to live out one’s personal potential is a worthy goal, associated with a sense of meaning in life. Yet, to achieve it, it’s essential to be in connection with your fundamental identity.

Meaning in Life, and the Undiscovered Self

For depth psychotherapy of an analytical, archetypal or Jungian variety, the goal psychotherapy is seeking fundamentally involves creating a vital relationship between the conscious and the unconscious parts of the personality.  It’s only as the unconscious starts to be connected to consciousness that I begin to get a more complete sense of my own identity.  As that begins to happen, I may gain new kinds of awareness about aspects of myself of which I was unaware.  For analytical, archetypal or Jungian depth psychotherapies, the unconscious mind is not just a repository of repressed memories, but a source of psychic energy and healing vitality, that empowers our inner urge to become the unique individual persons that we truly are.  It’s on that journey that we discover our fundamental sense of meaning.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Moving Into A New House: The Impact on Psyche

October 3rd, 2016 · moving into a new house

Moving into a new house is a big life event and a major life transition.  It has a huge impact on the psyche of the individual.

moving into a new house

We have an extremely strong psychological connection with the particular place where we live.  In addition, in dreams and other symbolic material, the house can often be a symbol for the whole of the personality.
In my part of the world at this particular point in time, so many people are involved with moving into a new house, or consumed with planning for the time when they will move into a new house.  Immense psychological energy swirls around this  whole subject.
Why is where we live so important to us psychologically?  How does moving into a new house affect us so profoundly?

The Bond of Home

People are immensely bonded to geographical locations that have figured prominently in their lives.  This is especially true of places that they have called “home“.

The research of Prof. Jerry Burger of Santa Clara University with hundreds of people who had returned to see their family homes from the elementary school years bears this out powerfully.  As he says, “Among the unexpected findings to emerge… was the depth of emotion many people feel for their childhood home… [O]ne in five people cried… Many brought photographs to share with us.”  He goes on to say something of profound importance:

One’s home is a part of personal identity for many people… an extension of their self.

Symbolic Home

This consciousness of home can be further amplified symbolically and mythologically.  In an important sense, our first “home” is the maternal womb, and anthropology shows that many of the first homes that humans devised were, in the words of the Book of Symbols, “intimate, encompassing, womblike”, like African mud huts formed like female torsos, with vaginal slits for entrances.  Home can be all of: jail-like, or a sanctuary; a place of domestic harmony, or domestic violence; a symbol of the nurturing of the self, or of most profound violation.  Home is a symbol of the complete Self, the symbol of a final destination, and of spiritual and psychic transformation.  It is this whole, powerful symbolic universe that we conjure with, in moving to a new house.

moving into a new house

“My house” or “my home” can take many different forms

Floating Above the Psychic Reality?

Yet, we live in a culture that often seems blithely unaware of the profound depths of this symbolism of home. In modern real estate parlance, we “flip” homes, “gut” homes, “bridge” homes, “close” homes, “balloon” homes — and goodness knows what else!

The selling of homes is treated as a business, and most often as a business where there is a great deal of money to be made.  That’s fair enough.  But what is often not realized are the ways in which this house we’re selling — and, yes, just as much, the house we’re buying — is going to be an enormous presence in our emotional and psychic lives, and will impact us tremendously on the unconscious level.

Often people plunge into the real estate and moving process, with no awareness of the incalculable emotional impact that this transaction is having on their soul, and on the rest of their lives.

The Inner Process of Moving

Moving into a new house is a very major life event, occurring as part of a very major life transition.  It has implications deep within the psyche, even though our culture seems to largely ignore this fact.

Exploring the meaning of a major move, either before, during or after it has occurred, and understanding the importance of such a life transition for our whole psyche, can be a very beneficial and healing journey, and one with which depth psychotherapy can be of immense assistance.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Accepting The Stranger, Embracing Shadow Self

September 26th, 2016 · embracing shadow self

On a certain level, human beings have a primal fear of strangers, the unfamiliar, the other, which connects with fear of embracing shadow self.

embracing shadow self

Depth psychotherapy, like all psychology, knows there is a natural fear of the unknown that is built into our biology.  As Jung and many others have noted, the fear, caution and natural conservatism of animals has immense survival value in the unpredictable circumstances of nature.  When instinct is your only guide, taking unnecessary risks — like trusting strangers — could prove disastrous, or even fatal.

Enter Humans

However, even though we have a strong set of instincts, human beings are able to function in ways that are not purely determined by instinct.  Because of our unique make up, we’re able to do things that our instinctual side could only be completely opposed to, like use a potentially deadly thing, like fire, to warm ourselves and cook our food.  We can learn to overcome our fear, and do things that are new and that are good for us.

Humans have a fear and anxiety response to unknown people.  Our instinctual side can scream at us not to associate with unknown others, and yet throughout human history and pre-history, we have consistently overcome that fear to create larger and larger groupings of people.  And that’s a good thing, because it’s hard to create things like art, literature, mathematics, airline travel, or even a nutritious meal all on your own, from absolute scratch.

We know all this, and yet each of us can find ourselves caught by fear of the stranger, even the stranger who looks harmless and has merely been through very difficult circumstances and who needs our help.  Why exactly is that?

Enter Human Shadow

To understand the answer to that question, we must connect to this question of embracing the shadow self.

What is the shadow?  Jungian psychotherapy uses the term to refer to those parts of our total personality of which we are unaware, or which we don’t want to acknowledge.  Shadow contains all our weaknesses, all our moral failings, all the things about our own being that make us feel small, vulnerable and ashamed.  And if we’re really unaware, rather than embracing the shadow self, we can start painting others in its colours — what psychologists call projection.

Projecting Shadow – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

The way we feel about strangers can tell us a lot about how we feel about the unfamiliar parts of ourselves.  Extending the welcome to the stranger — within us and outside of us — may be an essential part of our own healing and self understanding, and is a key part of the journey to wholeness in depth psychotherapy.


Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Edward Albee and Integrity in the Second Half of Life

September 18th, 2016 · integrity in the second half of life

Edward Albee, the great American playwright, whose plays lay open issues of integrity in the second half of life, died last week.

integrity in the second half of life

Albee’s plays were never easy viewing — Zoo Story, A Delicate Balance, Sylvia,  and the visceral, devastating Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, one of the most powerful tsunamis of raw emotion in American theatre. Yet, in each of them there is an unrelenting return to one powerful question that very often hovers in the middle of the lives of individuals from midlife on.  As Albee himself expressed it:

The purpose of serious theater has always been to hold a mirror up to people and say, ‘Hey, this is you. If you don’t like what you see, why don’t you change?

It is in this sense that Albee’s plays take on the question of integrity in the second half of life.  We’re used to thinking of “integrity” as pertaining to stolid, stoic, morally upright individuals, who adhere, unflinchingly, to rigid moral codes.  But following Jungian analyst and psychiatrist John Beebe, I’m using the word in another sense here: the sense of taking responsibility for what one does, and, more fundamentally, for all that one is.  Albee’s plays provide a devastating portrait of individuals trapped into masks and postures that do not allow them to be what they truly are, and he keeps calling his characters — and we, his audience — back to their own fundamental being.  In so doing, he accords with one of the key themes of depth psychotherapy.

integrity in the second half of life

Taylor, Burton and “Games” in “Virginia Woolf”

Again, as Albee himself put it:

Each play of mine has a distinctive story to tell….  What unites them all is that I’m trying to make people more aware of whether they’re living their lives fully or not.

Edward Albee in Santa Fe New Mexican, 2001

Whether they — we — are living our lives fully or not.  It is this question, garbed in the power of his images and his language, that constitute Albee’s potent legacy, and that will live with all of us for a long time.

The question of integrity in this form, of authenticity in this form, is one of the central issues at the heart of depth psychotherapy.  It is of fundamental importance as we move through the second half of life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Afternoon Trickster: Facing Ambiguity in the Second Half of Life

September 12th, 2016 · facing ambiguity in the second half of life

Facing ambiguity in the second half of life is one of the major challenges for people moving through the midlife transition and into later life.

ambiguity in the second half of life

Juneau City Hall: Raven, the Tlingit trickster, with first humans

An honest journey into the second half of life shows us many situations and circumstance that are ambiguous and paradoxical.  These can create great psychological discomfort.
Sometimes individuals will do almost anything to avoid the tension these realities create.  We all know older people who have succumbed to some of the well-known “exits” from ambiguity:
  • Hypochondria – often the displacement of the anxiety created by living into continual fantasies of physical illness;
  • Being a Curmudgeon – running away from the challenge and risk of confronting the other, through holding everyone at a distance through a thick crust;
  • Past Worship – You know them: people who are convinced that the life of some past time was real and valid, and that existence in the present time is some kind of sham or sick joke; and, last but not least,
  • Eternal Adolescence – people who are perpetually trying to demonstrate to themselves and to the world that they’re still young and strong; still “think young” (i.e., are up with the latest fads), and that they’re never going to age.

ambiguity in the second half of life

Paradox: Only Giving Up Illusions About Ourselves Brings True Self-Esteem

The giving up of false hopes and dreams and illusory views of ourselves can be a particularly hard part of the work.  In the great transition of midlife and the second half of life, there are often many major life transitions, requiring us to change our view of ourselves, and perhaps give up a cherished aspiration from an earlier point in life.

However, letting go of illusions and dreams that perhaps we can never attain can often open the door for our energies to flow into compassionate self-acceptance, and not infrequently, the emergence of new passions and new meaning.

Example.  A person might face the following awareness: “I’m never going to be a big noise.  Not as a business person, not as a writer as I once thought.  I went to good universities but I really didn’t capitalize on my opportunities.”  It’s quite probable that this person must grieve the loss of this promised future, before he can begin to focus on the present, and on valuing what now, at this time, is vital to do with her or his time, like making time for new connections with people, or giving time to causes that are genuinely meaningful.

Paradox: Good and Evil, Pain and Joy are All Part of the Fabric of Later Life

Contrary to the message of many ads for retirement living options, the future as we age is not going to be all unmitigated experiences of golf, card games and happy hour.  In fact, shame on those marketers who are trying to suggest such things to people at times of emotional vulnerability such as giving up their independent home or losing their spouse.

Growing older mixes joy and pain, and experiences of great good and great evil.  The wisdom of aging, if it is to be obtained, comes from experiencing both sides of those realities, and accepting that this is the nature of life.  Yet there is a wisdom in encountering life exactly where it is, here and now, and extracting everything possible from this unique moment.

Paradox: Only Living Into Aging’s Benefits Can Counter Its Great Challenges

What is the wisdom that I gain through my aging?  Fundamentally, it is wisdom gained from facing ambiguity in the second half of life.  It must be a wisdom that can withstand a great deal of grief and loss, and revisions of my view of the world.  It’s very true that “Aging is not for wimps!”

There is genuine suffering involved in the process of accepting who one fundamentally is, and accepting that one is limited in time and space, and must accept the end, at least of this form of life.  It is only the letting go that is implied in this acceptance though, that allows us to approach ourselves with compassion, and to be truly alive and truly here in this moment.  And to act in this moment, in ways that are in true authentic service of the deep needs of the Self.


Into the Centre of the Labyrinth

facing ambiguity in the second half of life

Eros at the Center of the Labyrinth

Individual depth psychotherapy can often lead to a deeper experience of life’s paradoxes and ambiguities.  It is only by holding this tension, by facing ambiguity in the second half of life, that a meaningful picture or understanding of the individual’s life begins to emerge, that is truly relevant and sustainable for the second half of life’s journey.

As Jung tells us,

“The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own, and cannot merely be a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.”

Only by examining and affirming all that we are, and affirming the rich complexity and even the contradictions of our lives, can we find the means to move into later life with affirmation, joy and above all, meaning.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Is Isolation Our Fate? Alienation in the 21st Century

August 29th, 2016 · alienation in the 21st century

In our time, many feel loneliness and feel “on the outside”; experts talk roundly about “alienation in the 21st century”.  

 alienation in the 21st centuryYet, for the many who feel this, it’s no abstract topic. Psychotherapists know that this vital matter can cut right to the heart of the quality and value of our lives.
What can individuals who experience this sense of alienation and loneliness do?

Admitting Our Alienation: Breaking the Taboo

Loneliness and alienation can be very hard to talk about!  In fact, there’s a cultural taboo against it.

In their book, The Lonely American, authors and psychoanalytic psychiatrists Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz describe meeting stiff resistance from their patients when asking about loneliness. They concluded that large numbers of people who believed they were depressed were actually lonely — not at all the same thing. Yet people weren’t willing to describe how they felt in those terms. Why?  As Olds and Schwartz tell us, “Talking about loneliness in America is deeply stigmatized; we see ourselves as a self-reliant people who do not whine about neediness.”  Given the power of the myth of rugged individualism here in Canada, I doubt that we differ much from our American neighbours on this indicator of alienation in the 21st century.

All Connectivity, No Soul

“All hat, no cattle” –growing up in Western Canada, that was how we described someone who looked on top of things, but really was far from it.  Our culture’s like that when it comes to connecting with others.  We possess all manner of “connectivity” technologies — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text, etc — and we put huge amounts of time and effort into “connecting” online. But the question is, do these online “connections” assuage our sense of loneliness and alienation, or make it worse? We can interact with all manner of people online, but can we be ourselves — and be accepted for who we are?

Feeling Like I’ve Got No Tribe

With the isolation that our technology imposes on us, and the individualized and isolated lives that many in North America lead, many people experience no true sense of a “we” that provides a feeling of belonging.  Group membership, whether to community or to organizations in the community has declined dramatically in recent years.  People often feel like they can’t find the value in group membership.

Feeling Like I’ve Got No Place

Often people today feel very limited connection to nature, or to the land.  Unlike even our fairly recent ancestors, we have no connection to the land.  We live in houses, townhouses, apartments and condos at a remove from nature, and our communities and transportation systems keep away from real contact with trees or living things, other than perhaps the occasional family pet.  Again, our leisure activities often tend to seal us off from the truly natural realm.  The feeling of connection with nature, that we are a part of nature, is most often not a part of our consciousness.  It’s very easy for modern humans to feel like isolated atoms adrift in the cosmos.

Feeling Like I’ve Got Nothing That Matters

Similarly, many people feel cut off from values that matter.  For better or worse, living in a post-organized-religion society isolates many in our culture from any sense of divinity or any underlying principle that unifies or gives meaning to the cosmos.  Other possible values, like humanistic commitment to the human race as a whole, often seem remote and abstract.  The individual is left without symbols that connect to any greater or overarching sense of meaning or purpose.  This is one additional level of feeling alienation in the 21st century.

alienation in the 21st century

Connections and Engagement

As commentators since the time of Emile Durkheim have pointed out, the individual’s experience of alienation in our time is often rooted in society-wide problems of social disconnection and the general experience in our culture of a sense of not being rooted in the natural or social worlds, or even in the fabric of each of our own individual lives.

It’s very apparent that the experience of each individual is deeply affected by broader trends in the social collective, which will hopefully be altered by increasing awareness, and a broad-based desire for social change.  Nonetheless, here and now, effective work in individual depth psychotherapy can often be of great assistance to the individual in  removing barriers and making connections to the individual’s own being and sense of her- or himself, a sense of meaningful involvement with others, and a deeper sense of connection with society and the surrounding world as a whole.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Labor Day Blues: The Meaning of a Key Yearly Transition

August 22nd, 2016 · labor day blues

Most readers will readily understand the phrase “Labor Day blues”: it’s the range of feelings that often come with the end of summer.

labor day blues

Shades of Labor Day Blues Past…

For many, Labor Day embodies a significant life transition, and not always an easy one.  There have not been many scientific studies of the occurrence of negative feelings at the end of the summer.  Nevertheless, certainly the clinical experience of many therapists, coaches and relationship counselors suggests a definite surge in the numbers of those who seek help in the early fall.

The Experience of Summer

Prof. Jeroen Nawjin of Breda University has shown that vacations lift peoples’ moods, but not for all that long.  Soon after, the vacationer’s mood returns to the old levels. Similarly, the individual’s experience of summer, taken as a whole, often suggests that the individual has had a certain taste of the possibility of life outside of the usual confining ruts, possibly giving real insight into the things that this person feels to be genuinely important about her or his life.  Confronted with the prosaic reality of post Labor Day life, it can even feel like the individual is losing connection with some very important and central part of who they really are.

“Overloading” Summer

We can all tend to load up our summer with long lists of all the great activities we expect to undertake, and important experiences that we’ll have.  It might be a bit ambitious to plan to hike the entire Bruce Trail, learn to paint, and take 10 strokes off my golf game this summer!  It’s important to to be realistic and compassionate towards ourselves — and perhaps also to realize that our “lust for life” is bigger than just summer can hold (we’ll return to this point).

labor day blues

Endless Summer… is not what we get!

Could Labor Day Blues Actually be Depression?

It’s important for us to watch our moods, and to make sure that the labor day blues are not actually a more concerning form of depression.  Here are some of the trends and symptoms that it would be important to watch for:

  • Sleeping too much or too little;
  • Disinterest in pleasurable activities;
  • Unexplained weight loss/gain;
  • Difficulties with concentration on tasks
  • Substantial loss of energy;
  • Persistence of a sense of worthlessness
  • A depressed mood most days for at least two weeks running

If, in the midst of what appears to be “Labor Day Blues” you experience any of the above in a persistent way, it would be important to seek out help such as a good psychotherapist, or your family physician.

What Is It That I Actually Long For?…

Yet perhaps one of the most important aspects of labor day blues is what they might tell me about what is actually important in my life — what it is that I actually long for?  If I do find myself a little blue at the end of the summer — why is that?  (This may be an important question for anyone — but perhaps none more so than those at midlife or in the second half of life.)

It may be that in my sadness, there’s a genuine clue about the things I need in my life.  My summer experience may shows m that the time to be with myself, to listen to my own thoughts, is something that I value more than almost anything.  Or, perhaps its the opportunity to connect with others in my life, in a deeper and more intimate way that calls to me. Or my desire to travel and see new things may reflect a desire for renewal, for new things in my life.  There are clues in our summer longings, that show what we truly long for in the entirety of our lives.

…And How Can I Stay with It, Post Labor Day?

If we can identify that for which we truly, deeply long, then the possibility exists for us to bring more of those things into our life, long after labor day blues have ended.  Following our deepest yearnings is part of the deep journey to who we really are, and it’s often a process that good work in depth psychotherapy can consolidate, and make even deeper.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Feeling Overwhelmed: Symptoms and their Meaning for Your Life

August 15th, 2016 · feeling overwhelmed symptoms

At various points in our life journey, and especially at times of transition, we can be subject to various “feeling overwhelmed symptoms.”

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

...Like being lost in a jungle of cactus…

Just what are this unusual states of “feeling overwhelmed”?  And how can we best endure them, and transition through them, to travel into the rest of our lives?

Those “Feeling Overwhelmed” Symptoms”: What Are They?…

When we speak of someone being overwhelmed, we generally mean that they are subject to intense negative emotions, such as deep sadness, unremitting anger of fear, or relentless anxiety or guilt.  Depression may also figure in feelings of overwhelm.

Overwhelm may show up in our lives through intense irritability or melancholy, or anxiety so intense it crosses into panic, completely disproportionate stress over small matters, or an inability to do proper “reality testing”, i.e., distinguishing thoughts or beliefs from what is objectively true in reality.  A strong desire for withdrawal may emerge, or intense fatigue or even physical illness may result.  Completing tasks, or even rational planning for tasks, may be thwarted by intense emotion.

Emotion so overpowering may often make it hard to state plainly what it is that’s actually causing the overwhelm.  Often there is a powerful “cocktail” of stressors and powerful emotions that lead to the subjective sense of being overwhelmed.  The individual’s behavioural patterns may change dramatically, discarding accustomed daily routines, while relationships can get stretched and twisted to the breaking point.  There is often a powerful unconscious component to an overwhelmed state.

What Causes Overwhelm?

It is not at all uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed at some point in their lives.  A variety of life experiences may bring on such feelings.  One causal factor may be multiple significant life issues, challenges or transitions occurring in rapid order.  Another, related factor might be a lack of coping resources, such as: supportive, caring friends, families or communities; rewarding involvements outside of work life; appropriate self-care or stress management skills; or, sometimes, a lack of a sense of overarching meaning or purpose in one’s life.

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

…What’s in the Background Behind Feeling Overwhelmed?

Common causes of issues that may lead to emotional overwhelm include:

  • Underlying physical or mental health conditions;
  • Issues in relationships;
  • Demands from occupation or career;
  • Money troubles;
  • Life transitions, such as buying a house, having a baby, or looking after an elderly parent;
  • Death of a loved one;
  • Insufficient time to complete tasks or rest;
  • Sleep deprivation;
  • Poor diet; or,
  • Personal history of trauma

Some of the causal factors that lead to emotional overwhelm may well be unconscious.  It may be important to explore these unconscious factors, to gain a sense of their emotional importance or deeper meaning.

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

What to DO About Overwhelm?

Depending on the individual’s experience, there may be a range of things to do in the face of feeling overwhelmed. However, here are three things that a great many people experiencing overwhelm might begin to do.

1,  Admit and accept the overwhelmed state.  It’s normal to experience some overwhelm in unfamiliar or particularly demanding situations.

2. Move away from the mental habit of “multi-tasking”.  Perhaps we need to “get real”, and kind to ourselves, and realize that everything can’t possibly get done right now.

3.  Ask if any substances or habits might be contributing to a state of overwhelm.  Could alcohol or cannabis use be a contributing factor?  Caffeine might be a factor, especially for people who have a genetic susceptibility.  The same might be true of tobacco use. And perhaps surprisingly, sugar and aspartame can both contribute to feelings of panicked overwhelm in some individuals.  The same is true of lack of sleep and lack of exercise.

…Or, A Different Understanding?

It may well be that elements of psychological trauma can create feeling overwhelmed symptoms.  In a similar way, unconscious factors like lack of self-esteem or latent perfectionism can fed the overwhelm, and in some cases, may well be its root cause.  These are all areas that can be profitably explored in an effective psychotherapy relationship.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Creating: Stagnation vs Generativity in Life’s Second Half

July 18th, 2016 · stagnation vs generativity

Erikson’s “Stagnation vs Generativity” describes a key dilemma and pain point for individuals in the second half of life.

stagnation vs generativity

Musician Brian Eno Talks About Generativity

Dr. Milton Erikson writes about a danger and an opportunity in life after 40, which ties in wonderfully with a lot that gets said by depth psychotherapists, such as Jung and Hillman.  Erikson refers to this stage as the stage of “stagnation vs generativity”.

Boredom and Stagnation

Erikson clearly tells us of a real danger, from midlife on, of increasingly succumbing to boredom, stagnation and even rigidity.

In early adulthood, life and society puts lots of ready-made challenges in front of us.  There is getting out and living in independence from family of origin, finding a career, finding a mate or partner, getting a house, perhaps having children.  Yet, by midlife, these can seem routine.  The life that the individual has created may no longer really fulfill.  In Jung’s framework, this corresponds to “the end of the first adulthood” and “midlife transition“.

This may lead to stagnation, Erikson tells us.  The individual may feel that they have failed to find a way to contribute, and may feel disconnected or uninvolved with their community, with society — or even their own lives.  Erikson clearly views this as a tragic outcome.

Erikson and Generativity

Yet, Erikson tells us, there is another choice after 40.  The individual need not stagnate, but may engage in what he calls generativity.

“Making a contribution” or “making your mark” are the hallmarks of generativity.  This doesn’t mean that you have to be famous, or that you have to be a large-scale philanthropist.  Generativity may be about contributing to society or community or to shared or cherished values.  It almost always involves a creative response or action that makes some difference in support of values that I, as an individual, cherish:

  • It may be activity in the community or in a group that furthers something that I believe in, or hold dear;
  • It may be some kind of creative activity that I inherently cherish (painting, writing — cooking!);
  • It may be some process of inner reflection or growth in understanding that I manifest increasingly in the world; or,
  • It may be another creative response to the fact of being in my own unique life.

But I’m NOT Creative!

For many people, the response to all this may be, “But, I can’t paint, or sing, or give a stirring speech!  …I’m not creative!

Well, are you sure?  Depth psychotherapy stresses that  creativity, or generativity, if you will, may not express itself, or emerge in the stereotypical or conventional ways.  There are a vast number of creative ways in which a human being can respond to life!

stagnation vs generativity

The Underground River

The Underground River

It can be a generative activity to respond creatively by being aware of the unique character of this particular moment.  It can be a generative act to genuinely and openly listen to another human being.  It can be a generative activity to meet someone new in a community to which we belong.  It can be a generative activity to meet someone new, who is a hitherto unknown and unexpected aspect of myself.

There is always within us the possibility of creative engagement with the moment.  It may lead to humour, human tenderness, or a moment of insight.  To try and be conscious of this, what I call “the underground river” running through every moment, is a key to the process of individuation, and runs very near to the heart of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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