Journeying Toward Wholeness

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How to Recover From a Burnout in a Professional Career

November 13th, 2017 · how to recover from a burnout

More and more professional people are struggling with how to recover from a burnout.  While some think that burnout is a hypochrondriacal fantasy — it’s not.

how to recover from a burnout

…Is your work life feeling utterly robotic?

Depth psychotherapists know that burnout is a psychological condition with dramatic effects.  Some of the most commonly noted characteristics of burnout are cynicism, depression, listlessness, lack of energy, indifference and apathy. It often occurs when you feel that how you carry out your job is not under your control, or you’re working toward goals that don’t resonate with you, or there’s no social support.

A Pandemic in Professional Work

There is more and  more burnout now among professional workers of many types.  It tends to strike highly motivated “can do” personalities.  Such people work extremely hard, often for very long hours, and continually set the bar higher for themselves.  They tend to become professionals in fields that include medicine, law, engineering, teaching, accounting and management.  They’re motivated to do a very good job, but can often find themselves in unsupportive environments where they’re not appreciated.

First Recognize The Markers of Burnout

Three markers that at least raise the question of whether you are suffering from burnout are:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion;
  • cynicism and detachment, especially with regard to your work; and,
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

If you’re suffering from these three, or suspect that you are, it may well be time to consult with a therapist about burnout.

The Burnout Double-Bind

Burnout almost always has elements of depression and anxiety within it, due to certain common characteristics of burnout situations.  Such situation often involve someone who is highly motivated to do a good job and bring positive benefit, who is put into a situations where he or she is powerless to achieve a good or a positive outcome, due to constraints that are beyond their control.

This situation very often occurs in the helping professions — medicine, teaching, nursing and so on.  However, it can certainly effect individuals who are well outside of what is normally thought of as a “helping profession”.

Example.  Kelly is a mechanical engineer with a long record of working extremely hard to overcome formidible obstacles and achieve unexpectedly good results.  Kelly has spent 12 years at “PartCo”, has been promoted many times, and is now the head of one of the firm’s divisions.  She’s achieved much in this role, surrounding herself with hand-picked, very high quality people who form the backbone of the division.  A sense of team, deep loyalty, and the absolute importance of working extremely hard to belong and contribute have been key values, with long, deep roots in Kelly’s personal story.

Due to sudden market changes, the demand for the parts Kelly’s division creates has halved.  The new CEO has told Kelly to cut 45% of her staff, and is drastically cutting her budget.   Kelly now sees little opportunity in her division.  Previously committed to fostering team and supporting people, now she must let many go.  Values of loyalty and hard work and setting an example that were fundamental until recently, now seem completely irrelevant.  “I’m just serving time now,” she says, ‘it’s all I can do to drag myself to work, yet I have to work harder than ever just to keep things going.”

Burnout As a Call to Your Own Journey

The journey out of burnout is often demanding.  It may involve very substantial changes in life direction.  To authentically move one’s life past burnout may involve considerable personal work, attentively listening to, and waiting upon what is trying to emerging in the individual’s life.

Nonetheless, in the short run, there are several key elements of self care that individuals seeking how to recover from a burnout should consider:

  • Avoid taking on any new work commitments or responsibilities;
  • Delegate as many things as possible;
  • Avoid jumping from one stressful, time-consuming project to the next in order to give your mind and body a chance to recover;
  • Limit the presence of intrusive technologies into your life as much as possible; and,
  • Move beyond your professional group(s), so as to be in contact with how others experience you in a non-work context.
  • Discover where in your life you find your most strongly motivating passions and explore them.
  • Find ways — through therapy, journalling, artistic or other expression — to listen to your inner being.

Burnout and Integrity

The work of Jungian depth psychotherapy, in particular, focuses on uncovering the authentic self and the unique individual.  The challenge of burnout may be excruciating, but therapy work that involves finding ways to listen to the depths of the self, may transform it into an essential element in our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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“Time Flies So Fast”: Baseline Truth in the Second Half of Life

November 6th, 2017 · time flies so fast

“Time flies so fast” is a sentiment that psychotherapists hear with extraordinary frequency, along with many equivalent expressions. This is a very common perception, especially in the second half of life.

time flies so fast

Just this weekend, we in Ontario set our clocks back from Daylight Saving to Standard time.  On the one hand, this is very good news: everyone gets an extra hour of sleep!  On the other hand these seasonal  or annual events that require that we change our clocks remind us that time is passing, perhaps more rapidly than we would like.

Life is Passing Time

Yet, if we imagine having a magic genie who could stop the flow of time for us, we would probably be wise not to let the genie do it!  As humans living in this universe, we are creatures who only exist because we live in the flow of time.  The awareness of time passing is the awareness of being in our lives.  We need the passage of time in order to have all the experiences — love, joy, peace, sorrow, and all the others.  Yet, as we grow older we notice something that is profound and that seems to be a universal part of human experience.

It Can Seem That “Time Flies So Fast”!

A great many people report the sense that, as they age, time seems to pass more quickly.  We’ve generally known this for a very long time, but now empirical research tends to support the conclusion that this effect is nearly universal.  IN 2005, researchers Marc Wittmann and Sandra Lehnhoff of Ludwig-Maxmillian University Munich found a general perception that time speeds up with increased age, which is compatible with the findings of other researchers, such as Douwe Draaisma  of  Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

Many will find that this research accords with their experience.  We remember the infinite reaches of uncharted time that we seemed to have as preschoolers.  Then as school age children, time seemed to move, but the length of time, for instance, from a sixth birthday to the final day of grade 6 seemed vast, almost geologic.  As we aged into our high school years, then perhaps university or early 20s, it still often seemed that reaching landmark dates like graduating from high school or university or even graduate school occurred with glacial slowness.  But then, as we move through the years, each successive year seems to come quicker, and finally, perhaps, we reach the point where we say the same thing about the decades.

Paralysis and Stuck Patterns

People can find this ever-increasing speed of passage to be a source of distress or anxiety.  “Time flies so fast”, the individual tells us, “it feels as if my life is slipping between my fingers, and I can’t even grasp it!”

Yet research also highlights some things that the experience of depth psychotherapists confirms, having to do with the ways in which we remember experiences we’ve had.  Notably, we tend to recall experiences that are different or novel in much greater detail.  We also tend to have greater attention and awareness of novel experiences occurring in a joyful or expectant context.  Research also suggests that people who are less anxious and depressed, and less stressed out in daily life not only report greater life satisfaction and self-esteem, but also, in subjective memory, the last 10 years of these individuals lives seem to pass more slowly.

Important Conclusions

All of this is connected to the work that people do in encountering their own unique selves in depth psychotherapy.  As people move into the second half of life, it’s essential to realize that time — and life — are moving fast. Life continues to challenge second half of life people to make the most of every moment and every opportunity.

If we’re in the second half of life, the question of key values becomes absolutely immediate: “What is really important to me now in my life?”  It’s key for us to open up our lives, and deepen and enhance our experience of ourselves, others, and the things that really matter to us in our world.  This may well bring us to questions concerning what in our particular, unique human life experience has transcendent value.  And that may lead to depth psychotherapy as a way of furthering our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Why do People Self Sabotage? And How Can You Stop?

October 30th, 2017 · why do people self sabotage

Why do people self sabotage?  It’s an immensely important question for many people caught in self-defeating patterns.  And it’s a question with very individual answers.

why do people self sabotage

To at least some extent, all of us know the experience of a pattern of behaviour that prevents us from getting what we really want.  For many, such behaviour is connected with anxiety and depression.  Sometimes it can be a huge mystery to the individual as to why she or he does things that prevent him or her from realizing key desires and aspirations.  Sometimes, self-defeating behavior can actually be very important as it takes us back, and forces us to look at the question of what is it that we really do want?

What Does Self-Sabotage Look Like?

Self-sabotage occurs when an individual does things that prevent her or him from living out deeply held values, or that thwart the sincere aspirations of the individual.

There are quite a number of areas where people engage in self-sabotaging behaviour.  Some of the most prominent include: procrastination; self-medication using food, shopping, video games or the internet; imposing unconscious limitations on oneself often through excessive modesty, or, paradoxically, its opposite; pursuing unattainable goals

Why Do People Self-Sabotage? Often It’s About Uncomfortable Emotions

These behaviour patterns are only a representative sample.  Jungian depth psychotherapists would see them as all having unique characteristics, and as part of the unique life patterns of individual humans.  Yet they all tend to have one thing in common.  Very often these patterns of behaviour have to do with avoiding or evading uncomfortable emotional states.  Often, one way or another, those uncomfortable emotions may be connected to our self-esteem, and how we feel about ourselves in important ways.

When we procrastinate, for instance, it’s often because some other activity feels more pleasant than the task we have at hand — and this may be particularly true if our perfectionism and high standards make us feel bad about the quality of job we’re doing when we actually work on the task, because it’s “not good enough” or “not perfect”.  Similarly, an excessively modest person may hurt her- or himself by not putting the best foot forward.  Yet, that behaviour may save the person from the risk of repeating very painful experiences from the past in which they did put forward their best efforts, only to have them mercilessly attacked and criticized by someone whose approval and validation they desperately wanted and needed.

Introjection and Self-Sabotage

Depth psychotherapists know that messages that others have given to us at vulnerable points in our lives can lead us to self-sabotage.  Someone who has heard endlessly as a child that they are unintelligent and that no one is interested in what they have to say may want to share their thoughts and ideas with others.  On a conscious level, they may well believe that what they have to say is good, valid and worthwhile.  Yet they may face opposition from a very strong, quite possibly unconscious inner force that keeps them from making their contribution or speaking their truth.  Only by recognizing the power of this kind of largely unconscious messaging will the individual who has been subjected to it gradually learn to be able to protect themselves against it, to push back and to speak in their own voice.

Freedom From Self-Sabotage

To become free of these kinds of self-sabotaging behaviours can often be a matter of crucial importance to those in the grips of self sabotage.  Often an understanding of the unconscious forces at work can give the individual the necessary insight, and the necessary self-compassion to move forward on the path to freedom.

The goal of depth psychotherapy in dealing with the question “Why do people self sabotage?” is to give the individual the understanding and means to find the freedom to no longer be in conflict with themselves.   That understanding and power is rooted in the unique characteristics of the individual, and their unique, particular journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Like Gord Downie: Spirituality and Meaning in Crisis & Transition

October 23rd, 2017 · spirituality and meaning

Spirituality and meaning can seem fluffy and otherworldly, until we see how these things apply concretely to someone’s real, down-to-earth life.

spirituality and meaning

Canadians have had a real, very public opportunity to do this through witnessing the last period of the life of singer Gord Downie, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2016, and who died on October 17, 2017 at the age of 53. Downie was the leader of Canadian alt-rock band The Tragically Hip, whose music has succeeded in becoming a fundamental part of the national fabric of Canada.

Downie’s Focus

Downie identified himself with key social causes and commitments, and especially stood in solidarity with Canada’s First Nations, as in his participation in the Great Moon Gathering of the Cree people. Later, after his diagnosis, he became even more focused and passionate in his commitments, including founding The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to support reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and to promote healing for First Nations people around the immense damage done by residential schools in Canada.

Not that Downie wasn’t clear in his priorities and commitments prior to that. Yet, when he knew that his time in this life was limited, he chose to intensify his efforts around the commitments and connections to people that he found particularly meaningful. Why do people do that?

Meaning and Permanence

Depth psychotherapists are aware that, in situations of crisis and transition, and, often, when confronted with their own mortality, people will seek to connect with some over-arching value, commitment or meaning.

Such values may be explicitly, conventionally religious. Religious tradition and symbolism do promise connection to a stable, and lasting reality in life. When those symbols work in a positive way, people are given a sense of grounding and belonging in the universe, which is essential when we are confronting truly major, life-changing transitions — including the awareness of our own impermanence and mortality.

Yet, it’s important to realize that there are other symbols and traditions that may give such a sense of connection and rooting to something unchangeable for the individual. These can revolve around key commitments to specific people whom we love, who may or may not be biological or conjugal family, key groups or causes we connect with, the natural world — a huge range of things.

Spirituality and Meaning: Put Away The Stained Glasses

This word “spirituality” is a strange creature. It includes conventional religiosity, but in fact the word is much broader than that. Some would include yoga, meditation practice or T’ai Chi, but it’s much broader than even that. The word spirituality concerns transcendence, by which we mean something with the capacity to take the isolated individual human being and to connect him or her with a significance and meaning that is far greater than the individual ego.

When we reflect on this, we find ourselves in some places that are perhaps far from conventional western religiosity. It’s important that we stay open, to what may be beckoning us to connect. It may be time to put away our stained glasses, so that we can see better, and have awareness of how what Jungians refer to as the transcendent function, which is continually trying to bring the different aspects of our being into connection with each other, is working in our own real lives.

Spirituality and Meaning, and the Process of Depth Psychotherapy

As we examine the life journey of Gord Downie, from a depth psychotherapy perspective, we have that strong sense of a life that moves towards a pattern of connection with spirituality and meaning in this broader sense. It is the life of an artist who finds vitality and connection in — admittedly unconventional — symbols that connect the ego to the higher self. In Downie’s case, the symbols he explores in his art and in his commitment to people and causes resonated at a deep level with the lives of many of us.

Yet, each of us carries within us a profound yearning for the type of personal symbols and meaning that Gord Downie ultimately found. As Jungian Andrew Samuels tells us, the transcendent function does not operate without aim or purpose. Often, in the second half of life, or in the midst of major life transitions, it can become a matter of great importance to connect to this reality of spirituality and meaning.

The goal of depth psychology is to enable not only artists and public figures, but all people, to connect to this vital realm of symbolic reality, and thus to our own personal depths, and to a sense of connection with the depths of the collective unconscious, and the broader, deeper Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Masculine Traits vs Feminine Traits: Should They Matter to You?

October 16th, 2017 · masculine traits vs feminine traits

In discussing “masculine traits vs feminine traits”, I should point out that I really dislike that word “versus” in that phrase.

masculine traits vs feminine traits

It seems that, even today in our culture, femininity and masculinity are so often seen as incompatible opposites, when they should be seen as complementing each other. We often talk in “politically correct” ways about femininity and masculinity, trying to be very sensitive and careful about our language, yet, often, on the unconscious level that depth psychotherapy addresses, we are still carrying deep conflicts about the place of masculinity and femininity in our culture — and in our own lives.

The “Battle of the Sexes”: Is It Over Yet?

Recently, I saw the film “Battle of the Sexes”, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell (Dirs. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris; Fox Searchlight). This is the story of the famed 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King, then champion women’s tennis player and Bobby Riggs, former triple champion at Wimbledon.

In many respects the film transports us back to that 1973 world. Clearly, for many in that time, there was real resistance to women being in the working world, professional sports or any of a number of other kinds of endeavour. Steve Carrell’s Bobby Riggs character is full of bombastic sexist one-liners. We smile at them: it seems incredible to us that anyone could say such things publicly. Or, at least until very recently, it used to seem incredible that anyone could say such things.

Sobering Realities

Recent events are sobering. The last couple of weeks have seen the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, the former entertainment world giant now apparently undone by numerous allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and even outright rape. There seems to be very strong evidence that far too many people who could have spoken out turned a blind eye to this. This follows the actions of a U.S. presidential candidate caught not so long ago boasting of doing very much the same kinds of things and, like Weinstein, subject to allegations from many parties. In Canada, similar controversy swirled around broadcast personality Jian Ghomeshi not so long ago.

We live in an age that gives lip service to an attitude of equality of the sexes. We can reject figures like Bobby Riggs, with his boorishness and his sexism. Yet, in our own time, plenty of examples show how our society and many individuals within it continue to deny the validity of women’s perspectives. There is still widespread denial of women’s right to preserve appropriate boundaries with regard to their bodies, their sexuality and fundamental choices about how they live their lives. That this is the lived experience of very many individual women is a reality to which a vast number of psychotherapists can attest. We still see women dealing with these realities on a daily basis, as they negotiate key life transitions.

Masculine Traits vs. Feminine Traits: Is There a Better Way?

We need to accept that, in our culture, and within our unconscious minds, masculine strength, as defined by our culture, is still often put on a pedestal, while the feminine is associated with weakness, and is viewed with contempt. Ours is a society which exalts strength and power, and that shuns vulnerability and receptiveness. Not all cultures throughout human history have had this problem, but ours certainly does.

As a result, we live in a culture which still encourages men to ignore their emotional life, because having feelings would be to display weakness. This is still a culture that often shames boys growing up if they do show emotional vulnerability. A boy who is taught to regard his feelings as negligible, contemptible or shameful can easily respond negatively to women, who often show more openness to their feelings and vulnerable aspects, and who emphasize the importance of relationship and connection.

It’s not uncommon for a male to be accused of femininity or of being “not a man” if he expresses his feelings or acknowledges emotional pain. This outlook cripples men, alienating them from their own being, as they often become aware in midlife transition. It’s also closely associated with the tendencies that we have to devalue women. We still all deal with regarding the feminine as the mere absence of the masculine, rather than allowing particular women and their experience to have validity in its own right.

In our culture, when it comes to masculine traits vs feminine traits, as culturally defined, women and men would both benefit from an equal valuing of female and male experience. This is an area of on-going growth for our culture, and, if we are honest, it is most likely an on-going area of growth for each of us.

In the work of Jungian or depth psychotherapy, the opposition of masculine traits vs feminine traits disappears. Our on-going journey towards wholeness entails our acceptance of all of the “masculine” and “feminine” in others — and even more fundamentally in ourselves.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Tradition Meaning and Grounding for Your Life

October 2nd, 2017 · tradition meaning

“Tradition meaning and grounding” is a phrase that might conjure up some very staid images. Yet grounding and a sense of meaning are fundamental human needs — archetypal needs.

Food can be a powerful carrier of tradition…

Tradition is fundamental to our psychological health, and has its roots in archetype and the basic human need for meaning. Yet, tradition, which sometimes can seem so restrictive, can be lived out in ways that liberate us, and free us to be ourselves, in the best “tradition” of depth psychotherapy!
In Canada, we’re approaching the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which we celebrate considerably earlier than our American friends. Celebrating such a traditional holiday in 2017 brings up all kinds of issues. Is there any way to celebrate such holiday traditions, and to still be authentic, and truly ourselves?

Archetypal Roots of Tradition

From a Jungian perspective, we can say that most traditions in human life have an archetypal foundation. In holidays like Canadian or U.S. Thanksgiving, or the various harvest festivals celebrated worldwide, we certainly see an archetypal core to the celebration. The impulse to gratitude is fundamental in humans, whether it is expressed as gratitude to the ancestors, the spirits, the gods and goddesses, God or Goddess, or simply, the Universe or Life. From prehistoric times, humans have found ways to express their gratitude, and have found satisfaction, grounding, and perhaps even healing in doing so.

As with many characteristic human behaviours, traditions like Thanksgiving are tied to our need to feel rooted or grounded, or at home in the universe. They are also powerful forces that help us feel more connected to others, especially those close to us. There is also research, such as that of U. Minnesota’s Prof. Kathleen Vos and colleagues that shows that rituals of gratitude, or that are associated with positive occasions, just plain enhance our enjoyment of the event.

So, this urge to find tradition is deeply rooted in our conscious and unconscious minds, and our need to find a deep level of meaning in our lives.

Tradition Can be Powerfully Restrictive

tradition meaning

The shadow side of tradition, though, is that received forms of tradition may have exactly the reverse effect on people, and may make events seem meaningless. The received traditions for Thanksgiving or Hannakah or Christmas, for some people will be incredibly invigorating and full of life and good positive associations. For others these forms of tradition may feel shallow, meaningless, or worse, may even have negative or adverse associations. Traditions not firmly rooted in the psyche of the individual may make them feel like they’re trapped in the midst of a herd of sheep.

The Individual and Tradition

As applied to traditions like Thanksgiving, depth psychotherapy examines what traditional or ritual practices resonate with the individual. The focus is on what connects with her or his psyche both consciously, and in terms of deep unconscious connections or resonances, that are rooted in symbol or myth.

The individual may very well connect with the traditional symbolism of a holiday or festival. It may be very meaningful to an individual to have a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. In fact, that might well be the absolutely most meaningful way that the individual can keep the holiday. Such an individual should undoubtedly make turkey a central part of their holiday tradition!

Yet, for a considerable number of individuals the conventional symbolism of a holiday like Thanksgiving just doesn’t work. Yet tradition is important, as it provides grounding and meaningful connection to the human story and our shared collective unconscious stores of myth and symbol. So, it may be essential for the individual to work out their own unique expression of a tradition like Thanksgiving, which they then live out in connection with significant others in their lives. This might take surprisingly individual forms. Perhaps your family holiday repast may come to include a “traditional” Thanksgiving squash and duck pizza!

In the work of Jungian or depth psychotherapy, finding appropriate tradition meaning and grounding will often form the basis of a true expression of the individual self, rooted in psychological depth. This is all part of our on-going journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Will Talk Therapy Techniques Help Me?

September 25th, 2017 · talk therapy techniques

“Tradition meaning and grounding” is a phrase that might conjure up some very staid images. Yet grounding and a sense of meaning are fundamental human needs — archetypal needs.

Food can be a powerful carrier of tradition…

Tradition is fundamental to our psychological health, and has its roots in archetype and the basic human need for meaning. Yet, tradition, which sometimes can seem so restrictive, can be lived out in ways that liberate us, and free us to be ourselves, in the best “tradition” of depth psychotherapy!
In Canada, we’re approaching the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which we celebrate considerably earlier than our American friends. Celebrating such a traditional holiday in 2017 brings up all kinds of issues. Is there any way to celebrate such holiday traditions, and to still be authentic, and truly ourselves?

Archetypal Roots of Tradition

From a Jungian perspective, we can say that most traditions in human life have an archetypal foundation. In holidays like Canadian or U.S. Thanksgiving, or the various harvest festivals celebrated worldwide, we certainly see an archetypal core to the celebration. The impulse to gratitude is fundamental in humans, whether it is expressed as gratitude to the ancestors, the spirits, the gods and goddesses, God or Goddess, or simply, the Universe or Life. From prehistoric times, humans have found ways to express their gratitude, and have found satisfaction, grounding, and perhaps even healing in doing so.

As with many characteristic human behaviours, traditions like Thanksgiving are tied to our need to feel rooted or grounded, or at home in the universe. They are also powerful forces that help us feel more connected to others, especially those close to us. There is also research, such as that of U. Minnesota’s Prof. Kathleen Vos and colleagues that shows that rituals of gratitude, or that are associated with positive occasions, just plain enhance our enjoyment of the event.

So, this urge to find tradition is deeply rooted in our conscious and unconscious minds, and our need to find a deep level of meaning in our lives.

Tradition Can be Powerfully Restrictive

tradition meaning

The shadow side of tradition, though, is that received forms of tradition may have exactly the reverse effect on people, and may make events seem meaningless. The received traditions for Thanksgiving or Hannakah or Christmas, for some people will be incredibly invigorating and full of life and good positive associations. For others these forms of tradition may feel shallow, meaningless, or worse, may even have negative or adverse associations. Traditions not firmly rooted in the psyche of the individual may make them feel like they’re trapped in the midst of a herd of sheep.

The Individual and Tradition

As applied to traditions like Thanksgiving, depth psychotherapy examines what traditional or ritual practices resonate with the individual. The focus is on what connects with her or his psyche both consciously, and in terms of deep unconscious connections or resonances, that are rooted in symbol or myth.

The individual may very well connect with the traditional symbolism of a holiday or festival. It may be very meaningful to an individual to have a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. In fact, that might well be the absolutely most meaningful way that the individual can keep the holiday. Such an individual should undoubtedly make turkey a central part of their holiday tradition!

Yet, for a considerable number of individuals the conventional symbolism of a holiday like Thanksgiving just doesn’t work. Yet tradition is important, as it provides grounding and meaningful connection to the human story and our shared collective unconscious stores of myth and symbol. So, it may be essential for the individual to work out their own unique expression of a tradition like Thanksgiving, which they then live out in connection with significant others in their lives. This might take surprisingly individual forms. Perhaps your family holiday repast may come to include a “traditional” Thanksgiving squash and duck pizza!

In the work of Jungian or depth psychotherapy, finding appropriate tradition meaning and grounding will often form the basis of a true expression of the individual self, rooted in psychological depth. This is all part of our on-going journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Symbolism of Home #3: My Journey Home, Both Inner and Outer

September 18th, 2017 · my journey home

As we saw in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, “Home” has huge importance for our well-being; just as important is the symbol of “my journey home”.

my journey home

ANCIENT GREEK VESSEL – Did Ulysses sail home in a ship like this?

The Image of the Journey Home

The story of the hero who struggles with a mighty intensity to find his or her way back home represents a profound psychological dynamic, and has deep roots in human mythology. Examples of such homeward bound heroes are as diverse as Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey, Dorothy in L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz and Riley in Disney’s movie Inside Out. As film scholar Susan MacKay-Kallis tells us, the hero’s journey

…does not not involve simply the discovery of some boon or Holy Grail, it also involves finding him- or herself, which ultimately means finding a home in the universe.

This crucial connection between finding oneself and finding a home in the universe, is a perennial, archetypal theme in human storytelling. For instance, the power of the Odyssey, the ancient story of Ulysses’ heroic strivings to find a way home is in our identification with his struggle: his story is the story of my journey home.

Headed for the Emerald City, but ultimately, for Home

As in the case of Ulysses in the odyssey, the struggle to get home — or even to remember that my goal is to get home — is difficult, challenging and, at times even desperate. And so, the hero who arrives back on the doorstep of home is not the person who started on the journey. To get home, she or he has had to change. In the famous words of T.S. Eliot,

We shall not cease from exploration,

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

My Journey Home – Outer

My journey home may involve encounter with my physical home — my actual, outer bricks and mortar house. Often, the energy that people put into their home is an expression of their desire for grounding and security in the world. Work on gardens or renovations, repair or painting may very well help to satisfy the deep need for safe and secure attachment to place. This may particularly be true for those in mid-life transition or the second half of life, when a person may find her- or himself reviewing the course of life up to the present time, and reflecting on how they got to where they are.

A person may feel similarly drawn to explore the meaning of home by returning to a family home where the individual grew up, or perhaps spent a particularly important part of his or her life. This may evoke an earlier time of connection and security, or it may be that the individual is returning to some aspect of “unfinished business” from an earlier stage in life.

My Journey Home – Inner

The inner journey toward home connects with the outer journey, but has its own particular character. It’s concerned with coming to understand and to be compassionate towards our own inner being.

The inner journey home often involves issues or difficulties in our present day lives, that beckon us to look at aspects of our life in the past. We may encounter the symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, or find ourselves coming up against parts of our personality shaped by wounds sustained in earlier parts of our life. Questions of identity and past wounding may get stirred up by a major life transition.

When we begin to understand, acknowledge and process how our past experience has shaped us, we come to a place of increasing acceptance and compassion for ourselves. This is connected with what is often referred to as “feeling at home in our own skin”, — another way of imaging the journey home.

Support for My Journey Home

Depth psychotherapy involves discovering and coming to terms with who we fundamentally are. There are many images in human art, literature and mythology of this process, and one of the most powerful is the image of the journey home. This is profoundly connected with the journey toward wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Symbolism of Home #2: The Image of the House & Our Inner Being

September 11th, 2017 · image of the house

As we saw in Part 1 of this series, the image of the house, and the symbolism of home pervade our society, and have very deep roots in our own being. What does this mean for our wholeness and healing?

image of the house

In this post, we explore how that deep inner connection relates to our deep needs and anxieties, and to our journey to ourselves.

Image of the House in Dream and Imagination

Gaston Bachelard, a French thinker who has so influenced architects, social thinkers and psychologists, writes extensively on the image of the house:

On whatever theoretical horizon we examine it, the house image would appear to have become the topography of our intimate being.

Our intimate being, which is to say, our dreams and imagination. So, what does that mean for those of us who live, say, in a place like suburban Oakville, where so much energy goes into the creation of the individual family home?

Bachelard looks carefully at how we experience houses and homes. He tells us that a house “has both unity and complexity”, meaning that as a psychological reality a house has not only floors, ceilings and walls, but is also made out of memories and experiences. He points out that each room stirs its own particular set of sensations, but still is part of a complete, unified experience of living in a home. Objects in the home are not dead, soulless things: for us, they’re full of our experience of them accumulated over time, and full of rich meaning.

For Bachelard, the house is not abstract, but is about how we inhabit our fundamental life space. In the midst of all the ambiguities, chances and changes of life, the house is about “how we take root, day after day, in a ‘corner of the world’.” These insights are profoundly important for depth psychotherapy.

image of the house

Container for Soul

Bachelard uses the metaphor of a mollusk to shed light on the image of the house as a symbolic and lived reality. The mollusk has a hard outer shell, which Bachelard would compare to the walls and solid exterior of the house. Inside the shell is the soft, tender living creature, akin to “soul”, the important, lived inner reality of our lives where we are intimate with ourselves and others. This image of the house as the container for our souls connects strongly with Jungian psychotherapy, which is deeply focused on the inner experience of each of us as unique human beings.

The house, in dreams or imagination, symbolizes the richness of inner human life. The houses we live in are full of all the reality of colourful, intimate family and individual life. To be in our house in imagination or in dream often symbolizes inner space where we connect with the deepest, most personal and most precious parts of our subjective lives. Symbolically, to be in a good solid house is to connect with those realities in a living way, while keeping safe from psychological threat.

Perhaps that’s why the image of the house is so important in our time. As Leonard Cohen tells us, in this time the “blizzard of the world” pushes into us so much through our work demands, mass and social media, and the forces of mass marketing and advertising. “Holding on to ourselves” becomes a matter of vital importance.

Working to Build the House of the Self

The image of the house symbolizes the individual self. Our failure to give our unique individual self its due leads to a deep insecurity and sense of anxiety that many experience in our time. For a sense of security, meaning and vocation, we need a “house” firmly founded on a deep awareness of who we actually, subjectively are.

The work of depth psychotherapy focuses on the deep inner life of the individual person, striving to forge a lasting and resilient sense of identity grounded in the Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Symbolism of Home: The Journey to Our Inner House, #1

August 28th, 2017 · symbolism of home

I’ve looked at the symbolism of home before in this blog, but it’s important enough to explore it in more depth. Home evokes powerful feelings of belonging, safety, and contentment.

symbolism of home

These feelings are absolutely essential to our lives. For depth psychotherapy, they represent needs that we have to meet to feel like our lives are worthwhile and meaningful. If we don’t feel that, we rapidly get into difficulties.
Issues of belonging, safety and contentment have particular importance at this time of year. As August ends, the vast majority of people in our culture move back into post-summer, “busy season” mode. The questions of belonging, feeling physically and psychologically safe, and feeling that we’re getting enough positive experience out of our lives to meet our fundamental needs become very central at this time of year. And so, connection to whatever we define as “home” becomes extremely important.

Frantic Energies

In our society, so much energy goes into finding a home and making it secure, in many ways. When we think about the industries involved, and the amount of economic effort, it’s simply staggering: real estate; construction; home renovation; home cleaning; home organizing; home decorating, gardening and garden supply and many others.

In a suburban place, like Oakville where I live, you can palpably feel the investment people have in their homes. This is certainly financial, but there is also a very real and powerful emotional connection. If you visit Home Depot, Home Hardware, or Lowe’s on any summer weekend, you will feel the intensity of this connection, almost physically.

From the perspective of depth psychotherapy, what is all this incredible energy? What are we looking for? What is this sense of “home” that we all seem to need for our psychological well-being?

For Humans, Everything Starts with the Symbolism of Home…

For humans, life psychologically begins in the maternal womb, the model for all later homes. Many species of animals instinctively create womb-like burrows. Similarly. the first homes that human beings created for themselves tended to be very small, safe and secure — often physically resembling wombs.

Once having left the womb, humans cannot return to it. Still, the return to home, to our true home, is often symbolized in religion and mythology. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, humans are expelled from the original perfect home of paradise at the beginning, but in the end of time come to “our true home” or perfect home, so it is believed. In Homer’s Odyssey, the whole dramatic action centers on the titanic struggle of Ulysses to return home.

And in our time, we really want womb-like security in our physical homes. There is so much energy in our society, so much anxiety that surrounds the symbolism of home.

Why? Those same three words: belonging, safety, and contentment. In our time, despite living in an affluent culture, many feel a fundamental insecurity. This has much to do with feeling secure about the self — who we fundamentally are.

Why Do People Crave Home So Much?

Certainly, a sense of security has much to do with the sense of feeling importantly connected and valued by significant others. As research by Dr. Katherine Carnelly and colleagues at University of Southampton, and much research world-wide shows, positive connection with others, positive attachment, enhances the sense of security and the felt perception of well-being. We need healthy, strong attachment to others for many dimensions of our well-being, and it is often good depth psychotherapy seeks to enhance a positive sense of attachment. Yet there is another dimension, even beyond that.

Symbolism of Home: Grounding in the Secure Reality of the Self

Perhaps our preoccupation with real estate is actually an expression of concern for the self. Jungians stress that the house or home is often a symbol of the entire self or the personality of the dreaming individual. If we take that possibility seriously, then, on an unconscious level, our massive preoccupation with homes and real estate might be a reflection of a great concern about our individual selves, and feeling secure in our own being. Might such a concern relate to questions of our meaning, purpose, destiny and vocation? Is our “inner house” on a secure foundation?

In the remaining parts of this series, I hope to examine these questions in detail.

The work of depth psychotherapy is fundamentally with the well-being of the Self, the entirety of the individual personality and the individual’s journey toward wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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