Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Power of the Mother: Encountering the Mother Archetype

May 14th, 2018 · mother archetype

In our culture, we have a tendency to sentimentalize “Mom”; as a result, we often minimize the power of the mother archetype.

“I love you, Mom!”

Yet, depth psychologists stress that the mother archetype is one of the very most powerful archetypes.  What does that mean?  Well, it amounts to this: the experience of mother almost inevitably has a profound effect on an individual’s life.  In fact, the experience of the mother can be so powerful, that it can effectively determine the whole course of someone’s life.
We’ve just celebrated Mother’s Day, and I’d invite you to take a moment to reflect on the deep psychological power of Mother.

Mother: A Fundamental Experience

The relationship with the mother is usually the first relationship that a child has, and it has a fundamental impact on our relationship to self, other and world.  The child’s sense of security and trust in the world, and her or his ability to relate to others and to process emotion all stem from the quality of the connection with the mother.

We also know through neuroscience research that a nurturing mother leads to an increase in size in the parts of the brain dealing with memory, increases the overall rates of brain cell production and leads to better learning and stress responses.  As Dr. Joan Luby, a leading researcher at Washington University School of Medicine puts it, “It’s now clear that a caregiver’s nurturing is not only good for the development of the child… it actually changes the brain.”

The mother is central to our early experience, and to the whole way we are in the world.  One of the very first forms of human religious expression to ever emerge was the symbol of the Great Mother.  Whatever your particular religious convictions, this fact reveals the sheer enormity of the symbolic and psychological power of mother in human life.

mother archetype

Lakshmi – Hindu Mother Goddess

The Experience of Mother is Very Diverse

The experience of mother, and of particular mothers is very diverse.

Yet, it’s fair to speak about a distinction between people who have an overall positive experience of mother, and people who have an overall negative experience.  For this reason, Jungians often refer to positive and negative mother complexes.

In recent years, there has been a tremendous amount of research in the area of what is called primary attachment — the connection between the primary caregiver, who is usually the mother, and the child.

Simply put, “attachment theory” holds that the capacity which an individual possesses to create emotional and physical “attachment” to another person leads to the psychological stability and security necessary for coping with risk-taking, innovating and trying new things, undergoing major life transitions and developing overall as a human personality.  This capacity is not just important to children.  The capacity of the adult to attach to partners and families has to do with a number of factors — but the most important is the attachment bond with the mother.

The Mother Archetype Stays Important Through Life

The mother archetype, and our relationship to it, is hugely important for our whole relationship with life. Almost everyone has a positive or negative mother complex, and that complex has particular importance for our whole relationship with and trust of others, and of life as a whole.

In depth psychotherapy, people often start to come to terms with mother complexes that may have profoundly affected the overall course of their lives.  Effective depth psychotherapy can change the nature of attachment, relationship, and a sense of security in his or her life, and allow the individual to more fully follow their journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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When Work Related Stress Turns Into Major Life Transition

May 7th, 2018 · work related stress

Work related stress is part of the day-to-day demands of work.  Yet a work related major life transition combines even greater stress with a huge emotional impact.

work related stress

This is not in any way meant to minimize or dismiss the amount of work related stress stemming from such “everyday” things as strenuous long distance commuting, almost-impossible deadlines, dealing with conflict and office politics, or any of quite a number of other factors.
Yet some stress connected to work stems from a whole other range of factors.  This type of stress involves fundamental life changes related to a person’s work.
In the first part of this post we’ll look at the nature of work-related major life transitions, and in the second part, we’ll examine the personal work of moving through such a process as a part of the journey towards wholeness.

When Work Related Stress Involves Fundamental Life Change

Sometimes the changes brought about in a person’s working life can be so significant that they amount to a basic change in a person’s life and identity.  This can be particularly true for individuals who derive a great deal of their meaning and value from their working lives.  Consider the following examples.

Merger or Takeover.  Consider the individual who has a long and successful career at an organization where the level of responsibility has increased steadily over years of engagement with the firm.  The individual is conscientious and very devoted to work.  He or she has developed a strong network of connections within the organization, and derives his or her identity to a considerable extent from the role in the organization.  When an amalgamation occurs, the structure of the organization can change dramatically.  Often there is a whole new cast of staff, and the mission and business goals of the organization may change out of all recognition.  This may have a profound impact on the individual affected.

Change of Leadership.  Change of organizational leadership can have just as dramatic an effect as a merger or takeover.  It can completely change the character of an organization, and of an individual’s role within it.  If the individual has been largely identified with that role, it can mean that the individual is suddenly struggling to hold onto an identity that once seemed secure, meaningful and unshakable.

Long Distance Moves and Transfers.  When large organizations require their employees to move to a substantial distance, or even internationally or intercontinentally, the work related stress impact can be enormous.  Individuals and their families can be torn out of environments where they felt rooted, and forced to leave supportive communities, networks of relationship and personally meaningful locations behind.  Given that this can occur with regularity for some corporate employees, this can have an enormous cumulative impact.

Work is Terminated.  Once again, if termination occurs to an individual whose identity is largely work-related, it is produces enormous work related stress and is clearly a major life transition.  This is particularly if it occurs to the older employee who might be nearing retirement age.

work related stress

Meaning, Identity and Work Related Stress

These types of work-related major life transition can clearly put a huge focus on questions of personal identity and meaning.  They obviously also create enormous work related stress and anxiety.

Depth psychotherapy recognizes that these issues of meaning, identity and personal connection must be addressed directly to bring healing to the individual.  Yet it recognizes that the individual must often confront strong reactions of anxiety and grief associated with the loss of established identities and roles.

Often, working within the secure container that depth psychotherapy can provide, the individual is able to safely explore his or her own true feelings and reactions in a healing, in-depth way.  Gradually, a renewed and more solid sense of identity and meaning emerges as the individual moves through such major life transitions.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Anger Issues In Middle and Later Life

April 30th, 2018 · anger issues in

It’s not unusual for people to encounter anger issues in midlife, and throughout the second half of life.

anger issues in

Anger may not LOOK like anger…

Sometimes, people have issues with anger without even realizing it.

Often, we associate anger with childhood, or with adolescence.  Yet adults often carry considerable anger, for a lot of varied reasons.  Depending on the individual’s life journey, awareness of  this anger can become particularly acute during the midlife years, or at later points in the life journey.

What Does Anger Look Like?

Anger appears in ways that you might not expect!  A person may be extremely busy, as a way of defending oneself against having time to feel anything.  Workaholism and codependency (always being focused on the needs of others) are often powerful defenses against feeling difficult emotions, like anger.

As leading trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk continually tells us, the body tells the story.  Excessive muscular tension is often behind tense jaws, continually tense stomach, or upper back pain.  And excessive muscular tension can have everything to with anger that is repressed, as can nervous habits like nail biting, pulling out hairs, or picking at your skin.

Also, chronic pain or ongoing fatigue can be related to repressed anger, as can always being sick with colds or flu.  Repressed anger can lead to anxiety interfering with sleep and impairing the immune system.  Various kinds of addiction — shopping, exercise, food, internet gaming, porn — can all be ways of distracting ourselves from inner pain, which can often be associated with anger.

Anger: Not Just a Male Thing

In our culture, it’s still more acceptable for men to express anger than it is for women.  However, this doesn’t mean that women experience less anger than men.  It may be more of a process for women to get into the feeling of their anger, though, because there are many cultural taboos standing in the way of its expression.  Yet, if anger goes unacknowledged and unexpressed, in individuals of either sex, it can have a lot of negative impacts.

Anger Issues In the Second Half of Life

Many factors can contribute to anger issues in middle-aged or older people.  Some of these have long roots in our lives.  The individual’s early family environment may have given him or her the sense that expressing anger is dangerous, if there was ongoing serious family conflict.  Or, a family environment where emotions were rarely or never expressed, or led to punishment or rejection can give the individual the sense that expression of strong emotions like anger will lead to rejection by loved ones — leading the individual to shut off their emotions, and quite possibly experience depression.

Yet, at midlife, or at later points, or during major life transitions, there may be plenty of experiences that generate anger.  Just a few are listed below.

  • Work.  Today work environments are in constant flux.  People deal with constant change, and the degradation of meaningful work or work social experiences into something much less meaningful, for any of  a number of reasons, including takeovers, corporate re-organizations, role change and job loss.
  • Physical Health.  Changes in physical health or capability, issues of pain or physical limitation — these are all often experienced from midlife onward, and can all lead to significant anger and a deep sense of loss.
  • Family Issues.  A wide range of issues, including spousal health, divorce and issues with children, including adult children, may all leave the individual dealing with significant anger.
  • Sense of Regret; Feelings of Unlived Life.  It’s quite common for people at midlife and later to experience a sense of regret for directions not taken in life.  It’s not uncommon for individuals to feel angry about particular events or even about the entire course that their lives have taken.

Anger and Individuation

Depth psychotherapists take the individual’s experience of anger in middle and later life very seriously.  For many health-related and emotional reasons, it’s important that this anger be dealt with in safe and life-giving ways.

Depth psychotherapy works with the individual to identify creative and generative possibilities that might actually emerge from his or her anger.  It seeks to understand the energy in the anger, and then go further, by asking the question “where does the energy in the anger want to flow?”

This can often be a key part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Depression and Anxiety Symptoms and Your Personal Journey

April 23rd, 2018 · depression and anxiety symptoms

Depression and anxiety symptoms are far more closely related than may at first appear.  What might such symptoms mean for your personal journey?

depression and anxiety symptoms

Research in recent years has shown that there is great overlap and interconnection between depression and anxiety.  How do depression and anxiety symptoms fit in to our journey towards wholeness?
There are actually two important things to be aware of in this regard.  One is that depression and anxiety are not discrete things. The best research indicates that they are really are two different aspects or forms of the same underlying issue.
Second, in the eyes of many experts, depression and anxiety symptoms are not really a disease.  They are really signs that key needs of the individual are going unmet.  Some psychologists would regard those as social or relational needs.  Depth psychotherapy would see these needs somewhat more broadly, in terms of the need for good relationship, certainly, but also in terms of a need for security and a sense of control of one’s environment, a need for self-esteem and self compassion, and, above all, to a sense of connection to meaning in one’s life.

Anxiety and Depression: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Clinical psychologist Michael Yapko states, “The shared cornerstone of anxiety and depression is the perceptual process of overestimating the risk in a situation and underestimating personal resources for coping.”  Also anxiety and depression both tend to make us avoid situations that create fear and discomfort, when we need the opposite: to find the resources that help in dealing with and moving through such situations.  One common type of situation that may be connected to anxiety and depression would be social encounters that the individual finds difficult.

Turning to Face Anxiety and Depression

In order to move through symptoms of depression and anxiety, we have to face and to explore them.  This can be challenging.  Depth therapists know that the strong negative feelings coming from depression and anxiety can easily make us avoid them.

To truly look anxiety or depression in the face requires self acceptance and self-compassion.  It can often be very hard to accept ourselves, or feel compassion towards ourselves.  Often, this has to do with hard lessons that we have be taught through shame.  We can be shamed at any point in our life journey, but some of the most toxic shaming that we experience may well be in our early lives.

Finding a Way Beyond Shame and Self-Rejection

Shame is an extremely difficult emotion for people, most of the time.  Most people want to avoid it at all costs.  When we need to deal with our shame, there can be great value in a good, supportive depth psychotherapy relationship, enabling the individual to support her- or himself, and to find compassion for themselves.

Jung, and Listening to the Exiled Voices

Renowned psychiatrist C.G. Jung went through a difficult period, in 1913 – 1919,  after ending his professional relationship with Freud.  He underwent a dramatic midlife transition, and also experienced much depression.  At that time, he explored many things in his psyche that he had not confronted previously.  In his writings, Jung makes it clear that his encounter with these hitherto unknown parts of himself actually enabled him to find a sense of hope and forward direction for his life.

depression and anxiety symptoms

Listening to Our Inner Life with Compassion

Similarly, dealing with our depression and anxiety symptoms requires us to listen to parts of ourselves that we would rather avoid.  It requires listening with understanding and self-compassion.  As the poet Rilke tells us, “Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

A key part of a depth psychotherapy approach to dealing with depression and anxiety symptoms involves listening to parts of ourselves that actually do feel helpless, and that are in need of our deepest compassion.  It also often involves parts of ourselves that carry unacceptable emotions, like rage, or jealousy, envy or shame.

Often we need the help of an experienced depth psychologist to find, listen to, have compassion for, and protect in the most appropriate way possible, those deeply fragile parts of ourselves, and to listen to their inner wisdom.  This is an essential part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Unconditional Self Acceptance? Approaches to Renewal, Part 4

April 16th, 2018 · unconditional self acceptance

Unconditional self acceptance, the ability to just be compassionate to everything in ourselves, can be a powerful approach to renewal.  As Jung noted, though, it can also be very difficult!

unconditional self acceptance

As with everything we’ve examined in this Approaches to Renewal Series, unconditional self-acceptance would take us to a different perspective on our lives than we often usually have.  In our normal way of mental functioning, we’re very ready to cut off or block out or censor parts of ourselves that might not “make the cut” in terms of who we feel that we “ought” to be. 
We often want to see ourselves as unfailingly strong, as moral, and as possessing no significant wounds or flaws.  Yet the reality of who we are can often make us confront truths about our lives that we find hard look at.

Everything Within Ourselves Belongs!

A remarkable quotation from respected Jungian analyst Robert Johnson powerfully highlights this whole issue of self-acceptance:

There is nothing in the psyche that doesn’t belong, though it may be expressed in a clumsy way or at an appropriate time.  The key is getting things on the correct level.  The more our potentials can be honoured in some way, the more whole and satisfying our lives become.  To redeem unlived life we need to change the question from ‘What should I do to get rid of this wrong thing in me?’ to ‘Why is the right thing in the wrong place‘ [Italics mine].

Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Living Your Unlived Life

So, this is quite a different message than we often hear from various voices in our culture.  So often, we are caught in the belief that there are wrong ideas, or wrong parts of ourselves that we must amputate, to deal with issues such as depression.  There are many things that are wrong with such an approach, and one of the most important is that — it doesn’t work.

What We Resist, Persists

One of Jung’s most famous sayings is that, “What we resist, persists.”  He stresses that, if we have troublesome thoughts or feelings, or predispositions to do certain things that we really don’t like, and we struggle mightily to rid ourselves of them– we’re bound for disappointment!  The more we seek to push these thoughts out of mind, and to label them as unacceptable, “wrong”, “bad” or “unhelpful”, and try to shut them out, the more they will find a way to seep back in through the cracks!

We cannot deal with unacceptable parts of ourselves by rejecting them and pushing them away.  So, what are we to do?

The parts of ourselves that we wall off are often the parts that carry healing and life

Accepting the “Unacceptable” Parts

There is an approach that may seem naive, yet it carries within it a great potential for healing.  We can accept those parts of ourselves, seek to understand them, and find a way to dialogue with them.  To have compassion for the rejected “unacceptable” parts of ourselves is one of the most healing gifts that we can give to ourselves.

Most of us have aspects of ourselves that we find hard to put up with, and that we wish would just go away!  Perfectionism, compulsive behaviours, self-medication, unwanted aggressive behaviours, persistent fears — and many more persistent behaviours or thought patterns are all things that many people wish that they could get rid of, but find they can’t.  To accept the unacceptable impulse or part of ourselves, and find an appropriate place or expression of it in our lives can bring a tremendous amount of positive value into our lives.

The journey towards wholeness in depth psychotherapy involves developing a compassionate acceptance of our previously unacceptable parts, and moving beyond shame, to listen to our own unknown or repressed voices.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Who am I Really? Approaches to Renewal, Part 3

April 2nd, 2018 · who am I really

“Who am I really?” If you “Google” this phrase, you get over 3 billion hits.  It’s a central question, reaching right to the core of our lives.

who am I really

As we continue from Part 1 and Part 2 in this Approaches to Renewal series, we might ask, “Why does this question of real, genuine identity matter?”
In part, the answer rests on the human need for belonging or inclusion.  It is certainly true that, as the late U. Michigan  Prof. Christopher Peterson succinctly put it, other people matter.  Bonds with other people, and a sense of belonging represent fundamental human needs.  This sense of belonging helps to create a sense of value and meaning in life, and can help with the pain in life.  Belonging does give us a certain kind of identity, which is very important.
Yet there are other pressing questions for the individual around identity, represented by questions like, “Who am I really?”  While a sense of belonging brings many benefits, at some point, for many people, the question becomes “So, this is who the group is… but who am I?”  There can be a sense of needing to understand that “I” — and to live out of it.

The Centrality of “I”

We need a fixed point from which to understand the world as it happens around us.  That is our subjective self, which depth psychotherapists call the ego, and which we usually call the “I”.  As Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson tells us, “Like a dancer or a child on a merry-go-round, we must fix our eyes on something solid so as not to become dizzy or lose our balance.”

We need this subjective to make our way in the world.  In the West, at least, this sense of self or “I” is a centrally important thing to the sense of value or meaning in life.  Yet, as many philosophers and others have pointed out, it’s hard sometimes to pin down what it is to which this sense of “I” refers.

who am I really

The Paradox of Identity

Johnson describes for us what he calls the “paradox of identity”.  He observes that we go through life trying to answer this question of “Who am I really?”, and,

As we create ourselves, it is inevitable that life will move into particular structures and forms….  Our choices become increasingly restricted as we rely on what is familiar and as we strive to be consistent with who we already are, and how others expect us to be….  We seek structure, form and meaning, and then we become limited by our structures, forms and meanings….  [T]he ego with which we identify is an accumulation of old habits conditioned by past experience…

Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Ph. D. Living Your Unlived Life

So, this is the paradox: we seek to find an identity by doing, thinking and being things that seem to us to be consistent with our understanding of “who we really are”.  Yet, by doing this, we end up getting stuck and confined to the parts of ourselves that we have already seen — and we end up alienated from the parts of ourselves that we have yet to get to know.

Wholeness vs. Provisional Identity

Jungians often emphasize the wholeness of the personality, stressing that there are always parts of ourselves that remain to be explored.  They stress that our idea of who we are is never as large or comprehensive as who we really are.  And, as with all depth psychotherapy, they stress that there is healing and wholeness to be found in those parts of ourselves that we have not yet explored, or lived out.  For the journey towards wholeness into those unknown parts of the Self brings the promise of freedom, self-compassion and meaning.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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The Symbolism of Spring: Approaches to Renewal, Part 2

March 26th, 2018 · symbolism of spring

The coming of spring affects us deeply!  We see the symbolism of spring in music, literature and art, with its emphasis on our personal renewal.  

symbolism of spring

Joy of Spring!

As we saw in Part 1 of this series, the yearning for renewal is often a key motivator for people entering psychotherapy.  The symbolism of spring powerfully represents the radical renewal of the whole of the natural world. 
A wide variety of the world’s religious traditions involve myths of resurrection and renewal, the rites of which are very often associated with the Spring.  This is certainly true of the Jewish tradition of Passover, the Christian Easter tradition, and of the ancient Greek myth of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the bounty of nature as expressed in agriculture. 
As archetypal psychologist Dr. James Hillman tells us, Persephone, Demeter’s only child is fated to spend half the year as a prisoner in the realm of Hades, the Lord of death, and her time there corresponds to Winter.  But then she is free to return to the surface of the world, and with her, she brings the blessing of the life and vitality of Spring.  Hillman views this myth as weighted with great significance for our own personal life journeys.
symbolism of spring

Marble panel representing the abduction of Persephone by Hades, ca. 190 AD

Spring, Vitality …and Renewal

The symbolism of Spring is associated with, not only a radical renewal of perspective, but also with an actual restoration of life to the world.  In Spring, the whole world seems to rejoice in an overwhelming new vitality.  The symbolism of Spring reaches us so deeply, because it touches the deep desire in all of us for renewal, and for the opportunity to find the fullness of experience of life that some part of us senses as a powerful potential within us.

Spring has returned.  The earth is like a child that knows poems.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

The Yearning for Spring in Our Lives

The symbolism of Spring beckons to us with the possibility of renewal.  It is often at times in our life journey when we feel a profound stuckness and inertness that we yearn most powerfully for such renewal.  At such times, the symbolism of Spring speaks to us most powerfully — in art, in imagination, the life of dreams.  It is precisely when our outlook is filled with the sterility of Winter that we find that the symbolism of Spring beckons to us most powerfully.

Humans are very powerful in many ways, but we cannot create Spring.  We have to wait for it to emerge, and it comes forth from the operation of forces in nature so titanic that they dwarf the efforts of even the greatest human powers.

The Symbolism of Spring: Waiting for the Emergence

So it is in the journey of the psyche, which is often expressed in the work that individuals do in depth psychotherapy.  There are things that we can do to look after ourselves, techniques that we can utilize to help with depression or anxiety, or with, say, creating appropriate boundaries for ourselves.  These are things over which we have a significant amount of conscious control.  Yet, beyond this, there is also a power for healing from deep within the human psyche that no amount of our conscious control and willpower can coerce.  That particular healing element will emerge in its own time, and all we can do is to remove obstacles to its appearance, and wait upon its emergence.  But, if we can do that, it does emerge.  This is what Jung referred to as “the self-healing properties of the psyche”.

In depth psychotherapy work, the emergence of this Spring of renewal in the human psyche is firmly connected with the unexplored aspects of the personality, in what Jung often called “the undiscovered Self”.  The journey of the individual in therapy leads us into vital and hitherto unexplored potential for renewal.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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How Can I Change My Life? Approaches to Renewal, Part 1

March 19th, 2018 · how can I change my life

The question “How can I change my life?” often has a prominent role in people’s decision to commence depth psychotherapy.

how can I change my life

Readiness to flower?…

Whether people ask this question explicitly as they explore the possibility of psychotherapy, it usually tends to be there, hovering in the background in peoples’ minds.  People who come to therapy are looking for something different in their lives, for some kind of renewal.  They want to feel that there might be new possibilities for their lives, rather than the same old patterns and routines that they may have experienced to this point.

Receptivity

However, a key question for us may be, “How much do you really want to experience change?”  It can be that people feel very positively about the idea of change in the abstract, or about the fantasy of a changed life.  However, the experience of change, or the process necessary to create change, might have aspects that don’t feel as easy or appealing, or that involve some difficulty or hardship.

Can we really be receptive to changing our personal reality?

Control

One of the things that human beings really value is a sense of control, the sense that our situation is understandable and predictable.  The human brain, and particularly the part of it known as the frontal lobe, contains our executive function, which is to say the part of us that wants to plan and execute and make things understandable and controllable.  This is associated with what Jungians and others call the ego, the part of the human mind that is the centre of consciousness.  The ego is certainly not the whole of our personality — but it sure likes to feel like it knows what’s going on, what the score is, and that it is in control.

The Thing about Change, Though, is…

…that it often requires us to more into unfamiliar ways of looking at things, and unfamiliar patterns of behaviour.  The answer to the question, “How can I change my life?” may well take us into territory where, at least initially, the ego is certainly not in control, and where it has to abandon familiar ways of looking at things, and conventional answers to key questions we may have relied on our whole lives.

how can i change my life

Identity, Lost and Found

Consider someone who is about to retire.  This person may have defined his or her identity for decades in terms of work — which she or he is now required to relinquish.  The ego may cling tightly to such an identification!  It may well wish to cling to it, even after the person’s work role is long gone.  Yet an identification with an extinct job description may be crippling, and may result in a huge loss of happiness, meaning and self esteem, even anxiety and depression.  Life may be calling the individual to a new identity and meaning.  Yet it is only in doing what the ego finds so hard and letting go of certainty, familiarity and predictability, and embarking on a journey of discovery of unfamiliar possibilities and “unexplored territory”, that a new identity, and a new sense of purpose and meaning, can be found.

Depth psychotherapy, particularly in its Jungian form, has as its goal the exploration of possibilities and identities in the unexplored aspects of the personality, with the goal of finding meaning, vitality and unanticipated possibility in what Jung called “the undiscovered Self.  This is the essence of the “journey toward wholeness“.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Help Me Sleep! Exploring and Getting Past Insomnia

March 12th, 2018 · help me sleep

“Help me sleep!” and “How can I get past poor sleep?” — these questions reflect the epidemic of insomnia in our contemporary world.

help me sleep

Like most modern western societies, Canada has a sleep problem.  Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep to function properly.  Yet more than a quarter of Canadians get less than that minimal 7 hour a night figure.  Sixty per cent of Canadians report feeling tired most of the time, according to a report by the World Association of Sleep Medicine.
The economic costs of sleep deprivation are also very well documented.  Even more disturbing are the health consequences.  Chronic sleep deprivation contributes to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke along with other health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and a weakened immune system. Both amount and quality of sleep have been shown to affect appetite and weight control.
Yet, there’s an even more profound aspect to this issue.  Depth psychotherapists are aware that it is symptomatic of our overall attitude to the world, and to the way in which we relate to, and look after ourselves, in the broadest sense of the word.

Why are We Dealing with This Issue?

Why are we, as a society. collectively crying “Help me sleep!”?  On one level, this question could be answered very pragmatically — and it is very important that Jungians and others offer concrete assistance to people with the pragmatics of this issue.

From a pragmatic, “what I should do” perspective, it’s worthwhile considering the following sleep-enhancing measures.

  • You should develop a relaxing evening ritual.  You should begin to gear down and eliminate stress the closer you get to lights out.
  • Find a routine that includes a predictable daily sleep schedule.  This should include consistent waking and rising times.
  • Reserve your bed for sleep.  Avoid stimulating activities, such as eating or using screen devices.
  • Keep electronics out of your bedroom.
  • Keep your sleeping room dark and quiet — and relatively cool.
  • Get regular exercise.

This is not a comprehensive list, but these are some measures worth considering.  Yet, from a broader perspective, it’s important that we also consider the meaning of insomnia for the whole person, and for the whole of the psyche.

The Broader Meaning of Insomnia

When we think of what the type of insomnia that we confront in our time really means, neuroscience helps us to see the root of the problem very clearly.  Research has shown that shift workers are especially prone to sleep disorders, because the arbitrary and artificial sleep regime required by shift work disorders the body clock or circadian rhythm.  Neuroscience also shows that the most restorative type of sleep, “rapid eye movement” or REM sleep gets disrupted by insomnia.  As Jungian neuropsychoanalyst Margaret Wilkinson tells us, this kind of sleep is associated with deep dreaming.  Such dreaming in REM is essential to maintaining the centers of the brain that are associated with learning and with processing our experience.  REM sleep also enables the mind to process emotional states, especially fear, anger, elation — and particularly anxiety.

help me sleep

Brain activity in non-REM and REM sleep

Actually, insomnia fundamentally concerns our relationship to our bodies, and to the deep parts of the brain that are associated with the unconscious mind.  In order to gain a sense of fulfillment and meaning in our lives, depth psychotherapists know that it’s essential to find connection with our bodily rhythms, such as our circadian sleep rhythms, and also with the unconscious mind, the part of our mind beyond our conscious control encountered in the dream experiences of REM sleep.  Both getting what I need to “help me sleep” and the process of depth psychotherapy have as their goal re-connection with the body’s rhythms and with our own deepest nature — all part of the “journey toward wholeness“.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:  xnot (Creative Commons Licence) ;  (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, OntaWIthout rio (near Mississauga)

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How Do I Cope with Loneliness? — A Very Individual Question

March 5th, 2018 · cope loneliness

In our era, people in record numbers are struggling with the question of how to cope with loneliness. At this time, we can genuinely say that loneliness is an epidemic, often associated with anxiety and depression.

cope loneliness

PHOTO: Clàudia Matges

But what is loneliness?  We can find some general truths, yet it means very different things to different people.  It may involve an actual experience of actually being isolated from people.  Yet, as many individuals in 2018 know, it is very possible to feel absolutely isolated from others in a crowded city, on the subway, or in the mall.  In fact, you may be far less likely to be lonely in a small, remote Newfoundland outport than you are in the midst of a huge city!

Loneliness as Archetypal Pain

Neuroscience researchers such as UCLA’s Naomi Eisenberger have shown that the brain reacts to loneliness in much the same way as it relates to actual physical pain.  Researchers characterize the pain of loneliness and the accompanying stress state as something that has evolved in us to renew and maintain the connections that we need to survive and prosper.

Depth psychotherapy of the Jungian variety characterizes loneliness as a fundamental, archetypal pain.  They would also connect the state of loneliness with the drive within us for eros, for relationship and connection, to understand and to be understood.  (I wrote about eros in a recent blog post).

Loneliness, Self-Sufficiency and Solitude

There is a place for solitude, and all of us experience times when we want to be alone.  This is what we mean when we refer to solitude.  People’s needs for social connection and affirmation vary greatly.  But when we experience actual loneliness, it hurts — sometimes a great deal.

Sometimes, people feel very alone, because they have a hard time tolerating their own company.  They may experience intense anxiety or even anguish when they’re alone.  This may result from faulty or disrupted connections with mothers or other caregivers when they were young.  Or, it may result from disturbing thoughts that emerge when they are alone, that may clash with the way they usually perceive life or themselves.

Sometimes people feel alone because of major life transitions that make them feel outside of the mainstream of life.  Situations of major physical illness or grief can often be examples of this.  Sometimes people feel profoundly different from those who surround them, which creates its own kind of especially deep loneliness.  Or individuals may feel that, despite being connected to many people, they aren’t actually seen for who they are, or they are unable to trust that these others actually “have their back”.

The forms of loneliness are more numerous than I can list here.  Yet one common denominator that they all share, is the capacity to produce immense pain in the life of the individual.

A Creative Response to Loneliness

Much depends on whether the individual can find viable ways to connect with others over the divide that loneliness creates.  The journey to acheive this is a very individual one.  It often involves much self-discovery, deep level compassion for oneself and discovery of creative resources in oneself, together with finding the courage and affirmation to move beyond old patterns.

cope loneliness

The Capacity to Cope with Loneliness — and to Connect with Others

Loneliness is a fundamental aspect of human experience, encountered in many different ways. It might involve actual physical social isolation.  Yet there is also the “lonely crowd”phenomenon, where one is surrounded by others, even interacting with them extensively, but still not experiencing “being seen” or being “taken in” by them.  It also includes existential loneliness, the awareness of being fundamentally alone with ourselves.

Depth psychotherapy at its best addresses the fundamental loneliness that an individual experiences in his or her life, and can often offer help.  One of the most important aspects of depth psychotherapy in its Jungian form is a safe environment for the individual to be seen and acknowledged in their human uniqueness.  It can also offer very concrete assistance in helping the individual to reach out in relationship and connection across the human divides we experience in our lives.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Clàudia Matges (Creative Commons Licence) ; R. Crap Mariner (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, OntaWIthout rio (near Mississauga)

 

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