Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Urgent Quest to Find Meaning in Life

June 11th, 2018 · find meaning in life

It’s absolutely essential to find meaning in life.  Specifically, it’s urgent and essential to find meaning in your own particular individual life.

Anthony Bourdain, RIP – A genuinely great contributor who will be sincerely missed by a vast number of people.

What is meant by that, and how could it possibly be so important?
Well, what it means, at heart, for Jungian therapists is that it is essential for each person to find things that are of genuine and deep personal value to them, in their own particular, perhaps idiosyncratic life.

“THE Meaning of Life” — Doesn’t Exist

Every so often, you will hear someone refer to “the Meaning of Life”.  At one point, the comedy troupe Monty Python even had a movie bearing that title.  The phrase “the Meaning of LIfe” tends to suggest that there is one great, big overarching meaning in life — the same thing for everyone.

We Live in a Time of Spiritual Change and Ferment

In earlier times, when societies were homogenous, and there was perhaps one religious or philosophical perspective that everyone shared, it might have been possible to believe in this kind of “meaning of life”.  However, those days have gone, and it’s likely that they’re not coming back.

It’s not so long ago that it seemed that certain understandings of “the meaning of life”, and even religious symbols, seemed permanent and fixed, embodying the meaning of life for everyone.  In my case, my upbringing was in a particular setting where every significant person assumed the truth of a Protestant version of Christianity, and, if they had felt differently about it, they would have kept those feelings to themselves.  But now, in the Western world, at least, that monolithic sense of shared meaning is gone; people’s religious or philosophical beliefs vary widely, or they place value in very different things altogether.  Any idea of “the meaning of life” carved into stone some place in the universe is long gone.

find meaning in life

Long gone.

The Need for Individual Meaning

Yet, our individual lives can have meaning.  As the famous psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl reminds us, it’s absolutely essential that we find value and meaning in our own individual lives.  In his own harrowing experience of the concentration camps of World War II, Frankl saw clearly that, for the inmates of these camps, having a particular meaning that was essentially important to them, as individuals, often meant the difference between life and death.

While Frankl’s observations concern an extreme situation, his observations about meaning are true for our lives, too.

Whoever You are, It’s Essential to Find Meaning in Life

This last week, we lost celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, age 61, apparently through suicide.  I have immense respect for Mr. Bourdain’s culinary knowledge, his ability to relate, and his capacity as a truly great storyteller.  He’ll be greatly missed, and I have no wish to cloud his memory with idle speculation.

Yet, Anthony Bourdain’s life was the envy of many.  Companion and confidant of the famous and powerful, his extensive travels to fascinating places were documented in Parts Unknown, and many other television adventures.  Yet even those seemingly the envy of others may find that a sense of personal meaning and deep value in life is missing.  Friends, family, a sense of connection — the source of meaning varies greatly, yet all of us need it urgently.

The journey to wholeness involves the individual finding his or her unique meaning in life.

The Path to Meaning

Depth psychotherapy takes the personal work needed to find meaning in life as essential to healing and growth.  It is particularly necessary in the second half of life, and is often a matter of great importance to individuals undergoing major life transitions.  It is integral to the process of self-discovery, and for renewal and re-connection with the self.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Depression and Self-Esteem in the Second Half of Life

June 4th, 2018 · depression and self-esteem

Depression and self-esteem are closely linked, and this is often profoundly true in the second half of life. 

depression and self-esteem

In this post, we look at situational issues related to depression and self-esteem that arise in the second half of life.  We’ll also be looking at the very important connection between these issues and the whole fundamental question of self-acceptance and self-compassion.

How Depression and Self-Esteem are Linked

Situational depression is frequently linked to issues of self-esteem. According to Australian clinical psychologist and self-esteem specialist Dr. Lars Madsen, self-esteem is a key factor in the creation and maintenance of depression.

Having low self-esteem is clearly connected to experiencing depression, and, on the other hand, depression itself can contribute to low self-esteem.  However, with situational depression, low self-esteem is often a precursor to the depression.  It can often be that particular situations that emerge and cause difficulty in peoples’ lives result in diminished self-esteem, and a lowered sense of the value of self.  This is particularly true for many issues that emerge in the second half of life.

How Depression and Self-Esteem Come Up for Us in the Second Half of Life

The experiences that arise during the mid-life transition, and during later stages in life often bring to the fore the connection between depression and self esteem.  Often, the changes that occur in later life can have a sizable impact on how the individual views him- or herself.  These can include changes in:

  • Working life.  The individual may find that role changes at work leave him or her feeling that a role or persona on which she or he relied for self-esteem has changed or disappeared.
  • Family of origin.  The death, serious illness or possible martial breakup of parents can lead the individual to experience a loss of secure attachment, which can result in a loss of self-esteem.
  • Health.  The individual may undergo changes in health that dramatically change their activities and sense fo well-being.  This can result in a much reduced sense of efficacy and empowerment, and thus lost self-esteem.
  • Marriage.  Divorce, separation or serious illness or death of a spouse can also profoundly affect one’s sense of self-esteem and identity.

Such changes can make us look at our lives very differently — so much so that they can lead us to abandon previously deeply held images or concepts of ourselves.  It may well be that such events can lead to our losing a sense of identity, which can result in loss of self-esteem, and lead us into depression..

Toward Genuine Self-Compassion 

In Jungian terms, a shadow problem can result from any of these sources of lost self-esteem.  We can be suddenly confronted with a sense of lost identity, and may have to go through the process of accepting the change in our lives.

Coming to terms with such a change entails developing a strong sense of  self-acceptance and self-compassion.  It is only when we begin to accept ourselves for who we are in a genuinely kind way that we can begin to search for a new sense of meaning and purpose, which will very likely be associated with a renewed and expanded sense of self.

depression and self-esteem

The Emergent Self

In depth psychotherapy, when confronting issues of depression and self-esteem, a key concern is to discern what is seeking to emerge in the individual’s life.  In confronting life challenges and life transitions that fundamentally touch our identity, it will likely be that a key part of the journey is extending self-acceptance and self-compassion to the parts of ourselves that have been neglected, pushed aside or never acknowledged.

Jungians acknowledge a kind and type of depression in which the individual’s vitality disappears from conscious life and goes into the unconscious.  If it can be encouraged to re-surface in situations where clients suffer from low self-esteem, and to manifest in ways that embody the individual’s yearning for meaning and life, the process can lead to fundamental self-renewal.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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When Work Related Stress Turns Into Major Life Transition, 2

May 28th, 2018 · work related stress

As we saw in the first part of this post, a work related  major life transition can involve a very great amount of work related stress. 

work related stress

In this part, we’ll look at more at what’s involved in traversing such a transition.  As we will see, such transitions can have an enormous impact on the personal and interpersonal levels, and even on the dimensions of meaning and spirituality. As we saw in Part 1, such major life transitions related to work can emerge from: 
  • Merger or Takeover
  • Change of Leadership
  • Long Distance Moves and Transfers; or,
  • Termination of Work
The effects of such things are often deep and complex, and they are often much more profoundly personal in their impact than you might initially think.  Perhaps surprisingly, there may well be elements of these experiences that give significant opportunities for growth towards wholeness.


Work transitions can profoundly impact relationships, both inside and outside the work place.  There are a significant number of employees in workplaces for whom work-related relationships are very significant connections, and work-related stress can lead to profound anxiety and be profoundly disruptive of these relationships.

Work relationships often assume great emotional importance.  We’re familiar with the expression “work spouses” — referring to people in the work environment who often have formed a close, even dependent, relationships.  Any of the events we’re describing can result in disruption of these key relationships, deeply affecting the involved individuals.

When long-standing work relationships fray, or are pulled apart by a changing work environment, individuals may face profound questions about priorities far beyond the workplace, leading right into the heart of life.  Relationship is a fundamental part of what gives life meaning and colour.  When work-related major life transitions disrupt relationships, they raise deep questions about where and how we find meaningful relationship in our lives.

work related stress

Changing Priorities

A profound change in the work environment leads to deep questions around priorities.  It may take us to the question, “What truly is of lasting importance to me?”

For many today, work easily becomes the central priority in life.  Its demands can supercede the importance of key relationships, and the other strongest and greatest values of our lives.  When a work crisis takes on the form of a major life transition, it can call into question the whole set of priorities by which a person lives his or her life.

A work-related major life transition can confront us with deep issues around priorities of meaning and spirituality.  Here I mean not so much organized religion as the whole question of over-arching and transcendent values — what we fundamentally want our lives to stand for and honour.  Viewed in this light, our work as a spiritual endeavour.


Similarly, fundamental questions of identity can be stirred by work related stress that amounts to a major life transition.  Often at times of deep crisis we’re moved much closer to the central question of “Who am I really?”  This all relates to what Jungians refer to as individuation, defined by Jungian analyst Andrew Samuels as

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

This may take us into shadow work, examining the parts of the self that the individual would rather not acknowledge.  As an individual goes through a major life transition related to work, she or he may come up against fundamental questions of identity, that take the form of unpacking and recognizing the difference between passive acceptance of who my work role tells me I am, and who I am really.  Jung puts it starkly:

The more [someone’s] life is shaped by the collective norm, the greater is [his or her] individual immorality.

..where we may think of immorality as “not being true to, or living out, my own fundamental and unique identity.”

Individuation and Work Related Stress

In depth psychotherapy, when the individual is in the grip of work-related stress that is intense enough to be regarded as a major life transition, the goal of the work is to create a safe environment or “container” where the individual may examine the impact on his or herself of this momentous transition, and hopefully also begin to sort out and hear the voice of the true self.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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

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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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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

PHOTOS: Alessandra del Tufo (Creative Commons Licence) ; John Eisenschenk (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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

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

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