Brian Collinson

Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Midlife Crisis in Men: 5 Signs Your Life is in Transition, 2

May 7th, 2014 · midlife crisis men

In this second part of my post on 5 signs of midlife transition or midlife crisis in men, I look at 2 further signs: issues of value and meaning; and, issues around loneliness.

midlife crisis men

Such signs may emerge in anyone who is making the middle passage, but they manifest in unique ways in men.

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Awareness of Loneliness

Pronounced loneliness is often a sign of the onset of midlife transition or midlife crisis in men.

In many, loneliness is associated with a sense of inner emptiness.  Alienation from our own depth and reality can hide behind social interaction, social media and messaging that covers a sense of sterility and meaninglessness.  Poet Philip Larkin writes,

It’s terrible the way we scotch silence & solitude at every turn, quite suicidal….  [Meaningless social interaction] not only takes up time… it prevents you storing up the psychic energy that can then be released to create…

…whether that be artistic creation, or the many other possibilities for creatively engaging life.

Loneliness at midlife often points the way to realization of the value of solitude: the discovery that when one is alone, one is not alone.  To be in the company of the self is to be in a good company.  Such awareness of the self is often the source of creative, genuinely individual living, and the capacity to relate to all the richness of our inner reality.

Value: What is Meaningful?

In the first half of life, men are socialized to adopt the values that society shares and promotes for men.  These are the values of competence, achievement, self-sufficiency — and competitiveness.  We see the embodiment of the ideal man according to these values in our icons of maleness, like Clint Eastwood:

midlife crisis men

These values can serve a man well in the first half of life, but, if they drive him in the journey at midlife and beyond he may be pushed to the extremities of sickness or collapse.  Jungian analyst Eugene Monick writes,

I speak of the man who obsessively builds, who is heroic to a fault.  This man cannot relax his efforts.  He must always prove himself, always do something useful, always be hard at it, as though the least softening of effort would reveal a hidden weakness.

 For many, midlife crisis in men reveals that some cultural values around maleness no longer work, and are not meaningful.

As James Hollis says:

Let us be grateful for the considerable blessing that the loss of tribal mythology brings us… and for the enormous potential that the loss of collective meaning brings us by obliging us to create our own meaning [italics mine].

Connection with our own inner life, values and meaning can be essential for for finding healing during midlife transition and midlife crisis in men.  Depth psychotherapy can make a vital contribution in this season of life.

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Midlife Crisis in Men: 5 Signs Your Life is in Transition, 1

April 27th, 2014 · midlife crisis men

Here are 5 signs of midlife transition or midlife crisis in men.

midlife crisis men

Experience in therapy tends to confirm that each of these 5 “signs” tend to be specific to men, and each is connected to at least one question important for men to ask during midlife transition.

Feeling: What am I Feeling?

Someone once said,  “The great problem for many men at midlife is that the chest is a numbed zone.”  Men are trained not to feel from early life, and to stay in their heads.  Yet without feeling, it’s impossible to know what we really value, how things are really affecting us in our lives, and what direction we want to go.


Identity: Who Is That in the Mirror?

James Hollis offers a pretty blunt and bleak assessment of where many men find themselves in our culture.  It may seem harsh, but, for many men at midlife it represents the truth:

Conditioned to shun feeling, avoid instinctual wisdom and override his inner truth, the average male is a stranger to himself and others, a slave to money, power and status….

There are few models in our culture that invite or permit a man to be honest with himself.

In our culture, men are socialized to ignore their feelings and their own inner voice and wisdom, and to go after priorities that remove them more and more from who they really are.  While men are told that this is “independence” and “individuality”, by midlife, many are locked into stereotypical roles, with immense pressure to conform.  Midlife crisis in men often takes the form of looking in the mirror, not recognizing who’s there, and feeling how much that hurts.

Persona: When Can I Drop the Armour?

Example: Jim, 51, married, 2 teenage kids, IT management consultant. Travels North America, 200 days a year.  Professionally, people expect Jim to provide expertise and solutions; he is continually climbing new, steep, learning curves.  He faces unrelenting pressure to know, to be right, and to meet tough deadlines.

Jim is often alone in strange cities, relating only to business contacts, and dealing with conflict situations.  Jim sees little of his kids, who are becoming more independent, and will soon leave for university.  He finds his relationship is getting colder and more distant.  He and his wife talk less and less.  He has no time for non-work interests.

midlife crisis men

Jim represents someone lost within the armour of the persona, the social mask that he’s conditioned to present to the world.  Often, a key question in therapy is what actually belongs to the man, and what to persona.  This is a common sign of midlife crisis in men.

In Part 2 of this post, we’ll look at two other key signs of midlife transition, or midlife crisis in men.

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How to Overcome Anxiety by Understanding Your Psyche, 2

April 19th, 2014 · how to overcome anxiety

In my first post on how to overcome anxiety, we saw its instinctual and archetypal roots; in this post, I reflect more on how to make practical use of that kind of awareness.

how to overcome anxiety

Australopithecus afarensis

How can the realization that anxiety often is rooted in instinct and archetype actually help us?  Well to start with…

Stop Beating Yourself Up!

Really!  Too often, people dealing with anxiety conditions engage in vicious self attack, accusing themselves of being weak, morally flawed, ” drama queens”, or even, narcissistic.

Actually, they’re none of these things. The truth is that they’re dealing with a psychic and genetic heritage containing incredible inherited wisdom, but which sometimes gets out of sync with our current world.

Our Primate Inheritance

The young lad pictured above is an Australopithecus, an early human species flourishing between 2.9 and 3.9 million years ago. His grassland savannah world was very different from ours. So, sometimes, psychological mechanisms that we’ve inherited from our early ancestors just won’t fit with conditions in the modern world. It would be a huge mistake to morally condemn ourselves for that! We’ve inherited much ancient wisdom, but sometimes in counselling & psychotherapy we face situations where instinctual or archetypal wires get crossed.


Good Instinct on the Wrong Track

Consider phobias, for instance.  Arachnophobia (fear of spiders) was appropriate in the environment early humans inhabited, where poisonous creatures were a common danger.  It’s less useful in, say, suburban Toronto, but if it gets activated, it can cripple a person’s life. Similarly, xenophobia, fear of strangers, made sense when people from “the other side of the hill” spelled danger, but it’s very unhelpful for modern people, say, on the subway.

Likewise, embarrassment, shame and guilt are necessary in a social species like ours to ensure group harmony and social cohesion.  Yet when over-blown, these responses can lead to avoidant personality disorder, where a person feels constantly and inappropriately ashamed, inadequate and hypersensitive to what others think.

Again, the instinctual desire for connection and attachment to others is absolutely essential for the survival of a small primate group in a hostile environment.  Yet, it can get distorted into debilitating separation anxiety and anxious attachment, where an individual suffers intense distress at the imagined threat of the loss of a loved one, or even at being out of sight of a loved one.

how to overcome anxiety


Living with the Two Million Year Old Person

How can we know and appreciate our instinctual and archetypal heritage, yet live with it in a way that keeps anxiety as a useful servant, rather than a debilitating master? Good depth psychotherapy can show us how to overcome anxiety, by living in accord with who we fundamentally are, and with our instinctual and archetypal roots.

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How to Overcome Anxiety by Understanding Your Psyche, 1

April 13th, 2014 · how to overcome anxiety

 If we want to understand how to control anxiety, it would help a lot to understand some things  about the workings of the psyche.

how to overcome anxiety
To understand our minds,
we must understand the minds of our ancestors.

Let me start things off with a bang, by saying something provocative:

Thank Goodness We Get Anxious!

It’s true! We live in an era when anxiety is often classified into this or that particular disorder in the psychiatric “Bible” known as the DSM.  Yet, it’s very wise for me to keep in mind the good things my anxiety does for me.  As Jungian psychiatrist Anthony Stevens puts it,

“Psychiatric emphasis on anxiety as a classifiable ‘illness’ has given rise to the erroneous belief, current through most of this century, that anxiety is ‘neurotic’ and that no well-adjusted person should expect to suffer from it.  In fact, the capacity to experience anxiety is indispensable to survival and reproductive success.

An animal incapable of fear is a dead animal.”

Imagine life without anxiety or fear.  The odds of surviving even one days’ rush hour commute would be appallingly low!


Anxiety Helps Us to Adapt…

It’s well established in psychotherapy now that anxiety is a high-alertness state that enables all animals, including humans to be highly aware of changes in our environment, in response to perceived threats that may be coming our way.  In this state, among other effects, adrenalin is secreted, breathing becomes intense, heart rate goes up and the large muscle groups are mobilized for use in fight, flight, or other survival behaviors.  This is essential where there’s a real threat, but poses huge difficulties if there’s no real danger.

how to overcome anxiety

Anxiety Can Short Circuit Life

For Jungians, as for evolutionary psychologists, anxiety disorders are exaggerated or inappropriate forms of adaptive strategies.

Example: In nature, animals stay on their own, familiar turf.  It can be essential for an animal, or a human, to stay near home turf to avoid threats from predators, unfamiliar territory or hostile tribes.  So, natural selection has created an innate predisposition in humans to stick close to home and to avoid strangers.  

This works for primates in the Olduvai gorge, or Paleolithic tribespeople.  But if these predispositions get activated in a modern, suburban person, and make her or him afraid of going out the front door — that’s a crippling difficulty. It’s essential that this person find a greater sense of security and self-confidence — and quite possibly a different relationship to the archetype of home. 

Discovering how to overcome anxiety using psychotherapy is often about making better friends with our instinctual and archetypal roots.

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How to Treat Depression with Depth Psychotherapy

April 5th, 2014 · how to treat depression

For many individuals, the question of how to treat depression is an important one, and depth psychotherapy can have a vital role to play.

how to treat depression

There are numerous approaches to depression.  Nonetheless, for individuals of certain temperaments, depth psychotherapy may be indispensable.

Depression as Energy Gone Into the Unconscious

Depression may be genetically and or physiologically rooted. But much depression has emotional and feeling level roots.

We can visualize depression using the metaphor of energy for our sense of vitality, zest for living, values, motivation and spontaneity.  Life situations may dampen our energy, shutting us down on the conscious level. Yet that energy doesn’t disappear. It retreats into the unconscious. We may feel lifeless in our conscious lives, yet we can often discern its presence in dreams, and other unconscious manifestations.

“The quantity and quality of the depression is a function of the quality and quantity of the life force which is being pressed down.”

~James Hollis

So, the more depressed and shut down I feel — the more something inside of me really wants to be alive, but is being held down.


how to treat depression

Held down by what?

The answer to this question will fundamentally determine our approach to how to treat depression.

Consider a child who does not get basic needs met , who is completely unseen and unvalued in the family of origin.  She could easily internalize that negative evaluation as a judgement on her own worth.

Alternately, an individual unfairly treated and dismissed from a work role may find himself torn between wanting to fight back and vindicate himself, and a desire to accept what has happened, let it go, and move into a new life possibility. This conflict saps his vitality.

These two cases have similarities, but are profoundly different. Addressing the unique situation of the particular individual may the most important consideration in how to treat depression.

The Heart of Depression

It is not going to be enough for many individuals dealing with depression to simply be exhorted to move their thinking toward the positive.  Often, some very important part of the life is deeply suppressed at the heart of depression.  It is very necessary to understand that thing in depth, to visualize it, and to move it

A brief example: Through the course of depth therapy, a late 40s client understands a dream from age 13… and realizes that the dream holds the key to a key issue developing in the client’s life for the past 35 years.

The journey of therapy often holds the key to unlocking an individual’s vitality. 

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Finding Purpose in Life Through Self Awareness

March 29th, 2014 · finding purpose in life

Finding purpose in life is a key element of living well, and depth psychotherapy can help the individual to find vitality and meaning in life through self understanding and self acceptance.

finding purpose in life

But how do I do that?

The Importance of Finding Purpose in Life

For Jungian therapy, finding meaning or finding purpose in life is an essential part of the process of individuation, the process by which we become our truly unique and individual selves.  True, authentic meaning is closely connected with our own most fundamental identity. And the drive to find meaning is fundamentally connected with what it means to be human.

C.G. Jung went even further, stating that

“a neurosis must ultimately be understood as the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning.”

To feel that one’s life is purposeless or meaningless is a great source of human suffering, and is one of the besetting problems of the contemporary world.  To find a sense of meaning is often an experience of genuine healing.


Purpose is Very Individual

In the earlier life, goals and strivings are often more collective, more mass oriented.  As our life moves along, and approaches the middle years, concern for individual purpose and meaning often grows.  I see that what makes life meaningful to my neighbour or my co-workers may not necessarily do the same for me.  My need is to find those things in life that are specifically meaningful to me.

When the need for individual meaning gets activated, the symbol of a diamond or precious stone might start to appear in a person’s dreams.  The diamond is the symbol of something that is well-nigh indestructible and lasting.  Lasting meaning may be the indestructible “inner diamond” of a person’s life.

finding purpose in life

Hope Diamond

Self Awareness and Self Acceptance

To find individual meaning, I must see and accept my own individual nature — my wholeness.  I need to find ways to accept and have compassion and respect for parts of myself that may disturb my conscious ego.  The “shadow self” despised or hidden by the ego often holds the key to meaning.

My Own Purpose in Life

Depth psychotherapy work is often about finding meaning and purpose in life through greater awareness of an individual’s real, fundamental identity.  It’s a journey to the deepest values in an individual’s life.

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What is Psychotherapy? Will it Work for Me?

March 23rd, 2014 · what is psychotherapy

What is psychotherapy, after all, and how could it actually connect to my life, and make a difference for me?

what is psychotherapy

How could “just talking”  make anything real happen in my life?

Distorting Stereotypes of Psychotherapy

Well, that question captures perfectly the way in which the popular understanding of psychotherapy contains an unfortunate distortion.  As Dr. John Launer recounts, an early name for psychotherapy was “The Talking Cure.”  However, that name fundamentally misses the heart of therapy, especially Jungian therapy.

Yes, therapy is all about talking.  Talking is its tool and medium.  But good therapy is much more than “just talking”.

The distorting stereotype of therapy embedded in our culture is best embodied in the image of Lucy’s therapy booth from the Peanuts cartoon strip.

what is psychotherapy

Lucy in the Peanuts strip is not a character generally distinguished by empathy.  Neither is she a person who listens very carefully.  She does, sort of, hear the person out, then immediately delivers her own glib advice —  often not very suited to the client’s situation.  The price of Lucy’s services?  Typically 5 cents — and, we tend to feel, that’s about what they’re really worth.

what is psychotherapy

A better description of psychotherapy than “the talking cure” might be “the listening cure”, “the dialogue cure” — or, even, the “relating-to-someone-else-to-get-into-better-contact-with-myself” cure!

Psychotherapy and the Undiscovered Self

What is psychotherapy?  It’s a process of dialogue with the therapist, in which a person opens up key problem dimensions and areas of pain and potential growth in his or her life.  In the course of this dialogue, at least from a depth psychotherapy point of view, the individual explores feelings and relates the story of important parts of his or her experience, for the purpose of having it sensitively reflected back and fully explored.

During this exploration, the individual may relate dreams and many other aspects of their experience which involve the unconscious — the parts of her- or himself of which the individual has not previously been aware.  Bringing the previously undiscovered self into awareness can often give the individual a different sense of identity and life, and of value and meaning. This is a highly individual process, as Jung tells us:



Psychotherapy and Your Personal Journey

What is psychotherapy?  A process of dialogue that can bring you into closer and better connection with your deepest feelings and thoughts, and your own real life.  A journey of understanding, and making choices, for our real selves.

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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)



Can Counselling Help Me Through the Grieving Process?

March 17th, 2014 · the grieving process

The grieving process is one of the most difficult times in life, but it has its own shape and form.  Effective counselling or therapy can help us make our way through it.

the grieving process

There are many types of grief, but the deepest and most difficult concern the loss of those we love, who are the key people in our lives.


The Grieving Process: A Normal Human Thing

It’s a normal human thing to grieve, not a pathological state.

In extreme loss, there’s a natural pattern to grief.  The human mind-body goes through a process of accepting the reality of the loss, and ultimately, finding a way to retain a healthy connection with the reality of the loved person.  The grieving process will often take from 1 to 2 years, and, in certain types of circumstances, up to 5 years

In general, antidepressants are not the best way to deal with grief, for grief is not pathological depression, but a normal part of the human condition.  Harvard Medical School Psychiatry Professor Robert Berezin tells us:

Antidepressants should never be prescribed for grief.  They inhibit mourning. They numb out feeling and harden the personality.

A very important part of grief therapy can be helping the individual to accept the normalcy of the grieving process.


Whether loss is expected or unexpected, it is still devastating.  When a person who has been truly loved, an anchor in our lives, passes, something fundamental happens, right at our center.

the grief process

Counselling to enable the griever to take in the full impact of the loss – everything that the individual has meant, and still does mean — can be essential.  Working with an understanding therapist, who enables the individual to talk frankly and openly about the whole of their grief reaction, without having to worry about the impact of their grief on other loved ones, can be an invaluable, even essential.

Carrying the Loved One

In grief we must begin to work out our relationship to what Jung would call the imago of the departed individual, that part of the person that we carry within us, still, and forever.

What is the meaning of this individual to me?  How did he or she have significance in my life?  How will I carry his or her memory with me, on my journey?  All these questions point to important parts of the grieving process, with which counselling / therapy can help us. 

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Do I Need Therapy? What Kind of People Seek Out Counselling?

March 10th, 2014 · do I need therapy

Do I need therapy?  What kind of people seek out counselling, or therapy, especially of the depth psychotherapy type? do i need therapy

What kind of people make the journey of therapy?

Psychologically Ordinary

We still labour under the prejudice that “only sick people” could possibly benefit from seeing a depth psychotherapist — what Prof. Bernard Swartz calls the “pathology orientation” error.  Yet that belief is not borne out by the facts.  The majority of those who see therapists don’t suffer from great pathologies and abnormalities.  The people who seek out counselling / therapy want something more than they are currently getting out of their lives, and they are prepared to do something about getting it.  Likely most people could benefit from therapy at some point in their lives.

People Looking for Depth

People who seek out counselling / psychotherapy are often seeking for genuine depth in their lives.

They may be looking for more meaning in their lives.  They may be looking to make a major life transition in a way that is as good for them as possible.  They may be looking for a clearer and more stable sense of personal identity.

If they’re dealing with depression or anxiety, they may well be people wanting a stronger sense of belonging in, and being rooted in their lives.

But, you may be saying, these are things that we all want more of!  Exactly…

do I need therapy

Well, Do I Need Therapy?

A person who is contemplating counselling / therapy may tell themselves, “Well, I can get by without therapy.”  Quite possibly, the person can “get by” without therapy.  But the key question for the individual is, “What price will I pay, in lost quality of life?”

Can therapy increase the sense of meaning in my life, and enhance my awareness that I, and my life, are worthwhile?

Many reach the point where they know that they just can’t or won’t accept the status quo in their lives anymore, and that fact, above all, is what makes them “the kind of people” who go for counselling and psychotherapy.

do I need therapy

Reframe the Question: What Do I Want From the Journey of Therapy?

Rather than focusing on whether I’m the “kind” of person who seeks out counselling, I may need to focus on whether I’m prepared to invest in therapy in a way that will allow it be of benefit to me.

Can I be open to the insights that therapy brings, or am I locked into a rigid and unyielding view of myself and of the world?  Can I recognize and accept that therapy will not magically change me into someone with a different temperament and nature?  That, in fact, the heart of individual therapy is increased compassion for the self.

Am I really open to changing my relationship to myself?   Do I need something different than I currently have?  Then the journey of therapy may be a key part of my journey.

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Furthering Your Self Understanding with Jungian Analysis

March 4th, 2014 · Jungian analysis

Many people on the web rightly or wrongly call themselves “Jungian” — but what really is Jungian analysis, and how can it further your self understanding?

Jungian analysis

Let’s answer that question by starting with C.G. (Carl) Jung…

1.  Jung

Jungian analysis

Jung’s approach, called Jungian analysis, involves an extensive investigation of the unconscious mind of the client. Unlike many, Jung sought  to “look at a [person] in light of what is healthy and sound, rather than in light of [his or her] defects.”  He focused on a person’s strengths, and on the things that were trying to emerge from the unconscious of the individual.

Jung recognized that the unconscious may have a different attitude to life issues than the conscious mind.  Also, the unconscious may know things about our selves and our lives that the conscious mind doesn’t.  Jung thus anticipated many of the findings of modern neuroscience, which has established that up to 95% of the functioning of the brain/mind is unconscious — and that the unconscious part of the mind is often aware of much of which the conscious mind is not.

2.  It All Centers on Individuation

As Prof. Samuels tells us, individuation is “a person’s becoming himself, whole, indivisible and distinct from others”, and concerns individuality, and with the psychological conditions that may interfere with conscious living.  Jung tells us that it’s very common for the individual to be at odds with him- or herself.  The way the individual has consciously structured life may be fundamentally at odds with his or her own basic nature, in important ways.  Jungian analysis is about becoming aware of unconscious contents, so that the individual may integrate them into consciousness, furthering self-understanding.

3. Images of the Undiscovered Self

jungian analysis

Jungian analysis stresses that we often go through life “believing our own propaganda” — accepting superficial stories about ourselves.  Often we have an understanding of who we are based on how we have experienced our conscious life, and what others have told us, leaving out an enormous part of our inner richness.  As our unconscious self begins to emerge through previously unacknowledged feelings, dreams, or possibly  art or writing, we confront the undiscovered self, and the fullness of the person we are.

Example*:  X, a 40 year old financial services expert, hit an impasse in her career and relationship.  Through Jungian analysis, X realized that her career, though lucrative, was completely at odds with her actual personality, and that the perfectionism and workaholism that drove her had roots in inner pressures to “make good” and to “be perfect”.  Over time, she creatively remade her financial career in ways that aligned with her values.

4.  What is My Unique Way?

Jungian analysis brings us to greater self understanding by unfolding our own uniqueness.  What form might that adventure take for you?

*NOTE: This is a composite drawn from several cases, with all potentially identifying details changed to protect client privacy.
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