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Emotional Burnout, Recovery & Living Your Real Life, 1

June 15th, 2015 · emotional burnout recovery

Emotional burnout can take the wind out of your life’s sails.  How do you know if you have it, and what can you do to foster emotional burnout recovery?

emotional burnout recovery

Here, we’ll look at what psychotherapy can show us about what burnout really is, and what it has to say to us about our lives, and why we need to respond to it, before it’s too late.  In the next post, we’ll look at how best to respond to the signs of encroaching burnout.

Professional, Yes, But Also Profoundly Personal

It would be a mistake to think that burnout is exclusively a professional matter.  It can afflict other, non-professional areas of life, just as profoundly.

Many people experience emotional burnout from emotionally demanding caregiver roles — another form of what Profs. Brotherridge and Grandey call “emotional labor”.  This can be true of those who have the responsibility for dealing with infirm or elderly parents; those dealing with children facing illness, emotional crises, or extraordinary needs; people living in communities struck by natural disasters; or even those in difficult, emotionally demanding marriages.

Depth psychotherapists know that emotional burnout doesn’t just happen all at once: you slide into it gradually.  So, how do I know if I need to think about emotional burnout recovery?  What are the signs?

A Key Element: Exhaustion

emotional burnout recovery


Physical and emotional exhaustion are the hallmarks of emotional burnout. We can be sure that you are starting to encounter this when you experience chronic fatigue, which begins with a lack of energy and general tiredness, and leads to a sense of absolute physical and emotional exhaustion and depletion. This is often associated with insomnia, which can start as struggling to fall asleep one or two nights a week, but can lead to a generalized inability to sleep. Impairment of concentration and attention are also characteristic, and can become serious enough that you simply cannot get through the demands of the day. Physical pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches can all be signs, as can increased illness and loss of appetite.

Depression, including feelings of hopelessness and guilt, entrapment and feeling that the world would be better off without you can all be characteristic of emotional burnout. So, too, can serious angry outbursts. Anxiety of varying degrees of intensity can accompany emotional burnout, to the point where it interferes with your ability to work productively and to relate your personal life. If any of these symptoms occur with any intensity, seek professional help right away.

Loss of Enjoyment and Detachment

emotional burnout recovery

“The Joyless Winter Day” – Joseph Farquarson

Nearly all emotional burnout recovery will involve dealing with some level of loss of enjoyment around work and social relations, which, at its extreme, can lead to downright aversion.  This can be associated with genuine pessimism about oneself and the future.  It can also lead to dangerous levels of isolation, detachment and disconnection from others.

Weakness and Powerlessness, Real and Imagined

In the grips of emotional burnout, a person may experience a real loss of productivity, an inability to complete basic tasks, and a generalized sense of being powerless to “climb out from under” the burden.  As we saw above with depression, this can lead to a sense of apathy and hopelessness.  Not surprisingly the individual often finds that this is accompanied by a growing sense of irritability.

Questions of Vitality, Self and Meaning

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, what are we to make of emotional burnout and emotional burnout recovery?  Are there insights that can help with this very big issue?


In the next post, we’ll look further at emotional burnout recovery, its connection with major life transitions, what it might imply to take the self and its needs seriously, and the importance of all of this for the individual’s journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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How Could Talk Therapy EVER Possibly Help Me? #2

June 7th, 2015 · talk therapy

“Could talk therapy ever possibly help me?” As we started to examine in the last post, the evidence shows it most definitely can.

talk therapy

What’s more, research shows that the benefits of talk therapy go on and increase after the therapy is over.
Here’s why that’s true.

The Power of Talking with a Supportive Witness

There’s real value in speaking with others to gain clarity.  Often what we feel or think can be indistinct and vague until we start to try and express it.  Then, as we try and make clear to another what we mean, it becomes much more distinct and understandable.  An emotion or an intuition or a vague idea becomes vclear and inwardly, we feel, “Yes — that’s it.”  And if this happens while we’re speaking with someone highly supportive, we also feel that this sharing of what’s within us validates and affirms us.  We not only understand and are more conscious of our inmost feelings and thoughts — we feel that they are valid, that another human “gets us”, and our feelings connect us with the broader human race.  This leaves us freer to accept our feelings and ideas, to manage them, to take steps to alleviate them, or, to fulfil our desires.

In the particular focussed space created by psychodynamic therapy, also know as “talk therapy”, a rare type of conversation goes on.  In it, the dialogue revolves around the inner live of the client.  Things become clearer, more visible — more conscious — and easier to address.

Getting Past Repressed Emotions

If a person doesn’t talk about the emotionally powerful and difficult things in life,  and represses them, or dissociates from them,  they will make likely make their presence felt,  often in destructive ways,  in all kinds of situations in the person’s life.   Contrary to what many think,  pushing down and trying to forget one’s real feelings doesn’t work all that well,  in the long run.   If we refuse to give our feelings attention,  at some later point,  those emotions will force us to attend.   This often happens in midlife transition,  but that’s is far from the only place where this occurs.   Strong emotions that are left unexamined and unchallenged produce powerful complexes  that distort our relationships,  and sap our energy and happiness.   Talk therapy offers a safe container to process and explore  this kind of emotional dynamite.

talk therapy

Research: Long-Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Rewires the Brain

An arresting fact about about talk therapy is that, at least in some situations, it can bring about changes that are observable by brain imaging in the way the brain functions. We tend to think that this is something only medication can do, but there is strong evidence of talk therapy bringing about such changes.

Here’s additional information on the studies referenced in the slides above:

Symbolic and Archetypal Connections Made Through Talk Therapy

talk therapy

Talk therapy enables clients to process symbolic material such as comes up in dreams.  Brain science and neurolinguistics have discovered how our brains innately use metaphors to comprehend things difficult to understand, both in waking and in dreaming.  As U. Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff puts it,

The metaphor system plays a generative role in dreaming….  Of course, upon waking, the dreamer may well not be aware of the meaning of the dream….  [yet] dreams are not just the weird and meaningless product of random neural firings, but… a natural way by which emotionally charged fears, desires and descriptions of difficulties in life are expressed.

Discussing dreams in the course of talk therapy with a skilled depth psychotherapist often yields up new understanding of life situations, which may have great importance for the individual’s journey.

Talk therapy can make a profound difference.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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How Could Talk Therapy EVER Possibly Help Me? #1

June 1st, 2015 · talk therapy

Talk’s proverbially cheap… so how could talk therapy — talking about the issues in my life — ever really benefit people in distress, seeking to find concrete help?

talk therapy

How can just talk — without drugs, surgery, electrical stimulation, etc. — have a positive effect on a person’s well-being?  It seems that the answer lies in the kind of talk that goes on in talk therapy.
Here are some basic things to know about talk therapy — and why it works.

Human Beings are Hard-Wired to be Social

Evolution has made human beings a social species.   Important parts of our brain are made to function specifically in social interactions.    Deep in the unconscious parts of the brain we’re programmed to look for interaction and connection with others.   In fact there are important centers of the brain that only “light up” when we are interacting socially.   Because of the social nature of human beings, one of the best ways for us to process things in our inner life, often, is to talk about them in the right kind of supportive environment.

This doesn’t mean that we benefit from just any environment where idle social chitchat occurs.   What works well for us is the specific type of environment found in “talk therapy” or as it is also known,  psychodynamic therapy.   Here,  the individual is encouraged to talk openly and freely about his or her life in the presence of a supportive, attentive, non-judgemental listener,  who is highly trained to identify patterns, both conscious and unconscious.

“Mirroring” is Essential

talk therapy

At the deepest level, individual human beings want and need to be “positively mirrored”. By this we mean that the individual wants and needs to see him or herself positively valued by another from the individual respects in values. The person wants to know that they are held up by the other, and guarded in a positive and and affirming light.

Although we have a strong need for this type of mirroring in the early stages of life, many of us do not get nearly enough of it. As a result we find ourselves incapable of valuing ourselves in the way that we otherwise would. And it is precisely here that we see one of the ways in which talk therapy shows that it is not merely about idle talk. Very often, talk therapy becomes the vehicle for receiving vital affirmation that is essential for the growth and development of the self.  This is much more than navel gazing or the exchange of idle chit-chat.

Fundamentally, Talk Therapy Involves Insight

talk therapy

One of the fundamental characteristics of talk therapy, and one of the most characteristic things which distinguish it from idle chitchat, is that talk therapy is about gaining insight into oneself. Although other profound things occur in the course of talk therapy, at least some new insight is certainly needed if the process is to be meaningful.

What types of insight into the self are needed? In the slides below are some prominent examples:


Talk Therapy –Works!

talk therapy

The evidence is quite clear that talk therapy does work for people.  U. of Colorado psychiatry professor  Jonathan Schedler’s research review shows that effect sizes for psychodynamic psychotherapy are as large as those reported for other therapies that have been actively promoted as “empirically supported” and “evidence based.  Some studies suggest the effect may even be larger.  What’s more, the benefits of talk therapy can be shown to go on and even increase after the therapy is over.

Talk therapy can be shown to be an effective and genuinely helpful technique.  We’ll examine its benefits more in the second part of this post.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Job Loss Depression: 4 Insights on Coping & Moving On, 2

May 25th, 2015 · job loss depression

How can job loss depression be meaningfully transformative?  As we started to examine in my last post, a lot hinges on the meaning we assign to the experience.

job loss depression

Relax and wash off the outdated persona…

There is a great deal that depends on the story that we tell ourselves about a job loss.  It matters a lot whether we accept the kind of collective messaging around job loss that is prevalent in the society around us.  Or, do we see job loss in the broader context of our own journey, and of becoming the individual that we most fundamentally are?

Beyond Negative Messages Around Job Loss

Commonly, those who are subject to job loss depression have been subjected to some very negative, often extremely hurtful messaging and labeling at the time the individual suffers job loss. This can come in the form of comments from the employer or from coworkers. There are also very powerful negative collective messages that our society gives about those who have lost jobs, or who are unemployed. Psychotherapists know that this kind of messaging disparages the character, motivation or competencies of the person who has lost their job.

The sad truth is that this kind of labeling often serves to protect the labeler from fear or anxiety. If I can convince myself that someone whom I label is deficient in character or work ethic, and convince myself that I do not share these flaws, then I feel safe. I feel reassured that I do not have to fear losing my job. Whereas the reality for many people in 2015 is actually that employment is uncertain and precarious.

job loss depression

…pretty precarious…

In most cases, when someone is let go from an organisation, it is not because they are incompetent or morally defective. Yet the individual who loses their job can often become focused upon, and obsessed with, such negative messaging.  The individual can allow it to erode his or her sense of dignity and self esteem.

To find healing in a situation of job loss depression, it is essential that the individual develop a more complete awareness of identity beyond the work role.  The fact that an employer sees the individual’s identity in narrow and diminished terms does not determine who the person actually is.  A key role of good psychotherapy is to help maintain a psychologically healthy sense of identity, which is of immense benefit to our society, as this Globe and Mail article recently pointed out:

job loss depression

Often a secure sense of identity requires individuals to loosen the identification between who they are, and the job that they do.

What Does the Job Loss Mean?

One way of looking at the realities of job loss is to see it as a rite of passage, the movement from one phase of our lives to another.  Our forebears, and those who belong to indigenous societies understand the importance of major life events, and the way that human beings come to terms with them.  They understand that there is a three stage process that is involved in the a major change in the identity of a human being like a job loss, and they use ritual to integrate the change into the psyche, and to adapt to a new reality.  We could call this an archetypal process, in three stages: 1) death to the former working identity; 2) a liminal or “in between” stage; and, 3) re-birth into a broader and more individual sense of identity.

Retelling the story of job loss from the perspective of rite of passage can have a genuinely healing effect on job loss depression.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Job Loss Depression: 4 Insights on Coping & Moving On

May 19th, 2015 · job loss depression

In today’s economy, job loss, and with it, job loss depression can arrive with little warning.  The first impulse can often be to simply strive to get a new job.  But we may need more.

job loss depression

Some very important truths in job loss depression may need to take into our lives and our self-awareness.  Some job loss consists of a more or less mechanical process of identifying and pursuing new opportunities.  However, the kind that leads to deep job loss depression may well be associated with something like a psychological death and re-birth.
What can I do to cope with a reality like that?  What does it all mean?

Allow Yourself to Feel the Loss

I remember when I lost a job.  I was in such a rush to move on from that experience.  Part of my inner self was just saying, “Let’s go.  Don’t think about this or feel anything — it’s too scary.  Just get that next job.

Yet, sometimes, we’re just not ready for that next job.  Certain types of psychological change may be needed first. Otherwise, we can end up stuck in the experience of the job loss, living and re-living it, over and over.

Figuring out how to move forward is vitally important.  But first, it’s essential to be healthy about what you’re actually feeling in the midst of this experience.  Repressing or denying those feelings will hinder coping.

job loss depression

It’s essential to ask yourself, “How does the loss of this particular job make me feel?”  Do you feel grief or sadness as a result of the job loss?  This is a particularly common feeling when someone loses employment they’ve had for a long time.  Do you feel insecurity, or anxiety, or even fear?  Such feelings are very common, even in the most successful people.  Are you confronting feelings of being belittled, or shamed? Again, such feelings are extremely common.  People also often feel anger or even rage.  Psychotherapists know that, in major life transitions, it’s important to acknowledge, not repress, such feelings, as they can damage us.

Embody (Express) the Loss

Feeling the “loss” part of job loss is essential.  As organizational psychologist Stephanie Spera and many others have shown, sometimes it’s essential to embody or express those feelings in some way.  Here are some ways depth psychotherapists recommend to do that:

As this deck suggests, more is going on when we use these forms of expression than simply “getting out your feelings.”  We get in touch with how this whole experience of job loss affects the deeper parts of the person, and how the self is responding to it.  If you’re experiencing actual job loss depression, it’s important to recognize that deep levels of the person are feeling the loss and undergoing a process of transformation and adaptation in response to the change.  Expressing or embodying what you’re feeling may help you to come to terms with what all this means for you, and how you might want and need to move forward with your life.  Processing all of this with a competent depth psychotherapist may also be important.

In the next post, we’ll examine how we can get beyond the negative and stigmatizing messages we often receive through job loss, and how we can start to find individual personal meaning and direction, as we move through the death and re-birth of career change.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Shaking the Foundations: Can I Survive Relationship Breakdown? #2

May 11th, 2015 · relationship breakdown

In my last post, we started to look at ways to both survive and to ultimately “come through” relationship breakdown that preserve personal authenticity, meaning and value.

relationship breakdown

Last time, we looked at some very immediate steps that a person might take to “keep the ship upright’ in the aftermath of relationship breakdown.  This time, we’ll look at some things that are a little more oriented to the longer term.

Don’t Get Lost in Technology

relationship breakdown

This is a point that’s particular to our time. In the aftermath of a relationship breakdown, it is very easy, in our time, to seek social connection through social media, like Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, if the social media can be a true connection to the type of in-depth encounter with others that people really need. The trouble is, that in our time, it’s very easy for the social media to become a shallow substitute for real interaction. There are very many people who are in a state something like addiction to social media, for whom the “buzz” of social media acts as a substitute for any kind of genuine encounter with the other.

People need others to see and appreciate them in their uniqueness. Oftentimes, social media can give the illusion of this type of contact with others, but with no connection of real substance. Social media can also prevent us from having a genuine deep and lasting relationship with ourselves.  By all means use them, but please also recognize the need for genuine and deep encounter with others!

Listen to Your Dreams

The unconscious mind responds to the emotional impact of relationship breakdown.   Depth psychotherapists know that often dreams will reflect the actual grieving process of losing a relationship.  Understanding the symbolism and emotional importance of dreams can be a source of real healing in the process of moving through the loss.  Dreams may also show us some of the things we need to face and embrace in the course of moving through the loss of relationship.  They may well point us toward things we need to realize about our inmost selves as we struggle to deal with loss.  They may also help us to realize the ways in which a relationship breakdown connects with experiences from earlier in our lives, which may help us to understand the process that we are going through in new ways.

As neuropsychologist Mark Solms and others have shown, the unconscious mind doesn’t use the kind of rationality that characterises the conscious mind.  It’s often capable of showing us the connections between things in our lives in a new way.  Sometimes the unconscious can show us the way through situations like loss and relationship breakdown in ways that are quite simply beyond the capacity of the conscious mind.  In C.G. Jung’s words:

relationship breakdown

Turning from the “Magical Other” to Ourselves

One of the essential things that comes forward to us from relationship breakdown is a single, overwhelmingly powerful but very difficult truth.  As James Hollis and others describe it, it is the deep seated, fallacious fantasy that:

…out there somewhere is some “Magical Other” who will rescue us.

Relationship breakdown takes us to the point where we realize that we cannot blame others for our lives, and that we can’t avoid facing the loneliness that is an inherent part of those lives.  Relationship breakdown can be a key point at which we realize that we have to genuinely explore our own lives, and start to really find out who we are, in our conscious and unconscious entirety.

Do Something to Move Towards the Self

Relationship breakdown may be accompanied by a summons from deep within us to move towards the Self.  We may well not recognize it as that.  It may be that a “door opens”, and we all of a sudden are captivated by a possibility that we weren’t aware was there, even a brief while ago.  We may be inexplicably drawn to something that attracts us for no reason that we’re aware of.  Can we have the courage to explore these “strange attractors”, as some depth psychotherapists call them?  They might just point us in the direction of wholeness and healing.

It may also be important to seek out the right kind of affirming therapy or counselling may be very important in this process.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Shaking the Foundations: Can I Survive Relationship Breakdown? #1

May 4th, 2015 · relationship breakdown

Relationship breakdown is greatly feared and brings many people into therapy.  Are there ways to survive, and to “come through” that preserve meaning and value in life?

relationship breakdown

In this post and my next one, I’ll be looking at concrete steps that a person can take to survive and ultimately move beyond relationship breakdown.

1. Accept & Acknowledge Relationship’s Ending

This sounds incredibly simple. Yet it may prove very difficult. It can be a struggle to come to terms with our denial of an ending. Often we may intellectually accept that a relationship with a lover a partner or a very close friend has come to an end, but the emotional and feeling level parts of the self may not be ready to accept this loss, as depth psychotherapists well know.

People can go for years in a state of denial. Yet, for life to flow, it’s essential to find the courage to fully acknowledge to ourselves that the relationship is over.

It may be essential to take formal explicit steps to live out the reality that the relationship is over. This may be where a ritual or other kind of symbolic act fits in.  It’s very important to allow the deepest self to experience the visceral, felt, emotional reality of relationship’s end.

Connected with this is the need to let things go.   It can be very important not to hang on to or to ruminate over the trappings or memories of the relationship.   In the aftermath of a relationship, if a lot of our energy is going into looking through old photo albums and remembering happier times in the relationship,  or alternately rehearsing situations from the relationship and thinking about what we would have / should have / could have done,   we are running the risk of living out  the archetypal reality embodied in the biblical story of Lot’s wife, who kept looking back,  and turned into a pillar of salt (read: bitterness).

2. Be Particularly Compassionate Towards Yourself

relationship breakdown

Right at the time of relationship breakdown, it will often be very important to be very kind to yourself.

Please be aware that you are going through something very hard, and very stressful in its demands on your physical self. If you can, please do kind things to your long-suffering body and your tender, inmost self.

Do not drive yourself like a harsh taskmaster. Do not let your inner criticism rip you up. Take time for yourself. Give yourself gifts, like a warm relaxing bath, listening to your favorite music, or walking in nature.

Treat yourself like you would your best friend, because, as depth therapy affirms, you are your best friend.

3. Deepen Your Connection with Your Real Identity

As James Hollis points out, this might be an important time, in a very compassionate way, to connect with who you really are.  Certainly  soulful people will be exploring and deepening their understanding of themselves for the their whole lives, as a work in progress.  Yet, it may be very important and very healing to connect with as much of our identity as we can at a time like this.

Here are some key questions that may help with getting in touch with your core identity:

It may help to speak to someone else about this; this is the kind of work that’s often aided by depth psychotherapy.

4. Seek Out Hope & Affirmation

relationship breakdown

At the time of relationship breakdown, who you choose to interact with makes a big difference.  It’s essential to connect with people who can offer you real support.  The people who can offer you genuine connection to life and hope.  It’s advantageous to put your effort into finding people who can affirm you and your life, rather than people who will simply offer pity, or tell you how awful it is.  Often, these are people who’ve been through some real and difficult things in their own lives.

It may also be important to seek out the right kind of affirming therapy or counselling.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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What Is Self Awareness, And Why Should I Care? #2

April 27th, 2015 · what is self awareness

Now, really: what is self awareness?  As we saw in the last post, there’s more to self awareness than might first meet the eye.

what is self awareness

Precinct of the Prophetess, Delphi, Greece

“‎Gnothi seauton”… “Know thyself”  These words were known to the ancient Greeks, and were so precious that they were inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the ancient world’s most important oracular site.

Great words… how do we make them real for ourselves, now?

what is self awareness

Self-Awareness as Treasure

If you study the myth and wisdom of the human race, you quickly learn that self awareness has been viewed in many, many cultures as a treasure.

There is one thing that is universally characteristic of treasures: they are generally thought of that way, because they aren’t the easiest thing to get.

Many feel they know themselves.  What they generally mean is that they know the ego, the conscious portion of the personality, reasonably well.  Yet, the kind of “self-awareness” that really makes a difference happens on a whole other plane.  It’s usually about relating to parts of ourselves that are either partially or almost completely unknown to consciousness.

The Dialogue with the Undiscovered Self

The “price tag” for self awareness most often relates to the gradual discovery of what depth psychotherapy refers to as “the undiscovered self”.  We learn that we are something other than we seem to be to the ego, when it tells itself its stories.  As Jung stresses, and others echo in varying language:

what is self awareness

The experience of the self is always a defeat for the ego.

We turn out to be someone other than who the ego would like to believe itself to be.

In everyday consciousness, the ego plunges ahead heroically with its plans and goals, frantically striving to bring its idealized and sanitized pictures of who we are into being.  Yet, if we’re honest, at some point, we come up against another reality.  As Jung again says,

The self, in its efforts at self-realization, reaches out beyond the ego-personality on all sides; because of its all-encompassing nature, it is brighter and darker than the ego, and accordingly confronts it with problems which it would like to avoid.  Either one’s moral courage fails, or one’s insight, or both.  [MC 778]

First and Second Stage Ego

There is a big difference between an ego that cannot accept this new reality, and one that can, and adapts accordingly.  American Jungian analyst Edward Edinger describes these two states as “the first stage ego” and “the second stage ego”, respectively.  As he relates, “The first stage ego cannot accept defeat and therefore must suffer it totally” because its rigid attiude of non-acceptance of the self simply cannot be sustained (such a change in awareness can often occur in conjunction with major life transitions, including the midlife transition).

Self awareness, then, is really that life changing state in which the ego accepts the reality of our broader identity, the self, and stays in dialogue with it.  It’s much less rigid in its picture of our identity than “first stage ego”, and a great deal more compassionate in its dealings with who we are.  Above all, it’s a great deal more honest.  As Polly Young-Eisendrath and other later Jungians have stressed, what we are here referring to might be called a “felt sense” of self, of something bigger, rather than some vague metaphysical idea.

To Live in Accordance with the Self

What is self awareness?  Well, it’s certainly no simple cake walk.  Awareness of the broader self can be something that we work on, and grow in, for the whole of our lives, and that takes our best efforts [“the Treasure”].  It can result in encounters with ourself that are sometimes profoundly disturbing, but which can ultimately turn out to be some of the most important, valuable and defining experiences of our lives .

For many, the on-going work of depth psychotherapy is a key part of coming to a continuously growing, dynamic answer to the question of the self: “Who, really, am I?”

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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What Is Self Awareness, And Why Should I Care? #1

April 20th, 2015 · what is self awareness

What is self awareness, anyway?  Lots of people talk about it, but why should anyone give a hoot about it?

what is self awareness

Consciousness and awareness of the wider self are fundamental to depth psychotherapy and Jungian analysis.

Limitations of the Ego

Conscious awareness seems all inclusive, but is really fairly limited. What psychology calls the ego, the part of ourselves that is consciously aware, the  “I”, has being shown by contemporary neuroscience research to be but a small part of our psychic activity.

Contemporary technologies show us that the lion’s share of activity in the brain remains below, rather than above, the threshold of consciousness. The unconscious mind takes in a great deal of reality that eludes consciousness, and processing it in ways that consciousness can barely imagine, at speeds that leave consciousness in the dust!

To be truly self aware means to come to the greatest-possible understanding of these hitherto undiscovered aspects of the self, to respect them, and take them into account as fundamental to who we are. Truly mature adulthood involves permanent and ongoing dialogue with the unconscious mind, in openness, humility and continually expanding self acceptance.

what is self awareness

Long before the astounding discoveries of contemporary neuroscience, depth psychotherapists realized the great vastness and vital importance of the unconscious mind.   They realized that, very often,  encounter with the unconscious mind was a fundamental source of meaning and healing.

Awareness of the Unconscious

What actually is the unconscious? Simply put, it’s everything in our psychic life of which the conscious mind is unaware.  Yet, that does little justice to the huge variety of different things happening in the unconscious mind.

The personal unconscious certainly contains everything that we have forgotten or repressed. But it also involves a huge range of things pertaining to bodily awareness, and things we are subliminally aware of in the external world.

Yet much of the unconscious is not strictly personal.  Evolutionary psychology and neuroscience have both revealed innate patterns of response, built into the human mind that function over and above learning and human experience.  We share these with all other humans. There are various names for this aspect of who we are; Jungians refer to them as the collective unconscious.

To be truly self-aware is to be actively aware of, and related to, these aspects of our unconscious mind.

The Mechanics of Awareness

So, again, why should I care about any of this?  What is self awareness, and why does it matter?

Let’s look at a typical key example of our unconscious functioning.

what is self awareness

Consider human anger.  Anger is a part of the functioning of all vertibrates.  And, often, one of the early things encountered in psychotherapy is a person’s anger.  Yet anger can be repressed, often so much so that a person is even completely unaware that he or she has it.  Yet anger is a fundamental part of our human make up, as psychiatric researcher Erik Goodwyn tells us:

Survival tendencies… have required that humans have an innate capacity for violence and aggression in order to protect or garner resources.   Neuroscience has shown that frustration of goal-directed behaviour triggers [rage].

He goes on to outline the various different ways in which men and women express rage and engage in competition for scarce resources.  He points out specific innate patterns of behaviour that depth psychotherapy might call archetypal.

It’s possible for humans to be unaware that this whole dimension of anger is in them, and that, far from being an indulgence in sinful behaviour, is unavoidable and innate.  If we live with a lack of connection to this aggressive reality, and how it can plays out, we run some pretty big risks:

what is self awareness

Often, self-awareness is a matter of very great practical importance.

Consciousness Unfolding

Our consciousness is limited, but it is a matter of very precious importance.  In my next post, we’ll look more at self-awareness, how it’s essential on our life journey, and how depth psychotherapy can enhance it.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  ©  Ramiro Ramirez ; Allan Donque ; David Goehring
© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


If You’re Feeling Stuck in Life, How Can You Get Free? #2

April 13th, 2015 · feeling stuck in life

So, if, as we saw in the last post, feeling stuck in life is something we want to get beyond… why is it so hard to get beyond it?  If we’re stuck, what are the sticking points?

feeling stuck in life

From the experience of many people in depth psychotherapy, there are some key things that we can learn about getting unstuck.

Letting Go

feeling stuck in life

It may sound odd to say it, but sometimes the thing that most keeps us stuck is that we’re clinging to something and we can’t make ourselves let go.    This is something that a person might be doing semi-consciously, or unconsciously.

Now, we may get some benefit from “holding on”.  For instance, a relationship may not be working for me at all, but I may persist in it, because it would simply be too painful to face the loss of the hopes and dreams I had for the relationship, back when it began. So I may just keep on, enduring, because being stuck feels like a somewhat better alternative.

Or sometimes, we persist in a situation that can’t possibly work for us, and where we can’t be ourselves, because we gain a certain reward for being self sacrificing, or being a martyr.  Some learn very early in life, in the family of origin, that this is what is expected of them. To get past this may require a person to see who they really are in a whole different way.

The individual may have to ask him or herself whether it genuinely is better to be stuck with the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Often new possibilities for life and meaning surround us, but it’s a risk to embark on the path towards them. If we don’t open ourselves to them, though, we end up mired in the same old same old, with psychological consequences that may be very dire in the long run. In the end, perhaps it all comes down to the situation in a quotation attributed to Anais Nin:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud

was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Accepting and Understanding What Psyche is Trying to Bring Us

As I mentioned above, a great deal of the issue around stuck-ness and letting go can revolve around the unconscious mind. Today neuroscience is making us powerfully aware of the enormity and importance of the unconscious mind, which researchers like Prof. Jaak Pansepp call the “core human psyche”, but pioneers like C.G. Jung intuited its importance a century ago.

Often, our stuckness can be rooted deeply in the unconscious. What is more, the solutions that we need to get past these dilemmas may well need to emerge from the unconscious mind. To let them emerge and bring their healing influence may take some real trust in our deepest selves. It is very often around this issue of trusting the deepest self, and having compassion for it, that depth psychotherapy performs its most healing work.

Psychotherapy that is open to the dynamic reality of the deep self requires a profound respect for the instinctual roots of the psyche, and for the wisdom which resides there, which often goes far beyond our capacities for rational problem solving.  The two million year old man or woman often knows exactly what he or she is doing.

The Un-Stuck Version of Myself

As the wisdom of the unconscious emerges, there may be some basic truths I have to face.

feeling stuck in life

Often, getting past being stuck involves listening to the rejected and suppressed part of the self: the shadow.  The work of depth psychotherapy is bringing the stranger home, and often the stranger is our own true self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  ©  ajmexicoKeoni Cabral ; BurnAway
© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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