Brian Collinson

Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

What Do You Want in Life? Finding Direction in Midlife Transition, 2

November 17th, 2014 · what do you want in life

In Part 1 of this post, we saw how discerning what we really want becomes much more individual in the second half of life; in this post we look more at what that might mean.

what do you want in life

Actualizing what we want, and living it out means being able to truly hold the tension between our desire, our yearning — our “call” even — and the concrete realities of our lives.

Stuck in the Archetype of the Puer Aeternis

A danger that befalls many is simply letting our yearning float above our lives, and never doing anything to make it actual.  Depth psychotherapists would call this a denial of soul.  We all know people in whose lives this dynamic is glaringly obvious.

Jung’s colleague von Franz has amply spelled out the dangers of this psychological state of subjection to the puer aeternis or “eternal child” mode of being.  At its best, this archetype of eternal youth can be the source of incredible art — think Mozart .  At its worst,  it can keep an individual hovering above the real substance of his or her life, perpetually refusing to be tied down.

Why We Need to Keep It Real

We can avoid the risk of actualizing the things that matter most to us, for reasons such as:

  • we fear it will create messy, complex situations in our lives;
  • we fear that life will make us pay dearly  for getting what we really want;
  • we’ve somehow absorbed the message that we don’t deserve to have this thing in our lives; or,
  • we fear that the real thing, once we get it, will be not quite as good as the way we’ve imagined it.

Although we don’t admit it to ourselves, it can be quite tempting to stay floating with the fantasy of what we want, rather than taking actual steps and sacrifices to bring it into being.

Leonard Cohen captures this state of the provisional life superbly in his song “Waiting for the Miracle“.  He shows the state of yearning, of going nowhere, and of the extraordinary cost when we allow what we want and need to hover provisionally “out there”, and never seize hold of it.

There is an aching poignancy to his words, reflecting both regret and yearning…

what do you want in life

What I Want, or What I Feel I Have to Settle For?

Once we try to seize hold of what we really desire, we most often have to reach some accommodation between our yearnings and the realities of the world.  It may well be that the things I desire are very difficult to bring about.  There may be financial, legal, or family reasons why what’s desired is hard to attain.  There may also be psychological issues, in that attaining this thing flies in the face of conventional morality, or requires us to face our own shadow, the part of ourselves that we do not wish to acknowledge or accept.

Also, desires that emerges might go in directions that just aren’t sanctioned by the collective or group to which we belong.  Example: a chartered accountant who takes pottery lessons may not always meet with approval or understanding from colleagues.

what do you want in life

Yet we can’t just throw up our hands and forget these yearnings. To do so might entail a terrible cost.  Often we have to move in the direction that life is beckoning, if we are to avoid a sense of flatness and sterility in our lives.

True Me

Who I truly am is linked to what I really want.  The question “What do you want in life?” is fundamentally a question about identity.

It’s not enough for soul to just fantasize about living the things that really matter to us, at that very individual level.  It has to be made real, incarnated, lived out.  The work of depth psychotherapy concerns overcoming the often very real barriers to living our own real life.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Shabbir Siraj modified ; Sergey Bestcenny modified;  waferboard
VIDEO: “Waiting for the Miracle” quoted for the fair use purpose of critical comment © 2013 SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

What Do You Want in Life? Finding Direction in Midlife Transition 1

November 10th, 2014 · what do you want in life

“What do you want in life?” is such a seemingly benign question, but to genuinely answer it is often one of the most important parts of the work of depth psychotherapy.

what do you want in life

We all assume that we know what it is that we want — but is it always so straightforward?

Shared Values in “the First Adulthood”

Knowing what you want may seem pretty straightforward in the first parf of adulthood (although this may be changing for millenials).  In what Jung calls the first adulthood, the adult part of our lives leading up to midlife, our society has tended to hold out collective values which many people buy into, and for which they strive.  Many people want some kind of post-secondary education.  They want a job that enables them to sustain themselves, and that garners a certain measure of respect in our society.  People have tended to want marriage, or at least intimate relationship, and many people are firmly convinced of the value of having a family.  These highly motivating values are widely shared.


The Challenge of Value in Midlife Transition and After

In the second half of life, the situation may well change dramatically.  For very many people, the situation becomes much less clear.  Individuals can often start to question whether what they’ve actually attained is really what they wanted for their lives.  The even more vital question of what I might want for my future gets highlighted by the fact of an often increased awareness of mortality.  At 20, I’m going to live forever.  At 40, 45, 50… I’m very aware that I don’t have infinite time, which makes the way I use my time — and my resources, and my opportunities — matters of vital importance.  What do you want in life?


What I Want, or What I’ve Been Told I Want?

How do I even really know what it is that I want?

what do you want in life

The Public wants what the Public gets” — so went the lyric of a new wave song in the early 1980s.  Certainly we’re even more aware in our era, with the slickness and sophistication of contemporary marketing, that we’re all continually being pressured and manipulated towards making choices that are really about what others –corporations, governments, special interest groups — want us to want.

what do you want in life

Psychologist Prof. Barry Swartz of Swarthmore College has warned us of the dangers that come to us from a society where choices, many of which are trivial, are continually multiplying:

what do you want in life

Beware of excessive choice.  Yet there have always been social pressures around choice in life that alienated us from ourselves.  There has always been the subtle or not so subtle pressure to mold what we want into line with the expectation of the mass of the people in one’s social group.

What depth psychotherapy has brought home to us is how far-reaching these social pressures can be in their influence.  They stem in many cases from the earliest stages of life, and can often alienate individuals from their genuine deepest desires through the course of a lifetime.  What depth psychotherapy also brings home is how deep the need within us can be to find the ways of living and choices that accord with the yearnings deepest within us, with who we most fundamentally are?

In the second part of this post we will examine the tension within us between what we fundamentally desire, and the many pressures that confront us in the world.

Depth psychotherapy can often assist in  beyond the limited perspective of the ego.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Courtney Carmody ; Don O’Brien;  Eliazar Parra Cardenas
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ 1 Comment

Dealing with Regret: 4 More Insights for Moving On

November 2nd, 2014 · dealing with regret

In the first part of this post on dealing with regret, we looked at the nature of regret; here we look at some clues or hints into how to possibly move through it into the rest of our lives.

dealing with regret

An important part of the answer may well consists in not allowing the regret to consume us because the space it would otherwise occupy in us is filled with burning desire to live the life that is before us authentically and fully.

Quit Passing Judgement on Yourself

Here is a key insight: I am not in a position to stand in judgment on my own life

Only in the rarest circumstances are we in a position clear-sighted enough to have some kind of clear view of our actions, their effect, and, ultimately, their meaning in the whole context of our lives.  Only rarely, if ever, do we really grasp the influence of the unconscious psyche on our decisions.


It may be a real benefit to have the right kind of “spiritual”, philosophical or observant outlook, that allows us to recognize that, whatever we choose to call it, there is something greater than ourselves determining the course of our lives.  Out of the heartbreak and loneliness of an extremely difficult life, Dame Julian of Norwich was able to say “and all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  These words might seem like a flip exhortation to “keep on the sunny side”– unless uttered by someone who themselves has been through some very, very dark nights.


It’s fine to say, as I did above, that we should let our regret be swept away by burning desire to live the life in us that really wants to be lived.  But how do we recognize this burning desire?  Intense regret may seem to eclipse any such passion or meaning.  This may well be where the individual is called to examine the desolate places in his or her life, the “swamplands of the soul” as James Hollis calls them, to find the embers underneath the damp leaves of time.

dealing with regret

This is demanding work.  We may well need abiding support in doing it — the kind of support embodied in depth psychotherapy, or Jungian analysis.

Amor Fati

Jung often uses the phrase “amor fait” — “to love one’s fate“.  He makes it clear that such a phrase is not to be used glibly or lightly.  For Jung, the product or the fruit of mature life can sometimes be that which is often contrary to the spirit of youth: an acceptance somehow of the inexplicable rightness of one’s own life.

Hollis reflects further on this:

Anyone conscious of, or reflective upon, his or her history will be humbled and obliged to pause and discern those threads of influence that are at work in us all the while….  Loving one’s fate means that we live as fully as we can the life to which the gods have summoned us.  We are here to figure out and serve what life asks of us.   This is not resignation, it is not defeat, it is not fatalism, it is not passivity… In the midst of defeat for the ego, we are blessed with concommitant abundance [italics mine].

He goes on to quote the words  of Yeats’ poem “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”:

dealing with regret

This is not some glib piety.  If we are fortunate in our aging, it might be wisdom we can take to our own breast, rather than advice to give to others.  Yet, at the right time of life, it may prove to be deeply healing.

Depth psychotherapy can often assist in dealing with regret, as it can bring awareness of aspects of ourselves that can take us beyond the limited perspective of the ego.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Tamas modified ; Bill Strain modified;  Eliazar Parra Cardenas
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

Dealing with Regret: 4 Insights for Moving On, 1

October 27th, 2014 · dealing with regret

Dealing with regret is very often one of the major life tasks of midlife and the second half of life.

dealing with regret


In the second half of life in particular, regret can be an extremely difficult thing to deal with.

Regret is Connected to Freedom and Awareness

Statistics are not the be all and end all of human experience, yet research shows that people report experiencing regret much more in cultures that emphasize freedom and individual choice, than in cultures which emphasize collective life and participation.  Regret seems to be one of the prices that we pay as unique persons for individual consciousness and the freedom to individually detemine life.

So, in an important sense, it would seem that regret is one of the consequences of being aware of, and taking responsibility for, your own individual life.

Regret Over Long Periods: The Road Not Taken

Helping professionals’ clinical experience suggests that, over the shorter term, people primarily feel regret for actions they have taken, and what results from them.  However, it appears that, over the longer term, the biggest sources of regret are for those actions not taken, and paths not pursued

For people at midlife and in the second half of life, regret for the roads not taken can be particularly agonizing.  More so than younger people, there may be missed opportunities or unlived possibilities that can’t be re-visited or corrected, or done in a different way.  This can lead those of us in the second half of life to “get stuck” in rumination and chronic stress in ways that can damage our psyche and our physical being.

dealing with regret

Typical “Big” Regrets in the Second Half of Life

In the second half of life, we can find ourselves caught in regrets like the following.

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.  This can be a powerful emotion for many, which is sometimes accompanied by strong feelings of being “trapped”.

I wish I hadn’t been so focused  on work.  This used to be a male thing, but no longer.  Now, as men and women who have had extremely demanding careers near or reach the end of their careers, this can be a strong feeling for both sexes.

I wish I’d expressed my feelings more. This can mean, expressed those feelings to those I loved, or, in work or social situations, or standing up for values in my personal life that really mattered to me.

I wish I had stayed in touch with people from earlier stages in my life.  Friends, romantic connections, mentors, or others

While not exclusive to people in the second half of life, these feelings can become particularly powerful for individuals at that stage.  We know that, in the second have of life, time and opportunities matter.  We are simply not able to “do over” significant aspects of our life.

dealing with regret

 Regretting, Living and Letting Go

How then, can we heal our regret, or find any way to live with it?  That’s the focus of this post’s sequel, yet, I think it’s important to emphasize that significant regrets are experiences that many carry in the second half of life.  It might be blissful to say with Edith Piaf “Non, je ne regrette rien” or with Sinatra., “Regrets… I’ve had a few / But then again / Too few to mention.”, but for most of us, this would simply be an inauthentic romantic posture.

An important part of the answer consists in not allowing the regret to consume us because the space it would occupy in us is filled with a burning passion to truly live the life that is before us authentically and fully.  Making that happen is the true journey of depth psychotherapy .

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Geordie Hagan ; Cristiana ; Bruce Tuten 
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Find a Way Forward, 2

October 19th, 2014 · feeling stuck in life

In the first part of this post we saw that feeling stuck in life, at some point or other, is a pretty normal part of our journey.

feeling stuck in life

I’m referring to genuine experiences of impasse, where, in some key area of our life, we just don’t know how to more forward, perhaps for a long time.

Sometimes people are conscious of this, and sometimes not.  Take a group of people who went to high school together, who still go to their favorite bar every weekend, and sit around the same table where they’ve sat for 20 years.  Do they experience the discomfort of stuckness?  Possibly not.  But are they perhaps stuck?  …Probably a question they should at least consider…

Lessons from Impasse

The ego doesn’t totally run the show.  We may really want to move forward on something, and yet find it impossible to do so.

Neuroscience researchers like USC Prof. Antonio Damasio have demonstrated that much of human decision-making is non-rational, emotional and rooted in the unconscious.  Decisions are not just made in a rational, goal-oriented way by the ego, the conscious, goal-driven part of us.  These neuroscience findings were anticipated by the work of Jung and other depth psychotherapists even 80-90 years ago.

What is true of ordinary decision-making is profoundly true of large-scale decisions about the future direction of our lives.  Making such a decision in any kind of authentic way involves parts of the mind that are far from usual consciousness.   Also, the emotional aspects of the personality are involved just as deeply as any thinking or rational component — as is, what we can call for lack of a better word, our intuition.

True impasse, true “stuckness” can be seen as the whole person demanding that the ego pay attention to its priorities and its needs.  Unless the ego is willing, and is willing to some extent, to relinquish control, stuckness is liable to continue.

Feeling Stuck in Life: What I Can’t Get Past

feeling stuck in life

Feeling stuck in life often revolves around some bedrock truths, realities or feelings that we need to take in.  Often this means coming up against who we really are.  Such experiences of self-encounter, in the deepest sense, are what depth psychotherapists often refer to as encounters with soul.

Example.  A 40s woman is going through the motions.  She is knowledgeable and does well at her career, but without enthusiasm.  Her home life also functions, in that she looks after her two children, and feels close to them, although her relationship with her spouse is limited to meeting the kids’ needs and performing tasks needed to keep the household going.  On the surface, this woman feels that she is “doing what she is supposed to be doing”, according to the messaging of her family of origin and of society. But this superficially complete picture doesn’t stop the feeling that she is missing out, nor stop the yearning for “some kind of real experience!”

A key part of working in therapy to get past stuckness is often in identifying — and accepting — where life is not stuck.  Where does my life’s energy really want to go?  This is often difficult work, because it may entail looking as aspects of ourselves that the ego resists, or even shuns.

Stuck-ness and Renewal

Many indigenous cultures, and other cultures worldwide recognize that human life involves a process of numerous deaths to a certain identity and self-definition, in order to rise with a new identity and relationship to who we most fundamentally are.

feeling stuck in life

I love this song by the great Stan Rogers, which is about death and re-birth — but a re-birth that is only brought about by hard, painstaking — loving — work in the depths.


Feeling stuck in life often embodies the sense that our direction, our purposiveness, our zest for life has sunk into the depths, and we need to get it back.  Embarking on depth psychotherapy is often a process of salvaging this sunken treasure.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Oregon Department of Transport ; Stephane Mignon modified ;  Official U.S. Navy Page
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Find a Way Forward, 1

October 13th, 2014 · feeling stuck in life

Feeling stuck in life is an extremely common experience. It can happen at any stage of our life journey.

feeling stuck in life

Nonetheless, the feeling of stuckness often assails us in those parts of our journey when we are either trying to make, or else are needing to make, major life transitions.

What Does Feeling Stuck in Life Mean?

People use this expression a lot in my consulting office.  What do they actually mean by it?

The life experience of individuals is very diverse, but I think that this feeling boils down to the sense that  things in the life of the individual are not giving him or her much (or any) satisfaction.  In other words, that the life expereience of the person is not meaningful, either in whole or in part, and, most importantly, that the individual doesn’t know how to move things to a place where what they encounter in their daily living would be meaningful.

When talking about feeling stuck in life, the discussion sometimes revolves around the idea that “the individual is not making ‘progress’.”  However, I’m not sure that the idea that the goal of human life is to make some kind of triumphant “progress” is really all that helpful, here.

Rather, I find it far more helpful to think about this issue of stuckness in terms of the “flow” of our energy out into our lives, for connectedness, meaning and creativity.  Ultimately, in Jungian terms, the flow of that energy should take us more and more towards individuation, the process of becoming more and more our unique, authentic selves.

We Get “Stuck” in Unique Ways

feeling stuck in life

There is no set formula as to who will get “stuck”, or how such an impasse might come about in someone’s life.  As Harvard psychologist Timothy Butler tells us, the experience of “feeling stuck” enters our lives in a great variety of unique ways.  Career issues, relationship issues, death of a parent or other loved one, transition of children away from home — all of these types of events, and many more, can lead into the sense that the whole pattern of a life feels stale and not very meaningful.

The key element of this sense of stuckness?  That our image of our lives and of our personal world is no longer working.  As Jung might put it, it is a time in life when we may well need a new personal myth — the underlying “big story” we tell ourselves about our lives and our place in the world.

Impasse Means We Need to Change Our Fundamental Attitude

feeling stuck in life

What can you do to get a sense of “flow” back, when you’re feeling stuck in life?  Should you seek counselling or therapy?

Therapy like depth psychotherapy of the Jungian variety may assist greatly in dealing with the large emotional and life issues that may surround feeling stuck in life.  It may also assist in the uncovering of a “personal myth”, or deep life story or self-understanding, that can help move us back into the flow of our lives.

Finding the flow of the creative energy in our lives is the most important issue in dealing with feeling stuck in life, and, in the second part of this post, we’ll be looking at some of the ways this can start to occur.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © davidd ; Maria Ly ;  muha… modified
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

Self Awareness Helps with the Most Stressful Life Events, 2

October 5th, 2014 · most stressful life events

In my first post on self awareness and the most stressful life events, we looked at some of the complexes that can assail us in stressful situations: but just what exactly is a feeling-toned complex?

most stressful life events

And, how can dealing with a complex enable me to better deal with stressful situations, including the most stressful life events?  Jung tells us,

 “All human beings have complexes.  They constitute the structure of the unconscious part of the psyche and are its normal manifestations. A complex becomes pathological only when we think we have not got it.  …Experience shows us that complexes are infinitely varied, yet careful comparison reveals a relatively small number of typical primary patterns.”

Archetypal Roots

For Jung, unlike Freud, all complexes have an archetypal core or root.  A complex comes about because one of the great archetypal themes of human life has been touched upon.  There are many of these but some of the key ones are:


The names of these archetypes might make them seem quite abstract, but they are very concrete in the way that they impact us.

Example: The Hero Archetype

“The hero archetype” might seem like a very abstract idea, but it certainly impacts people in concrete ways.

Example.  Consider a child, male or female who, in line with the parents’ conscious or unconscious expectations, is raised to be a “hero child”.

most stressful life events

Such a child unconsciously carries the expectations of the family and its values, hopes and dreams.  The child moves through life, meeting expectations, sacrificing for the family, and shelving what he or she really thinks, wants and feels, in favour of the family’s idealized picture of who he or she should be.

In major life transitions, a person may realize he or she is living out the family’s idealized career choice — doctor, lawyer, accountant, clergy, police, you name it — or defending parents’ or siblings indefensible behaviour, for the sake of “doing things right for the family.”  The individual unconsciously takes on the characteristics of “the hero” (even the superhero) and ignoring his or her own life needs for “the greater good” (or the family’s distorted version of it).

most stressful life events

But the hero archetype is inhuman.  Heroes are figures of myth, not actual human beings.  Heroes such as Achilles or Hercules in Greek myth, Cúchulainn in Irish myth or the Babylonian Gilgamesh are often at least half-gods.

The hero archetype gets called forth in times of extreme stress, when individuals respond in a heroic manner to a particular challenge to the group, e.g., a soldier whose courage saves the lives of those in his platoon.

most stressful life events

But a person can’t live in hero mode.

A “family hero” driven by a complex pays an enormous price.  He or she may face extreme hardship in dealing with the most stressful life events (e.g., serious illness or death of a family member) but also risks living inauthentically, never as truly her- or himself, but some archetypally-tinged version of others’ expectations.

Becoming Aware of Complexes

This example shows how an archetypally rooted complex can run the show in the most stressful life events, and, often depleting and alienating a person from who they actually are.

Jung and others showed that a complex works as a “splinter personality.”  When in its grip, I’m consumed by its concerns and unaware of myself as a complete person.  When complexes have us, we can find ourselves saying and doing completely out-of-character things.

Awareness of powerful complexes often only occurs gradually.  If we become even somewhat conscious of the presence of a powerful complex in our lives, it can be quite a disturbing event.  Complexes are best dealt with in depth psychotherapy, where they can gradually be made conscious, and their power to take us away from our real selves defused.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Wonderlane ; DVIDSHUB  ;  JD Hancock ; NatalieMaynor
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

Self Awareness Helps with the Most Stressful Life Events, 1

September 29th, 2014 · most stressful life events

The most stressful life events can exact a tremendous toll on us.  How can an increased level of self-awareness help us to cope with them?

most stressful life events

It might seem that stress and self-awareness are unconnected.  Yet, the more conscious that we can be of such connections at times when we confront stress, the more in possession of ourselves we can remain.

In the demanding “fall start up” season, many find a vast array of personal, professional and family activities and obligations make claims on their energy and stamina.

What Makes for Stress?

There are many potential sources of stress.  It’s created by all sorts of situations that require certain levels of performance, or that demand that we endure certain circumstances or to adapt to changed situations.

One of the greatest sources of stress in the most stressful life events is the way in which an outer circumstance activates a particular unconscious part of ourselves that reacts, sometimes very intensely.  We may carry these clusters of potential reactivity within us, and yet be totally or partially unaware of their presence.  We’re then be taken by storm when they are suddenly activated by a stressful circumstance.

Analytical psychology calls these inner knots or sensitivities complexes.  Some key examples of this kinds of knots of emotional energy are below.

most stressful life events


Money Complex.  Very many of us have had traumatic or fearful experiences around money or finances in the past.  For some, even the slightest financial trigger may activate this complex, with all the fear and defensiveness this causes.

most stressful life events


Authority Complex.  Like the money complex, those gripped by such complexes have often had traumatic or fearful experiences associated with authority figures in the past, whether the police, teachers or parental figures.  For such people, contact with authority may be debilitating.

most stressful life events



Performance Complex.  For some people, experiences around having to give performances or meet expectations create a mass of negative emotional association that gets activated every time they have to meet certain types of externally imposed expectations.

There are a great many other complexes that can powerfully impact us when we are confronting the most stressful life events.

What do We Mean by Self Awareness?

So, if we are facing an activated complex in the midst of a stressful life event, how can something called “self awareness” possibly help us?  Well that depends very directly on what we mean by the term “self awareness.”

If we are talking about some purely intellectual  understanding of connections between events in early life, and current levels of stress, it likely won’t help much.  But if we enter experiences at the root of the complex, if we understand how those feeling-toned complexes have influenced our lives, and we experience and accept our feelings, we may experience a lessening of the power of the complex, and we can find ways to hold the experience at arm’s length, to some extent, and not just be steamrollered by its emotional power.

Example.  I understand intellectually that my anxiety around money takes its cue from the anxiety around money that dogged my father all his life.  Yet, it’s quite different to feel the impact on me of incidents like coming home at age three to find him on the sofa, head in hands, crying, because he didn’t know how to pay the bills, and feared losing the family home.

Depth psychotherapy is very often an effective therapeutic approach for removing the power from those highly-charged emotional knots, our complexes, and for holding onto ourselves in stressful life events.  In the next post on this subject, we’ll  look in more detail at just how this can occur,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Ocskay Bence |  ;  Morgan  modified ; Dave Conner modified ; Jennifer Woodard Maderazo modified
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

Dealing with Death in the Family: Depth Perspectives, 2

September 22nd, 2014 · dealing with death in the family

Part 1 of this series on dealing with death in the family examined the real nature of grief; here, we look at what coming to terms with loss of a family member really means.

dealing with a death in the family

What are some of the things that actually go on within the psyche of a person dealing with death in the family?

The Inner Image of the Family Member

Self psychologists like Heinz Kohut see us as carrying within the psyche what they call the imago of loved ones, a kind of unconscious model or image of the family member, and of how we have experienced him or her.  When the individual dies, this inner partially unconscious image undergoes very powerful transformations.

An essential part of grieving is to find a way for psyche to move the departed individual from the realm of the living, to the realm of those who have passed.  This is an essential part of the grieving process, and is reflected in the dreams of those who are in grief.

That Which was Not Resolved

One of the hardest things to come to terms with can be the shadow of the deceased family member.  When an individual has passed it can seem unloving or disloyal to accept and face the aspects of the relationship with the individual that were painful to us, or dark.

To confront this reality may take us inside the entire shadow life of the family.  The grieving individual may need to confront and accept the ways in which the family as a whole required him or her to fit into a role that was inauthentic and that kept the individual from living contact with the true self.

Depth psychotherapy shows us that, sometimes it is only the grief of a great loss that can stir the forces inside an individual that lead to claiming his or her authentic individual life.  Jungian analyst James Hollis writes about an individual’s journey through grief that led him to face the ways in which his family of origin had disempowered, de-valued and used him, and how that pattern had been perpetuated in his marriage to a woman who died of alcoholism in her late 30s.

“Only great loss… provided the catalyst to encounter another loss which lay so deeply as to be unconscious–the loss of his own journey.  Only grief could stir him to finally face his estrangement from himself.  And only the betrayal of Anne could have led him to see the exploitative nature of his family relationships.

By dwelling in these dismal swamplands, and working through their grievous woundings, Devin recovered the life he was always meant to live — his own, not someone else’s.”


dealing with death in the family member


SInce deep in pre-history, we humans have used ritual as an archetypal means of dealing with death in the family.  We know that humans have engaged in ritual around the death of loved ones for at least the last 100,000 years.

For many people the rituals of one or another organized religion fulfill this need, at least in part.  Yet, often individual created rituals in the midst of grief can also be of fundamental importance, and do much to heal the soul.  Individual ritual can participates in, and opens up, the archetypal character of human grief, the healing that can flow through it, and the on-going movement of life.

Grief counselling from a depth psychotherapy perspective assists the individual in accessing healing from the depths of psyche in the grieving process.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Ocskay Bence |  ;  Morgan  modified ; Dave Conner modified ; Jennifer Woodard Maderazo modified
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments

Dealing with Death in the Family: Depth Perspectives, 1

September 15th, 2014 · dealing with death in the family

We live in a culture that often gives the message that the best manner of dealing with death in the family is really to not deal with it at all.


Yet grief and grieving are an essential part of the psyche coming to terms with the loss of a close family member.  We may well speak of an archetypal pattern to human grief.  U. Mass. Prof. James Averill has made a strong case that grief is a process of biological evolution that actually helps us adapt and cope.

 Is It O.K. to Grieve?

Is it “O.K.” to grieve?  The answer to this question might seem to be an obvious “Yes!”  Yet sometimes there are deep barriers to an individual truly grieving the loss of a family member.  These barriers can be within the individual him- or herself, or in those around them — or both.

When people grieve, it often makes others uncomfortable.  Sometimes other people don’t know what to say or do around a grieving individual, and sometimes, the pain of the grieving individual is an uncomfortable reminder of a person’s own losses, either past, or anticipated in the future.

But if grief truly is a biological, or even archetypal necessity for the individual to come to terms with loss, we cannot trivialize the importance of engaging in grieving.  The individual needs to face the loss, and those close to him or her must allow them

In my experience as a psychotherapist, it is very concerning when a child has not been allowed to grieve.  Often adults remain psychologically stuck exactly at the place where grief has left them as a child.

Aspects of Grief

We must emphasize that these aspects are not stages.  There is no right or wrong order, nor any way it “should” go.

Avoidance of grief is often an early response.  The grieving individual is consumed with the urge to recover the lost person, to bring them back into the relationship that has always been with the person.

Confrontation with the loss is another aspect of the process.  Here, the individual often experiences confusion, disorganization, despair, acute sadness, anger, sometimes guilt, and a range of other feelings felt acutely.

Re-establishment is a third, often less recognized aspect of the process. In this aspect, the emphasis is on the gradual decline of grief, and the individual gradually coming back into social and emotional connection with the everyday world.

Each aspect must be met and accepted by the individual.  Grief counselling in a depth psychotherapy context can often be very useful in assisting with this.

Grief is Very Individual

Depth psychotherapy recognizes that grief is the uniquely specific experience of an individual personality, who is in a uniquely individual relationship with the deceased.  The meaning of the grief experience, and the best way of dealing with it, will be an individual journey.  But rather than leaving the person alone to do that, depth psychotherapy provides a solid and unwavering support to the individual dealing with death in the family.

dealing with death in the family

The Grief Work has to Get Done

The individual must be allowed and enabled to grieve in their own way, and supported throughout.  Otherwise life stays in a holding pattern, because the need to grieve is a powerful enough force in the life of the individual to require them to do this healing work before life moves on.

Depth psychotherapy often greatly assists the grief process in following its natural, individual course.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Ocskay Bence |  ;  Morgan  modified ; Dave Conner modified ; Jennifer Woodard Maderazo modified
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

→ No Comments