Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Is Looking for Meaning in Dreams, Well, …Silly?

February 29th, 2016 · meaning in dreams

There are many people, psychologically trained and not, who will tell you that they know the truth of meaning in dreams: “They’re absolute rubbish!”

meaning in dreams

“I dreamt I was in a hotel in Venice…”

“They’re just meaningless drivel”, they confidently assure us, “…pay them no heed.”
Well, are these people correct?  Are depth psychotherapists who strive to identify the meaning of dreams the psychological equivalent of the members of some misguided cult of extraterrestial worshipers, who stand, staring hopefully (pathetically) into the heavens, waiting for the saucers to land, but alas, –They just aren’t coming!
meaning in dreams

Any day now!

The Materialistic, Brain-as-Computer Model

There are some in modern psychology who, right up to the present day, would understand dreams as some sort of byproduct of an essentially physiological function in the brain.

In 1977, the famous Harvard dream researcher J. Allan Hobson proposed a completely neurophysiological theory of dreams in which a “dream state generator” in the brain stem bombards the forebrain with random nonsensical misinformation, of which the forebrain (vainly) ties to make sense.  Similarly, British psychologist/computer scientist  Christopher Evans proposed that dreams were simply the brain’s “off-line time”, analogous to that of a computer.  In much the same vein, Crick and Mitchison held that dreams were simply the brain dumping redundant information.  None of this would suggest that dreams are much use to depth psychotherapy.

The Age of Neuroscience & More Holistic Understandings of Dreams

However, as time has gone by, neuroscience methodologies have supplied new tools and perspectives to psychology, and evolutionary psychology has created new conceptual frameworks, as has a more holistic understanding of the human psyche.

By 1988, formerly hardcore materialist researcher J. Allen Hobson had changed his view of meaning in dreams:

I differ from Freud in that I think that most dreams are [not] obscure… but rather are transparent and unedited.  They reveal clearly meaningful, undisguised and often highly conflictual themes worthy of note by the dreamer….  My position echoes Jung’s notion of dreams as transparently meaningful…

Or, as prominent Stanford dream researcher, William Dement, put it,

Only the dream can allow us to experience a future alternative as if it were real, and thereby to provide a supremely enlightened motivation to act upon this knowledge.

What We Know Now About Meaning in Dreams

Long before CT scans and fNMRs, pioneer psychotherapist Sandor Ferenczi told us “Dreaming itself is the workshop of evolution”.  But modern neuroscience techniques now confirm that dreaming enables us to enter into and share the phylogenetic programming of both the human and the mammalian past.  Anthony Stevens marshals an array of evidence in support of this conclusion, including:

+ The emergence of dream sleep 130 million years ago, and its persistence across a wide range of species demonstrates that it is a neuropsychic activity of the greatest biological significance.

+ The findings that EEG theta rhythm, originating from a specific part of the paleo-mammalian brain, namely the hippocampus, is associated with the performance of crucial survival behaviours and memory storage, as well as with REM sleep lends weight to the additional hypothesis that in dreaming sleep… the human animal is updating strategies for survival in the light of its own experience and in the light of all the potential for experience specific to the species [italics mine].

In other words, there’s meaning in dreams, and both connection to the human past and to resources for dealing with the human present. As such, dreams have a meaningful place in depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Dealing with Stress & Anxiety: Tips from Our Inner Neanderthal, 2

February 22nd, 2016 · dealing stress anxiety

As we saw in the first part of this post, we stand to learn important things about dealing with stress and anxiety by looking at our evolutionary heritage.

dealing stress anxiety

       Some modern hikers… looking a little bit Neanderthal!

This post builds on Part 1, focusing on what evolutionary and archetypal psychology can teach us about dealing with stress and anxiety.

3. Nothing’s Too Modern about “Modern Anxiety”

While modern life may provide many stressors and sources of anxiety, the actual mechanisms of anxiety have their roots in our biological self, and are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years old.

As Prof. Anthony Stevens states, “to be in the grip of a phobia is to realize the power of an autonomous complex operating at an ancient and unconscious level of the brain.”  In the last post, we looked at the evolutionary basis of some of these phobias.  Similarly, we can see the evolutionary roots of many other types of experience that are related to anxiety.

Panic, for instance.  Researchers such as Prof. R. M. Nesse and Columbia’s Dr. Donald F. Klein have made good cases to establish that panic is an evolutionarily-programmed response to situations such as suffocation, or, in fact, to any situation which requires escape via energetic flight.

Also, as far back as the 1920s, researcher W.B. Cannon showed that anxiety itself is a form of vigilant response that enables us to be alert to changes in our surroundings, preparing us to meet any emergency situations that arise.  He showed the connection between anxiety and the body state of arousal which is activated by centres in the limbic system of the brain.

dealing stress anxiety



4. Dealing with Stress & Anxiety: Getting the Balance Right

Emotions are adaptive responses that evolution has provided.  They serve to keep us safe, and get us through demanding situations.  We now know that we experience anxiety when cues associated with a possible danger have been perceived, but before we get an accurate picture of the real nature of the danger.

This is important, because, as Hans Selye, the famous stress researcher established, organisms perform best when subjected to moderate amounts of stress.  We need to be conscious of this, and avoid putting ourselves into states where the level of stress is so high as to be noxious, even possibly dangerous.  But by the same token, we need to find ways to avoid getting ourselves into a headspace where any amount of stress seems intolerable, as this, too,  is going to keep us out of the mainstream of our lives.

5. Don’t Just Smash the Warning Light

Self-acceptance and self-knowledge are the heart of depth psychotherapy, and have a lot to do with dealing with stress and anxiety in ways that work for us.  We have a choice to listen to the wisdom of the 2,000,000 year old man when it comes to stress and anxiety, or to ignore his wisdom and basically go to war with him.  That last thing is likely not going to go well.

Anxiety is like a flashing red warning light.  The best way to deal with such a flashing light is not to smash it, or just figure out how to turn it off, but to figure our why it has started to flash.

As Prof. Nesse puts it, “The capacities for anxiety and mood were shaped by natural selection because they have been useful….  [S]ome conditions that seem like diseases are actually defences.”

Our anxiety is telling us something essential about our lives.  If we can listen, hearing our own being and our unconscious mind, anxiety may well lead us toward something that can gives a greater sense of harmony and completeness in our lives.  However, there is no alternative to doing the hard work of getting inside our anxiety, understanding why it’s there, and how it actually affects us.

Finding ways to listen to our own being, and understanding what really motivates us, are key part of our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Dealing with Stress & Anxiety: Tips from Our Inner Neanderthal, 1

February 8th, 2016 · dealing stress anxiety

Dealing with stress and anxiety is a crucial topic in our time: do evolutionary and archetypal psychology have anything helpful to say about it?


Your Neanderthal consultant

Well, it turns out that they do.  Learning to acknowledge our anxiety, and to give it its appropriate due, is an important exercise in self-acceptance, as a part of psychotherapy.  It amounts to acceptance of part of what Jung would call our inner “2,000,000 year old person.”
Anxiety has evolved as part of our psyche for some pretty good reasons.  Just what exactly does it do for us?

1. You Need Your Anxiety

Much as many modern people feel that their lives are riddled with useless anxiety, the fact is, that we do genuinely need our anxiety to survive.  As psychiatrist Anthony Stevens puts it:

Psychiatric emphasis on anxiety as a classifiable “illness” has given rise to the erroneous belief, current through most of [the last 100 years], that anxiety is “neurotic” and that no well-adjusted person should expect to suffer from it.  In fact, the capacity to experience anxiety is indispensible to survival….  An animal without fear is a dead animal. [italics mine]

Evolution has developed anxiety as a means of helping organisms to survive and thrive.  In fact, anxiety is a special form of alertness that helps humans and most of our animal kin to register when there are changes in our environment, so that we can respond appropriately to any type of emergency that might arise.

In fact, evolutionary psychologists can demonstrate how irrational fears, or phobias, are linked to appropriately adaptive responses that have somehow been blown out of proportion.

dealing stress anxiety

2. Many Anxiety Disorders are Out-of-Order Forms of Adaptive Strategies

Depth psychotherapists well know that, when anxiety gets out of whack, it doesn’t help us to respond to situations properly.  Yet, even then, we can see how phobias get their start from an appropriate response that has a basis that facilitates our survival:

We need to deal with stress and anxiety in an appropriate and complete way, that accords with depth psychotherapy.  To do that requires coming to terms with parts of the psyche that are rooted in our evolution, and fixed in responses to the world that date right back to our early human and proto-human ancestors.  In speaking of contemporary research into anxiety and panic, Dr. Stevens tells us, “[All researchers] agree that the physiological and psychological components of anxiety, fear and panic galvanize an organism to adaptive action.”

3. Personal & Archetypal Dimensions of Dealing with Stress & Anxiety

A key concern for therapy, then, is to understand how stress and anxiety in the individual have been distorted into forms that keep them from helping to “galvanize an organism [ourselves!] to adaptive action.”  To understand that fully in the life of the individual means examining both the personal roots of their anxiety, and the ways that archetypal elements of the psyche come into play in that person’s particular situation, and understanding the role that all these factors play in our journey to wholeness.  We’ll be opening this up more in Part 2 of this post.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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What is My Life’s Work? — A Vital Second Half of Life Question

January 25th, 2016 · what is my life's work

“What is My Life’s Work?” might be a question we expect from those in their 20s, but it also matters in midlife transition and throughout the life cycle.

what is my life's work

It may not be obvious to everyone, but we have a life’s work — something that we do and live as an expression of who we most fundamentally are.  As James Hillman suggests in his book The Soul’s Code, there are things for each of us that are simply a natural expression of the inherent way we are in the world.  The trick is to keep others peoples’ images of ourselves, expectations and prejudices about us at enough of a distance that we can begin to see what it is that really expresses us.  And, as depth psychotherapy knows, there is another whose images, expectations and prejudices are potentially even more destructive — and that person is found right in the mirror.

The question “What is My Life’s Work?” only gains in importance as we move through adulthood:

Don’t Assume That It’s Your Career!

It would be a very big mistake to assume overly quickly that your life’s work is your career.  Some careers are true vocations; many are rather partial things.  Often people will like their career, or tolerate it, but that is not the same thing as finding oneself  in the grip of the passion of one’s life’s work.  The question “What is my life’s work?” is only answered when one feels that “Yes!  This is why I’m here!  I was born to do this!”  It may well take psychotherapy to help people find this place.

Don’t Assume It’s Over If You Retire

Some plan to retire, and have a life of relative leisure, living as if their “life’s work” is over.  However, as Jung put it, it’s good to retire, but not into nothing.  If retirement is to be good, it mustn’t just be fun.  It must be meaningful and engaging.  That means that there must be involvements in retirement that have soul in them.

Don’t Expect to Find It Just By Thinking About It

Answering the question”What is my life’s work?” is not going to be accomplished by just sitting around reflecting on it in the abstract.  It’s necessary to try things, to do things, to have experiences.  If you feel something beckoning to you through a feeling that it would be good, joyous or meaningful, then it’s essential that you go and do it.  Only by trying it will you know whether it’s truly you or not.  Your unconscious mind will have something to say on the subject, also.

Your Life’s Work May be the Same Thing as “You”

Sometimes, a person’s life work may be something they do so easily or naturally that it doesn’t seem to have particular significance.  I can think of a letter carrier who used to deliver mail in my area, a man with such a natural gift for connection with others that everyone in the area knew his name.  I don’t think that he was aware, but I believe that his uncanny capacity to bring about connection may have been his life’s work.

what is my life's work

Wholeness and the Self

The call to wholeness may have a great deal to do with our life’s work.  That which we do with a natural creativity, and that continually opens new doors may be both our life’s work and a key part of our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Hope for Uncertain Times: the Deep Self & Major Life Transitions

January 18th, 2016 · hope uncertain times

Yes, hope, and specifically “hope for uncertain times” is again a very relevant topic, given the financial uncertainty and overall social churn 2016 has so far exhibited.

hope uncertain times
Economic fluctuation, chaos and dysfunction seem to flood the news media, and sometimes seem to crowd out hope-giving and empowering messages.  Often, these larger scale events seem to combine with personal issues and personal life transitions, such as divorce, changes in employment status, health issues, issues with children, loss of loved ones, and a myriad of others, which can be matters of very major importance to those undergoing them.
Depth psychotherapy has a different concept of personal identity, which is based on the wholeness of the individual, both conscious and unconscious, as the slide show below explains:


Is there any way that this broader concept of the self can help us in facing the challenges of current day existence, and finding hope for uncertain times like these?

hope uncertain times

Psychological Resilience in Major Life Transitions

One of the best sources of psychological resilience is a sense of security in a rooted sense of identity.  But there is the problem, because undergoing a major life transition may lead us to a crisis of identity.  A social role, or a certain understanding of ourselves, as family member, parent, employee, member of a certain community may be brought into question by a life transition.

Example: Jan, a native of Halifax, has had to move 4 times in the last 12 years, in order to keep the job she has with a trans-national corporation.  These jobs have taken her to 4 countries on 3 continents.  “Every time I put down roots, and start to get comfortable, it’s time to pull up stakes and move again!  I just start to know some of the parents at my kids’ schools — and then it’s time to go.”  In the midst of these job changes, Jan retains a certain continuity as an employee, but she never gets to feel a real sense of attachment to a community, or have a circle of permanent friends.

One question that Jan’s situation poses is, what is my real identity?  Also, where do I really belong?  Jan is fully aware that her identity does not consist in the connection to the particular community that she’s living in.

The unconscious mind is continually seeking to put before us symbols and indicators of our real identity and the things that we most richly value, through our dreams, our reactions to other people, our unconscious responses to situations, and in still other ways.  An important part of the work of depth psychotherapy is to make the individual aware of these indicators, and to help him or her to become grounded in them.

Hope in Our Uncertainty

The conscious mind is subject to continual shifts in the chances and changes of our uncertain situation.  Very often, it’s overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the demands and the complexities of life in our uncertain time.  The instinctual and intuitive side of our being brings us into contact with a whole other dimension of ourselves, grounding us in parts of our inner reality that often go beyond our language and the reasoning parts of the psyche.

Sticking with What Matters

A key part of our journey is finding out what really matters to us as individuals, and living it out.  Another important element is responding to life situations in a way that accords with our deepest selves.  Both of these things are connected with having hope for uncertain times, and are rooted in the essential aims of depth psychotherapy.


Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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4 Non-Obvious Thoughts about Hope and the New Year

January 11th, 2016 · hope and the new year

It’s common to associate hope and the New Year.  Yet, as 2016 dawns, we know we live in an era of huge life transitions and challenges, individually, nationally and globally.

hope and the new year

                                Art by Andrew Junge – “Pandora’s Box”

Hope is a vitally important feeling state. Studies link hope to: good health; finding life meaningful ; and, all kinds of academic and athletic performance.  Prof. C.R. Snyder  and other researchers have shown that hopeful people value themselves more, take better care of their bodies, and have higher pain tolerance and resiliency.

Here’s four thoughts on hope and the New Year.

Hope Isn’t Just “Optimism”

At least, not in any short-term sense. Optimism tends to be about a certain result occurring, often in the short run.  But hope is not dependent on short term outcomes.  Hope tends to be less rational, less cut and dried.  Even when it’s not immediately apparent how, hope is convinced that life will bring good things to the self.

Hope Is Not Just “Making Plans”

Certain types of psychology emphasize defining or perceiving hope in relationship to the number and type of plans for the future.  Again, this would seem to be more of a measure of optimism, and to be very centred on the plans and projects of the ego.  And sometimes frenetic plan-making can be indicative of the opposite of hope: despair.

Hope is about my expectation that the self will survive intact, and continue to grow and thrive, and that value and meaning will survive and thrive, also.

hope and the new year

Hope and Trust Go Together

Depth psychotherapy lives in the awareness that hope and trust go together.  Psychological theorists have long maintained that the essential conflict in the earliest stages of life is trust vs. mistrust.  This revolves at first around feeding and nutrition, and the infant getting its needs met.  As the world proves predictable and responsive to the child’s needs, so the child will grow into a stance of trust.  Out of this position of trust, it becomes possible for the young human to hope.

As the life journey continues the question of trust will continue, in ever more elaborate ways.  As the child is loved and cared for, and is positively mirrored by the world, the sense of trust will grow, and deeper and more profound types of trust in the world, and hope for the possibilities in life will become rooted.

Love, the sense of positive valuation by others, and the sense of being seen for who he or she really is give the child the possibility of feeling real, as the psychoanalysts might say.  This awareness goes hand in hand with what we can call basic trust in life, and an overall attitude of hope towards the possibilities in life.

Jung took this further.  He emphasized the need to become as conscious as possible of everything that we are, of our own wholeness.  By doing this, we become as aware as we can of  our own reality, and, through connection to both instinct and spirit, to ultimately feel connected to the world, and like we belong in it.  From a Jungian perspective, this is what ultimately grounds hope.

There’s Good and Bad Hope

Hope has an archetypal, and mythic, aspect.  In the Greek myth of Pandora, she opens her box or jar, she releases all the plagues and woes that beset humankind.  Only one thing remains in the bottom of the box: Elpis, the Greek daimon of hope.

Why does hope remain?  Why is it in there in first place?  Is hope a curse?  The answer is, it can be, if it’s delusory, compulsive hope that, say, keeps one “looking for love in all the wrong places”, rather than a hope rooted in a basic trust of oneself and of the goodness of life.  Helping a person get to the latter is the core business of the depth psychotherapist.

Wishing you Happy New Year, and the fullness of  good hope for 2016!


Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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The Healing of Yule: Winter Solstice Symbolism & Wholeness

December 21st, 2015 · winter solstice symbols

My last post focussed on Holiday Depression and Stress , but there’s also a genuine representation of healing embodied in the winter solstice symbolism of the Yule.

winter solstice symbols

                  Yule Log – Symbol of the Return of the Sun

Yule, the ancient festival associated with the time of the winter solstice, contains symbols of wholeness that are native to the traditions of ancient Northern Europe, but which are also found throughout varied cultures of the world.  From a depth psychotherapy perspective, much of this symbolism appears to be rooted in themes deep within the human psyche (which Jungians would call archetypal.)

The Yule; The Wheel

The term “Yule” originally meant “wheel” and the Yule season was associated with the ending and beginning of a rotation of the wheel of the year, the year being viewed as both starting and beginning at the time of the winter solstice, and rotating through the various seasons and the signs of the zodiac.  Below is a picture of the pre-Christian North European year as viewed as a “yule” or wheel, and beginning and ending with the Yule season:

winter solstice symbolism

Wheel symbolism is very ancient, and especially the imaging of the heavens as a wheel.  As shown by the famous Medicine Wheels of the Plains First Nations of North America, it long predates the actual physical wheel, as archeologist John Freeman relates of the famous Majorville, AB medicine wheel, in his book Canada’s Stonehenge.

winter solstice symbols

                  Medicine Wheel, Bighorn, Wyoming

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, the wheel shares in the symbolism of the circle, which is itself the most basic form of mandala, or symbol of wholeness.  The wheel symbolizes eternity; the revolving heavens, and at the center, beyond the rotating perimeter, something that does not move.

The Yule as the Wheel of the Year is a symbol of all that moves and changes in the nature of the Self, and also of the fact that there is something constant and unchanging, right at the heart of our being.

The Tree

The Christmas tree, as an evergreen, symbolizes enduring and renewed life, and can also be a symbol of fertility and immortality.  Furthermore, what we know as a “Christmas tree” is actually a a tree associated with the Nordic Yule, and it symbolizes the Yggdrasil from Norse mythology.

winter solstice symbolism

                                     World Tree

The Yggdrasil is the world tree.  It consists of the whole of the universe as the Nordics conceived of it, including the realm of the giants, the realm of the gods, and the realm that we call home.  This idea of an enormous tree that holds the entire universe is not unique to the Norse.  It is found in many cultural contexts around the world.

For Jung and later depth psychotherapists, the tree is also a symbol of the Self.  In myth, humans often transform into trees, and there are many ways in which trees and humans resemble each other.  Trees have upright trunks; we have upright backbones.  The image of the tree that grows from a small seed or acorn into an enormity is often an image of the human journey of growth and individuation.

So, each “yuletide”, we bring this symbol of growth and individuation in our homes.  As we travel the wheel of the year, and return to this place, we are reminded of our own resilience, the places in our lives where decay is followed by renewal, and the growth toward what it is that we really, fundamentally, are.

Journey toward our true identity is at the core of depth psychotherapy.

With best Holiday wishes,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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4 Empowering Perspectives on Holiday Depression and Stress

December 14th, 2015 · holiday depression and stress

Every psychotherapist knows that holiday depression and stress are a prominent feature of the lives of many at this time of year.

 holiday depression and stress
Usually that’s seen as something that people just must endure.
But is there a possibility of something that would actually give life in the midst of holiday depression and stress?

Compassion and Insight into Myself at the Holidays

At this time of giving and preoccupation with the wants and needs of others, we all need a very healthy sense of compassion for ourselves.  It’s very important to recognize that the holidays can be quite hard on people.

Many have had difficult experiences associated with the holidays.  Family conflict, negative experiences with addictions, marital breakup or grief over the loss of a loved one are only a few examples.

If I find myself having negative or dark feelings over the holidays, I need to acknowledge that in a kind way, without feeling pathological or wrong. Therapists also know that the compulsive joyousness of the holidays can feel like salt in the wounds of those who might be hurting.

What if I Quit Resisting My Holiday Depression?

It may be important for many people to acknowledge how difficult the holidays are for them, and just to feel it, rather than fighting it. What would it be like, if, instead of resisting the feelings of depression or overstress, I just acknowledge and accept them, without any sense of self blame or self attack? For some, it might bring a feeling of something like relief or liberation.  As Jungian analyst June Singer has it, “psychotherapy can help the person to gain an understanding of the depressive attitude, to work with it, and eventually to transcend it.”

What Do I Need to Release, in my Holiday Stress and Depression?

Depth psychotherapists are aware that often, at the heart of depression, the client needs to release, or let go. It may be an acknowledgement that something that the individual clings to is lost forever, or an obsolete identity or self understanding.  Sometimes, we have to find a way to make peace with the ghosts of the past, and release them.

holiday depression and stress

It’s not by accident that the process of renewal in the life of Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge begins with the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge has to acknowledge painful things in the past that need to be released. And it’s only by that release that the energy or life that has been caught up and frozen in the loss of those precious things is freed to move into a new form, and a new identity.

Example: a woman grieved her childhood experience of Christmas, which was about material excess, emotional emptiness and loneliness. She came to find a joy and vitality in celebrating a Christmas with minimal material trappings, connections with genuinely meaningful people, and non-traditional meals and activities.

Is Something Vital Hidden in my Holiday Stress and Depression?

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, at the heart of most depression is something that the individual is working on at the unconscious level.  The holidays are a time to watch dreams, and look for creative stirrings.  Within holiday sorrow may be the stirring of new life that wants to be born.

Depth psychotherapy is concerned with finding the life often locked in the frozen heart of depression.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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False Self vs. True Self: 5 Second Half of LIfe Realities, B

December 7th, 2015 · false self vs. true self

In Part A, we examined the core issue of false self vs. true self, our deep inner drive to express the true self, and the central importance of that drive at midlife.

false self vs. true self

In this post we’ll examine the central importance of wholeness, and acknowledging who we fully are, as a means of distinguishing false self vs. true self, and, look at attitudes that open the door to the gradual emergence of the true self.

It’s easy to assume that we know all there is to know about our true selves.  Yet generally this amounts to the ego only knowing the ego. It’s when we start to be aware of the aspects of ourselves that are disturbing, surprising and sometimes downright not what we want, that the real journey of self-knowledge begins to open up in front of us.

Often that journey involves the emergence from the unconscious mind, by dreams and other means, of symbols of wholeness.

Wholeness and Images of the Self

The unconscious puts many images in front of us to symbolize the fullness and completeness that is calling us toward greater knowledge of the true self.  Depth psychotherapists know they’re limitless in number, but here are some of the key symbols:

These images draw us.  We may find ourselves drawing them, literally.  If we look, we may even find that these images appear within our dreams.

Self Acceptance and the Later Life Journey

In dealing with the question of false self vs. true self, and authenticity, much depends on our attitude, and whether we can accept the self that emerges, as we discover more about ourselves.

But do we even want to know about some aspects of ourselves?  Elements of the self may well not be very acceptable to our egoss.  Yet  finding a way somehow to tolerate them, to be compassionate to ourselves and to allow them to emerge may be essential for our development.

For example: a person may have sexual fantasies that aren’t acceptable to the ego.  Yet, those sexual fantasies may actually contain something really precious, connected to the soul’s deepest yearnings.  The same may be true of feelings of resentment, envy, sadness or many other types of feelings.  Doing this type of what we call shadow work is an essential part of self discovery in depth psychotherapy.  As Andrew Samuels tells us, “To admit the shadow is to break its compulsive hold.’

false self vs. true self

Here I Am

Some therapists have trouble with the idea of psychological wholeness.  Yet, in psychological work, there is very often a “felt sense” of when we are gaining a greater and more complete kind of awareness of who we are.  There are often feelings of relief that accompy a greater sense of acceptance of who we really are, and of the need to no longer defend ourselves against it.

When we show up as authentically ourselves, there is often a feeling of rightness about this.  Depth psychotherapy starts from the place that, however difficult it is to know some aspects of ourselves, it is infinitely better to know than not to know, always, but especially in the second half of life.


Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © isterik32  ; Self-portrait and portrait by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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False Self vs. True Self: 5 Second Half of Life Realities A

November 30th, 2015 · false self vs. true self

As people move through the middle of life, the false self vs. true self distinction becomes more and more meaningful.

false self vs. true self

The false self vs. true self distinction is always important — and certainly always important in depth psychotherapy.  Yet, as one moves through life, the question of “how can I be my authentic self?” starts to grow more and more urgent.

Now, why is that?  Probably for many reasons, but one fundamentally compelling one is that there seems to be something deep within us that is convinced that a key part of the reason that we exist is to express who and what we most fundamentally are.

To help us understand this, the archetypal psychologist James Hillman quotes the ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus:


Well, what does that mean?

False Self vs. True Self: the Real Goods

The true self begins to appear very early in our lives, as we experience our bodily life and begin to express ourselves in our early life world.  We simply are, and we express ourselves in a way that flows spontaneously from the core of our being.

false self vs. true self

However, the child can easily absorb the message from the world that their spontaneous self is not very welcome.  We can get the message that the family or other environments are requiring us to “edit” and “censor” ourselves and our genuine reactions.  As Winnicott pointed out, when that happens, the infant’s spontaneity is in danger of being encroached on by the need for compliance with other’s wishes and expectations.

These expectations can become so powerful that they supercede our original genuine and spontaneous sense of self, and flood the self with anxiety.

The individual can be left with a sense of inner emptiness within an outer social shell that appears independent and self motivated.  This is the false self to which Winnicott and others refer.  Jungians often refer to this as the individual being identified with his or her persona.

We Often Don’t Know The True Self

It can often be that, by the time and individual reaches the middle of life’s journey, they have been reflexively meeting the social expectations of others for so long, and so completely that they can no longer distinguish what is truly part of the self, from the false self or persona they have constructed to meet the demands of the world. This would be a situation of strong identification with the persona.

Often, when this situation occurs, it is reflected in the appearance of shadow figures in the dream life of the individual. Dark or aggressive individuals may appear. They may be pounding on the door, they may slip in as burglars, or they may arrive in a myriad of other ways. We know that when they do, there are repressed or dissociated parts of the self, often having to do with strong feelings, that are trying to make themselves part of conscious awareness.

Example:  A female clergyperson, long conditioned to meet the expectations of parishioners to be “nice” and “unselfish”, has a long series of dreams where she is locked in a church, and outside, bikers and thugs are breaking in the doors, and smashing the stained glass, trying to get in.  Ongoing depth psychotherapy work allowed her to explore and stand up for her own desires and needs.

In the second part of this post, we’ll be exploring ways that depth psychotherapy opens up the consciousness of false self vs. true self, and facilitates the journey into the undiscovered self, especially through symbols and images of the Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © kate hiscock ; Afshin Darian ; Miran Rijavec
© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)