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Immigrating to Canada: a Multi-Generation Major Life Transition

May 2nd, 2016 · immigrating to canada

The experience of my psychotherapy clients clearly shows that immigrating to Canada, or, really, anywhere, is a very major life transition.

immigrating to canada

Also, there are frequently equally profound life transitions that figure prominently in the lives of the children of immigrants.  Immigrating to Canada can have a very sizable psychological impact on those who immigrate, their children, and even their children’s children.

Immigration as a Stressor

Like very many Canadians, I’m the child of immigrants.  My parents experienced the process of immigration to Canada as one of the most stressful events in their lives — and they were immigrating to Canada from the United Kingdom, one of the more culturally similar of places.

Canada is a nation of immigrants, yet the immigration process is full of enormous stressors.  It begins with the process of saying good bye and letting go of so much of one’s life in the country of origin.  Such a loss must be grieved, and sometimes leads to depression.

Often immigrants make hard decisions about what to leave behind.  Many possessions cannot make the trip.  Even more difficult is the experience of leaving people and places associated with important memories behind.

immigrating to canada


Depth psychotherapists know that feeling safe is a primary psychological need  It’s a primary issues for those immigrating to Canada.  Safety takes a number of forms.

First there is the basic question of physical safety.  Many immigrants in times past, and at present, have had to struggle on arrival to get and keep the basic necessities of life — appropriate housing, for instance.

Also, for some, there is the very real question of feeling a sense of psychological safety.  In some cases, immigrants may come from war zones, or from other situations that have left them with truly traumatic experiences.

Then, there is the broader question of economic safety over the long term.  The ability to find suitable and sufficiently lucrative work to ensure a reasonably secure future.  Stress about money, and the sense of having less than is the norm in Canadian culture may lead to a pervasive, and difficult to escape, sense of deprivation.


Beyond mere safety, the immigrant faces the huge question of belonging and fitting in.

Acculturation is the term used for the psychological change that results following the individual’s introduction into a new culture.  It refers to the very demanding, and very individual process of the individual coming to terms with the culture that they find themselves immersed in, and includes the degree to which the individual adapts to the new culture and/or retains certain valuable aspects of their original culture.  This is connected with psychologically vital issues such as food, language and culture.  Sorting all of this out is an extremely demanding and potentially stressful experience.

Connected with acculturation, regrettably those immigrating to Canada may face discrimination. Prof. P. Nangia has studied and documented extensive discrimination faced by landed immigrants in Canada in the media, the workplace, stores, banks, at the border and many other places.  The struggle to overcome these attitudes may have a profound effect on  immigrants — and an even profounder effect on their children.

The experience of the children of those immigrating to Canada around belonging will vary greatly, and will have a huge connection to the experience in their particular family, the specifics of the social setting in which they find themselves, and their particular individual characteristics.

The depth psychotherapist is aware that, for these children of immigrants, born at the interface between two cultures, there are archetypal issues that are equally deep, and quite possibly deeper, in some ways, than those experienced by their parents.  In particular, the second generation immigrant may confront in profound ways the question “Where is home?” and also the nature of the individual’s life journey, finding his or her unique way between two different worlds.

The process of depth psychotherapy may well shed essential light on this precious individual journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Performance Anxiety at Work: Persona & Soul

April 26th, 2016 · performance anxiety at work

At this point in time, performance anxiety at work is pretty pervasive.  More people than ever before feel high levels of pressure and demand in the workplace.

performance anxiety at work

As we face the demands of 21st century work, we can easily start to pressure ourselves.  It’s easy to end up questioning whether you’re performing at the requisite level, — or even just outright living in the fear that you’re not.

Can I Perform?

In our time, as psychotherapists know, most workplaces are places of ever-increasing, ever-changing expectations for employees.  It’s fairly easy for employees to feel that their performance, and, in fact, everything that they do, is under intense scrutiny.  This can make us anxious and fearful.

We can fear scrutiny on several levels.  There is the question of just feeling competent at the tasks in our job description.  With ever increasing expectations, it would be the rare human being who never questioned his or her own competence.  On another level, in many organizations, the politics of the environment may be complex and difficult to negotiate, and staying on the right side of power can be a task that requires considerable effort and skill.

The Tyranny of Persona

It’s important for us to be conscious of our workplace persona.  For depth psychotherapy, the persona is our social self, the self we show to those with whom we work.  It functions both as a mask, concealing our true selves and true feelings, and also as a sort of window, allowing others to see those parts of our true selves that we allow, consciously or unconsciously, to come into the work place.

A lot depends on how we sit with our persona in the workplace.  Let’s say I’m a software engineer.  I could choose to be totally identified with that role.  In that case, everything — every last little shred of self-esteem I have, for instance — may hang upon how those I work with view me, or how the organization as a whole views me, as a software engineer.  If I’m given a poor performance rating, my self-esteem may be down the drain.  If I get a great evaluation, my self-esteem may be over the moon — but I will still depend completely on those who evaluate me for positive self-esteem.

So a lot hinges on how tightly or loosely I cling to my work persona.  The more I cling to my workplace professional identity, the more likely I am to have performance anxiety at work.

performance anxiety at work

Soul and Work, Anxiety and Individuation

Social psychologist Prof. Henri Tajfel (1979) of Bristol explained how social groups have an innate need to establish belonging by dividing the world into “them” and “us”.  The pressure to continually prove that one is one of the in group in a work place will always be there to feed our anxiety.

But, what would it be like to gain our identity from somewhere other than the work place?

I know some people in their 20s and 30s who are very fond of the singer Regina Spektor.  One of her songs seems very apt here:


Perfomance anxiety at work might actually be the impetus to lead us to a deeper exploration of our unique identity.  This can lead us to a much deeper understanding of our unique story and individual being than we can ever hope to obtain by fusing with our workplace persona.

The discovery of this deeper identity is a key part of the process that depth psychotherapists refer to as individuation.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Controlling My Impulses: Return of the Repressed After Midlife

April 18th, 2016 · controlling my impulses

“Controlling My Impulses” — such an emotionally charged phrase.  Often it assumes great importance in midlife and the second half of life.

controlling my impulses

For people who see themselves as moral, psychologically normal people, these powerful impulses can be surprising, even shocking.  The struggle with controlling my impulses in the second half of life often has to do with what Dr. Murray Stein calls “the return of the repressed.”  These impulses usually begin in the unconscious mind, and the individual becomes subject to “a compulsive and unconsciously determined set of actions.”  This can be disturbing, and even dangerous.
Example.  Mary has an uncontrollable impulse to steal cosmetics when she goes to department stores in Toronto.  She is married to a prominent politician, has the reputation of being a good mother, is embarrassed and ashamed of this behaviour and terrified at the prospect of getting caught.  Mary has no understanding of why she does it, when she could easily afford the items in question.  She is starting to feel as if the whole underpinning of her life is giving way…

Controlling My Impulses in the Second Half of Life

This example might seem extreme, almost melodramatic.  Granted, it’s at the more serious end of the spectrum, yet wrestling with such a distressing impulse is not uncommon.  Why might controlling my impulses become such a pressing issue, as I move into midlife, and later life?

Individuals often lose touch in some fundamental ways with who they are in terms of needs, hopes and aspirations in what Jung called “the first adulthood” — that is, adult life leading up to midlife.  We can be so intent on “doing the right thing”, and on “being good”, in the sense of putting ourselves and our true needs and wishes last, after spouse and spouse’s career, children, parents, and all the myriad other demands, that we lose our way.  Usually, this loss of direction, satisfaction and meaning is not something that the unconscious mind will just take lying down.

The Return of the Repressed After Midlife

The result, very often, is what Jungian psychotherapists like Stein refers to as the “return of the repressed”.  By this, is meant the return of some repressed piece of the personality, as opposed to just the repression of some unacceptable thought or quirky motivation.  The compulsion to steal described above isn’t rooted in just a bad impulse to take the pretty lipstick.  It is a symbollic representation of the inmost part of the person, the soul, if you like, that is trying to get something that it needs.  The soul is trying to heal itself. 

controlling my impulses

How is Psyche Trying to Heal Itself?

After half a lifetime or more of ignorring our own needs and our deepest yearnings, and/or just reflexively people-pleasing, the thing that stops me from controlling my impulses may be a cry for help from the deepest part of me.  Or a warning shot, fending me off from loss of soul.

Psychotherapists know that the voice of the shadow may be heard in some very strong impulses, some of which can be quite dangerous:

  • Kleptomania, as an expression of some yearning deep within us;
  • Anger or rage, as an expression of a need to defend the boundaries of the self;
  • Driving irresponsibily, as possibly an expression of a deep yearning for freedom; or,
  • Compulsive sexuality, as an expression of deep yearnings for love, for union, for abandonment, or many other things.

There are many other possible impulses, as well. The way is very individual.

The unconscious seeks to heal itself.  It is wise, but cannot put its wisdom into practice without the help and cooperation of our conscious selves.

Often, the journey of depth psychotherapy into the depths, and contact wth the basic energies of our lives, is our true need.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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What is the Unconscious Mind — and Why Should You Care?

April 11th, 2016 · what is the unconscious mind

What is the unconscious mind?  Is it just a woolly idea… or does it make some kind of concrete difference to your real life?

what is the unconscious mind

Like an Iceberg, Most of the Mind is Below the Surface

Depth psychotherapists emphasize what’s going on “in the unconscious.”  Well, where the heck is that?  And how does what goes on there make any real difference?  To answer “What is the unconscious mind?” we first need to be aware that…

…The Unconscious is Largely Inaccessible to the Ego

“The ego” is that part of the mind that you’re consciously aware of, that’s subject to the control of your will.  It’s mostly what we know of our minds.

Yet, the ego is not the sum total of your mind.  Modern neuroscience shows us that a huge amount goes on in the unconscious parts of the brain.  James Bursley, David Cresswell and colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University’s Scientific Imaging and Brain Research Center used MRIs to establish that unconscious thought and decision-making really does occur in the brain.  This supported the research of Prof. Dijksterhuis (Radboud University, Nijmegen) on unconscious thought and decision-making.  As Bursley tells us,

…the idea of the brain processing complex information unconsciously is hardly new: Freud and Jung posited a complex unconscious… mind [which influences] our conscious thoughts and behavior. With elegant continuity, then, modern techniques in neuroscience and psychology are beginning to reveal the brain’s unconscious inner workings, bringing today’s scientists… face-to-face with the progenitors of our field.

As depth psychotherapists assert, the unconscious exists.  It “thinks” and influences us as part of our mind — beyond conscious control.

what is the unconscious mind

The Unconscious Has Its Own Characteristic Ways of Functioning

Jung, and some other depth psychotherapists believed that the unconscious possesses a special kind of knowledge, and even of thought.  The evidence tends to confirm that this is correct.  As psychiatrist and researcher Erik Goodwyn, surveying the scientific literature on “unconscious systems” puts it,

Unconscious systems are therefore capable of perception, symbolic processing, social judgment and motivated action, which becomes “activated” by the internal or external environment, and… works to orient and bias conscious processing [italics mine] to “serve its own ends” so to speak.

This means that the purposes of the conscious mind are strongly influenced by the unconscious — for its own purposes.  This is something we should care about.

what is the unconscious mind

The Unconscious is Primarily Creative

The unconscious is not just a pit of refuse, as Freud often seemed to believe.  Rather, as archetypal depth psychotherapy affirms, the “sake” or reason something happens in the unconscious is to further the expression and meaning of a person’s individual life.

If the conscious mind is working at cross purposes to the unconscious mind, however, the result can be chaos and stagnation, even decay.  It’s essential for the conscious ego to understand the concerns and purposes of the unconscious, and to align itself with these more fundamental goals.

Example.  Sue’s in Corporate Finance.  She’s worked long and hard, learning her field and working tirelessly to get ahead.  She’s succeeded, but at the cost of her health, her relationships and badly disrupted sleep. When she remembers dreams, they’re of titanic struggles and battles, where she is defending against huge, overwhelming armies.  Yet, in recent dreams, the opposing army’s battering ram is gradually breaking down the main gate of her castle.

Psychotherapeutic work revealed that Sue had deep conflicts between her conscious goals, and what the unconscious was actually seeking.

Depth psychotherapy is concerned with understanding the voices of the unconscious, and aligning the conscious ego with its underlying creative purposes.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Dealing with Death of a Parent

April 4th, 2016 · dealing with death of a parent

Dealing with death of a parent in adulthood is a process that often fundamentally alters the lives of those who experience it.

dealing with death of a parent

Psychotherapists know that experiences of the death of a parent will vary widely.  In this post, we’ll confine ourselves to the situation of adults losing a parent.  But, even so, there’s immense variation in peoples’ experience.  Furthermore, as University of California psychologist Robert E. Kavanagh reminds us, there is great importance for us in being honest about our unique emotional response in the face of death.


Forms of Grief

dealing with death of a parent

Adult loss of a parent takes many forms, and many, but not all occur during the mid-life transition or later.

Now, certainly, an adult may experience the loss of one or more parents while still relatively young, often with a great sense of  loss, grief — and unfairness.

Or, perhaps the parent may pass away in later life, possibly after a short illness, leaving us with a grateful sense that he or she lived a good, long life.

Then again, there are many instances where the person passes after a prolonged difficult physical illness or after suffering from a debilitating condition such as dementia/alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s, or Parkinson’s disease.  Such a condition may require intense care-giving, and may result in burn-out, exhaustion or illness, and/or even in outright trauma in an adult child who is a care-giver.

In any of these cases, the adult child undergoing the experience will likely feel that they have undergone a major life transition.

Loss of the Same Sex Parent

In particular, loss of the same sex parent can have a profound effect.

In important ways, the child models her- or himself, consciously and unconsciously on the same sex parent.  This means that her/his persona, the way he/she presents to the world, has been formed greatly by the same sex parent.  It also means that the shadow, those parts of ourselves that we prefer not to acknowledge, has similar linkages and congruities to the way that our parent was with us, and the way that we perceived them interact with others.

In the loss of a same sex parent, the individual may end up acutely feeling his or her own mortality.  It can be as if we see a kind of an image of our own passing, in the same sex parent.  It may also mean that we feel a certain sense of aloneness in the world.

dealing with death of a parent

The Orphan Archetype

If the parent who has passed away is the last living parent of the individual, this may be the occasion of the activation of the orphan archetype.  The individual may confront aspects of him- or herself that are like an abandoned child.  As James Hillman tells us, this

…implies a collapse into the infantile realm of the child.  Our strong, ego-centered consciousness fears nothing more than just such a collapse.

Yet such an emergence of the adandoned child in us may be just what we need. It can be very hard to feel such aloneness, and to feel that we now exist fully in our own right in the world.  Yet, simultaneously, it can mean that we have the chance to determine our own direction in life, and to live out our own most basic passions, in a way that is truly and uniquely our own.  Grief and the opportunity to live out our own legacy may be woven together.

Dreams and the Reality of Death

Depth psychotherapy recognizes that it’s not unusual or abnormal to encounter a deceased parent in our dreams.  Certainly dreamwork seems to have some important connections with the ways that we undergo the process of grief work.  Dreams of our parents may also have very important roles in the individuation process, as we work through the true — and often very complex — meaning of who a parent was for us, and the impact they have had on us, in both conscious and unconscious ways.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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The Meaning of Severe Situational Depression: 4 Solid Insights

March 28th, 2016 · severe situational depression

Severe situational depression differs from clinical depression, but psychotherapists know it can greatly impact the individual who is experiencing it.

severe situational depression

Often, today, the attention of the public and of the media is on long-term, chronic depression, which truly is a serious issue.  However, we can often lose sight of the fact that an intense situational depression can have a huge impact on a person’s life.  Here are four solid insights around coping with severe situational depression.

1.  Just Because Depression is Situational, Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Severe

We tend to contrast depression that is caused by some specific event or situation in our lives with “clinical depression”, the on-going depression that can be a nearly constant factor in the lives of those who struggle with it.  While clinical depression is often severe, it would be a mistake to think that there is no such thing as severe situational depression.

Severe situational depression exists because severe situations exist, such as job loss, difficult marital breakdowns, failure or setback in a major life goal, serious illness in a child, loss of a loved one.  Any of these or many other circumstances can lead us into a situational depression that is severe, and that finds us asking very major questions about our lives.

2.  Severe Situational Depression Needs Attention — Not A “Stiff Upper Lip”

severe situational depression

“Solitary Stoic Soldiering” Won’t Help!

Because situational depression stems from something that has happened to us, it’s easy to tell ourselves to “just toughen up.”  We often feel that we should be able to simply power through these kind of setbacks by strength of will alone.  On the other hand, we may tell ourselves that no one is going to be able to understand or feel what it is that we’ve been through, and so we just stay silent.  These attitudes are widely present in our culture, but given the kind of socialization that boys receive, they are particularly prevalent amongst men.

Yet, it may not be easy or even possible to “power through” the wounds and the feelings that lie behind situational depression.  Often, it’s essential to open up to another, in a safe environment such as therapy for depression, as  a way of moving forward.

3.  Severe Situational Depression May Well be Telling You Something Important About Your Life

The meaning of severe situational depression may not be what it initially appears.  When a life event triggers severe situational depression, the depression is often connected to other important factors in life, and to the core ways in which we perceive and understand ourselves.  It can be very important to examine the depression, and what it might be “saying to us” about how we approach our lives as a whole, especially where major life transitions are concerned.

4.  Situational Depression Has An Unconscious Dimension

Often, severe situational depression can be connected to important and powerful things going on in the unconscious mind.  Prof. Calvin Colarusso, of U. California, San Diego, and others have documented how deeply held beliefs and experiences in the unconscious mind can have a profound impact on depression that occurs when our life situation changes.  Getting to the bottom of these unconscious factors can often enable the individual to move beyond the depression, and may bring very significant change to how the individual approaches life.

A severe situational depression may be more than just a liability or an obstacle.  If dealt with appropriately, it may open important doors in a life, and show the way to renewal, as depth psychotherapists such as Jungian analysts are well aware.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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“I Feel Trapped in My Life”: A Common Midlife Sentiment, Part 2

March 21st, 2016 · i feel trapped my life

As we saw in Part 1, “I Feel Trapped in My Life” is an all-too-common sentiment in the second half of life.  People very often feel the need for some difficult-to-define kind of freedom.

i feel trapped my life

It’s all good to “normalize” the feeling, to recognize that many people, to varying degrees encounter this feeling at some time in their lives from the late 30s on.   But other than just passively bearing the feeling, how should we react to it?  What can we possibly do about it?  Can we possibly get beyond the sense that life is an inescapable trap in the second half or life, or, are we just — stuck with it?
i feel trapped my life


To a Certain Extent, the Feeling of Being Trapped is Unavoidable

To a certain extent, the sense I have that I feel trapped in my life is an unavoidable one.  Life, by its nature, confronts us with endless choices between mutually exclusive options.  If I take a job in Toronto, I can’t simultaneously be working at a job in Sydney, Australia, to choose an extreme example.  Every time I make such a choice, I cut off one or more possibilities.  On the one hand, it can feel like being trapped.  On the other hand, if we never decide anything, we never are able to live out anything — which is an even worse trap!

Can You Accept The Flow of Life?

Depth psychotherapists know that one of the crucial parts of the life journey is accepting where it is that life has taken us, when these are things that occur and we have no control over them — the whole range of fateful happenings that we didn’t plan, and that didn’t want.  They can range from the merely undesirable, straight through those things that are completely devastating.  The most difficult of these things are such that no human being could feel glad about them — or understand why they occurred.  You probably have your own examples, but premature loss of a loved one, and the life-changing illness of a child would be two profound examples.

While it can never take the wound away, there is an important and profound kind of healing that occurs when the individual is able to accept in a fundamental way what has occurred.  When the individual can simply let what has happened be, and stop resisting it.  In my experience, such acceptance tends to happen most frequently in the second half of life.



The Great Journey of Self Acceptance

Depth psychotherapy is aware that, combined with these two issues, is the great journey of self-acceptance that Jungian psychotherapists like Robert A. Johnson call shadow work.  One of the things that can trap us most completely is an inability to accept, or even acknowledge those parts of ourselves that do not fit well with our self-understanding, or the ways in which we feel that we “should” or “ought” to be.  Very often these aspects of ourselves will appear in our dreams, in situations where we feel ourselves gripped by compulsions,

Working with the shadow can bring a great sense of freedom.  Having compassion and acceptance for the wounded and unacceptable parts of who we are can oftentimes open new possibilities in our lives.  The shadow, which we often repress so hard, may often be a source of genuine creativity, when it comes into dialogue with the conscious self.

“I Feel Trapped in My Life” — But Paradoxically, A Journey May Await

In midlife and the second half of life, meaning and movement in our lives may well come from sources that are different than we might expect.  Accepting who and what we are as fully as possible may well bring us to a surprising renewal.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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“I Feel Trapped in My Life”: A Common Midlife Sentiment

March 14th, 2016 · i feel trapped my life

“I Feel Trapped in My Life” — Have you ever said this to yourself?  It’s a sentiment to which many people in midlife and later can relate.

feeling trapped my life

Depth psychotherapists know that these feelings will be recognizable to many in various life stages, but they can become overwhelming acute in the later parts of life.
The sense of feeling trapped at midlife manifests in various ways.

I Feel Trapped in My Life from Brian Collinson

The Feeling of “Having Settled”

During “the first adulthood”, the period leading up to midlife, we often make choices that seem reasonable or good, which have binding effects far into the future.  They can seem good at the time, and, all things considered, they probably are.  Yet, they can often have a huge impact in the midlife transition of our lives and beyond.  We may well feel that these choices are much less of a fit at that stage, but, by then, the cost of altering them may seem prohibitive indeed.

We may experience these high consequence choices in many areas of our lives, including:

  • relationship with a spouse or partner:
  • binding choices around career path;
  • in some cases, just generally settling for a low gear, possibly low risk, life, or,
  • a thousand other possible variants.

As we confront our lives, if we can be honest with ourselves, we might feel a sense of being trapped by our decision, whether they occurred very intentionally and deliberately, or just as a matter of events simply taking their course.

The Feeling of “I Could Have Had More, Accomplished More”

Whatever form the fateful choice takes, there may well come a point in our life journey when we feel pain and regret associated with these choices, as depth psychotherapists well know.  The individual may feel that he or she has somehow missed their life.  Consumed with regret, his or her experience of life can seem like hollow play-acting.

The individual is often filled with a deep yearning for more.  To have accomplished more, perhaps to have had more, to have had different experiences, and possibly even different relationships.  For the individual having such an experience, life may feel excruciatingly painful, empty and hollowed out.


The individual’s inner perfectionism can often spur these feelings.  Perfectionism may savage the individual’s sense of accomplishment, telling him or her that anything and everything done is worthless or simply “not enough”.  For the perfectionist, life can start to seem like an endless and inescapable series of brutal reminders of his or her own inadequacy.  And as researchers like UBC’s Prof. Paul Hewitt point out, often, every new success simply raises the bar higher — so that happiness, or joy of accomplishment, is an eternally receding target.

Avoidance of Persons, Places and Things

The individual who feels trapped by life, who feels that his or her accomplishments are negligible, and that he or she has made choices that have put life on fundamentally the wrong track, may start to avoid persons, places and things that remind him or her of these painful feelings.  When this happens, we know that we’re taking ourselves out of the mainstream of our lives.

feeling trapped my life

The Power of the Unconscious

In the midst of our feelings of trapped-ness, we may resist things being any different in our lives.  As painful as the trapped sensation is, it may feel better than taking the risk of letting alternatives to our current life experience enter our lives.

Yet, something may be trying to emerge in our lives, if we can have the courage to be open to it.  Meaning and purposefulness may be found in listening to those parts of the self that are unacceptable to the ego.  This is the part of the personality that depth psychotherapists and Jungians call the shadow.

In the parts of the psyche that Jung called “the undiscovered self”  may reside a very different image of who we really are, and also a way forward into a meaningful life in midlife and the second half of life.  We’ll explore this in the second part of this post.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome : A Very Major Life Transition!

March 7th, 2016 · dealing with empty nest syndrome

Dealing with empty nest syndrome often doesn’t get the respect it deserves in psychology and psychotherapy circles.

dealing with empty nest syndrome

It often gets treated rather indulgently, as if the pain associated with children growing up and leaving the family home is really about parents who just need to mature and get on with life.  The only thing wrong with that idea is that it’s completely false.
As psychotherapy, the idea that empty nester parents “just need to get over it” would betray a real lack of understanding of the power of the psychic forces that are at play in the drama of parenting.
dealing with empty nest syndrome

We’re Invested!

Parenting: An Enormous Life Investment

Parenting is highly involving and emotional.  Our culture places many demands on parents, even before the child arrives.  The process which many parents go through prior to the arrival of a child is intense indeed.  The birth process itself is extremely demanding and involving for parents.  When the child arrives, in today’s world, a whole vast array of challenges open up before the parents.  Developing social skills, successfully, navigating the various stages of development, completing all the stages of education, fostering interests and extra-curricular activities, helping the teen gain some orientation around sexual and relationship issues, gaining some sense of vocational direction and possible post-secondary studies, getting finances in order to make those studies possible — the list goes on and on!  A tremendous investment of feeling, effort and value is required of the parent, whether mother or father.

The Archetypal Power of Parenthood

In addition, the parental archetypes are among the most powerful.  As Jung himself put it,

The deposit of mankind’s whole ancestral experience — so rich in emotional imagery…. has exalted this group of archetypes into the supreme regulating principles of religious and even political life.

The same, it almost goes without saying, is true of family life –and, at certain stages in life, the life of the individual.

When these parental archetypes truly manifest in our lives — as they do for very many parents — they call upon us for a tremendous investment of self and energy, often, for many parents, virtually without limit.

So we make this huge investment, we’re all in — and the child does well and grows up.  What then?

Who Am I, Post Empty Nest?

Given the tremendous investment of the self that goes into parenting, depth psychotherapists cannot be surprised that, when the child reaches a point of no longer needing this kind of intense parental involvement, and is even at the point of moving geographically out of the house, the parent often suffers a profound sense of loss.  This may include an actual loss of identity.

After the Kids Leave: Mother and Father Archetype

So the major life transition of the post empty nest parent may very well be about finding post-parental meaning, identity and purpose.

Dealing with empty nest syndrome may very well involve addressing how the creativity and potency of the parental archetypes manifest in us.  That question takes us into areas central to our own depths and creativity.  In later life, we seek to discover:

  • How shall I give birth?
  • How shall I nurture?
  • How shall I be potent?

The answers to these questions take a myriad of forms, and although they are archetypal in nature, they may lead us more and more into our unique individuality.

Reinvestment: Meaning and Creativity

The major life transition known as the empty nest requires that we metabolize the past, digesting our experience as parents.  It requires that we celebrate all the good things that we have experienced with our children to date, acknowledging the changes in our relationships with our children, as we move into the future.

As with all good depth psychotherapy ,  we are called to move into our future with feeling, questing for creative ways to respond and to discover the meaning in our emerging lives.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  gnuckx ; Anonymous9000
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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