Brian Collinson

Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

How to Cope with Depression After a Divorce, 2

June 1st, 2014 · how to cope with depression

In How to Cope with Depression after Divorce, 1, I explored some of the healing that can emerge from post-divorce depression; I continue that exploration here.

how to cope with depression

Here are some additional factors relevant to post-divorce depression, namely, the shadow and the Self.



Divorce often highlights aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge.  I speak from personal experience, but I also know it’s the experience of many.

Psychology journalist and writer on relationship issues, Maggie Scarf, tells us:

It is a fact of marital reality, well known to experts in the field, that those qualities cited by intimate partners as having first attracted them to each other are usually the same ones that are identified as sources of conflict later in the relationship.

It’s quite true that often we react to the qualities in partners in this manner, and those reactions to the Other can become very charged when we’re dealing with relationship breakdown.  A question that might often be a gateway to self-knowledge in this circumstance might be this:

how to overcome depression

Answering this question can take us deeply into our own reality.

Example.  Jim is a rational, pragmatic and matter of fact guy.  He married Cara, a very energetic, lively woman, who responds to situations with deep feeling.  When Jim met Cara, he was utterly beguiled and captivated.  “There’s so much life in her!” he told friends.  Something in him yearned to share that, to have it in himself, to meet his life with it.

Fast forward 15 years.  Jim and Cara, married, have been through much.  Jim was downsized from his role as a middle manager in an IT firm. The couple endured 18 difficult months where he was out of work.  The couple had two children, the second of whom experienced ADHD and learning disabilities.  In attempting to meet the challenges in their lives, Jim and Cara often found themselves in conflict situations.  Typically Cara responded with intense expression of feeling, while Jim, feeling out of his depth, responded rationally and pragmatically, which Cara experienced as cold and unfeeling.

With time, the gulf between them grew insurmountable.  When intimacy died, Cara and Jim agreed to go their separate ways.  While acknowledging the necessity of their parting, Jim finds himself feeling as if part of himself has died.

In seeking how to cope with depression after a divorce, it may be essential to accept and honour the parts of ourselves that were in the relationship, but that we couldn’t acknowledge.  To do so may be painful, but it may be essential for healing in our lives, and to enable us to continue our journey towards wholeness.

Divorce as Honouring the Self

CG Jung referred to our psychic wholeness as persons as “The Self”.  The Self is bigger and more inclusive than the ego, the conscious part of us that regularly runs the show in our lives.  The Self has many aspects that we have yet to explore and acknowledge.  After a divorce, it can be essential to affirm many of these aspects of ourselves that have come to the fore in marriage, and in marital breakdown.  This can be essential for working through our feelings, getting beyond divorce-related depression, and moving forward into a fuller experience of life.  Often depth psychotherapy such as Jungian therapy is of invaluable assistance.

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How to Cope with Depression After a Divorce, 1

May 25th, 2014 · how to cope with depression

Divorce may lead to great psychological change and growth, but a key challenge can be how to cope with depression during such an immense life transition.

how to cope with depression   In dealing with depression associated with divorce, it’s easy to move quickly to wanting to solve it, to get past it.  But it may be important for us to ask, “What’s the meaning behind this depression?  Could there possibly be anything it’s trying to teach me or show me?

Situational Depression and Divorce

This may seem like an outrageous idea!  But as Jung tells us,

All aspects of the psyche, even those which seem pathological or destructive, actually serve the function of furthering our psychological development. 

Is there anything in divorce-related depression that might actually further our journey towards wholeness?

The Meaning of Divorce-Related Depression

To discover how to cope with depression after a divorce, it’s essential that we first understand all that is going on in our inner life at such a time, and grasp its meaning. Jungian psychiatrist Erik Goodwyn tells us,

“Like ‘phantom limb pain’ a subject can continue to vividly experience a person even after they are gone. [The inner image of the person is] a compact symbolic expression of all the feelings, subtle environmental cues, affects, introjected qualities, unconscious perceptions, and self-biased memories of the person in the subject”.

This is true in death, but just as true when a relationship terminates, or a divorce occurs. The former partner is still very much a presence in our inner life, and in our unconscious mind. We will not exorcise that inner presence by a simple effort of will, no matter how strong our will may be. It is often only through a process of extended inner work that the restless “ghosts” are finally quieted, and enabled to go to a place of peace. Often this is connected with a process of acknowledgement of grief, and of self compassion and self acceptance. how to cope with depression

Grief and Loss

Those undergoing divorce or marital breakdown are reluctant to acknowledge grief. Anger, or, even hatred, can be so intense that acknowledging grief can seem like a self betrayal. Yet, even in those situations where the feeling towards the former partner is totally negative, there is almost always a sense of loss, tied to intense feelings of grief.

Those newly married are most often not hard boiled cynics. Most look forward to life with the new partner with hope, joy and often security. One of the hardest things about divorce can be the recognition of the death of hopes and dreams. Individuals can feel that the years and emotional and physical energy invested in a relationship have been wasted. It may be essential to confront these feelings, to enable the individual to ultimately be able to move forward with a sense of hope or trust in the future.

Depth psychotherapy or Jungian analysis may play a vital role in dealing with depression, and ultimately finding healing, in the experience of divorce. In How to Cope with Depression after a Divorce, Part 2, I’ll look at the presence of the Shadow in divorce-related depression, and look at divorce as an honouring of the Self.

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

May 13th, 2014 · midlife crisis women

In my last post, I focused on what midlife transition and midlife crisis in women look like, and I’d like to continue that here.

midlife crisis women

Woman with a Chignon – Paul Gauguin

A woman’s journey through midlife and the second half of life differs from a man’s, both because of her feminine identity and because of her unique individual being.  Last time, we looked at 3 signs of that journey; here we look at 2 more.

4.  Consciousness of Suffering

One of the signs of midlife in a woman can often be awareness of the kind and amount of the pain in her life.  Of course, the same is true of men, but this can be a singular experience of extraordinary and life-changing depth for many women. Psychologist and Jungian analyst Cara Barker writes of the experience of the type of woman whom she calls World Weary Woman in this manner:

Historically, [she] answers her difficulties with attempts to be perfect, and to be perfectly good.  She is not inclined to look for interior solutions until she encounters a form of suffering so profound it stops her in her tracks, and her usual coping strategy does not work.  She can no longer defend herself against her pain.

Barker tells us the pain will not be eased until the woman in question finally acknowledges it, and receives its wisdom.  There is need to listen to the deepest self, and its most fundamental wounding and yearnings.  Especially its deepest yearnings! This can be very difficult for many women, who even in 21st century culture are continuously given the message that their being is for other people — spouse, parents, children, or the broader community.  Yet it is in listening to her own being that the deepest healing occurs.

midlife crisis women

Self Portrait, 1980 – Mavis Blackburn

5.  Liminality: The Threshold

An important sign of midlife transition or midlife crisis in women is the sense of liminality, of transitioning from one life or way or being, to another.  A woman often experiences an inability to continue living as she has throughout all of her earlier adult life.  A woman may not know where she is going, or what is trying to open up in her life.  She may only know, I can’t do it anymore.

midlife crisis women

For many women, it may boil down to “Will I stay other directed, or does my own commitment to myself and my reality, matter? As Jungian analyst Murray Stein puts it:

When the soul awakens at midlife and presents its gifts, life is permanently marked by the inclusion of them.  Taken in, they become the hallmark of your life, the core of your uniqueness.  Refused, they can haunt your days, and may undermine all your toiling.

Depth psychotherapy can be essential to living out the gifts of soul in the time of midlife transition or midlife crisis for women.

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

May 12th, 2014 · midlife crisis women

Recently, I’ve done posts on signs of midlife transition in men — but what does midlife crisis in women look like?

midlife crisis women

Women are often acutely aware of midlife transition and midlife crisis due to menopause.  Yet, psychology and Jungian depth psychotherapy reveal several less well known aspects of female midlife transition.  Here are five key signs of the emotional, spiritual and psychological midlife journey in women.

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1.  Things Don’t Feel Like They’re Supposed To

Often in midlife transition and midlife crisis, key values the individual has rigorously lived by in the first half of life seem very questionable.  In our society, this is often even truer for women than men.

Many 40s and 50s women feel that not all has turned out exactly as advertised.  Even today, our culture maintains a clear, tight picture of what woman’s role is, and what she is supposed to do to be happy, fulfilled and complete.

Yet, at midlife, many women struggle to find gratification in playing the game in accordance with “the rules”.  As the wife of a former Archbishop of Canterbury put it,

“I have a terrible inner sense that all my life… was derived from and in answer to… never ceasing claims…  

I seem only to have been a service of respondings and no core.  But there must be a core. [italics mine]”

There is a profound sense of having endlessly responded to needs and promptings of others in the first half of life.  There is a profound yearning for something more real and substantial  — “There must be a core.”

2.  Visibility: Do I Still Count?

Feminist psychologist Joan Chrisler  notes that women in our culture tend to become more and more invisible as they age.  After menopause, it’s almost as if society as a whole no longer acknowledges them.  Chrisler cites the dearth of female actors in Hollywood who are post menopausal.  Thank heaven for rare exceptions like Meryl Streep!

midlife crisis women

Lack of visibility for post-menopausal women reflects a society still stuck in sexism.  Our culture often has little place for the mothers and grandmothers, and for the wisdom of the Wise Old Woman.  Many women in midlife and later years recognize that they need more than the standard role the culture offers.  They need encounter with the deep reality of who they are as individuals.

3.  Breakdown of Perfectionism

Many women suffer from perfectionism, due to the tremendous weight of the expectations pressed upon them in our culture.  Its poison whispers to a woman that her performances must be perfect, or else worthless.  As Jungian analyst Marion Woodman has it, “Many people, bent on perfection, deny their yearning for… escape through unconsciousness.”  At root, perfectionism really is a desire to escape from the imperfections and broken-ness of this life.

midlife crisis women

Many women, at midlife, or shortly thereafter, realize that perfectionism is unbearable.  They learn that, whatever they do, it will never be “enough” to satisfy the inner self-critical demons.  This can be the moment when a woman stops trying to imitate a phantom ideal, and discovers her own core.

This may be the season in a woman’s life when depth psychotherapy can make an invaluable contribution.

Next Post: The remaining 2 of 5 signs of midlife crisis in women.

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

May 7th, 2014 · midlife crisis men

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

midlife crisis men

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

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Awareness of Loneliness

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

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

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

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

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

Value: What is Meaningful?

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

midlife crisis men

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

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

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

As James Hollis says:

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

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

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

April 27th, 2014 · midlife crisis men

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

midlife crisis men

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

Feeling: What am I Feeling?

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


Identity: Who Is That in the Mirror?

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

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

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

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

Persona: When Can I Drop the Armour?

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

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

midlife crisis men

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

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

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How to Overcome Anxiety by Understanding Your Psyche, 2

April 19th, 2014 · how to overcome anxiety

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

how to overcome anxiety

Australopithecus afarensis

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

Stop Beating Yourself Up!

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

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

Our Primate Inheritance

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


Good Instinct on the Wrong Track

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

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

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

how to overcome anxiety


Living with the Two Million Year Old Person

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

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How to Overcome Anxiety by Understanding Your Psyche, 1

April 13th, 2014 · how to overcome anxiety

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

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

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

Thank Goodness We Get Anxious!

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

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

An animal incapable of fear is a dead animal.”

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


Anxiety Helps Us to Adapt…

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

how to overcome anxiety

Anxiety Can Short Circuit Life

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

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

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

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

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How to Treat Depression with Depth Psychotherapy

April 5th, 2014 · how to treat depression

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

how to treat depression

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

Depression as Energy Gone Into the Unconscious

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

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

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

~James Hollis

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


how to treat depression

Held down by what?

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

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

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

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

The Heart of Depression

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

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

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

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Finding Purpose in Life Through Self Awareness

March 29th, 2014 · finding purpose in life

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

finding purpose in life

But how do I do that?

The Importance of Finding Purpose in Life

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

C.G. Jung went even further, stating that

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

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


Purpose is Very Individual

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

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

finding purpose in life

Hope Diamond

Self Awareness and Self Acceptance

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

My Own Purpose in Life

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

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