Journeying Toward Wholeness

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New Year’s Renewal: Can You Recreate Yourself? …Should You?

January 8th, 2018 · recreate yourself

We have just begin the New Year, a time associated with renewal and often with a subtle message of the need to “recreate yourself”.  For what are we actually yearning?

Re-Creating Me… Take One!                      (Photo: Eelke)

At New Year’s we often desire to bring things into our lives that have a greater sense of reality, meaning and authenticity.  Perhaps we make New Year’s resolutions: to lose weight, to quite smoking, to travel more.  These urges stem from awareness of the passage of time, and a sense that we want the time to count, to get more from our lives than perhaps we’ve actually been getting.  What, concretely, can we do with these yearnings?

New Year’s and Renewal

Jungian analyst and depth psychotherapist D. Stephenson Bond stresses that marking the New Year fundamentally involves us with the “archetype of renewal”.  This ancient theme of renewal was present in New Year’s celebrations in ancient Sumer as long ago as 3500 B.C.E.  Sumerian New Year concerned the renewal of the King, who was seen as the embodiment of consciousness and cosmic order for the society, and the rites were called Akitu, meaning “power making the world live again”.

New Year’s, touches our own deep yearning for renewal.  As Stephenson puts it,

Renewal is a theme that expresses itself in every culture, every individual life, every analysis….  There are times at life’s deepest reach when the guiding principles that once made sense of the world seem to falter.

At New Year’s, we may intuit that “guiding principles” that once made our lives coherent and meaningful, and that gave us forward direction are faltering.  We need somehow to move forward on our journey towards wholeness.  But how?

Re-Inventing Ourselves?

Our current culture is full of yearning for deep and fundamental renewal.  One recurrent phrase carrying that kind of meaning is “reinventing oneself“.  Even popular psychology magazines carry prominent articles entitled, “10 Rules for Reinventing Yourself”.  That sounds inviting, but what are we to make of this idea of “self-reinvention”?

Depth psychotherapy would tend to see such language as potentially rooted in failure to accept ourselves for who we most fundamentally are.  One of the things which can trap people in endlessly repeated patterns of pain in their lives is the inability to accept who they really are in a genuinely compassionate way.

Such patterns get lived out again and again.  We may know individuals who goes from one painful romantic relationship to another, attracted to hurtful, abusive and even psychopathic partners because they cannot accept and value themselves.  Often, there is an unconscious part of themselves that feels that a difficult and even punishing partner is all they can attract, or is what they deserve, or is somehow their fate.

Often, if the individual can get to a place of genuine, self-compassionate acceptance, this painful and destructive dynamic can change.  But if “re-inventing oneself”, means that by massive effort of will, the individual is going to cut through very long held patterns in his or her life, and somehow push that life onto another track — this may just be another form of violence to the self, of turning anger inwards and expressing self-hatred.  It may even be associated with an unconscious and self-attacking fantasy of “being someone else”.

To find true meaning in our individual lives we need more than this.  Depth psychotherapy would emphasize our need to seek in the direction of C.G. Jung’s observation, using the gender conventions of his day, that,

“Every individual has the law of his life inborn in him.” 

 recreate oneself

The Journey to Who We Are

How do we get to this unique, inborn ” law of life” within?  The essence of this journey is through a compassionate exploration and listening to our own being.  This involves a clear-sighted examination of our lives and our journey, together with an attempt to listen to and be aware of the unexplored aspects of what Jung called the Undiscovered Self.  This occurs through dreams, perhaps journalling, artwork or other forms of self-expression, and through noticing the many unexpected ways in which who we truly are emerges in our daily lives.

Jungian depth psychotherapy serves the deep human desire for renewal.  It assists the individual in discovering meaning, direction and vitality through enabling the individual to connect with his or her most fundamentally identity, and finding viable ways to live out that reality.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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New Year’s 2018 and the Fear of the Future

December 18th, 2017 · the fear of the future

Leonard Cohen’s lyrics in his song The Future reflect the fear of the future many now experience: “I’ve seen the future / Brother, it is murder.”

the fear of the future

Happy New Year…

Depth psychotherapists are very aware that many people carry intense fear of the future in our time.  While there has always been a dimension of such fear, at this particular moment in our society, it is particularly widespread and intense.
In our era, there is great fear of many large-scale calamities: job loss; economic downturn; climate change and environmental disaster; uncertainty about health and uncertainty about children’s futures would be some of the most significant fears and future-oriented anxieties. It’s really not surprising to see this fear and anxiety intensify as we come nearer to the holiday that celebrates the advent of the future: New Year’s.

Thank Goodness for Fear and Anxiety!

One of the great things distinguishing humans from other species is our ability to anticipate the future and to plan by creating options and selecting from them.  This as our threat management system.  It greatly assists our individual survival, and that of the species.  However, as U. of Queensland Prof. T. Suddendorf illustrates, this threat management system has a downside: we can get stuck imagining mental scenarios that torment us with anxiety and fear.

While anxiety and the fear of the future can empower us to protect ourselves and take precautions, this same mechanism can lead us to be paralyzed by fear of what might happen.  So, New Year’s celebration can easily be coloured by the dark clouds of imagined possibilities.

the fear of the future

Learned Helplessness

Fear of the future, in our age, is fed by media and others who follow the rule of thumb that, “if it bleeds, it leads“.  Unfortunately, media and advertisers have learned that, if they can increase our fear and anxiety, they increase our attentiveness to their messages.  This tends to lead to a kind of “learned helplessness”, a numbness and inability to respond to situations in life.  If it’s not fear of terrorism that’s the flavour of the day, then it’s economic fear, fear of war or disease, or — you name it.

Fear and Franklin

1932 was a grim year.  President Hoover was completely immobilized by the steadily worsening Great Depression.  The United States felt spiritually as well as financially bankrupt — a nation immobilized by fear.  In March 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt in his first Inaugural Address uttered a now famous phrase:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

This phrase is so famous it can feel like a shopworn cliche.  But let’s understand the profundity of Roosevelt’s insight.  He saw a nation full of resources and individual people who were fundamentally strong.  He also saw the possibility of fear immobilizing that people, and taking away their power to undertake even the first step towards the life they wanted for themselves.  He literally saw that the only thing stopping them from moving forward with courage and imagination — was fear.  This is a fundamental insight into his time, but it also captures a fundamental truth about the human condition.  For our own time and situation,  famous Jungian analyst James Hollis unpacks this same truth:

So there you have it.  Fear is the enemy.  Life is not your enemy; the Other is not your enemy; fear is the enemy…

Ask yourself of every dilemma, every choice, every relationship, every commitment, or every failure to commit, “Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?”  Do not ask this question if you are afraid to find the answer [italics mine].  You might be afraid of what your own soul will require of you, but at least you will then know your marching orders…

If you are still afraid, imagine your tombstone: “Here lies one who was not here, one who did not show up!”  That is something to really fear; compared to this, our daily fears are trivial [italics mine].

~James Hollis

Courage and the Future

In an important sense, we humans are always locked in struggle with our fear, as the greatest barrier between us and our individual destinies.  As Roosevelt so eloquently stated, like the humans in every place and time, we must fear the fear that could keep us from full and authentic life.

A key goal of depth psychotherapy is empowering the individual to move through fear, to live life as an authentic expression of who she or he most fundamentally is.

I wish you the happiest of Holiday seasons and the blessings of an authentic and courageous New Year!

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Caring for Aging Parents During the Holiday Season

December 11th, 2017 · caring for aging parents

Caring for aging parents is a matter of deep concern, stress and anxiety to many people; those concerns are often intensified at the Holidays.

caring for aging parents

Are you a caregiver for aging parents?  It’s a complex task, that can often seem lonely and thankless.  Because of the emphasis on family at the Holidays, and everyone’s heightened expectations, the task of caring for aging parents can feel even heavier at this time of year.

Not a “How To” Article

This isn’t a “how-to” article about looking after aging parents.  It focuses on individual caregivers, and how they might best take care of themselves emotionally.  How can adult children respond to aging parents? Is there a way to offer care to aging parents, while still “hanging onto ourselves”, our own needs and life goals?

Caring for Aging Parents: Unprecedented Demands on Their Children

Aging parents are living longer, and imposing formidable demands on children.   Parents have increased lifespan, but also increased levels of disability, illness and cognitive impairment.  Adult children can feel overwhelmed by such situations, when simultaneously helping their own children to “launch”, and dealing with issues of midlife transition and the second half of life.


A common response to all these demands is guilt.  This takes several forms, as Prof. Satow of Brooklyn College reminds us.

We can feel guilty for not doing what we “should” for parents.  Often this means not doing what someone else thinks we should for a parent.

Or we can have what Satow calls separation guilt.  This is guilt caused by physical separation, as a result of moving or living away from parents.

Another source of guilt stems from parental envy.  The child is younger, perhaps in better health, and perhaps more affluent or less encumbered. The parent may wish it was otherwise, and the child may experience that as a source of guilt.

Even more significant is guilt resulting from ambivalent feelings toward the parent.  This can stem from a parent who never connected with us, or from experiences of wholesale abuse and neglect.  You might think that this affects a relatively small number of people.  The experience of depth psychotherapists suggests otherwise.

A final issue that must be taken seriously is the case where we might feel guilty around parents, as a result of a sense of having violated our own moral values around treatment of parents.  This is very significant when it occurs, but as we can see, a whole range of other kinds of guilt can masquerade as this one!

You Cannot Save an Aging Parent from Aging

Aging and the decline and breakdown of the body are inevitable parts of the human experience.  We might wonder whether our difficulty with accepting the aging of the parent doesn’t sometimes originate in our own difficulty accepting aging in ourselves.

All human life is an aging process culminating in death.  We have to accept the reality of the human condition, and simultaneously the need to become ourselves and make meaning in our lives.  This is a task that our parents face, and it’s the task that we ourselves face.

The Necessary Courage to Follow Your Own Path

From the perspective of Jungian depth psychotherapy, we must balance the obligation to parents with the real and genuine call of the self.  We need to have the courage to follow our own path, not losing sight of ourselves, and of the necessity to live out who we really are, as we face the challenges of caring for aging parents.

caring for aging parents

Finding the Center of Your Own Labyrinth

Identifying Your Authentic Role

Care of parents and connection with them must be balanced with our sense of vocation and authentic life.  Often, it involves a process of a balancing of doing the “decent” thing with the call of the individual’s own life to be lived and the demands of being who we were intended to be in our lives.  Sorting through these demands is not an easy task, and may require us to face our own guilt, fear and anger.

Often, the process of depth psychotherapy enables the individual to clarify their personal issues around caring for aging parents, and to find a way forward that honours as much as possible both our moral commitments, and the call of the Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Understanding and Relieving Holiday Stress Depression and Anxiety

December 4th, 2017 · holiday stress depression

With every passing year, holiday stress depression and anxiety become an ever greater issue in our society, with more and more of us affected.

holiday stress depression

PHOTO: “Holiday Blur” by Mitchell Haintfield

Because of it’s importance, I’ve written on variations of this issue several times previously.  Yet, it’s very important to keep exploring this issue in ways that give us deeper understanding of stress and negative emotional reaction to the holidays , and that also allow us to see some ways of alleviating these strong reactions, and possibly finding joy and depth of meaning in our holiday experience — and in our lives.

Expectations of “The Holiday Experience”

We expect so much of this time of year, and we expect so much of ourselves at this time of year.  Because of the ever-increasing demands of jobs, and often because of the ever-increasing expectations we face with respect to meeting our children’s needs and keeping them in extra-curricular activities, many people in communities like my own suburban town of Oakville lead demanding, exhausting lives of near-continual activity.  This can lead us into a range of unrealistic expectations for the holiday season.  We can end up pinning totally unreasonable hopes upon the season — and upon ourselves — for what must happen, if we’re to have a worthwhile holiday season.  Between Christmas and New Year’s, this can mean spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

What if we let ourselves off the hook, and accepted that we could have good holidays, connecting with those we love and value — and, above all, with ourselves — without spending an enormous amount of money?  What if we could have a warm, connected and meaningful holiday season, with reasonable expectations, without slave-driving ourselves with perfectionistic ideas about “how it’s gotta be”?

Expectations and Family

This brings up a related subject, painful for many.  In our culture, we are flooded by images of happy families gathered together for the holidays, getting along famously and harmoniously.  This imagery floods TV ads, holiday music videos and Christmas specials.

For many of us, however, the reality of family during the holidays is much more ambiguous, and often very painful.  Many of us carry memories, some absolutely traumatic, of family occasions of conflict associated with the holidays.  Many people’s experience of the holidays in previous years is scarred by tragic or traumatic experiences associated with alcohol or other addictions, often involving a close relative.

It’s essential to approach the issue of family at the holidays with a spirit of constructive, rather than destructive hope.  By “destructive hope”, I mean the kind of hope, often rooted in childhood, that keeps hoping against all odds that someone will respond in a positive, life-giving way, when all that they have repeatedly shown is destructive, hurtful and life denying.  If we are to get beyond holiday stress depression and anxiety in the context of family and relationship, we must be conscious and clear-sighted about relationships. We need to invest in relationships where we are going to get support, love and affirmation, and we need to grieve relationships where that’s not the case, and move on from them.  The holidays can be a crucial time for making life-giving decisions about close relationships.

Spirituality and Meaning

Spirituality and meaning are essential aspects of moving beyond holiday stress, depression and anxiety.  Perhaps the traditional spirituality associated with a season like Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa has great meaning for you.  If so, that’s wonderful, and you should by all means incorporate traditional religious observances into your celebration of the season.

Yet, contemporary depth psychotherapy shows that such symbolism speaks powerfully to some in our time, and not at all to others.  If traditional religious symbols are not meaningful for you, the holidays might be a time to start your own exploration of the kind of spirituality and sources of meaning that genuinely matter for you.  Spirituality can mean many different things.  Humans strongly need to feel connected to some value greater than the human ego — whether God, the Tao, the Ancestors, the human race, or some other value.

holiday stress depression

Holiday Stress Depression & Anxiety… and the Whole of Our Lives

The broad questions of spirituality and meaning posed to us by the holiday season matter for the whole of our lives — they are existential issues.

Jungian depth psychotherapy work is always deeply concerned with the broad issue of finding meaning, significance and purpose in the life of the individual.  It recognizes that part of the uniqueness of an individual is the values that he or she holds most deeply.  Depth psychotherapy helps the person to express those values, as a fundamental part of the individual’s journey to wholeness .

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution mitchell haindfield (Creative Commons Licence) ; Stephen Kelly (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What is Real Success in a Status-Driven World?

November 20th, 2017 · what is real success

What is real success?  Some people would tell you that the true indicators are readily visible, and are embodied in key brands like “Rolex”, “Gucci” and “Porsche”.

what is real success

…or, possibly, “Lambo”…

Certainly, we live in a world where the outward signs of “success” appear to be more and more prized all the time.  In a large metropolitan area like the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area, where I live, the marks of success seem to be very visibly on display.  There’s no lack of cars, houses and wardrobe items that seem clearly intended to convey the message that their owners have “arrived”, as the expression goes.

Real Success — At What?

If we disdain to view such material things, pleasant as they might be, as the hallmarks of success, we might adopt an alternative standard based on the degree to which a person’s accomplishments conform to a set of widely accepted social values.  These might include material or financial success, or else an individual’s social prominence or status.  Such things are indeed common yardsticks used in our culture to determine whether an individual has attained the things that render an individual life worthwhile.  Another, somewhat more altruistic standard that might be applied would be the level of the individual’s contribution to the well-being of society (for instance, through enterprise, philanthropy, or performing a particularly socially useful service such as medical care or piloting jet airliners).

Yet, here is a psychological fact borne out by clinical experience.  An individual might do any or all of these things, and still feel that he or she has not succeeded, that what he or she has done is not fundamentally worthwhile.

What’s Worthy of Being Called Success?

Any of the things mentioned above might easily be regarded by one person as the true criteria of success, and by another as something completely worthless.

Santa Clara University’s Prof. Thomas Plante reminds us,

Too often in our increasingly competitive, connected, and often Darwinian world we are told in multiple ways that success is defined by money, power, fame, and basically being better than everyone else! …[I]t seems like the meta-message is “more is always better than less” and that you can never be satisfied until you have more than what you have now.

The essence of what Prof. Plante describes is comparison.  Hence, success amounts to comparing yourself to others, and, if you feel that you come off better than they do, well, congratulations, you’re a success!

Social sciences literature is now full of articles describing the relative effects of so-called “upward” and “downward” social comparison, and which makes you happier.  Certainly, any psychotherapist knows that we’re going to compare ourselves to others; that’s a pretty innate impulse in humans.  But is there any other possibility for determining a way to success?

Inner Directed Success

Well, it’s a psychological truth that humans can choose to apply yardsticks to things in their lives that emerge from their own being, rather than from externals.  What if we were to draw our understanding of success from our own inner standards of what we find meaningful?  Jungian therapy, in fact, gives us a bit of a touchstone that helps us connect with our own inner standard of true meaningfulness:

What is Real Success

…A Touchstone!

The child’s capacity to be utterly absorbed in something, to give her- or himself over completely to an activity or engagement helps us to see and understand how it works when something is truly important to an individual.  Despite the distractions of the urge for external comparison, the individual needs to focus on what it is that truly grips him or her at the deepest level, and to try to embody that value in his or her life.

So, in a sense, there is an objective inner standard for each of us as to what success is.  However, that standard is very personal and unique.  To understand it, we have to engage deeply with our own inner reality.

What is Real Success? That Depends on Your Inner Journey

“Real success” will depend on being attentive to your own inner experience, and you own inner journey.  It will be impossible to tell if you have attained real success if you don’t understand your inner life.

The work of inner journey is the heart of psychotherapy in a depth modality.  The shift from an outer, other-directed focus to a definition of success focused on living out the essence of my own being touches on the fundamental meaning of our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Recover From a Burnout in a Professional Career

November 13th, 2017 · how to recover from a burnout

More and more professional people are struggling with how to recover from a burnout.  While some think that burnout is a hypochrondriacal fantasy — it’s not.

how to recover from a burnout

…Is your work life feeling utterly robotic?

Depth psychotherapists know that burnout is a psychological condition with dramatic effects.  Some of the most commonly noted characteristics of burnout are cynicism, depression, listlessness, lack of energy, indifference and apathy. It often occurs when you feel that how you carry out your job is not under your control, or you’re working toward goals that don’t resonate with you, or there’s no social support.

A Pandemic in Professional Work

There is more and  more burnout now among professional workers of many types.  It tends to strike highly motivated “can do” personalities.  Such people work extremely hard, often for very long hours, and continually set the bar higher for themselves.  They tend to become professionals in fields that include medicine, law, engineering, teaching, accounting and management.  They’re motivated to do a very good job, but can often find themselves in unsupportive environments where they’re not appreciated.

First Recognize The Markers of Burnout

Three markers that at least raise the question of whether you are suffering from burnout are:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion;
  • cynicism and detachment, especially with regard to your work; and,
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

If you’re suffering from these three, or suspect that you are, it may well be time to consult with a therapist about burnout.

The Burnout Double-Bind

Burnout almost always has elements of depression and anxiety within it, due to certain common characteristics of burnout situations.  Such situation often involve someone who is highly motivated to do a good job and bring positive benefit, who is put into a situations where he or she is powerless to achieve a good or a positive outcome, due to constraints that are beyond their control.

This situation very often occurs in the helping professions — medicine, teaching, nursing and so on.  However, it can certainly effect individuals who are well outside of what is normally thought of as a “helping profession”.

Example.  Kelly is a mechanical engineer with a long record of working extremely hard to overcome formidible obstacles and achieve unexpectedly good results.  Kelly has spent 12 years at “PartCo”, has been promoted many times, and is now the head of one of the firm’s divisions.  She’s achieved much in this role, surrounding herself with hand-picked, very high quality people who form the backbone of the division.  A sense of team, deep loyalty, and the absolute importance of working extremely hard to belong and contribute have been key values, with long, deep roots in Kelly’s personal story.

Due to sudden market changes, the demand for the parts Kelly’s division creates has halved.  The new CEO has told Kelly to cut 45% of her staff, and is drastically cutting her budget.   Kelly now sees little opportunity in her division.  Previously committed to fostering team and supporting people, now she must let many go.  Values of loyalty and hard work and setting an example that were fundamental until recently, now seem completely irrelevant.  “I’m just serving time now,” she says, ‘it’s all I can do to drag myself to work, yet I have to work harder than ever just to keep things going.”

Burnout As a Call to Your Own Journey

The journey out of burnout is often demanding.  It may involve very substantial changes in life direction.  To authentically move one’s life past burnout may involve considerable personal work, attentively listening to, and waiting upon what is trying to emerging in the individual’s life.

Nonetheless, in the short run, there are several key elements of self care that individuals seeking how to recover from a burnout should consider:

  • Avoid taking on any new work commitments or responsibilities;
  • Delegate as many things as possible;
  • Avoid jumping from one stressful, time-consuming project to the next in order to give your mind and body a chance to recover;
  • Limit the presence of intrusive technologies into your life as much as possible; and,
  • Move beyond your professional group(s), so as to be in contact with how others experience you in a non-work context.
  • Discover where in your life you find your most strongly motivating passions and explore them.
  • Find ways — through therapy, journalling, artistic or other expression — to listen to your inner being.

Burnout and Integrity

The work of Jungian depth psychotherapy, in particular, focuses on uncovering the authentic self and the unique individual.  The challenge of burnout may be excruciating, but therapy work that involves finding ways to listen to the depths of the self, may transform it into an essential element in our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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“Time Flies So Fast”: Baseline Truth in the Second Half of Life

November 6th, 2017 · time flies so fast

“Time flies so fast” is a sentiment that psychotherapists hear with extraordinary frequency, along with many equivalent expressions. This is a very common perception, especially in the second half of life.

time flies so fast

Just this weekend, we in Ontario set our clocks back from Daylight Saving to Standard time.  On the one hand, this is very good news: everyone gets an extra hour of sleep!  On the other hand these seasonal  or annual events that require that we change our clocks remind us that time is passing, perhaps more rapidly than we would like.

Life is Passing Time

Yet, if we imagine having a magic genie who could stop the flow of time for us, we would probably be wise not to let the genie do it!  As humans living in this universe, we are creatures who only exist because we live in the flow of time.  The awareness of time passing is the awareness of being in our lives.  We need the passage of time in order to have all the experiences — love, joy, peace, sorrow, and all the others.  Yet, as we grow older we notice something that is profound and that seems to be a universal part of human experience.

It Can Seem That “Time Flies So Fast”!

A great many people report the sense that, as they age, time seems to pass more quickly.  We’ve generally known this for a very long time, but now empirical research tends to support the conclusion that this effect is nearly universal.  IN 2005, researchers Marc Wittmann and Sandra Lehnhoff of Ludwig-Maxmillian University Munich found a general perception that time speeds up with increased age, which is compatible with the findings of other researchers, such as Douwe Draaisma  of  Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

Many will find that this research accords with their experience.  We remember the infinite reaches of uncharted time that we seemed to have as preschoolers.  Then as school age children, time seemed to move, but the length of time, for instance, from a sixth birthday to the final day of grade 6 seemed vast, almost geologic.  As we aged into our high school years, then perhaps university or early 20s, it still often seemed that reaching landmark dates like graduating from high school or university or even graduate school occurred with glacial slowness.  But then, as we move through the years, each successive year seems to come quicker, and finally, perhaps, we reach the point where we say the same thing about the decades.

Paralysis and Stuck Patterns

People can find this ever-increasing speed of passage to be a source of distress or anxiety.  “Time flies so fast”, the individual tells us, “it feels as if my life is slipping between my fingers, and I can’t even grasp it!”

Yet research also highlights some things that the experience of depth psychotherapists confirms, having to do with the ways in which we remember experiences we’ve had.  Notably, we tend to recall experiences that are different or novel in much greater detail.  We also tend to have greater attention and awareness of novel experiences occurring in a joyful or expectant context.  Research also suggests that people who are less anxious and depressed, and less stressed out in daily life not only report greater life satisfaction and self-esteem, but also, in subjective memory, the last 10 years of these individuals lives seem to pass more slowly.

Important Conclusions

All of this is connected to the work that people do in encountering their own unique selves in depth psychotherapy.  As people move into the second half of life, it’s essential to realize that time — and life — are moving fast. Life continues to challenge second half of life people to make the most of every moment and every opportunity.

If we’re in the second half of life, the question of key values becomes absolutely immediate: “What is really important to me now in my life?”  It’s key for us to open up our lives, and deepen and enhance our experience of ourselves, others, and the things that really matter to us in our world.  This may well bring us to questions concerning what in our particular, unique human life experience has transcendent value.  And that may lead to depth psychotherapy as a way of furthering our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Why do People Self Sabotage? And How Can You Stop?

October 30th, 2017 · why do people self sabotage

Why do people self sabotage?  It’s an immensely important question for many people caught in self-defeating patterns.  And it’s a question with very individual answers.

why do people self sabotage

To at least some extent, all of us know the experience of a pattern of behaviour that prevents us from getting what we really want.  For many, such behaviour is connected with anxiety and depression.  Sometimes it can be a huge mystery to the individual as to why she or he does things that prevent him or her from realizing key desires and aspirations.  Sometimes, self-defeating behavior can actually be very important as it takes us back, and forces us to look at the question of what is it that we really do want?

What Does Self-Sabotage Look Like?

Self-sabotage occurs when an individual does things that prevent her or him from living out deeply held values, or that thwart the sincere aspirations of the individual.

There are quite a number of areas where people engage in self-sabotaging behaviour.  Some of the most prominent include: procrastination; self-medication using food, shopping, video games or the internet; imposing unconscious limitations on oneself often through excessive modesty, or, paradoxically, its opposite; pursuing unattainable goals

Why Do People Self-Sabotage? Often It’s About Uncomfortable Emotions

These behaviour patterns are only a representative sample.  Jungian depth psychotherapists would see them as all having unique characteristics, and as part of the unique life patterns of individual humans.  Yet they all tend to have one thing in common.  Very often these patterns of behaviour have to do with avoiding or evading uncomfortable emotional states.  Often, one way or another, those uncomfortable emotions may be connected to our self-esteem, and how we feel about ourselves in important ways.

When we procrastinate, for instance, it’s often because some other activity feels more pleasant than the task we have at hand — and this may be particularly true if our perfectionism and high standards make us feel bad about the quality of job we’re doing when we actually work on the task, because it’s “not good enough” or “not perfect”.  Similarly, an excessively modest person may hurt her- or himself by not putting the best foot forward.  Yet, that behaviour may save the person from the risk of repeating very painful experiences from the past in which they did put forward their best efforts, only to have them mercilessly attacked and criticized by someone whose approval and validation they desperately wanted and needed.

Introjection and Self-Sabotage

Depth psychotherapists know that messages that others have given to us at vulnerable points in our lives can lead us to self-sabotage.  Someone who has heard endlessly as a child that they are unintelligent and that no one is interested in what they have to say may want to share their thoughts and ideas with others.  On a conscious level, they may well believe that what they have to say is good, valid and worthwhile.  Yet they may face opposition from a very strong, quite possibly unconscious inner force that keeps them from making their contribution or speaking their truth.  Only by recognizing the power of this kind of largely unconscious messaging will the individual who has been subjected to it gradually learn to be able to protect themselves against it, to push back and to speak in their own voice.

Freedom From Self-Sabotage

To become free of these kinds of self-sabotaging behaviours can often be a matter of crucial importance to those in the grips of self sabotage.  Often an understanding of the unconscious forces at work can give the individual the necessary insight, and the necessary self-compassion to move forward on the path to freedom.

The goal of depth psychotherapy in dealing with the question “Why do people self sabotage?” is to give the individual the understanding and means to find the freedom to no longer be in conflict with themselves.   That understanding and power is rooted in the unique characteristics of the individual, and their unique, particular journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Like Gord Downie: Spirituality and Meaning in Crisis & Transition

October 23rd, 2017 · spirituality and meaning

Spirituality and meaning can seem fluffy and otherworldly, until we see how these things apply concretely to someone’s real, down-to-earth life.

spirituality and meaning

Canadians have had a real, very public opportunity to do this through witnessing the last period of the life of singer Gord Downie, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2016, and who died on October 17, 2017 at the age of 53. Downie was the leader of Canadian alt-rock band The Tragically Hip, whose music has succeeded in becoming a fundamental part of the national fabric of Canada.

Downie’s Focus

Downie identified himself with key social causes and commitments, and especially stood in solidarity with Canada’s First Nations, as in his participation in the Great Moon Gathering of the Cree people. Later, after his diagnosis, he became even more focused and passionate in his commitments, including founding The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to support reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and to promote healing for First Nations people around the immense damage done by residential schools in Canada.

Not that Downie wasn’t clear in his priorities and commitments prior to that. Yet, when he knew that his time in this life was limited, he chose to intensify his efforts around the commitments and connections to people that he found particularly meaningful. Why do people do that?

Meaning and Permanence

Depth psychotherapists are aware that, in situations of crisis and transition, and, often, when confronted with their own mortality, people will seek to connect with some over-arching value, commitment or meaning.

Such values may be explicitly, conventionally religious. Religious tradition and symbolism do promise connection to a stable, and lasting reality in life. When those symbols work in a positive way, people are given a sense of grounding and belonging in the universe, which is essential when we are confronting truly major, life-changing transitions — including the awareness of our own impermanence and mortality.

Yet, it’s important to realize that there are other symbols and traditions that may give such a sense of connection and rooting to something unchangeable for the individual. These can revolve around key commitments to specific people whom we love, who may or may not be biological or conjugal family, key groups or causes we connect with, the natural world — a huge range of things.

Spirituality and Meaning: Put Away The Stained Glasses

This word “spirituality” is a strange creature. It includes conventional religiosity, but in fact the word is much broader than that. Some would include yoga, meditation practice or T’ai Chi, but it’s much broader than even that. The word spirituality concerns transcendence, by which we mean something with the capacity to take the isolated individual human being and to connect him or her with a significance and meaning that is far greater than the individual ego.

When we reflect on this, we find ourselves in some places that are perhaps far from conventional western religiosity. It’s important that we stay open, to what may be beckoning us to connect. It may be time to put away our stained glasses, so that we can see better, and have awareness of how what Jungians refer to as the transcendent function, which is continually trying to bring the different aspects of our being into connection with each other, is working in our own real lives.

Spirituality and Meaning, and the Process of Depth Psychotherapy

As we examine the life journey of Gord Downie, from a depth psychotherapy perspective, we have that strong sense of a life that moves towards a pattern of connection with spirituality and meaning in this broader sense. It is the life of an artist who finds vitality and connection in — admittedly unconventional — symbols that connect the ego to the higher self. In Downie’s case, the symbols he explores in his art and in his commitment to people and causes resonated at a deep level with the lives of many of us.

Yet, each of us carries within us a profound yearning for the type of personal symbols and meaning that Gord Downie ultimately found. As Jungian Andrew Samuels tells us, the transcendent function does not operate without aim or purpose. Often, in the second half of life, or in the midst of major life transitions, it can become a matter of great importance to connect to this reality of spirituality and meaning.

The goal of depth psychology is to enable not only artists and public figures, but all people, to connect to this vital realm of symbolic reality, and thus to our own personal depths, and to a sense of connection with the depths of the collective unconscious, and the broader, deeper Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Masculine Traits vs Feminine Traits: Should They Matter to You?

October 16th, 2017 · masculine traits vs feminine traits

In discussing “masculine traits vs feminine traits”, I should point out that I really dislike that word “versus” in that phrase.

masculine traits vs feminine traits

It seems that, even today in our culture, femininity and masculinity are so often seen as incompatible opposites, when they should be seen as complementing each other. We often talk in “politically correct” ways about femininity and masculinity, trying to be very sensitive and careful about our language, yet, often, on the unconscious level that depth psychotherapy addresses, we are still carrying deep conflicts about the place of masculinity and femininity in our culture — and in our own lives.

The “Battle of the Sexes”: Is It Over Yet?

Recently, I saw the film “Battle of the Sexes”, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell (Dirs. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris; Fox Searchlight). This is the story of the famed 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King, then champion women’s tennis player and Bobby Riggs, former triple champion at Wimbledon.

In many respects the film transports us back to that 1973 world. Clearly, for many in that time, there was real resistance to women being in the working world, professional sports or any of a number of other kinds of endeavour. Steve Carrell’s Bobby Riggs character is full of bombastic sexist one-liners. We smile at them: it seems incredible to us that anyone could say such things publicly. Or, at least until very recently, it used to seem incredible that anyone could say such things.

Sobering Realities

Recent events are sobering. The last couple of weeks have seen the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, the former entertainment world giant now apparently undone by numerous allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and even outright rape. There seems to be very strong evidence that far too many people who could have spoken out turned a blind eye to this. This follows the actions of a U.S. presidential candidate caught not so long ago boasting of doing very much the same kinds of things and, like Weinstein, subject to allegations from many parties. In Canada, similar controversy swirled around broadcast personality Jian Ghomeshi not so long ago.

We live in an age that gives lip service to an attitude of equality of the sexes. We can reject figures like Bobby Riggs, with his boorishness and his sexism. Yet, in our own time, plenty of examples show how our society and many individuals within it continue to deny the validity of women’s perspectives. There is still widespread denial of women’s right to preserve appropriate boundaries with regard to their bodies, their sexuality and fundamental choices about how they live their lives. That this is the lived experience of very many individual women is a reality to which a vast number of psychotherapists can attest. We still see women dealing with these realities on a daily basis, as they negotiate key life transitions.

Masculine Traits vs. Feminine Traits: Is There a Better Way?

We need to accept that, in our culture, and within our unconscious minds, masculine strength, as defined by our culture, is still often put on a pedestal, while the feminine is associated with weakness, and is viewed with contempt. Ours is a society which exalts strength and power, and that shuns vulnerability and receptiveness. Not all cultures throughout human history have had this problem, but ours certainly does.

As a result, we live in a culture which still encourages men to ignore their emotional life, because having feelings would be to display weakness. This is still a culture that often shames boys growing up if they do show emotional vulnerability. A boy who is taught to regard his feelings as negligible, contemptible or shameful can easily respond negatively to women, who often show more openness to their feelings and vulnerable aspects, and who emphasize the importance of relationship and connection.

It’s not uncommon for a male to be accused of femininity or of being “not a man” if he expresses his feelings or acknowledges emotional pain. This outlook cripples men, alienating them from their own being, as they often become aware in midlife transition. It’s also closely associated with the tendencies that we have to devalue women. We still all deal with regarding the feminine as the mere absence of the masculine, rather than allowing particular women and their experience to have validity in its own right.

In our culture, when it comes to masculine traits vs feminine traits, as culturally defined, women and men would both benefit from an equal valuing of female and male experience. This is an area of on-going growth for our culture, and, if we are honest, it is most likely an on-going area of growth for each of us.

In the work of Jungian or depth psychotherapy, the opposition of masculine traits vs feminine traits disappears. Our on-going journey towards wholeness entails our acceptance of all of the “masculine” and “feminine” in others — and even more fundamentally in ourselves.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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