Brian Collinson

Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Overcoming Perfectionism and Learning to Let Go, 2

December 21st, 2014 · overcoming perfectionism

In Part 1, we saw why overcoming perfectionism and learning to let go are so important; here, we look at what we can start to do about it.  An important question is: How do I begin to let go?

overcoming perfectionism

Marion Woodman, in her marvelous Pregnant Virgin shared some deep insights about getting beyond the woundedness that fosters perfectionism.  She explores the image of “the pregnant virgin”as an archetypal symbol for the return to the unadulterated, spontaneous, creative self, in women and men alike:

What does one do when everything rational inside says “Let it go,” and everything emotional says. “I cannot”?…  How does one rechannel love into fresh creative outlets?  How does one reopen oneself to the flow of each new day?  How does one become a virgin again?  Or perhaps a better question: How does one become a virgin at all?

Again and again we have to say to ourselves: what was my feeling in that situation….  Feeling evaluates what something is worth to me.  What am I willing to put energy into?  What is no longer of value to me? [italics mine] 

This dimension of feeling — which is not the same as raw emotion — is essential.  To get to how we really feel about things — beyond the complexes and “trips” put upon us by others and circumstance, is a key part of getting in touch with the spontaneous, unadulterated “virgin” self.

overcoming perfectionism

Find a Creative Passion

overcoming perfectionism

Exploring your deep creative aspects can definitely be a powerful way of getting in touch with the authentic self.  It could be using clay, painting, writing prose or poetry, dancing when you’re alone in your living room, cooking, doing improv — really any of a huge number of possible outlets that take us out of our ordinary, everyday kind of awareness, and let the shy yet luminous being within each of us show him or herself.  This is a topic I’ll be writing a great deal more about in the near future.

Do Analysis —Really Do It

Whether you call it Jungian analysis or depth psychotherapy, depth work that gradually brings the unconscious self into dialogue with the conscious self over time, can certainly facilitate the process of “letting go”, by bringing individuals into awareness of the deepest parts of the self.

Such in-depth exploration is not going to occur in 5 or 6 sessions.  Yet, over a period of time, good depth psychotherapy work can help us feel much more connected to our own individual, spontaneous reality.  This is particularly true if the analyst/ therapist is continually bringing us back to both our bodily awareness (please see below) and the activity of the unconscious, in dreams and elsewhere.

Truly Listen to Your Body

This is about doing body work.  Body work does not mean just “working out”.  It’s possible to do all kinds of incredibly strenuous “working out” — and still be entirely alienated from your body.  It’s all well and good to do an “Iron Man Marathon”; yet we need consciousness of the subtle awareness inherent in our flesh, rather than treating our flesh as if it were made out of iron.

As a general guideline, any approach that treats the body as a machine, or treats the physical world as fundamentally illusory is not going to help.  We need the awareness that will keep us right in our flesh, knowing that consciousness is just as present in our left little toe as it is in our heads.  Such awareness can often be a part of depth psychotherapy.

To let go into the flow of our lives, and the reality of our own being is fundamental to true depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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Overcoming Perfectionism and Learning to Let Go, 1

December 14th, 2014 · overcoming perfectionism

Overcoming perfectionism and learning to let go are essential if we are ever going to live our authentic lives.  Times like the Holiday season offer a huge opportunity to experience just how much this matters.

overcoming perfectionism

In some ways the Holidays can serve as a little miniature model or encapsulation of the whole of life and the journey to wholeness.

Perfection: the Archetypal Gadfly

Why do we human beings so easily fall into an obsession with things being perfect?  Why does the ideal of perfection have such compelling power?

Humans have always been haunted by the idea of perfection.  From early times, we have ascribed perfection to our deities and divinities.  This is rooted in the young child seeing the parents as omnipotent and morally perfect.  As the child matures in healthy relationship, he or she gradually outgrows this.  The child becomes aware of its own ability and strength, and of the parents’ humanity and fallibility.  Perfection is increasingly seen as something “ideal” or “belonging to the realm of the gods”.

 Gods and Humans

However, York U.’s Prof. Gordon Flett and colleagues show us how parental demands and insecurities can interfere with our sense that we’re “enough”, landing the demand for perfection firmly on our shoulders, and with it, the continual sense that our efforts fall short.

Speaking archetypally, the individual is then sucked up into the “realm of the gods”.  The gods might be perfect; but for humans the demand for perfection is frozen death.  This shows up in curious ways.  Many of us, at Holiday times, for instance, are very aware of the individual who is so obsessed with Holiday arrangements being “perfect” that all the joy is taken away — for themselves, and for others.

Depth psychotherapy seeks to enable the individual to gradually free him- or herself from unyielding perfectionist demands.  It’s about cultivating the acceptance of ourselves in our human ordinariness — which we share with all the humans who’ve ever lived.

To accept the self means to accept human life for what it is, and letting life flow.  As Lao Tzu said so long ago in the Tao te Ching,

Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

What Does it Even Mean to Let Go?

But what does it even mean to let go, and to let life flow?  Here is a marvelous poem that Joanna Wiebe shares, written by her late sister, Christine.  It has a connection to the holidays, to an experience of positive parent, and to an experience of falling through fear into letting go, and letting everything be what it is.

overcoming perfectionism

LETTING GO

This is how it should be:
Christmas vacation, and I am six;
Daddy and I are driving outside the city
to a great hill with untouched snow.
Sun warms the car.
I climb up the tracks Daddy makes
hearing the crunch each time the first time.
We stand at the top, just Daddy and I, breathing,
and the sparrows laugh.
“I’m afraid,” I say.
But then we’re sailing
and I’m safe on a narrow strip of wood
clinging to his broad back,
a solid thing in a swaying world,
and I’m laughing and wishing
we could fall like this forever
into the sun sparkles and whipping wind
and the white snowdrift
waiting to embrace us
over and over and over.

~Christine Wiebe

overcoming perfectionism

“This is how it should be.”  Yes: the zone of uncertainty, and of letting go and letting it happen, is where human life occurs.  The mess is where the life is.  For us to be there requires what Jung would call a “religious” outlook.  By this he doesn’t mean organized or formal religion, but an awareness that something bigger is unfolding at the heart of our lives than the ego can understand and control.  We need to stop “shoulding” and “oughting” ourselves, and trust in life.

Depth psychotherapy is about letting go into our own lives, with compassion and hope for who we most fundamentally are.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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7 Stress Management Tips That Take Soul Seriously, 2

December 7th, 2014 · stress management tips

In the Part 1 of this post on stress management tips from the perspective of soul, we started to explore options for reducing stress by making choices aligned with who we really are.  Here, we continue that exploration.

stress management tips

Although these “tips’ have broad general reference to our lives, they’re also relevant to trying to live authentically through the Holiday season.

Claim Your Right to Go Your Own Way

Going with your own chosen path can be tough.  Clinical experience certainly shows the   incredible climate of expectation surrounding people at the Holidays.  Some of this is outer, stemming from friends, relatives, co-workers, etc.  But just as formidable is the mass of inner expectation, the ways we “should” and “ought” ourselves.

Being social beings, we face the expectations of others.  Sometimes those expectations are benign, and, even if they don’t reflect everything we want, the cost to us of meeting them is small.  But sometimes the cost of meeting others’ expectations is higher than we can possibly afford to pay.  A person who has been emotionally abused by a parent or sibling, for instance, may find the prospect of spending Christmas day at a family gathering with that family member simply unbearable.  If the abuse has been physical or sexual, this may well be true in spades.

Even if the emotional issues are not as dramatic, the emotional undertow may be just as powerful.  It can be extremely painful to be in family situations where an individual cannot be who he or she is: in Jungian terms, the Self may simply not allow it.  We have to be discerning, and continually asking ourselves, “What works for me?”

Discern What Really Matters — to You

The type of discernment described above is a matter of great importance throughout the adult life journey.  Yet, the Holidays just have a capacity to bring this need for discernment home, often, in uniquely powerful ways.

stress management tips

 

In my deepest self, what do I really value and desire?  This isn’t an easy question.  Often some real journeying and real work on one’s conscious and unconscious selves is needed to find answers.

The Holidays may underline for us just how important these questions are.

Affirming My Own Story, Distinct from “The Family Story” or “The Collective Story”

My authentic story, who I am, does not boil down to the way my family sees me, the story that they tell about me, or the expectations they have of me.  The same is true of the perceptions and stories of society as a whole, or of the particular social groups to which I belong.

It’s essential to identify “the real story” about myself.  This is not the superficial story that the ego may settle for, but the authentic story of myself that emerges from my deepest being.  This deeply resonant story is what Jung refers to as my “personal myth”.

Be Open to Your Own Experience

Can I really be open to my own experience, or am I continually governed or dominated by what others say of me, perceiving myself and living my life only as “they” tell me that I “should”?  Such a posture in life can be a source of immense, often unrecognized stress.

Consider the Holidays.  They promise an experience of transcendence, numinosity, wonder, and intimacy.  They often deliver so much less — and our culture seeks to fill the gap with sentimental schlock and materialism.  So the question I face around the Holidays is essentially the same question that I face about life as a whole.  Will I settle for the paltry experiences that my culture insists are my birthright, or will I go in search of my own experience, my own lived truth, my own real life?

This key question in life is writ large for us at the Holidays: What is mine?  What is my own individual experience?  What makes me feel alive?  Consider Jung’s answer, embedded in a striking photo from the Martha Graham dance company:

stress management tips

Depth psychotherapy is passionately concerned with the individual becoming “on fire” — fully alive.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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7 Stress Management Tips That Take Soul Seriously, 1

November 30th, 2014 · Psychology and Suburban Life

At times like the Holidays, it’s common to see the appearance of lists of stress management tips.  And no wonder!  It’s a very demanding time.

stress management

Stress management tips often seek to help us “cope” with stress.  This post looks at stress from a depth psychotherapy or Jungian perspective.  It focuses a little more at human depth — what depth psychotherapists mean when they talk about “soul”.

The trouble with many “coping strategies” or “stress management tips” is that they don’t really deal with root issues.  They can feed a desire to keep doing exactly what we’re already doing, but just “turn the symptoms off” — the pressure, the anxiety, the depression.  Hopefully these tips go deeper.

 1. Minimize Mass Media and Social Media

Mass media can very easily be a source of stress.  The mass media often use peoples’ anxieties to induce viewership and buying behaviour.  Consider this little vignette as a prime example:

 

Clearly, it’s intended to be funny and “an exaggeration”, but what is this advertisement really telling us?  That we should be putting pressure on ourselves to “make the holidays special” — and the only way to do that is to spend.

The advertisement above is a mass media ad, but the same kind of messaging regularly permeates social media.

stress management tips

2. Don’t Let it be About Stuff

This is a truth about all of life, but it takes on particular importance at Holiday time.

A dominant message in our culture is that the only way to have a good or worthwhile life is through the accumulation of wealth.

Of course, there’s a natural human desire to “make the Holidays special”.  It’s a fundamental, even archetypal dimension of human experience to identify certain days as special, festive, even sacred time.  Yet, very many cultures are quite able to do that without the obsessive accumulation of gifts, decoration, food, entertainment — and debt — that our society now takes as the norm for the Holidays.

I think that we need to be honest and admit that in our culture, there is a very strong collective pressure and message: you are not being a good parent, friend or partner unless you have “the right” Christmas, “the right” gift and ‘the right” sort of holiday.

What about using the holidays — and our lives in general — to connect with ourselves, and with the people we love?

tips for stress management

3. Listen to Yourself

A key way to get beyond killing stress levels in general, and especially at the Holidays is to start to engage in discernment.  We need to get beyond the conscious and unconscious collective pressures and messages about what’s important, and listen to our deepest selves.  This isn’t easy: it’s time-consuming, requires careful attention to our inner life, and appropriate help, like depth psychotherapy.

Here are three key ways to do that.

Listen to your body.  We can be totally driven by stress, and yet be quite unconscious of it.  We can learn a lot about our stress from examining our bodies, and coming to understand the places that it shows up.  Do you have tight steely muscles in your neck, for instance?  That’s likely stress.  Can you determine what’s causing it?

Pay attention to your feelings.  This can be our emotional states, which we may not even be aware that we have (see “Listen to your body!”), but it can also be much subtler feeling states (“I like this; I don’t like that; this makes me feel like…”).  This stuff is often the very rich reality of ourselves.

Pay attention to your dreams.  You may need to get help with this, but there are many things you can notice from dream reality that relate to your stress level.

Depth psychotherapy offers much that’s relevant to stress management, but it’s rooted in insights about our real individual identity and the deeper self.

In Part 2, we’ll look at numbers 4 to 7 of our depth psychotherapy stress management tips.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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

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

what do you want in life

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

Stuck in the Archetype of the Puer Aeternis

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

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

Why We Need to Keep It Real

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

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

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

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

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

what do you want in life

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

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

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

what do you want in life

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

True Me

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

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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

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

what do you want in life

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

Shared Values in “the First Adulthood”

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

 

The Challenge of Value in Midlife Transition and After

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

 

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

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

what do you want in life

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

what do you want in life

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

what do you want in life

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

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

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

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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Dealing with Regret: 4 More Insights for Moving On

November 2nd, 2014 · dealing with regret

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

dealing with regret

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

Quit Passing Judgement on Yourself

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

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

Surrender

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

Passion

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

dealing with regret

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

Amor Fati

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

Hollis reflects further on this:

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

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

dealing with regret

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

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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Dealing with Regret: 4 Insights for Moving On, 1

October 27th, 2014 · dealing with regret

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

dealing with regret

 

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

Regret is Connected to Freedom and Awareness

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

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

Regret Over Long Periods: The Road Not Taken

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

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

dealing with regret

Typical “Big” Regrets in the Second Half of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

dealing with regret

 Regretting, Living and Letting Go

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

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

October 19th, 2014 · feeling stuck in life

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

feeling stuck in life

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

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

Lessons from Impasse

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

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

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

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

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

feeling stuck in life

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

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

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

Stuck-ness and Renewal

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

feeling stuck in life

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

 

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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

October 13th, 2014 · feeling stuck in life

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

feeling stuck in life

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

What Does Feeling Stuck in Life Mean?

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

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

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

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

We Get “Stuck” in Unique Ways

feeling stuck in life

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

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

Impasse Means We Need to Change Our Fundamental Attitude

feeling stuck in life

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

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

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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