Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Winter and Depression: a Symbolic Connection

February 6th, 2017 · winter and depression

While there are many joys in winter, it’s easy for all of us to feel an intuitive linkage between winter and depression.

winter and depression

Hiroshige, Snow Falling on a Town, Mariko

There’s an importance to that symbolism that makes it well worth considering, from a depth psychotherapy perspective.
I live in Oakville, in Ontario, Canada.  We’ve had a remarkably mild winter this year, with very little snow in the month of January.  Yet, if the statistics are correct, we have had only twelve hours of sunlight during the month!  This has had a substantial impact on the mood of many.
It’s the absence of light, the cold, and the presence of much water in cloud and storm that gave winter its character in ancient mythology.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Although not “symbolic” per se, winter is the season of seasonal affective disorder, a mood condition in which depressive symptoms are induced by the low levels of bright sunlight during the winter season in northern climes. Seasonal affective disorder, (or SAD as it’s known) is quite widespread.  The Ontario CMHA estimates that between 2 and 3% of the population actually are debilitated to some degree by seasonal affective disorder, while up to another 15% suffer from a milder version, known as the “winter blues”.   If you experience depressive symptoms that seem to be associated with the winter season, you should consult a health or mental health professional.


winter and depression

Apollo’s Sun Chariot in Snow, Versailles

Apollo is Absent in the Three Months of Winter

According to Plutarch, the god Apollo was absent from his oracle at Delphi during the winter months; his place was taken by Dionysos.  Apollo, god of the sun, of music, and of bright, clear reason is, as it were, eclipsed in winter.  So it may seem in situational depression, when often individuals can find it hard to find their bearings, think clearly and to move forward on goals or projects.


winter and depression

Poseidon in Winter

Poseidon’s Season

In the ancient world winter was thought of as the season of Poseidon, the god of the Upper and Lower Waters, that is the waters of the oceans, and also those in the atmosphere.  In winter, the storm clouds are heavy with water, and the god of the depths can seem to also be in control of the sky.

Symbolically the watery depths often symbolize the depths of the unconscious.  As Jung tells us, in depression, our energy can be dammed up or brought down into the unconscious, trapped because of a life or coping problem that the individual cannot easily resolve.  As Prof. Andrew Samuels stresses that, somewhat counter-intuitively, Jung encouraged people to enter as deeply as possible into the feelings associated with the depression.  Why?  So that those feelings might be clarified — turned into a clearer idea or image, with which the person may relate, and work towards concrete resolution, change and movement in his or her life.

Beyond Winter and Depression

It’s easy for most of us to readily understand the symbolic joining together of winter and depression.  The season of sun may be overcome, and light and clarity disappear from consciousness for a time.  But in the depths, in the waters of the psyche, the unconscious is often active, as the individual seeks a resolution of fundamental issues in his or her life.

It’s the goal of depth psychotherapy to work with the winter of depression, its bleakness and barrenness, and to find in its midst the seeds of clear feeling and ultimately desire, and yearning for life.  The goal is the return of Apollo, with his sunlight and clarity — but, through working with depression, to have greater understanding of our own depths, and a greater capacity to move to the heart of our own true longings, and our own real life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Telegraph : David Santaolalla 
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What is my True Self? Our Inmost Voice in Major Life Transitions

January 29th, 2017 · what is my true self

What is my true Self?  The question may seem abstract, but it’s anything but, when you’re struggling in the midst of a major life transition.

what is my true self
It’s true that the individual in crisis or transition doesn’t look to the psychotherapist for some intellectual answer to this question.  A two page summary describing the major aspects of personal identity in answer to the question “What is my true Self?” would be hideously inappropriate.
Yet the individual has to feel that, however haltingly, he or she is headed in a direction that accords with her or his own true essence.  To feel good about a future direction, it’s essential to feel that there is something in the situation that corresponds in some way, to who I most fundamentally am.  In the midst of a chaotic career transition, for instance, it’s essential that the individual feel that his or her deepest wants, needs and values are going to somehow be maintained.

Does “Who I Really Am” Exist?

Some philosophers and psychologists question whether “who I really am” or “my true identity” is a reality, or just an illusion.

Now, while it’s true that modern neuroscience and psychology have shown that social interaction is absolutely essential to the emergence of the self, that’s very different from suggesting that the self is simply a socially constructed fiction.  Indeed, many of the most current and effective forms of therapy, such as Internal Family Systems Theory focus on the central importance and relevance of the self.

A Person’s “Daimon”

Long ago, the ancient Greeks called the voice of your deepest self your “daimon“.  One ancient Greek thinker, Empedocles (fifth century BCE) identified the daimon with the self.   Another, Heraclitus, (c. 500 BCE) writes that “man’s character is his daimon”.

Existential psychologist Rollo May tells us that daimon was translated into Latin as genius, and that, for the Romans, 

…the daimonic is the voice of the generative process in the individual. The daimonic is [that] unique pattern of sensibilities and powers which constitutes the individual as a self in relation to [the] world.

So your daimon is the heart of who you are, and the way that your own deepest being gets expressed in the world.

what is my true self

What is My True Self?  Hillman Summarizes

Archetypal psychologist James Hillman summarizes these myths:

The soul of each of us is given a unique daimon before we are born, and it has selected an image or pattern that we live on earth….  The daimon remembers what is in your image, and belongs to your pattern.

The myth leads also to practical moves…. [W]e must attend very carefully to childhood to catch early glimpses of the daimon in action, to grasp its intentions and not block its way…. [and we must]

(a) Recognize the call as a prime fact of human existence; [and]

(b) align life with it

…A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed.  It may also possess you completely.  Whatever; eventually it will out.  It makes its claim.

Whether we see this “daimon” mythologically, or in terms of genetic and epigenetic biology, we can see our lives as concerning the never ending, fundamental call to be who we really are.

The Call of the Self in Major Life Transitions and Crises

It’s important not to sugar coat the realities.  Major life transitions — for instance, divorce, job loss, retirement, the empty nest — can disorder our lives, or even create complete chaos.

In the midst of such struggles, the individual may well find orientation by coming into contact with some aspect of his or her most fundamental identity.  This might include connecting with something that was meaningful to that person as a child, or that is a deeply held life long passion.  The self, or as the Greeks might say, the person’s daimon, wants to point the way.

The process of depth psychotherapy is to bring connection with the individual’s deepest self, and to stay alert to the things that fundamentally express who the person is.  This can be profoundly transformative.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © Creative Commons   Dima Bushkov : Dave Gates 
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Work Related Depression: A Great Topic for Bell Lets Talk

January 23rd, 2017 · bell lets talk

Not all corporate initiatives have merit, but Bell Lets Talk does. It’s about eliminating the stigma around mental health and coping issues.

bell lets talk

It’s important for psychotherapists to support positive initiatives when we see them!  The Bell Let’s Talk site references 5 ways that we can all help.  These are some very valuable, very useful points.

Language Matters.  Bell Lets Talk emphasizes that the language used around mental health issues can either build people up, or unfairly knock them down.  We all know the negative and destructive terminology: let’s all make a point of not using it!

Educate Yourself.  There are facts about mental illness and coping issues, and then there are old wives tales that are fear based and stigmatizing.  Let’s Talk stresses educating ourselves so that we understand the truth about these issues.

Be Kind.  Simply treating people dealing with coping issues in a kind, respectful way can be a very healing thing.

Listen and Ask.  Mental illness of one kind or another is extremely common.  Listening and asking how you can help can make an immense difference to people struggling with real pain.

Talk About it.  The vast majority of people are touched in some way by mental health issues experienced by loved ones, relatives or friends.

bell lets talk

Why Work Related Depression is an Important Topic

Work related depression fits right in with the key themes of Bell Lets Talk.  This term refers to depression directly connected to people’s experience of their working lives.  Although it’s only one very specific type of situational depression, and situational depression is itself only one very specific type of depression, work-related depression is a very common phenomenon.

Can work itself cause depression?  There is some controversy among professionals, but there is solid evidence that it can.  In any case we know that there are a combination of internal and external factors that can lead to an individual being depressed in a way that’s attributable to work.

Work Related Depression: Internal Factors

Here are some of the factors more or less internal to the person that can lead to work-related depression.

  • A wrong-fit role;
  • Misalignment between company and personal values;
  • Working parent guilt;
  • Interpersonal discomfort, due to interfacing with difficult or incompatible people;
  • Office political pressures;
  • Work/life imbalance;
  • Introversion and extroversion issues, manifested in insufficient social contact, or way too many interruptions and no privacy;
  • Financial stress due to insufficient compensation or benefits; or,
  • Feeling trapped, either in reality, or due to unrealistic fears & inhibitions

Work-Related Depression: External Factors

On the other hand, a range of factors external to the person can contribute to work related depression:

  • Unreasonable demands from management.
  • Unclear guidance at work.
  • Sexism, sexual or sexual orientation harassment
  • Poor project practices, resulting in barriers to doing good work.
  • Bullying at work, by bosses, co-workers or clients.
  • Racial, ethnic or religious prejudice
  • Low morale or low engagement at work.
  • Inconsistent or poor payroll practices
  • Poor working conditions

A 2013 Danish study by a team led by psychologist Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup of Aarhus University found that, more than the workload in a workplace, it is the work environment and the feeling of devaluation and unfair treatment by management that has a defining effect on an employee’s mood.

In keeping with the theme of Bell Lets Talk, the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health  (of the American Psychiatric Foundation) has stated definitively that work-related depression is a huge burden on its own, often made greatly worse in the workplace as a result of the stigma attached to depression.

What is work related situational depression, viewed from a depth psychotherapy perspective?  It can be seen as a form of psychological pain that is trying to find a way to resolve itself into a greater sense of vocation, meaning and purpose for the suffering individual.  The work of depth psychotherapy is to uncover the meaning, vitality and yearnings that are hidden in the grey depths of the depression.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:   © reynermedia : Alper Çuğun
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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” No One Understands Me “: Our Yearning for Human Connection

January 16th, 2017 · no one understands me

“No one understands me !” is a very human cry.  Many, many people have such feelings at some point in their life journey.

no one understands me

You Know When Someone’s Really Listening

How can we deal with the feeling depth psychotherapists so often encounter in their clients, that ” no one understands me “?  How can we possibly hope to get past it?

Talking, Talking, Endlessly Talking… But Not Hearing

It’s often been said that talk is cheap.  Here’s a splendid example of just how cheap.

On a channel on Twitch, Google has set up two Google Home “smart speakers”, (robots equipped with artificial intelligence) named Vladimir and Estragon, after the characters in Samuel Becket’s play Waiting for Godot.  They have all the resources of the Google database behind them, and they just talk to each other –arguing endlessly.


no one understands me

“Vladimir” and “Estragon”


They just go on, interminably, talking about what it is they like, or whether they’re human or not, or even flirting with each other.  An endless array of topics, and an endless inexhaustible flurry of words.  It isn’t connection.  It isn’t understanding each another.  It’s just an endless, soulless exchange of words and phrases.  It has no human reality in it.

The sad thing is that there are many people who feel that, for their whole lives, they have been subject to just such banal, inhuman verbal barrages — often from key people in their lives.  To be an aware psychotherapist is to know that many people are all too well aware that being subject to such endless streams of language and apparent “dialogue” has nothing to do with being seen, valued — and met.

What It Is to be Met

What is it like to be met?  To be truly heard, understood and empathized with, by another person?  As Jungian analyst and psychiatrist Jean Knox reminds us, being truly, empathically listened to by another person can actually

“…provide a framework for…the ability to relate to and make sense of ourselves and each other in mental and emotional, not just behavioural terms….  The capacity to link experiences in a meaningful way is a crucial part of human psychological development….”

So being truly understood by another is often a truly essential part of making sense of our own deep life stories. And as U. North Carolina psychiatry prof Stephen W. Porges emphasizes, genuine connection and understanding promotes health, growth and restoration, both physically and mentally.

No One Understands Me vs. The Hope of Encounter

To find the hope of being understood, and the feeling of being valued, and therefore valuable, can be a very important experience in life.  In fact, it’s essential to making sense of our own lives, and feeling that they are coherent, and in our control.  It’s also essential in helping us feel connected to the significant people in our lives, to all our varied human communities, and to the world.

Depth psychotherapy can be of tremendous assistance in engendering this type of hope for our lives, and this sense of the reality and the possibility of connection.  It’s not uncommon for people to come into depth psychotherapy, and to feel that it is the first time that they have really been listened to. In other words, the first time they have met with an energetic, sincere effort to actively and deeply understand what they are communicating about their true thoughts and feelings.  There are many for whom such therapy has been the first real movement beyond the feeling that ” no one understands me “.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © kizzzbeth :  via Gizmodo, image via screengrab from
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Making Room for New Journeys: Healing Toxic Shame

January 9th, 2017 · healing toxic shame

The New Year, with all its overtones of hope and new possibility, is actually a very good time to talk about healing toxic shame.

healing toxic shame

Depth psychotherapists know that toxic shame can be a very effective barrier between ourselves and realizing many important aspects of who we are.  Often, we don’t even realize the power of shame in our lives.
Yet sometimes the negative power of shame is all too visible in the life of someone who has undergone the harrowing experience of public shaming.  The terrible experience of such individuals shows us a great deal about the power that shame can very easily have in any of our lives.

The Virulence of Shame: Monica Lewinsky

healing toxic shame

A recent CBC Radio program concerned a professor’s initiative at a prominent Canadian business school.  The prof invited activist Monica Lewinsky to speak about her experience as the first person to have her reputation destroyed worldwide on the Internet.  Ms. Lewinsky’s name became a household word as the result of massive degradation, villainization, scandal and shame.  She has much to teach us as a result of the experience. Infamously referred to as “that woman” by President Clinton in his denial, she writes

So far, That Woman has never been able to escape the shadow of that first depiction…. [T]hat brand stuck….

Unlike the other parties involved, I was so young that I had no established identity to which I could return. I didn’t “let this define” me—I simply hadn’t had the life experience to establish my own identity in 1998. If you haven’t figured out who you are, it’s hard not to accept the horrible image of you created by others. [Italics mine]  …I remained “stuck” for far too many years.

Ms. Lewinsky’s remarks about the devastating impact of shame on a person in her early 20s who hasn’t arrived at a well-developed sense of self ring all too true.  Much less public, but even be more devastating, can be intense and on-going shame encountered at much younger ages.

Healing Toxic Shame: the Vulnerability of the Young

For many people, devastating toxic shame arrives at a very young age. The family of origin or the early years of school can be a cauldron of roiling, inescapable shame.  It can be extremely difficult for a vulnerable person to escape the acid power of the message that “you should be ashamed of yourself”, if it is received at an early age from parents, or authority figures such as teachers.

Shame can distort and corrode a person’s sense of self in ways beyond what any other emotion can do.  From a Jungian perspective, it can create complexes which feed on self-revulsion, inferiority, feelings of worthlessness and and inability to connect with others. If enough shame is experienced, self-loathing and self attack can even lead to self-destructive impulses.

When we experience shame, we carry the vulnerable and young place that experiences the shame within us, and we can easily get drawn back [“triggered”] into re-experiencing the feelings of shame with all the original intensity.

What can we do?

Compassion and Healing Toxic Shame

One thing that can contribute greatly to healing toxic shame is compassion.  The compassion of others towards our shamed self can be very important; as social psychologist Kristin Neff has shown, even more important is finding compassion that we direct towards ourselves.  Fundamental to healing from toxic shame is the ability to connect with our own experiences of suffering, and to recognize how our earlier selves were wounded by shaming from others or from the circumstances of our lives.

Depth psychotherapy can assist greatly in developing this sense of self compassion, as we discern the emotion at the heart of complexes which is tied to excruciating experiences of shame.  As we more and more take the corrective perspective of the unconscious into account, through dreams and other means, we develop the capacity to genuinely see ourselves, and to be kind.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Mills Baker :  Ivey Business School
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


Fear of the Holidays: Gateway to Major Life Transition?

December 19th, 2016 · fear of the holidays

Today, we’re increasingly aware that many people experience fear of the holidays.  Might such fear be the gateway to a major life transition?

fear of the holidays

This might seem like a disconnected, even outrageous thought.  Yet, might it be that examining the roots of “fear of the holidays” might teach us something important about ourselves, and our wants and needs?
Why might any of us experience fear of the holidays?  Here are some possible reasons.

Family of Origin and Fear of the Holidays

Many people experience difficult, stressful encounters with members of their family of origin over the holiday period.  For adults, these are often rooted in long standing issues and situations in the life of the family of origin.  There may be issues that stem from addictions situations, or from physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

These long-standing situations can often have a very powerful impact on adult children.  In not a few cases, experiencing such situations in the family of origin again at the holiday season can be the catalyst for real change.  People may feel a real need to change the ways they are prepared to encounter family members, or, in some cases may even temporarily or permanently cease from contact.  The decision to do so can constitute a major life transition.

Present Life Situation and Fear of the Holidays

Sometimes the holidays, and the amount of time spent with spouses, partners or other members of the family that a person currently lives in can bring about powerful confrontations with hard truths about where things actually stand in relationships, marriages and families.  Individuals may dread the holidays, precisely because they can bring us up against the reality of relationship breakdown, due to more time being spent at home and the facts of where things actually stand in relationship are more apparent.  Again, this may be a time when individuals decide to embark on major life transitions such as separation or divorce, and when the individual is strongly in need of the kind of clarity that comes through depth psychotherapy work.

Confrontation with the Self, and Fear of the Holidays

Similarly, the holidays can result in time away from hyper-busy routines, allowing us to come into contact with ourselves in some surprising ways.

It can be very difficult to be alone with ourselves at times, but it may be a time when we start to uncover important aspects of who we are, and important truths about what we really want.  Embarking on Jungian psychoanalysis can often help individuals to focus in a fruitful way upon these questions.


fear of the holidays

New Year Candle

Major Life Transitions, and the Individuation Process

Along with other possible causes, any of the above — family of origin issues, our present life situation or a forthright confrontation with the self — may be the catalyst that leads us into a major life transition.  The fear of the holidays that stems from these causes may contain the seeds of our renewal.

Human beings most often undergo a number of major life transitions in the course of a life time.  These events often involve the definitive ending of one way of living, and a transition to another quite different orientation or way of life.

Sometimes an experience associated with the holidays, and with some aspect of fear of the holidays, may act as the catalyst that propels us into the midst of a major life transition.  Depth psychotherapy, especially of the Jungian variety, sees such transitions as a fundamental part of the individuation process.  Individuation is the process by which an individual moves towards living and being in accord with their most fundamental identity.  As Jungian Analyst Warren Colman tells us, “The self is the goal towards which the process of individuation strives.”  This is the fundamental core of the journey to wholeness that is the heart of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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The Holidays — and The Psychology of Saying No

December 5th, 2016 · psychology of saying no

The Holidays are here: the season of peace and goodwill towards all. That’s exactly why the psychology of saying no is so important at this time!

psychology of saying no

Now, why would I say anything so Scrooge-like?  Have I no respect for the season?  Actually I have tremendous respect for it!  I think the message of love and acceptance for all has tremendous importance for humanity.  However, in company with depth psychotherapists wiser than myself, I believe that the love of the other has to start with a fundamental love and acceptance for oneself.

Does Being a Good Person Mean Saying Yes?

We get lots of moral and inspirational messaging telling us that we should be saying “Yes” to what others want of us.  They even take a semi-psychological form in urgings or pressure to be a “positive person” — often a spin on being a compliant person who goes along with the desires and agendas of others.

These pressures take very tangible forms at the holidays.  We can feel enormous pressure to invite Uncle Morris to the family dinner, knowing that he’ll arrive intoxicated, drink more, and verbally abuse others.  Yet, it wouldn’t be “nice” to challenge the status quo.  Or I might feel enormous pressure to have “that relative”, visiting from Waha, WI stay for ten days, who is hypochrondriacal and hyper-critical, and who makes me feel like a stranger in my own house.

If I listen to my “gut”, my instinct, it tells me that giving way to these demands isn’t good for me.  Yet I face pressure, internal and external, to be “nice”.

Most of us are trained to be nice and make family gatherings conflict-free.  But what about situations where ignoring my own needs concretely hurts me, psychologically — and perhaps also hurts my health?

psychology of saying no

The Psychology of Saying No: Why Do I Feel the Guilt?

The situations described above, and a whole range of others, including pressure to spend money we don’t have at the holidays, or to entertain or go to social events when we may simply be exhausted, may make us feel something we don’t want to feel: guilt.  Guilt feelings can be excruciating.

Why do I feel guilt?  Well, healthy guilt occurs when I’ve done something that genuinely is at odds with my own particular moral compass.  It’s there to help us stay true to what we really value.  Therapists know that it’s possible to have guilt feelings when we’ve crossed a social taboo, or haven’t met someone else’s expectations.  Yet, just because I feel guilty does not mean that I am guilty.  We owe it to ourselves to discern the difference between genuine guilt, and the guilt feelings that occur because we dare to violate the expectations of others.

Individuation: Before You Can Say “Yes”, You Must Say “No”

Jungians and depth psychotherapists speak of individuation, which Andrew Samuels defines as

“A person’s becoming [him or her]self, whole indivisible and distinct from other people or collective psychology (though also in relation to these).

In order to be oneself “whole indivisible and distinct” from others and from collective psychology, we often have to begin by clearly marking where we begin, and where the expectations of others and of groups end.  This we call “saying no”.  It is almost always essential that we say no in these ways, so that we can begin to say yes to our own fundamental being.

Your Own Way

Poet Gerard Manly Hopkins in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”, writes,

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

‘Deals out that being indoors each one dwells:

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

What I do is me: for that I came.  The Holidays serve to remind us that saying “No” in some contexts, to imposed obligations and the expectations of others may be a very important way of saying “Yes”.  Yes to our own being, our own real identity, and Yes to our own particular journey through life.  Depth psychotherapy is continually moving toward this fundamental “Yes” to the uniqueness and fundamental intrinsic value that we each in our uniqueness are.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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The Importance of Self Understanding in Personal Transformation

November 28th, 2016 · importance of self understanding

“Therapist talk” emphasizes the importance of self understanding in personal transformation, but, what does this really mean, for you or me?

importance of self understanding

The most accurate answer is that it means different things to different types of psychotherapists.  Both “self understanding” and “personal transformation” will mean quite different things, if you should ask, for instance: a) an existential therapist; b) a therapist who emphasizes mindfulness techniques; or, c) a cognitive behavioural therapist.
I work from a Jungian and depth psychotherapy perspective.  This framework has an expansive view of the importance of self understanding.

Self Understanding: Not the Same as Self Awareness

From this perspective, self understanding is not just identical with self awareness.  Self awareness is a very good thing, of course!  It’s infinitely better to be more aware of yourself, your unique characteristics and reactions rather than less aware.  Yet, even with such awareness, there remains the outstanding question of what do all these things I’m aware of about myself actually mean?  Into what kind of a context am I going to put all these things?

Context matters!  I may be aware of a lot of things about myself, but until I can get some sense of myself and my life as a whole, these bits of self awareness may appear as scattered and meaningless details.

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, the most important ways I understand myself are not ideas or concepts used by the ego in its never-ending search for security and control.  Rather, symbols, which often emerge in dreams, artwork or in active imagination perform a unifying and contextual role in a powerful way that includes intellectual understanding, but that brings in other dimensions such as our feeling and our intuition.

importance of self understanding

Out Past the Berlin Wall of the Soul

Where Conscious Meets Unconscious

For depth psychotherapy, the importance of self understanding viewed in this broad way cannot be overstated.  It is truly the foundation stone for a genuinely meaningful process of personal transformation.

Symbols come from the interaction of the conscious and the unconscious minds.  Jung was aware long ago of the importance of the unconscious mind, and the research results of neuroscience in more recent times have only served to confirm and underline the importance of unconscious processes to the existence of consciousness.  As psychiatrist Erik D. Goodwyn puts it, citing neuroscience authorities such as Profs. Michael Gazzaniga and Antonio Damasio;

“A consciousness that rests upon a mighty edifice of unconscious processes, which do not depend upon it, but without which it would be nonfunctional [is] a view so well supported by cognitive neuroscience that one may consider it a settled matter.”

Symbols are not mired in the ego’s myopia.  Hollis describes ego as “Nervous Nellie”, always trying to make things safe, easily controllable, with what Adam Phillips describes as “defensive knowingness”.  Properly understood, symbols rooted in our unconscious reality show us much more expansively who we are.

The Individual’s “Experiment with His/Her Own Nature”

It is this connection with the hitherto unknown aspects of ourselves in the unconscious, which is truly transformative.  As Jungian analyst Josephine Everts-Secker has it,

“Neither imagination nor individuation can be taught.  Experience of psyche itself educates….  Working metaphorically / mythically  creates new neural pathways more effectively than working cognitively….  

How then might we nourish… ‘the experiment with one’s own nature’…?”

The answer lies in psychotherapy that opens a person to the riches of the unconscious.  Jung emphasizes that

“Richness of mind consists in mental receptivity…  Real increase of personality means consciousness of an enlargement that flows from inner sources.  Without psychic depth, we can never be related to the magnitude of our object.” 

Are we willing to enlarge ourselves through attention to the parts of ourselves that are not immediately available to the conscious mind?  It’s there that we find the reality of soul, and the journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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What is Self Doubt? Depth Psychotherapy’s View of How to Cope

November 21st, 2016 · what is self doubt

What is self doubt?  What really is this questioner that comes calling, sometimes bringing agonies that can be nearly intolerable?

what is self doubt

For many people, coming to terms with self-doubt is one of the most urgent needs in their lives. Yet, a real understanding of self-doubt can sometimes be elusive.
The doubt I’m referring to here is not a matter of doubting some intellectual proposition, such as “I doubt there is life on Mars” or “I doubt that vegan diets are healthy”.  It’s something much more fundamental.  From a depth psychotherapy perspective, what is self doubt, really?

Self Doubt as Toxic and Paralyzing

Self doubt can certainly stop us in our tracks.  Genuine self doubt may stem from extremely early wounding in our lives, sometimes so early and so fundamental that it is too painful to look at the root cause.  Emotions associated with these wounds can be so painful that they get pushed into the unconscious.  The situation can be so painful that it cannot easily be tolerated, and so it stays behind the scenes, out of the view of the ego.  From that hidden place it distorts perceptions, and influences decisions, often poisoning relationships.  The individual cannot tolerate the pain of the wounding, or even start to let in the healthy self doubt that would actually challenge the ego’s distorted view of the situation.

Self Doubt as Potentially Freeing …Really!

Fortunately, most of us are not so wounded by our early life experience that we cannot face or be aware of our self doubt.  Often, we are all too aware that it exists, and interferes in our living of our lives.  This may seem like a curse.  But are there any dimensions of blessing that are contained within this awareness of self doubt?

The psyche can easily arrive at a set, static, unchanging posture or stance.  A posture that keeps us from having to confront any of the painful kinds of awareness that we have in our lives.  This can feel very comfortable, but it can keep us from any kind of growth or change, or from key things of which we need to be aware in order to accept ourselves and our lives.  As James Hollis tells us, doubt, even self doubt, can be the necessary fuel for change, and therefore growth.  Self doubt can keep us from getting stuck in attitudes and images of ourselves that are stuck in yesterday’s reality.  Actually, it is often only self-doubt that can free us from the tyranny of the ego.

what it self doubt

Getting Beyond the Stuckness of the Ego

The seat of consciousness in our psyche, the ego, would tend to tell us one particular story about our identity and our lives.  But it ain’t necessarily so.  A Jungian or depth psychotherapy perspective emphasizes that there are more — many more — than one version of one’s story in psyche, and many more than one aspect of our personal identity.  Hollis puts it well:

While the ego would like to make the universe of the soul monocratic and monotheistic, the psyche is in fact polytheistic and powerfully democratic, with many split-off energies or complexes.  The enlarged sense of self requires a dialogue with these energies and an ego both open and humble.  

He ends with a sentence that powerfully resonates with my own experience:

Most of us have only truly grown when our ego’s haughty power was brought down. 

We need to be compassionate to our ego, and all the other parts of ourselves, and yet realize that a false certainty about who and what we are will not lead to more self-understanding and self acceptance.

What is Self Doubt?  Well, What Will We Make of It?

Is self doubt the enemy of soul?    Suppressing doubts about ourselves and the direction of our lives often forces us into molds of rigidity and self-deception.  Often self-doubt exists because we are on the threshold of acknowledging some previously unknown truth about the self, and taking the next step on our journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Basic Trust vs Mistrust: Can I Feel Secure in My LIfe?

November 14th, 2016 · basic trust vs mistrust

Basic trust vs mistrust in life can be an issue that comes to the fore extremely powerfully in our lives at times of major life transition.

basic trust vs mistrust

Everyone at some point or other in their journey confronts the question of whether life is trustworthy, whether I can place my hope in it.  Certain situations, like mid-life transition, can bring those questions powerfully to the fore.  Also, for certain individuals, because of their life experience, this question is much more to the front and center than it is for other individuals.

Erikson and Basic Trust vs Mistrust

Trust vs. mistrust represents the first stage in Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development.  This stage begins at birth and lasts through one year of age. In it, either infants learn to trust that their caregivers will meet their basic needs, or, if basic needs are not consistently met, the infant may learn to react out of mistrust and suspicion, and may develop strong anxiety.

While the issue of basic trust vs mistrust is rooted in early life, it often would not confine its impact to earliest life.  It can certainly raise its head in potent ways at much later stages in the life journey.

The Issue is Larger…

Issues of basic trust vs mistrust can easily present in the form of a complex.   Jung in his research on complexes posited that a complex originates in “a trauma, emotional shock… or moral conflict which ultimately derives from the apparent impossibility of affirming all of one’s nature [italics mine]”.  A complex involving basic trust vs mistrust might entail an inability to live out the parts of oneself that want to trust and to be secure — when one is conflicted by radical insecurity.

Depth psychotherapists know that complexes take us back to the unresolved issues in our lives, leading us to see current life events through the lens of the past.  With each new occurrence of the complex, its emotional power can become more intense.

As depth psychotherapists well know, a powerful complex, such as a complex rooted in the experience of certain negative experiences of the mother, could easily block or completely bar the way to basic trust.

How Can I Move Towards Trusting Life, and Myself?

basic trust vs mistrust

Takes Trust!

Taking the power out of a complex that orients a person to mistrust of life is much more than just an intellectual activity.  As psychoanalyst Theodore Jacobs puts it, “Understanding and insight… are only part of the process of change….  Also important is experience: the patient’s lived experience with the analyst, which along with insight, has the effect of altering fixed positions, fixed views and fixed automatic responses.”  The analyst has to take an active role in helping to take the energy out of the complex.

As Daryl Sharp tells us, the role of the analyst is to work with the person to create a “container” where the intensity of the conflicting feelings of basic trust vs mistrust “can safely play in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.” This atmosphere of positive regard and the experience of being trusted and giving trust is a central part of the journey toward compassionate self-acceptance, which is essential to moving from mistrust to trust, and is a central part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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