Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Angst of October: Anxiety and the Future

November 9th, 2015 · anxiety and the future

Anxiety and the future have always been bound together, but, in our time, they often weave together in particularly formidable ways.

anxiety about the future

How can we deal with our anxiety, when the future comes calling, and asks us hard, painful questions?

anxiety about the future

Canada’s October Election: One Great Big Ball of Anxiety

Canada has just been through a very demanding and stress-laden election.  It was a remarkable election, especially for the way in which anxiety and the future injected itself into every aspect of the election.

Anxiety drove events, through deep concerns about the economy, youth, terrorism, the environment, human rights — and so much more.  The two main contending parties showed this in their campaigning.  Stephen Harper’s Conservatives used the slogan “Protect Our Economy”, stressing the threats to Canada’s economic health.  Justin Trudeau’s Liberals asserted that survival of the middle class was at issue.  It’s not unreasonable to think that anxiety governed the decision of many at the polls.

Now, Canada is far from alone in these concerns.  Depth psychotherapists know that they are rampant across the globe.

Anxiety and the Future Come Together in Our Lives

As James Hollis tells us, entire generations may be plunged into anxiety “if the mythological carpet is pulled from under their feet.” In our society, it’s certainly true that, for most, cultural values have become less clear and traditional cultural and religious institutions have much less capacity to comfort.  Also, across our society, there’s much less of a shared understanding of the world.

What’s more, change –technological, economic, social — occur at breakneck speed.  We simply don’t know what to expect of our world, or how to control it.  To the depth psychotherapist, this is a clear recipe for anxiety!

Normal vs. Toxic Anxiety

We can focus our anxiety on the actions of politicians.  Yet, what’s really behind the anxiety is our lack of control over an uncertain future.  We get upset at politicians, perhaps with justification.  However, this masks the greater fear that anything  can and might happen in the future.  We must face, while yet moving forward into our lives.

As Hollis tells us, to be alive is to have anxiety — but, there is an essential difference between normal anxiety and anxiety that is neurotically crippling.  Our anxiety becomes a problem in psyche only when it restricts us from living our lives as fully as possible.

Security in Our Own Being

To deal with anxiety with resilience, we need to be grounded in secure acceptance and knowledge of ourselves, rather than repressing key parts of our feeling and emotional life, and being at war with ourselves.  Many of us learn in childhood and youth, though, that we have to split off the unacceptable parts of ourselves.  As commentators like famous psychoanalyst Dr.  Alice Miller have noted, splitting from ourselves only makes anxiety about the future worse.

anxiety and the future

To move beyond this splitting, and to allow the liberated feeling underlying the anxiety to express the true passions of our soul — this is the most solid and lasting way to have resiliency in the face of anxiety.  Such work is the flesh and blood of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Finding the Meaning of the Second Half of Life: 4 Creative Ways

November 3rd, 2015 · finding meaning of second half life

Finding the meaning of the second half of life matters a great deal, if the later part of life is going to give us the gift of discovering who it is that we truly are.

finding meaning of second half life

I don’t mean “the” meaning in the second half of life, as if to suggest that there’s a single one-size-fits all meaning.  Rather, experience from depth psychotherapy and Jungian work suggests that this sense of meaning is something very uniquely personal.
The exploration of what we personally find meaningful is essential for fulfillment in the second half of life, in particular.  What’s full of life for you?  It may well be a major part of a life’s work to find it, and live it out.
In the SlideShare presentation that follows, I look at some creative ways in which we can begin the essential soul work of finding the meaning of the second half of life.

 

Opening Doors to the Undiscovered Self

One very creative thing that we can do, is to open ourselves to new experiences, that may well be experiences that don’t fit with previous images or concepts of ourselves.  We can learn some surprised things about ourselves by doing this.

One man I know developed an interest in Pre-Raphaelite painters. after spending most of a working life as an accountant, and joined a group of afficionados.  Another, who had seen himself as rather introverted, joined an improv comedy group.  A female acquaintance bought a motorbike, and rode to the most remote parts of North America.

Creatively Retelling Your Own Story (Personal Myth)

An important way of connecting with the things of greatest meaning in our lives can be through re-visiting and retelling the fundamentals of our life story.  It may well be that, if we look at our lives from a somewhat different angle, we may find a sense of meaning and importance in our lives that we may not have seen previously.  A classical example of this would be someone who perhaps had a very difficult early life, who, looking at that life, realizes that certain themes and patterns have been apparent from an early age, and have made their life what it is and given it meaning.  It is no accident that Charles Dickens, himself virtually an orphan, wrote many of the 19th century’s most moving novels –precisely about orphans, drawing on the orphan archetype in a way to which all can relate.

finding meaning of second half life

This is one area where depth psychotherapy can be of vital importance as it helps us to open up our life experience, and to understand the psychological meaning of all that has happened to us as the quotation of Prof. James Hillman above suggests.

Setting the Arts Free

Not surprisingly, working with the arts can be of profound importance in accessing our creativity, and, connected to it, the meaning of our lives.  It is surprising how much of the unconscious mind is reflected in art work that we do.  This enables us to see aspects of ourselves that are not as well known to our conscious selves — perhaps not known at all.  Contained within that revelation of ourselves often are the germs of finding the meaning of the second half of life.

Dealing Creatively with Your Dreams

A final creative way to find meaning is often available through understanding and dealing creatively with the dreams that appear in your life.  This is very hard to do on your own, and is another area where being in depth psychotherapy can be of tremendous help, in enabling dreams to be a springboard for creative insight, and creative living that carry us into our life’s meaning.  This is a topic I hope to discuss much more in the near future.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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Feeling Stuck in a Relationship? How to Move Forward — & Why, 2

October 28th, 2015 · feeling stuck in a relationship

As we saw in Part 1, feeling stuck in a relationship can be a major turning point in an individual’s life journey — so much so that it often has the character of a major life transition.

feeling stuck in a relationship

To confront and begin to move through the awareness of stuckness in a relationship is often a profoundly transitional event.  It may result in the end of a relationship, but it will almost certainly result in a significant psychological shift in ourselves, quite possibly also in the other who is in the relationship with us, and in the transformation of the relationship itself.

Is It Them or Is It Me?

When I feel stuck in a relationship, how much of it stems from me, and how much from my partner?  If, for instance, I become aware that my relationship always stays in “the shallows” or that it lacks passion, the question arises, what is my role in creating this stuck state?  And how much stems from the way my partner is in the relationship?

Relationship and the Call to be Oneself

Psychology professor and Jungian Verena Kast has written about  the inner archetypal image of the relationship of the creative and receptive (or “masculine” and “feminine”) elements that we all carry within our unconscious psyche.  This is both an image of our inner psychic wholeness, and a reflection of what we’re looking for from a partner in relationship.  Often the partner to which we’re attracted has particular strengths and qualities in areas where I experience a lack within myself, and, similarly, I have strengths in areas where they may experience a lack.

So far, so good.  However, the problem comes in our need to separate or inner image of relationship, and our actual relationship with our partners, from the emotional impact of the experience of our parents and their relationship.  This is what Kast and many others refer to as our parental complexes.  We can think of a complex as a powerful emotional “knot” or “program” that can interfere with an emotional situation in which we’re involved, and can hijack our perception of the situation and our emotional response to it.  Complexes can completely distort our view of a situation, and our response to it.  Few complexes are more powerful than our parental complexes.  And depth psychotherapy knows that few situations involve the parental complexes more than our relationships.

Am I seeing my partner for who they actually are, or are my perceptions shaped by complexes based in experience of my mother and/or father?  Opening up the complexes creating stuckness may require us to look at parts of ourselves that are not entirely easy to look at.

divine-marriage

The Myth of the Sacred Marriage

Stuckness may take me to the archetypal core of why was I initially attracted to my partner.

Kast points out that, on the unconscious level we are all subject to relationship fantasies stemming from the mythological image of the sacred marriage.  This archetype involves images of the marriage of the eternal masculine and feminine, often portrayed as a marriage of the gods. There is danger in identifying my relationship with the perfection of the sacred marriage, and in expecting my partner to live out these incredibly high ideals — as if he or she was a god.

Such a union of opposites is something that has to take place within my own being, and, viewed in that way, is one of the images of  the journey to wholeness we call individuation.

To journey to wholeness we have to accept all of ourselves, strengths and flaws alike, and we have to accept our relationships for what they are, including where we feel stuck in a relationship.  In this kind of therapeutic personal work, we confront our own real lives, and tke responsibility for them.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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Feeling Stuck in a Relationship? How to Move Forward — and Why

October 19th, 2015 · feeling stuck in a relationship

Many people enter depth psychotherapy because they’re feeling stuck in a relationship.  Relationships are vital to us, but they cause genuine suffering when they aren’t working well.

reeling stuck in a relationship

How do you begin to move beyond relationship stuckness?  And why is it so important to do this?  These questions apply to all intimate romantic relationships, regardless of sexual orientation.

What Does Feeling Stuck in a Relationship Look Like?

Very often, but not always, people know when they are stuck in a relationship. There are some standard situations that therapists and in fact almost everyone would describe as being stuck.

The relationship that is completely loveless would be the most obvious example of this. So would relationships that are physically or emotionally abusive. Then there is the relationship that is actually dangerous in terms of physical, emotional or financial safety (addiction issues particularly come to mind here.)

However, in addition to these very obvious, glaring examples, there are relationships the just feel claustrophobic for lack of a better word. A person may certainly feel that their relationship is stuck if they have a strong sense that they can’t really be themselves in their relationship. Another, related criterion would be if a person does not feel seen or valued by their partner.

feeling stuck in a relationship

So, What’s the Big Deal?

So, why does feeling stuck in a relationship really matter so much?  Well, University of Zurich Professor of Psychology and Jungian analyst Verena Kast has done some very important research with people in mourning for the loss of a long term partner.  This research demonstrates some very striking things.

Her work shows that, very often, there are very powerful unconscious fantasies that underlie relationships with romantic partners. When we understand these powerful fantasies that bind us to the partner, something within us gets liberated, and we are able to meet our lives much more creatively.

Understanding these fantasies enables us to see what it is that gives a relationship vitality, and also allows it to impart meaning in terms of our development as individuals.  What is more, these fantasies also explain the feelings of rage, stuckness and sterility when the partner does not match up to, or in fact actively sabotages, the unconscious fantasies.  These are all important dimensions of individual psychotherapy concerning relationships.

Feeling Stuck in a Relationship: The Individuation Story

If your relationship with a significant other feels like a roadblock on your individuation path, that likely means that the relationship need some very close attention, probably leading to a deepened understanding of both yourself and your partner.

feeling stuck in a relationship

            Relationship Claustrophobia

A question that people often have is, should I be exploring this kind of issue in individual therapy work, or in couples’ work?  I would strongly recommend starting with individual work, as it will clarify a person’s understanding of themselves, which enables the person to see the true nature of the relationship much more clearly.  If doing couples’ work makes sense afterwards, the individual will bring a great deal more insight to it, after having done some individual work

In the second part of this post, we’ll look more closely at the issue of figuring out “what’s really coming from me, and what’s coming from my partner?”, and we’ll examine more on the whole question of relationship, stuckness and the call to be oneself.

As C.G. Jung said, being in close relationship with someone is essential to seeing and understanding our deepest selves and our own individuation process.  Stuckness in relationship, while undeniably painful, may be offering us an important pathway to our true selves.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Thanks: Depth Psychotherapy, Positive Psychology & Gratitude

October 12th, 2015 · positive psychology gratitude

Canadian Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude for the good things in our lives, and a good opportunity to examine the subject of positive psychology and gratitude.

gratitude positive psychology

Positive psychology is a movement in psychology in recent years that, among other things, emphasizes the importance of gratitude and giving thanks to create psychological strength and a sense of well-being.  From a depth psychotherapy perspective, what are we to make of this?

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology focuses on personal growth rather than on pathology, which, unfortunately, some approaches tend to emphasize. Depth psychotherapy, especially Jungian approaches, would whole-heartedly concur with this emphasis.

Positive psychology also emphasizes that humans are more often drawn by the future than driven by the past.  Jung would agree.  He was always curious about what was trying to develop in a person’s life.

So, much in common.  But depth psychotherapy and positive psychology differ somewhat in their attitudes toward happiness and fulfillment, and in the attitude of positive psychology toward gratitude.

Gratitude and “Mental Strength”

Some emphasize that cultivating the habit of gratitude yields positive psychological benefits.  It’s not uncommon to find supporters of positive psychology saying things like “Grateful people measure as happier, as having more social connectness, and as experiencing less depression. Adopting an attitude of gratitude leads to genuine benefits.”  The suggestion is that one should be grateful because of all the benefits that being grateful will bestow.

Some who embrace positive psychology also suggest that it’s important not “feel sorry for yourself”.  Avoiding this will apparently bring positive gain.

I’ll admit that this “not feeling sorry for yourself” thing pushes a personal button of mine.  I grew up in a home where the phrase “Don’t feel sorry for yourself!” was employed very liberally.  It took me decades to figure out that the phrase was actually code for…

positive psychology gratitude

                           DON’T. FEEL. ANYTHING.

Genuinely feeling gratitude is important. However, to use gratitude to block other equally valid feelings, such as sadness, frustration, anger or grief would thwart psychological wholeness.  Feelings exist for a reason, and they need to be acknowledged. As Jung put it, “Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.”

Also, using gratitude as a way to generally feel better in life doesn’t really acknowledge the true psychological role of gratitude.  Gratitude is a perfectly valid and important emotion, but only if it spontaneously arises from the particular situation in which I find myself.  The same is true of all emotional states.  I shouldn’t try to use gratitude to feel good all the time, anymore than I should be using sexual arousal to feel good all the time.  Each emotion has its place; “to everything there is a season”.

What is Genuine Gratitude?

We only experience gratitude in contrast with things for which I can’t possibly be grateful.  Humans have many difficult, painful experiences.  To suggest that others should be grateful for these experiences would almost be to mock them.

gratitude positive psychology

Genuine gratitude comes from the authentic self.  When others, Life, God or the Universe give us something to which we respond in joy and thanks, something in us opens; we know we haven’t “whipped up” this feeling.  Like numinous awe, experiences of gratitude come from a sphere outside of the realm of the ego and its projects.  The psychology of the unconscious identifies gratitude as coming from the larger personality beyond the conscious control of the ego.

positive psychology gratitude

Where am I Grateful?

Thanksgiving has parallels in almost all cultures and religious traditions, and entails examining our lives for those things for which  we feel genuine gratitude.   From a depth psychotherapy perspective, it’s essential to acknowledge those places where life comes to us as a simple and genuine gift.  I wish you and those you love a very Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Eros: Towards a Depth Psychology of Relationship, 2

October 5th, 2015 · psychology of relationship

For all the reasons we looked at in the last blog post, a depth psychology of relationship needs to be resourceful, creative and intentional about connection with others.  So where do we begin?

psychology of relationships

At the end of the last post, we looked at Eros, and what that means in terms of connectedness and relationship.

Where Does Eros Lead Me (Depth Psychology of Relationship)?

psychology of relationship

True eros involves our individuality as human beings.

If we agree with Adolf Guggebbuhl-Craig that eros is the attribute that makes us loving, creative and involved, then we have to acknowledge that we face many pressures that are anti-eros.

Much in our time blocks loving creative involvement with other people.  Even in relationships that should be intimate and loving, we can treat others as utilities or tools, rather than full persons in their own right.  Consider an average couple, facing the strident demands of two careers, children’s academic and programming needs, relentless technology and media bombardment and continual messages of economic anxiety and uncertainty.  It can be easy for even the most loving couple to end up treating each other in mechanized ways that don’t acknowledge the other’s full humanity.

For depth psychotherapy, eros is about cherishing the uniqueness of the other, valuing the individual’s story and building up their most vulnerable and delicate parts.  Eros uncovers what is uniquely meaningful in the other’s life.

Beyond Mere Sexuality

psychology of relationship

Our era often completely sexualizes eros, as Freud did. Freud saw sexuality as one of the two great drives that motivated human beings — and consequently, saw eros as narrowly sexual.  Incidently, because he saw eros as narrowly about sexual gratification, he saw humans as eternally locked into a fundamental conflict between our sexuality and the demands placed on us to be civilized human beings.

Freud’s era was repressive, but our culture sexualizes everything, and, what’s more, makes sexual connection, “hooking up”, a very impersonal way to gratify our own needs.  This is not genuine eros.

Jung and later depth psychotherapists see it differently.  For them, eros belongs, on one side, to sexuality and our animal nature, and on the other to the highest forms of the spirit: “[Humanity] thrives when spirit and instinct are in right harmony”.

Eros, Instinct and Spirit

psychology of relationship

Roots and Wings

Much great music, art and literature concerns erotic love.  For humans, eros is not just a matter of biological functioning, but is also a matter of the deeper levels of meaning in human life.  However, just as sexuality on its own is not enough, so “spirituality” on its own is not enough.  We need both an instinctual and a spiritual dimensions for the meaningful fulfilment of eros, whether this is in a sexual relationship — or the experience of mystical encounter with the Divine, however we might conceive that.

Eros and Will to Power

In our time, eros tends to degenerate into either impersonal “hooking up”, or else, what Jung, after Nietzsche and Adler, called “will to power”: the drive to control someone who should be an object of love.  Given the pressures that people like our couple referred to above face, it’s easy to drift into using power tactics to control the other, and get them to do what we want.  Yet, as Jung has it,

“Where love reigns there is no will to power, and where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking.”

Approaching the other in genuine eros means seeking to understand and support the other in his or her individuality, rather than using coercion or power tactics.  When we coerce the other, we’re probably not actively loving the other — or ourselves.

Our journey toward wholeness is not a “lone wolf” experience.   It takes us inward, but also takes into relatedness to others: these are two parts of the same reality.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Eros: Towards a Depth Psychology of Relationship

September 28th, 2015 · psychology of relationship

Moving into Fall, our culture celebrates events that emphasize the importance of the psychology of relationship.  Does depth psychotherapy, in particular, have anything important to say to us about connection to others?

psychology of relationship

EROS – God of connection and relationship

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in early October, Hallowe’en comes at the end of the month, and the lead-up to Christmas soon follows.  It’s the season of connection, it seems.  But in the 21st century the meaning of relationship and connection has shifted dramatically.  Can depth psychology help us make sense of all this?

Relationship is Changing

psychology of relationship

At this time of year, psychotherapy clients start to talk to me about Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities.  They wonder how they’re going to organize things with their complex family situations.

They face many of the demanding situations of modern day family life: dealing with holidays in the aftermath of marital breakup; addressing issues of blended families after re-marriage; facing complex issues that used to go unacknowledged, such as family members “coming out”, homophobic relatives, close relatives who have been abusive, or family members struggling with addictions issues.

As a culture, we are conscious of different things than we used to be.  Relatives can be distant or alienated from each other, and it can be hard to know how to have them in the same room during holiday and festive occassions

For many, connection with family isn’t simple or straightforward.  In our fast-moving age, the same can be true of friends.

Individuality and the Meaning of Relationship / Connection

We live in the era of triumphant individualism.  Once, blood connection between people was a secure bond.  Not now.  Many today experience increasing alienation and isolation.  Our culture often promotes a ruthless self-sufficiency that flies in the face of vulnerability and relatedness.

This is very true for men, but also for women, as they adopt more and more masculinized social roles.

Individuation, Individualism, Eros and the Psychology of Relationship

psychology of relationship

Our culture promotes individualism, which is not the same thing as individuation.  Individualism promotes self-reliance, even suspicion of others, and a very robust kind of self-interest.  Depth psychotherapy, after Jung, emphasizes the psychological need for individuation, which is the process of more and more uncovering your own individual identity.  However, individuation includes the dimension of Eros: the development of empathy and discovering how I can connect to others.

Eros is involved in sexual love, but it is much broader than that.  Psychiatrist and Jungian Analyst Adolf Guggebbuhl-Craig speaks of Eros as the attribute that makes Gods and humans loving, creative and involved.

To get to an authentic, creative, and life-giving connection with others, we have to understand our individual selves, who we are drawn to, and with whom we really want to be connected.  Such intentional connection goes far beyond the old saying that “blood is thicker than water.”

The Divinity of Eros

Greeks made Eros a God, recognizing the great power and necessity of this dimension of human life.  Similarly, we can’t afford to ignore our own need for meaningful connection with others.  We cannot afford to “offend the God”, as the Greeks would say.  Eros — true human connection — is centrally important to our journey toward wholeness.

Yet we can’t force our Eros to go where it won’t, or force others to be what they’re not.  In our time, when “compulsory” connection with others is breaking down, we need to be resourceful, creative and intentional about connection with others.  Just how we do that matters for our individual journey — and is the subject of our next post.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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What Does the Meaning of My Dreams Have to Do with My LIfe? #2

September 21st, 2015 · meaning my dreams

As we began to discuss in the last post, how can I learn “the meaning of my dreams”, in a way that makes a concrete difference in my life?

meaning my dreams

We can’t control our dreams’ content, but there are things we can do, to be open to what the unconscious may be telling us in our dreams.

Write Those Dreams Down!

meaning my dreamsI may sound like a broken record, but this is very important — if you want your dreams to make any pragmatic difference in your life.

Research shows that we tend to forget our dreams immediately upon starting to move around, as when we get up and start their morning.  Also, memory isn’t always perfectly reliable. If a dream isn’t comfortable to the ego, our memory can often be unconsciously changed around to fit the ego’s comfort level.  Impossible, you say?  Ask a traffic policeman about the reliability of peoples’ actual memories of road accidents.

Accept That Dream “Language” is Unique

meaning my dreams
The ship… a common dream symbol

Very often I’ve sat with therapy clients, who show me a dream, with some embarrassment.  They apologize for the dream, saying “this is really silly”, or, “this doesn’t make any sense”.  Of course, from the perspective of waking consciousness, they’re absolutely right.

Dreams simply don’t “make sense” the way that everyday reality “makes sense”.   They don’t tell stories logically, viewed from the perspective of the waking mind, because the levels of the brain where dreams originate don’t process things logically, but rather imagistically, or symbolically.

To understand the dream, we must get inside its language, its way of telling a story.  We have to understand the symbols and images, and the way that the dream puts them together.

Get Beyond Preconceptions about the Meaning of My Dreams

Our preconceptions or theories about our dreaming can be a big roadblock.  The ego often has plenty of ideas and theories about what we should be dreaming about, but, they may not match the concerns of the unconscious mind.

Recently I posted the photo and quote below on Twitter, which is very relevant to our current topic.

meaning my dreams

C.G. Jung was remarkable in his ability to keep an open mind about the meaning of dreams.  Where most of us cling tightly to our prize theories, Jung sat loosely to his.

He was often able to suspend a lot of assumptions about the meaning of images, and really focus on what that particular symbol might mean for that particular individual.  He didn’t believe that the same symbol means the same thing all the time.  As Prof. Mary Ann Mattoon put it, “he looked for a meaning that exceeded the obvious and immediate appearance of the image and accorded with the dreamer’s experience.

We’ll better understand our own dreams, if we can keep a truly open mind about their meaning.

Finding the Meaning of My Dreams on My Own is Difficult, If Not Impossible

Our ego has a strong need to create control and order.  It doesn’t easily accept that it has blind spots, or a partial view of reality.  Yet, even geniuses can’t fully comprehend reality.  Nicola Tesla, engineering genius par excellance, was for his whole life consumed by an irrational fear of women’s pearls.  Likely we have similar loopholes.  It’s extremely difficult to accept that we simply can’t  comprehensively understand most dreams.  Yet we must accept it, and we’re greatly benefitted by the perspective of someone who has a sound knowledge of the ways of dreams.

The dream may be trying to tell us something that is difficult for us to hear.  Yet, if someone else can help us to take it in, it may be the source of real transformation in our lives

The Ultimate Test of a Dream Interpretation

The ultimate test of a dream interpretation: the dream rings true to the dreamer.  This is often accompanied by a sense of insight, or “aha!”, and a feeling that our view of ourselves is somehow more whole or more complete.

That “felt sense” awareness of an expanding sense of self is at the very heart of the experience of depth psychotherapy .

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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What Does the Meaning of My Dreams Have to Do with My LIfe? #1

September 14th, 2015 · meaning my dreams

The internet is full of people who are willing to tell me “the meaning of my dreams” — but what do dreams actually have to do with the way I live my life?

meaning my dreams

From a psychotherapy perspective, there is only one real justification for spending the time and effort to look at one’s dreams, and that is that the dreams must have some direct impact on the way life is lived.  Otherwise, there’s just no point!
So, what can I determine about my life from my dreams?  Well, here’s some things that we know…

Moving Away from the “Garbage Dump” Theory of Dreaming

meaning my dreams

When I studied psychology as an undergrad, the dominant theory that I was taught was that dreaming was a basically meaningless activity  that amounted to the brain “clearing its tapes” during REM sleep, to allow space in memory for the following day.  Thus dreams were reduced to something fairly banal and meaningless.

However, with the rise of neuroscience, this kind of an approach to dreaming seems to be gradually on the wane, and is being replaced by theories that recognize that dreaming is a psychologically meaningful activity of the brain, with implications for our personal journeys.  Much research has contributed to this change in understanding.

For instance, Harvard Medical School’s Prof. J.A. Hobson has analyzed brain functioning in dream states, and theorizes that dreaming involves a “protoconscious” state, providing a kind of “virtual reality model of the world” that serves a very concrete functional purpose in the development and maintenance of waking consciousness. Somewhat similarly, psychiatrist David Kahn, also of Harvard Medical School draws the theoretical conclusion that dreaming is an important state of consciousness, potentially leading to creative insight.

If dreaming develops and maintains waking consciousness, and enhances creativity in our lives, it’s far from meaningless.  This strongly emphasizes the benefit of paying attention to dreams.

Don’t Over-Rate the Unconscious… but Give It Its Due

On the other hand, it’s important not to inflate or distort the meaning of my dreams.  As Andrew Samuels, following C.G. Jung, points out, to treat dreams as infallible impairs human freedom and diminishes the power of conscious decision.

We should particularly beware the incredibly, overpoweringly, beautiful or compelling dream.  Such a dream can seem so overwhelming that it appears as the voice of absolute truth.  There may well be much truth in it, but it’s important that consciousness enter into dialogue with such a dream, not just submit to it.

It’s most likely best to be receptive to what the dream might be saying, and treat its message as a supplementary “take” or perspective on our life situation.

Sticking with the Dream Images

menaing my dreams

Dream images are the best possible expression of still unconscious facts.  So to get benefit from my dreams, I really need to understand what those dream images mean.

“To understand the dream’s meaning I must stick as close as possible to the dream image.”

~C.G. Jung, Collected Works, vol. 16

Now let me be clear and blunt.  This isn’t something you’re going to be able to get out of a dream dictionary sold at the supermarket check out — or even a really good symbol dictionary!  (And let me assure you, there are far more bad ones than good on the market.)

To truly understand the images in dreams may well be one place where help from a depth psychotherapist well versed in the psychology of dreams would be of genuine assistance.

Patience and Honesty Are Rewarded

We live in an era of instant gratification.  It’s very easy to be seduced by the assumption that we should be able to get answers to life’s questions right away.  However, working with dreams takes patience and honesty, if it’s really going to bear meaningful fruit.

Dreams can provide an important perspective on our lives, but it takes diligence in recording them, patience in bringing them into therapy sessions, and hard work with the symbols the dreams present.

What I can learn about myself from my dreams depends very much on my taking them very seriously, and patiently uncovering their meaning.

 

Next time, we’ll reflect on how the unconscious complements the conscious mind through dreams, and what this means for us in terms of a creative and aware approach to our lives.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Open to Re-Birth: Starting a New Life After Divorce, #2

August 31st, 2015 · starting new life after divorce

When starting a new life after divorce, people tend to focus on the logistics — housing, finances, kids’ needs, and so forth, — but, in this post, the focus is different.

starting new life after divorce

Daybreak…

We’ll look at the nature of soul work around divorce, and how depth psychotherapy may help.

As we discussed in the post last time, there is a 3-stage process that psyche moves through in dealing with major life transitions like divorce:

What exactly do I need to to give myself at this point in life?  Here are some of the important dimensions of that soul work…

Time for Yourself and for Reflection

starting new life after divorce

A lot hinges on whether people give themselves the time they need for growth in awareness, and for doing the grieving that is inherent in divorce.  For more people than would care to admit it, stopping and truly grieving the end of their marriage or partnership is the very last thing they want to do.

This can be an important time to think about the story of your life, and of your relationship.  It might be a time to tell yourself the whole of your life story.  Often, psychotherapy can be of immense help with this

How Am I Going to Think of Myself Now?  What Do I Expect for the Future?

For many, ending a bad marriage can be the key to a better life.  Yet, the short-term stress that individuals face can be formidable.  It can be made much worse by fear for the future.

Here’s a surprising clinical fact about working with individuals undergoing divorce.  Often, the female partner who is the most fearful prior to the end of a heterosexual marriage.  Yet, actually life often gets easier for women, post-divorce — especially if their marriage partner is truly difficult.  To a certain extent, this can be just as true for men.

My hopes for the future will depend to a very great extent on how I understand myself, and how I feel about myself.  It will take much more than just “happy talk” to really treat oneself with compassion, and regard oneself as a person of dignity and value in post-divorce life.  It can be of tremendous value to understand what dreams and other manifestations of the unconscious are showing about who an individual really is.  It can be of tremendous importance to uncover the deep story of our lives.

What is Meaningful to You? What is Calling You in Life?

starting new life after divorce

It’s also essential to identify what is genuinely meaningful to the individual, and what is calling them forward into life on the far side of divorce.  This can be radically different than the pre-divorce priorities of the individual.  It can often require genuine patience with oneself, receptivity — and hard work — to allow this to emerge.

This emergence requires letting go of who you “ought” to be, and what you “ought” to be interested in.  I have had numerous clients who have found that their hitherto conventional interests — a bigger house, a bigger car, a greater level of career status and success — simply didn’t hold the same level of importance to them anymore.

This type of self-exploration often highlights a “soul work” component of very great importance in dealing with divorce.  That is the very basic and fundamental importance of accepting oneself as one is.

What’s the Contribution of Depth Psychotherapy to Coping with Divorce?

The “soul work” dimension of depth psychology contributes to the pre- and post-divorce healing of individuals.  It takes the individual to a deeper level of understanding of personal identity and relationship to others, whether they be family, friends, community or the wider world.

It enables the individual stuck in the stress and sorrow of divorce to experience the transition of divorce as fully a part of the individual’s personal myth, and their unique journey toward wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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