Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Ongoing Transition: Young Adults Living at Home — Again

May 29th, 2017 · young adults living home

This is the time of year when many parents experience young adults living at home — once again!

adult children living home

At this season many young adults come back from college or university to live temporarily in the family home, which can be a very important experience of life transition for both parents and children.
Children living at home can be temporary, for the summer. Or, these summer returns may be a foretaste of a growing phenomenon: children returning to the family home after finishing post-secondary studies.
Children returning for the summer can generate strong emotions for both young adults and parents, as depth psychotherapists know. As part of a key life transition, it’s important to think about what occurs to us psychologically as a result of these returns.

What Has Changed?

In this situation, parents may first become aware of changes that have occurred from the time when the adult child lived at home. Their child may appear more independent, more vocal, more morose, or any of a range of other possibilities. College or university may have liberated or empowered, or it may have been an experience of genuine hardship and disorientation.

The parent may struggle to come to terms with the emotions generated in this situation. There can be grief for the loss of the old relationship, joy for a sense of newfound strength and empowerment, or anxiety for the future of the adult child.

It’s rare for this type of re-encounter to have little or no emotional impact.

What Has Stayed the Same?

Yet, these returns to the family home may also make both parents and students aware what has stayed the same through the separation. For better or worse, in many respects, people will be the same, showing up much as they always have. Habits and characteristics of individuals will be the same. One very difficult thing in such situations may be the ways in which people are unable to see even others they deeply love for who they really are. The other may also miss who we really are, as well.

What is Stuck?

Young adults living at home again may remind us of stuckness in the relationship. We may get absolute, merciless clarity on how the relationship between parent and child is stuck into patterns that neither party knows how to change.

adult children living home

Where is Soul?

For the young adult living at home again, but even more so for the parent who lives the experience of the adult child’s return, much may lead us to an encounter with our own soul, and our own hitherto undiscovered self.

The adult child seeks to discern and move in a forward direction, toward an autonomous, fulfilling and contributing way of life. Yet, equally important are the transitions undergone by the parent of the adult child.

The meaning of parenthood often changes as the relationship with the young adult living at home shifts into new forms. Given that, for many in our current world, parenting is such a demanding and involving engagement, this may entail deep shifts in personal identity.

For many a parent, encounters with changing adult children may be the heralds of a new soul journey. Involvement in the world of the child may now start to be solely at the invitation of the child.

Even if, as the Pew Report and UC Santa Barbara’s Bella DePaulo suggest, adult children are increasingly returning to live at home after finishing post-secondary, many parents will experience of a slow but inevitable change in the relationship with the adult child.

Simultaneously, an inevitable and ever stronger call to listen to the leadings of one’s own soul, and the journeys of individual self discovery that now invite us, can free us into a new and unexplored aspect of our identity, and our lives.

The process of individuation, and finding the direction forward in the post-child rearing years are key parts of the ongoing soul work engaged in depth psychotherapy.

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Archetypal Mother’s Day: Mothering & Attachment Issues In Adults

May 15th, 2017 · attachment issues in adults

Happy Archetypal Mother’s Day! Here I look at our genetically engrained need for good mothering, and how childhood experience profoundly impacts attachment issues in adults.

attachment issues in adults

Mothering has many key similarities across different cultures.

By “attachment” we mean our ability to connect meaningfully with those close to us. Our need to attach is one of our most profound human needs. Our capacity for healthy attachment is going to impact our whole capacity for handling major life transitions.

Whether we can do this depends, first and foremost on our experience of mother at an early age.

At the Beginning of Life, Mother is Everything

Initially, as infants, our mother is everything to us. The way that she relates to us, and how she treats us will literally impact our whole experience of our lives. Whether we see life is dependable and supportive will depend in absolutely crucial ways on the mother-child relationship.

In addition, whether we are able to form a loving attachment bond with anyone else is profoundly impacted by whether our mother is able to teach us how to have a secure attachment bond with her. If we experience the mother-child relationship as secure and supportive, feel seen and valued for who we are, and experience our mother as able to help us “emotionally regulate” (calm ourselves in intense distress) — it will make a huge difference as to whether we can give these things to others in relationship later in life, and receive them from someone who wants to give them to us.

attachment issues in adults

Throughout Life, We Have a Deep Need for Successful Attachment

Our relationship with our mother is going to change with time. We also need to develop attachment bonds to other people in our lives: family, lovers, friends, children. To get the best from life we have to be able to be open, trusting, giving.

Yet, attachment issues are widespread in adults. For many, they impair ability to be close, to trust, and to give. Situations with partners, children, or even close friends may evoke feelings, and possibly memories that go back to experiences when we were very young, when attachment was disrupted.

Major Life Transitions of Those Close to Us Profoundly Affect Us

Those deeply affected by disrupted attachment at crucial points in their life journey can find that major life transitions consciously or unconsciously evoke feelings and memories connected with the original experience.

Example 1. A woman who had powerful experiences of parental loss and abandonment, which came to a head in her very early 20s, underwent a very strong emotional reaction at a time when her daughter encountered medical and vocational challenges at a similar age, and, simultaneously, the oldest and best of her parents’ friends died.

Example 2. A man who underwent a crisis in his relationship with his mother in his late teens underwent a period of intense feeling as his own children went through the same life stage, and, with his help, got launched on very positive post-secondary paths. He found it genuinely healing to realize that, through his and his spouse’s efforts, their children were having very life-affirming experiences of this life stage. In addition, he was able in this time to process a great deal of feeling associated with that difficult period in his life.

Healing of Attachment Issues in Adults

When people confront severely disrupted attachment or early life trauma, they can experience a sense of genuine, chaos, or meaninglessness, or sometimes a mass of indescribable, incoherent emotion. Such experience may well lead to attachment issues in adults. To address them, it can be essential to find someone supportive who can help to contain the emotion involved, to regulate it, and to turn traumatic events into meaningful, coherent story.

Depth psychotherapy with a high quality therapist can provide ways for individuals to confront and process their early experiences of disordered attachment or trauma. As Jungian neuropsychoanalyst Margaret Wilkinson, states, “Exchanges that involve putting feelings into words… are an intrinsic part of the process of coming into mind. [Therapy] that encompasses relational as well as interpretive [work] can bring about … change in the nature of attachment [and] permit the self to emerge more fully through the process of individuation.”

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Selfhood, Anxiety and Social Media

May 8th, 2017 · anxiety and social media

We hear more and more about anxiety and social media. Why? Because social media is uncanny in its ability to foster self-doubt.

 

anxiety and social media

...Drowning in Social Media… Photo Credit: howtostartablogonline.net

Among new technologies, social media have an unrivalled capacity to lead us into negative self-assessment and anxiety. Why exactly is that? In this post, I look at social media through the lens of depth psychotherapy and Jungian psychology.

What Do We Do to Ourselves with Social Media?

Social media has a real effect on personality and sense of self. Research shows that predominant reasons for people going on to social media are to experience connection with others, and to feel a sense of belonging. Unsurprisingly, in an era when many people feel less of a sense of community, we often tend to gain a sense of social support through our networks.

What Do Others Do to Us?

However, there’s a powerful connection between using social media and comparing ourselves with other people. A body of research shows that, as Facebook users,anxiety and social media we have a strong tendency to socially compare ourselves with others. Apparently, whether this leaves us feeling better or worse emotionally depends on whether we engage in “upward” or “downward” social comparison.

As the research of E.A. Vogel and colleagues at University of Toledo shows, if we engage in upward social comparison, there seems to be strong evidence that it leads to negative outcomes for many users such as lower self esteem, and depressive and/or anxiety symptoms. On the contrary, if we compare downward, to others who don’t seem to have as much going for them as we do, apparently, we feel better. However, Vogel et al.’s research indicates that people tend to believe that other social media users have better lives than they do, and also indicates that Facebook users are more likely to engage in upward social comparison than downward.

Whether “upward” or “downward”, all of this leads to a very important question: Why are we getting our self-esteem, or lack thereof, from comparison with other people in the first place? And how could self-esteem based on such a source be anything but flimsy?

What About the Self?

Another factor that strengthens the link between anxiety and social media is the extent to which social media reinforce social conformity and group think. UCLA Prof. Lauren Sherman and colleagues show that the same brain circuits activated by eating chocolate and winning at gambling are activated when teenagers see large numbers of “Likes” on their photos on social media, and that teens are far more likely on social media to like a photo that many others have liked than one with few likes. Such tendencies might be particularly pronounced in teens, but it’s highly likely that similar dynamics are at work in older populations, and contribute to the self-reinforcing “echo chamber” effects that reinforce conformity in thinking around political and social issues on social media.

Starting with Jung himself, Jungian psychology and psychotherapy has stressed the unique value and dignity of each of us as human individuals. Ever since the 1920s, Jung warned urgently of the dangers of individuals becoming submerged in the collective mass of humanity. When social media were far in the future, Jung recognized very well the danger of individual identity disappearing in mass political and social movements. He stressed that each of us need to take time with ourselves, away from social pressures, making the effort to understand and accept who we really are, and finding our own individual path. In our own time, we urgently need more time away from modern communications and social media, to orient ourselves by our own inner compass, rather than the compass of the crowd

Depth psychotherapy actively engages with individuals in their uniqueness. It works with the deepest elements of the individual’s personality to find meaning and self-esteem in the individual’s unique being and unique calling, rather than through comparisons with others.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Canadian Mental Health: Jungian Depth Psychotherapy Perspectives

May 1st, 2017 · Canadian mental health

The 66th CMHA Mental Health Week begins Monday, May 1, making this a prime time to reflect on Canadian mental health from a Jungian perspective.

My Alma Mater: University of Calgary Alum at CMHA’s Ride Don’t Hide event, 2016

There’s real value in looking at the central message of this week from the viewpoint of Jungian depth psychotherapy. What does a depth psychotherapy perspective make of our current deep societal concern with issues of mental health?

What’s So Important about Canadian Mental Health?

On the CMHA Mental Health Week website, the Canadian Mental Health Association states:

This year during CMHA Mental Health Week, Canadians are speaking up: we’ve been in line for mental health care for way too long…. We are literally sick of waiting. But we’re not only waiting for mental health care. To be truly mentally well, Canadians also need psychotherapy, counselling and community-based mental health services and programs; we need acknowledgement and respect; and we need adequate housing.

Canada (like other nations) has enormous mental health and mental wellness needs, and there are huge gaps in the provision of vital services. This is particularly true for the young and the elderly, but the need extends through all ages and social strata in our society.

Canadian Mental Health: It’s Close to Home

This is not some abstract issue. If it doesn’t affect us personally, it affects people close to us in our lives. Psychotherapists are well aware that almost everyone knows and cares about someone who is wrestling with a mental health issue. It could be a spouse or partner, a relative, a friend, a co-worker, or one’s own children. Looking at people in our lives, we see the huge cost that mental health issues exact on good, worthwhile human beings.

The Wounded Parts Within Ourselves

If we need more reasons for solidarity with those struggling with mental health needs, we could look within. If we’re radically honest with ourselves, we realize that, within each of us, there are deeply psychically wounded and unadapted parts. As C.G. Jung stated long ago,

If we feel our way into the human secrets of the person… we recognize in the mental illness merely an exceptional reaction to emotional problems which are not strange to us.
C.G. Jung, “Content of the Psychoses”

This is clear when we consider depression and anxiety, for instance, which almost everyone has experienced to some degree.

Mental Health and Jung’s Idea of Shadow

Jung often spoke of “shadow” which he defined as “the thing which one has no wish to be”. Jungian Andrew Samuels interprets this as “the negative side of the personality, the sum of all the unpleasant qualities one wants to hide”. This certainly includes those parts of the personality that are not adapted to our lives, and/or that represent areas of weakness for us.

canadian mental health

From 1913 to 1917, Jung went through a profound inner exploration later communicated in his famous Red Book. He encountered what he regarded as profoundly unbalanced and unstable elements in his own personality. Jung became convinced that every human personality has such elements, and that the only way to deal with them is to get to know them as much as we can, and to meet them with an attitude of profound acceptance and deep compassion. This can only have good consequences for our attitude to Canadian mental health. As he puts it,

If people can be educated to see… their own natures…. [a] little less hypocrisy and a little more tolerance towards oneself can only have good results for our neighbor; for we are all too prone to transfer to [others] the injustice and violence we inflict upon our own natures.

Mental Health: Our Own, and Others’

Only greater self-understanding and acceptance lead to genuine compassion toward the Other. Beyond terrifying stereotypes and myths of mental illness are profound truths of human living and suffering that we all share.

It’s the task of depth psychotherapy to not only make us more aware of our unique individuality, but to heighten awareness of our profound connection with all other people in our shared human nature and experience.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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The Psychology of Hope in the Second Half of Life

April 24th, 2017 · the psychology of hope

I’ve written previously on the psychology of hope, but this post focuses on the meaning of hope, and the impact of hope on midlife and older individuals.

psychology of hope

What is this elusive thing called hope, and what is the impact of hope, and its opposite, despair, for those on the second half of their life journey? Why is hope absolutely crucial to those who face difficulties or obstacles in the mid-life transition or later in life?

Hope is Not an Effervescent Feeling

Real hope is not the excited feeling that children feel on Christmas Eve. It’s not that kind of fleeting emotional state. Mature adult hope combines thinking and feeling. As Dr. Shane Lopez put it, hope is “…where transcendence meets reason and caution meets passion.”

Hope and Basic Trust

Erik Eriksen saw hope as fundamentally related to the development of basic trust in life, which stems from experience as a child getting adequate, warm and appropriate care.

Hope rests on basic trust in our lives, and on deep awareness that something is moving in our lives, and seeking to actualize itself, to become in our lives.

How do we act in such a way as to create hope?

Hope and its Shadow

A famous study by social psychologist Prof. Leon Festinger et al. documents a UFO cult whose prophet predicted the end of the world, and that, just prior, aliens would take the faithful away to another, better place. The group sold all their worldly possessions, and, on the appointed night, waited for the saucers. Unfortunately, there was no apocalypse; the saucers did not spirit them away. There they stood, realizing that the prophecies were unfulfilled. The groups’ conclusion? Not that their faith and hope was misplaced, but that their faith had saved the world!

This is delusory hope, hope that does not serve the lives of those who hope. In fact, such hope hurt them, by avoiding the real facts of life and realities of human existence. Especially in major life transitions, we need discernment to avoid delusion, which is the shadow of hope.

Hope and Resilience

If the saucer cult represents the shadow of hope, how do we get the real thing? As a study by Cornell Prof. Anthony D. Ong and colleagues showed, individual differences in hope influence the well-being of older adults. Hope is an important source of resilience in later adulthood, altering daily stressors in ways that reduce their intensity and number. High-hope individuals have diminished stress reactivity and more effective emotional recovery. In short, hope matters. The psychology of hope is about finding things in our lives that give us all the benefits of genuine hope.

How Can I Actualize My Hope?

Depth psychotherapy knows that, at midlife, or in the second half of life, I need positive, valid, real hope. I need to actualize it in my life. How can I do that?

Hope has a social dimension. Spending time with other hopeful people undoubtedly increases our own hope. Hope also relates to increasing one’s sense of basic trust in life. It also entails seeing and dealing with our core selves in a fundamentally compassionate way, enabling trust in the meaning and direction of our own individual lives. As we discover meaning and value in our individual lives, and awareness of how life might be calling us, we experience a growing sense of hope. In the words of Jungian analyst James Hollis,

“And they will say that I am hopeless, and I will say that I am filled with hope, remembering Eliot’s admonition to beware of what we hope for…. I am filled with hope, that, around the next corner, the new and unexpected will cause me to reinvent myself, revise my way of seeing, and take me back to the point of beginning, which is awe, which is wonder, which is curiosity… and which is [enduring] summons to stay in the fight.”

It is towards this vital, flexible, living hope, free from both cynicism and delusion, that working on oneself through depth psychotherapy, especially in the second half of life, aims.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Jungian Personality Type: Making Space in My Life for the Real Me

April 10th, 2017 · Jungian personality type

I’ve written on Jungian personality type previously, but in this post, I’d like to look at it from a different angle.

Photo by Nelson L.

 

This post explores how, in major life transitions, we’re often forced to be honest with ourselves, and to come to terms with our Jungian personality type. We may not be consciously aware that that’s what we’re doing, but it happens nonetheless, and with powerful effect.

Building Blocks of Jungian Personality Type

If you’re not familiar with Jungian personality type, more has been written on the subject than we can review here. Yet, Jung’s ideas of personality type lie behind the famous Myers Briggs Typology Inventory (MBTI) now so frequently used in business and human resources contexts. In Myers-Briggs, there are 16 broad personality types. However, there are 6 core factors which Jung identified that form the basis of each of our personality types.

People tend to be either introverts or extroverts. An introvert is someone who is stimulated, excited or energized by the internal world. An extrovert is just the opposite: someone who is stimulated, excited or energized by the external world.

Also, each person has one of four functions. The primary function is the primary way the individual takes in the world.

  • the thinking function involves knowing what something is, naming it, and linking it to other things;
  • the feeling function is not affect or emotion, but rather the way that we take in the value of something, or understand its significance;
  • the sensation function brings to us all the awareness that comes through the various physical senses; and,
  • intuition, the function of awareness of all the possibilities in a situation or thing, on the basis of “hunches”, without conscious proof or knowledge.

These elements combine to make the personality type of the individual. Jungian depth psychotherapists know this type will profoundly effect how an individual approaches his or her life, what he or she values, the nature of key life goals, relationships with every other human being, and the individual’s religious or philosophical stance, or lack thereof. An individual’s Jungian personality type is a fundamental fact about her or his nature.

Confronting the Truth of Our Personality Type

In key transitions in life, the individual may well confront their Jungian personality type, which is to say their fundamental nature in some very profound ways. Here are two examples, which are fictionalized accounts, but each loosely based on the combined experiences of many former clients.

Example One. “Camilla”, a young woman just accepted to law school, faces enormous pressure to be a lawyer. Both her parents are extremely hard working immigrants, and are lawyers of some distinction. Camilla is a very intelligent and capable woman herself, and believes that she probably could meet expectations, and successfully complete law school. “I could do it,” she realizes, “but at what cost? I’d be continually unhappy, because it’s just not my idea of creative work. I have all kinds of energy for people! I want to connect, co-operate, feel good about working on a common project!” After a considerable amount of personal therapy work, Camilla makes the hard decision to turn down law school, goes to film school, and ends up in a happy, successful career as the creative director of a multimedia team.

Case Two. “Jake” works for a successful family-run printing business. Originally the only salesperson, Jake is now in charge of a team. The role continually draws on Jake’s extroversion and feeling function, both in relating to clients, and in inspiring and leading all the sales staff. Jake, 45, has been doing this role for nearly 20 years, and realized in the course of therapy that he is exhausted. “I can do this job, but it sucks the life out of me! I find it so hard to be continuously socially engaged with people!” Jake, an introverted thinking type, somehow found the time to take courses to become a real estate appraiser, left the family firm, and as part of a midlife transition found a new career, with more meaning and fulfillment, and less stress.

Living with Psychological Integrity

Jungian personality type

Aligning your life with your Jungian personality type can contribute tremendously to the feeling that life is rich and full of meaning. This is more than just identifying your personality type. It also entails finding out what that personality type is like for you as a unique individual, and finding creative ways to bring your life into alignment with it — what Jungian analyst John Beebe, MD refers to as personal integrity.

Identifying your personality type, and doing the needed personal work to make your life an expression of your personality is a key part of the journey to wholeness in depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Psychology of Change: Is Transformation Possible?

April 3rd, 2017 · psychology of change

The psychology of change and personal transformation is a matter of vital concern to many people. Yet many wonder: is it even possible?

psychology of change

Jungian therapists know that this is a vital matter to many troubled people. Many people yearn for transformation in their lives, and yet may be unsure whether it can really happen.
I had an odd experience. Searching for appropriate keywords for this post, I tried the phrase “possibility of personal change”, and the keyword tool recommended another phrase instead: “possibility of zombie apocalypse”! Apparently more people search for this phrase than the one I was investigating. Hopefully, we therapists aren’t giving the impression that zombie apocalypse is more likely than personal transformation!

Is Transformation A Real Possibility?

The theme of transformation runs through the depth psychotherapy of C.G. Jung. Jung’s psychology of change most definitely does affirm that transformation is possible. However, it most often does not commence as the result of an ego-driven self improvement project.

Rather, as Prof. Andrew Samuels puts it, , transformation involves

[A] temporary loss of ego-hood in order to bring to consciousness and fulfil a psychological need hitherto unrecognized.

Samuels, A., Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis

In all of us, the ego, that part of ourselves most associated with conscious awareness, with being in control, and with taking initiatives is very often bound up with routines, or even stuck in a rut — often without knowing it, and often without sufficient power to make any changes.

Jungian analyst Dianne Brutsche reminds us that commencing Jungian analysis or a similar depth psychotherapy is often triggered by a crisis or by passing a major turning point in one’s life. Often a major life transition like a divorce, the death of a close loved one or a life-altering health issue gives people the impetus to seek a deeper level of understanding, or a fundamentally renewed perspective on life.

People who become concerned with the issue of transformation often function well emotionally and intellectually, and are well-integrated into their place in life. Yet they’re seeking something beyond just being normal and “appropriately adapted” to their lives and their environment. They often feel a kind of inner stagnation, a sense of somehow “missing the boat” in terms of the real experience of life. There’s an inner drive or impetus to find more — but often, they’re unsure where to look.

What Is Transformation?

psychology of change

…An Age-Old, Universal Symbol

Virtually every human culture has created symbols of human transformation. A near-universal symbol is the transformation that occurs from caterpillar to butterfly. Humans have watched this with intense fascination for probably as long as there have been humans. Similarly, the process of the snake shedding its skin and the symbol of the inner marriage are powerful symbolic representations of this vital psychological reality. Psyche has also portrayed this reality in a thousand other ways.

 

The Dance of the Ego and Unconscious

Depth psychotherapy rightly affirms that real transformation comes from an initiative or impulse originating deep in the unconscious mind, which the ego gradually discerns, comes to understand and, to which it ultimately yields. Yet, over the course of the work, if the ego can relate to the unconscious from a place of acceptance and respect, the ego often has a role in the transformation of the Self. Self and ego can then become partnered in mutual and ongoing transformation.

The Real Stuff

Depth psychotherapy can be an experience of genuine personal transformation. In an environment of deep non-judgmental acceptance, close empathic attunement and careful sensitive watching for stirrings of the undiscovered aspects of the self, many find fundamental change through this type of inner work. If you are at a major turning point in your life, or seeking a deeper meaning or more intense experience, you may find depth psychotherapy to be an appropriate path.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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How to Feel Safe: Finding a Sense of Psychological Home

March 27th, 2017 · how to feel safe

We human beings are fundamentally occupied with the question of how to feel safe. This is about as crucial as any question in human life can get.

how to feel safe

The anxiety that so many experience is a clear manifestation of this question. Even if the question never reaches conscious awareness, there are important parts of the unconscious human mind-brain that are always evaluating the question of the safety of our own being.

Physical Safety

Large parts of the brain, related to both the conscious and unconscious mind focus on preserving our sense of physical safety. Evolution has wisely provided higher mammals like humans with very good, very powerful safety mechanisms that have kept us out of trouble for millions of years. Instinctually, we humans have a wisdom about how to keep ourselves alive and healthy.

Issues of Trauma

Yet, an individual’s sense of physical or emotional safety can be deeply compromised. The individual may experience traumatic overwhelm in such a way that the question of how to feel physically and emotionally safe becomes vexing. You might automatically think of veterans returning from combat with PTSD, and you’d be right. Yet there are far, far more people who carry the scars of domestic violence, or emotionally insecure family environments; their traumatic experience doesn’t allow them to feel genuinely safe.

Such individuals may be subject to traumatic re-enactment where they re-live the emotional and physical impact of traumatic events over and over again, in different situations. Specialized techniques may be needed to enable the person to experience a reduction in the effects of trauma. And anything that helps the individual feel a sense of safety and control is essential.

Attachment

John Bowlby, the great psychiatric researcher who developed attachment theory, stressed that the ability that an individual possesses to form an emotional and physical “attachment” to another person gives the individual what he called a “secure base”. Such a safe connection with the other enables the person to feel a sense of stability and security that allows her or him to take risks, try new things and generally develop as a person. For Bowlby — and much of subsequent psychology — “how to feel safe” = “get yourself firmly and solidly connected to another person, who can be your ‘secure base'”. While attachment theory initially seemed to apply only to parent-child relationships, we now know that it applies to adult relationships, and also to relationship breakdown .

“Home”

The theory also applies to our attachment to place. A good part of the power of “home” as a symbol is connected to the sense of a particular place, home, which acts as secure base. We can feel safe and let our guard down “at home”, because it’s known, and won’t hurt us. Much great mythology, such as Homer’s Odyssey, or the Exodus as journey to the Promised Land in the Hebrew Bible emphasize the symbolism of home, and of the search for home as a symbolic representation of our lifelong attempt to finally and definitively answer the question of how to feel safe .

how to feel safe

“Home” is often powerfully symbolic in our dreams, also. Our first “home” is the womb; it’s striking to realize how many of the first human homes created by indigenous people are womb-like. In the words of Jungians Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin, “These correspond to, or contribute to something within, the experience of a vital center of both fixity and freedom, rest after striving, being fully oneself [italics mine].

We can look at the inner symbolization of home / house as at least in part an internalizing of our own “secure base”, an invitation to a secure and firm connection to our own inner being. In this way, as Prof. Andrew Samuels asserts, home symbolizes connection to your own fundamental inner being, which Jungians refer to as the Self.

An Abiding Inner Sense of Safety

Depth psychotherapy can be of vital importance in assisting individuals to find the answer to how to feel safe. This can come through helping the individual to find secure attachment in outer relationships, and, ultimately through a sense of inner unity and connection to the Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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Adult Children of Alcoholics and the Individuation Journey

March 20th, 2017 · adult children of alcoholics

Adult children of alcoholics each have their own individual journey, yet they share some powerful factors in common.

adult children of alcoholics

These factors can very directly impact the course of the person’s individuation, the term that Jungian depth psychotherapists use to describe the path an individual follows to become fully her- or himself.
What are some of these key factors, or dimensions? And what do they mean for an individual travelling his or her own individual journey to meaning and purpose?

There are a Lot of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Estimates are that as many as 18.5% of U.S. children may be the children of alcoholics; we can expect that numbers would not deviate that radically in Canada. This is a huge number of people; and very many of them are carrying burdens of very nearly overwhelming pain, related to traumatic and other extremely painful experience in the past.

Dr. Claudia Black, Ph. D., a renowned expert on addictions and adult children of alcoholics notes that these individuals grow up with three rules particularly deeply ingrained in their lives: don’t trust; don’t feel; and, don’t talk. Each of these “rules” comes with a background history, often composed of incredible pain and sorrow.

Rule 1: Don’t Trust!

Alcoholic parents can often be so absorbed in concerns related to themselves and their drinking that they forget or are unconcerned with the needs of family members, to the point where they forget about key occasions like birthdays, or graduations, or they leave family members stranded. Children who are subject to a steady diet of such experiences absorb the message that there is no one in whom they can have any faith. In Jungian terms they encounter the devastating negative side of archetypal mother and father.

Rule 2: Don’t Feel!

adult children of alcoholics

“Post Secret” by KP

Alcoholic parents often inflict intense pain and shame on their children. As a result, these kids instinctively learn to shut off and suppress their emotions, because otherwise they would be so overwhelmed that they would not be able to get through their daily lives. This habit of emotional cut-off doesn’t end when the child grows up, and so adult children of alcoholics can often stay in a place where they don’t access their emotions. It can be extremely difficult for them to know what they feel, and even for those who want to be close to them to connect with them. Which leads us to…

Rule 3: Don’t Talk!

Kids of alcoholics become experts at denying the reality around them, both in terms of emotional reality, but often, also, in terms of just plain facts. They can easily become experts at avoiding talking about difficult areas of life. This can actually mean that they resist talking about anything painful, or urgent. But it can also mean that they unconsciously resist talking about anything that is truly important or meaningful, which can mean that they face particular difficulty at times like major life transitions.

Pain from the Past; Moving Into the Present and the Future

Adult children of alcoholics often strongly over-react to situations in the present, moving into emotional denial or defensiveness — or completely disproportionate responses. It’s important for these folks to know that such over-reaction to a present event is really the re-experiencing of pain rooted in the past. Depth psychotherapy speaks of it as being rooted in a feeling toned complex that began with traumatic experiences. Such a complex can be extremely touchy; when activated, it can easily bring the pain of the past into the present.

For adult children of alcoholics, being able to separate the present from the powerful emotional triggers that would send them back into past pain is essential, if they are to keep moving forward in their lives, and their individuation. The right kind of depth psychotherapy can be extremely helpful in assisting with this result.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike © Rob Bertholf ; K P
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Coping with the Death of a Loved One

March 6th, 2017 · coping with the death of a loved one

Coping with the death of a loved one is most often one of the very hardest of the major life transitions we will face.

coping with the death of a loved one

Soul Grief – Photo by Julie Jordan Scott

Many other things will try us, but the loss of a loved one can fundamentally impact our sense of who we are, and our sense of belonging in the world.

The Uniqueness of Your Grief

The ways in which you might be coping with the death of a loved one are probably quite unique, and probably are distinctly different from the grief experience of someone else. It depends crucially on your make-up, your life experience and the character of your relationship with the person you lose. Losing someone you love could mean a spouse, a parent — or a child. The impact on the individual plunged into grief will be enormous, but will be unique to you, and likely very unique to the particular character of the relationship you have had with the person whom you have lost.

The Physical Experience of Grief

As Dr. Therese Rando shows us, grief has a physical dimension, manifesting in deep ways in the body.

These include weeping and sighing, headaches, which can be severe, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, physical weakness, sensations of heaviness, aches, pains, and other stress-related ailments.

Emotional Experiences of Grief

Coping with the death of a loved one is a formidable emotional experience. There are usually intense feelings of sadness and yearning. Less common, but still within normal expectation are feelings of worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, and, not infrequently, guilt.

Detachment and Isolation

When experiencing grief, a person can often feel detached from others, and can want to isolate her- or himself from social contact. Other forms of behaviour that just seem to be abnormal for you may also appear.

Grief and Meaning

A few days ago, I attended a screening of the film Jackie, centered on the experience and memories of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In my opinion, this is a film of extraordinary emotional power, which deals with the experience of grief in a gripping and profoundly human way.

WARNING: THIS VIDEO MAY CONTAIN DISTURBING ELEMENTS, ESPECIALLY FOR TRAUMA SURVIVORS

Jackie shows many deep truths about grief. Above all, it shows how, like almost no other experience, grief opens up profound questions of meaning at the heart of our existence. Wrestling with these questions can be a very central aspect of the experience of grief.

It’s an entirely normal and understandable that, in the face of the loss of a loved one, the individual questions: why he or she has sustained this loss; what possible purpose such pain and suffering could serve; and, in conjunction with this, questions about the purpose of life, and the meaning we are to assign to death.

As Jackie also eloquently shows, it also contains a very crucial question, one that matters to us perhaps more than any: What is the meaning of the beloved’s life? We are confronted with this question both consciously and unconsciously, and it is often reflected in dreams experienced during the time of loss.

Grief and the Unconscious (Dreams)

Dreams do occur in grief; dreams of great power and vividness. Some are related to the trauma of loss, while others seem much more connected to the psyche’s attempts to make meaning out of what has happened.

As Jung’s associate Marie-Louise von Franz noted in her book On Dreams and Death,

[Whenever humans are confronted with] something mysterious, unknown… [the] unconscious produces symbolic, mythical, that is, archetypal, models…. In principle, individuation dreams do not differ in their archetypal symbolism from death dreams.

So, it seems that ultimately, the human psyche symbolically portrays the death of the individual as another stage in the psychic growth of the individual. The meaning that each of us assigns to this will probably depend on our individual beliefs about ultimate things and human destiny.

Creative, highly supportive depth psychotherapy can assist in the difficult process of coping with the death of a loved one, and of making that process part of individuation, which is our becoming who we most fundamentally are.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: © Creative Commons Julie Jordan Scott ; ;
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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