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“I Feel Trapped in My Life”: A Common Midlife Sentiment

March 14th, 2016 · i feel trapped my life

“I Feel Trapped in My Life” — Have you ever said this to yourself?  It’s a sentiment to which many people in midlife and later can relate.

feeling trapped my life

Depth psychotherapists know that these feelings will be recognizable to many in various life stages, but they can become overwhelming acute in the later parts of life.
The sense of feeling trapped at midlife manifests in various ways.

I Feel Trapped in My Life from Brian Collinson

The Feeling of “Having Settled”

During “the first adulthood”, the period leading up to midlife, we often make choices that seem reasonable or good, which have binding effects far into the future.  They can seem good at the time, and, all things considered, they probably are.  Yet, they can often have a huge impact in the midlife transition of our lives and beyond.  We may well feel that these choices are much less of a fit at that stage, but, by then, the cost of altering them may seem prohibitive indeed.

We may experience these high consequence choices in many areas of our lives, including:

  • relationship with a spouse or partner:
  • binding choices around career path;
  • in some cases, just generally settling for a low gear, possibly low risk, life, or,
  • a thousand other possible variants.

As we confront our lives, if we can be honest with ourselves, we might feel a sense of being trapped by our decision, whether they occurred very intentionally and deliberately, or just as a matter of events simply taking their course.

The Feeling of “I Could Have Had More, Accomplished More”

Whatever form the fateful choice takes, there may well come a point in our life journey when we feel pain and regret associated with these choices, as depth psychotherapists well know.  The individual may feel that he or she has somehow missed their life.  Consumed with regret, his or her experience of life can seem like hollow play-acting.

The individual is often filled with a deep yearning for more.  To have accomplished more, perhaps to have had more, to have had different experiences, and possibly even different relationships.  For the individual having such an experience, life may feel excruciatingly painful, empty and hollowed out.


The individual’s inner perfectionism can often spur these feelings.  Perfectionism may savage the individual’s sense of accomplishment, telling him or her that anything and everything done is worthless or simply “not enough”.  For the perfectionist, life can start to seem like an endless and inescapable series of brutal reminders of his or her own inadequacy.  And as researchers like UBC’s Prof. Paul Hewitt point out, often, every new success simply raises the bar higher — so that happiness, or joy of accomplishment, is an eternally receding target.

Avoidance of Persons, Places and Things

The individual who feels trapped by life, who feels that his or her accomplishments are negligible, and that he or she has made choices that have put life on fundamentally the wrong track, may start to avoid persons, places and things that remind him or her of these painful feelings.  When this happens, we know that we’re taking ourselves out of the mainstream of our lives.

feeling trapped my life

The Power of the Unconscious

In the midst of our feelings of trapped-ness, we may resist things being any different in our lives.  As painful as the trapped sensation is, it may feel better than taking the risk of letting alternatives to our current life experience enter our lives.

Yet, something may be trying to emerge in our lives, if we can have the courage to be open to it.  Meaning and purposefulness may be found in listening to those parts of the self that are unacceptable to the ego.  This is the part of the personality that depth psychotherapists and Jungians call the shadow.

In the parts of the psyche that Jung called “the undiscovered self”  may reside a very different image of who we really are, and also a way forward into a meaningful life in midlife and the second half of life.  We’ll explore this in the second part of this post.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome : A Very Major Life Transition!

March 7th, 2016 · dealing with empty nest syndrome

Dealing with empty nest syndrome often doesn’t get the respect it deserves in psychology and psychotherapy circles.

dealing with empty nest syndrome

It often gets treated rather indulgently, as if the pain associated with children growing up and leaving the family home is really about parents who just need to mature and get on with life.  The only thing wrong with that idea is that it’s completely false.
As psychotherapy, the idea that empty nester parents “just need to get over it” would betray a real lack of understanding of the power of the psychic forces that are at play in the drama of parenting.
dealing with empty nest syndrome

We’re Invested!

Parenting: An Enormous Life Investment

Parenting is highly involving and emotional.  Our culture places many demands on parents, even before the child arrives.  The process which many parents go through prior to the arrival of a child is intense indeed.  The birth process itself is extremely demanding and involving for parents.  When the child arrives, in today’s world, a whole vast array of challenges open up before the parents.  Developing social skills, successfully, navigating the various stages of development, completing all the stages of education, fostering interests and extra-curricular activities, helping the teen gain some orientation around sexual and relationship issues, gaining some sense of vocational direction and possible post-secondary studies, getting finances in order to make those studies possible — the list goes on and on!  A tremendous investment of feeling, effort and value is required of the parent, whether mother or father.

The Archetypal Power of Parenthood

In addition, the parental archetypes are among the most powerful.  As Jung himself put it,

The deposit of mankind’s whole ancestral experience — so rich in emotional imagery…. has exalted this group of archetypes into the supreme regulating principles of religious and even political life.

The same, it almost goes without saying, is true of family life –and, at certain stages in life, the life of the individual.

When these parental archetypes truly manifest in our lives — as they do for very many parents — they call upon us for a tremendous investment of self and energy, often, for many parents, virtually without limit.

So we make this huge investment, we’re all in — and the child does well and grows up.  What then?

Who Am I, Post Empty Nest?

Given the tremendous investment of the self that goes into parenting, depth psychotherapists cannot be surprised that, when the child reaches a point of no longer needing this kind of intense parental involvement, and is even at the point of moving geographically out of the house, the parent often suffers a profound sense of loss.  This may include an actual loss of identity.

After the Kids Leave: Mother and Father Archetype

So the major life transition of the post empty nest parent may very well be about finding post-parental meaning, identity and purpose.

Dealing with empty nest syndrome may very well involve addressing how the creativity and potency of the parental archetypes manifest in us.  That question takes us into areas central to our own depths and creativity.  In later life, we seek to discover:

  • How shall I give birth?
  • How shall I nurture?
  • How shall I be potent?

The answers to these questions take a myriad of forms, and although they are archetypal in nature, they may lead us more and more into our unique individuality.

Reinvestment: Meaning and Creativity

The major life transition known as the empty nest requires that we metabolize the past, digesting our experience as parents.  It requires that we celebrate all the good things that we have experienced with our children to date, acknowledging the changes in our relationships with our children, as we move into the future.

As with all good depth psychotherapy ,  we are called to move into our future with feeling, questing for creative ways to respond and to discover the meaning in our emerging lives.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Is Looking for Meaning in Dreams, Well, …Silly?

February 29th, 2016 · meaning in dreams

There are many people, psychologically trained and not, who will tell you that they know the truth of meaning in dreams: “They’re absolute rubbish!”

meaning in dreams

“I dreamt I was in a hotel in Venice…”

“They’re just meaningless drivel”, they confidently assure us, “…pay them no heed.”
Well, are these people correct?  Are depth psychotherapists who strive to identify the meaning of dreams the psychological equivalent of the members of some misguided cult of extraterrestial worshipers, who stand, staring hopefully (pathetically) into the heavens, waiting for the saucers to land, but alas, –They just aren’t coming!
meaning in dreams

Any day now!

The Materialistic, Brain-as-Computer Model

There are some in modern psychology who, right up to the present day, would understand dreams as some sort of byproduct of an essentially physiological function in the brain.

In 1977, the famous Harvard dream researcher J. Allan Hobson proposed a completely neurophysiological theory of dreams in which a “dream state generator” in the brain stem bombards the forebrain with random nonsensical misinformation, of which the forebrain (vainly) ties to make sense.  Similarly, British psychologist/computer scientist  Christopher Evans proposed that dreams were simply the brain’s “off-line time”, analogous to that of a computer.  In much the same vein, Crick and Mitchison held that dreams were simply the brain dumping redundant information.  None of this would suggest that dreams are much use to depth psychotherapy.

The Age of Neuroscience & More Holistic Understandings of Dreams

However, as time has gone by, neuroscience methodologies have supplied new tools and perspectives to psychology, and evolutionary psychology has created new conceptual frameworks, as has a more holistic understanding of the human psyche.

By 1988, formerly hardcore materialist researcher J. Allen Hobson had changed his view of meaning in dreams:

I differ from Freud in that I think that most dreams are [not] obscure… but rather are transparent and unedited.  They reveal clearly meaningful, undisguised and often highly conflictual themes worthy of note by the dreamer….  My position echoes Jung’s notion of dreams as transparently meaningful…

Or, as prominent Stanford dream researcher, William Dement, put it,

Only the dream can allow us to experience a future alternative as if it were real, and thereby to provide a supremely enlightened motivation to act upon this knowledge.

What We Know Now About Meaning in Dreams

Long before CT scans and fNMRs, pioneer psychotherapist Sandor Ferenczi told us “Dreaming itself is the workshop of evolution”.  But modern neuroscience techniques now confirm that dreaming enables us to enter into and share the phylogenetic programming of both the human and the mammalian past.  Anthony Stevens marshals an array of evidence in support of this conclusion, including:

+ The emergence of dream sleep 130 million years ago, and its persistence across a wide range of species demonstrates that it is a neuropsychic activity of the greatest biological significance.

+ The findings that EEG theta rhythm, originating from a specific part of the paleo-mammalian brain, namely the hippocampus, is associated with the performance of crucial survival behaviours and memory storage, as well as with REM sleep lends weight to the additional hypothesis that in dreaming sleep… the human animal is updating strategies for survival in the light of its own experience and in the light of all the potential for experience specific to the species [italics mine].

In other words, there’s meaning in dreams, and both connection to the human past and to resources for dealing with the human present. As such, dreams have a meaningful place in depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Dealing with Stress & Anxiety: Tips from Our Inner Neanderthal, 2

February 22nd, 2016 · dealing stress anxiety

As we saw in the first part of this post, we stand to learn important things about dealing with stress and anxiety by looking at our evolutionary heritage.

dealing stress anxiety

       Some modern hikers… looking a little bit Neanderthal!

This post builds on Part 1, focusing on what evolutionary and archetypal psychology can teach us about dealing with stress and anxiety.

3. Nothing’s Too Modern about “Modern Anxiety”

While modern life may provide many stressors and sources of anxiety, the actual mechanisms of anxiety have their roots in our biological self, and are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years old.

As Prof. Anthony Stevens states, “to be in the grip of a phobia is to realize the power of an autonomous complex operating at an ancient and unconscious level of the brain.”  In the last post, we looked at the evolutionary basis of some of these phobias.  Similarly, we can see the evolutionary roots of many other types of experience that are related to anxiety.

Panic, for instance.  Researchers such as Prof. R. M. Nesse and Columbia’s Dr. Donald F. Klein have made good cases to establish that panic is an evolutionarily-programmed response to situations such as suffocation, or, in fact, to any situation which requires escape via energetic flight.

Also, as far back as the 1920s, researcher W.B. Cannon showed that anxiety itself is a form of vigilant response that enables us to be alert to changes in our surroundings, preparing us to meet any emergency situations that arise.  He showed the connection between anxiety and the body state of arousal which is activated by centres in the limbic system of the brain.

dealing stress anxiety



4. Dealing with Stress & Anxiety: Getting the Balance Right

Emotions are adaptive responses that evolution has provided.  They serve to keep us safe, and get us through demanding situations.  We now know that we experience anxiety when cues associated with a possible danger have been perceived, but before we get an accurate picture of the real nature of the danger.

This is important, because, as Hans Selye, the famous stress researcher established, organisms perform best when subjected to moderate amounts of stress.  We need to be conscious of this, and avoid putting ourselves into states where the level of stress is so high as to be noxious, even possibly dangerous.  But by the same token, we need to find ways to avoid getting ourselves into a headspace where any amount of stress seems intolerable, as this, too,  is going to keep us out of the mainstream of our lives.

5. Don’t Just Smash the Warning Light

Self-acceptance and self-knowledge are the heart of depth psychotherapy, and have a lot to do with dealing with stress and anxiety in ways that work for us.  We have a choice to listen to the wisdom of the 2,000,000 year old man when it comes to stress and anxiety, or to ignore his wisdom and basically go to war with him.  That last thing is likely not going to go well.

Anxiety is like a flashing red warning light.  The best way to deal with such a flashing light is not to smash it, or just figure out how to turn it off, but to figure our why it has started to flash.

As Prof. Nesse puts it, “The capacities for anxiety and mood were shaped by natural selection because they have been useful….  [S]ome conditions that seem like diseases are actually defences.”

Our anxiety is telling us something essential about our lives.  If we can listen, hearing our own being and our unconscious mind, anxiety may well lead us toward something that can gives a greater sense of harmony and completeness in our lives.  However, there is no alternative to doing the hard work of getting inside our anxiety, understanding why it’s there, and how it actually affects us.

Finding ways to listen to our own being, and understanding what really motivates us, are key part of our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Dealing with Stress & Anxiety: Tips from Our Inner Neanderthal, 1

February 8th, 2016 · dealing stress anxiety

Dealing with stress and anxiety is a crucial topic in our time: do evolutionary and archetypal psychology have anything helpful to say about it?


Your Neanderthal consultant

Well, it turns out that they do.  Learning to acknowledge our anxiety, and to give it its appropriate due, is an important exercise in self-acceptance, as a part of psychotherapy.  It amounts to acceptance of part of what Jung would call our inner “2,000,000 year old person.”
Anxiety has evolved as part of our psyche for some pretty good reasons.  Just what exactly does it do for us?

1. You Need Your Anxiety

Much as many modern people feel that their lives are riddled with useless anxiety, the fact is, that we do genuinely need our anxiety to survive.  As psychiatrist Anthony Stevens puts it:

Psychiatric emphasis on anxiety as a classifiable “illness” has given rise to the erroneous belief, current through most of [the last 100 years], that anxiety is “neurotic” and that no well-adjusted person should expect to suffer from it.  In fact, the capacity to experience anxiety is indispensible to survival….  An animal without fear is a dead animal. [italics mine]

Evolution has developed anxiety as a means of helping organisms to survive and thrive.  In fact, anxiety is a special form of alertness that helps humans and most of our animal kin to register when there are changes in our environment, so that we can respond appropriately to any type of emergency that might arise.

In fact, evolutionary psychologists can demonstrate how irrational fears, or phobias, are linked to appropriately adaptive responses that have somehow been blown out of proportion.

dealing stress anxiety

2. Many Anxiety Disorders are Out-of-Order Forms of Adaptive Strategies

Depth psychotherapists well know that, when anxiety gets out of whack, it doesn’t help us to respond to situations properly.  Yet, even then, we can see how phobias get their start from an appropriate response that has a basis that facilitates our survival:

We need to deal with stress and anxiety in an appropriate and complete way, that accords with depth psychotherapy.  To do that requires coming to terms with parts of the psyche that are rooted in our evolution, and fixed in responses to the world that date right back to our early human and proto-human ancestors.  In speaking of contemporary research into anxiety and panic, Dr. Stevens tells us, “[All researchers] agree that the physiological and psychological components of anxiety, fear and panic galvanize an organism to adaptive action.”

3. Personal & Archetypal Dimensions of Dealing with Stress & Anxiety

A key concern for therapy, then, is to understand how stress and anxiety in the individual have been distorted into forms that keep them from helping to “galvanize an organism [ourselves!] to adaptive action.”  To understand that fully in the life of the individual means examining both the personal roots of their anxiety, and the ways that archetypal elements of the psyche come into play in that person’s particular situation, and understanding the role that all these factors play in our journey to wholeness.  We’ll be opening this up more in Part 2 of this post.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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What is My Life’s Work? — A Vital Second Half of Life Question

January 25th, 2016 · what is my life's work

“What is My Life’s Work?” might be a question we expect from those in their 20s, but it also matters in midlife transition and throughout the life cycle.

what is my life's work

It may not be obvious to everyone, but we have a life’s work — something that we do and live as an expression of who we most fundamentally are.  As James Hillman suggests in his book The Soul’s Code, there are things for each of us that are simply a natural expression of the inherent way we are in the world.  The trick is to keep others peoples’ images of ourselves, expectations and prejudices about us at enough of a distance that we can begin to see what it is that really expresses us.  And, as depth psychotherapy knows, there is another whose images, expectations and prejudices are potentially even more destructive — and that person is found right in the mirror.

The question “What is My Life’s Work?” only gains in importance as we move through adulthood:

Don’t Assume That It’s Your Career!

It would be a very big mistake to assume overly quickly that your life’s work is your career.  Some careers are true vocations; many are rather partial things.  Often people will like their career, or tolerate it, but that is not the same thing as finding oneself  in the grip of the passion of one’s life’s work.  The question “What is my life’s work?” is only answered when one feels that “Yes!  This is why I’m here!  I was born to do this!”  It may well take psychotherapy to help people find this place.

Don’t Assume It’s Over If You Retire

Some plan to retire, and have a life of relative leisure, living as if their “life’s work” is over.  However, as Jung put it, it’s good to retire, but not into nothing.  If retirement is to be good, it mustn’t just be fun.  It must be meaningful and engaging.  That means that there must be involvements in retirement that have soul in them.

Don’t Expect to Find It Just By Thinking About It

Answering the question”What is my life’s work?” is not going to be accomplished by just sitting around reflecting on it in the abstract.  It’s necessary to try things, to do things, to have experiences.  If you feel something beckoning to you through a feeling that it would be good, joyous or meaningful, then it’s essential that you go and do it.  Only by trying it will you know whether it’s truly you or not.  Your unconscious mind will have something to say on the subject, also.

Your Life’s Work May be the Same Thing as “You”

Sometimes, a person’s life work may be something they do so easily or naturally that it doesn’t seem to have particular significance.  I can think of a letter carrier who used to deliver mail in my area, a man with such a natural gift for connection with others that everyone in the area knew his name.  I don’t think that he was aware, but I believe that his uncanny capacity to bring about connection may have been his life’s work.

what is my life's work

Wholeness and the Self

The call to wholeness may have a great deal to do with our life’s work.  That which we do with a natural creativity, and that continually opens new doors may be both our life’s work and a key part of our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Hope for Uncertain Times: the Deep Self & Major Life Transitions

January 18th, 2016 · hope uncertain times

Yes, hope, and specifically “hope for uncertain times” is again a very relevant topic, given the financial uncertainty and overall social churn 2016 has so far exhibited.

hope uncertain times
Economic fluctuation, chaos and dysfunction seem to flood the news media, and sometimes seem to crowd out hope-giving and empowering messages.  Often, these larger scale events seem to combine with personal issues and personal life transitions, such as divorce, changes in employment status, health issues, issues with children, loss of loved ones, and a myriad of others, which can be matters of very major importance to those undergoing them.
Depth psychotherapy has a different concept of personal identity, which is based on the wholeness of the individual, both conscious and unconscious, as the slide show below explains:


Is there any way that this broader concept of the self can help us in facing the challenges of current day existence, and finding hope for uncertain times like these?

hope uncertain times

Psychological Resilience in Major Life Transitions

One of the best sources of psychological resilience is a sense of security in a rooted sense of identity.  But there is the problem, because undergoing a major life transition may lead us to a crisis of identity.  A social role, or a certain understanding of ourselves, as family member, parent, employee, member of a certain community may be brought into question by a life transition.

Example: Jan, a native of Halifax, has had to move 4 times in the last 12 years, in order to keep the job she has with a trans-national corporation.  These jobs have taken her to 4 countries on 3 continents.  “Every time I put down roots, and start to get comfortable, it’s time to pull up stakes and move again!  I just start to know some of the parents at my kids’ schools — and then it’s time to go.”  In the midst of these job changes, Jan retains a certain continuity as an employee, but she never gets to feel a real sense of attachment to a community, or have a circle of permanent friends.

One question that Jan’s situation poses is, what is my real identity?  Also, where do I really belong?  Jan is fully aware that her identity does not consist in the connection to the particular community that she’s living in.

The unconscious mind is continually seeking to put before us symbols and indicators of our real identity and the things that we most richly value, through our dreams, our reactions to other people, our unconscious responses to situations, and in still other ways.  An important part of the work of depth psychotherapy is to make the individual aware of these indicators, and to help him or her to become grounded in them.

Hope in Our Uncertainty

The conscious mind is subject to continual shifts in the chances and changes of our uncertain situation.  Very often, it’s overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the demands and the complexities of life in our uncertain time.  The instinctual and intuitive side of our being brings us into contact with a whole other dimension of ourselves, grounding us in parts of our inner reality that often go beyond our language and the reasoning parts of the psyche.

Sticking with What Matters

A key part of our journey is finding out what really matters to us as individuals, and living it out.  Another important element is responding to life situations in a way that accords with our deepest selves.  Both of these things are connected with having hope for uncertain times, and are rooted in the essential aims of depth psychotherapy.


Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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4 Non-Obvious Thoughts about Hope and the New Year

January 11th, 2016 · hope and the new year

It’s common to associate hope and the New Year.  Yet, as 2016 dawns, we know we live in an era of huge life transitions and challenges, individually, nationally and globally.

hope and the new year

                                Art by Andrew Junge – “Pandora’s Box”

Hope is a vitally important feeling state. Studies link hope to: good health; finding life meaningful ; and, all kinds of academic and athletic performance.  Prof. C.R. Snyder  and other researchers have shown that hopeful people value themselves more, take better care of their bodies, and have higher pain tolerance and resiliency.

Here’s four thoughts on hope and the New Year.

Hope Isn’t Just “Optimism”

At least, not in any short-term sense. Optimism tends to be about a certain result occurring, often in the short run.  But hope is not dependent on short term outcomes.  Hope tends to be less rational, less cut and dried.  Even when it’s not immediately apparent how, hope is convinced that life will bring good things to the self.

Hope Is Not Just “Making Plans”

Certain types of psychology emphasize defining or perceiving hope in relationship to the number and type of plans for the future.  Again, this would seem to be more of a measure of optimism, and to be very centred on the plans and projects of the ego.  And sometimes frenetic plan-making can be indicative of the opposite of hope: despair.

Hope is about my expectation that the self will survive intact, and continue to grow and thrive, and that value and meaning will survive and thrive, also.

hope and the new year

Hope and Trust Go Together

Depth psychotherapy lives in the awareness that hope and trust go together.  Psychological theorists have long maintained that the essential conflict in the earliest stages of life is trust vs. mistrust.  This revolves at first around feeding and nutrition, and the infant getting its needs met.  As the world proves predictable and responsive to the child’s needs, so the child will grow into a stance of trust.  Out of this position of trust, it becomes possible for the young human to hope.

As the life journey continues the question of trust will continue, in ever more elaborate ways.  As the child is loved and cared for, and is positively mirrored by the world, the sense of trust will grow, and deeper and more profound types of trust in the world, and hope for the possibilities in life will become rooted.

Love, the sense of positive valuation by others, and the sense of being seen for who he or she really is give the child the possibility of feeling real, as the psychoanalysts might say.  This awareness goes hand in hand with what we can call basic trust in life, and an overall attitude of hope towards the possibilities in life.

Jung took this further.  He emphasized the need to become as conscious as possible of everything that we are, of our own wholeness.  By doing this, we become as aware as we can of  our own reality, and, through connection to both instinct and spirit, to ultimately feel connected to the world, and like we belong in it.  From a Jungian perspective, this is what ultimately grounds hope.

There’s Good and Bad Hope

Hope has an archetypal, and mythic, aspect.  In the Greek myth of Pandora, she opens her box or jar, she releases all the plagues and woes that beset humankind.  Only one thing remains in the bottom of the box: Elpis, the Greek daimon of hope.

Why does hope remain?  Why is it in there in first place?  Is hope a curse?  The answer is, it can be, if it’s delusory, compulsive hope that, say, keeps one “looking for love in all the wrong places”, rather than a hope rooted in a basic trust of oneself and of the goodness of life.  Helping a person get to the latter is the core business of the depth psychotherapist.

Wishing you Happy New Year, and the fullness of  good hope for 2016!


Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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The Healing of Yule: Winter Solstice Symbolism & Wholeness

December 21st, 2015 · winter solstice symbols

My last post focussed on Holiday Depression and Stress , but there’s also a genuine representation of healing embodied in the winter solstice symbolism of the Yule.

winter solstice symbols

                  Yule Log – Symbol of the Return of the Sun

Yule, the ancient festival associated with the time of the winter solstice, contains symbols of wholeness that are native to the traditions of ancient Northern Europe, but which are also found throughout varied cultures of the world.  From a depth psychotherapy perspective, much of this symbolism appears to be rooted in themes deep within the human psyche (which Jungians would call archetypal.)

The Yule; The Wheel

The term “Yule” originally meant “wheel” and the Yule season was associated with the ending and beginning of a rotation of the wheel of the year, the year being viewed as both starting and beginning at the time of the winter solstice, and rotating through the various seasons and the signs of the zodiac.  Below is a picture of the pre-Christian North European year as viewed as a “yule” or wheel, and beginning and ending with the Yule season:

winter solstice symbolism

Wheel symbolism is very ancient, and especially the imaging of the heavens as a wheel.  As shown by the famous Medicine Wheels of the Plains First Nations of North America, it long predates the actual physical wheel, as archeologist John Freeman relates of the famous Majorville, AB medicine wheel, in his book Canada’s Stonehenge.

winter solstice symbols

                  Medicine Wheel, Bighorn, Wyoming

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, the wheel shares in the symbolism of the circle, which is itself the most basic form of mandala, or symbol of wholeness.  The wheel symbolizes eternity; the revolving heavens, and at the center, beyond the rotating perimeter, something that does not move.

The Yule as the Wheel of the Year is a symbol of all that moves and changes in the nature of the Self, and also of the fact that there is something constant and unchanging, right at the heart of our being.

The Tree

The Christmas tree, as an evergreen, symbolizes enduring and renewed life, and can also be a symbol of fertility and immortality.  Furthermore, what we know as a “Christmas tree” is actually a a tree associated with the Nordic Yule, and it symbolizes the Yggdrasil from Norse mythology.

winter solstice symbolism

                                     World Tree

The Yggdrasil is the world tree.  It consists of the whole of the universe as the Nordics conceived of it, including the realm of the giants, the realm of the gods, and the realm that we call home.  This idea of an enormous tree that holds the entire universe is not unique to the Norse.  It is found in many cultural contexts around the world.

For Jung and later depth psychotherapists, the tree is also a symbol of the Self.  In myth, humans often transform into trees, and there are many ways in which trees and humans resemble each other.  Trees have upright trunks; we have upright backbones.  The image of the tree that grows from a small seed or acorn into an enormity is often an image of the human journey of growth and individuation.

So, each “yuletide”, we bring this symbol of growth and individuation in our homes.  As we travel the wheel of the year, and return to this place, we are reminded of our own resilience, the places in our lives where decay is followed by renewal, and the growth toward what it is that we really, fundamentally, are.

Journey toward our true identity is at the core of depth psychotherapy.

With best Holiday wishes,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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4 Empowering Perspectives on Holiday Depression and Stress

December 14th, 2015 · holiday depression and stress

Every psychotherapist knows that holiday depression and stress are a prominent feature of the lives of many at this time of year.

 holiday depression and stress
Usually that’s seen as something that people just must endure.
But is there a possibility of something that would actually give life in the midst of holiday depression and stress?

Compassion and Insight into Myself at the Holidays

At this time of giving and preoccupation with the wants and needs of others, we all need a very healthy sense of compassion for ourselves.  It’s very important to recognize that the holidays can be quite hard on people.

Many have had difficult experiences associated with the holidays.  Family conflict, negative experiences with addictions, marital breakup or grief over the loss of a loved one are only a few examples.

If I find myself having negative or dark feelings over the holidays, I need to acknowledge that in a kind way, without feeling pathological or wrong. Therapists also know that the compulsive joyousness of the holidays can feel like salt in the wounds of those who might be hurting.

What if I Quit Resisting My Holiday Depression?

It may be important for many people to acknowledge how difficult the holidays are for them, and just to feel it, rather than fighting it. What would it be like, if, instead of resisting the feelings of depression or overstress, I just acknowledge and accept them, without any sense of self blame or self attack? For some, it might bring a feeling of something like relief or liberation.  As Jungian analyst June Singer has it, “psychotherapy can help the person to gain an understanding of the depressive attitude, to work with it, and eventually to transcend it.”

What Do I Need to Release, in my Holiday Stress and Depression?

Depth psychotherapists are aware that often, at the heart of depression, the client needs to release, or let go. It may be an acknowledgement that something that the individual clings to is lost forever, or an obsolete identity or self understanding.  Sometimes, we have to find a way to make peace with the ghosts of the past, and release them.

holiday depression and stress

It’s not by accident that the process of renewal in the life of Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge begins with the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge has to acknowledge painful things in the past that need to be released. And it’s only by that release that the energy or life that has been caught up and frozen in the loss of those precious things is freed to move into a new form, and a new identity.

Example: a woman grieved her childhood experience of Christmas, which was about material excess, emotional emptiness and loneliness. She came to find a joy and vitality in celebrating a Christmas with minimal material trappings, connections with genuinely meaningful people, and non-traditional meals and activities.

Is Something Vital Hidden in my Holiday Stress and Depression?

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, at the heart of most depression is something that the individual is working on at the unconscious level.  The holidays are a time to watch dreams, and look for creative stirrings.  Within holiday sorrow may be the stirring of new life that wants to be born.

Depth psychotherapy is concerned with finding the life often locked in the frozen heart of depression.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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