Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Midlife Crisis in Men: 5 Signs Your Life is in Transition, 1

April 27th, 2014 · midlife crisis men

Here are 5 signs of midlife transition or midlife crisis in men.

midlife crisis men

Experience in therapy tends to confirm that each of these 5 “signs” tend to be specific to men, and each is connected to at least one question important for men to ask during midlife transition.

Feeling: What am I Feeling?

Someone once said,  “The great problem for many men at midlife is that the chest is a numbed zone.”  Men are trained not to feel from early life, and to stay in their heads.  Yet without feeling, it’s impossible to know what we really value, how things are really affecting us in our lives, and what direction we want to go.

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Identity: Who Is That in the Mirror?

James Hollis offers a pretty blunt and bleak assessment of where many men find themselves in our culture.  It may seem harsh, but, for many men at midlife it represents the truth:

Conditioned to shun feeling, avoid instinctual wisdom and override his inner truth, the average male is a stranger to himself and others, a slave to money, power and status….

There are few models in our culture that invite or permit a man to be honest with himself.

In our culture, men are socialized to ignore their feelings and their own inner voice and wisdom, and to go after priorities that remove them more and more from who they really are.  While men are told that this is “independence” and “individuality”, by midlife, many are locked into stereotypical roles, with immense pressure to conform.  Midlife crisis in men often takes the form of looking in the mirror, not recognizing who’s there, and feeling how much that hurts.

Persona: When Can I Drop the Armour?

Example: Jim, 51, married, 2 teenage kids, IT management consultant. Travels North America, 200 days a year.  Professionally, people expect Jim to provide expertise and solutions; he is continually climbing new, steep, learning curves.  He faces unrelenting pressure to know, to be right, and to meet tough deadlines.

Jim is often alone in strange cities, relating only to business contacts, and dealing with conflict situations.  Jim sees little of his kids, who are becoming more independent, and will soon leave for university.  He finds his relationship is getting colder and more distant.  He and his wife talk less and less.  He has no time for non-work interests.

midlife crisis men

Jim represents someone lost within the armour of the persona, the social mask that he’s conditioned to present to the world.  Often, a key question in therapy is what actually belongs to the man, and what to persona.  This is a common sign of midlife crisis in men.

In Part 2 of this post, we’ll look at two other key signs of midlife transition, or midlife crisis in men.

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  ©  Kevin Krejci ;  Kevin N. Murphy
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Overcome Anxiety by Understanding Your Psyche, 2

April 19th, 2014 · how to overcome anxiety

In my first post on how to overcome anxiety, we saw its instinctual and archetypal roots; in this post, I reflect more on how to make practical use of that kind of awareness.

how to overcome anxiety

Australopithecus afarensis

How can the realization that anxiety often is rooted in instinct and archetype actually help us?  Well to start with…

Stop Beating Yourself Up!

Really!  Too often, people dealing with anxiety conditions engage in vicious self attack, accusing themselves of being weak, morally flawed, ” drama queens”, or even, narcissistic.

Actually, they’re none of these things. The truth is that they’re dealing with a psychic and genetic heritage containing incredible inherited wisdom, but which sometimes gets out of sync with our current world.

Our Primate Inheritance

The young lad pictured above is an Australopithecus, an early human species flourishing between 2.9 and 3.9 million years ago. His grassland savannah world was very different from ours. So, sometimes, psychological mechanisms that we’ve inherited from our early ancestors just won’t fit with conditions in the modern world. It would be a huge mistake to morally condemn ourselves for that! We’ve inherited much ancient wisdom, but sometimes in counselling & psychotherapy we face situations where instinctual or archetypal wires get crossed.

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Good Instinct on the Wrong Track

Consider phobias, for instance.  Arachnophobia (fear of spiders) was appropriate in the environment early humans inhabited, where poisonous creatures were a common danger.  It’s less useful in, say, suburban Toronto, but if it gets activated, it can cripple a person’s life. Similarly, xenophobia, fear of strangers, made sense when people from “the other side of the hill” spelled danger, but it’s very unhelpful for modern people, say, on the subway.

Likewise, embarrassment, shame and guilt are necessary in a social species like ours to ensure group harmony and social cohesion.  Yet when over-blown, these responses can lead to avoidant personality disorder, where a person feels constantly and inappropriately ashamed, inadequate and hypersensitive to what others think.

Again, the instinctual desire for connection and attachment to others is absolutely essential for the survival of a small primate group in a hostile environment.  Yet, it can get distorted into debilitating separation anxiety and anxious attachment, where an individual suffers intense distress at the imagined threat of the loss of a loved one, or even at being out of sight of a loved one.

how to overcome anxiety


Living with the Two Million Year Old Person

How can we know and appreciate our instinctual and archetypal heritage, yet live with it in a way that keeps anxiety as a useful servant, rather than a debilitating master? Good depth psychotherapy can show us how to overcome anxiety, by living in accord with who we fundamentally are, and with our instinctual and archetypal roots.

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  ©  Christine Warner Hawks ;  Bradshaw Foundation
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Overcome Anxiety by Understanding Your Psyche, 1

April 13th, 2014 · how to overcome anxiety

 If we want to understand how to control anxiety, it would help a lot to understand some things  about the workings of the psyche.

how to overcome anxiety
To understand our minds,
we must understand the minds of our ancestors.

Let me start things off with a bang, by saying something provocative:

Thank Goodness We Get Anxious!

It’s true! We live in an era when anxiety is often classified into this or that particular disorder in the psychiatric “Bible” known as the DSM.  Yet, it’s very wise for me to keep in mind the good things my anxiety does for me.  As Jungian psychiatrist Anthony Stevens puts it,

“Psychiatric emphasis on anxiety as a classifiable ‘illness’ has given rise to the erroneous belief, current through most of this century, that anxiety is ‘neurotic’ and that no well-adjusted person should expect to suffer from it.  In fact, the capacity to experience anxiety is indispensable to survival and reproductive success.

An animal incapable of fear is a dead animal.”

Imagine life without anxiety or fear.  The odds of surviving even one days’ rush hour commute would be appallingly low!

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Anxiety Helps Us to Adapt…

It’s well established in psychotherapy now that anxiety is a high-alertness state that enables all animals, including humans to be highly aware of changes in our environment, in response to perceived threats that may be coming our way.  In this state, among other effects, adrenalin is secreted, breathing becomes intense, heart rate goes up and the large muscle groups are mobilized for use in fight, flight, or other survival behaviors.  This is essential where there’s a real threat, but poses huge difficulties if there’s no real danger.

how to overcome anxiety

Anxiety Can Short Circuit Life

For Jungians, as for evolutionary psychologists, anxiety disorders are exaggerated or inappropriate forms of adaptive strategies.

Example: In nature, animals stay on their own, familiar turf.  It can be essential for an animal, or a human, to stay near home turf to avoid threats from predators, unfamiliar territory or hostile tribes.  So, natural selection has created an innate predisposition in humans to stick close to home and to avoid strangers.  

This works for primates in the Olduvai gorge, or Paleolithic tribespeople.  But if these predispositions get activated in a modern, suburban person, and make her or him afraid of going out the front door — that’s a crippling difficulty. It’s essential that this person find a greater sense of security and self-confidence — and quite possibly a different relationship to the archetype of home. 

Discovering how to overcome anxiety using psychotherapy is often about making better friends with our instinctual and archetypal roots.

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Beth Kanter ; Duncan McKinnon
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Treat Depression with Depth Psychotherapy

April 5th, 2014 · how to treat depression

For many individuals, the question of how to treat depression is an important one, and depth psychotherapy can have a vital role to play.

how to treat depression

There are numerous approaches to depression.  Nonetheless, for individuals of certain temperaments, depth psychotherapy may be indispensable.

Depression as Energy Gone Into the Unconscious

Depression may be genetically and or physiologically rooted. But much depression has emotional and feeling level roots.

We can visualize depression using the metaphor of energy for our sense of vitality, zest for living, values, motivation and spontaneity.  Life situations may dampen our energy, shutting us down on the conscious level. Yet that energy doesn’t disappear. It retreats into the unconscious. We may feel lifeless in our conscious lives, yet we can often discern its presence in dreams, and other unconscious manifestations.

“The quantity and quality of the depression is a function of the quality and quantity of the life force which is being pressed down.”

~James Hollis

So, the more depressed and shut down I feel — the more something inside of me really wants to be alive, but is being held down.


how to treat depression

Held down by what?

The answer to this question will fundamentally determine our approach to how to treat depression.

Consider a child who does not get basic needs met , who is completely unseen and unvalued in the family of origin.  She could easily internalize that negative evaluation as a judgement on her own worth.

Alternately, an individual unfairly treated and dismissed from a work role may find himself torn between wanting to fight back and vindicate himself, and a desire to accept what has happened, let it go, and move into a new life possibility. This conflict saps his vitality.

These two cases have similarities, but are profoundly different. Addressing the unique situation of the particular individual may the most important consideration in how to treat depression.

The Heart of Depression

It is not going to be enough for many individuals dealing with depression to simply be exhorted to move their thinking toward the positive.  Often, some very important part of the life is deeply suppressed at the heart of depression.  It is very necessary to understand that thing in depth, to visualize it, and to move it

A brief example: Through the course of depth therapy, a late 40s client understands a dream from age 13… and realizes that the dream holds the key to a key issue developing in the client’s life for the past 35 years.

The journey of therapy often holds the key to unlocking an individual’s vitality. 

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Attribution License  Craig Deaken ; Blondin Rikard
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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