Journeying Toward Wholeness

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How to Cope with Depression After a Divorce, 1

May 25th, 2014 · how to cope with depression

Divorce may lead to great psychological change and growth, but a key challenge can be how to cope with depression during such an immense life transition.

how to cope with depression   In dealing with depression associated with divorce, it’s easy to move quickly to wanting to solve it, to get past it.  But it may be important for us to ask, “What’s the meaning behind this depression?  Could there possibly be anything it’s trying to teach me or show me?

Situational Depression and Divorce

This may seem like an outrageous idea!  But as Jung tells us,

All aspects of the psyche, even those which seem pathological or destructive, actually serve the function of furthering our psychological development. 

Is there anything in divorce-related depression that might actually further our journey towards wholeness?

The Meaning of Divorce-Related Depression

To discover how to cope with depression after a divorce, it’s essential that we first understand all that is going on in our inner life at such a time, and grasp its meaning. Jungian psychiatrist Erik Goodwyn tells us,

“Like ‘phantom limb pain’ a subject can continue to vividly experience a person even after they are gone. [The inner image of the person is] a compact symbolic expression of all the feelings, subtle environmental cues, affects, introjected qualities, unconscious perceptions, and self-biased memories of the person in the subject”.

This is true in death, but just as true when a relationship terminates, or a divorce occurs. The former partner is still very much a presence in our inner life, and in our unconscious mind. We will not exorcise that inner presence by a simple effort of will, no matter how strong our will may be. It is often only through a process of extended inner work that the restless “ghosts” are finally quieted, and enabled to go to a place of peace. Often this is connected with a process of acknowledgement of grief, and of self compassion and self acceptance. how to cope with depression

Grief and Loss

Those undergoing divorce or marital breakdown are reluctant to acknowledge grief. Anger, or, even hatred, can be so intense that acknowledging grief can seem like a self betrayal. Yet, even in those situations where the feeling towards the former partner is totally negative, there is almost always a sense of loss, tied to intense feelings of grief.

Those newly married are most often not hard boiled cynics. Most look forward to life with the new partner with hope, joy and often security. One of the hardest things about divorce can be the recognition of the death of hopes and dreams. Individuals can feel that the years and emotional and physical energy invested in a relationship have been wasted. It may be essential to confront these feelings, to enable the individual to ultimately be able to move forward with a sense of hope or trust in the future.

Depth psychotherapy or Jungian analysis may play a vital role in dealing with depression, and ultimately finding healing, in the experience of divorce. In How to Cope with Depression after a Divorce, Part 2, I’ll look at the presence of the Shadow in divorce-related depression, and look at divorce as an honouring of the Self.

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Midlife Crisis in Women: 5 Signs Your Life is in Transition, 2

May 13th, 2014 · midlife crisis women

In my last post, I focused on what midlife transition and midlife crisis in women look like, and I’d like to continue that here.

midlife crisis women

Woman with a Chignon – Paul Gauguin

A woman’s journey through midlife and the second half of life differs from a man’s, both because of her feminine identity and because of her unique individual being.  Last time, we looked at 3 signs of that journey; here we look at 2 more.

4.  Consciousness of Suffering

One of the signs of midlife in a woman can often be awareness of the kind and amount of the pain in her life.  Of course, the same is true of men, but this can be a singular experience of extraordinary and life-changing depth for many women. Psychologist and Jungian analyst Cara Barker writes of the experience of the type of woman whom she calls World Weary Woman in this manner:

Historically, [she] answers her difficulties with attempts to be perfect, and to be perfectly good.  She is not inclined to look for interior solutions until she encounters a form of suffering so profound it stops her in her tracks, and her usual coping strategy does not work.  She can no longer defend herself against her pain.

Barker tells us the pain will not be eased until the woman in question finally acknowledges it, and receives its wisdom.  There is need to listen to the deepest self, and its most fundamental wounding and yearnings.  Especially its deepest yearnings! This can be very difficult for many women, who even in 21st century culture are continuously given the message that their being is for other people — spouse, parents, children, or the broader community.  Yet it is in listening to her own being that the deepest healing occurs.

midlife crisis women

Self Portrait, 1980 – Mavis Blackburn

5.  Liminality: The Threshold

An important sign of midlife transition or midlife crisis in women is the sense of liminality, of transitioning from one life or way or being, to another.  A woman often experiences an inability to continue living as she has throughout all of her earlier adult life.  A woman may not know where she is going, or what is trying to open up in her life.  She may only know, I can’t do it anymore.

midlife crisis women

For many women, it may boil down to “Will I stay other directed, or does my own commitment to myself and my reality, matter? As Jungian analyst Murray Stein puts it:

When the soul awakens at midlife and presents its gifts, life is permanently marked by the inclusion of them.  Taken in, they become the hallmark of your life, the core of your uniqueness.  Refused, they can haunt your days, and may undermine all your toiling.

Depth psychotherapy can be essential to living out the gifts of soul in the time of midlife transition or midlife crisis for women.

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

May 12th, 2014 · midlife crisis women

Recently, I’ve done posts on signs of midlife transition in men — but what does midlife crisis in women look like?

midlife crisis women

Women are often acutely aware of midlife transition and midlife crisis due to menopause.  Yet, psychology and Jungian depth psychotherapy reveal several less well known aspects of female midlife transition.  Here are five key signs of the emotional, spiritual and psychological midlife journey in women.

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1.  Things Don’t Feel Like They’re Supposed To

Often in midlife transition and midlife crisis, key values the individual has rigorously lived by in the first half of life seem very questionable.  In our society, this is often even truer for women than men.

Many 40s and 50s women feel that not all has turned out exactly as advertised.  Even today, our culture maintains a clear, tight picture of what woman’s role is, and what she is supposed to do to be happy, fulfilled and complete.

Yet, at midlife, many women struggle to find gratification in playing the game in accordance with “the rules”.  As the wife of a former Archbishop of Canterbury put it,

“I have a terrible inner sense that all my life… was derived from and in answer to… never ceasing claims…  

I seem only to have been a service of respondings and no core.  But there must be a core. [italics mine]”

There is a profound sense of having endlessly responded to needs and promptings of others in the first half of life.  There is a profound yearning for something more real and substantial  — “There must be a core.”

2.  Visibility: Do I Still Count?

Feminist psychologist Joan Chrisler  notes that women in our culture tend to become more and more invisible as they age.  After menopause, it’s almost as if society as a whole no longer acknowledges them.  Chrisler cites the dearth of female actors in Hollywood who are post menopausal.  Thank heaven for rare exceptions like Meryl Streep!

midlife crisis women

Lack of visibility for post-menopausal women reflects a society still stuck in sexism.  Our culture often has little place for the mothers and grandmothers, and for the wisdom of the Wise Old Woman.  Many women in midlife and later years recognize that they need more than the standard role the culture offers.  They need encounter with the deep reality of who they are as individuals.

3.  Breakdown of Perfectionism

Many women suffer from perfectionism, due to the tremendous weight of the expectations pressed upon them in our culture.  Its poison whispers to a woman that her performances must be perfect, or else worthless.  As Jungian analyst Marion Woodman has it, “Many people, bent on perfection, deny their yearning for… escape through unconsciousness.”  At root, perfectionism really is a desire to escape from the imperfections and broken-ness of this life.

midlife crisis women

Many women, at midlife, or shortly thereafter, realize that perfectionism is unbearable.  They learn that, whatever they do, it will never be “enough” to satisfy the inner self-critical demons.  This can be the moment when a woman stops trying to imitate a phantom ideal, and discovers her own core.

This may be the season in a woman’s life when depth psychotherapy can make an invaluable contribution.

Next Post: The remaining 2 of 5 signs of midlife crisis in women.

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Midlife Crisis in Men: 5 Signs Your Life is in Transition, 2

May 7th, 2014 · midlife crisis men

In this second part of my post on 5 signs of midlife transition or midlife crisis in men, I look at 2 further signs: issues of value and meaning; and, issues around loneliness.

midlife crisis men

Such signs may emerge in anyone who is making the middle passage, but they manifest in unique ways in men.

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Awareness of Loneliness

Pronounced loneliness is often a sign of the onset of midlife transition or midlife crisis in men.

In many, loneliness is associated with a sense of inner emptiness.  Alienation from our own depth and reality can hide behind social interaction, social media and messaging that covers a sense of sterility and meaninglessness.  Poet Philip Larkin writes,

It’s terrible the way we scotch silence & solitude at every turn, quite suicidal….  [Meaningless social interaction] not only takes up time… it prevents you storing up the psychic energy that can then be released to create…

…whether that be artistic creation, or the many other possibilities for creatively engaging life.

Loneliness at midlife often points the way to realization of the value of solitude: the discovery that when one is alone, one is not alone.  To be in the company of the self is to be in a good company.  Such awareness of the self is often the source of creative, genuinely individual living, and the capacity to relate to all the richness of our inner reality.

Value: What is Meaningful?

In the first half of life, men are socialized to adopt the values that society shares and promotes for men.  These are the values of competence, achievement, self-sufficiency — and competitiveness.  We see the embodiment of the ideal man according to these values in our icons of maleness, like Clint Eastwood:

midlife crisis men

These values can serve a man well in the first half of life, but, if they drive him in the journey at midlife and beyond he may be pushed to the extremities of sickness or collapse.  Jungian analyst Eugene Monick writes,

I speak of the man who obsessively builds, who is heroic to a fault.  This man cannot relax his efforts.  He must always prove himself, always do something useful, always be hard at it, as though the least softening of effort would reveal a hidden weakness.

 For many, midlife crisis in men reveals that some cultural values around maleness no longer work, and are not meaningful.

As James Hollis says:

Let us be grateful for the considerable blessing that the loss of tribal mythology brings us… and for the enormous potential that the loss of collective meaning brings us by obliging us to create our own meaning [italics mine].

Connection with our own inner life, values and meaning can be essential for for finding healing during midlife transition and midlife crisis in men.  Depth psychotherapy can make a vital contribution in this season of life.

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