Journeying Toward Wholeness

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

August 31st, 2015 · starting new life after divorce

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

starting new life after divorce


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

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

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

Time for Yourself and for Reflection

starting new life after divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

starting new life after divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


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Open to Re-Birth: Starting a New Life After Divorce, #1

August 24th, 2015 · starting new life after divorce

Starting a new life after divorce can either be an experience in bleakness and impoverishment of soul, or an opportunity for genuine psychological renewal.

starting new life after divorce

So, how do I move towards the one, and avoid the other?  It only ever happens by our being willing to enter into the death and re-birth inherent in the major life transition at the end of a love relationship.

Accept Divorce as a Rite of Passage

Divorce can be a chaotic experience, lacking in human meaning.  If the individual interprets her or his experience in that way, a divorce can lead to a person experiencing his or her whole life as being on a meaningless and negative trajectory.  This can often be experienced as an abiding definition of him- or herself in terms of guilt, failure and victimhood.

But there’s another more life-giving way of looking at divorce, which is rooted in archetypal human experience.  We can see it as what anthropologists and depth psychotherapists call a rite of passage.  Anthropologists looking at indigenous societies note that such groups see major life transitions as having three main stages:

  • death of an old identity
  • a period of necessary disorientation
  • re-birth into a new identity

Anthropologists see each of the three as necessary to establish a new identity in the aftermath of a major life transition. In the death or dying stage, the individual must take in what it really means for the old identity to be truly dead.  This is followed by a period of disorientation that is often mythologically characterized as “a time journeying through the underworld, or the land of the dead.”  Finally there is the stage of re-birth, in which the individual must come to understand who they are now, and start to learn what it means to live out that new identity.


starting new life after divorce

An important part of soul work around a divorce is to recognize the necessity for grieving the loss of the marriage.

To many, this may seem like the last thing they would want to do.  Many who are recently divorced seem to be happy to be out of a relationship.  They may even throw celebration parties.  However, often this is a cover for the sadness, grief and despair that can accompany the end of a love relationship.

There may well be a time for celebrating certain aspects of a divorce, but authentic celebration cannot come before you acknowledge the genuine loss involved in divorce.

Very few people get married in a cynical manner. For most, marriage or long term partnership is filled at least initially with idealism, tenderness and warm visions of a shared future.  To come to terms with the end of a relationship, then, is to honestly confront the emotional impact of the death of some hopes and dreams that a person once cherished.  Mourning their loss is acknowledging the death of a certain part of oneself.

Most people know someone whose life is blighted because they have not dealt with the pain of a terminated relationship.  Because these people will not let go of what their relationship once was, and hang on to pain, betrayal and rage, there is no room for anything new.

Let Go

new life after divorce

At the right time, one must let go.  This includes letting go of regrets, bitterness and self-accusation.  This can be particularly hard when couples have children, and must continue to engage with each other.  Also difficult is letting go of the inner image that tells the individual who they “ought” to have been, and who they now ought to be.  This can often lead to burdens of shame and guilt so great that they are difficult to acknowledge.

It’s an essential part of this major life transition to let go of who you “ought” to be, and to accept and allow yourself to be who you actually are, moving beyond your supposed shortcomings.  This involves cultivating compassion for your suffering, wounded self, and appreciating your uniqueness as a person.  Working on this kind of issue through psychotherapy can be particularly effective.

Value Yourself , Value Your Journey

starting new life after divorce

In your own way…

It’s very hard for many people to value who they are, and to value the uniqueness of their journey, so that they can start a new life after a divorce in a positive way. This can mean really needing to work hard at clearing away the negative messages and stigma that society often applies to those who undergo divorce.

Next time, we’ll look at the nature of soul work related to divorce, and how depth psychotherapy assists the process.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


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Identity Crisis & Meaning: 4 More Depth Psychotherapy Insights

August 17th, 2015 · identity crisis meaning

As we discussed last time, issues of identity crisis and meaning are experienced by many — and they are very important, potentially positive, events.

identity crisis meaning

Famous photograph by Banksy

Here are some additional insights that are intended to put issues of identity crisis and meaning into a helpful and healing context.

As Life Progresses, Identity and Meaning Become More Individual

Generally speaking, when we start into the first part of adulthood, we are working toward values that are shared with the society as a whole, in areas such as independence, self-sufficiency, relationship, and many others.

But then, as we move further into our lives we find that answers to questions about meaning and identity tend to become more individual: what specifically is meaningful for me, in my life?

Those who evade these questions of individuality tend to find themselves moving more and more towards what some psychotherapists would call “bad faith” with oneself.  They function from a concept of their own identity that grows increasingly collective and that they know, on some level, is disconnected from who they really are. It may be charming and attractive, but it’s mask-like and inauthentic, unsatisfying even to the person him- or herself.

identity crisis meaning

Turn Away from Mass or Collective Identity

The crowd can seem to provide identity, and, in a sense it does — but ultimately, it’s often kind of inauthentic.

To take a simple, small-scale example, there may be a kind of gratification, and even meaning, involved in being Toronto Blue Jays fan.  After all, they’re having a great season, for the first time in many years!  I can gain a sense of pleasure, shared purpose, and even identity in going down to Rogers Centre and cheering them on.  Yet as something to root my life in, a source of meaning, most people would find it pretty thin stuff.

Sources of Identity and Meaning are Rooted in the Unconscious

Who we really are is profoundly connected to “the shadow”, as Jungians say.  That’s the largely unconscious part of the psyche where aspects of ourselves that we have for one reason or another rejected, suppressed or left undiscovered “live”.  A lot may hinge on our ability to accept and dialogue with the parts of ourselves with which our usual conscious mind is not always comfortable.

Important parts of what gives us our identity may be deep within the unconscious. Who you are is not the same thing as having a concept of yourself.  We often try to do this, but the stories that we tell ourselves about our lives tend to not quite ring true.  Some thing or things is missing.  As researchers and theorists such as neuroscientist-psychologist Prof. Jaak Panksepp hold, there is a fundamental awareness of the self at the unconscious level, that actually underlies all our experience.

In our deepest being, there is a “felt sense” of our own wholeness and integrity.  To be on the path of experiencing this more and more is to be on the journey towards wholeness.

Identity Crisis, Meaning and the Undiscovered Self

You get bigger as you go / No one told me — I just know“: so sings Bruce Cockburn, and he’s right.

identity crisis meaning

Finding My Way Through the Maze

Fundamentally, we seek that felt sense of wholeness, and a sense of being authentically one with ourselves.

To get to this sense of wholeness requires a discipline of paying attention to those parts of ourselves that we rarely notice, the semi-conscious and unconscious aspects of ourselves.  It also entails paying attention to the symbolic life within us, in our dreams and elsewhere, that opens up the unexplored parts of the Self and its relationship to the world.

At whatever stage of life we might be, this search for greater awareness and insight can be assisted by depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


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Identity Crisis & Meaning: 4 Depth Psychotherapy Insights

August 10th, 2015 · identity crisis meaning

Issues of identity crisis & meaning aren’t confined to cigarette smoking French existentialists in Left Bank cafes; in our time, this is the experience of many.

identity crisis meaning

Rene Magritte, “Decalomania, 1966”

Identity Crisis Can Occur at Many Lifestages

Contemporary depth psychotherapy practice shows that the experience of loss of identity or meaning can occur at many points in the life journey.

Such crises can frequently happen at midlife, but that’s not the only time, by any means.

I had such an experience at a time in my life that might be called a “quarter life crisis”.  The experience of the deafness of one of my children led me into a time of profound questioning of who I was, and what I really found meaningful in my life, which included a complete re-examination of the orthodox religious faith which had been a mainstay in my life prior to that time.  It initiated a period of deep change in my life, as is the experience of many who have such experiences.

Identity is Linked to Meaning

Our identity is closely connected to where we find meaning.  Here, I’m using “meaning” to refer to that special way in which I value things, when they are so important that they make up an important element of the value of my whole life.

When things carry “meaning”, in this sense, their value is fundamentally linked to my identity as a person.  What I value in this sense is a crucial component, perhaps the crucial component of who I am.

So that which carries meaning, in this most fundamental sense, is truly bound up with who I am.  If I can’t really find any meaning in anything, I can’t really be in touch with who I really am.  And that could be quite a dilemma.

Value, Meaning Changes Through the Course of A Human Life

identity crisis meaning

What we value at the most fundamental level may change dramatically throughout the course of life.  Sometimes, quite fundamental values die, or lose their meaning.  This can be a source of great psychological pain, but it can also create space, so that new, more fundamental values can emerge.  Sometimes life undoes what seem to be fundamental values in our lives.  Things in which we found immense value, or to which we felt unconditionally committed, can become much less important (witness my example of a fundamental shift in religious values).  Yet out of that experience, if we’re really willing to examine ourselves, and to do the hard work, may come other experiences that make us aware of what is really valuable in life and who we really are.

Identity Crisis and Meaning are Linked to Symbols

The emergence of new meaning is often tied to the emergence of new symbols in a person’s life.

Symbols carry a special feeling charge, a value charge that allows them to serve as guideposts for the orientation of our lives.  As Prof. Andrew Samuels of the University of Essex tells us,

Symbols are captivating pictorial statements…. indistinct, metaphoric and enigmatic portrayals of psychic reality.  [The meaning of symbols] is far from obvious; …it is expressed in unique and individual terms while at the smae time partaking of universal imagery.  …[R]eflected on and related to, they can be recognised as aspects of those images that control, order and give meaning to our lives.  Symbols… are expressions of something intensely alive… “stirring” in the soul.

Symbolism is linked to unconscious processes: old symbols die, and new ones come to life in the psyche.

The symbols are filled with the vitality of both our conscious and unconscious selves. For the process of addressing identity crisis and meaning, uncovering the symbollic aspect of our lives can have immense importance, and is one of the fundamental things in the work of the depth psychotherapist.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


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Soul Aspects of Career Change After 40, 2

August 3rd, 2015 · career change after 40

Career change after 40 can sometimes seem like a “silver bullet” solution.  It may very well be the right thing to do for soul — but it’s essential to put that decision in context.

career change after 40

Claude Monet, whose painting career began in his 40s

I’m reminded of the famous quotation from T.S. Eliot:
career change after 40To do the right deed for the wrong reason…
How can we avoid “doing the right thing for the wrong reason” when it comes to later life career change?

Is Career Change What I Need, or Is It a Stand-In for Something More Basic?

For many, the call to go their own way is loud and clear on the far side of 40.  The call to be oneself will not be completely satisfied by a career change — and may well not even involve a career change.  But for some people, career change will be a key element in the process of going in their own unique direction.

Now, that’s the kicker: career change will not help you one bit, if it is not first firmly rooted in the process of discovering and living out your own individuality.  As with all major life transitions, if career change is not accompanied by the process of living into your unique self, it may well not help you one bit.

If I’m Not My Work Role — Then Who am I?

After 40, clinical experience in psychotherapy shows us that job does not equal identity.  If you think that solely by changing your career, you are changing your identity — or possibly even unconsciously escaping your identity — that would truly be “the right deed for the wrong reason”.

In the first half of adulthood, it may be far easier for at least some people to identify themselves with their work role.  As we go through the midlife transition, and into the second half of life, that identification with job becomes harder and harder.  We all know that the first question someone will ask you at a cocktail party tends to be, “So, what do you do?”, referring to career.  Yet, we all know how much of our identity is left out when we answer that question.

It’s All About the Journey

career change after 40

Journey is a fundamental metaphor for human life.  Jung spoke of this in his time, and neurolinguistic research has confirmed it in ours.  From a depth psychology perspective, the journey that is life is a journey into our individual identity.

A key part of that journey is vocation.  That term can have many meanings, but from a depth psychotherapy perspective, it concerns listening to the promptings of our own inner being.  It is the call, not to some external goal, but primarily to be our real selves, and to be authentically connected to as much of who we really are as we possibly can be.

James Hillman on the Idea of Individual Calling

Archetypal psychologist James Hillman has given an expansive picture of what he refers to as “the soul’s calling”:

…Hillman’s fundamental question, “What is my soul’s calling?”, is at the very heart of the the work of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


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