Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Feeling Stuck in a Relationship? How to Move Forward — & Why, 2

October 28th, 2015 · feeling stuck in a relationship

As we saw in Part 1, feeling stuck in a relationship can be a major turning point in an individual’s life journey — so much so that it often has the character of a major life transition.

feeling stuck in a relationship

To confront and begin to move through the awareness of stuckness in a relationship is often a profoundly transitional event.  It may result in the end of a relationship, but it will almost certainly result in a significant psychological shift in ourselves, quite possibly also in the other who is in the relationship with us, and in the transformation of the relationship itself.

Is It Them or Is It Me?

When I feel stuck in a relationship, how much of it stems from me, and how much from my partner?  If, for instance, I become aware that my relationship always stays in “the shallows” or that it lacks passion, the question arises, what is my role in creating this stuck state?  And how much stems from the way my partner is in the relationship?

Relationship and the Call to be Oneself

Psychology professor and Jungian Verena Kast has written about  the inner archetypal image of the relationship of the creative and receptive (or “masculine” and “feminine”) elements that we all carry within our unconscious psyche.  This is both an image of our inner psychic wholeness, and a reflection of what we’re looking for from a partner in relationship.  Often the partner to which we’re attracted has particular strengths and qualities in areas where I experience a lack within myself, and, similarly, I have strengths in areas where they may experience a lack.

So far, so good.  However, the problem comes in our need to separate or inner image of relationship, and our actual relationship with our partners, from the emotional impact of the experience of our parents and their relationship.  This is what Kast and many others refer to as our parental complexes.  We can think of a complex as a powerful emotional “knot” or “program” that can interfere with an emotional situation in which we’re involved, and can hijack our perception of the situation and our emotional response to it.  Complexes can completely distort our view of a situation, and our response to it.  Few complexes are more powerful than our parental complexes.  And depth psychotherapy knows that few situations involve the parental complexes more than our relationships.

Am I seeing my partner for who they actually are, or are my perceptions shaped by complexes based in experience of my mother and/or father?  Opening up the complexes creating stuckness may require us to look at parts of ourselves that are not entirely easy to look at.


The Myth of the Sacred Marriage

Stuckness may take me to the archetypal core of why was I initially attracted to my partner.

Kast points out that, on the unconscious level we are all subject to relationship fantasies stemming from the mythological image of the sacred marriage.  This archetype involves images of the marriage of the eternal masculine and feminine, often portrayed as a marriage of the gods. There is danger in identifying my relationship with the perfection of the sacred marriage, and in expecting my partner to live out these incredibly high ideals — as if he or she was a god.

Such a union of opposites is something that has to take place within my own being, and, viewed in that way, is one of the images of  the journey to wholeness we call individuation.

To journey to wholeness we have to accept all of ourselves, strengths and flaws alike, and we have to accept our relationships for what they are, including where we feel stuck in a relationship.  In this kind of therapeutic personal work, we confront our own real lives, and tke responsibility for them.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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


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Feeling Stuck in a Relationship? How to Move Forward — and Why

October 19th, 2015 · feeling stuck in a relationship

Many people enter depth psychotherapy because they’re feeling stuck in a relationship.  Relationships are vital to us, but they cause genuine suffering when they aren’t working well.

reeling stuck in a relationship

How do you begin to move beyond relationship stuckness?  And why is it so important to do this?  These questions apply to all intimate romantic relationships, regardless of sexual orientation.

What Does Feeling Stuck in a Relationship Look Like?

Very often, but not always, people know when they are stuck in a relationship. There are some standard situations that therapists and in fact almost everyone would describe as being stuck.

The relationship that is completely loveless would be the most obvious example of this. So would relationships that are physically or emotionally abusive. Then there is the relationship that is actually dangerous in terms of physical, emotional or financial safety (addiction issues particularly come to mind here.)

However, in addition to these very obvious, glaring examples, there are relationships the just feel claustrophobic for lack of a better word. A person may certainly feel that their relationship is stuck if they have a strong sense that they can’t really be themselves in their relationship. Another, related criterion would be if a person does not feel seen or valued by their partner.

feeling stuck in a relationship

So, What’s the Big Deal?

So, why does feeling stuck in a relationship really matter so much?  Well, University of Zurich Professor of Psychology and Jungian analyst Verena Kast has done some very important research with people in mourning for the loss of a long term partner.  This research demonstrates some very striking things.

Her work shows that, very often, there are very powerful unconscious fantasies that underlie relationships with romantic partners. When we understand these powerful fantasies that bind us to the partner, something within us gets liberated, and we are able to meet our lives much more creatively.

Understanding these fantasies enables us to see what it is that gives a relationship vitality, and also allows it to impart meaning in terms of our development as individuals.  What is more, these fantasies also explain the feelings of rage, stuckness and sterility when the partner does not match up to, or in fact actively sabotages, the unconscious fantasies.  These are all important dimensions of individual psychotherapy concerning relationships.

Feeling Stuck in a Relationship: The Individuation Story

If your relationship with a significant other feels like a roadblock on your individuation path, that likely means that the relationship need some very close attention, probably leading to a deepened understanding of both yourself and your partner.

feeling stuck in a relationship

            Relationship Claustrophobia

A question that people often have is, should I be exploring this kind of issue in individual therapy work, or in couples’ work?  I would strongly recommend starting with individual work, as it will clarify a person’s understanding of themselves, which enables the person to see the true nature of the relationship much more clearly.  If doing couples’ work makes sense afterwards, the individual will bring a great deal more insight to it, after having done some individual work

In the second part of this post, we’ll look more closely at the issue of figuring out “what’s really coming from me, and what’s coming from my partner?”, and we’ll examine more on the whole question of relationship, stuckness and the call to be oneself.

As C.G. Jung said, being in close relationship with someone is essential to seeing and understanding our deepest selves and our own individuation process.  Stuckness in relationship, while undeniably painful, may be offering us an important pathway to our true selves.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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



Thanks: Depth Psychotherapy, Positive Psychology & Gratitude

October 12th, 2015 · positive psychology gratitude

Canadian Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude for the good things in our lives, and a good opportunity to examine the subject of positive psychology and gratitude.

gratitude positive psychology

Positive psychology is a movement in psychology in recent years that, among other things, emphasizes the importance of gratitude and giving thanks to create psychological strength and a sense of well-being.  From a depth psychotherapy perspective, what are we to make of this?

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology focuses on personal growth rather than on pathology, which, unfortunately, some approaches tend to emphasize. Depth psychotherapy, especially Jungian approaches, would whole-heartedly concur with this emphasis.

Positive psychology also emphasizes that humans are more often drawn by the future than driven by the past.  Jung would agree.  He was always curious about what was trying to develop in a person’s life.

So, much in common.  But depth psychotherapy and positive psychology differ somewhat in their attitudes toward happiness and fulfillment, and in the attitude of positive psychology toward gratitude.

Gratitude and “Mental Strength”

Some emphasize that cultivating the habit of gratitude yields positive psychological benefits.  It’s not uncommon to find supporters of positive psychology saying things like “Grateful people measure as happier, as having more social connectness, and as experiencing less depression. Adopting an attitude of gratitude leads to genuine benefits.”  The suggestion is that one should be grateful because of all the benefits that being grateful will bestow.

Some who embrace positive psychology also suggest that it’s important not “feel sorry for yourself”.  Avoiding this will apparently bring positive gain.

I’ll admit that this “not feeling sorry for yourself” thing pushes a personal button of mine.  I grew up in a home where the phrase “Don’t feel sorry for yourself!” was employed very liberally.  It took me decades to figure out that the phrase was actually code for…

positive psychology gratitude

                           DON’T. FEEL. ANYTHING.

Genuinely feeling gratitude is important. However, to use gratitude to block other equally valid feelings, such as sadness, frustration, anger or grief would thwart psychological wholeness.  Feelings exist for a reason, and they need to be acknowledged. As Jung put it, “Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.”

Also, using gratitude as a way to generally feel better in life doesn’t really acknowledge the true psychological role of gratitude.  Gratitude is a perfectly valid and important emotion, but only if it spontaneously arises from the particular situation in which I find myself.  The same is true of all emotional states.  I shouldn’t try to use gratitude to feel good all the time, anymore than I should be using sexual arousal to feel good all the time.  Each emotion has its place; “to everything there is a season”.

What is Genuine Gratitude?

We only experience gratitude in contrast with things for which I can’t possibly be grateful.  Humans have many difficult, painful experiences.  To suggest that others should be grateful for these experiences would almost be to mock them.

gratitude positive psychology

Genuine gratitude comes from the authentic self.  When others, Life, God or the Universe give us something to which we respond in joy and thanks, something in us opens; we know we haven’t “whipped up” this feeling.  Like numinous awe, experiences of gratitude come from a sphere outside of the realm of the ego and its projects.  The psychology of the unconscious identifies gratitude as coming from the larger personality beyond the conscious control of the ego.

positive psychology gratitude

Where am I Grateful?

Thanksgiving has parallels in almost all cultures and religious traditions, and entails examining our lives for those things for which  we feel genuine gratitude.   From a depth psychotherapy perspective, it’s essential to acknowledge those places where life comes to us as a simple and genuine gift.  I wish you and those you love a very Happy Thanksgiving.


Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Eros: Towards a Depth Psychology of Relationship, 2

October 5th, 2015 · psychology of relationship

For all the reasons we looked at in the last blog post, a depth psychology of relationship needs to be resourceful, creative and intentional about connection with others.  So where do we begin?

psychology of relationships

At the end of the last post, we looked at Eros, and what that means in terms of connectedness and relationship.

Where Does Eros Lead Me (Depth Psychology of Relationship)?

psychology of relationship

True eros involves our individuality as human beings.

If we agree with Adolf Guggebbuhl-Craig that eros is the attribute that makes us loving, creative and involved, then we have to acknowledge that we face many pressures that are anti-eros.

Much in our time blocks loving creative involvement with other people.  Even in relationships that should be intimate and loving, we can treat others as utilities or tools, rather than full persons in their own right.  Consider an average couple, facing the strident demands of two careers, children’s academic and programming needs, relentless technology and media bombardment and continual messages of economic anxiety and uncertainty.  It can be easy for even the most loving couple to end up treating each other in mechanized ways that don’t acknowledge the other’s full humanity.

For depth psychotherapy, eros is about cherishing the uniqueness of the other, valuing the individual’s story and building up their most vulnerable and delicate parts.  Eros uncovers what is uniquely meaningful in the other’s life.

Beyond Mere Sexuality

psychology of relationship

Our era often completely sexualizes eros, as Freud did. Freud saw sexuality as one of the two great drives that motivated human beings — and consequently, saw eros as narrowly sexual.  Incidently, because he saw eros as narrowly about sexual gratification, he saw humans as eternally locked into a fundamental conflict between our sexuality and the demands placed on us to be civilized human beings.

Freud’s era was repressive, but our culture sexualizes everything, and, what’s more, makes sexual connection, “hooking up”, a very impersonal way to gratify our own needs.  This is not genuine eros.

Jung and later depth psychotherapists see it differently.  For them, eros belongs, on one side, to sexuality and our animal nature, and on the other to the highest forms of the spirit: “[Humanity] thrives when spirit and instinct are in right harmony”.

Eros, Instinct and Spirit

psychology of relationship

Roots and Wings

Much great music, art and literature concerns erotic love.  For humans, eros is not just a matter of biological functioning, but is also a matter of the deeper levels of meaning in human life.  However, just as sexuality on its own is not enough, so “spirituality” on its own is not enough.  We need both an instinctual and a spiritual dimensions for the meaningful fulfilment of eros, whether this is in a sexual relationship — or the experience of mystical encounter with the Divine, however we might conceive that.

Eros and Will to Power

In our time, eros tends to degenerate into either impersonal “hooking up”, or else, what Jung, after Nietzsche and Adler, called “will to power”: the drive to control someone who should be an object of love.  Given the pressures that people like our couple referred to above face, it’s easy to drift into using power tactics to control the other, and get them to do what we want.  Yet, as Jung has it,

“Where love reigns there is no will to power, and where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking.”

Approaching the other in genuine eros means seeking to understand and support the other in his or her individuality, rather than using coercion or power tactics.  When we coerce the other, we’re probably not actively loving the other — or ourselves.

Our journey toward wholeness is not a “lone wolf” experience.   It takes us inward, but also takes into relatedness to others: these are two parts of the same reality.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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


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