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The Meaning of Severe Situational Depression: 4 Solid Insights

March 28th, 2016 · severe situational depression

Severe situational depression differs from clinical depression, but psychotherapists know it can greatly impact the individual who is experiencing it.

severe situational depression

Often, today, the attention of the public and of the media is on long-term, chronic depression, which truly is a serious issue.  However, we can often lose sight of the fact that an intense situational depression can have a huge impact on a person’s life.  Here are four solid insights around coping with severe situational depression.

1.  Just Because Depression is Situational, Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Severe

We tend to contrast depression that is caused by some specific event or situation in our lives with “clinical depression”, the on-going depression that can be a nearly constant factor in the lives of those who struggle with it.  While clinical depression is often severe, it would be a mistake to think that there is no such thing as severe situational depression.

Severe situational depression exists because severe situations exist, such as job loss, difficult marital breakdowns, failure or setback in a major life goal, serious illness in a child, loss of a loved one.  Any of these or many other circumstances can lead us into a situational depression that is severe, and that finds us asking very major questions about our lives.

2.  Severe Situational Depression Needs Attention — Not A “Stiff Upper Lip”

severe situational depression

“Solitary Stoic Soldiering” Won’t Help!

Because situational depression stems from something that has happened to us, it’s easy to tell ourselves to “just toughen up.”  We often feel that we should be able to simply power through these kind of setbacks by strength of will alone.  On the other hand, we may tell ourselves that no one is going to be able to understand or feel what it is that we’ve been through, and so we just stay silent.  These attitudes are widely present in our culture, but given the kind of socialization that boys receive, they are particularly prevalent amongst men.

Yet, it may not be easy or even possible to “power through” the wounds and the feelings that lie behind situational depression.  Often, it’s essential to open up to another, in a safe environment such as therapy for depression, as  a way of moving forward.

3.  Severe Situational Depression May Well be Telling You Something Important About Your Life

The meaning of severe situational depression may not be what it initially appears.  When a life event triggers severe situational depression, the depression is often connected to other important factors in life, and to the core ways in which we perceive and understand ourselves.  It can be very important to examine the depression, and what it might be “saying to us” about how we approach our lives as a whole, especially where major life transitions are concerned.

4.  Situational Depression Has An Unconscious Dimension

Often, severe situational depression can be connected to important and powerful things going on in the unconscious mind.  Prof. Calvin Colarusso, of U. California, San Diego, and others have documented how deeply held beliefs and experiences in the unconscious mind can have a profound impact on depression that occurs when our life situation changes.  Getting to the bottom of these unconscious factors can often enable the individual to move beyond the depression, and may bring very significant change to how the individual approaches life.

A severe situational depression may be more than just a liability or an obstacle.  If dealt with appropriately, it may open important doors in a life, and show the way to renewal, as depth psychotherapists such as Jungian analysts are well aware.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


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“I Feel Trapped in My Life”: A Common Midlife Sentiment, Part 2

March 21st, 2016 · i feel trapped my life

As we saw in Part 1, “I Feel Trapped in My Life” is an all-too-common sentiment in the second half of life.  People very often feel the need for some difficult-to-define kind of freedom.

i feel trapped my life

It’s all good to “normalize” the feeling, to recognize that many people, to varying degrees encounter this feeling at some time in their lives from the late 30s on.   But other than just passively bearing the feeling, how should we react to it?  What can we possibly do about it?  Can we possibly get beyond the sense that life is an inescapable trap in the second half or life, or, are we just — stuck with it?
i feel trapped my life


To a Certain Extent, the Feeling of Being Trapped is Unavoidable

To a certain extent, the sense I have that I feel trapped in my life is an unavoidable one.  Life, by its nature, confronts us with endless choices between mutually exclusive options.  If I take a job in Toronto, I can’t simultaneously be working at a job in Sydney, Australia, to choose an extreme example.  Every time I make such a choice, I cut off one or more possibilities.  On the one hand, it can feel like being trapped.  On the other hand, if we never decide anything, we never are able to live out anything — which is an even worse trap!

Can You Accept The Flow of Life?

Depth psychotherapists know that one of the crucial parts of the life journey is accepting where it is that life has taken us, when these are things that occur and we have no control over them — the whole range of fateful happenings that we didn’t plan, and that didn’t want.  They can range from the merely undesirable, straight through those things that are completely devastating.  The most difficult of these things are such that no human being could feel glad about them — or understand why they occurred.  You probably have your own examples, but premature loss of a loved one, and the life-changing illness of a child would be two profound examples.

While it can never take the wound away, there is an important and profound kind of healing that occurs when the individual is able to accept in a fundamental way what has occurred.  When the individual can simply let what has happened be, and stop resisting it.  In my experience, such acceptance tends to happen most frequently in the second half of life.



The Great Journey of Self Acceptance

Depth psychotherapy is aware that, combined with these two issues, is the great journey of self-acceptance that Jungian psychotherapists like Robert A. Johnson call shadow work.  One of the things that can trap us most completely is an inability to accept, or even acknowledge those parts of ourselves that do not fit well with our self-understanding, or the ways in which we feel that we “should” or “ought” to be.  Very often these aspects of ourselves will appear in our dreams, in situations where we feel ourselves gripped by compulsions,

Working with the shadow can bring a great sense of freedom.  Having compassion and acceptance for the wounded and unacceptable parts of who we are can oftentimes open new possibilities in our lives.  The shadow, which we often repress so hard, may often be a source of genuine creativity, when it comes into dialogue with the conscious self.

“I Feel Trapped in My Life” — But Paradoxically, A Journey May Await

In midlife and the second half of life, meaning and movement in our lives may well come from sources that are different than we might expect.  Accepting who and what we are as fully as possible may well bring us to a surprising renewal.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


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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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