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Fear of the Future and the Need for Meaning, 2

June 27th, 2016 · fear of the future

In Part 1 of “Fear of the Future”, we saw in general terms how discovery of personal meaning can help the individual face the reality of fear.

fear of the future

                          …Or, is there an alternative?

Here, we’ll look concretely at what it might mean to find meaning that could help to overcome the effect of fear.
This past week has seen particular manifestations of the power of fear, in the success of the “Leave” vote in the so-called Brexit referendum concerning whether Britain is to remain in the European Union.  Suffice it to say that the drivers behind this decision, which many Britons already regret, are very powerful fears of many types.  The power of these fears to drive an outcome that, really, very few people want, is staggering.
So, how can a sense of underlying meaning possibly help in such a situation?  And just what is meaning?

Meaning is Subjective

Jung, like Viktor Frankl, viewed meaning as central to his life as person and as therapist. He saw it as central to our wrestling with the challenges and dilemmas of being human, including good and evil and suffering.  However, he would never speak of “the meaning of life” as if there was some objective single truth out there that we could all learn, and that would somehow settle all of life’s questions for the whole human race.  For him, the nature of that meaning was much more individual and subjective.  He also viewed the discovery of meaning in human life as an experience of profound healing.

Human Beings Suffer When There Is No Meaning

Jung also tells us that one of the very greatest of sources of human suffering is the sense of lack of meaning, that the things which occur to us are pointless and random, without any inner sense.  In fact,  he described neurosis as “ultimately… the suffering of a soul that has not discovered its meaning.”  He describes how important it is that “the doctor” (by which he means what we would call “the therapist“) help the client find “the meaning that quickens… for it is this that the [suffering] person longs for….  [The client] is looking for something that will take possession of him and give meaning and form to the confusion of [his or her] soul.”

fear of the future

The Discovery of Meaning

A thing which is “numinous” has a sense of awe attached to it that makes it seem more profound and important than everyday life.  It can be something that seems “divine”, or of a profound spiritual significance, or of an importance greater than what we encounter in everyday human life.  Something that has a significance far greater than even our fear of the future.  An example in music which points to the numinous, yet without a religious reference, would be Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man:



Meaning and Personal Myth

As depth psychotherapist James Hillman reminds us, meaning is found in our “personal myth”.  To find our personal myth is to find the way that our personal, individual story connects with Story.  Or, as Hillman elaborates,

…to understand one’s mess, one seeks the mythical pattern, for its mythical personalities… and their behaviour give the clues to what is happening in our behaviour.

By finding our own personal myth, through working with dreams and through coming to a more and more in-depth understanding of our own inner life and story, each of us gains a sense of being rooted in something that is bigger and deeper than the projects of the ego, and that transcends our personal fear of the future.

…And What About You and I?

Where does fear of the future strike you most strongly?  Do you have a sense of where you find meaning, or of your personal myth?  As James Hollis tells us, “Most people come into therapy because their old map, their former myth, has been exhausted.”  Depth psychotherapy is very much a journey to new meaning.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Fear of the Future and the Archetype of Meaning

June 20th, 2016 · fear of the future

We live in a time when fear of the future is rampant, colouring our individual, family, social and political lives.  Can psychotherapy help us cope?

fear of the future

To understand the size of the problem that fear creates, we need only look at its impact on our social and political lives.  We see fear, and the hatred which often goes with it, in the rise of fear-based social and political movements such as:
  • the rise of fascist-leaning, anti-immigrant political movements in many countries in continental Europe;
  • the rise of anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, empirically unsupported, finding their way into universities like Queen’s, one of Canada’s finest educational institutions;
  • Donald Trump, and his fear-mongering against blacks, hispanics and Muslims;
  • the “Brexit” movement for exit of Britain from the European Union, which is fanned by fear of waves of immigration from the continent of immigrants originating from the Middle East.
Depth psychotherapists know that symbolic images of fear of the future also abound in popular culture.  Perhaps some of the most striking symbolisation of such fear is the “zombie apocalypse” or “living dead” theme, which so captures the popular imagination, both in humour and terror.  Another symbolic image of fear of the future is the “demon seed” or “demon child” motif.

Why is There So Much Fear Now?

There are many potential sources of fear in 2016.  There is great economic uncertainty.  Some fear multi-cultural societies full of people different than themselves, and news reports of great waves of homeless refugees.  And, we have news sources like CNN, with its strategy of gaining viewers through continuous bombardment of the viewer with anxiety and fear-provoking images (How many times did they show the World Trade Center towers collapsing?).  These media also stress themes that provoke continual anxiety.

fear of the future

Where Fear of the Future Fits into Psyche

One of the things that apparently differentiates us from most animal species is that we have the ability to create anxiety for ourselves through  building a mental scenario or picture of something that could occur in the future.  As researchers like Newcastle University neuroscience Prof. Melissa Bateson et al. have shown, anxiety and fear are linked to hypersensitivity in detecting and avoiding threats. So this process of being fearful likely enabled our ancestors to survive and thrive as a species, by being hyper-cautious at even the faintest trace of a threat.


Where Fear Doesn’t Fit

So, there is tremendous survival value in our capacity for fear, in that we can anticipate and predict future dangerous situations, and we can somehow tie this in, consciously and unconsciously, with our experience of past events where we have had misfortune or bad outcomes.  This ability has undoubtedly contributed enormously to our ability to be the incredibly successful species that we are today.  Our sophisticated human fear has steered us clear of many a fatal risk, at the comparatively light cost of stress and missed opportunities.

Yet, there is a significant downside to all of this.

Most non-human animals know anxiety, but apparently not about events that are separated by time in the future.  Humans, particularly imaginative humans, have a great capacity to visualize negative scenarios set in future times.  As depth psychotherapists know, such intense fear of the future generates untold agonies for many.  It can distort and cripple their entire response and attitude toward life.  This is a case where fear is not fitting into psyche at all, but rather is subverting it.

Is There Any Way Out of this Dilemma?

The human capacity to find meaning and value can enable us to find our way through even the most stressful and fearful of dilemmas, even the concentration camp, as Dr. Viktor Frankl has shown us, in his great book Man’s Search for Meaning.  As Albert Camus also said,

I have seen many people die because life for them was not worth living.  From this I conclude that the question of life’s meaning is the most urgent question of all.  [italics mine]

Aniela Jaffe, Jung’s close associate reminds us “the resilience of the self-aware and self-transforming consciousness can fortify us against the perils of the irrational and the rational, against the world within and the world without.”

In the second part of this post, we will explore how the the discovery of personal meaning in depth psychotherapy can help the individual cope with the reality of fear.


Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Pain and Joy of Parenting Young Adults

June 13th, 2016 · parenting young adults

At this time of year the pains and joys of parenting young adults are very much on the minds of many.

parenting young adults

The end of a high school year, graduation, or making plans for post-secondary or beyond can make this transition a vivid reality for many parents.
What is more, this is a powerful life transition for parents and young adults both at the same time.

From Adolescence to Young Adulthood

The transition out of adolescence begins in the later teens and often ends at some point in the twenties, with the attainment of a fairly high degree of psychological, social, and economic independence.

Psychological independence refers to an authentic felt sense of individual identity , with an appropriate understanding of that identity as distinct from others.

Social independence is about the individual seeing her- or himself as an autonomous unit, over against parents and others.  It leads to a commitment to one’s own belief structure and to pursuit of one’s own priorities.

In keeping with these two characteristics comes striving for economic independence.  This entails a growing movement toward financial self-sufficiency, and an increasing drive to support oneself without the aid of the parents. Today, this can be a great source of stress in parenting young adults.  In our time, many young adults struggle with finding economic independence, and parents are forced to face hard decisions about how to support their young adult children, without sacrificing their children’s autonomy — or the parents’ own need to grow.

The end of a young person’s adolescence is not the end of a parenting relationship: that goes on for life.  Yet parenting young adults marks a transition to a new set of changes and challenges.

Tolerance and Patience

Transitioning to parenting young adults will often require tolerance and patience.

Young adults are going to make mistakes, just as all adults make mistakes.  It’s an essential part of exploring their own autonomy to try things in their own way, and not all of these things will succeed.  Just as an essential part of the individuation process is accepting our own imperfection, so we must do the same for our children, and extend the same compassionate acceptance to them.

Letting Go of Control

Here is a real issue in the individuation process of the parents of adult children.  For much of those parents’ lives, it has been essential to provide a dimension of order and control in the lives of their children.  Now, it becomes more and more apparent that the role of the parent is to provide steadily increasing room for their child to live out their own values and decisions about what is important without interfering, respecting the ways in which the child chooses to allow his or her life to unfold.

parenting young adults

                   “First Year Parents’ Farewell Breakfast”

To accept this role in our era, when parental bonds are often closer than in the past, may not be easy for the parent. Out of fear or genuine belief that they know better, parents can easily cling to a sense of control over their children.  This may have a grave negative consequence for the child, leading him or her to either “bottle up” who they are, inappropriately, or else forcing them to undertake very strident acts to establish independence.

Freeing Ourselves

But what, actually does striving to retain power and control do to the parent of the young adult?  It can often be that, clinging to the old parental role, the parent confines him- or herself to a cramped restrictive role that gets in the way of his or her own becoming and individuation.  It’s only by a gradual letting go of the active parent role, and moving into a more receptive parenting role, in which the child takes more of the initiatives, that the individual can gradually release his or her energy from the parenting task.  That energy can go to the task of his or her own individuation, in whatever form that might take.

Love, A Different Relationship, A New Horizon

Parental love changes its form, and the ways in which it manifests.  As children move more and more into adulthood, there is pain as the directive, protective dimensions of parenthood diminish.  The role shifts more to creating space in which the adult child can flourish — and to finding the definite, but unfamiliar joys in this new territory.

Depth psychotherapy also acknowledges that this transformation provides a unique opportunity to the parent to explore their unique identity beyond the parenting role.  This, too, is a key part of the process of individuation.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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True Identity and Healing: Depression and the Unexplored Self

June 6th, 2016 · depression and the unexplored self

The devastating personal impact of depression may well lead us to open up the connection between depression and the unexplored self.

 depression and the unexplored self

A creative approach to depression, rooted in the insights of depth psychotherapy, may help us to gain freedom.

While there are those forms of depression which are chronic and physically based, much depression has its roots in our emotional life, and in the experiences which have touched our core selves, conscious and unconscious, remembered and unremembered.  Very often, what makes depression so hard to move is those parts of the experience of depression which are locked away within us of which we are unaware.
Depth psychotherapy, in seeking to deal with depression, will take us on a journey to the unexplored self.  As we begin to unfold our story, and understand the roots of our depression, we move towards aspects of who we are of which we may have been unaware.

Where is Beauty and Reality?

One of the key roots of depression, as Jung often reminded those who sought his help, is being cut off from the instinctual roots of life.  In many ways, shapes and guises, this feeling of being cut off, isolated, kept away from anything real in life, is one of the most often reported characteristics of depression.

This may manifest is in a perceived inability to experience anything as engaging or beautiful.  And so, Jung would recommend to those suffering from depression that they re-connect to beauty, in whatever way beauty might speak to them.

depression and the unexplored self

Beauty in Instinctual Strength

Experiencing beauty, however beauty might come to us in its particular uniqueness, can reconnect us to the stream of life.  This is an awareness found in many modern forms of therapy, such as Prof. Seligman’s positive psychology, but Jung and his followers put a particular interpretation on it that is quite striking.  These depth psychotherapists emphasize that we learn something precious about the self through our unique experience of beauty.  We are learning about the particular things that make our souls vibrate with life.

In an extreme way, when it is at its worst, and to a lesser but nonetheless potent degree when it is less extreme, depression can bring an atmosphere of unreality to our lives. The depressed individual can feel as if moving through interminable greyness.  To move towards what we value brings reality back into our picture, connecting the manifestation of depression and the unexplored self.

Confronting the Depression Head-On

Another important approach is to confront the depression directly, dialoguing or wrestling with it strongly, to get at its fundamental meaning.  While not easy, this can be very fruitful.  As Jung himself said:

When the darkness grows denser, I would penetrate to its very core and ground, and would not rest until amid the pain a light appeared to me.

We could think of depression as an absence of psychological energy.  However, the “missing” energy doesn’t simply vanish.  It goes into the unconscious, activating unconscious contents such as fantasies, memories and wishes or yearnings.  Yet to restore vitality to the individual, these unconscious materials need to be brought into consciousness and made part of our thinking, feeling and imagining.  Again in Jung’s words,

Depression should therefore be regarded as an unconscious compensation whose content must be made conscious if it is to be fully effective.  This can only be done by… integrating the [psychic contents] so activated into the conscious mind.

He is speaking of the integration of previously unconscious but energetic mental materials into the conscious mind.  As Prof. Andrew Samuels reminds us, the process can often take the form of a conversion of a vague feeling into a more precise idea or image, to which the depressed individual can then relate.

Dam Burst

depression and the unexplored self

This undamming of thoughts, yearnings feelings and emotions is often the place where depression and the unexplored self most strongly come together.  Such a process can lead to genuine, deep renewal of the personality, and a potentially powerful release of personal creativity.

Depth psychotherapy regards the evolutionary purpose of much depression — its goal, if you will — as the integration of hitherto unknown aspects of ourselves with the conscious mind.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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