Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Creating: Stagnation vs Generativity in Life’s Second Half

July 18th, 2016 · stagnation vs generativity

Erikson’s “Stagnation vs Generativity” describes a key dilemma and pain point for individuals in the second half of life.

stagnation vs generativity

Musician Brian Eno Talks About Generativity

Dr. Milton Erikson writes about a danger and an opportunity in life after 40, which ties in wonderfully with a lot that gets said by depth psychotherapists, such as Jung and Hillman.  Erikson refers to this stage as the stage of “stagnation vs generativity”.

Boredom and Stagnation

Erikson clearly tells us of a real danger, from midlife on, of increasingly succumbing to boredom, stagnation and even rigidity.

In early adulthood, life and society puts lots of ready-made challenges in front of us.  There is getting out and living in independence from family of origin, finding a career, finding a mate or partner, getting a house, perhaps having children.  Yet, by midlife, these can seem routine.  The life that the individual has created may no longer really fulfill.  In Jung’s framework, this corresponds to “the end of the first adulthood” and “midlife transition“.

This may lead to stagnation, Erikson tells us.  The individual may feel that they have failed to find a way to contribute, and may feel disconnected or uninvolved with their community, with society — or even their own lives.  Erikson clearly views this as a tragic outcome.

Erikson and Generativity

Yet, Erikson tells us, there is another choice after 40.  The individual need not stagnate, but may engage in what he calls generativity.

“Making a contribution” or “making your mark” are the hallmarks of generativity.  This doesn’t mean that you have to be famous, or that you have to be a large-scale philanthropist.  Generativity may be about contributing to society or community or to shared or cherished values.  It almost always involves a creative response or action that makes some difference in support of values that I, as an individual, cherish:

  • It may be activity in the community or in a group that furthers something that I believe in, or hold dear;
  • It may be some kind of creative activity that I inherently cherish (painting, writing — cooking!);
  • It may be some process of inner reflection or growth in understanding that I manifest increasingly in the world; or,
  • It may be another creative response to the fact of being in my own unique life.

But I’m NOT Creative!

For many people, the response to all this may be, “But, I can’t paint, or sing, or give a stirring speech!  …I’m not creative!

Well, are you sure?  Depth psychotherapy stresses that  creativity, or generativity, if you will, may not express itself, or emerge in the stereotypical or conventional ways.  There are a vast number of creative ways in which a human being can respond to life!

stagnation vs generativity

The Underground River

The Underground River

It can be a generative activity to respond creatively by being aware of the unique character of this particular moment.  It can be a generative act to genuinely and openly listen to another human being.  It can be a generative activity to meet someone new in a community to which we belong.  It can be a generative activity to meet someone new, who is a hitherto unknown and unexpected aspect of myself.

There is always within us the possibility of creative engagement with the moment.  It may lead to humour, human tenderness, or a moment of insight.  To try and be conscious of this, what I call “the underground river” running through every moment, is a key to the process of individuation, and runs very near to the heart of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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Anxiety, Depression,Your Individual Soul and the Corporation

July 11th, 2016 · soul and the corporation

“Individual soul and the corporation” sounds abstract, but, for many, preserving their individuality while in corporate life is a vital concern.

soul and the corporation
 Being unable to be oneself in a corporate context is the source of a great deal of the anxiety and depression in business life.  For depth psychotherapists such as C.G. Jung, James Hollis and Marion Woodman, this issue is closely tied to the question of individuation, which is the process of becoming the individual you or I most fundamentally are.
So, how does this question of our individuality relate to the self that shows up at work — what Jung would call the work persona?
To put it a slightly different way, how does this relate to our need for healthy and authentic emotional and feeling life, and for well-being and meaning?

Mask and False Self in Corporate Life

Jungian psychotherapists often refer to the social self as the persona, a Latin word meaning “mask”.  In social settings the persona serves both to hide and reveal our true identity.  As Daryl Sharp puts it,

The persona would live up to what’s expected, what is proper.  It is both a useful bridge socially and an indispensable protective covering; without  a persona, we are simply too vulnerable.  We regularly cover up our inferiorities with  a persona, since we do not like our weaknesses to be seen….  But it is psychologically unhealthy to identify with it, to believe that we are “nothing but” the person we show to others. [italics mine].

The danger inherent in corporate life is that the individual is given very clear, very strong messages about what is expected and proper.  Often, corporations make it very clear what they value, and what they do not value.  It’s often a very narrow range of things that are valued, and that conform to the corporation’s public image.

soul and the corporation


This can lead to individuals over-identifying with the corporate persona, and acting as if their corporate identity is the sum total of who they are.  All other aspects of the person increasingly tend to get pushed out of consciousness and into the shadow. This can be very destructive: if the individual gets stuck behind the mask, we refer to the false self.

Example.  Jane is a sales manager at a technology firm.  She is constantly working, and is never home for evenings with her family.  She is a fitness buff, because “it’s essential to look good if you want to sell”, and her only hobby is golf, which she plays, because, “Hey! That’s what salespeople do!”  Jane’s values are completely aligned with the company’s.

Corporate Meaning vs. Personal Meaning

One manifestation of corporate false self is when the personal meanings and values in life are largely usurped by corporate goals and meanings.  Sadly, there are many people in corporate management for whom this is true.  Often, this can lead to an extremely difficult situation when the individual loses a job or gets to the point of retirement.  As HR expert Dr. Doug Treen tells us

The retiring executive with a strong corporate ego takes the internalized corporate purpose, values and meaning into retirement.  This internal compass will fail the retiring executive as the dysfunction of the false self causes hyper stress.

The individual who has lived in the false self is often clueless about what  to do without the job. The danger is that both meaning and self identity are tied to the now non-existent job.

The Abusive Corporation

There are good corporations that support and uphold their employees, but corporate abuse is just as real as spousal or child abuse.

Because of the corporate persona trap, self-worth today is often defined by and derived from work.  It’s common enough to find employees who identity with, and are loyal to, employers who mistreat them and cross their boundaries in abusive ways.

Such abuse is fueled by the belief that the work identity is the individual sole real identity.  Depth psychotherapy is committed to helping the individual discover his or her true identity, and to claim her or his own real life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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Individuation in Psychology: Emergence of the Individual Person

July 4th, 2016 · individuation in psychology

The theme of individuation in psychology is crucially important: genuine healing accompanies the discovery of the individual’s unique identity.

individuation in psychology

Finding your own identity is an individual process, but it’s intimately involved with the collective emergence of consciousness in human societies and human culture.  There have been key “hinge moments” in the emergence of individual human consciousness.

Regardless of your view of subsequent American history, one of these key social moments was unquestionably the American Revolution, and the emergence on July 4, 1776 of an unprecedented document: the American Declaration of Independence. This document, proclaimed by a then-emerging nation, was a revolutionary milestone in the history of the human race, and in the emergence of the human individual from the faceless crowd.

Not that the individual did not exist before.  She or he had periodically emerged from the murk for brief intervals, such as in the Classical era in ancient Greece.

Yet, for the individual to be acknowledged in the formative document of a political entity such as a nation was a major and bold step forward.  The proclamation of the individual’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in our mouths, may often seem as if it is a trite cliche.  Yet, in that era, for  a society to hold as a foundational principle that these rights were the prerogative of every citizen, placed the individual at the heart of the political process, and was a major development in the conscious awareness of the individual (and, ultimately, of individuation in psychology).

As we sit before this Declaration, with its unapologetic statement that these rights are self-evident and inalienable, it seems to me that we are also greatly challenged by the responsibility that these Rights put on each of us — a responsibility to the Self.

If we each have the Right to Life – How then will we reflect and act — so as to take hold of our lives?
If we each have the Right to Liberty – What then will we each do with this heady and terrible freedom?
If we each have the Right to Pursue “Happiness” – Have we thought in any depth on what it would mean to truly pursue our own “happiness”, or what would give meaning and depth to our lives, in accord with our inmost nature?

I wish American friends and relatives the very best of the 4th of July, and may we all celebrate the value of the individual person, which is right at the heart of depth psychotherapy .

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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

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