Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Is Isolation Our Fate? Alienation in the 21st Century

August 29th, 2016 · alienation in the 21st century

In our time, many feel loneliness and feel “on the outside”; experts talk roundly about “alienation in the 21st century”.  

 alienation in the 21st centuryYet, for the many who feel this, it’s no abstract topic. Psychotherapists know that this vital matter can cut right to the heart of the quality and value of our lives.
What can individuals who experience this sense of alienation and loneliness do?

Admitting Our Alienation: Breaking the Taboo

Loneliness and alienation can be very hard to talk about!  In fact, there’s a cultural taboo against it.

In their book, The Lonely American, authors and psychoanalytic psychiatrists Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz describe meeting stiff resistance from their patients when asking about loneliness. They concluded that large numbers of people who believed they were depressed were actually lonely — not at all the same thing. Yet people weren’t willing to describe how they felt in those terms. Why?  As Olds and Schwartz tell us, “Talking about loneliness in America is deeply stigmatized; we see ourselves as a self-reliant people who do not whine about neediness.”  Given the power of the myth of rugged individualism here in Canada, I doubt that we differ much from our American neighbours on this indicator of alienation in the 21st century.

All Connectivity, No Soul

“All hat, no cattle” –growing up in Western Canada, that was how we described someone who looked on top of things, but really was far from it.  Our culture’s like that when it comes to connecting with others.  We possess all manner of “connectivity” technologies — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text, etc — and we put huge amounts of time and effort into “connecting” online. But the question is, do these online “connections” assuage our sense of loneliness and alienation, or make it worse? We can interact with all manner of people online, but can we be ourselves — and be accepted for who we are?

Feeling Like I’ve Got No Tribe

With the isolation that our technology imposes on us, and the individualized and isolated lives that many in North America lead, many people experience no true sense of a “we” that provides a feeling of belonging.  Group membership, whether to community or to organizations in the community has declined dramatically in recent years.  People often feel like they can’t find the value in group membership.

Feeling Like I’ve Got No Place

Often people today feel very limited connection to nature, or to the land.  Unlike even our fairly recent ancestors, we have no connection to the land.  We live in houses, townhouses, apartments and condos at a remove from nature, and our communities and transportation systems keep away from real contact with trees or living things, other than perhaps the occasional family pet.  Again, our leisure activities often tend to seal us off from the truly natural realm.  The feeling of connection with nature, that we are a part of nature, is most often not a part of our consciousness.  It’s very easy for modern humans to feel like isolated atoms adrift in the cosmos.

Feeling Like I’ve Got Nothing That Matters

Similarly, many people feel cut off from values that matter.  For better or worse, living in a post-organized-religion society isolates many in our culture from any sense of divinity or any underlying principle that unifies or gives meaning to the cosmos.  Other possible values, like humanistic commitment to the human race as a whole, often seem remote and abstract.  The individual is left without symbols that connect to any greater or overarching sense of meaning or purpose.  This is one additional level of feeling alienation in the 21st century.

alienation in the 21st century

Connections and Engagement

As commentators since the time of Emile Durkheim have pointed out, the individual’s experience of alienation in our time is often rooted in society-wide problems of social disconnection and the general experience in our culture of a sense of not being rooted in the natural or social worlds, or even in the fabric of each of our own individual lives.

It’s very apparent that the experience of each individual is deeply affected by broader trends in the social collective, which will hopefully be altered by increasing awareness, and a broad-based desire for social change.  Nonetheless, here and now, effective work in individual depth psychotherapy can often be of great assistance to the individual in  removing barriers and making connections to the individual’s own being and sense of her- or himself, a sense of meaningful involvement with others, and a deeper sense of connection with society and the surrounding world as a whole.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  raindog808 ;  Alan Levine
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Labor Day Blues: The Meaning of a Key Yearly Transition

August 22nd, 2016 · labor day blues

Most readers will readily understand the phrase “Labor Day blues”: it’s the range of feelings that often come with the end of summer.

labor day blues

Shades of Labor Day Blues Past…

For many, Labor Day embodies a significant life transition, and not always an easy one.  There have not been many scientific studies of the occurrence of negative feelings at the end of the summer.  Nevertheless, certainly the clinical experience of many therapists, coaches and relationship counselors suggests a definite surge in the numbers of those who seek help in the early fall.

The Experience of Summer

Prof. Jeroen Nawjin of Breda University has shown that vacations lift peoples’ moods, but not for all that long.  Soon after, the vacationer’s mood returns to the old levels. Similarly, the individual’s experience of summer, taken as a whole, often suggests that the individual has had a certain taste of the possibility of life outside of the usual confining ruts, possibly giving real insight into the things that this person feels to be genuinely important about her or his life.  Confronted with the prosaic reality of post Labor Day life, it can even feel like the individual is losing connection with some very important and central part of who they really are.

“Overloading” Summer

We can all tend to load up our summer with long lists of all the great activities we expect to undertake, and important experiences that we’ll have.  It might be a bit ambitious to plan to hike the entire Bruce Trail, learn to paint, and take 10 strokes off my golf game this summer!  It’s important to to be realistic and compassionate towards ourselves — and perhaps also to realize that our “lust for life” is bigger than just summer can hold (we’ll return to this point).

labor day blues

Endless Summer… is not what we get!

Could Labor Day Blues Actually be Depression?

It’s important for us to watch our moods, and to make sure that the labor day blues are not actually a more concerning form of depression.  Here are some of the trends and symptoms that it would be important to watch for:

  • Sleeping too much or too little;
  • Disinterest in pleasurable activities;
  • Unexplained weight loss/gain;
  • Difficulties with concentration on tasks
  • Substantial loss of energy;
  • Persistence of a sense of worthlessness
  • A depressed mood most days for at least two weeks running

If, in the midst of what appears to be “Labor Day Blues” you experience any of the above in a persistent way, it would be important to seek out help such as a good psychotherapist, or your family physician.

What Is It That I Actually Long For?…

Yet perhaps one of the most important aspects of labor day blues is what they might tell me about what is actually important in my life — what it is that I actually long for?  If I do find myself a little blue at the end of the summer — why is that?  (This may be an important question for anyone — but perhaps none more so than those at midlife or in the second half of life.)

It may be that in my sadness, there’s a genuine clue about the things I need in my life.  My summer experience may shows m that the time to be with myself, to listen to my own thoughts, is something that I value more than almost anything.  Or, perhaps its the opportunity to connect with others in my life, in a deeper and more intimate way that calls to me. Or my desire to travel and see new things may reflect a desire for renewal, for new things in my life.  There are clues in our summer longings, that show what we truly long for in the entirety of our lives.

…And How Can I Stay with It, Post Labor Day?

If we can identify that for which we truly, deeply long, then the possibility exists for us to bring more of those things into our life, long after labor day blues have ended.  Following our deepest yearnings is part of the deep journey to who we really are, and it’s often a process that good work in depth psychotherapy can consolidate, and make even deeper.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  Gabriela Pinto ; Darin McClure  
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Feeling Overwhelmed: Symptoms and their Meaning for Your Life

August 15th, 2016 · feeling overwhelmed symptoms

At various points in our life journey, and especially at times of transition, we can be subject to various “feeling overwhelmed symptoms.”

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

...Like being lost in a jungle of cactus…

Just what are this unusual states of “feeling overwhelmed”?  And how can we best endure them, and transition through them, to travel into the rest of our lives?

Those “Feeling Overwhelmed” Symptoms”: What Are They?…

When we speak of someone being overwhelmed, we generally mean that they are subject to intense negative emotions, such as deep sadness, unremitting anger of fear, or relentless anxiety or guilt.  Depression may also figure in feelings of overwhelm.

Overwhelm may show up in our lives through intense irritability or melancholy, or anxiety so intense it crosses into panic, completely disproportionate stress over small matters, or an inability to do proper “reality testing”, i.e., distinguishing thoughts or beliefs from what is objectively true in reality.  A strong desire for withdrawal may emerge, or intense fatigue or even physical illness may result.  Completing tasks, or even rational planning for tasks, may be thwarted by intense emotion.

Emotion so overpowering may often make it hard to state plainly what it is that’s actually causing the overwhelm.  Often there is a powerful “cocktail” of stressors and powerful emotions that lead to the subjective sense of being overwhelmed.  The individual’s behavioural patterns may change dramatically, discarding accustomed daily routines, while relationships can get stretched and twisted to the breaking point.  There is often a powerful unconscious component to an overwhelmed state.

What Causes Overwhelm?

It is not at all uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed at some point in their lives.  A variety of life experiences may bring on such feelings.  One causal factor may be multiple significant life issues, challenges or transitions occurring in rapid order.  Another, related factor might be a lack of coping resources, such as: supportive, caring friends, families or communities; rewarding involvements outside of work life; appropriate self-care or stress management skills; or, sometimes, a lack of a sense of overarching meaning or purpose in one’s life.

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

…What’s in the Background Behind Feeling Overwhelmed?

Common causes of issues that may lead to emotional overwhelm include:

  • Underlying physical or mental health conditions;
  • Issues in relationships;
  • Demands from occupation or career;
  • Money troubles;
  • Life transitions, such as buying a house, having a baby, or looking after an elderly parent;
  • Death of a loved one;
  • Insufficient time to complete tasks or rest;
  • Sleep deprivation;
  • Poor diet; or,
  • Personal history of trauma

Some of the causal factors that lead to emotional overwhelm may well be unconscious.  It may be important to explore these unconscious factors, to gain a sense of their emotional importance or deeper meaning.

feeling overwhelmed symptoms

What to DO About Overwhelm?

Depending on the individual’s experience, there may be a range of things to do in the face of feeling overwhelmed. However, here are three things that a great many people experiencing overwhelm might begin to do.

1,  Admit and accept the overwhelmed state.  It’s normal to experience some overwhelm in unfamiliar or particularly demanding situations.

2. Move away from the mental habit of “multi-tasking”.  Perhaps we need to “get real”, and kind to ourselves, and realize that everything can’t possibly get done right now.

3.  Ask if any substances or habits might be contributing to a state of overwhelm.  Could alcohol or cannabis use be a contributing factor?  Caffeine might be a factor, especially for people who have a genetic susceptibility.  The same might be true of tobacco use. And perhaps surprisingly, sugar and aspartame can both contribute to feelings of panicked overwhelm in some individuals.  The same is true of lack of sleep and lack of exercise.

…Or, A Different Understanding?

It may well be that elements of psychological trauma can create feeling overwhelmed symptoms.  In a similar way, unconscious factors like lack of self-esteem or latent perfectionism can fed the overwhelm, and in some cases, may well be its root cause.  These are all areas that can be profitably explored in an effective psychotherapy relationship.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike ©  US Army Africa ; Hendrik Wieduwilt ; Алла Лазарева
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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