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What is my True Self? Our Inmost Voice in Major Life Transitions

January 29th, 2017 · what is my true self

What is my true Self? The question may seem abstract, but it’s anything but, when you’re struggling in the midst of a major life transition.

what is my true self
It’s true that the individual in crisis or transition doesn’t look to the psychotherapist for some intellectual answer to this question. A two page summary describing the major aspects of personal identity in answer to the question “What is my true Self?” would be hideously inappropriate.
Yet the individual has to feel that, however haltingly, he or she is headed in a direction that accords with her or his own true essence. To feel good about a future direction, it’s essential to feel that there is something in the situation that corresponds in some way, to who I most fundamentally am. In the midst of a chaotic career transition, for instance, it’s essential that the individual feel that his or her deepest wants, needs and values are going to somehow be maintained.

Does “Who I Really Am” Exist?

Some philosophers and psychologists question whether “who I really am” or “my true identity” is a reality, or just an illusion.

Now, while it’s true that modern neuroscience and psychology have shown that social interaction is absolutely essential to the emergence of the self, that’s very different from suggesting that the self is simply a socially constructed fiction. Indeed, many of the most current and effective forms of therapy, such as Internal Family Systems Theory focus on the central importance and relevance of the self.

A Person’s “Daimon”

Long ago, the ancient Greeks called the voice of your deepest self your “daimon“. One ancient Greek thinker, Empedocles (fifth century BCE) identified the daimon with the self. Another, Heraclitus, (c. 500 BCE) writes that “man’s character is his daimon”.

Existential psychologist Rollo May tells us that daimon was translated into Latin as genius, and that, for the Romans,

…the daimonic is the voice of the generative process in the individual. The daimonic is [that] unique pattern of sensibilities and powers which constitutes the individual as a self in relation to [the] world.

So your daimon is the heart of who you are, and the way that your own deepest being gets expressed in the world.

what is my true self

What is My True Self? Hillman Summarizes

Archetypal psychologist James Hillman summarizes these myths:

The soul of each of us is given a unique daimon before we are born, and it has selected an image or pattern that we live on earth…. The daimon remembers what is in your image, and belongs to your pattern.

The myth leads also to practical moves…. [W]e must attend very carefully to childhood to catch early glimpses of the daimon in action, to grasp its intentions and not block its way…. [and we must]

(a) Recognize the call as a prime fact of human existence; [and]

(b) align life with it

…A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also possess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim.

Whether we see this “daimon” mythologically, or in terms of genetic and epigenetic biology, we can see our lives as concerning the never ending, fundamental call to be who we really are.

The Call of the Self in Major Life Transitions and Crises

It’s important not to sugar coat the realities. Major life transitions — for instance, divorce, job loss, retirement, the empty nest — can disorder our lives, or even create complete chaos.

In the midst of such struggles, the individual may well find orientation by coming into contact with some aspect of his or her most fundamental identity. This might include connecting with something that was meaningful to that person as a child, or that is a deeply held life long passion. The self, or as the Greeks might say, the person’s daimon, wants to point the way.

The process of depth psychotherapy is to bring connection with the individual’s deepest self, and to stay alert to the things that fundamentally express who the person is. This can be profoundly transformative.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: © Creative Commons Dima Bushkov : Dave Gates
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Work Related Depression: A Great Topic for Bell Lets Talk

January 23rd, 2017 · bell lets talk

Not all corporate initiatives have merit, but Bell Lets Talk does. It’s about eliminating the stigma around mental health and coping issues.

bell lets talk

It’s important for psychotherapists to support positive initiatives when we see them! The Bell Let’s Talk site references 5 ways that we can all help. These are some very valuable, very useful points.

Language Matters. Bell Lets Talk emphasizes that the language used around mental health issues can either build people up, or unfairly knock them down. We all know the negative and destructive terminology: let’s all make a point of not using it!

Educate Yourself. There are facts about mental illness and coping issues, and then there are old wives tales that are fear based and stigmatizing. Let’s Talk stresses educating ourselves so that we understand the truth about these issues.

Be Kind. Simply treating people dealing with coping issues in a kind, respectful way can be a very healing thing.

Listen and Ask. Mental illness of one kind or another is extremely common. Listening and asking how you can help can make an immense difference to people struggling with real pain.

Talk About it. The vast majority of people are touched in some way by mental health issues experienced by loved ones, relatives or friends.

bell lets talk

Why Work Related Depression is an Important Topic

Work related depression fits right in with the key themes of Bell Lets Talk. This term refers to depression directly connected to people’s experience of their working lives. Although it’s only one very specific type of situational depression, and situational depression is itself only one very specific type of depression, work-related depression is a very common phenomenon.

Can work itself cause depression? There is some controversy among professionals, but there is solid evidence that it can. In any case we know that there are a combination of internal and external factors that can lead to an individual being depressed in a way that’s attributable to work.

Work Related Depression: Internal Factors

Here are some of the factors more or less internal to the person that can lead to work-related depression.

  • A wrong-fit role;
  • Misalignment between company and personal values;
  • Working parent guilt;
  • Interpersonal discomfort, due to interfacing with difficult or incompatible people;
  • Office political pressures;
  • Work/life imbalance;
  • Introversion and extroversion issues, manifested in insufficient social contact, or way too many interruptions and no privacy;
  • Financial stress due to insufficient compensation or benefits; or,
  • Feeling trapped, either in reality, or due to unrealistic fears & inhibitions

Work-Related Depression: External Factors

On the other hand, a range of factors external to the person can contribute to work related depression:

  • Unreasonable demands from management.
  • Unclear guidance at work.
  • Sexism, sexual or sexual orientation harassment
  • Poor project practices, resulting in barriers to doing good work.
  • Bullying at work, by bosses, co-workers or clients.
  • Racial, ethnic or religious prejudice
  • Low morale or low engagement at work.
  • Inconsistent or poor payroll practices
  • Poor working conditions

A 2013 Danish study by a team led by psychologist Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup of Aarhus University found that, more than the workload in a workplace, it is the work environment and the feeling of devaluation and unfair treatment by management that has a defining effect on an employee’s mood.

In keeping with the theme of Bell Lets Talk, the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health (of the American Psychiatric Foundation) has stated definitively that work-related depression is a huge burden on its own, often made greatly worse in the workplace as a result of the stigma attached to depression.

What is work related situational depression, viewed from a depth psychotherapy perspective? It can be seen as a form of psychological pain that is trying to find a way to resolve itself into a greater sense of vocation, meaning and purpose for the suffering individual. The work of depth psychotherapy is to uncover the meaning, vitality and yearnings that are hidden in the grey depths of the depression.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: © reynermedia : Alper Çuğun
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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” No One Understands Me “: Our Yearning for Human Connection

January 16th, 2017 · no one understands me

“No one understands me !” is a very human cry. Many, many people have such feelings at some point in their life journey.

no one understands me

You Know When Someone’s Really Listening

How can we deal with the feeling depth psychotherapists so often encounter in their clients, that ” no one understands me “? How can we possibly hope to get past it?

Talking, Talking, Endlessly Talking… But Not Hearing

It’s often been said that talk is cheap. Here’s a splendid example of just how cheap.

On a channel on Twitch, Google has set up two Google Home “smart speakers”, (robots equipped with artificial intelligence) named Vladimir and Estragon, after the characters in Samuel Becket’s play Waiting for Godot. They have all the resources of the Google database behind them, and they just talk to each other –arguing endlessly.


no one understands me

“Vladimir” and “Estragon”


They just go on, interminably, talking about what it is they like, or whether they’re human or not, or even flirting with each other. An endless array of topics, and an endless inexhaustible flurry of words. It isn’t connection. It isn’t understanding each another. It’s just an endless, soulless exchange of words and phrases. It has no human reality in it.

The sad thing is that there are many people who feel that, for their whole lives, they have been subject to just such banal, inhuman verbal barrages — often from key people in their lives. To be an aware psychotherapist is to know that many people are all too well aware that being subject to such endless streams of language and apparent “dialogue” has nothing to do with being seen, valued — and met.

What It Is to be Met

What is it like to be met? To be truly heard, understood and empathized with, by another person? As Jungian analyst and psychiatrist Jean Knox reminds us, being truly, empathically listened to by another person can actually

“…provide a framework for…the ability to relate to and make sense of ourselves and each other in mental and emotional, not just behavioural terms…. The capacity to link experiences in a meaningful way is a crucial part of human psychological development….”

So being truly understood by another is often a truly essential part of making sense of our own deep life stories. And as U. North Carolina psychiatry prof Stephen W. Porges emphasizes, genuine connection and understanding promotes health, growth and restoration, both physically and mentally.

No One Understands Me vs. The Hope of Encounter

To find the hope of being understood, and the feeling of being valued, and therefore valuable, can be a very important experience in life. In fact, it’s essential to making sense of our own lives, and feeling that they are coherent, and in our control. It’s also essential in helping us feel connected to the significant people in our lives, to all our varied human communities, and to the world.

Depth psychotherapy can be of tremendous assistance in engendering this type of hope for our lives, and this sense of the reality and the possibility of connection. It’s not uncommon for people to come into depth psychotherapy, and to feel that it is the first time that they have really been listened to. In other words, the first time they have met with an energetic, sincere effort to actively and deeply understand what they are communicating about their true thoughts and feelings. There are many for whom such therapy has been the first real movement beyond the feeling that ” no one understands me “.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike © kizzzbeth : via Gizmodo, image via screengrab from
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Making Room for New Journeys: Healing Toxic Shame

January 9th, 2017 · healing toxic shame

The New Year, with all its overtones of hope and new possibility, is actually a very good time to talk about healing toxic shame.

healing toxic shame

Depth psychotherapists know that toxic shame can be a very effective barrier between ourselves and realizing many important aspects of who we are. Often, we don’t even realize the power of shame in our lives.
Yet sometimes the negative power of shame is all too visible in the life of someone who has undergone the harrowing experience of public shaming. The terrible experience of such individuals shows us a great deal about the power that shame can very easily have in any of our lives.

The Virulence of Shame: Monica Lewinsky

healing toxic shame

A recent CBC Radio program concerned a professor’s initiative at a prominent Canadian business school. The prof invited activist Monica Lewinsky to speak about her experience as the first person to have her reputation destroyed worldwide on the Internet. Ms. Lewinsky’s name became a household word as the result of massive degradation, villainization, scandal and shame. She has much to teach us as a result of the experience. Infamously referred to as “that woman” by President Clinton in his denial, she writes

So far, That Woman has never been able to escape the shadow of that first depiction…. [T]hat brand stuck….

Unlike the other parties involved, I was so young that I had no established identity to which I could return. I didn’t “let this define” me—I simply hadn’t had the life experience to establish my own identity in 1998. If you haven’t figured out who you are, it’s hard not to accept the horrible image of you created by others. [Italics mine] …I remained “stuck” for far too many years.

Ms. Lewinsky’s remarks about the devastating impact of shame on a person in her early 20s who hasn’t arrived at a well-developed sense of self ring all too true. Much less public, but even be more devastating, can be intense and on-going shame encountered at much younger ages.

Healing Toxic Shame: the Vulnerability of the Young

For many people, devastating toxic shame arrives at a very young age. The family of origin or the early years of school can be a cauldron of roiling, inescapable shame. It can be extremely difficult for a vulnerable person to escape the acid power of the message that “you should be ashamed of yourself”, if it is received at an early age from parents, or authority figures such as teachers.

Shame can distort and corrode a person’s sense of self in ways beyond what any other emotion can do. From a Jungian perspective, it can create complexes which feed on self-revulsion, inferiority, feelings of worthlessness and and inability to connect with others. If enough shame is experienced, self-loathing and self attack can even lead to self-destructive impulses.

When we experience shame, we carry the vulnerable and young place that experiences the shame within us, and we can easily get drawn back [“triggered”] into re-experiencing the feelings of shame with all the original intensity.

What can we do?

Compassion and Healing Toxic Shame

One thing that can contribute greatly to healing toxic shame is compassion. The compassion of others towards our shamed self can be very important; as social psychologist Kristin Neff has shown, even more important is finding compassion that we direct towards ourselves. Fundamental to healing from toxic shame is the ability to connect with our own experiences of suffering, and to recognize how our earlier selves were wounded by shaming from others or from the circumstances of our lives.

Depth psychotherapy can assist greatly in developing this sense of self compassion, as we discern the emotion at the heart of complexes which is tied to excruciating experiences of shame. As we more and more take the corrective perspective of the unconscious into account, through dreams and other means, we develop the capacity to genuinely see ourselves, and to be kind.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike © Mills Baker : Ivey Business School
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)