Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Dealing with Stress and Anxiety Caused by — Society!!!

February 27th, 2017 · dealing with stress and anxiety

Recently, many people are dealing with substantial stress and anxiety — that has roots in social, political and economic factors.

stress and anxiety

Since Fall 2016, such anxiety has increased dramatically, as psychotherapy practioners are aware. From many different social, political and economic perspectives, people are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety stemming from uncertainty around what may happen in our society, or in the broader social or political world.

Feeling Out of Control

For many, the hardest part of this anxiety and stress is that they feel powerless and out of control. Canadians, for instance, feel that many of the most stressful events occur outside of our country, and we have no say in their outcome.

It’s important to avoid moping, basking in feelings of powerlessness and resentment. We need to take a creative approach to this situation, and ask: what is within my power to do to feel more in control?

First: Don’t Make It Worse!

Dealing with stress and anxiety is extremely demanding. We often self-medicate to feel better — which can actually make things worse.

dealing with stress and anxiety

Caffeine is Probably Not Helping

Caffeine is something many of us rely on to get through our days. However it’s important to realize the extent to which it can make anxiety worse. Oddly enough, alcohol, which we may take to relax in the short run, can also end up making us more anxious in the longer run. The same is very much true of cannabis, and also, actually, of tobacco.

Something else that people use to quickly improve their mood, often unconsciously, are sweeteners. Now, anyone who has ever seen a pre-schooler on a sugar high is aware of the potentially mood-altering properties of sugar. Yet, sugar initially lifts mood, but ultimately leaves us very anxious. Surprisingly, artificial sweeteners can do the same thing! We also also see a pretty similar effect with fatty or fried foods.

Psychotherapists know that one of the very WORST forms of self-medication is: endless news.

dealing with anxiety and stress

Apps Galore!

Often, we seek increased control through ever greater amounts of information, but often, can get lost in endless unresolvable details, feeling less and less capable and in control. Consider consuming less news, and doing things that increase a sense of control!

Broader Sense of Purpose or Meaning

Connecting with a broader sense of purpose or meaning can be of great importance in dealing with anxiety and stress. Logotherapist Dr. Vicktor Frankl stressed that those who have a religious, spiritual or philosophical conviction, can gain from getting closer to these sources of meaning. Depth psychotherapy stresses that a broader sense of identity may also come through experiencing the previously undiscovered self.

The wise have always stressed that it’s important in anxious times to connect with a sense of broader meaning or sanity.

Make Something Happen: Turning Anxiety into Passion

Anxiety consumes a great deal of psychic energy. Its turmoil can wreak havoc. If we can find a way to focus our energy on something that is meaningful to us, we will probably feel more creative, more empowered, and less churned up and miserable. What do you really care about?

Music, Art, Drama

Jungians stress that art, music, drama and/or writing can help us get to an appropriate sense of ourselves and help move anxiety. This is true both in terms of making your own creations, and in opening yourself up to the creations of others. Writing can be a real source of calm and centering. So can making or listening to the right kinds of music.

Here’s Yo-Yo Ma and Allison Krauss, performing an old Shaker song:


Anxiety is inevitable; none of us fully escapes it. In our times, social and political currents shift and change, often erratically. The creative question is, what can we do with our anxiety about these trends? How can we take our anxiety, and turn it into something energizing and life-giving? How can we take care of ourselves so that our society-related anxiety doesn’t become bottomless and inescapable?

Creative, self-compassionate ways of dealing with stress and anxiety open up important parts of our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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PHOTOS: © Creative Commons Fiona Henderson : alisdair ; Doug Belshaw
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Impact of the Family: Loving Them, Yet Finding Yourself

February 19th, 2017 · impact of the family

Family Day is celebrated in much of Canada in February: it’s a time to reflect on the impact of family. Depth psychotherapy emphasizes the impact of family on our unique selves, for good or ill.

impact of the family
For Jungians, as for many other psychotherapists, the archetypes of father, mother and family are extremely important, and have an enormous effect on our development as individuals. As Jung himself puts it:
“The deposit of [human]kind’s whole ancestral experience — so rich in emotional imagery — of father, mother, child, husband and wife… has exalted this group of archetypes into the supreme regulating principles of religious and even of political life, in unconscious recognition of their tremendous psychic power.” [CW 8, para. 337]
We are tremendously impacted by the symbolism of the family, in our social life, our political, economic and religious life, and above all, in the life of the individual — throughout the human life span.

Infant and Mother

As Andrew Samuels asserts, Jung was among the very first to spell out the relationship of mother and child in ways that sound at all like modern developmental psychology. Jung writes, as early as 1927,

The mother-child relationship is certainly the deepest and most poignant one we know… it is the absolute experience of our species, an organic truth …. There is inherent… [an] extraordinary intensity of relationship which instinctively impels the child to cling to its mother. [CW 8, para. 723]

This specifically non-Freudian language sounds similar to modern attachment theory, emphasizing the primary self-creating character of the mother-infant bond, and showing how problems with this bond can be an on-going source of anxiety and depression.

We need the experience of good mother to move us on the path of individuation, the journey to our fundamentally individual selves. The relationship with the father also has a key part to play in this journey.

the impact of family

The Fundamental Question: Unique Individual vs. Impact of the Family

Prof. Samuels also helps us to see that depth psychotherapy, as Jung, and those who have developed his ideas have understood it, takes us to a central question:

Are we to see a small child as an extension of the psychology of its parents… or more as a being recognizable from the first as possessing his or her own personality and intrapsychic organization?

In other words, can we sort out the parts of our identity that are uniquely, truly ours from those places in the psyche where parental influences, distortions or parentally-related trauma have hidden our true identity and a genuine sense of the unique value of who we individually are?

Discernment of our true individual identity is always at the heart of depth psychotherapy. As pioneer family systems therapist Prof. Murray Bowen reminds us, “We all have an infant inside of us, but the infant doesn’t have to run the show.” The capacity to love our family members, while simultaneously distinguishing our own unique identity from them, is fundamental to the journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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PHOTOS: © Creative Commons Ian Parkes : ShaLynn Wren
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Finding Passion for Life, at Midlife and Beyond

February 13th, 2017 · finding passion for life

Valentine’s Day is a culture-wide celebration of love and passion, yet, for many, finding passion for life is one of the greatest challenges.

finding passion for life

Passion can be hard to take hold of...

This proves particularly, urgently true for those of us at midlife and beyond. The great danger for many of us in the second half of life is to become blase, jaded or disgusted by life, just when life might be becoming more intriguing, more colourful, more real.

OK, …Now What?

At midlife, it can easily feel like we’re on cruise control. Day can blend into day, with the sense that there is nothing to show but “another day’s useless energy spent”, as a 1960s pop song put it.

Many at this age — to the extent that they are not caught up with simply coping with economic necessity — can easily feel that life is lacking in colour. That the great challenges and thrills of life belong to a vibrant youth, either long gone, or that never really was, at least not for them.

Many people respond to this awareness with a kind of quiet despair, that never really gets fully acknowledged. Instead many people hover above their real lives, never admitting to themselves that they’re struggling with a sense of banality. Although not popular with the critics, in the 2014 film Hector and the Search for Happiness, actor Simon Pegg gives a very commendable portrayal of someone caught up in this kind of denial and compartmentalization — the kind of subtle, unacknowledged despair that philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called “the sickness unto death”.

finding passion in life

The Status Quo is Not Enough

The research underlying neuroscience and evolutionary psychology points strongly toward a conclusion: as organisms, human beings are purposive. Our nervous system is oriented towards human beings striving after a purpose, or, if you prefer, a passion.

Long before this neuroscience work was ever completed, C.G. Jung wrote of what he called the “teleological” nature of the psyche. What he meant by this is that the psyche is striving to meet some end

So we are at our best, most fulfilled, most complete, when we are striving toward something. In other words, when there is a passion that grips us, when we are yearning and striving for something, it is then that we feel most alive. And it is in the second half of life when the questions like “What is it that I really yearn for?” or “What is it that is really my life’s passion?” become most important and urgent.

finding passion for life

The Art of Alchemy: Finding Passion for Life

How do we find what we’re passionate about? That may well be one of the key things that individuals need to seek out in the course of depth psychotherapy.

In the second half of life, finding passion for life that is genuine and as deep as our own souls may well require that we look in places that we might not expect. There are many parts of ourselves that we don’t know well or at all — what Jung referred to as the Undiscovered Self. There are many things we can learn from these unknown places within us. Depth psychotherapy shows that, often, it is precisely in these disregarded shadows that we end up finding passion for life. This can happen in many ways, both great and small.

Example. Fred hated classical symphonic music. This feeling was deep and real. His parents had refused to have any music other than “the finest music” in their home, and in his teen years, they forbade him to listen to rock punk and new wave. After that, Fred was resolute: nothing even remotely like classical music would make it even within earshot.

Years passed. Fred and his wife, now in their 50s, were invited by an important business client and his wife to attend the opera. “The opera?” Fred thought in disbelief, “You’ve got to be kidding! No way!” Still this was a crucial client… Fred gritted his teeth, and attended.

Fred was amazed. In spite of himself, as he listened and watched Mozart’s Magic Flute, he was drawn to the colors, the pagentry, the rich sound, the incredible singers. Soon he and his wife would attend another opera, and then another. In the most surprising of places, Fred found a deep and abiding passion.

Depth psychotherapy is fundamentally concerned with connecting the individual with the real wellsprings of deep and abiding life. In surprising ways, it may involve us in a personal journey of finding our passion for life.

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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PHOTOS: © Creative Commons Ms. Phoenix : LadyDragonflyCC – >;<
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Winter and Depression: a Symbolic Connection

February 6th, 2017 · winter and depression

While there are many joys in winter, it’s easy for all of us to feel an intuitive linkage between winter and depression.

winter and depression

Hiroshige, Snow Falling on a Town, Mariko

There’s an importance to that symbolism that makes it well worth considering, from a depth psychotherapy perspective.
I live in Oakville, in Ontario, Canada. We’ve had a remarkably mild winter this year, with very little snow in the month of January. Yet, if the statistics are correct, we have had only twelve hours of sunlight during the month! This has had a substantial impact on the mood of many.
It’s the absence of light, the cold, and the presence of much water in cloud and storm that gave winter its character in ancient mythology.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Although not “symbolic” per se, winter is the season of seasonal affective disorder, a mood condition in which depressive symptoms are induced by the low levels of bright sunlight during the winter season in northern climes. Seasonal affective disorder, (or SAD as it’s known) is quite widespread. The Ontario CMHA estimates that between 2 and 3% of the population actually are debilitated to some degree by seasonal affective disorder, while up to another 15% suffer from a milder version, known as the “winter blues”. If you experience depressive symptoms that seem to be associated with the winter season, you should consult a health or mental health professional.

 

winter and depression

Apollo’s Sun Chariot in Snow, Versailles

Apollo is Absent in the Three Months of Winter

According to Plutarch, the god Apollo was absent from his oracle at Delphi during the winter months; his place was taken by Dionysos. Apollo, god of the sun, of music, and of bright, clear reason is, as it were, eclipsed in winter. So it may seem in situational depression, when often individuals can find it hard to find their bearings, think clearly and to move forward on goals or projects.

 

winter and depression

Poseidon in Winter

Poseidon’s Season

In the ancient world winter was thought of as the season of Poseidon, the god of the Upper and Lower Waters, that is the waters of the oceans, and also those in the atmosphere. In winter, the storm clouds are heavy with water, and the god of the depths can seem to also be in control of the sky.

Symbolically the watery depths often symbolize the depths of the unconscious. As Jung tells us, in depression, our energy can be dammed up or brought down into the unconscious, trapped because of a life or coping problem that the individual cannot easily resolve. As Prof. Andrew Samuels stresses that, somewhat counter-intuitively, Jung encouraged people to enter as deeply as possible into the feelings associated with the depression. Why? So that those feelings might be clarified — turned into a clearer idea or image, with which the person may relate, and work towards concrete resolution, change and movement in his or her life.

Beyond Winter and Depression

It’s easy for most of us to readily understand the symbolic joining together of winter and depression. The season of sun may be overcome, and light and clarity disappear from consciousness for a time. But in the depths, in the waters of the psyche, the unconscious is often active, as the individual seeks a resolution of fundamental issues in his or her life.

It’s the goal of depth psychotherapy to work with the winter of depression, its bleakness and barrenness, and to find in its midst the seeds of clear feeling and ultimately desire, and yearning for life. The goal is the return of Apollo, with his sunlight and clarity — but, through working with depression, to have greater understanding of our own depths, and a greater capacity to move to the heart of our own true longings, and our own real life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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PHOTOS: © Creative Commons Telegraph : David Santaolalla
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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