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New Year’s 2018 and the Fear of the Future

December 18th, 2017 · the fear of the future

Leonard Cohen’s lyrics in his song The Future reflect the fear of the future many now experience: “I’ve seen the future / Brother, it is murder.”

the fear of the future

Happy New Year…

Depth psychotherapists are very aware that many people carry intense fear of the future in our time.  While there has always been a dimension of such fear, at this particular moment in our society, it is particularly widespread and intense.
In our era, there is great fear of many large-scale calamities: job loss; economic downturn; climate change and environmental disaster; uncertainty about health and uncertainty about children’s futures would be some of the most significant fears and future-oriented anxieties. It’s really not surprising to see this fear and anxiety intensify as we come nearer to the holiday that celebrates the advent of the future: New Year’s.

Thank Goodness for Fear and Anxiety!

One of the great things distinguishing humans from other species is our ability to anticipate the future and to plan by creating options and selecting from them.  This as our threat management system.  It greatly assists our individual survival, and that of the species.  However, as U. of Queensland Prof. T. Suddendorf illustrates, this threat management system has a downside: we can get stuck imagining mental scenarios that torment us with anxiety and fear.

While anxiety and the fear of the future can empower us to protect ourselves and take precautions, this same mechanism can lead us to be paralyzed by fear of what might happen.  So, New Year’s celebration can easily be coloured by the dark clouds of imagined possibilities.

the fear of the future

Learned Helplessness

Fear of the future, in our age, is fed by media and others who follow the rule of thumb that, “if it bleeds, it leads“.  Unfortunately, media and advertisers have learned that, if they can increase our fear and anxiety, they increase our attentiveness to their messages.  This tends to lead to a kind of “learned helplessness”, a numbness and inability to respond to situations in life.  If it’s not fear of terrorism that’s the flavour of the day, then it’s economic fear, fear of war or disease, or — you name it.

Fear and Franklin

1932 was a grim year.  President Hoover was completely immobilized by the steadily worsening Great Depression.  The United States felt spiritually as well as financially bankrupt — a nation immobilized by fear.  In March 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt in his first Inaugural Address uttered a now famous phrase:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

This phrase is so famous it can feel like a shopworn cliche.  But let’s understand the profundity of Roosevelt’s insight.  He saw a nation full of resources and individual people who were fundamentally strong.  He also saw the possibility of fear immobilizing that people, and taking away their power to undertake even the first step towards the life they wanted for themselves.  He literally saw that the only thing stopping them from moving forward with courage and imagination — was fear.  This is a fundamental insight into his time, but it also captures a fundamental truth about the human condition.  For our own time and situation,  famous Jungian analyst James Hollis unpacks this same truth:

So there you have it.  Fear is the enemy.  Life is not your enemy; the Other is not your enemy; fear is the enemy…

Ask yourself of every dilemma, every choice, every relationship, every commitment, or every failure to commit, “Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?”  Do not ask this question if you are afraid to find the answer [italics mine].  You might be afraid of what your own soul will require of you, but at least you will then know your marching orders…

If you are still afraid, imagine your tombstone: “Here lies one who was not here, one who did not show up!”  That is something to really fear; compared to this, our daily fears are trivial [italics mine].

~James Hollis

Courage and the Future

In an important sense, we humans are always locked in struggle with our fear, as the greatest barrier between us and our individual destinies.  As Roosevelt so eloquently stated, like the humans in every place and time, we must fear the fear that could keep us from full and authentic life.

A key goal of depth psychotherapy is empowering the individual to move through fear, to live life as an authentic expression of who she or he most fundamentally is.

I wish you the happiest of Holiday seasons and the blessings of an authentic and courageous New Year!

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution John Eisenschenk (Creative Commons Licence) ;  Sarah (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Caring for Aging Parents During the Holiday Season

December 11th, 2017 · caring for aging parents

Caring for aging parents is a matter of deep concern, stress and anxiety to many people; those concerns are often intensified at the Holidays.

caring for aging parents

Are you a caregiver for aging parents?  It’s a complex task, that can often seem lonely and thankless.  Because of the emphasis on family at the Holidays, and everyone’s heightened expectations, the task of caring for aging parents can feel even heavier at this time of year.

Not a “How To” Article

This isn’t a “how-to” article about looking after aging parents.  It focuses on individual caregivers, and how they might best take care of themselves emotionally.  How can adult children respond to aging parents? Is there a way to offer care to aging parents, while still “hanging onto ourselves”, our own needs and life goals?

Caring for Aging Parents: Unprecedented Demands on Their Children

Aging parents are living longer, and imposing formidable demands on children.   Parents have increased lifespan, but also increased levels of disability, illness and cognitive impairment.  Adult children can feel overwhelmed by such situations, when simultaneously helping their own children to “launch”, and dealing with issues of midlife transition and the second half of life.


A common response to all these demands is guilt.  This takes several forms, as Prof. Satow of Brooklyn College reminds us.

We can feel guilty for not doing what we “should” for parents.  Often this means not doing what someone else thinks we should for a parent.

Or we can have what Satow calls separation guilt.  This is guilt caused by physical separation, as a result of moving or living away from parents.

Another source of guilt stems from parental envy.  The child is younger, perhaps in better health, and perhaps more affluent or less encumbered. The parent may wish it was otherwise, and the child may experience that as a source of guilt.

Even more significant is guilt resulting from ambivalent feelings toward the parent.  This can stem from a parent who never connected with us, or from experiences of wholesale abuse and neglect.  You might think that this affects a relatively small number of people.  The experience of depth psychotherapists suggests otherwise.

A final issue that must be taken seriously is the case where we might feel guilty around parents, as a result of a sense of having violated our own moral values around treatment of parents.  This is very significant when it occurs, but as we can see, a whole range of other kinds of guilt can masquerade as this one!

You Cannot Save an Aging Parent from Aging

Aging and the decline and breakdown of the body are inevitable parts of the human experience.  We might wonder whether our difficulty with accepting the aging of the parent doesn’t sometimes originate in our own difficulty accepting aging in ourselves.

All human life is an aging process culminating in death.  We have to accept the reality of the human condition, and simultaneously the need to become ourselves and make meaning in our lives.  This is a task that our parents face, and it’s the task that we ourselves face.

The Necessary Courage to Follow Your Own Path

From the perspective of Jungian depth psychotherapy, we must balance the obligation to parents with the real and genuine call of the self.  We need to have the courage to follow our own path, not losing sight of ourselves, and of the necessity to live out who we really are, as we face the challenges of caring for aging parents.

caring for aging parents

Finding the Center of Your Own Labyrinth

Identifying Your Authentic Role

Care of parents and connection with them must be balanced with our sense of vocation and authentic life.  Often, it involves a process of a balancing of doing the “decent” thing with the call of the individual’s own life to be lived and the demands of being who we were intended to be in our lives.  Sorting through these demands is not an easy task, and may require us to face our own guilt, fear and anger.

Often, the process of depth psychotherapy enables the individual to clarify their personal issues around caring for aging parents, and to find a way forward that honours as much as possible both our moral commitments, and the call of the Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Sheila Sund (Creative Commons Licence) ; Brian (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Understanding and Relieving Holiday Stress Depression and Anxiety

December 4th, 2017 · holiday stress depression

With every passing year, holiday stress depression and anxiety become an ever greater issue in our society, with more and more of us affected.

holiday stress depression

PHOTO: “Holiday Blur” by Mitchell Haintfield

Because of it’s importance, I’ve written on variations of this issue several times previously.  Yet, it’s very important to keep exploring this issue in ways that give us deeper understanding of stress and negative emotional reaction to the holidays , and that also allow us to see some ways of alleviating these strong reactions, and possibly finding joy and depth of meaning in our holiday experience — and in our lives.

Expectations of “The Holiday Experience”

We expect so much of this time of year, and we expect so much of ourselves at this time of year.  Because of the ever-increasing demands of jobs, and often because of the ever-increasing expectations we face with respect to meeting our children’s needs and keeping them in extra-curricular activities, many people in communities like my own suburban town of Oakville lead demanding, exhausting lives of near-continual activity.  This can lead us into a range of unrealistic expectations for the holiday season.  We can end up pinning totally unreasonable hopes upon the season — and upon ourselves — for what must happen, if we’re to have a worthwhile holiday season.  Between Christmas and New Year’s, this can mean spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

What if we let ourselves off the hook, and accepted that we could have good holidays, connecting with those we love and value — and, above all, with ourselves — without spending an enormous amount of money?  What if we could have a warm, connected and meaningful holiday season, with reasonable expectations, without slave-driving ourselves with perfectionistic ideas about “how it’s gotta be”?

Expectations and Family

This brings up a related subject, painful for many.  In our culture, we are flooded by images of happy families gathered together for the holidays, getting along famously and harmoniously.  This imagery floods TV ads, holiday music videos and Christmas specials.

For many of us, however, the reality of family during the holidays is much more ambiguous, and often very painful.  Many of us carry memories, some absolutely traumatic, of family occasions of conflict associated with the holidays.  Many people’s experience of the holidays in previous years is scarred by tragic or traumatic experiences associated with alcohol or other addictions, often involving a close relative.

It’s essential to approach the issue of family at the holidays with a spirit of constructive, rather than destructive hope.  By “destructive hope”, I mean the kind of hope, often rooted in childhood, that keeps hoping against all odds that someone will respond in a positive, life-giving way, when all that they have repeatedly shown is destructive, hurtful and life denying.  If we are to get beyond holiday stress depression and anxiety in the context of family and relationship, we must be conscious and clear-sighted about relationships. We need to invest in relationships where we are going to get support, love and affirmation, and we need to grieve relationships where that’s not the case, and move on from them.  The holidays can be a crucial time for making life-giving decisions about close relationships.

Spirituality and Meaning

Spirituality and meaning are essential aspects of moving beyond holiday stress, depression and anxiety.  Perhaps the traditional spirituality associated with a season like Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa has great meaning for you.  If so, that’s wonderful, and you should by all means incorporate traditional religious observances into your celebration of the season.

Yet, contemporary depth psychotherapy shows that such symbolism speaks powerfully to some in our time, and not at all to others.  If traditional religious symbols are not meaningful for you, the holidays might be a time to start your own exploration of the kind of spirituality and sources of meaning that genuinely matter for you.  Spirituality can mean many different things.  Humans strongly need to feel connected to some value greater than the human ego — whether God, the Tao, the Ancestors, the human race, or some other value.

holiday stress depression

Holiday Stress Depression & Anxiety… and the Whole of Our Lives

The broad questions of spirituality and meaning posed to us by the holiday season matter for the whole of our lives — they are existential issues.

Jungian depth psychotherapy work is always deeply concerned with the broad issue of finding meaning, significance and purpose in the life of the individual.  It recognizes that part of the uniqueness of an individual is the values that he or she holds most deeply.  Depth psychotherapy helps the person to express those values, as a fundamental part of the individual’s journey to wholeness .

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution mitchell haindfield (Creative Commons Licence) ; Stephen Kelly (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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