Journeying Toward Wholeness

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How to be True to Yourself in the Middle of Big Life Changes

June 25th, 2018 · how to be true to yourself

Have you ever wondered how to be true to yourself when you’re smack dab in the middle of a huge change in your life?

“How can I stay true to myself?”  It’s something that many people do wonder about, when they’re right in the middle of life’s biggest changes — sometimes called major life transitions.  This type of event in our lives often leaves each of us confronting the question of who really am I and how to be true to yourself.
Huge changes or major life transitions can occur at any point in our adult life journey.  They can assume many forms: career change or job loss; change in marital status in all its forms; moving; serious illness; having a child; children leaving home; moving into the second half of life, and many, many other possibilities.

Disoriented about “Me”

These types of big changes can lead to a great sense of disorientation.  If I confront a new situation in my life, it may really challenge me about who I am.

For example.  Say that I have been living in the same community for a long time.  Then, for work-related reasons, I’m suddenly forced to move to another city in a different part of the country, or perhaps even overseas.  I have to leave behind both the work environment and the community I have known and belonged to for many years.  Naturally, I find this distressing and disorienting.  It may lead me to disturbing questions about not only the changes in my life, but also about myself.

My work role and my community may have touched almost every aspect of my life, led me to do things in a certain way, and determined how I would respond and think about all kinds of situations in my life.  Taken outside of the former context of my life, who am I?

Such a transition might be very upsetting.  Yet, it might also offer a huge opportunity: the chance to experience myself.

Touchstone Moments

In the midst of disorientation, it might be vitally important to connect with experiences in which you felt fully alive and fully yourself, and to use such moments as a kind of “compass”, showing the way to yourself.

C.G. Jung had a famous question that he used to ask his clients when they were in the midst of disorientation and transition:

What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes? Herein lies the key to your earthly pursuits.

Jung attempted to take his clients to times in their lives when they had the awareness of feeling truly themselves, when they were so much a part of what they were doing, that they were virtually in a trance-like state, totally absorbed by it.

Such moments are not confined to childhood. We may encounter them at many times in our lives.  It’s important to point out that such experiences have dimensions of feeling and intuition, and are not matters of reasoning or logic.  As Hara Estroff Marano and Anna Yusim MD highlight for us:

Transformational moments sit somewhere on the boundary between logic and emotion.  Insight alone, no matter how brilliant, rarely leads to profound change. 

There is something deeper that we seek, and it is central to the question of how to be true to yourself.

The Real Images That Govern Our Lives

Jungian and archetypal psychologist James Hillman seeks to bring us back to feeling a sense of destiny as connected to “who I really am”

…answerable to an innate image, which I am filling out in my biography.

Transformational moments bring us to a sense of who and what I am,  of getting in touch with Hillman’s inner image of ourselves, and of gaining a sense of how to be true to it.

The work of depth psychotherapy is fundamentally focused on getting in touch with and being true to our fundamental selves, in all the situations of our lives.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:  Cassandra Rae (Creative Commons Licence) ; Rick Obst (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Be Kind to Yourself: Self-Compassion and the Duty to Self

June 18th, 2018 · be kind to yourself

We’ve heard the phrase a lot: “be kind to yourself”.  But what does psychological care of oneself really look like?  Is there a “duty to self”?

be kind to yourself

Did you ever dream?…  Workman dancing on the roof of the Imperial Palace, Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Of course, we’re mostly used to thinking of duties that are not duty to self, such as duties to one’s family, one’s country, one’s fellow human, perhaps duty to God.  It can initially sound strange to us to consider the possibility of a duty to ourselves.
Well, how should we relate to ourselves?  Can that relationship be a good one?  Can it be a bad one?  If so, what’s the difference?

Self Acceptance

Before we can have self compassion, we must first come to a place of self acceptanceC.G. Jung had a famous quote in connection with this:

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”

He also stated that:

“The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life.”

For Jung, acceptance of ourselves with our faults, flaws, and broken-ness, is the foundation of any kind of psychological movement in ourselves  Everyone has parts of her- or himself that are very hard for the ego to accept, perhaps because they seem at odds with widely accepted norms and standards, or because they do not fit with the ego’s preconceived ideas of who we are.  To acknowledge these parts, to accept them and just let be, this is the first key to the work that we need to do.  To have a good relationship with ourselves, we need to start here.

Self Compassion

Depth psychotherapists see self-compassion growing out of this initial hard work of self-acceptance.  It’s only when we finally see all the parts of ourselves — attractive and unattractive, those which accord with the moral standards of the ego, and those that do not, those which seem strong, and those which seem shamefully weak — that we begin to be in the place where we can experience genuine self compassion.  we can be sure that every aspect of who we are has its own unique story, its own unique reason for being the way that it is.  We will only understand those stories when we listen to ourselves from a place of compassion.

The Truth About Duty to Self

From a place of self-compassion, we start to see the wounds and vulnerability in our lives.  As we understand them, we start to perhaps see something of our true self, which is seeking to emerge in the middle of all the contradictions and broken-ness.  Such moments can be moments of recognition and connectedness.  It might be that we start to gain a sense of the wholeness of self that has been trying to emerge at many different points in the course of our lives.  This may be associated with a sense of yearning or aspiration that we have been trying to realize for the whole of our life journey — something that we have always longed for, and wanted to make real in the midst of our lives.

be kind to yourself

The duty to self can be the duty to be ourselves — to be who we most fundamentally are.  It’s only in truly following the injunction to “be kind to yourself”, and thus being kind to the whole of ourselves, to all that we are, that we begin to gain some understanding of our duty to ourselves, to be and become all the things that make us who we truly are.

This duty to self may emerge as particularly important in the second half of life, or as the individual experiences major life transitions.  It also takes on particular importance for those whose life journeys have consistently led to meeting the needs of others prior to considering their own,

Exploring Duty to Self

The duty to self, which includes respecting, valuing and becoming even more who we most fundamentally are, is at the core of Jungian depth psychotherapy work.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Gauthier DELECROIX – 郭天 (Creative Commons Licence) ; Ian Sane (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


The Urgent Quest to Find Meaning in Life

June 11th, 2018 · find meaning in life

It’s absolutely essential to find meaning in life.  Specifically, it’s urgent and essential to find meaning in your own particular individual life.

Anthony Bourdain, RIP – A genuinely great contributor who will be sincerely missed by a vast number of people.

What is meant by that, and how could it possibly be so important?
Well, what it means, at heart, for Jungian therapists is that it is essential for each person to find things that are of genuine and deep personal value to them, in their own particular, perhaps idiosyncratic life.

“THE Meaning of Life” — Doesn’t Exist

Every so often, you will hear someone refer to “the Meaning of Life”.  At one point, the comedy troupe Monty Python even had a movie bearing that title.  The phrase “the Meaning of LIfe” tends to suggest that there is one great, big overarching meaning in life — the same thing for everyone.

We Live in a Time of Spiritual Change and Ferment

In earlier times, when societies were homogenous, and there was perhaps one religious or philosophical perspective that everyone shared, it might have been possible to believe in this kind of “meaning of life”.  However, those days have gone, and it’s likely that they’re not coming back.

It’s not so long ago that it seemed that certain understandings of “the meaning of life”, and even religious symbols, seemed permanent and fixed, embodying the meaning of life for everyone.  In my case, my upbringing was in a particular setting where every significant person assumed the truth of a Protestant version of Christianity, and, if they had felt differently about it, they would have kept those feelings to themselves.  But now, in the Western world, at least, that monolithic sense of shared meaning is gone; people’s religious or philosophical beliefs vary widely, or they place value in very different things altogether.  Any idea of “the meaning of life” carved into stone some place in the universe is long gone.

find meaning in life

Long gone.

The Need for Individual Meaning

Yet, our individual lives can have meaning.  As the famous psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl reminds us, it’s absolutely essential that we find value and meaning in our own individual lives.  In his own harrowing experience of the concentration camps of World War II, Frankl saw clearly that, for the inmates of these camps, having a particular meaning that was essentially important to them, as individuals, often meant the difference between life and death.

While Frankl’s observations concern an extreme situation, his observations about meaning are true for our lives, too.

Whoever You are, It’s Essential to Find Meaning in Life

This last week, we lost celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, age 61, apparently through suicide.  I have immense respect for Mr. Bourdain’s culinary knowledge, his ability to relate, and his capacity as a truly great storyteller.  He’ll be greatly missed, and I have no wish to cloud his memory with idle speculation.

Yet, Anthony Bourdain’s life was the envy of many.  Companion and confidant of the famous and powerful, his extensive travels to fascinating places were documented in Parts Unknown, and many other television adventures.  Yet even those seemingly the envy of others may find that a sense of personal meaning and deep value in life is missing.  Friends, family, a sense of connection — the source of meaning varies greatly, yet all of us need it urgently.

The journey to wholeness involves the individual finding his or her unique meaning in life.

The Path to Meaning

Depth psychotherapy takes the personal work needed to find meaning in life as essential to healing and growth.  It is particularly necessary in the second half of life, and is often a matter of great importance to individuals undergoing major life transitions.  It is integral to the process of self-discovery, and for renewal and re-connection with the self.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:  Peabody Awards (Creative Commons Licence) ;  (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Depression and Self-Esteem in the Second Half of Life

June 4th, 2018 · depression and self-esteem

Depression and self-esteem are closely linked, and this is often profoundly true in the second half of life. 

depression and self-esteem

In this post, we look at situational issues related to depression and self-esteem that arise in the second half of life.  We’ll also be looking at the very important connection between these issues and the whole fundamental question of self-acceptance and self-compassion.

How Depression and Self-Esteem are Linked

Situational depression is frequently linked to issues of self-esteem. According to Australian clinical psychologist and self-esteem specialist Dr. Lars Madsen, self-esteem is a key factor in the creation and maintenance of depression.

Having low self-esteem is clearly connected to experiencing depression, and, on the other hand, depression itself can contribute to low self-esteem.  However, with situational depression, low self-esteem is often a precursor to the depression.  It can often be that particular situations that emerge and cause difficulty in peoples’ lives result in diminished self-esteem, and a lowered sense of the value of self.  This is particularly true for many issues that emerge in the second half of life.

How Depression and Self-Esteem Come Up for Us in the Second Half of Life

The experiences that arise during the mid-life transition, and during later stages in life often bring to the fore the connection between depression and self esteem.  Often, the changes that occur in later life can have a sizable impact on how the individual views him- or herself.  These can include changes in:

  • Working life.  The individual may find that role changes at work leave him or her feeling that a role or persona on which she or he relied for self-esteem has changed or disappeared.
  • Family of origin.  The death, serious illness or possible martial breakup of parents can lead the individual to experience a loss of secure attachment, which can result in a loss of self-esteem.
  • Health.  The individual may undergo changes in health that dramatically change their activities and sense fo well-being.  This can result in a much reduced sense of efficacy and empowerment, and thus lost self-esteem.
  • Marriage.  Divorce, separation or serious illness or death of a spouse can also profoundly affect one’s sense of self-esteem and identity.

Such changes can make us look at our lives very differently — so much so that they can lead us to abandon previously deeply held images or concepts of ourselves.  It may well be that such events can lead to our losing a sense of identity, which can result in loss of self-esteem, and lead us into depression..

Toward Genuine Self-Compassion 

In Jungian terms, a shadow problem can result from any of these sources of lost self-esteem.  We can be suddenly confronted with a sense of lost identity, and may have to go through the process of accepting the change in our lives.

Coming to terms with such a change entails developing a strong sense of  self-acceptance and self-compassion.  It is only when we begin to accept ourselves for who we are in a genuinely kind way that we can begin to search for a new sense of meaning and purpose, which will very likely be associated with a renewed and expanded sense of self.

depression and self-esteem

The Emergent Self

In depth psychotherapy, when confronting issues of depression and self-esteem, a key concern is to discern what is seeking to emerge in the individual’s life.  In confronting life challenges and life transitions that fundamentally touch our identity, it will likely be that a key part of the journey is extending self-acceptance and self-compassion to the parts of ourselves that have been neglected, pushed aside or never acknowledged.

Jungians acknowledge a kind and type of depression in which the individual’s vitality disappears from conscious life and goes into the unconscious.  If it can be encouraged to re-surface in situations where clients suffer from low self-esteem, and to manifest in ways that embody the individual’s yearning for meaning and life, the process can lead to fundamental self-renewal.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:  Paul O’Mahony (Creative Commons Licence) ; Patrick Lannigan (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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