Journeying Toward Wholeness

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I Need to Change My Life, But… HOW?

October 29th, 2018 · I need to change

Do you need something different?  Many of us get strongly hit by the awareness somewhere in our life journey that “I need to change my life”.

i need to change

In my case, this has occurred with great intensity twice, but with most intensity around age 45 — deep in the heart of the midlife transition.  This a frequent time for such an awareness, but there can be many other times where we’re struck by the realization that I need to change.

There’s a potential big difficulty, however.  It may be completely apparent that I need to change.  The difficult part is that it may not be easy to see how.

When the Need to Change is Inescapable

There are many different messages that I might get that would indicate to me that “I need to change my life.”  Sometimes these messages may be on the level of basic physical or economic survival.  If it is a matter of basic health or even life itself, the requirement for palpable change is clear and very hard to argue with, even if I’m very unclear on how to bring the change about.

However, sometimes the need to change is really just as inescapable, but we can’t see it — or we refuse to do so.  We might face a clear inner voice manifesting through anxiety or depression , an intuition, or “hunch”, something that comes through our dream life, or a physical health issue.  (Sometimes when we need to bring change into our lives, and we have not yet acknowledged this reality, or are ignoring it, the images in dreams can make this clear in very graphic ways!)

A – If I Ignore, or Run From My Need for Change

It’s possible to run from or deny the part of myself that’s giving me the message that “I need to change”.  It’s also possible to just continue on, doing what we’ve always done, staying stuck in a rut, even though we really know that we have to change our circumstances, or perhaps some fundamental attitudes.  If we do try to avoid the challenge of change, it often has real consequences.

Being in denial about the need for change can devastate our relationships with others.  For example, if I can’t control my anger, or if I can’t be more emotionally available, I may risk alienating or completely losing people who are important to me in my life.

Denial or avoidance of the need to change can even more dramatically impact our relationship with ourselves.  As psychiatrist Abigail Brenner stresses, impetus for change may come from an “inner voice” telling us that we have to move to a different place than where we are.  Awareness of this sense of call, which Jungians tend to think of as vocation may occur in any of the physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual aspects of our being.

To ignore our vocation can leave us feeling that we’ve missed something very important in our lives.  In some cases, it may even feel like our lives are drifting towards meaninglessness.

S – Facing That I Need to Change — Practically

At some point, the fact that I need to change may become inescapable.  This may become apparent through very strong emotions, such as intense anger or strong grief, motivate us to move towards something different.  Or, we may just come to the point of genuinely feeling intensely that “This is enough.  I need to change.”  Or our outer circumstances might combine to make it absolutely clear that I can’t continue as I’ve done to this point.  The awareness may come to us in a huge variety of ways.

While it’s essential for us to come to the point of recognizing that we genuinely need to change, depth psychotherapy can help us explore what we feel, helping us to uncover the undiscovered self, and helping us to find ways to make the change real in our lives.  The journey towards wholeness. centers on finding ways to move forward on the path of choice and change, so that we honour who we most fundamentally are.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst


PHOTOS: Robert Couse-Baker (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How Do I Stop Being a People Pleaser?

October 22nd, 2018 · stop being a people pleaser

At some point in our individual journey, we may well end up saying to ourselves that “I need to stop being a people pleaser!”

Many depth psychotherapy clients confront this issue in one form or another.
A lot of us get the message at a very early age that what we’re supposed to do, is to meet the needs of others, and, often, to put those needs before our own.
This can occur in a range of different circumstances.  Sometimes an individual experiences a parent who models the pattern of putting others’ needs before his or her own.  Sometimes in difficult family situations where there is abuse or addiction, an individual learns that he or she must step in, forget their own needs and look after siblings, or even a parent.  Sometimes, in dealing with unreasonable parental demands, the message is clearly communicated that there is no room for the individual’s own needs.
As I know from my own experience, it doesn’t help things that distorted versions of major religious traditions reinforce the message that we should ignore our own needs, and always place the needs of others first. (Paraphrasing the poet Walt Whitman, we need to carefully examine our religious traditions, and discard any parts that insult our souls!)
But, we may say, isn’t it a good thing to make other people happy?  Well, that depends…

When I Can’t Stop Being a People Pleaser — and It’s Really Hurting Me

Being a people pleaser can really hurt you.  People suffer greatly when forced into roles that require them to ignore their own needs.  This can be true in romantic relationships, where one partner consciously or unconsciously ends up sabotaging basic needs, to meet the needs of another — who may consciously or unconsciously be reinforcing this behaviour.   Also, many parents continually end up giving in to the demands of children, and putting their own fundamental needs on the back burner.  In our intensely workaholic age, it can be true with bells on for the employee or worker in a pressurized workplace, whose inner voice keeps giving the message that it’s never enough.

People pleasing behaviour can also have powerful links to health issues and self-harming behaviours.  Case Western’s Prof. Julie Exline and colleagues have shown that there’s often a linkage between people pleasing and over-eating.

People Pleasing: Obstacle to Being True to Myself

From a Jungian perspective, there’s a whole other dimension of this.  Put simply, people pleasing  gets in the way of our being who we’re really meant to be.  Long ago, Jung used the analogy of an acorn and an oak to illustrate the potential latent within us that we’re meant to live out, realize or express.  This is the manifestation of our particular uniqueness, which we gradually realize through the process of individuation.

If I’m obsessed with pleasing others, it gets harder and harder to feel the beckoning of my own true nature and my own vocation, the call of what Jung referred to as the Self.  To travel my life journey, and then realize that I’m not actually expressing and being who I really most truly am — would be a grievous loss.  Missing this connection to who I fundamentally am, as a result of people pleasing, or other factors, results in a great deal of anxiety and depression.

S – Pleasing My Self

The path to stop being a people pleaser will lead us into a place of listening carefully to ourselves, to the voice of ourselves that may be trying to get through.  This voice may show up in shadowy ways — anger, or maybe even depression.  Yet listening may be crucial, even if it has things to say that are hard to hear.

There may be a great value in working with a depth psychotherapist to help us hear this voice of the Self, and to act on it, so that we’re honouring ourselves and our fundamental nature — not just seeking others’ approval.  This is often a key element n the journey to wholeness.

We can begin this work of self-acceptance which is tied to self-forgiveness, on our own.  However, it’s often of tremendous support to work with a compassionate, supportive psychotherapist.  A good therapist can help us find the way to make real peace with our vulnerable, fallible but preciously unique selves on the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst


PHOTOS: brett jordan (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How Do I Forgive Myself? For Many, A Crucial Life Question

October 15th, 2018 · how do I forgive myself

How do I forgive myself?  For a great many people, the importance of this question cannot be overestimated.

how do I forgive myself

For an awful lot of us, there may be events in the past (or present) that come with a crushing load of guilt.  Almost all of us at one point or another have suffered from an abiding sense of guilt about something that we’ve done, often that has affected others in a very painful way, that has involved the betrayal of some fundamental trust, or that has let others down in some fundamental manner.  Certainly that’s my experience, and I strongly suspect that it is the experience of many readers.
An individual can suffer from a general, pervasive sense of guilt, or they may have a small number of particular things that leave them with that feeling — or she or he may be struggling with both.  This feeling of guilt is often associated with feelings of shame.

 “I Just Can’t Let Myself Off the Hook”

Depth psychotherapists are very aware of just how big an issue self-forgiveness can be.  The issue appears with a stunning amount of regularity in our consulting rooms.  And with good reason.  Many experts would describe self-forgiveness as the most difficult psychological challenge that we as individuals will encounter in life.

The situations where individuals are most clearly seeking self-forgiveness often have to do with the feeling that the person has inflicted undeserved pain on another, or others.  So there is actually a complex relationship between guilt, empathy for others, and being tormented by the question, “How do I forgive myself?”  It may well be the most empathetic of people who actually feel the most need to find a way to forgive themselves.

In any case, there can be a great deal of pain associated with an inability to forgive oneself.

When A Person Runs From, or Ignores Guilt

If an individual finds that he or she can’t forgive him- or herself, it can result in serious problems.  This can be particularly true in individuals who deny or avoid the question of “How do I forgive myself?” when it is actually a pressing matter.

Individuals who carry a suppressed burden of guilt may find it “leaking out” in various ways.  It may turn into anger turned inward on the self.  When that happens, it may turn into self-defeating or self-destructive behaviour that can play out in all kinds of circumstances from work to relationships.  It may also result in physical illness or psychological coping problems, such as anxiety or depression.  Or, it may turn into a profound sense of over-obligation, with a overwhelming tendency to take on utterly inhuman levels of responsibility, commitment and sacrifice.

Unacknowledged unforgiven guilt may also turn into anger projected out at others.  This can have very negative consequences for the individual, or for other people.

Accepting Myself — In Detail

In many respects, the answer to the question “How do I forgive myself?” is inextricably bound up with the acceptance of what it means to be human.  To be a human being means coming to accept the human state as limited and imperfect.

We all acknowledge this to be true on the abstract big-picture level.  It can be quite a different thing for us when we have to accept it as being true about ourselves on a very concrete, down-to-earth level.  Acknowledging that I am human, that I am capable of doing things that are callous, cruel or brutally negligent — this takes us into the territory of what Jungian psychotherapists call the shadow.  The shadow can be described briefly as those parts of ourselves that we do not wish to acknowledge.  As Jung famously said, “The most difficult thing is to accept oneself completely.”

We can begin this work of self-acceptance which is tied to self-forgiveness, on our own.  However, it’s often of tremendous support to work with a compassionate, supportive psychotherapist.  A good therapist can help us find the way to make real peace with our vulnerable, fallible but preciously unique selves on the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst


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

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What Do I Want To Do With My Life?

October 1st, 2018 · what do I want to do with my life

“What do I want to do with my life?”  Does this sound like a question relevant only to late adolescence?  Don’t be too sure of that!

what do I want to do with my life

Certainly, the question is very important to people in the post-high school period. At that time, individuals are confronted with big decisions about what studies they will undertake, and the potential career path they will follow, along with many other vital choices. Yet, this question has a great relevance long after that time in life.
For example, consider how important this question is for many people going through midlife transition.  At this stage in life, individuals are often well aware that time is passing and life is passing, and so the question of “What do I want to do with my life?” takes on a whole new level of meaning — and urgency.  It can become an absolutely crucial matter!
If anything, this may be even more true for an individual still further along his or her life journey, say, during the years immediate prior to, or immediately after, retirement.  The days and years have become even more valuable at this stage in life!  And the question of what to do with those precious days — what is good for me, now — is unavoidable.
This question is much broader than simply “What job do I want to do?”, although it often certainly includes that.  This is a question about what is meaningful and valuable in all aspects of my life.

How Do I Get to MY Answer to This Vital Question?

“What do I want to do with my life?” is an intensely personal question.  To come up with anything like a satisfactory and meaningful answer, it’s necessary to examine oneself very carefully.

When we initially ask ourselves this question, we may draw a complete blank!  We may be so used to “going with the flow” in terms of the expectations of others close to us, or of society as a whole, that we find it hard to even get in touch with what we really feel is important to do with life.  Sometimes, when people have been driven by necessity long enough, it can seem impossible to get in touch with our deepest real desires.  I recall a time in early mid-life when I felt just this way myself.  Yet, as I know from my own experience, seeking a satisfactory answer to this question is well worth the effort, in terms of feeling that one has had “the life well lived”.

Maybe surprisingly, as Jung pointed out, sometimes we find clues about what’s really important to ourselves by looking at what what we really loved to do as a child…

The Perils of Not Honouring My Individuality

Given our highly pressurized modern world, it can be easy to “keep on keeping on”, just doing what we’ve always done, without making the attempt to get in touch with what we really want for our lives.  Yet, if we’re really not doing what we want with our lives, the question can come back to us in some very powerful ways.  We may experience intense burnout; we may experience substantial anxiety and/or depression.  We may even get to the place where we feel that we have substantially missed our lives.

What I DO Want to Do with My Life

It doesn’t have to turn out like that.  We can find ways to cope with the question “What do I want to do with my life?” — and with the answers that emerge from it.  As Jungian Robert A. Johnson points out, we need to find a way to live out the life in us that remains unlived, either literally or symbolically, if we’re to feel at all fulfilled.  This just keeps getting truer and truer the further we go on our life journey.

Focusing on the question of “What do I want to do with my life?” helps us to bring into focus our deepest desires, and to get a sense of where we want to take our lives.  Depth psychotherapy can often help even more us to see ourselves clearly, however.  It often enables us to become more conscious of the unacknowledged parts of ourselves, and gives us a non-judgemental space in which we can explore how we might want to live out our truest calling — to be who we really are.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst


PHOTOS: Jayanta Debnath (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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