Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Dealing with Aging Parents: The Meaning of Mother and Father

February 25th, 2019 · dealing with aging parents

Dealing with aging parents is often a key experience in midlife and the second half of life.

It’s easy in our culture to sentimentalize family life, but, in our time, the realities of family are complex for very many people. While dealing with aging parents might seem like a subject for family therapy — and it is — it also has a lot to do with each of our individual lives, and our discovery of our unique selfhood, our journey to wholeness.

Aging Parents in Midlife and Later

The connection between midlife and aging parents was brought home to me powerfully in my mid-40s. At that time, I was dealing with a very significant mid-life transition. At the same time, I was also dealing with the serious illness, and ultimately, the passing of my father. This process of dealing with aging parents brought some profound changes into my awareness and my priorities for my own life.

For many people, the time around midlife will start to bring changes into the adult child-parent dynamic. Often, this will be a period when the child is living life largely independent of the parent. Yet, it can also be the time at which parents start to encounter limitations that may require some degree of assistance or support from a son or daughter.

This is a complex time for the aging parent. As Penn State Prof. Steven Zarit points out, “One of the scariest things to people as they age is that they don’t feel in control anymore”. Aging parents often indicate that they want both autonomy and connection with their children. Yet, adult sons and daughters are often put in the difficult position of taking responsibility for aspects of the lives of parents who once took care of them. These are the same parents who, at an earlier stage, may have been important images of what it meant to be an autonomous and engaged adult.

The Adult Child’s Journey

Dealing with aging parents can lead to some key transformations in the individuation journey of the adult child. Often the adult child can find her- or himself involved in some form of caretaking of the older parent.

This is a huge psychological shift. The adult child will often carry vivid memories of the parent as powerful and hopefully protecting and nurturing. It can be an highly emotional, difficult life transition to see the parent’s vulnerability, and limitation — while simultaneously trying to honour the parents’ dignity and sense of self.

Dealing with adult parents and their changing needs can have a profound effect on adult children. It can produce very serious economic and psychological stress, particularly when it is coupled with trying to meet the demands of parents and children simultaneously.

Parents: Personal & Archetypal

In the course of dealing with aging parents, profound inner changes can occur in the adult child’s inner image of the parent.

In Jungian terms, the most profound experiences of the parental archetypes of father and mother occur through the child’s experience of its own parents in the family unit. As a result of this bedrock experience, each of us carries father and mother complexes. These are positive and negative in varying degrees, which means that they either support each of us on our journey through life, or they hold us back.

It is a virtual certainty that the experience of dealing with aging parents will strongly activate our father and mother complexes. This may be a source of distress and anguish. However, it can also be a source of genuine growth and development, as we sift through our experience of relationship with our parents, acknowledging and accepting who they are.

A genuine willingness to explore the full range of feelings around dealing with aging parents can lead to increased self-knowledge and self-acceptance. It can often be very helpful to work with a depth psychotherapist at this time, to help us explore all the dimensions of ourselves, conscious and unconscious, that get activated during this life stage.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS:  Jesper Sehested (Creative Commons Licence)

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Resilience and Meaning

February 11th, 2019 · resilience and meaning

Resilience and meaning have a lot to do with each other. Much more than we might at first think.

resilience and meaning
In a way, this post is almost “Part 2” to last week’s post, Anxiety and Dealing with Uncertainty in Life. We’re likely much more aware of the linkage between resilience and anxiety, and to realize that building up your capacities and challenging yourself can help you deal much better with anxiety-creating events in life. But how could meaning be connected to this?

It’s striking when we see research of to-day that validates the powerful insights of an earlier time. Dutch psychologists and trauma experts including Prof. Rolf Kleber of Utrecht University conducted research on veterans of wartime and peacekeeping service. Their work revealed that, after military service, those veterans who were better able to process and find meaning in their military experience had higher levels of resilience. This included a greater capacity for personal change and lower levels of distrust of other people, within a general climate of valuing of the self, a broad optimism and a sense of control.

These findings seem very similar to the observation of existential psychologist Viktor Frankl, who saw that, even in the extreme environment of a Nazi concentration camp, individuals who could find meaning or hope stood a better chance of survival than those who lacked these things. Similarly, C.G. Jung emphasized the key importance of meaning in one of his most famous statements:

It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

Resilience and Meaning in My Life

In fact, much of Jung’s work as a psychologist centers around the great importance of people finding sustaining meaning in their lives. As Jungian Andrew Samuels tells us,

The question of meaning was central to Jung and to all that he undertook as person, doctor, therapist

Samuels, Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis

Jung makes it clear, though, that each individual has to find what it is in life that is particularly meaningful to him or her, and that this differs a great deal from individual to individual. It could be found in religious or philosophical or ethical values — or in the particular hobby that suits me best. But it’s only this individual sense of meaning that will add resilience and a sense of value to my life

Masquerading as Meaning

We can sometimes get misled by things that seem like they carry real meaning for us, when they actually don’t. The current of popular fads, fashions and trends can often seem seductive, and like they carry us toward deep and real meaning. Yet if, in the end of the day, they have nothing to say to me about the value and direction of my own unique life, then what will last through the most difficult parts of life? These are questions about what really deeply matters when we go through loss, grief, major life transitions and midlife transition — things that require great resilience.

On The Quest for Individual Meaning

What kind of meaning will last through life? Often, it is the most difficult times in life that make us ask that question at its most profound level. Individual meaning, things that are invaluable to me as an individual. The symbollic

Resilience and meaning go hand in hand. To find a sense of individual meaning is to gain the sense that my individual, particular way of being myself in the world matters, makes some difference, counts.

To find what is meaningful, and to align myself with it, to live in accord with it, is one of the most important pieces of work that a individual will do in the course of life. It is also, often, one of the most sustaining, because of the intimate link between resilience and meaning. In the normal course, it becomes one of the most important aspects of an individual’s work in depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Anxiety and Dealing with Uncertainty in Life

February 4th, 2019 · uncertainty in life

Dealing with uncertainty in life is one of our greatest challenges. We live in a time when people are dealing with it as never before.

The ways in which we experience uncertainty in life are very individual. The uncertainty that is of greatest concern to each of us is usually associated with our greatest anxiety. What are the forms of uncertainty that concern you most?

Ambiguity, and Not Knowing What Will Happen

I can’t speak for you, but, in my experience, situations where there’s a lot at stake, but the outcome is highly uncertain, can be very painful.  We are creatures whose brains are designed to help us maximize a sense of certainty and control. When that sense is not there, and the situation is one we care about a lot, we can feel extreme discomfort.

In our time, there are many sources of uncertainty and hard-to-predict outcomes.  Issues with work and employment, health, children’s future and well-being, aging parents, social and political uncertainty — all these and more.

In addition, we face all the questions about how to live with uncertainty and ambiguity. How can we tolerate situations where we just don’t know the outcome?

The Head Game of False Certainty

One possible response to uncertainty in life is to simply pretend that it doesn’t exist. Sometimes people try to do this consciously, but more often, its a matter of unconscious denial.

At a deep level we humans need to see ourselves and our world as solid, stable, and lasting. When we experience things that threaten that view of the world, it can be intensely anxiety-provoking and disorienting. So as a result, we can often perceive things as more stable and lasting than they are. It can be reassuring to let ourselves be lulled into seeing things as stable and lasting.

But what about the times when we really do have to face the facts, and accept that our world — and our lives — are changing? Sometimes we really do have to find a way to do this, even though we might find it so much easier to believe that the “same old same old” is occurring?

Such uncertainty can occur in the midst of major life transitions, and during midlife transition. The individual may want to believe that all is going on in life as it always has, but in reality, life is moving in different directions, and some of them might be very difficult to accept.

How can we deal with all the uncertainty in life that comes our way?

Accepting Uncertainty and Moving Toward Trust

We are never going to eliminate the uncertainty from our lives. How can we live with the unexpected?

Part of the answer can be learning techniques and approaches that help to reduce our anxiety. There are good things that we could and should do to reduce the anxiety that we experience from the uncertainty in life.

Yet, in addition to that, there is importance in finding connection to something greater than ourselves, that persists unchanging through the course of human life. It is essential for each of us to find a sense of meaning for ourselves that goes beyond the endless chances, changes and uncertainties of our life. C.G. Jung tells us that the coping issues that we each confront

must be understood, ultimately, as the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning.

The process of finding the deeper sense of meaning and security in our lives, and moving toward trust is a life-long project. The journey to this sense of security can be aided a great deal through exploring and accepting the uncertainties in our lives. which is a key part of the work of effective depth psychotherapy.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS: hectorbuelta (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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