Journeying Toward Wholeness

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How to Fix My Life? Some Bad News — and Some Good News…

May 27th, 2019 · how to fix my life

how to fix my life

“How to fix my life? ” is a huge question in our time. Self help books, TED talks, gurus on Oprah or Dr. Phil — all are devoted to answering this question.

We live in a time when there is a great obsession with trying to get our lives right, and finding the magic secret that will make us who it is that we really ought to be. It’s not really surprising that we think like this. We live in an era when our ingenuity and our technology have solved so many problems.
Only a hundred and fifty years ago, most people got around on foot or on the backs of animals. If you wanted to talk to someone, you had to go and see them face to face. Now everything has changed! Shouldn’t we expect the same kind of powerful fixes for our own personal lives, perhaps with issues like anxiety and depression?

First the Bad News: No Silver Bullets

It can be tempting to expect that the answer to “how to fix my life” should be as simple as buying a new car, or a new suit of clothes. However, the truth is,that the self-help gurus who have simple formulas for making your life or my life better are not really giving enough weight to how complex we are as creatures, or how complicated life can be.

There can be lots of talk of “re-wiring the brain” in this or that way, and change in the brain is possible, but it doesn’t usually come quickly. When it can occur, it requires quite a bit of time and effort. Experiences that have affected us very deeply, like experiences of the mother-child bond, or experiences that are difficult and overwhelming, that we call traumatic, have a profound effect on us that is not easily removed or erased. Many of the things that shape us as human beings remain with us, in some form, throughout the entirety of the human journey. We cannot expect some surgery to remove them as if they were a ruptured appendix.

What Do We Do With the Hand We’re Dealt?

WhIle we might be able to change some factors in our lives, and in our personal psychologies, there is much about our selves and our situation that we simply cannot change.

We have to accept that we have come to the place we are in our lives as the result of the action of many different factors. These factors include genetics, environment, family, cultural and others in combination with any experience that the individual may have had of trauma. We are who we are, in the particular place and time that we live in.

Life can be a real struggle if we cannot accept our own real lives. People can end up running from themselves in so many different ways, and yet never really be able to get away or escape.

We have to start by playing the hand we’ve been dealt. This life we’ve been given is the one life that we have: it defines who we are. It’s our starting place, and we can’t pretend that it’s not. If we can accept the hand we’ve been dealt, then perhaps we can start to play it. That might mean coming to greater understanding of who we really are, finding things we can change in our lives, and maybe finding ways to connect with others who can help us feel grounded and valued in our lives.

The Good News: Self Acceptance and Self Compassion

One of the very best things we can do for ourselves, as C.G. Jung frequently emphasized, is to actively work on bringing ourselves to a place of fundamental acceptance of who we really are.

It might sound very odd to say it, but to the degree that we can accept ourselves for who we are, we actually bring a profound kind of change into our lives. That might not seem at all like an answer to the question of “How to fix my life?” However, it is about a deep change in our relationship to ourselves.

The on-going work of understanding and accepting ourselves in depth psychotherapy, and living out of who we really are, is not an instant change or a magic bullet. However, if we stay with it, it is something that we can experience as deeply healing.

One very good starting point for this journey to wholeness can be a willingness to talk openly about ourselves in the context of therapy, and to work diligently toward self-understanding and self-acceptance. The real heart of the human journey, as Jung tells us, is the journey of individuation, the journey to become more and more who we are and to live that out in the world. To do this requires a fundamental kindness toward, and acceptance of, ourselves. The ongoing work of moving toward this goal is the very heart of Jungian 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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The Mother Child Bond, and Why It Matters SO Much

May 20th, 2019 · mother child bond

We’ve just celebrated Mother’s Day. This holiday affects people differently, but certainly leads us to reflect on the vitally important mother child bond.

mother child bond
Maternity (1935) – José de Almada Negreiros
You might think that Mother’s Day is a manufactured holiday, or you might feel that it’s a highly meaningful family event. Either way, there’s no question that it invites us to think about the crucial mother child bond — and what it means for the whole of human life.
This is not just important for children! The mother — archetypal mother — has huge symbolic significance for us through out the whole of our life journey.
The mother child bond is unquestionably the single most impactful relationship that a human will have in the course of a life. That impact may be positive or negative in any of quite a number of ways. What is certain is that we will experience its influence, both consciously and unconsciously throughout the life journey.

At Home in the World — Or Not?

We humans are born very dependent on our parents — especially our mothers. Compared to a lot of other species, a lot of our developing occurs after we leave the womb, especially in the first early years. As Prof. Robert Winston of Imperial College, London emphasizes, neuroscience, psychology and epigenetics all stress that a tremendous amount of our happiness and future mental health depends on the interaction between mother and child. We experience the impact of the mother child bond far into our adult lives.

The ground-breaking psychiatrist John Bowlby first developed the idea that a strong emotional and physical attachment to a primary caregiver is critical to our personal development, and this is a cornerstone of psychology today. However, years before, in 1927, Jung wrote that

The mother-child relationship is certainly the deepest and most poignant one we know… it is the absolute experience of our species [italics mine], an organic truth…

C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Volume 8

The mother-child bond, or lack of it, influences our ability to relate to others. Even more, it impacts the whole of our ability to relate to, and to trust, life and the world. This is true in infancy, youth and all through adulthood.

Running From — Or To — Mother

Jung emphasized that facing the reality of our experience of mother is essential if we’re to be able to journey toward wholeness as individuals. Whether experiences of “good mother” or of “bad mother” predominate in our lives, if we don’t look at or explore our experiences of mother, they can have a profound effect on our relationships — and the whole of our lives. As Jungian analyst Andrew Samuels puts it:

…if bad experiences predominate over good in infancy, then the “bad mother” pole of the range of expectations is activated, and there is no counterbalance.

Samuels, Andrew, et al., Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis

So, what might this look like? Such an individual might struggle with lack of trust in life, and especially trust in relationships. characterized by pessimism and a lack of trust in life in general, and perhaps of his or her own abilities in particular. There might well be a tendency for the individual to struggle with chronic depression and anxiety.

Well, does that mean that the person who has a purely positive experience of mother will be set up for smooth sailing through the ocean of life? Actually, according to Samuels, and to Jung, it does not. As Samuels tells us,

…an idealized image of the mother-infant [and, we might add, mother-child] relationship can lead to only the ‘good” end of the spectrum being experienced, and the individual will never come to terms with the disappointments and realities of life.

Samuels, Andrew, et al., Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis

So, such an individual, who has only experienced the positive side of mothering, may go through life with a kind of a “glass jaw”, as boxers would say. They may be particularly unable to “take it on the chin” when things get difficult in life, and may not be able to deal with the challenges that require accepting that what life dishes out is not always fair or easy. Such people may experience particular difficulty in dealing with major life transitions such as divorce, loss of a loved one, career setbacks, and other similar life challenges

“Good Enough” Mother Energy

As preeminent psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott stressed decades ago, what we actually need to enable us to cope with life is a mother child bond that is not perfect — but that is, as he put it, “good enough”Such a bond would include positive experiences of “good mother”, but also experiences where the mother cannot save us from all hurt or difficulty, where we have to gradually develop our capacity to look after ourselves in the world.

There are a great many people who have genuine gaps in their experience of mother in their families of origin.  (I would certainly include myself in that number.) Often, working with a supportive and empathetic depth psychotherapist can allow us to re-visit our experience of mother in ways that bring greater self-understanding, self-compassion and resilience.

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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Retirement and Depression: Breaking the Linkage

May 6th, 2019 · retirement and depression

Can we break the all-too-common link between retirement and depression, as the retirement stage of life keeps lengthening?

retirement and depression
Many of us know at least one person who is wrestling with depression in retirement. When that individual is a close friend or a relative or a parent, we become very aware of the challenges involved in the major life transition that we call retirement. When that person is ourselves, the issue takes on even more importance.
I want to emphasize here that, in our time, the linkage between retirement and depression can begin quite some time before retirement actually starts.

P – Retirement and Depression: What’s the Root Connection?

C.G. Jung once said something important about retirement. He said it quite a number of years ago, but it’s even more relevant today than when he first said it:

It’s good to retire — but not into nothing.

~ C.G. Jung

“Retiring into nothing” is very much related to the linkage between retirement and depression. In the sense in which Jung meant it, “nothing” here refers to a meaningless life. The person who is “going into retirement” needs to feel that they’re not entering a vacuum where all the meaning and value that they’ve found in their previous work life has been sucked out, leaving them with nothing. No one who intentionally enters retirement does so with the idea that they’re signing up for a drab, meaningless existence. Yet many experience something not far from that.

Perhaps surprisingly, this discussion of “good retirement” and the topic of our last blog post, on “signs of burnout” both involve the same thing: the need to find meaningful, substantial involvement in life.

Let’s suppose that you enjoy your job, at least to some extent, and find that it provides some sense of meaning or purpose in your life. Then you cannot expect to find a valuable retirement, unless you’re getting these same needs for involvement and meaning or purpose — perhaps “making a contribution” — in your post-retirement life. Similarly, if your work life has fallen short in providing a sense of enjoyment or meaning or contribution, it’s going to be essential to find these things on the retirement life journey.

My clinical experience in a suburban depth psychotherapy practice suggests that finding these things in retirement is a substantial problem for many people. As a result, in too many cases, there is a connection between retirement and depression.

A – Retirement: Fantasy & Reality

As a culture, we have a lot of collective fantasies swirling around the subject of retirement.

retirement and depression

In the post-war era, there was an understanding that people were “working toward” retirement at age 65. You were considered to have done exceptionally well if you were able to retire before that age (“Freedom 55”!). There was an emphasis on “escaping” from work. There was a sense that, when you retired, you would be entering a wonderful time that was essentially carefree, when you could do whatever you wanted to do with your time.

However, studies suggest that the likelihood that someone will suffer from clinical depression actually goes up substantially after retiring. The illusion that retirement is automatically some sort of Magical Mystery Tour has worn pretty thin. What is clear now, according to the leading experts is:

“The most successful retirees plan out their post-working lives.”

~ Prof. Ronald E. Reggio, Claremont McKenna College

Whether prior to, or during, retirement we need to reflect very carefully on our needs. This will lead us into important questions about our key values. You may be a person who puts a primary emphasis on creative forms of leisure, or a person who has a longing to create something on an on-going basis, or a person who fundamentally needs to be doing some kind of work.

How will you live out who you actually are? Failing to address this, and failing to think creatively about this stage of your life is a way of increasing the odds that depression could be your companion in retirement.

In large part that’s because work, whether we realize it or not, provides many of the ingredients that fuel happiness, including social connections, a steady routine and a sense of purpose. 

Retirement and Real Life

Living our complete life journey in a way that we find valuable and meaningful is key to avoiding the combination of retirement and depression, or getting out of it if we are already in it. There is great value in thinking creatively about where we are in our life journey.

Here’s a list of six fundamental things that we can do for ourselves in or near retirement:

  • 1) Staying active and in good shape, as good health is essential for good retirement.
  • 2) Keep social: deepen your existing bonds and make new ones.
  • 3) It can often help to keep some sort of routine or plan for the day, as structure often helps to get more out of the day.
  • 4) Carefully consider doing some form of meaningful “work”, in some sense of the word. Often part-time workers often stay in a better place mentally than those who quit cold turkey.
  • 5) Consider doing something that involves “giving back”, or volunteering — contributing can increase mental well-being.
  • 6) Think about some form of learning or classes, as a way of exploring new things and staying mentally alert.

In addition to all of the above, retirement is one of the major life transitions that leads an individual to ask deep level questions about her or his own identity and life story and about what is ultimately meaningful in his or her life. It can be an excellent time to embark on working with a Jungian depth psychotherapist, to help find orientation on the life journey.

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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