Journeying Toward Wholeness

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I Feel Lost in Life. What Can I Do About It?

September 30th, 2019 · I feel lost in life, I feel lost in life

Although we may not say it to other people, many of us have known that feeling: I feel lost in life. It’s a feeling that may be associated with anxiety, or even depression.

I feel lost
A considerable number of people could tell you that there are even numerous times in their lives when they have felt genuinely lost. To be perfectly honest, there are at least three or four times in my own life when I would have to say that, yes, I felt genuinely, deeply lost.
Feeling lost can happen at many different stages in life, and for many different reasons. Very often, feeling lost can mean that an individual is on the edge of a major life transition, although this isn’t always the case.

I Feel Lost in Life”: Most of Us Do, at One Time or Another

What is it like to be aware that “I feel lost in life”? The experience of “feeling lost” may vary greatly from one person to another. Often it can come shortly before or after a major life transition. For instance, someone might feel a need for a change in their career, for instance, or might actually make a change in her or his career, and might experience that sense of “lostness”. Another person might have a similar experience if he or she was thinking of leaving a long-term relationship. In a very different way, someone might experience a deep sense of lost-ness after the loss of a loved one, or close family member, or after the adult children have finally left the family home.

What does it really mean to say that you’re lost? St. Mary’s University Psychology Professor Kenneth Hill is one of world’s foremost experts on the psychology of people who are literally, physically lost. He points out that the essence of being lost is being disoriented — which in the case of physical lostness, can occur in any of a number of ways.

We are using the word “lost” here in a more metaphorical, symbolic way. We’re wondering what it’s like when we’re psychologically lost. And the truth is, it’s similar to being physically lost, because the individual is now psychologically disoriented. Normally, in the physical world, we are oriented because we’re among familiar surroundings, or because we can see some indicators as to what direction we’re headed. We’re lost when we’re not in familiar surroundings, and when we can’t find any indicators to tell us where we’re heading.

The same is true in the realm of psychology or soul. When we’re psychologically lost, it means that we can no longer tell where we are, and / or we cannot determine the direction in which we should head. Often this can happen because we’re suddenly heading in a new and unfamiliar direction, such as a decision to leave a long-term relationship, or changes, such as the loss of a loved one, have suddenly put us in an unfamiliar place, psychologically speaking.

What can I do when I feel lost in life?

Pretending That I Don’t Feel Lost — Doesn’t Help!

A very key part of dealing with being “lost” involves acknowledging that we’re at a point in life where we don’t know where we are or where we’re headed. There are those who would suggest that if you feel lost and lack a sense of fulfillment, you are basically giving in to a victim mentality. However, I don’t think that approach does justice to the fact that we can and do face things in life that genuinely disorient us, and that truly leave us not knowing which way to head. That’s not a matter of moral weakness; that’s being part of the human race.

Often, it can be very difficult to look at a feeling of being lost or even somewhat out of control. We can find our denial mechanisms coming into to play, telling us that we just need to work a little harder, think a little more clearly, or be a little more optimistic. Yet, in fact, there just are times when we’re lost, and when we find ourselves without answers and without direction.

In fact, actually being lost, and admitting to oneself that one is lost, may be essential to finding a new and quite possibly very different orientation.

To Find Your Direction Again

Finding a new direction and emerging from a state of lost-ness may be a process that takes some time, and some serious self-examination. It can entail some very important depth psychotherapy work that involves trying to closely listen to the unacknowledged or undiscovered parts of the self. Some of these parts of ourselves may have been waiting in the wings for a very long time, and yet it may be those very parts that provide the orientation or direction to move forward. Often, what the individual requires to become oriented may be a new perspective that is quite different from what has dominated her or his waking life in prior times.

Meaningful Jungian therapy can contribute a great deal to the process of finding orientation in an individual’s life. The value of a constantly affirming and supportive witness, who can help the individual recognize, understand and incorporate the energies in her or himself that work for re-orientation and renewal, can be great indeed.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Connect with People

September 23rd, 2019 · how to connect with people

how to connect with others
PHOTO: Damian Gadal

Figuring out how to connect with people is a matter of deep concern throughout the course of life.  But getting the connection that we want with others isn’t always easy!

The challenges people face in getting the connection with others that they want vary immensely. In this post, I’ll be focusing on those connections that involve deep intimacy and acceptance, in forms like romantic love, deep friendship and family bonds.
Most people would readily agree that connecting with others in these profound ways is a key part of what makes us human. Such connections are also often among the most meaningful of human experiences. Why is it, then, that this issue of how to connect with people can often give us so much trouble?

Barriers to Connection (in Ourselves)

There are many kinds of barriers to connection that can stand between us and connecting to others, whether that connection is romantic in nature or an intimate friendship. Many of these barriers have to do with fear.

Fear is probably the single most powerful motivator, as research by University of Illinois social psychologist Melanie Tannenbaum et al. seems to demonstrate. And, as depth psychotherapists are very aware, fear doesn’t have to be conscious to be very potent in our lives. In fact, some of the most powerful fears that we have are often unconscious.

Fear of intimacy is a most powerful form of human fear. Most often, this is linked to the fear of being vulnerable. What if I get connected to someone, and they genuinely see who I really am — and they reject me or shame me for being myself? A risk like that can seem simply too great to bear. That is particularly true if I have a very unstable relationship with myself; if I’m ashamed of, or intensely dislike, myself, it’s very unlikely that I’m going to want to take the risk of rejection or shaming by a lover or friend.

I may also fear failure or loss in a relationship. What if I give my heart or commitment to a friend or lover, and then I lose them? What the connection or intimacy between us is actually good, maybe even wonderful, but then the person goes away, or passes away, or just gives up on the relationship? Anyone would find this extremely painful, but for some people, it’s a risk that they can’t even think about taking — often because of very painful losses in relationship that they have already had in their lives.

On the other hand, we may be subject to fear of commitment. This is most common in romantic relationships, but is not exclusively confined to them. The individual may fear the loss of freedom that commitment in a relationship would bring. This fear is often rooted in past experiences of being in suffocating relationships, whether in the family of origin, or in subsequent romances or friendships.

We could go on and on listing “dis-connectors”, but I will end with one very powerful one: the psychological mechanism of projection. Projection is something that the psyche does to protect us from anxiety. We can transfer our difficult emotions and the unacceptable parts of ourselves onto the beloved or the friend, seeing that negative characteristic as belonging to them. This may help us feel less uneasy about ourselves, but it often generates huge distances between people.

Running Away from Soulful Connection

We can often completely sidestep the question of how to connect with people. The way we do this is by going through the motions, avoiding real connection with others, and staying completely unconscious of what we’re doing to sabotage genuine relatedness. In this way, we can completely thwart any chance for real intimacy.

It’s very difficult to individuate, to become who we truly are, in isolation. Yet we can often be in relationship in a way that both avoids in-depth encounter with the other, while simultaneously avoiding the more difficult parts of ourselves. This can be particularly apparent for us, as we wrestle with key transitions in our lives, such as the midlife transition.

Often, the painful parts of relationship, and the ways in which we experience disconnect with the other serve to bring us back to ourselves. The ways in which we avoid the other very often have to do with the ways in which we unconsciously connive to avoid ourselves. If we can stand to see ourselves the way that the other sees and experiences us, we may learn some essential things about ourselves in relationship, and about who we most fundamentally are.

James Hollis, speaking of projection and our individual journey towards wholeness, puts it like this:

Projections embody what is unclaimed or unknown within ourselves. Life has a way of dissolving projections, and one must, amid the disappointment and desolation, begin to take on the responsibility for one’s own satisfaction. There is no one out there to save us… [b]ut there is a very fine person within, one we barely know, ready and willing to be our constant companion.

James Hollis, The Middle Passage

The Way of Connection

At its most fundamental, the challenge of connecting with others is tightly connected with the challenge of connecting with ourselves. Jungians emphasize that the goal of human life is individuation, that is, becoming who we most fundamentally are. Yet, he was equally emphatic that we need connection with others to individuate (and, simultaneously, that individuating enables better more authentic connection with others).

Depth psychotherapy provides a safe, supportive environment to explore issues of relationship, and our inner barriers to intimacy and connection. It also offers solid insight and support for individuals as they wrestle with the key questions of how to connect with people. Continuing to become more conscious of how we show up in relationship is an essential part of Jungian work, as well as a key part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Saying Yes to Everything Means Saying NO to Being Myself

September 16th, 2019 · saying yes to everything, saying yes to everything

Saying yes to everything that other people want can be a very powerful pattern, into which we can very easily fall. It can also be very costly.

saying yes to everything
If we’re honest, we have to admit that constantly saying yes can become a kind of comfortable routine. After all, humans are social animals. We strongly want to get feedback from others that we’re liked, that we’re seen as valuable and competent, that we’re a valued member of the team. It’s easy when we’re tired or wanting positive feedback from others or feeling low on self-esteem, to just go with the flow and say yes. If we’re dealing with some measure of anxiety or depression, it can be even easier.

The Yes Trap

So why is saying yes to everything a problem? The simple answer is that what we want and really need may not be what others want us to do. If we don’t listen to our own inner voices about what we want and need, we can get badly lost and confused. We might well end up feeling violated, or, even worse, might lose our ability to know what we really think and feel at all.

That’s why modern depth psychotherapists emphasize the necessity of maintaining healthy boundaries — of being very aware of where other people end, and where I begin. Being aware of our own needs, and our own boundaries, is essential.

Some people might object, and say that focusing on our own needs and wants rather than the needs of others is a route to becoming narcissistic and self-preoccupied. However, I think that social scientist Brene Brown has it right when she states that self-affirming people

…say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment [italics mine].

Brene Brown, Rising Strong

Any route to compassion for others must begin with compassion for ourselves. That will entail saying yes to our inner voices, and sometimes saying “no” to the wishes of others.

The High Price of Saying Yes to Everything

Saying “no”, particularly in situations where there’s a lot at stake, can seem like a very costly thing to do. The temptation can be there to simply agree with others, and go the accepted way — because it’s a whole lot easier.

Sometimes we can end up just going along with what other people want us to do because it’s too scary or feels to costly to even think about the alternative. It’s a common enough experience to have someone sitting in my office who has:

  • stayed in a job, despite knowing it was wrong for them;
  • put up with aspects of a marriage relationship for decades, rather than challenging their partner;
  • despite being an adult, has accepted a mentally or verbally abusive relationship with a sibling or a parent; or,
  • a host of other circumstances where the individual has ignored their inner promptings, and just done what the other wanted.

When we do such things, consciously or unconsciously, we will often start to carry the gradually accumulating weight of our unlived lives. In a variety of ways, we start to find ourselves confronted with the need for transformation in our lives. That usually means saying “No” a lot more to other peoples’ expectations, and may entail looking at ourselves and our lives in a new way. Jungian analyst James Hollis writes:

Transformation often comes to us in symbolic form. We have a dream image that perplexes, a symptom that will not go away, a relational pattern that continues to fester — each of these is a summons to ask: What does the soul want of me? …. [T]his transformation has little if anything to do with … the approval of others.

James Hollis, What Really Matters

The Individuation Journey: Saying “Yes” to My Unique Individual Life

When we stop “saying yes to everything”, and start asking ourselves “Yes… but what does the deepest part of myself want and need?”, we begin to walk on the path toward our own individuation. Which is another way of saying we start to discover what it means to be uniquely ourselves.

Listening to the voices in myself and giving them flesh is essential for the journey of wholeness or individuation. We really need to clearing away enough of the external “noise” to be able to hear voices in ourselves that can be quite quiet, and hard to discern. So many things in our society work against us paying attention to our own inwardness. Yet one of the most formidable is the constant, subtle, often unconscious pressure from others to be who they want us to be, and to do what they want us to do.

At key points in our personal journey, there will be a very strong need for us to say “No” to the expectations, assumptions and pressure of others., and yes to something else — the true self. Finding that true self, listening to it and defending it — these are some of the most important tasks in our lives.

One of the great benefits of depth psychotherapy is that it creates a safe, protected place, with a supportive observer and witness, for us to hear our inner voices. that represent who we really are, and to let them emerge. This can be a vital part of our journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Are You Facing “Autumn Anxiety”?

September 9th, 2019 · Anxiety, autumn anxiety

autumn anxiety

Autumn anxiety is very common. As we know, the autumn season often involves major life transitions.

Young people go back to school or post-secondary education, fall activities re-commence, and the days grow shorter, while we feel the approach of winter. All of these things can make autumn anxiety a profound reality. As Westchester Medical Center psychiatist Stephen Ferrando this can be an agitated and anxious depressive state.
There are very specific things that individuals can do for such anxiety. For instance, children or young adults experiencing anxiety around return to classes can learn various breathing and relaxation techniques, which can be tremendously helpful. If the shortening days trigger depression/anxiety, often there can be great benefit from properly using tools like light boxes, which expose the individual to very bright light for specific daily periods.
Yet, beyond these types of experience, adults may experience other kinds of autumn anxiety, which are very specific to the adult journey.

Passing Time, and the Unlived Life

With shortening days, the sun lower in the sky and falling temperatures, autumn reminds us powerfully of the approach of winter. It can be a very powerful symbol of the passage of time in the individual’s life, and it can lead us to ask some very searching questions.

The whole autumn season gives us the message that we should be getting ready, making preparations, doing more. Sometimes that can resonate with a powerful feeling that I’ve somehow missed out on my life or that I’m somehow not on the right track. These can be intensely disturbing, extremely anxiety provoking feelings.

We may need to really focus in our lives and identify where such feelings come from. We may also need to grieve lost opportunities, but also seek for ways in which the deepest yearnings within us can find some way to come to life, and to be made realities in our present lives.

Ignoring Our Inner Voices

We can keep trying what we’ve already been doing, and hope for a different, better outcome. Yet it’s likely that ignoring the pressing questions that life asks us about our success, our failure, our dreams and aspirations and about getting older, will just make the questions get louder.

Sometimes our autumn anxiety can be rooted in a deep anxiety about ourselves, and about intuitions that whisper to us that life has more for us than what we’ve experienced. Yet such intuitions can be deeply unsettling and anxiety-provoking. They may require us to move away from our preconceptions of who we are, so that we can let in the reality of who we are, and how we most deeply feel about our lives.

What About You?

Some people might tell you that it’s selfish or narcissistic to look at questions about meaning, about what I value or about living out the creative purpose of my life. Yet, it’s a psychological truth that, unless I can value who I really am, and listen to my own deepest self, my capacity to give to others is likely to be very limited. Compassion for others starts with self compassion, and as Jung would tell us, self-compassion starts with accepting who we really are.

So who am I, really? Who are you? What are the desires and abilities that have been locked up inside of you, never acknowledged or expressed, or perhaps just forgotten? Finding these things is all part of our journey towards wholeness.

Depth psychotherapy can help us to answer fundamental questions like these. It can be of tremendous value to sit with someone positive and non-judgmental, who can help to find self-acceptance, self-knowledge and the deep places within ourselves that carry the precious awareness of who we really are, and what we really desire for genuine fulfillment.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Some rights reserved by  Ryan Leighty (Creative Commons Licence)

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