Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Avoiding Burnout or Depression at Christmas, Part 2

December 16th, 2019 · depression, depression at Christmas

In my last post, we looked at Christmas burnout, and this post continues to explore that theme.

What is the root cause of all the Christmas burnout and depression at Christmas? Do we have any idea?

Well, a recent study by human resources firm ADP Canada looks at the “time off tax” that Canadians pay around holidays and vacations. It turns out that, in the present work environment, people often feel that they have to put in a pretty substantial number of hours of extra work before and after time off from work, to make up for “lost hours” devoted to themselves and family.

This is certainly not the only thing that makes holidays like Christmas very demanding — far from it. However, it surely is an indicator of one of the things that can make holidays like Christmas so stress-inducing. That is the strong feeling that many people have in our culture that “I am not doing enough.” or, simply, that “I just am not enough.”.

Often, people in our culture confront a specific sense of depression at Christmas. This may well be because they cannot rise to the challenge of making the holidays (and their own individual lives, and their family life) into the wonderful, magical festival of light, joy, peace and good feeling that they are told that this season ought to be. Anyone seeking to gain a sense of the kind of enormous expectations generated by this season need only look at some lines from the most popular Christmas songs:

  • “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”
  • “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time”
  • “Children laughing, people passing / Meeting smile after smile…”
  • “What a bright time, it’s the right time, to rock the night away…”
  • “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year…”
  • “Voices singing, let’s be jolly / Deck the halls with boughs of holly…”

When we look at all the messaging around the holidays, it’s pretty hard to avoid the sense that “the Christmas spirit” or “that special Holiday feeling” is something that we’re supposed to whip up, or create. No wonder people feel pressured, or even burnt out or depressed!

A Season of Renewal

We may be very pressured trying to turn Christmas into something that meets the expectations of others, along with our own. Yet, perhaps we need to ask: is that the only way to look at the Holiday season? If so, it makes the Holidays seem pretty bleak!

What exactly is a holiday, anyway? In his book The Archetype of Renewal, Jungian analyst D. Stephenson Bond examines one of the most ancient holidays we know of in history. This holiday was a New Year’s festival that originated in ancient Sumer around 3500 B.C.E. It was known as the Akitu festival, a name which means “power making the world live again”.

This holiday had to do with “the death and re-birth of the King”, and what that meant for these ancient people was that the whole of life — the King, the society as a whole, the individual — went through a kind of death and re-birth. Everything in this society was renewed through this festival.

The people of ancient Sumer and Babylon did not sit around, worrying whether their preparations for Akitu were adequate, or whether they had done enough, or whether they were going to “have a good Akitu”. Their perspective was that the Akitu festival came, and it renewed them.

Does this perspective have anything to offer us?

Renewal: Are We OK with That?

What would it be like for us to view the Christmas and Holiday season as a season of renewal, rather than as a big sense of obligation that leaves us feeling inadequate or disappointed? We are so busy in the lead up to the holidays: gift-buying; planning travel and/or activities; decorating home and tree, and many other activities. Often, the “day of” Christmas is absolutely frenetic. Going to parents’ house, parents-in-law, brothers, sisters, the home of the ex to spend some time with the kids — the number of separate destinations in this time period is mind-boggling.

What would it be like in the midst of this period to take even one day to:

  • grow;
  • authentically connect with people;
  • listen to your own inner voice; and,
  • reflect on what’s really important to you, what you really want at this point in your life journey?

If the fundamental (Jungians would say archetypal) essence of a holiday or festival is renewal, what would it mean in our time and place to open ourselves to renewal in the Christmas or Holiday season?

Beyond Depression at Christmas, to Renewal

The most profound kinds of renewal often stem from our own depths. Often both our barely acknowledged conscious selves, and the unconscious mind are full of the desire for renewal and the need to travel our own journey towards wholeness. The healing journey involved in the relationship at the heart of Jungian depth psychotherapy can be a path to renewal and a connection with our own very deepest values and perspectives.

On the cusp of the Holiday and Christmas season, 2019, may I take this opportunity to wish you authentic joy, true peace and lasting renewal as you travel the road to yourself.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Do You Have “Christmas Burnout”? Many People Do!

December 9th, 2019 · christmas burnout

Christmas burnout is a psychological reality, as depth psychotherapists well know. Many people experience it. It happens on a number of levels at the same time.

Christmas and the Holidays are a time of very high expectations, in a number of different ways. Traditionally in the western world, Christmas is regarded as the most significant and joyous season. It was loaded with deep religious meaning for our ancestors, and for a significant number of people, it still is.

In addition to this heavy freight of religious meaning, Christmas is also regarded as loaded with very special meaning for family life. It’s expected to be a time when families connect in a unfailing, unfaltering way to each other, and love, joy and peace abound. There should be that “special Christmas feeling”, and there should be no conflict or sadness, anywhere in sight.

At least that’s the set of expectations that we continually absorb from the television, movies, music, product marketing, eggnog lattes and endless other Holiday-related messaging that fills our culture at this time of year. It’s easy to be influenced by this, consciously and unconsciously, and drawn into carrying a huge set of expectations, almost before we know it.

Holiday Expectations and Realities

Everyone knows that the holidays are “supposed” to be a time of joyous celebration and connection with family, but they can also be an immense source of stress as we try to meet that expectation, depending on what we are dealing with in our lives.  Those who have lost an important loved one, or those who may be dealing with a separation or with realities such as job loss can find this time of year very challenging, and extremely stressful.  But many who are not facing this kind of major life transition can also find the holidays very challenging.

For many people, just the process of getting together with family members can be a very demanding thing that is full of anxiety. Socializing with family members when there might be personality conflicts, outstanding issues, or great political differences can be a very sizable stressor. In my own family’s case, I can remember deep political divisions between family members causing many a stormy “Merry Christmas” in my youth!

Stuck in the Rut of Overwhelming Expectations

One of the most difficult things about the holidays, and something that can contribute most directly to Christmas burnout is the way that we “should” or “ought” on ourselves about what this season must be. It can be easy to get locked into a lot of rigid, painful patterns, because we have our inner voices that tell us that “It’s GOT to be this way, or it won’t really feel like Christmas.” or “This is the traditional way that our family / church / culture celebrates the holidays.” or “What would everybody else think, if we did something other than XYZ?”

To put it bluntly, there might be a whole lot less Christmas burnout if we stopped focusing on meeting the collective expectations around the holidays, and focused on what might be meaningful for ourselves as individuals. What if we listened to our inner voices around what might be valuable, healing and hope-creating at this time of year, and let ourselves off the hook about how we’re not being enough in someone or other’s eyes. Might it be that we would find ways to make our holiday season much more Self-directed in the best sense of the word?

Finding Our Own Way

In the second part of this post, I’ll be focusing on some suggestions for ways to keep the holidays that emphasize our own needs and personalities, rather than what other people, the groups we belong to, and our culture as a whole culture expects. Jungians would emphasize that it can be an important part of our individuation journey to keep the holidays in ways that retain meaning for our own real lives.

The key to avoiding Christmas burnout begins in a place of self-acceptance and self-compassion.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Men and Emotions: a Key Part of the Journey to Wholeness

December 2nd, 2019 · men and emotions

The whole subject of men and emotions is a big one in our lives today. For us men, it’s all tied up with our ability to accept and be kind to ourselves.

work related stress

Accepting our emotions? To be frank, this is exactly what men in my age group were taught not to do. We were taught that the last thing you wanted to be as a boy growing up was “emotional”. That was equated with being weak, or, to use that horrible phrase, “being a sissy”.

For guys my age, “growing up” was equated with learning to hide your feelings, which, of course, was a sure recipe for anxiety and depression. I would like to think that things have improved since I was younger — but the evidence would seem to indicate that we still have a long way to go.

Studies by researchers like Emory University’s Robyn Fivush show that mothers of children between ages 2 and 3 respond quite differently to boys and girls around emotion. Girls are often encouraged to feel the emotions more directly than boys, and girls tend to be given the message that it’s OK to feel sad — but not to get angry. Meanwhile, boys get the message that anger is much more acceptable than sadness. Girls are also encouraged to rely on a support network around feelings, while boys are encouraged to be much less expressive and more contained about feelings — and especially not to shed tears.

Maleness and the Spectrum of Feelings

In our culture, men tend to learn to be cut off from their feelings, especially strong feelings like sorrow or grief. This dissociation can be a major barrier to accepting who and what I am, and to the journey to wholeness, or individuation process.

The fact is that large parts of our life and our identity are fundamentally connected with experiences involving strong emotion. If those experiences are curtailed, or if we cannot share them with others in order to help process them, it can genuinely diminish us as people.

If men are taught to cut themselves off from their feelings, to shun emotional contact with others and/or to use substances and distractions to bottle up feelings and repress them, the consequences can be severe and far-reaching. This was shown very insightfully in a recent CBC Alberta documentary, “Digging in the Dirt” which highlights the mental and emotional price paid by oil and gas industry workers in isolated areas.

The film documents the stories of several men working in the trades in isolated camps, where there is no nearby town, no social support and where the workers “FIFO” — fly in, fly out — at the beginning and end of every 3 week shift. Each of these men tells how he had learned to repress and deny feelings of isolation, loss and emotional hurt. This included hiding these things from other men, but even more fundamentally from themselves, often in ways that involve drugs, overwork and alcohol use. This attitude toward feeling, along with an aggressive, “hypermasculine” male culture in an environment where there were no emotional supports was utterly disastrous for these men. They were — mostly — able to pull out of the tailspin in which they found themselves, when they began to connect with supportive others, and began to acknowledge and accept their own feelings and emotions.

Why Being a “Strong Guy” May Hurt More Than Help

Most boys are brought up to revere the image or ideal of the “strong man” It’s an ideal as old as Homer’s Iliad — and much, much older. For the most part, that “strong guy” image doesn’t include any kind of emotional vulnerability. Can you imagine The Invincible Iron Man having a moment of emotional connection and sharing his deep sadness?

If being a “strong guy” is about suppressing emotion and avoiding real connection with others, it may hurt us far more than help us. The whole thing may end with being not so “strong” after all. It may also keep us from connecting with some essential parts of our own life and story. Often for men, exploring the parts of our lives where we’ve felt things most strongly, and felt at our most vulnerable, can be a doorway to experiencing ourselves in new and liberating ways.

On the other hand, if we men don’t explore our emotional reality, and if we even resist it, we may well find our world getting smaller and smaller, and more and more out of control, emotionally. That was certainly the experience of many of the men featured in Digging in the Dirt. This can lead to experiences of deep distress, especially at times of major life transition or mid-life transition.

Emotions and the Journey Towards Wholeness

Exploring our emotional life is a key part of our journey to wholeness. It’s only as we come to fully accept all of our emotional and feeling states, including the difficult ones like anger, sorrow and fear, that we start to get a comprehensive sense of who we are. Only then do we begin to explore the undiscovered self. Sometimes, what our emotional states can tell us about ourselves comes as quite a surprise.

Yet recognizing and accepting our emotional selves is only part of the journey with our emotions. Eventually, we will seek to have enough distance from our emotional states to not be completely run over by them and controlled by them. However, to get to that place, it’s necessary to first accept our emotional states for what they are.

This journey to find our emotional life can be intense. It requires courage, patience and a genuine kindness for oneself and self-acceptance. It can be tremendously helpful in this work to have the support of a compassionate and trustworthy depth psychotherapist, who can assist in processing the full range of our feelings safely.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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