Journeying Toward Wholeness

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What’s My Life Story? The Story I Buy Into Affects My Life

January 27th, 2020 · what's my life story

One of the most important questions a person might ask themselves is “What’s my life story?”

Why is that such an important thing? Well, it turns out that the stories we repeat to ourselves have a way of replaying and replaying in our lives. That can be a good thing for us — or something very debilitating.

Some people are surprised at the idea that we each have a life story that we tell to ourselves and quite possibly to others. “I’m not somebody important or famous! I don’t go around ‘telling’ my story!” Yet, the fact is, that in some very important and perhaps surprising ways, we do exactly that.

Recurring Themes and Bedrock Beliefs

Without realizing it, we all fall into the grip of certain key stories, and they can have an immense impact on our lives. We can all recognize some of the themes that appear in our stories, often from very early in our lives. Here are some examples:

  • The Hero Child – the one “destined” (or expected) to achieve great things;
  • The Victim – the one who always gets (and expects to get) mistreated by life or others;
  • The Outsider – the one who, for some reason, never quite “fits in”;
  • The “Good” Girl or Boy – the one who is destined (or expected) to be good all the time;
  • The “Bad” Boy or Girl – the one who always does “bad” or rebellious things;
  • The Caretaker – the one who is destined (or expected) to always take care of others.

You can probably think of people in your life who fit into one of these categories. Or, perhaps you realize that one of these stories governs all or some important part of your life. There are also many other “stories” that we can find governing all or part of our lives.

These stories are important, and they actually have a huge impact on our lives. That can be a very good thing if the stories genuinely reflect who we really are. In that case, they can help give our lives value and meaning.

In the words of the famous narrative therapist Michael White:

The most powerful therapeutic process I know is to contribute to rich story development.

While Jungian and depth psychotherapists might have a somewhat different understanding of “story” than White does, the above statement is profoundly true!

The Power of Hidden Stories

What are your hidden stories? The “narratives” that form and shape your life? As Jungian Gary Trosclair tells us,

One of the fundamental tasks we need to accomplish in therapy is to step back from the isolated details of our lives and get a sense of the larger picture, the patterns and themes that comprise our stories and to some extent define our lives. [T]hese stories … lead to our fundamental beliefs about who we are, how the world operates … and what will make life fulfilling for us…. Bad stories make us sick and good stories heal [Italics mine].

If we diligently ask, “What’s my life story?”, we can make conscious stories that are the real engines behind our lives, understand them, and see how they make us feel and act. If the story lines up with a good self-compassionate assessment of who we really are, we can see how it strengthens our sense of ourselves, reduces anxiety, and empowers us to walk into our lives in a good way. If it doesn’t support us, we can begin the search for better, more fulfilling stories.

If we remain unconscious of our stories, they retain a power over our lives that can be shocking in its effects. Often, the really powerful stories in our lives start to appear before we’re old enough to consciously make choices. These stories can give us extremely powerful messages about who we are, and what we can expect for our lives.

Example. C. is the daughter of parents of humble backgrounds who immigrated to Canada slightly before she was born. Her parents made enormous sacrifices for their children, and lived lives that were almost totally oriented to “the kids’ future”. On some level C. felt an enormous pressure to succeed. She worked furiously, and excelled at academics, got a full scholarship to university, attended a fine U.S. medical school, and went on to become a well respected orthopedic surgeon. At 46 years of age, she asks “Is any of this really what I wanted? Who am I, anyway?”

“What’s my life story?” is a hugely important question, and the answer to it can make all the difference in the level of fulfillment and self-acceptance I find in my life.

In the second part of this post, “Getting to the Real Story”, we’ll look at some of the important ways in which we can start to get nearer to our real story, and further our journey towards wholeness.

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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Making Choices at Demanding Times in Your Life

January 20th, 2020 · making choices

Making choices can be easy and pleasant, or can take us through some of the hardest parts of our life journey.

Which way?

It often happens that we end up having to make major choices during the most demanding parts of our lives, which are sometimes called major life transitions. In fact, it may be the need to make a particularly important choice that actually creates a major life transition!

Sometimes choices are easy, but when they’re about things that are really important, they are often hard. When the choice is about something really demanding, often life is asking us who we really are.

I can recall one really difficult choice in my own life journey. It was a choice made in my very early 30s. I can truly say that it was a choice that determined which of two substantially different versions of being myself I was going to live out, for the rest of my life. After I had made it, I truly felt that I was somebody different than I was before i made it, much as Robert Frost wrote in those famous lines:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

When I Have to Choose

When we have to choose, and we sense that this choice is going to “make all the difference”, what are some of the most important types of decisions that we as people make? Well, this is far from exhaustive, but here’s a list of some typical major decisions in life:

  • to return to university for an advanced degree;
  • to stay with my career, or start my own business;
  • to get married;
  • to leave a marriage;
  • to have children;
  • to not have children; or,
  • to retire.

I’m sure that you could add many items to the list. What are some of the things that go on inside of us when we have to make these kinds of choices?

Well, one thing that is often present is that we are keenly aware of the things that we might get with each respective choice that we make, and we are simultaneously aware of what it is that we might lose. Often, we are also very keenly aware of what we know about making this choice, and also what we don’t know. And sometimes we’re keenly aware that we don’t know what we don’t know — that there are great gaps in our knowledge.

We may look at the issue from a very logical perspective, and that can be a very important thing to do. Yet there’s often a great deal more to a decision than that. Sometimes it can be very important to listen to our intuition, or “hunches”. Or we may have very strong feelings about the choice options. It may also be that our conscience or morality is trying to speak to us: if so, it can be essential to listen, for the sake of our long-term peace and well-being.

As we examine this, we pretty soon start to see that a very major decision is a very complex, very delicate thing. And it’s often all bound up in some very important ways with who we really are.

What Makes Choices Worse

What would make a choice dramatically worse would be to approach it in an unconscious way. “Now, that sounds just silly.” you may be saying, “How can you be unconscious, if you’re making a choice?” The answer is that consciousness is not black-or-white, on-or-off, but a matter of degree or level.

It’s possible to go through a decision-making process but still to not listen to large and very important parts of ourselves. This can happen in many different ways. Perhaps we’re meeting the expectations of someone else who wouldn’t like it if we brought certain thoughts or feelings into our decision-making. Or, perhaps it might be as straightforward as an incident recounted by Jungian analyst James Hollis:

In speaking of these matters in a public setting recently, someone said, “Why should I bother to think about these things?” “Well, because perhaps you are living someone else’s story if you do not,” I replied. “What does that matter if I’m happy?” she retorted…. I [had] the lingering impression that she did not want to work very hard at this identity stuff. I also know that our psyches will not be mocked and that somewhere deep within something profound gets wounded and ultimately reaches the surface as symptom, projection, obsession….

James Hollis, What Matters Most

Clinical experience tends to support what Hollis says about unconscious decisions. It’s astounding how much time people spend in therapy talking about fallout from previous bad decisions. It’s well worth it to be as aware as we can when we face those major times of choice.

Life-Giving Decisions

It’s possible to make decisions that treat us well as we move into the future. These tend to be honest decisions where we bring all of our feelings, our intuition and our thoughts into making choices, and also where we don’t get sidetracked or bogged down with small issues, or our own past baggage.

Depth psychotherapy can be a vital support as individuals go through the process of making choices involving key life issues. The safe container provided by this kind of therapy enables us to look at all the factors, conscious and unconscious that go into making the decisions that are so fundamental to our journey toward wholeness.

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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Another New Year: Time, Change and Resiliency, Part 2

January 13th, 2020 · resiliency

In Part 1 of this post, we examined how remembering where we’ve been contributes to our resiliency in facing the present and the future.


We’re still in the early days following all the emotion associated with the coming of the New Year. Yet the daily news is filled with stories of the devastating Australian bushfires, the conflict between the U.S. and Iran, and the tragic downing of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran, carrying so many young Canadians. These events are sobering reminders of pain, challenge and anxiety in human existence, and of the need to find strength and a sense of meaning to cope with the broken parts of life.

New Year’s, especially, may be an important time to reflect on our journey. It gives us a perspective to understand our past experience and life transitions, and all the things in our conscious and unconscious lives that have enabled us to “get through” to this point in our lives. These may be key resources as we move into our future.

The rest of this post offers some key questions to ask of ourselves: 1) as we seek to understand our life journey through the past; and, 2) as we seek to find the resiliency and strength to move through our future.

Refiner’s Fire: Experiences Which Have Formed Us

The first set of questions relate to experiences in our past that may have been very difficult, which have nonetheless shaped us to be who we are.

What have been the most difficult experiences or stressors in my past?  What have been the experiences that have really shaped me? How have each of those events impacted me?

The most difficult experiences in our lives may be things that we would rather not even think about. Yet, often these harrowing experiences can be the very ones that show us the strong and enduring part of ourselves, if we can just discern it.

If you recall the most difficult experiences in your life, can you remember what was so difficult about them? Or, how you got through those times? It’s likely that these experiences have profoundly affected or shaped your life. If you or I can discern how such events have made a difference to us, we’ll likely learn something important about who we are.

The Key People

Who are the important people in my life who’ve helped me when I’ve been distressed?  To whom have I reached out for support?

In every human being’s life, there are key people, who’ve been an integral part of the journey. Some people may be part of the pain and struggle in our lives, as they are tied to very negative experiences like abuse and betrayal. However, almost always there are key people who’ve been essential to our journey, and who’ve had a stabilizing and supportive impact, often at times that were crucial for us.

Who are the people who’ve been key supports in your life journey? What role have they played in your life? What is it that they brought to your journey, that made such a key difference? How did they see you? What does that tell you about who you really are — as opposed to the hyper-critical stories that it’s often so easy to tell ourselves?

The Voice of the Self

The final set of questions really emerges from previous two:

What have I learned about myself and about what’s really important to me during difficult times? Have I been able to overcome obstacles, and if so, how? What has helped me to find hope for the future?

Who are you really when confronted with extreme difficulty? What are the characteristics of my most fundamental self when the going is at its roughest? If you have faced extraordinary obstacles, how did you get through or around them? In such situations, we might expect ourselves to be at our worst, or perhaps we even remember ourselves at our most fearful or despairing. And yet, when you listen to peoples’ stories of these dark times, what you often hear is something else: people talk of a part or an aspect of themselves that somehow got them through this extreme difficulty.

This sense of a part of us that is wise and strong, and which abides with us in even the most difficult situations is one of the most important things that underlies genuine hope for the future. It can be essential to our life journey to seek to come into contact with that wise part.

A strong, supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be a vital asset in seeking to come into contact with our fundamental self. Such a therapeutic relationship can be of inestimable value in finding our way through our lifelong journey to wholeness.

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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Another New Year: Time, Change and Resiliency

January 6th, 2020 · resilience, resiliency

People seem much more likely to think about and make resolutions at the New Year’s season, than they are to think about change and resiliency.

finding happiness in life

That’s probably because we see the New Year’s season as a time for renewal and new beginnings, which in some respects, it certainly is. New Year’s resolutions allow us to feel that we are starting anew, perhaps that we are beginning again. I may have intended to use the exercise machine four times a week last year. That may have not worked out so well, — but here we are at New Year’s, and it’s a new beginning.

This has validity and importance for people, without a doubt. Yet there are other significant dimensions to the coming of a New Year, that carry important meaning. In a time like ours, when we’re constantly buffeted by change, it’s important that these other dimensions, which involve the fullness of our life journey, also be recognized.

Throughout the English-speaking world, it’s long been customary to take a moment in the beginning minutes of the New Year to sing Robert Burns’ “For Auld Lang Syne”. We might dismiss this as a musty tradition, but it’s worth bringing the lyrics of that tune into focus. The phrase itself is probably best translated as “for long long ago”, and the rhetorical question posed by the first lines is probably best rendered as:

Is it right that old times be forgotten?

Remember How You Got Here

It’s easy to give this question endless amounts of smarmy overlay and dreary sentimentality. Yet it’s very important for each of our own lives and our journey to wholeness. In our time, the internet, smartphones and an endless succession of other technologies bring a continual influx of the new. It’s an era when “disruption” is seen as a positive, even life-giving thing. This current information culture gives us strong incentives to focus on the novel, and on what’s changing, rather than understanding and appreciating the things in our collective or personal past that have made us who and what we are today.

Yet it’s important for each of us to turn a discerning and compassionate eye onto our own journey. We need to understand, in a self-compassionate way, how we got to where we are today. That entails understanding just how much change each of us has undergone to get here. It also entails understanding and appreciating the experiences that have really shaped us into the particular unique individual that each of us is.

Easy to Forget the Journey…

There are many voices in our culture that seem to imply that the best way to be strong and advance in life is to forget all about the past, and to live in a way that just moves forward. In a time like ours, this is a very seductive message. As wave after wave of change washes over us, it’s very easy to feel disconnected from our personal past, with all it’s pain, courage and hard-won clarity.

As we celebrate the end of a decade, it may be valuable to think back on ourselves of ten years ago. Given the fast pace of events, can we even remember ourselves and the world as it was in 2010? Yet, it’s not that long ago!

Often that past experience of ourselves, and of how we have gotten through the demanding experiences of the past can be an important part of our resilient core as we approach the future.

Resiliency Through Affirming Who We Are

As the American Psychological Association tells us that,

[r]esilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress …. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.

APA Website

We face a world now where there is a continual onslaught of anxiety and stress from ongoing, relentless change. We need to be able to “bounce back” in the face of continual stressors. One important way to gain such resilience is through connecting with our past in meaningful, healing ways. These often involve connecting with out past experiences in life events such as past major life transitions. Depth psychotherapy can be centrally important in helping us to access these resources for resilience, contained deep within ourselves.

In our post next week, I’ll be continuing our exploration of resources within ourselves that contribute to our 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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