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How to Feel Secure During the 2020 Holidays

November 30th, 2020 · how to feel secure

The question of how to feel secure is usually not something we would especially associate with the holidays—but this year is different.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Usually the Holidays are a time when we mostly don’t have to worry about how to feel secure. For many of us, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or other seasonal holidays are associated with feeling very secure, at least most of the time. However, this year, we may be having feelings that are at odds with this.

Most of us are heartened by the recent news of vaccines that are now just about ready to be manufactured and distributed, but, for many of us, there’s the feeling that we are facing a long winter of lockdown ahead of us. The holidays are normally a period when we’re cheered by contact with relatives and friends. However, this year, things have a different feel, as for many of us there will be restrictions on the number of people we can gather with for celebrations—in many cases, only one or two people beyond those who live in a household…

Easy to be On Our Guard

Given these pandemic realities, it’s easy to feel like our holidays might be disappointing. In fact, many people experience the present time as feeling very insecure, even though the holidays are coming. The uncertainty of the present situation can certainly put us on our guard.

Human beings, like all other creatures with a nervous system, have an innate system of responses to threats. We may fight back, physically or verbally, we may retreat or run away, or when the threat seems particularly grave, we may “shut down” or freeze. When we’re confronted with a unfamiliar and potentially threatening situation, like at present, it’s easy for us to respond from this kind of hypersensitive place.

If we look around carefully, we can observe all of these characteristic reactions as we try to get through the COVID period—fight, flight and freeze, sometimes in combination! When we hear of individuals responding with physical violence to those who either do or don’t wear masks, or when we find ourselves retreating from going out into the community, or when we find it hard to get up and go in the morning, we can see the presence of ancient responses to threat. It seems very likely that these responses will be with us throughout the Holiday period, and into the New Year.

Denial is NOT How to Feel Secure

Whether these responses and reactions are our own, or those of other people, they will influence the Holiday season, along with all the other experiences of unfamiliarity or strangeness that we might have as a result of the changes that have come about through COVID-19. We are all living with the reality of insecurity and anxiety that the pandemic creates, and inevitably, it changes the way that we experience the Holiday season.

As we go through the Holidays, we can try and pretend that “nothing is wrong”, but it’s apparent that things really are quite different this year. If we try to make out that this is “just like every other Holiday season”, we’re not likely to convince anyone—not even ourselves. It can be easy at times like this to try to deny uncomfortable realities, but we still continue to experience them.

Belonging and Meaning

What can possibly sustain us in this holiday period? What can help us to hang onto a sense of normalcy as we enter this season, when so many things in our world seem more than a little abnormal?

Well, one thing that we’ve learned as the result of the work of renowned brain-body researcher Prof. Stephen Porges and others is that, in addition to the other innate responses to threat in our nervous system, we have a “higher social brain”. This causes certain neural circuitry to be activated when we hear a calm, gentle voice, see smiles or relaxed facial features, and/or experience the calm gestures of others.

In short, we get calmer and feel more secure in the presence of others who give us relaxed “social safety cues”. We can even give ourselves social safety cues that will help ourselves, and others near us to feel secure and safe. In addition, just feeling compassion for others when we’re in their presence can lead to us giving social safety cues to others. Many of these social cues can even be given to others over online connections!

Also, connection with meaningful symbols can provide a sense of security and meaning, as Jungians continually emphasize. These might be symbols that belong to a particular faith or social group, symbols shared by a family, or even symbols that we have discovered to be personally meaningful. (Some of these can occur in dreams, in the arts, or in other parts of our life and experience.)

Some of most important exploration of how to feel secure can occur in the context of an affirming and supportive relationship with a well-attuned depth psychotherapist. This can help us to cultivate a sense of security through the holiday season, the time of COVID, and in our journey to wholeness well beyond that.

With very best wishes for your personal 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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Taking the Responsibility: What’s Enough & What’s Too Much?

November 23rd, 2020 · taking the responsibility

It might seem odd that a post on “taking the responsibility” is in my series on “Emotions of the Pandemic”, but there’s a good reason for including it.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

That’s because “taking the responsibility” is connected with an individual’s feelings of responsibility. While “responsibility” certainly does have a thinking component, it also has a substantial emotional or feeling component. When we “feel responsible” for doing something, helping someone, or whatever may be the case, we are genuinely having feelings, meaning that—rightly or wrongly—we are positively valuing the responsibility or connection.

Sometimes, it’s entirely appropriate for us to be “taking the responsibility”. If I get into my car to drive somewhere, it’s entirely appropriate for me to take control of the vehicle and drive it in a manner that doesn’t endanger other people or others’ property. But if I started to feel responsible for how everyone in my neighbourhood drives, and I laid awake nights worrying about how I could get all these other people to drive in the manner that I feel they should, we might well say that I was taking the responsibility for something that I shouldn’t, because someone else should be looking out for those concerns.

It’s quite easy for people to end up taking the responsibility for more than they should. This is true in general, but it’s particularly true in the era of COVID-19.

Feeling Overly Responsible

Taking the responsibility for appropriate things in our lives is a good thing. Carrying appropriate responsibility is actually something that empowers us, and helps us to bring more of what we want into our lives. This is the opposite of a victim stance, where we blame other people or forces for the way that things are in our lives, and passively give the power to them, and just let things happen to us. In contrast to this, appropriate responsibility allows me to feel that I can take control, use my power and make things occur in my individual life that suit who I am and what I want.

In contrast, feeling overly responsible is very similar, in some ways, to a victim stance. If I feel responsible for something that I can’t control or change, I can end up feeling powerless in very much the same way as someone who is wrapped up in seeing themselves as a victim. However, taking the responsibility for too much has the added disadvantage that I may well feel guilty or blameworthy for something that I shouldn’t even be taking on, and that I don’t really have the power to change. It may be apparent that feeling overly responsible can also be accompanied by a great deal of anxiety as I ruminate or obsess about situations where I have limited or no power.

Examining Our Underlying Feelings

It can be challenging for people to realize when they are taking the responsibility for something that they really shouldn’t. It can also be challenging to face the real emotional causes for being overly responsible. The difficult question is, what emotional factors led the individual to feel that they have to take the additional responsibility.

In many cases, it’s necessary to look at someone’s experience in their family of origin to understand the forces that keep them locked into taking the responsibility when they really shouldn’t have to do it. The goal here is not to “blame our parents”. Yet the fact is that our experience in the family of origin has a huge impact on our personality and on the way in which we experience the whole of our lives.

Even the best of parents and families of origin are able to give us certain things we need, but not the whole of everything we need to move through our lives. We may find that our experience in the family of origin led us to experience heightened sense of guilt and responsibility that leads us into feeling overly responsible in the present. Clinical psychologist George Simon, an expert on manipulation, refers to what he calls “covert aggressions”, which might include phrases like the following:

  • “I’m counting on you” (using guilt);
  • “I really need you to do this” (playing the victim);
  • “Only you can do this” (guilting and misrepresenting); or,
  • “You’re such a good son/daughter” (flattery and guilt)

We may find that we’re harbouring a great deal of emotion about this, both in terms of guilt and fear, but also feelings of anger at having our boundaries violated by excessive demands for responsibility.

For some people, the pandemic lockdown that we’re experiencing may be a time when they experience a heightened sense of responsibility for things that are beyond their individual control, perhaps combined with feelings of guilt and fear. If you find yourself overwhelmed with demands at this time, perhaps including things that are really beyond your control, it might be time to ask whether you have a tendency to take on too much responsibility.

Taking the Responsibility—Responsibly!

Taking appropriate responsibility for our own lives, for the commitments we make, and for our own journey to wholeness, is a key part of what it is to be human. Yet, it’s an equally key part of that journey that we find the means to extend compassion to ourselves, and to not be overly responsible. Working with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist can be an excellent support as we sort through what authentically taking the responsibility means for our lives.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal 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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Am I a Loser? How Do We Deal with Experiences of Failure?

November 16th, 2020 · am I a loser

This week, we’re in the realm of shadow. Most people wouldn’t answer the question “Am I a loser?” in the affirmative. Yet perhaps we’ve suffered self-doubt, and asked the question.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

We live in a culture where this term is bandied about, and all too often, applied to people. It seems sometimes that our world is determined to divide us all into “losers” and winners.

Very recently, we’ve had the opportunity to watch this play out in the political sphere. As we watch the recent results of the American Presidential election, we can hear the term loser bandied about very frequently. It’s featured in the rhetoric of some of the candidates, and it gets used by commentators and comedians alike. It’s apparent that, in this very high stakes political game, losing the election can often be equated with being a loser at life.

It probably goes without saying, but there is a great deal of anxiety that is associated with the question, “Am I a loser?”, because the term “loser” is here understood to mean “loser at life”. It’s implied in this terminology that life is a test or contest, and that some will pass, and some will fail.

Toxic Labeling

Speaking in terms of pure logic, if I am asking myself, “Am I a loser?” in this sense of loser at life, then I must also believe that, somewhere, there are winners in life. Speaking in Jungian terms, it’s very important for us to notice the symbolism of this.

The underlying image here is that life is a great game, and that each of us are players in this game. We all have our turn, and at the end of things, it would seem, each of us has either a “win”, or a “loss”. Presumably, then, if we are on what looks like the path to a “win”, we are a “winner”, while if we are on the path to a loss, well, sorry, Sir or Ma’am, but you’re a “loser”.

The underlying assumption here is that life is fundamentally about achievement or accomplishment. On this view of human life, if you accomplish valuable things in your life, then your life has value. On the other hand, if your accomplishments are of less or no value, then your life has no value, and so, sadly, you are a loser. Are we sure that we want to buy into this?

Life as a High Stakes Crap Shoot

It’s important to reflect for a bit on how deeply embedded in our collective view of life this metaphor is. It’s not that we necessarily go around saying it all the time, but it’s pretty clear that, as members of this society, we often do assign value to ourselves and others based on what the individual achieves, in terms of outward accomplishment.

Many people look at themselves and others this way, without really being consciously aware that they’re doing it, and this has a very deep level effect. When we look to our accomplishments as a means of establishing our worth as individuals, our positive feeling about ourselves is going to be dependent on the things that we’ve accomplished. Our self-esteem is going to rely upon whether we, or others, feel that we have put in good performances—done good things, or “won”. If we have, we’ll feel good about ourselves. If our performance is not good, we end up feeling that we’re worth less, or even that we have no value, that we’re “losers”.

What’s more, individuals can start to feel like they’re on a treadmill, and that even their good performances are never enough for them to feel really good about themselves. There are many, even very outwardly successful people who live in fear and anxiety that everything they’ve accomplished could come apart at any time, leaving them with nothing—and with no value.

Is there any alternative to relying on our accomplishments for our sense of worth? Or are we fated to be “only as good as our last performance”, and continually at risk of being “losers”?

Our Unique Worth

Is there a way for our worth to not be dependent on our accomplishments, and on whether we “win” or not? From a depth psychotherapy perspective, the answer depends on discovering our own unique self, and our own unique journey.

We often don’t reflect nearly enough on ourselves, and on what makes us unique. Often we only see ourselves the way that others see us, which may often mean viewing ourselves in terms of the success-failure measuring stick that the society holds out to us, as described above. Yet there are some very important ways we can look at ourselves that lead us to quite a different place.

In this time of COVID, if we judge by society’s conventional measures, there have been winners and losers in many ways that no one would have expected. This may be a very important time in our individual lives and in the life of our culture to examine the sources of our own unique identity and worth. Individual depth psychotherapy may be of great help in this essential part of our journey to wholeness.

With warm wishes for your personal 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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In This Strange Time, We Carry So Many Hidden Emotions

November 8th, 2020 · hidden emotions

Here we are, in the midst of the pandemic, and in the middle of a brutally stressful economic and political period. Is it any wonder that we carry hidden emotions?

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

In the other posts in this series on “Emotions of the Pandemic”, I have dealt with various specific types of emotion that we may experience during the pandemic. However in this post, I discuss more generally the hidden emotions that have been generated in us in this time, and that we carry in unconscious, or semi-conscious ways, often in our bodies.

I’m writing this on November 8, 2020, the day after Joe Biden was declared to be the President-Elect in the United States’ election. It was very striking to see the reaction of many people in that country as they erupted into spontaneous outpourings of joy on the streets of major U.S. cities. Certainly, we were watching displays of relief at what many regarded as a dramatically improving political situation, yet it seems that there was more to it than that.

I think that, for many people in that country, and for many in our own country of Canada, and around the world, there was a release of emotion that individuals have carried pent-up inside since the pandemic arrived, bringing change to our lives so suddenly and forcefully. Many of us have been carrying huge reserves of fear, anger, anxiety, grief, resentment, and a whole range of other feelings, as a result of the strange, dramatic and, at times, hard-to-comprehend changes in our lives that we’ve experienced in the recent past.

If we’re to have any kind of well-being in the present time, and any ability to continue on our journey to wholeness, it’s essential that we come to terms with the burden of hidden emotions we have been carrying in our lives through this time. It’s important for our health, our growth on our own personal journeys of individuation, and our own ability to make meaning out of our lives that understand and come to terms with these often very powerful affects.

There are quite a number of ways that we could begin to process our feelings, and to express the things that we may not even know we’re carrying. Yet one of the most effective of these may be to express these feelings in the safe container provided by the relationship with a skilled, compassionate and trustworthy depth psychotherapist. As Jung said, that which remains in our unconscious, we will experience as fate, because we will have no control over it. Yet the intense feelings that we can experience and own as ours can be fundamental to living our lives with creativity and freedom.

Wishing you every good thing on your individual 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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Disgusted by People During COVID-19? It’s a Common Feeling!

November 2nd, 2020 · disgusted by people

If we’re going to honestly look at all the “Emotions of the Pandemic“, one emotion that many experience is being disgusted by people!

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Being disgusted by people is a more frequent emotion during this unusual 2020 period than most of us would care to admit. Given the amount of pressure people in general are under, and the abnormal circumstances, it is actually fairly easy for the emotion of disgust to get triggered, sometimes when we’re not expecting it at all.

As I write this, I’m thinking of numerous experiences that friends, relatives and clients have related that involve the element of disgust. One person I know was sitting in a coffee shop, where masks and social distancing were supposedly being practiced, when a group of 10-15 unmasked people came in and sat right next to her, talking and laughing. Another person is a student from a family that takes social distancing very seriously, who finds that no one in his school classes views COVID-19 precautions as important. On the other hand, I’m aware of people who are disgusted because various professionals will not offer badly needed face-to-face services, due to the need to maintain COVID protocols.

In bringing up these various examples, I’m not trying to suggest who, if anyone, is in the wrong, or in the right. I’m seeking merely to point out how common this kind of reaction is under our current conditions. I know very few people who are happy to be feeling these kinds of things, and yet a great many of us are dealing with such reactions.

How Do We Get Disgusted by People?

There are a couple of different ways in which we can end up disgusted by people. Both of these major variants are affecting us here in the midst of our current situation.

First, as Prof. Val Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and colleagues have shown, the emotion of disgust is a device evolution has developed to help us avoid contact with potential disease and maintain hygiene. In primitive times our reactions of disgust served the evolutionary purpose of keeping us from consuming food and water and being near other sources of disease and parasites. They maintain that function today.

The second source of disgust probably grew out of the first in our development as a species and that is moral disgust. University of Texas Prof. Art Markman has summarized research that shows a strong linkage between feelings of disgust and moral outrage. If we find something particularly morally wrong, we will often find that we also have a sense of disgust, that is not all that different in character from the disease-avoiding type of disgust. We will often hear people use language that connects the two, e.g., “You make me sick!” or, “What a scumbag!”

So, these are two powerful sources of the emotion of being disgusted by people. I would suggest that they are both powerfully at play in our current situation. In a time when we are deeply concerned with disease, and with ensuring that everyone “does their bit to keep us all safe”, it’s easy to see how our sense of disgust can easily be activated towards others.

Hiding Our Reactions

We don’t always find it easy to acknowledge that we are disgusted by the behaviour of others. Lots of times, we may find it easier and less disturbing to hide our reactions of disgust, even from ourselves. We may start to feel moral revulsion, or the feeling that others are doing things that are unclean or unsanitary, and to suppress those feelings. Yet, if we don’t acknowledge such feelings, we may find that we start to experience more anxiety or depression in our lives. Or, they may accumulate and come out of us in the form of very powerful anger, or even rage. The media show us extreme examples of this, where actions such as wearing a mask, or refusing to wear a mask have led to hostile or even violent reactions.

It’s important to acknowledge our feelings of being disgusted by others—to ourselves at the very least. It’s important on the very fundamental level of just being honest with ourselves about how we feel. But, also, from a Jungian perspective, it’s important to acknowledge that, when are disgusted by people, or morally repelled by them, we may be projecting on the other aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge, that are part of our shadow, in Jungian terms. For instance, we may feel strong feelings of moral disgust towards the individual who doesn’t wear a mask, or refuses to wear it properly. Yet, could it be that, deep down inside us, there’s a rebel part of us that actually envies the mask denier his or her freedom?

Finding Healing in Our Disgust

If we’re in touch with feeling disgusted, the plain fact is that we probably wish that we were feeling something else. Yet that doesn’t mean that even our disgust has no gifts to give us. If we can tolerate it, and explore it, we may well find that it leads us to a deeper level of self-understanding, of acceptance of our own weaknesses, and of compassion for ourselves and others.

Often, exploring the ways in which we’re disgusted by people in a supportive relationship with a depth psychotherapist can bring a sense of healing, and an awareness of ourselves at a greater level of 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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