Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Where Do We Find Psychological Resilience in Tough Times?

February 22nd, 2021 · psychological resilience

“Psychological resilience during tough times” may seem like a pat slogan in the midst of our current difficulties. Yet it refers to something incredibly important.

Photo by sabrina c on (Creative Commons Licence)

Psychological resilience is important in any phase of life. However in a moment like the present, where there are particular difficulties and things we have to endure as a result of the lockdown, this is especially true.

Nearly everyone is experiencing some difficulty and hardship as a result of the fallout from COVID-19. However, it’s certainly true that some people are faring better with what they’re facing than others. This can be due to factors that the individual can’t control, such as genetics, the experiences that the individual had in early life, and just plain luck. But are there many factors that the individual can control, that will help her or him to come through demanding experiences in better shape?.

Things That Make a Difference

If we never have any adversity in our lives, we’ll never know whether we’re resilient or not. However, if we do face real difficulty, we face the question of how it will affect us, and how we’ll cope with it.

It turns out that there are quite a number of things that we can do that would help us get to a more resilient place. There are, as stated above, a large number of factors that come down to genetics or luck. Yet there are other elements that have to do with fundamental attitudes that we take towards our lives and the things that happen to us. The research of developmental psychologist UCLA Davis Prof. Emmy Werner and others shows that contrary to what we might expect, a significant number of people who are subject to high risk / high stress environments, actually don’t succumb to their difficulties.

The reason that they have psychological resilience has to do with how they respond to their environment. In Werner’s words, these individuals choose to “meet the world on their own terms.” They function in an autonomous manner, able to think for themselves and to be self-reliant. Yet they remain positively disposed toward others. They also remain open to new experiences, and seek them out. Perhaps most importantly, though, these individuals retain what Prof. Julian Rotter called an “internal locus of control”: a fundamental belief that it is themselves and not their outer circumstances, that ultimately determines how things turn out in their lives.

Meaning, Hope and Resilience

This fits well with a famous saying of C.G. Jung’s:

I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.

C.G. Jung

This axiom of Jungian psychotherapy is very important for our particular time. As our society struggles to come to terms with the pandemic, it can very easily feel that our “locus of control” has shifted from somewhere inside of ourselves to somewhere outside—to medical experts, to politicians, even to the disease itself. We can end up feeling like our fate is completely in the hands of external forces that may seem largely indifferent to our real needs and aspirations.

At this time, and at every time, it’s very important to feel that that we have control in the way our lives turn out. We need a strong sense that difficult or traumatic events or experiences of setback and failure don’t overcome us and suck away our life energy. How do we stay in a place of feeling in control of our lives?

How Can I Get to a More Resilient Place?

There are some very specific things that we can do that will help us to feel more in control. To begin with, here is a list of fairly straightforward “doable” things:

  • getting outside of the house more;
  • increasing your level of physical exercise;
  • connect more with family, friends and loved ones;
  • get more good quality sleep and improve your sleep hygiene (e.g., cut caffeine, cut evening use of bright screens); and,
  • limit your intake of news to manageable amounts.

In addition, for many people, staying more connected to their particular spirituality may be of real value. This could be through organized religion, spiritual reading, or practices such as yoga, meditation and active imagination—if those practices leave you with a sense of security and positive connection to something greater.

In addition, working with a depth psychotherapist can assist with alleviating depression, anxiety, and the pain of difficult experiences, trauma or attachment wounding that may originate from experiences in early childhood. It can also help with exploring what is trying to emerge at this time in your life, especially if you are going through a major life transition. It’s well worth considering as we continue to confront the emotional and psychological impact of the pandemic, but it really has value at many different points in the journey towards wholeness.

Wishing you all the very best on your 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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Genuine Connection and True Value in Life

February 8th, 2021 · value in life

Our recent experiences have given many people the opportunity to focus on the question of what has true value in life. The answer to that question may be tied very closely to the issue of genuine connection.

Photo by Frédérique Voisin-Demery on (Creative Commons Licence)

By ‘genuine connection”, I mean something that is fairly broad, and that involves a lot of fairly different types of connection. Yet what they all have in common is that they all involve reaching out beyond ourselves, or, at least, beyond the self that we so often may think of as being “me”.

We humans often have a very limited concept of what has value. We often think that what we value is based on our individual decision, or on the particular whims of the society in which we happen to find ourselves. Yet the truth runs much deeper than this.

A Crisis: Value in Life and Connection

We live in a time that celebrates individualism, which is not the same thing as cherishing individuation. There is all the difference in the world between an individualistic approach, which entails me pursuing my own advantage, regardless of the impact on others, and an individuation-based approach, which is focused on my exploration of myself and my unique characteristics in relation to others in my circle and in the world.

In our culture, we’re used to focusing on the needs and wants of the ego. As Jungian Andrew Samuels tells us, the ego is the conscious part of ourselves. It’s concerned with our individual personal identity as we usually define it, with maintaining ourselves over time, testing and sorting what is real from what is not, and so on. The ego has a certain understanding of who we are that is probably partly accurate and partly not. The ego may be strongly influenced by attitudes from our families, our schools, workplaces, media and the society as a whole.

That last point can be where we run into trouble, that may be related to great deal of depression and anxiety. We live in a society where untold billions of dollars are spent to try and influence our attitudes about what we want, and particularly where we should spend our money. This leads to an environment where what we want can be very strongly influenced by the marketplace, and there can be a subtle but strong pressure on us to want what everybody else wants. In the midst of this pressure, it can be easy to lose connection with our real desires at the deepest level, and, in fact, to lose contact with who and what we most fundamentally are.

I’m continually struck by the experiences of numbers of clients, particularly in midlife. These individuals tell me that they look back on certain choices that they have made in their lives, perhaps to go into a certain career, or perhaps to buy or not buy a house, or to embark on having a family, or to decide not to have a family, and they simply cannot understand the choice they made at that earlier point in their lives. “What was I thinking?” they ask me, “Who was I trying to please? It’s like I was in a daze or a trance….”

This kind of situation can occur when the ego is making decisions based on what it thinks its values are, at a particular point in the life journey. The lyrics of a song from the 1980s put it so well:

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack / And you may find yourself in another part of the world / And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile / And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife / And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?” (Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”)

We need connection to our true values, to the things that stay meaningful because they are fundamentally connected to who we most basically are.

Ego’s Delusion of Self-Sufficiency

In a somewhat similar way, in our culture, the ego can be lured by a false sense of self-sufficiency. Our culture holds out the ideal of the individual in such a way that it can certainly seem like what is valued is people who don’t really need anyone, who do everything independently and who are never really open or vulnerable.

While, in the past, it was males who were primarily subject to a pressure to adopt this kind of individualism, we see that in more recent times that women are now subject to the same pressures. Not so very many years ago, it used to be men in corporate workplaces who were subject to the pressure to put in long hours at the office, sacrificing time with children, partners and those they care about. Now, many women are subject to exactly the same demands. In fact, social distancing and working from home has been a wake up call to many people, as they become aware of just how much time at the office had come to dominate their waking lives.

In our culture, not only does the ego tend to rely on its values, rather than something more deeply rooted in the Self, but there is a tendency for the ego to lapse into an isolated self-sufficiency that actually diminishes the person. Given the values of our culture, we can easily fall into the expectation that disconnectedness, loneliness and isolation are the norm.

True Value in Life and Nourishing Connection

If you want to get connected to what you truly value in life, you have to dig a bit, reaching down into yourself, to connect with unexplored aspects of yourself, seeking to understand what for you has real value in life. This process could well involve looking at the values in the family you were raised in, as well as the values reflected in the ways in which you live. It will probably also entail looking at where you live, and how you spend your money, and on what you spend your time. It will almost certainly involve connecting with some deep parts of yourself in a new way.

Oddly enough, this process bears some real similarity with the process of opening up and being vulnerable to other people. Both types of connection involve opening yourself up for possibilities of connection not previously encountered, and a kind of flexibility and vulnerability. Jungian depth psychotherapists often emphasize that meeting previously unknown parts of ourselves can resemble meeting someone new—except that they’re parts of us, what Jung called “the undiscovered Self”.

Connecting with the undiscovered parts of ourselves, and finding our most fundamental values is all part of the journey towards wholeness, as is finding meaningful and authentic connection to others. The process of connecting with true value in life can be greatly enhanced through working with a Jungian depth psychotherapist.

With very best wishes for all your future journeys,

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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Power and Identity: Male Psychology During the Pandemic

February 1st, 2021 · male psychology

In the 2020s, male psychology was already facing many challenges. Then along came the pandemic, and brought home a lot of issues even more forcefully.

Photo: some rights reserved by Nicolás Boullosa on 
(Creative Commons Licence)

For quite a long time now, men have been dealing with the realities of a changing world. There was a time in our society when “the man’s role” was clearly defined by social consensus, and everyone understood what that role was. In more recent times, things have been less clear, and it has been harder for men to feel good about their identity as men.

A lot of men have a very strong investment in their role as providers, and a lot of men also place a very high premium on independence. This valuing of independence is no accident. Men in our culture are taught from a very early age that they’re supposed to be independent, and they’re supposed to solve their own problems. In addition, there’s evidence that men are taught to expect judgment and even hostility from other men if they indicate any inability to cope, or any need for support

Clearly, a lot of men are doing fine in our world. However, as Prof. Matt Englar-Carlson, Director for the Center for Boys and Men at Cal State, Fullerton puts it, summarizing his research, “There’s a lot of men out there who suffer, who go through a lot of difficulty and aren’t getting the support they need.”

The Pandemic and Male Psychology

The reality that “there are a lot of men out there” who need more support than they’re getting is brought home even more strongly by the pandemic, and all that it has meant for many men’s lives. The “traditional rules” for men in our culture include physical and emotional strength and toughness, not displaying emotions and taking care of things by yourself. When men are also confronted by the realities of the pandemic and the related issues we’re all facing, it creates a situation for many men that is extremely demanding.

Strength and independence are great things. There are situations in everyone’s life where the ability to to step up, take hold of an issue and deal with it on your own in a self-sufficient way is an extremely useful skill to have. However, there are also situations in which being unable to show your feelings, or to reach out for help can be very damaging. Quite a number of these situations, where there would be a great benefit in men being able to reach out for help, are occurring during this pandemic.

One of the big areas where we see is situations of job loss, or where individual’s jobs have gone from full to part-time, and other related changes. For many men at different life stages, this can be a great ordeal. Where an individual has seen himself as economically independent, and/or as someone who played a major role in meeting the economic needs of his family, such a sudden career change can have an enormous effect on a man.

Something else that can be extremely difficult is being more or less confined to home. Even if he is working full-time, it can be very trying for a man to see himself confined to a space in his home, quite possibly sharing it with others, and communicating with the external world via Zoom or email. If a man has valued the part of his life that enabled him to leave home, engage with the world, and then return, confinement can feel like he’s lost his place in the world, and even his male identity.

A man may also find himself dealing with anxiety or depression—not an uncommon experience in the middle of this pandemic. If a man has learnt that being independent—“being a man”—means that he can’t ask for help for his depression, then this can lead to very severe consequences.

Male Psychology: Towards a New Understanding

The pandemic may be creating many difficulties. However, one opportunity that may be indirectly emerging from it for many men is the opportunity to change their understanding of what it is to be male.

It may well no longer be possible for a man to respond to the present situation, and the personal difficulties that it is creating by doubling down on the “old school” approach to masculine identity. It may also not be possible for a man to remain emotionally contained, and self-sufficient, or even withdrawn as he confronts the challenges of the present. He may not be able to sustain living in denial about feelings of sorrow, grief, fear and other complex emotions. He may engage in a great deal of self-reproach and self-attack, because he cannot be the totally independent, self-sufficient, emotionally unaffected “lone ranger” figure of his ideal. He may well start to realize that such approach could have grave, even tragic consequences.

A Different Approach to Masculinity

If those things are true for a man, what’s the alternative? It may well be facing the feelings that have been pushed down into the unconscious, and possibly even experienced as illness or bodily pain. It may be recognizing deep needs for connection and support from others—both men and women—as he confronts the unique challenges of this time, and the major life transition that is embodied in them. It may be the time in a man’s journey toward wholeness when he confronts the shadow aspects of the Self—those parts of himself that he doesn’t wish to acknowledge. In doing so, he may come to a greater level of compassion and acceptance for himself, and a greater capacity for connection and intimacy with others.

Jungian depth psychotherapy can be an excellent way for a man to support his journey of self-exploration and self acceptance. A Jungian approach fosters the acceptance of all that we are, conscious and unconscious, and enables a man to find his own particular wisdom, and his own way of accepting and cultivating all that he is.

With 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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