Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Ancestral Wounds: Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma

August 23rd, 2021 · intergenerational transmission of trauma

In recent times we’ve become more aware of intergenerational transmission of trauma, and of how traumatic wounding gets passed from generation to generation.

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What exactly do we mean by intergenerational transmission of trauma? Well, for a long time, we’ve know that the psychological wounding of parents can be passed on to their children. In fact, some of the most important early documentation of this was in the work of Sigmund Freud, the famous Viennese psychoanalyst, who often showed the linkages between the coping issues of parents and children in his writings.

Yet, it’s only in much more recent times that we’ve started to understand the ways in which trauma can be transmitted from generation to generation. One of the most studied groups in this respect are the families and descendants of holocaust survivors. Quite a number of studies have shown that otherwise healthy children of parents who survived the holocaust are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder if a traumatic event occurs in their lives. There seems to be strong evidence that there is a similar effect with grandchildren of holocaust survivors. There also seems to be evidence of an increased predisposition to anxiety and depression in these groups.

Now there is also strong support in the research for similar effects among other groups. The research of Hofstra University Prof. Robert Motta and colleagues suggests strongly that the children of war veterans carry elements of trauma transmitted by a veteran parent and other studies have shown the same. It seems to be that whenever a parent carries trauma, there is a good chance that the children and even the grandchildren will be affected by it.

How Do I Know if I’m Suffering from Intergenerational Trauma?

How would you know whether you’re subject to intergenerational trauma? The first question to ask would be whether you are the child or grandchild of parents who suffer from PTSD, or who have been subject to serious traumatic experiences. This might be something like the Holocaust, being a forced migrant or a refugee, or experiencing a war which would represent trauma connected to a large historical event. On the other hand, a parent who has been subject to trauma such as physical or emotional abuse that has come down through the generations may also transmit that trauma to a child.

Please be aware that the fact that a parent who has been subject to trauma transmits that trauma to his or her child does not mean that the parent can’t also transmit good things. The parent may have many wonderful attributes from which the child benefits, while still also transmitting trauma.

How Can I Get on a Healing Path?

One of the biggest steps to moving toward the healing of intergenerational transmission of trauma is recognizing that a parent’s trauma has impacted your view of the world, and your responses to the world. Often someone who has been subject to intergenerationally transmitted trauma is strongly motivated to make the world safe and predictable, and the individual may notice that tendency showing up in her life in many different ways, such as obsessive-compulsive tendencies, or perfectionist tendencies that are aimed at having things turn out with perfect results. The child of a parent who has suffered trauma may have found that the parent has trouble with regulating their emotions and with soothing themselves into a calm state. This may mean that the child faces similar challenges in regulating their emotions and finding calm. If you experience any of these tendencies it’s important to ask yourself if any of this can have come about as the result of a parent’s trauma.

Intergenerational Transmission of Resilience?

Although the concept of intergenerational transmission of trauma is fairly new, C.G. Jung anticipated some of its key aspects in his writings. At one point in his writings, Jung states,

The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents.

In the context of intergenerational trauma, the “unlived life of the parents” is represented by the ways in which the parent’s trauma has gone untreated, and has often dominated the family life of the individual. Depth psychotherapists are aware that, among other things, we inherit our family’s story and perspective about the nature of life. Families that have unresolved trauma, depression or anxiety can easily pass harmful coping strategies and views of life rooted in fear and mistrust onto future generations.

While trauma can be transmitted down the generations, so can the capacity for resilience and for overcoming and resolving trauma. From this perspective, one of the best things and most hopeful things you can do for your kids and for future generations is to work on yourself. Not only does it help you: the intergenerational transmission of resilience to those who follow after us provides a strong sense of empowerment and that can be an important part of our journey towards wholeness.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Finding Your Passion in Life

August 16th, 2021 · finding your passion in life

“Finding your passion in life” sounds like a slogan from a TV ad for new cars! Yet the phrase actually points us in important and life-giving directions.

Vacations are great, but we need a daily life that makes us say “Yes!” (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Yet, we have to be careful about what we mean by “finding your passion in life”. If we think that “our passion” is out there, lurking behind some bush or cloud, waiting to strike us like a bolt of lightening, we’re probably waiting for something that is never going to occur. Researchers like Professors Paul O’Keefe of Yale and Carol Dweck and Greg Walton of Stanford have shown that “passions are not found full-formed… It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion…”

So, we find our passions in life by investing in them and developing them, and that’s a process to which we have to be open. Does that mean that our “passion in life’ can be absolutely anything, if we just work at it? Is that what we mean by “finding our passion in life”?

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

We have to be careful, here. Someone I know has what must be one of the largest collections of buttons taken from various clothing items that is owned by a private individual anywhere. I find it very inspiring and commendable that she has followed her interest in this way, and that she has learnt and experienced everything that there is to know about buttons in this wonderful way. I find it interesting to talk to her about buttons; she has some wonderful and surprising anecdotes about their history. But do I think that, even if I worked at it for years and years, the subject of buttons could become my passion in life? No, I don’t!

The Call of Life

In a way that was unusual for a psychologist of his time and place, Jung in his writings very often emphasizes the idea of vocation, or call. He acknowledges that this can be a religious idea, that God calls us to do or be something, but he also emphasizes that there is another way of looking at it, in terms of what he would refer to as “the call of life” or “the law of our own being.” His idea is that each of us has our own true nature or identity, and that life has put us here to express or live that out, and that, in a sense, life “calls” us to this identity, and this living out of who we truly are.

Meaning

Jung didn’t think of “the law of our own being” as something that was going to strike a person like a thunder bolt, zapping you from being directionless to finding your passion in life in an instant. He saw it as a process, which involves uncovering things that have meaning for us over a long period—in many ways, as something that evolves over the whole course of our lives. While it might be a source of anxiety for some, Jung knew that this search for meaning, for what has true value, can genuinely be a long journey. We move into a deeper sense of value and fulfillment, as we do the work of learning more and more about ourselves, and who we really are. As we explore and live our lives, with all of their challenges and surprising turns, we are embarked on the road to finding our passion in life. The ability to find meaning and value in the whole fabric of a lived life—your or my particular unique life—is what Jung referred to as individuation.

Wholeness

This process of bringing together all the various strands and bits in my life, to gain a sense of what really motivates me and what really holds value in my life is what Jungian depth psychotherapists often refer to as the journey towards wholeness. Rather than being struck by a lightening bolt, it involves a gradual bringing together of the different elements in our lives—experiences, interests and values. Some of these may seem almost contradictory, but they are all parts of us. Here are some questions that can help in this process:

  • What do I love to do?
  • What are the causes that really matter to me, to which I would devote time, treasure or talent?
  • What do I feel is wrong with the world, that I would love to see made better?
  • Who are the people I really connect with? And, just as important, who are the people I really don’t connect with?
  • What are the parts of me that I have yet to explore?

Often, a supportive depth psychotherapist can help a great deal in exploring and finding your true passion in life. The process of journeying toward what really matters in life can be greatly aided by a therapeutic space in which a person can examine the whole of their lives.

With every good wish for the journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Making Life Changing Decisions

August 9th, 2021 · life changing decisions

Sooner or later, we all have to make life changing decisions. They might be decisions about a very wide range of things, but they all share one thing in common. They are decisions with the potential to change our experience of living.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Many potentially life changing decisions are about relationships, e.g. “Should I marry X? or “Should I get divorced?” Many are about career, e.g., “Should I study to be an engineer?” or “Should I stay in this job?” Some are about the stage of life we’re in, e.g., “What are my priorities now that I’m at mid-life?” or “Should we have children?” or “What do I want to do with my life, now that I’m retiring?” And there are many other kinds of potentially life changing decisions.

Often the need to make a potentially life changing decision or decisions can be a source of great anxiety. It may well be that it feels risky or insecure to make a life changing decision. This can often lead us to avoid or procrastinate, rather than looking at the situation in our lives squarely, and then deciding what to do. How can we face the decisions that we have to make, and really come to terms with them?

Knowing a Life Changing Decision When We See One

Sometimes, we have to go through quite a process before we accept that a decision of major importance has to be made. We may live with a situation for many years, and then find one day that it is confronting us in ways that we simply can’t afford to ignore.

How do we know when we’re confronting a life changing or “big” decision? In some ways, it’s fairly straightforward, as UTS Prof. Adrian Camilleri states:

A “big” decision is one in which you intentionally [make] a choice between two or more options knowing that the outcome would have a significant and often long-term impact for yourself or others.

On an intellectual, thinking level, this is fairly straightforward. What makes things difficult, though, is that life changing decisions often have a huge emotional charge on them. For this reason, it’s important to accept that making a big or life changing decision can be genuinely hard. If at all possible, we have to be kind to ourselves and give this kind of decision the time and attention that it deserves. We want to

Stuck and Unstuck

Often, we have to self-compassionately acknowledge that there is part of us that would rather not have to make a life changing decision! This can be about inertia, or emotional denial. It can also be about a part of ourselves that might like to not have to choose, and would prefer to keep all the options on the table—forever—having our cake and eating it, too.

This last attitude may be related to an important part of ourselves that Jungian psychotherapy is particularly aware of: the shadow. The shadow is essentially that in ourselves that we would simply prefer not to acknowledge. It has attitudes, and often wants things that the ego, the major conscious part of our personality, feels are completely unacceptable. To finally reach a real choice in a life changing decision might well require that we look at and acknowledge how the shadow part of ourselves really feels about it. Bringing that awareness into consciousness, admitting all that we really feel, may be a major piece of psychological work.

Choosing to Make a Decision

Sometimes, it can be hard to face our need to make a decision. We can procrastinate and distract ourselves, which may feel better in the short run. But it doesn’t really help us in the longer run if there is a decision that has to be made, for our well-being, or the well-being of those near to us. Also, in lots of situations, as Paul Tillich stated, “not to decide is to decide”—if we don’t consciously make a decision, it often amounts to stumbling into one fateful course or another. It’s often much better to embrace the need to make a decision.

Often, psychotherapy can be of a great deal of help when we have to make life changing decisions, and Jungian depth psychotherapy can be particularly helpful in supporting individuals through a decision-making process. It can be of great value to have a skilled and supportive psychotherapist / analyst who can assist us with extending compassion to ourselves as we grapple with our choices, and simultaneously assist us with staying honest and accountable to ourselves. The choices that we make in matters involving life changing decisions can form the backbone of our journey to wholeness.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional


© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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