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These Tough Times Show Us the Need for Roots

September 20th, 2021 · No Comments · the need for roots

When we human beings face situations that are chaotic, unpredictable and full of anxiety, we often become aware of “the need for roots”. On some intuitive level, there is the sense that “strong roots” keep us from being haphazardly blown around by the storms of life.

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Human roots are not the same as tree roots, naturally. Yet, there is a psychological power in the symbolic image of being rooted like a tree. A tree’s roots supply it with nutrients and keep it anchored in storms that would otherwise blow the tree around and catastrophically damage it. Is there an equivalent to tree roots that can provide solidity and support for people?…..

To see how desperately strong the need for roots is, we need look no further than examples of toxic religion and online cults. We have all heard the stories of the overwhelming hold that groups like NXIVM or QAnon have over their adherents. Individuals will sacrifice huge amounts of their personal property or treasure, their time, their privacy and autonomy and even their fundamental human dignity when cultic groups or their leaders demand.

What motivates individuals to give themselves in such an uncritical and wholesale way to serve cults? Simply put, it’s often the need to belong, to feel a sense of connection and rootedness in the world. Studies have shown that many adherents of QAnon are individuals who were previously deeply immersed in fundamentalist religious groups. They somehow have become alienated from those groups, yet are still motivated by powerful needs for connection and belonging. In its own demanding and exclusive way, this is exactly what a group like QAnon provides. Such groups are often full of tragic stories related to cynical manipulation of people’s need for solidity, connection and belonging.

Cults often perversely exploit the human need for roots. Where might we find a genuine and life-giving sense of rootedness? Well, there are quite a number of different kinds of possible “roots”.

The Roots of Personal Connection

Personal connection, by which we mean connection with people, is one very valuable way to meet the need for roots.

Connection with a loved one, or with family are common places where individuals experience at least some sense of rootedness. In fact, it’s the most common form of a sense of rootedness. This starts right with the infant’s connection with the mother. In fact, the child’s capacity for connection and relatedness is largely formed through the maternal bond.

Later in life, this bond with the mother has the potential to grow into our sense of connection and rootedness in the immediate and extended family. It also comes to include our sense of home, those with whom we enter into bonds of romantic love, and to family units that we create with them. It may also include extended family, and a sense of rootedness in a family extending back through generations, to a sense of belonging to a community and or a nation, and much, much more.

All of this may have a great deal of validity for us. Yet, we may find ourselves experiencing a need for rootedness that extends even beyond this. We may have a deep yearning for even more.

Rooted in the Body

It may seem surprising to put it this way, but we have an essential need to be rooted in our bodies! So often, because of our experiences in life, we may not be very aware of, or very connected to, our bodies at all. As a result, we may be living in a disconnected state, or even a state of what is known as derealization, where everything seems dreamlike, and almost as if it was happening to someone else, and we are just observers.

To live in a state of psychological rootedness and security, we have a deep need for awareness that our being in the world is rooted in the body in a solid way. As Jungian analyst Marion Woodman puts it, “Healing comes through embodiment of the soul.”

The Need for Roots in the Ground of Being

Often an individual will experience a need for roots that expresses itself through the sense of being rooted in a story that imparts meaning to their individual life. This may fall within the bounds of what we would traditionally call religion or spirituality. It might also be another form of explanation or story about human life that enables the individual to feel that the life that he or she is living has meaning or purpose. The need to feel that in some vital way, the life journey that we are on matters is fundamental to human living, as Viktor Frankl asserts. CG Jung described this kind of rootedness as “the need for a personal myth”.

In order to have a genuine, deep connection with this part of ourselves, Jung stressed that we need to be in touch with the unconscious parts of ourselves that are continually responding to our lived experience, and, in many situations actually influencing the way we perceive and live out our lives, often outside of our conscious awareness, and many times with dramatic effect. To be connected with this unconscious aspect of ourselves is another form of connection with a sense of rootedness.

Satisfying the Need for Roots

In difficult times like the present, when we are all dealing with a great amount of anxiety, uncertainty and insecurity, it’s essential that we find ways to firmly plant our lives in things that can satisfy our need for roots. We need to be connected to things that remain solid and sure in our lives when much is changing. Our yearning for roots is part of our yearning to be connected with who we fundamentally are, and with the connections and values that finally matter.

One powerful way to explore the connection to roots can be to do inner work in a trusting relationship with a depth psychotherapist. To search for and find what it is that genuinely makes me feel secure and connected within a safe and supportive therapeutic environment can bring a great deal of benefit, allowing us to choose and live out more of the life that we want.

Wishing you all the best on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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