Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Finding Gratitude and Trust in Life

October 25th, 2021 · trust in life

To some, a title like “Gratitude and Trust in Life” might seem incredibly shallow. They might feel that an approach to life that involves “gratitude” isn’t really compatible with depth psychotherapy.

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“Oh, come on!” we might imagine such people saying, “as a Jungian depth psychotherapist, you should be in touch with the full range of human experience, not split off and focusing on ‘gratitude’! Human life involves so many ups and downs! Isn’t an approach that emphasizes gratitude or trust in life naive?”

It might seem so, yet trust in life is absolutely vital. Of course, it is important not to be gullible or naive. I’m sure each of us could relate cautionary tales of situations where well-meaning people have been too trusting, and have paid a terrible price. Quite possibly, we’ve had such experiences in our own lives; if so, it’s essential that we process them (and we might want to do that in therapy). But it’s also essential for our survival that we are able to act out of our trust in life.

The Essential Nature of Trust in Life

Always smile back at little children…To ignore them is to destroy their belief that the world is good.

~Website of the Buffalo Speech and Hearing Centre

I came across this remarkable quotation on a website of a speech and hearing clinic in Buffalo. Perhaps it seems unrelated. Yet, I think it’s essential to realize how crucial it is for us in our human development to get to the feeling and belief that the world is good and trustworthy. For psychosocial theorist Erik Erikson, the very first stage of the individual’s development is the stage of trust vs. mistrust. One of our first life challenges is to develop enough trust in the world to enable us to explore beyond our initial caregiver with a sense of trust. We need that trust to sustain us—even when we feel threatened.

We need to get to the place where we have enough experience of the goodness of life that we expect to find that goodness when we encounter new situations. Will we find that in absolutely every new experience that we have? Almost certainly not. But we need to have a belief that the situation will be “good enough”, in most cases that we’ll find it eventually. To have this faith is fundamental to doing the exploration that makes us fundamentally human.

Trust and Gratitude Can be Tough

Just because we get through this early stage of development doesn’t mean that we are done with the whole question of having trust in life. As researchers such as UNC psychiatry professor Stephen Porges have outlined, under threat our nervous system can easily lapse into emergency states. Sometimes situations can seem dangerous, and put our nervous system into the mode where we feel we have to either fight or escape: “fight or flight” mode. At even more intense levels, experiences may put us into immobilization, “shut down” states, or even collapse. Such experiences, however they come about, can be a grave threat to our sense of trust in life.

This matters because of what neuroscientists refer to as “negativity bias”. Our brains have a stronger tendency to remember and carry memories of bad things than good things! This tendency to remember the bad stuff more than the good stuff helped us to survive back to the early days of being human. It was more important to remember where we encountered the hungry sabre tooth tiger than where found the particularly nice berries. That’s because we can always find another berry patch, but one encounter with a sabre tooth tiger might be one too many.

That was then, and this is now, but our brains are still hard wired to cling onto the bad stuff. So, given the negativity bias, how do we find trust in life?

Genuine Gratitude and Its Connection to Trust

Thanks to our evolutionary past, each and every one of us is subject to the negativity bias. Each of us needs to counter it, by focusing our minds on the positive aspects of life, and of our lived experience. We need to be continually bringing ourselves back to the things in our experience that foster trust in life.

If we look at anthropology and early human history, it’s apparent that our human ancestors used specific means to overcome negativity bias, further their trust in life and reduce anxiety. Among other things, they did this through ritual and myth.

In their rituals, early humans gave thanks for the good things in their lives and expressed gratitude for the things that were most valuable to them. It may be invaluable for us to follow them in developing a sense of gratitude for all that is truly good in our lives, whether we give thanks to our particular sense of divinity, or to the universe or to life.

In suggesting this, I’m not suggesting a Pollyanna attitude. There are many things in any human life for which it is hard or impossible to give thanks. We have to acknowledge that, and, in many cases, we need to grieve these things. Yet, if we look, there are many things which do create a sense of gratitude, which perhaps we don’t always acknowledge. Sometimes, if we reflect on it, the “simple” experience of having the opportunity to be alive, to experience life, is awe-inspiring and numinous, to use Jung’s word.

Our ancient forebears also filled their lives with myth, with sacred stories, of the exploits of gods and heroes. They continually recounted these stories to themselves, especially at times of major life transition. In a similar way, we can benefit from recounting and participating in the stories of those who have gone before, and also celebrating the stories in our own lives, of our own capacity, resilience, strength and courage.

Working with a depth psychotherapist in a supportive relationship may be a key element in getting to gratitude, and in celebrating the gift of our unique and precious 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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Personal Myth: The Healing Power of Finding My Own Story

October 18th, 2021 · personal myth

Life can be very chaotic at times. It can be easy to get lost in the mass of details, and the idea of finding your “personal myth” can seem pretty pretentious.

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Yet it’s essential for each of us to connect to a story that runs through our whole lives, and gives a sense of meaning and coherence. Those stories may be very individual, and yet they all have important themes in common. From time immemorial, human beings have always told stories, and there are very good reasons for that. The chief way in which we come to understand who we really are is through knowing our own deep story, or “personal myth”, as Jung called it.

When we go through those demanding events in life referred to as major life transitions, this is particularly true. In those times we may be pressed to really reach for a deeper understanding of our own identity. That almost inevitably leads us back to our own story, and to striving for a deeper and more complete understanding of it.

Going on a Journey: Our Deep Need for Story

In recent years, neuroscience and neurolinguistics have re-taught us something that we really already knew. The wisest of humans have everywhere always known that humans organize the world in terms of story. As Anthony Sandford and Catherine Emmott illustrate in Mind Brain and Narrative, neurolinguists have shown that narrative is fundamental to the way that humans as a species make sense of the world. We are hard wired to see life as a narrative journey. The authors also make very clear just how skilled we are as a species in telling a huge range of different types of stories.

It’s striking how this accords with what we have been taught by the indigenous peoples of the world. For them, storytelling is a rich source of treasure. As the late Richard Wagamese, Anishinaabe (Ojibway) author and one of Canada’s best storytellers put it,

It begins, as all things do, with stories. When our ancestors gathered around tribal fires, stories were told. As a human family we have this tradition in common…. There is a particular magic that exists when the world is reduced to a flame and the sound of a human voice talking. We all respond to that setting like children, rapt with wonder and entranced by the possibility of story.

Richard Wagamese, ONE DRUM

“[R]apt with wonder and entranced by the possibility of story”; and to some degree, each and every entrancing story that we hear is about ourselves. And no story is more powerful or important to us than is our own.

Personal Myth Connects Personal and Archetypal

So, what is the story that we currently tell ourselves about our lives? How does it relate to the broader and more healing story that Jung referred to as “personal myth”? In the course of our lives, we take in many stories about our lives and our identity. Some of them connect us to who we authentically are. Some of them effectively act as distorting mirrors, giving us a twisted image of our own identity. To complicate things, sometimes the stories that are most distorted are told to us by those who are closest to us.

Sorting through the messages and stories that we have been given about our lives to get to the stories that are true and life-giving takes energy and time. It may well require us to cast off a lot of things and stories that others have laid on us, and that we have laid on ourselves. We often do these things without conscious awareness. Getting to our own personal myth often involves accepting parts of our own story that we might find difficult. We might have to face feelings of shame, loneliness, fear, or pain. We might also have to come to terms with both our own ordinariness and our own uniqueness.

But here is a paradox: by coming to terms with our own lives and our ordinariness, we also come into connection with something else. We come into contact with what Jungians call archetypal reality. In our actual day-to-day prosaic living, we share in the great eternal themes and images that we all share, that make us human.

Personal Myth Connects Us to Everything Human

As we find and celebrate our own unique human story, we share in the great story of all humans everywhere, and of the cosmos. Each of our stories are part of a broader human story. We all share and participate in those great shared human themes that Jungians call archetypes. We need that shared connection with everything human, and with the universe as a whole.

Getting in touch with, accepting and being kind to ourselves about our own ordinary lives and the struggles and sufferings of our common humanity is a form of healing that we deeply need in our time. At the same time, we need to appreciate our own uniqueness, and the way it forms part of the quilt or weave of the entire human story.

What is your own unique story? What is the real truth of your life? What is the voice or “language” that the part of you that is in connection with your own real life wants to speak with?

To help tell, understand and live forward your own story, working in a trustworthy, supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be tremendously helpful.

Wishing each of you every good thing on your unique 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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That Vague Feeling That Something is Missing

October 4th, 2021 · something is missing

You might be surprised, but I hear versions of the phrase “something is missing” from a good number of people who come for therapy.

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It seems that quite a few people have the sense that somehow, in some way, something is missing from their lives. In many cases, they might not be able to tell you exactly what it is—but nonetheless they have a very strong sense that it is missing.

Often, people who feel this way may be individuals who seem to have quite a lot of positive things in their lives. They might tell you about a career that they find rewarding and valuable, about their family life which brings them many good things, and an overall feeling that their life is going in the right direction, or at least that they feel that they should feel like things are going in a good direction. Nonetheless, these individuals struggle with the feeling that something that should be present in their lives is not.

The Search for Life and Meaning

These people are often at or near the midpoint of life, or in its second half. They often are people who have challenged themselves and worked very hard in the first part of adulthood. Often, they are highly invested in career and may gain much of their identity from what they do for a living. They may carry a strong sense of social expectation and of the image that they feel they must project to the rest of the world. Yet they are haunted by a persistent sense of yearning, often for something that they find is hard to put into words.

This sense that something is missing may gnaw at a person for a long time before she or he is even able to recognize that it’s there. Often these individuals have their attention focused on clear goals or objectives related to work, financial well-being or family concerns. Sometimes it is only when there is some kind of career setback, illness, loss of a loved one, or some similar life changing event that the individual stops and looks around at her or his life. Major life transitions often sensitize us to the question of what we really want from life.

Easy to Ignore What We Need

Even when we do feel the prompting that something is missing, we can easily push it away. We might be too busy to pay attention to our yearnings, it’s true. It can also be that we might feel that this sense of “something missing” is basically frivolous or a weakness or something that doesn’t deserve our attention. After all, part of us may say, we are adults with plenty of responsibilities! Yet if we just ignore this sense of prompting or yearning, we may start to find our lives tending to become duller and grayer, and may end up with the sense that we’re just going through the motions..

How do we begin to uncover what we’re looking for? Well, it might seem easier said than done, but we may need to take time to uncover what it is that we really want at this point in our lives. One way in which we might do that is to exercise our capacity for play. As Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play asserts, play is something that we do for its own sake, that opens us up to “improvisational possibility”. It’s a state in which we become less self-conscious, and where things can just emerge. It allows spontaneity, creativity and serendipity. In our culture, where we are highly programmed even in our leisure activities, this may be a key to something that we vitally need.

Our Real Desires

C.G. Jung reached a point in his life journey when he was seeking a way forward, when this became central. He reached a point of impasse, at which all he was able to do was play in a seemingly childish manner. Yet, out of that willingness to play came a great renewal in his life. As Jung puts it,

Without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable.

Uncovering what we really want in life may lead us to explore creative avenues in our lives that we may never have been down before. Play and our dreams may open up new doors in our lives, if we can be open to these surprising, and sometimes seemingly “non-adult” channels to discovering that in our lives which we feel or intuit as “something is missing.”

Jungian depth psychotherapy in a trustworthy, secure relationship may assist us both in getting in touch with our spontaneous, playful and creative dimensions. As well, it gives us the opportunity to look at our lives as a whole, and to get a much clearer sense of who we are, and our own journey towards wholeness. It may well be worth exploring when an individual faces that poignant feeling that “something is missing”.

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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