Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Midlife and Beyond: Unfinished Business in Later Life

October 31st, 2022 · unfinished business in later life

It’s common for we humans to find that we have unfinished business in later life. We all carry different things that cry out for some kind of resolution.

What wants to take shape? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

“Unfinished business in later life”: this is one of the fundamental things we experience through the midlife transition and the whole second half of our lives. We can encounter this sense that there is a lack of completeness in different areas of our life in so many different ways! It may have to do with where things stand in our most important relationships. Or perhaps there are aspirations that we want to fulfill in our lives that we haven’t yet been able to realize. Then again, we may have unresolved situations from our past where we have never honestly looked at our true feelings or haven’t really been honest with ourselves about our role, or how these situations affected or changed us—or how we may have run away from them.

In this article, I’m writing about psychological, spiritual or existential unfinished business. How do we know when we have this kind of unfinished business? Well, it’s clearest when we find our life energy tangled up in some unresolved issue. Do we find our affective energy, our regrets, fears, sadness or hopes and so on, caught up in some situation from the past? And do we find that we either keeping returning to it, or keep running away from it? If so, then it’s likely that we have some unfinished business from the past.

In exploring unfinished business in later life, it may be very worthwhile to think in particular about those things we really regret, and those things for which we deeply yearn. These can often be the things that carry a great deal of energy for us.

Tripping Over Our Unfinished Business in Later Life

We have unfinished business throughout our lives. We can find ourselves suddenly caught up in it, and revisiting it almost anytime. Yet as we move through the center of our lives, and into the second half, we can find that encounters with unfinished business become more energized, and more demanding. While unfinished business can catch us off guard at any time, we seem to be particularly vulnerable as we go through the major life transitions at midlife, and at the later life transition, as we become elders.

As we travel through these great passages in life, we may be visited by regret. To have regret is to experience sadness or disappointment over something that has been done, “especially a loss of missed opportunity”, according to the OED. For instance, we may find that we have made a choice to pursue a certain career path, and we may now wish that we had chosen another option. The most intense regret may be associated with the sense that a particular choice, once made, can’t be undone, and that we have been living with the consequences of that choice ever since. Perhaps we realize we have been living with it for a great deal of our lives.

Yearning and Unfinished Business

In a similar manner, we may encounter deep experiences of yearning, or intense longing. These are another manifestation of unfinished business in later life. We may become aware of deeply, earnestly wanting something to be in our lives, and perhaps it’s hard to see how that thing will ever be attained or obtained. It may be yearning for a person or a type of love. It may be associated with grief over the loss of someone dear in our lives. Or it may be a yearning to find ourselves in some different situation in our lives than where we actually find ourselves.

Unfinished business in later life can appear in many other forms, too. Many of these may have to do with our relationships, past or present, and the ways that fall-out from those relationships continues to affect our lives.

Living in Denial

Superficially, it may seem easier to avoid and deny the unfinished business in our lives. Consciously, or unconsciously, we may decide to try to go on living as if it wasn’t there, and focus on the present and the future. Yet the thing about our unfinished business is that it isn’t just something in our conscious mind; it’s in our unconscious mind as well. As a result it may be persist despite our best efforts to focus on our positive and future-oriented projects.

As we move into the second half of life, we may well find ourselves engaged in the process of life review. This is the natural and normal process of trying to make sense of, and make a coherent story out of our life journey, as we move closer to its later stages. We may well find that our unfinished business gets uncovered and becomes unavoidable as we try to make sense of our lives. Our unfinished business may be demanding that we address it, and make our peace with it.

Beyond Unfinished Business in Later Life

The good news is that it’s possible to address our unfinished business on both the conscious and unconscious levels of our psyche. We can create a sense of relief, and freedom from unfinished business, and, as Viktor Frankl tells us uncover a sense of meaning and connection with what has deepest value in our lives. To do so may mean that we have to turn and face the parts of ourselves that we would rather not acknowledge, which is what C.G. Jung referred to as the shadow. We also may well need to uncover what it is that we most deeply desire, and what it is that is drawing us more fully into our authentic lives, and this may well take us into the realm of what Jung called anima and animus.

This process of addressing the unfinished business in later life may take us into our past, to relationships and situations from long ago in our earlier lives. It will likely also take us into our unconscious mind, as we explore ways to come to terms with our “unlived life“, and to make meaning from it for ourselves in the present, right here and now.

As we go on this journey of healing and discovery, it may be of tremendous assistance to have a supportive Jungian analyst or depth psychotherapist who can help us to uncover what is going on for us on both the conscious and the unconscious levels, as we address our unfinished business.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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Who are you really? Identity, Vocation and Wholeness

October 24th, 2022 · who are you really

“Who are you really?” is one of those cut-through-the-bumpf type of questions. If you ask it seriously of yourself, it can take you on quite a journey.

Really. (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

“Who are you really?” One of the remarkable things about this question is that it packs a wallop no matter where you are in your life. Whether you’re a young adult or a senior, stable or in transition, male or female—it doesn’t matter. The question is always a powerful one if we ask it of ourselves sincerely. Getting as close as possible to the heart of who you really are is always relevant.

One of the things that happens in human life is that people can lose sight of who they are, or realize that they’ve never really come to terms with who they are. One of the characteristics of being human is that people often face expectations that they will perform a certain role, or show up in social situations in a certain way. The expectations of others can come to us in the context of relationships, family expectations, or the expectations of broader social groups or the society as a whole. These expectations may line up with who a person is, and what they actually want, or they may have nothing to do with a person’s real identity.

Identity

“Now, wait a minute,” you may be thinking, “just what exactly is this ‘real identity” that you’re speaking about? How can we even be sure that we have some kind of ‘real identity’? Isn’t the identity that we have created by our social interactions?

There’s truth in this. It’s essential to acknowledge that human beings are fundamentally social beings, and that the social influence of others has a huge impact on who we are as people. Any honest and complete picture of human life has to acknowledge the power and pervasiveness of the social dimension of our reality.

And yet, we also need to acknowledge our fundamental uniqueness. I intuit that there is something about my life that is different than all the others. I’m not special, but I am unique. On some very fundamental level, I am me, and that is different from all others. As C.G. Jung tells us,

Personality is the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncracy of a living being. It is an act of high courage flung in the face of life, the absolute affirmation of all that constitutes the individual, the most successful adaptation to the universal conditions of existence coupled with the greatest possible freedom for self-determination.

At least in seed form, that “innate idiosyncracy” is in us. At times of major life transition, the need to explore that fundamental identity often assumes a great deal of importance.

Vocation

Nowadays, if you hear the word “vocation”, it’s most likely in the context of career. When we use words like “vocation” or “calling” today, we’re probably talking about what’s involved in becoming an accountant, pursuing a career in police services, or starting a physiotherapy business. And yet, there is a more fundamental possible meaning to the term.

It’s possible to think of vocation in terms of hearing the call of your own most fundamental being and nature. This has implications for “career”, certainly, but at a deeper level it is about accepting, being and expressing the unique reality of who you are. Oscar Wilde once famously advised,

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken

We might also say, “Be yourself. There’s a place at the table with your name on it, and no being in the entirety of eternity—other than you—will ever be able to take it.”

Wholeness

How do you start to answer the question, “Who are you really?” There are no instant solutions; it’s a process, and to a certain extent, the answer is always evolving. But that doesn’t mean that exploring this question isn’t worthwhile..

There is value in trying to connect with what is most basically you. Exploring the experiences that make you feel most alive, examining what it was that was most enlivening and engaging when you were young, exploring the voice of your dreams can all be ways to begin to engage with “who are you really?” There are many more

Working with a supportive Jungian psychotherapist or analyst can be of great assistance in getting closer to our real identity. Integrating parts of the “undiscovered self” as Jung calls the aspects of our identity that are in the unconscious can be an essential part of our journey to wholeness. Having an ally and resource in answering the “who are you really?” question can make all the difference.

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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People Pleaser Personality Traits and the Call of the Self

October 17th, 2022 · people pleaser personality

People pleaser personality traits are pretty common in our world. Many of us strive to meet the needs of others at all costs, even when we hurt ourselves.

(PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

What exactly do we mean when we refer to a “people pleaser personality”? Well, we’re referring to people who keep the peace and avoid conflict at all costs—even when it really hurts them. People pleasers are usually people who have a fair bit of capacity for feeling and for empathy. Because of that, they often give other people’s needs a higher priority than their own. They are often people who really want to be accepted and approved of, and these characteristics can make them very vulnerable.

Now, the capacity to accommodate the needs of others is a very important part of human life. As a social species, this ability to recognize the needs of others, and to create some room for them, is essential for our survival. But when we let it get out of hand, it can become problematic and self-destructive. At its extreme, it can prevent us from really developing as our unique selves (the process Jung refers to as individuation).

Many of us have aspects of the people pleaser personality. Some of us have so much of it, that it becomes a defining factor for much of our lives.

“I can’t help it. I want everybody to love me and it hurts so when anybody doesn’t.”

Lucy Maude Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

What Do People Pleasers Do?

The simple answer is that people pleasers put aside their own desires and often their own needs, in order to win the approval of other people, and/or to avoid conflict. However, this can occur in a wide variety of ways. Consider, for instance, the marriage partner who for years and years continually acquiesces to their partner and continually puts aside their own needs and wishes. Or, similarly, imagine a sibling, who, even as an adult, continually puts aside their own priorities to suit the desires of brothers or sisters. Or there is the family member who continually chases the ever-elusive approval of a family member. And it’s common enough in the work place to find the employee who feels that he or she must avoid conflict with co-workers or management at all costs.

We can probably all recognize the dynamics of people-pleasing as showing up somewhere in our lives. Yet there’s a significant number of people for who these traits are spread broadly enough throughout their lives that it is appropriate to refer to a people pleasing personality. Often individuals recognize that they have these tendencies, but they find themselves unable to change or stop. These tendencies can be associated with a great deal of anxiety or depression.

Rooted in the Unconscious

People pleaser personality traits are deeply rooted in the individual’s unconscious mind, and, very often, are powerfully founded in the individual’s earliest and most important connections to primary family members. We call these connections attachment bonds. Because they are so fundamental, these attachment bonds often have a strong unconscious component, and that can make them very difficult to change.

If a child is confronted with a parent who is very focused on their own emotional needs, who doesn’t adequately take into account the emotional needs of the the child, one of two things often happen when the child expresses a different feeling than the parent’s. The parent may simply dismiss or ignore the child’s feelings, or the parent may punish and/or shame the child for having different feelings. Alternately a parent may take a victim stance, and blame and guilt the child for inflicting pain on the parent by having feelings that are different from the parent’s. Yet another possibility is that the parent places impossible, superhuman expectations on the child, while making the child feel completely inadequate if the expectations aren’t met.

Let’s say that we imagine any or all of the above scenarios as a pattern that prevails throughout childhood. The net effect can easily be that the child ends up feeling that he or she has to take care of the parents’ feelings. The child can feel responsible for keeping the parent in a good mood—and feel a crushing burden of shame and failure if they don’t.

In later life this can translate into an overpowering sense that the individual is responsible for other peoples’ feelings. He or she can be weighted under the burden of needing to taking care of, and be responsible for, other peoples’ feelings.

When the Spirits Come Back

There can come a point in the life journey where something irrevocably changes for the individual with people pleaser personality traits. Sometimes in conjunction with a major life transition or a midlife transition the individual may find that there is some part in her- or himself that simply will not longer acquiesce to denying itself and pleasing others. The individual who has been the completely compliant employee may find him or herself consumed with fantasies of going out to get lunch—and just never coming back. The spouse who has been their partners complete emotional caretaker or compliant servant may find that they simple can’t do it anymore—and something has to change.

Some part of the people pleaser’s personality that has been buried in what Jung calls the shadow suddenly emerges into consciousness, and insists on being recognized. The authentic person, with his or her needs and aspirations, and his or her sense of what is of value and what really matters in life emerges. And this person will not take no for an answer.

The People Pleaser Personality and the Self

It may be a moment of something like crisis for the people pleaser personality when the long-submerged personality, with all its hopes, dreams and yearnings emerges into consciousness. It may be a moment of intense confusion and disorientation, even though something of tremendous importance is happening to the individual. As the individual begins to uncover this part of the long-lost or undiscovered self, this may well be a time when he or she needs the right kind of ally or psychic support. Jungian depth psychotherapy can be of tremendous benefit in finding orientation and validation in this new landscape.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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Making Hard Decisions: Through the Fire of Tough Choice

October 3rd, 2022 · making hard decisions

Making hard decisions is a theme that arises often in Jungian depth psychotherapy work. I’ve discussed it before, but it’s worthy of further exploration.

Sometimes we might end up hoping for signs of the right path to take. (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

One of the things that defines the character of our life is making decisions, even making hard decisions. If we didn’t have this capacity, it would be hard to recognize our lives as human. As John C. Maxwell pointed out,

Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.

And on the other hand, as theologian Harvey Cox reminds us,

Not to decide is to decide.

On a visceral level, we know that the reality of choice defines a substantial part of the character of our lives. So, when we encounter situations where major, definitive choices are involved, it can feel like a great deal is at stake. Decisions can often define the shape of our lives. They can also often be tied right up with the things that bring a sense of fundamental meaning to our lives…

Can you recall a time in your life when you faced a really difficult personal choice? What did it feel like for you? Did you find yourself trapped in a place of indecision? How did you go about actually making the choice?

Are you confronting one or more major difficult decisions in your life now? If so, what is it about those decisions that makes the choice so hard?

Making Hard Decisions at Key Points in Our Lives

It is very common for hard decisions to confront us at times when we are making major life transitions. Sometimes a decision is what initiates a major transition. Yet, it may also be that other changes in our lives require making hard decisions. The need for this kind of decision doesn’t emerge in a vacuum.

We often find ourselves on the edge of a major decision as the result of a whole process that has unfolded in our life journey. For instance a decision about relationship, such as getting married, getting divorced or breaking up with someone arrives in our lives as the result of the unfolding of a whole relationship story within that particular relationship, and may well have roots in our life which are far more extensive than that! Similarly, a major career decision may have very deep roots into the most fundamental levels of our identity, and perhaps into conflicting aspects of ourselves.

hardest choices: conflict of values

Why We Tend to Avoid Making Big Decisions

On the one hand, it would be easy to say that the reason we avoid making big decisions is because making big decisions is stressful. While that is certainly true, it doesn’t really give us a clear picture of all that may be going on inside of us. Why is it that making big decisions is stressful?

While scholarly studies are never the be-all and end-all when it comes to issues involving the psyche, there is a very striking study by Kate Barasz of ESSADE and Serena F Haggerty of Harvard that suggests that people will even hope for bad news to eliminate the need for decision so that they can avoid the need to take personal responsibility for the outcome. This relates to a key issue with making hard decisions, namely that it can be hard to accept the responsibility for the outcome.

Related to this is the fact that the very hardest of decisions may involve conflict of values situations. In these situations we’re forced to choose between two things, both of which we value. Such choices may force us to decide which of two valued things we value more. This can be incredibly difficult.

Making Hard Decisions and Our Deepest Values

Making hard decisions involves deep soul searching, and also may well involve genuine sacrifice. In order to face the ordeal of making big decisions, it’s essential to get in touch with our deepest values. If we’re truly seeking our deepest values, we may well have to go into the realm of the unconscious mind, to find what it is that we value on the very deepest levels.

It may seem strange, but sometimes the key to what we most deeply value can be found in our depression or anxiety, or in some of the deepest pains that we have experienced in life. In trying to come to a hard decision, it can be essential to be in contact with, and listening to the parts of ourselves of which we may not usually be aware. The unconscious has an attitude toward the decisions we are going to make, and it may be vital to learn what that attitude is.

Working with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist to explore issues surrounding making hard decisions can be a valuable and affirming experience. It can serve to integrate our conscious and unconscious attitudes toward key decisions in a way that furthers the individual’s journey towards wholeness.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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