Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Holiday Mental Health & 2020 Holiday Disappointment

December 14th, 2020 · accepting who you are, holiday disappointment, holiday mental health

Holiday mental health can be a genuine concern, and this year, many people are dealing with an especially high level of holiday disappointment.

Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr.com (Creative Commons 2.0 Licence)

Psychotherapists are acutely aware that the Holiday period produces high levels of stress, and of anxiety and depression, for very many people. It’s one of those paradoxes in our collective life. We’re supposed to be in high spirits, and in a celebratory mood for the “most wonderful time of the year”. Yet this season can be full of disappointment, and of difficult memories for many people. These are only compounded by the collective expectation that we are all to be full of mirth, and to quote Paul McCartney, “simply having a wonderful Christmas time”.

That’s the general psychological background of the Holiday season. Yet, this year we have a whole series of other factors to consider, due to the presence of the pandemic in our midst. We are confronting Holidays where the size of gatherings will be severely limited. Also, many activities that we might associate with the Holiday period—restaurants, theatre and other shows, movies—are all very seriously curtailed. It will be a challenge for many of us to avoid a feeling of holiday disappointment this year.

The Pressure to be Happy

There is a great collective pressure to be happy around the holidays, which can be very tough on people. There is an understandably strong yearning to make the Holidays as rich and memorable as possible, but it can be experienced as a very cruel kind of demand by those who are dealing with difficult things in their lives. This is true for many people who’ve experienced trauma or the loss of a loved one, or for those, like many children of alcoholics, who may have difficult memories associated with the Holiday period. It can also be a very difficult time for many who are undergoing major challenges, such as illness or the breakup of a marriage or family unit during the Holiday season.

And against this background, we’re confronting all the uncertainties and restrictions of the pandemic. This year’s Holiday season will be wildly different from any that we’ve experienced in our lifetimes, due to the range of restrictions that many of us will encounter. For many who feel a strong pressure to be happy in the Holiday season, the demands of the 2020 season may well compound the difficulties that they face.

Acknowledging the Feelings

It may be, for many, that the net effect of this combination of the pressure to be happy in the Holidays, and the unique difficulties of the 2020 Holiday season will be even stronger pressures to put on a happy face for the outer world throughout this Holiday season. This may mean repressing the feelings of holiday disappointment that they experience.

The difficulty with repressing or not acknowledging our feelings of Holiday disappointment is that, unacknowledged, they can have a deep impact on our Holiday mental health. By not consciously recognizing and accepting our disappointment and hurt about this years Holidays, we may find that our Holiday season is blighted by a pervasive sense of hollowness and flatness, no matter how much we try to seem “merry” to those close to us, and to the wider world.

What Has Meaning During the Holidays?

It may be essential to confront our Holiday disappointment, and to acknowledge what we really feel. But, as UBC psychology Professor Elizabeth Dunn expressed it in a recent Globe & Mail interview, you may need to “let yourself be disappointed, but then say, what can I do that I really care about“? [bold and italics mine]

The question of what we really care about—what really has meaning—is key to finding value in our 2020 Holidays. We will need to confront our grief that this Holiday period doesn’t bring many of the good things that we have either experienced in Holidays past, or had hoped to experience this year. We will also need to look at our power, at the capacity that we still have, right here and now, to bring about good things in our lives and the lives of others. This will involve engaging, and perhaps discovering capacities for connection, expression and creativity that we possess, and using them to bring about results that we find meaningful.

For Jungian depth psychotherapists, questions of what we care about as individuals, what really has meaning for us, are central not only to our “holiday mental health” but much more fundamentally to the whole process of discovering who we individually and uniquely are. Jungians refer to this as our journey towards wholeness. It may well be that engaging with a sensitive and attuned Jungian depth psychotherapist is part, not only of a meaningful Holiday experience, but of an ongoing process of finding meaning in our individual lives.

With every good Holiday wish, and with warmest wishes for your individual journey towards wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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

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Rocketman: The Journey of Accepting Who You Are

June 17th, 2019 · accepting who you are

Accepting who you are sounds so simple, but that’s not many people’s experience. Rocketman, the recent film of the life of singer Elton John illustrates this powerfully.

accepting who you are

Elton John being Elton John
Rocketman is the story of a man who is very unusual in some ways. As the movie shows us, he is also a very vulnerable man. Basically, the whole film turns around the question of whether Elton John (born Reginald Dwight) is able to accept himself, have compassion for himself, and stop being so paralyzed by the opinions of others. In this respect, even though Elton John cuts an unusual and at times even bizarre figure — he has a great deal in common with us.
It’s clear from very early on in the story that young Reginald / Elton is really going to get very little from his family of origin. His father seems incredibly cold, while his mother is portrayed as deeply narcissistic. The only supportive person seems to be his grandmother — and she is the one who figures out that her grandson is a piano prodigy.

The Problem of the Public Self

As the story progresses, we gradually see that young Reginald Dwight realizes that there is no acceptance of who he really is in his family of origin. The way he copes with this is the way that many of us do: by developing an outer mask to present to the world that hides the pain. In Reginald / Elton’s case, this mask gradually takes on the form of the outrageous, bombastic, manic piano man: Elton John. On stage he has an unstoppable Dionysian energy — but away from the adoring crowds, an appalling loneliness.

It’s clear that the outer presentation is not just a complete counterfeit. There is a lot of the inner Reginald Dwight that wanted to be accepted and loved; those parts shine through in the defiance embodied in the outer presentation. The persona presents itself in a ferocious “couldn’t care less” way on stage, alongside an unspoken but insatiable demand: love me. But despite his enormous stage presence, and his ability to sweep people up in his music, love eludes him. He is surrounded by artificiality, superficiality, and, frequently, just gets used by others.

When the Mask Gets Too Painful

As is often the case in real life, the film conveys the sense that people looking at the formidable Elton John persona often seem to have no idea of how much difficulty the inner person is confronting. In Elton John’s case, this suffering inner person is further masked by numerous addictions, and by a blinding, breakneck schedule. The inner Elton John is confronting tremendous inner pain, but the world would never know it. In fact, Taron Egerton, who plays Elton, does a masterful job of conveying the sense that he does not know himself how much agony and depression he really carries.

Ultimately, however, we start to see that the pain is intolerable. John’s behaviour becomes more and more self-destructive. There is a battle raging between an enormous need to hide his vulnerability from the world, and a desperate need to acknowledge his own pain, and be affirmed for who he most fundamentally is — by both himself and others. Tensions of these kinds are often found at the heart of an individual’s journey toward wholeness.

Accepting the Exile

Finally, something happens that breaks the tension, and Reginald / Elton embarks on a course of action that is best seen as the action of the individual’s true self. I won’t spoil it here, because it’s a visually stunning movement in the film’s progression. However, I can say that it’s a moment in the film character’s life when he finally seems to stop valuing the opinions and valuations of others over himself, and begins to connect with the pain he has experienced in the relationships in his life, and with his own desire to be loved — by himself and others.

The challenge of accepting and loving the parts of ourselves that others may have rejected, rather than despising them and disowning them ourselves is a key movement in the journey to wholeness, and often can be a central part of a major life transition.

Throughout his long therapeutic and literary career, Jung continually emphasized the importance of extending self acceptance to the parts of ourselves that we might find easy to hate and to shun, continually emphasizing the healing to be found in such places.

Depth psychotherapy at its best continually emphasizes this process of accepting the parts in ourselves that we might find least acceptable, and finding strength in the parts of ourselves that may seem most vulnerable. As the movie Rocketman seems to affirm, accepting who you are is fundamental to finding the meaning and value of your own individual life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


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

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