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How Do You Deal with Home and the Holidays?

December 5th, 2021 · home and the holidays

“Home and the Holidays”: there’s such a sense of natural and even sentimental warmth around this phrase. Home is a word that is full of emotional power for us.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

You know that you’ve reached that “Home and the Holidays” space when you again hear all the Holiday music playing in stores and on the radio. In my area, at least, we’ve been in that place for a while now. For many people, this time of year brings up a lot of feelings: positive, negative—or both! What is it that is so powerful about these twin themes of “home and the holidays”?

I’ve written about the powerful archetype of “home” previously. Here is something that has great emotional resonance in our culture.

One of the songs played frequently at this time of year has the chorus “There’s no place like Home for the Holidays”. Other than that rather sentimental chorus, the song is basically a description of people making all kinds of efforts to get back to wherever they identify as “home” for the Holiday season. They do this regardless of the expenditure of time, effort or money involved. Somehow, this resonates powerfully.

Something else is worthy of note about this particular song. The people described in the song all seem to be somewhere other than “home”, and they have to travel to get there. This probably resonates far more with our experience in the highly mobile world of the 2020s than when singer Perry Como recorded “Home for the Holidays” in 1959.

Trying to Get Home for the Holidays

This Holiday season, like every Holiday season, many of us will be “trying to get home for the Holidays”. That phrase can mean a wide range of things to a wide variety of people. For some, as for the individuals in the song, it will be a matter of trying to physically travel “home”, wherever and whatever that might be. In addition to physical travel, people will be trying to “get home” in a whole range of other ways.

It’s actually those other ways of “trying to get home” that I want to focus on. Consider that classic movie scene from “The Wizard of Oz”, where Dorothy repeats to herself with more and more fervour “There’s no place like home!” It’s evident that she’s referring to a geographical location—but also to much, much more. Just what exactly is she on about, and why has it stayed in our imagination for the last eighty years?

“There’s no place like home!” PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

It’s important for us to think about all the things that get symbolized by the image of “going home”. Among other things, “home” can symbolize:

  • the place where I was born;
  • the place where I grew up;
  • the place I lived the longest in my life;
  • the place where I connect with my family of origin, or certain key members of that family;
  • the place where I live surrounded by my current family and friends; or,
  • the place where my family is from (e.g., when members of my family referred to “over home”, they meant the UK, even though none of us were born there!)

In short, “home” is a symbol for the place in your life where you feel in control, physically and emotionally safe, and related to your life in the proper way. It’s a place of security, where I can be myself, meet with absolute acceptance, and feel my anxiety is at a minimum.. In the words of Knox College Prof. Frank Andrew, “In short, ‘home’ is the primary connection between you and the rest of the world.”

Things That Get in the Way of Going Home

So, all of these things—and considerably more—are in the background when we reflect on “home and the Holidays”. When we reflect on the Holidays with anticipation, we may very well be trying to connect with this “home” reality. Jung would stress that it’s important not to underestimate the strength of our drive to make this connection.

We may go to gatherings with our relatives. We may settle down for celebrations with our nuclear family. We may travel back to the place where we were born. We may do these things with the conscious and/or unconscious expectation of encountering some sharing in the longing for “home and the Holidays”. Perhaps we find some of that reality. Or, perhaps we meet with disappointment—for many people, an all-too-familiar disappointment.

Perhaps the place where we are longing to experience “home and the Holidays” is not “home-like” at all. Perhaps there are bits of “home”, mixed in with other difficult feelings and experiences.

We yearn for something that can be hard to find. Where can we experience the reality of home? Is it something that we can find externally, or is it something that we need to find within ourselves?

Our Real Home

What or where is your real home? When have you felt connected to “home”, and why? How can you take care of yourself, so that you feel more connected to home, and feel more “at home” in the world? In your world? These are key questions for our well-being.

A supportive, relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can greatly help in the process of finding our own way of feeling more at home in in the midst of our own world, and our own real lives.

With every good wish for 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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The Importance of Self Awareness 3: Letting In the Shadow

November 22nd, 2021 · importance of self awareness

In this third and final part of an ongoing series on the importance of self awareness, we focus on the psychological reality of shadow. Jung originated this term, now used by many who reflect on our psychological reality.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Just what is meant by “shadow” when we think about the importance of self awareness? At one point Jung describes shadow as,

“the thing a person has no wish to be”.

C.G. Jung, CW 16, para. 470

This is pithy and succinct, but Jung helps us when he tells us:

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.

C.G. Jung, CW 11, p. 131

Jung’s point is that, for each of us, there are parts of our personality of which we are unaware. He would add that there are parts of the personality of which we might prefer to remain unaware.

Sometimes, I would rather not be aware of certain aspects of myself because my ego doesn’t feel comfortable with them. The ego is the part of my personality of which I’m conscious, and with which I identify. Many times, ego doesn’t wish to acknowledge other parts of me that don’t fit with how my ego would like to see itself. This can create all kinds of issues for us.

Saving the Appearances; Deep Six-ing the Shadow

Jungian analyst James Hollis spells this out for us in some detail. He writes about how we “manage to dissemble, to deny, to lie to ourselves and believe our evasions”:

We are often called to save the appearances, to paper over the gap between our presumptive identity and values and our actual practices. This distressing gap is what Jung called the Shadow, those parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable with ourselves. Feeling discomfort, we repress these facts, project them onto others, are subsumed by them, or, occasionally, bring them to consciousness and integrate them into a more complex, more accurate sense of self.

James Hollis, What Matters Most, pp. 25-26

Jung and Hollis are in agreement that self awareness is not always easy! Certain parts of ourselves may strongly resist knowing important aspects of who we are, and being honest with ourselves about them. We can find it much easier, sometimes to live with fictions about ourselves.

Tolerating Our Shadow Parts

The shadow parts of ourselves may be difficult to tolerate. They may cause the ego all kinds of anxiety. Sometimes the ego may have values that it thinks are important, like being truthful. These may be challenged by things we actually do, but don’t readily acknowledge, like fudging a little on one’s income tax.

Also, we may have some aspect of our personality that we don’t wish to acknowledge. We might feel that something about us is shameful, like having a weakness or inability to do certain things. Or, there might be something about who we really are that’s at odds with how we see ourselves, One example would be an urban sophisticate who secretly yearns to perform country and western music. Or, someone might believe that it’s bad or selfish to stand up and firmly ask for what she or he actually wants—but whose shadow is determined to do it.

It’s certainly not true that everything in the shadow is dark or morally questionable—far from it! Many things in the shadow are not really “shady” at all; they just don’t fit with the way the ego sees itself. Nonetheless, we can spend an incredible amount of psychic energy trying to avoid being aware of such shadow contents.

This struggle to avoid our authentic selves can create anxiety and even depression. The struggle with avoiding the shadow part of our authentic selves often becomes acute and even excruciating at times of major life transition. The midlife transition, or the transition into our later years are examples of this. Tragically, an individual can spend much of his or her life running from who she or he really is.

Integrating Our Shadow & The Importance of Self-Awareness

Running from the shadow produces anxiety, exhaustion and distortion of the person. It’s immensely beneficial if a person can find a way to make peace with the shadow, and integrate it. This can give a renewed sense of energy for life. As British Jungian analyst Christopher Perry reminds us,

[The assimilation of the shadow] leads to self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. Grievance and blame give way to the taking of responsibility and attempts at sorting-out what belongs to whom. A fierce conscience, which tends to be self- and other-punitive can relax, and personal values can be set in counterpoint to collective morality.

Making contact with the shadow is often greatly assisted by working in a supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist. In the accepting environment of Jungian therapy or analysis, it’s often possible to look at ourselves with true clarity, and genuine compassion and insight. This can help us greatly to see the ways in which the shadow turns up in our own individual lives. We can then start to genuinely hear it, and to come to terms with it.

Do you have awareness of your shadow? When in the past might you have encountered it?

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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The Importance of Self Awareness 2: Become Who You Truly Are

November 15th, 2021 · importance of self awareness

In this second post in this series on the importance of self-awareness, we explore the idea of becoming who you truly are. “Become who I am?” someone might ask, “Really? What’s the big deal?”

Building self-awareness… PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Isn’t it all really very simple? As Popeye the Sailorman put it many years ago, “I YAM WHAT I YAM!” From this perspective, what else is there to be said about the importance of self awareness?

Well, pretty clearly, the above is a different understanding of our unique identity than Jung intended when he wrote:

The privilege of a lifetime [italics mine] is to become who you truly are.”

C.G. Jung

What could Jung possibly mean by this? Clearly, he feels that becoming who you are is a big deal—the “privilege of a lifetime”, no less! Is knowing who I am, and being who I am, really all that important?

True and False Identity

Often, there’s a clear difference between who we think we are, and the personal characteristics that we actually possess. We can have an image of ourselves that is quite different from who we really are. Often, the story we tell ourselves about who we are doesn’t quite match the reality.

Researchers often point to evidence that shows the contradictions between some idealized version of ourselves, and who we really are. For instance, research shows that many people who don’t see themselves as racially prejudiced actually carry substantial racial bias. Or that people who see themselves a compassionate can actually walk by starving or apparently gravely ill homeless people. It can be hard for us to acknowledge some of the less agreeable aspects of ourselves.

Yet, there are plenty of other ways in which our story about ourselves can be in error. Consider the individual who may have a career as a tough, steely go-for-the-jugular business person. Then consider what can happen at mid-life, as this person realizes that he or she is actually empathetic, and cares most deeply about building people up. Such people can often come to the realization that they have been living out someone else’s story.

This process of working out who we really are can be quite involved!

When the Real Me Shows Up

We can spend a lot of time and energy consciously or unconsciously avoiding who we really are. This can consume an enormous amount of effort, and it can cause an enormous amount of pain. It may be particularly difficult when we confront situations where the real me shows up, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

We know “the real me showing up” as a classic midlife motif, but it shows up at plenty of other times in a life as well. A wealth of clinical experience has shown me how extremely painful it is to feel a huge discrepancy between how an individual is living, and who they are and what they really want. This can lead us to situations of unhappiness, even misery, and to situations of inner and outer conflict.

If we can gain insight into what is motivating us on the unconscious level, we can help ourselves to feel less conflicted and generally better on the emotional level. Research by Oliver C. Schultheiss of Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg indicates that our sense of well-being tends to grow as our conscious goals and “implicit” or unconscious motives are more harmonized. We should not grind away at careers or patterns of living that give us things that are highly valued by society or our family if these things don’t fundamentally matter to us. Jung would certainly agreed with that conclusion.

This highlights our theme: the importance of self-awareness! How do we harmonize our deep unconscious motivations with what we are consciously trying to do? We have to open ourselves up to our unconscious feelings and motivations.

Making the Unconscious Conscious

[The human] task is to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.

C.G. Jung

Much of what C.G. Jung writes is focused on the importance of self awareness, and on becoming aware of the contents of our unconscious, however it manifests. For Jungian depth psychotherapy, this can involve using a variety of approaches to self awareness, including:

  • journalling and closely watching our emotional and bodily reactions;
  • closely examining our interactions with other people;
  • active imagination“, or the use of our imagination to get closer to the true contents of the unconscious; and,
  • looking at our dreams, as a way of understanding our unconscious reactions.

In addition, a supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can greatly assist in the whole process of “sorting the ‘I’ from the ‘Not I'”, as Jung puts it. Becoming who we truly are is vitally connected with coming to terms with the aspects of ourselves of which we aren’t yet conscious, and connecting them with our conscious awareness and goals.

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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The Importance of Self Awareness: A Jungian Perspective – 1

November 7th, 2021 · importance of self awareness

The importance of self awareness: these days, you can find a lot in the media on this subject. The world seems to have woken up to the importance of being in touch with what we really feel, and our deepest reactions.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Self-awareness has certainly become something of a buzzword. The importance of self-awareness is stressed by the most diverse range of people and voices imaginable. Your neighbourhood yoga instructor may exhort you to be more aware of yourself bodily, while the pages of the Harvard Business Review stress the importance of self-awareness for the effective manager. Just what IS this illusive beast we call self-awareness?….

New York Times columnist David Brooks highlights the importance of self awareness in a passage of startling, and even painful clarity:

One of the most unsettling findings of modern psychology is that we often don’t know why we do what we do. You can ask somebody: Why’d you choose that house? Or why’d you marry that person? Or why’d you go to graduate school? People will concoct some plausible story, but often they really have no idea why they chose what they did.

David Brooks, “Is Self Awareness a Mirage?”

Going Through Life Without Being Aware

“[O]ften they really have no idea why they chose what they did”—what a stunning statement. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, it can often be true. We can easily go through the stages of our life somehow moving from one thing to the next, often without really being aware of what we are choosing or why. I’m reminded of the lyrics of a popular song from some years ago:

And you may say to yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”

—By letting the days go by.

The Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”

Lack of Awareness Doesn’t Have to be Fate

A Jungian approach to the personality and to the psyche strongly asserts that this kind of lack of awareness is not inevitable. It is not fate to be unconscious. It is possible for us to become aware of our deep emotions and motivations and the things a that really drive us. This involves the process of becoming conscious of oneself as a unique individual, which Jungians call the process of individuation. Jungian analyst June Singer helps us to understand this process in more detail:

The individualation process moves along two tracks. The first is designed to help people recognize and fulfil their own unique potentials. This involves differentiating the self from the constraints of the conditioning that are imposed by family and other external influences. The second track requires differentiation from one’s environment: one asks, How am I part of that which surrounds me, and how am I different? Put another way, it is the development of an ability to discriminate between the “I” and the “Not I”.

June Singer, Boundaries of the Soul

“I” and “Not I”

Discriminating between the “I” and the “Not I” can be a crucial, life saving thing. This can be particularly true when we go through the crises often associated with major life transitions.

This post is the first in a series examining the importance of self-awareness. I will be specifically looking at what a Jungian depth psychotherapy approach can contribute to our understanding of self awareness. This is a vital topic, if we seek to take ownership and responsibility for our lives. It is also essential to developing a self-compassionate attitude to ourselves and our own precious life journey, a task that is at the heart of Jungian therapeutic work.

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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Soul’s Call: Right Amidst Our Major Life Transitions

November 1st, 2021 · soul's call

Right off the bat, let me say that, in using the word soul, and referring to soul’s call, I’m referring to the essence of our personality, the core of who we are. This post is not about religious ideas like “saving your soul” or “your immortal soul”! It’s about who you most fundamentally are.

“Essence of You” PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

I’ve had occasion to reflect on this quite a bit recently, in the context of doing Jungian psychotherapy with several individual clients. Very often these are people who find themselves at major life transitions, who are faced with one or more major life choices. They may face a considerable amount of family, peer or broader societal pressure to go in a certain direction. Yet they find that, easy as it might be to go that way, something is keeping them from doing it—something that seems fundamental and important.

It may seem completely irrational. The person may have what appears on the surface to be an “excellent” career, that is prestigious and very lucrative, and yet find themselves yearning to pursue a vocation in the arts. Or a life-long stay-at-home person may find they suddenly wish to tour North America in an RV, for reasons which they find very hard to explain.

The Tension of Yearning

Our yearnings often come from parts of ourselves with which we are not very in touch. Yet we can be stunned by their urgency, even when we aren’t exactly sure of what it is they actually want. Often, they let us know that there is some full or partially obscured part of ourselves that wants to be included in our picture of ourselves. Some part of us that wants to come into consciousness and be fully alive. This hidden element wants to be uncovered in all its depth, even if we can’t yet fathom where it yearns to lead us. This brings to mind a poignant quotation from famed archetypal psychologist James Hillman:

Tell me what you yearn for and I shall tell you who you are [Italics mine]. We are what we reach for, the idealized image that drives our wandering.

That which I yearn for reveals who it is that I actually am; we are what we reach for. Some part of us is seeking healing, fulfillment and expression in the form of our keenest and most sublime desires.

The Peril of Ignoring Soul’s Call

Our yearnings can be very strong and persistent. Yet, it can be easy to ignore the voice of the self, even though we can pay a steep price when we do. Sometimes this turning away can lead us straight to anxiety or depression. Yet there are other ways that such a missed invitation can show up. While it is not exactly depression, there is a kind of sterility or flatness that can start to pervade our lives. We can also find ourselves filled with a profound sense of regret.

Often, it can be extremely difficult to sift and distinguish what it is the voice of the deepest part of ourselves, from the other influences and voices in our lives. The influence of families, peer groups, advertising and work environments can often be so pervasive and so seductive.

wants from of distinguishing that voice from other influences

Following Our Uncertain Yearnings

One hundred per cent certainty occurs rarely, if ever, in life. The most authentic decisions that we make and the paths that we tread are usually part of a process of groping toward something we feel has energy or life for us. We make these choices having weighed them as much as we can, and often we’re aware that there is a cost to making them. Again in the words of Hillman,

Anytime you’re gonna grow, you’re gonna lose something. You’re losing what you’re hanging onto to keep safe. You’re losing habits that you’re comfortable with, you’re losing familiarity.

Certainly growth often entails loss of the familiar and of things that contribute to our sense of safety. Yet, it almost goes without saying, we also gain, as we leave the familiar behind on our search for what is at the heart of soul’s call in our yearning.

Are you in touch with the yearning in your life? Are you in the process of trying to sift and identify what it is that is actually at the heart of soul’s call? If so, you know that it’s an important and at times demanding task. The process of working with a sensitive and supportive depth psychotherapist can often assist greatly in bringing the soul’s call experienced through our deepest yearnings, into clear perspective.

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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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.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

“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.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

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.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

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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Fear and Anxiety and Our Changing Perceptions

September 27th, 2021 · changing perceptions, fear and anxiety

The COVID period has been long. It’s worthwhile reflecting on what’s happening to our changing perceptions now, at this point in our huge shared major life transition.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

We tend to think of ourselves basically hunkering down and enduring the whole COVID crisis, but we are actually changing as a result of our experiences in this time. None of us will emerge from this as quite the same person we were when we went into it. So, how are our perceptions altering? What is happening to us through all of this? Is there anything potentially good in all this?

Two of the key characteristics of this period have been uncertainty and anxiety. While for people in Ontario, there may be the feeling recently of a more optimistic trend, there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the current circumstances. This is associated with anxiety and even fear that seems to sit just beneath the surface, present but not quite acknowledged.

All of this experience is changing us. It is certainly altering our outlook, the way we are experiencing the world and the ways in which we will move into the future. The key question will be exactly how it affects us. One possibility is that we could let it pull us into defensive and negative postures that lead us to permanently keep the world at arm’s length. Yet, we find ourselves asking: might there be any other possibilities?

Crisis and Personal Change

When human beings go through periods of crisis, or great and rapid change, it is common to experience uncertainty, disorientation, fear and anxiety and rapidly changing perceptions. This is part of the human condition. Author Guy Vanderhaeghe, OC, SOM in his recent novel August into Winter describes the descent into the crisis of the Second World War in a small Saskatchewan town. He writes of its effect on the consciousness of all those impacted,

You carried the past into the future on your back, its knees and arms hugging you tighter with every step.

So it is in a crisis. We struggle to come to terms with the new reality, to take it in, to see what it means. Perhaps many times we fall victim to misperception or misinformation. And all the while the past clings to us and doesn’t want to let us go. It cleaves to us, and as Vanderhaeghe so eloquently describes, demands to somehow be carried into the future. Throughout that process we struggle for new understanding that somehow combines what was, and what is. Clearly, the potential for anxiety in the midst of this is great indeed.

We’re Changing Whether We Acknowledge It or Not

We’re undoubtedly changing as we live through a changed world. As human beings, we need to make meaning of what is happening in our lives. We do this through the story that we tell ourselves about our lives. The question is whether that story we tell ourselves is one that genuinely affirms all of who we are, and that looks with honest and open eyes at the world as it is. The alternative is to tell ourselves a defensive story that may keep us from experiencing pain in the short run, but that isn’t truthful about either ourselves or the world. As Jungian analyst James Hollis asserts,

It is disturbing to think that rather than we living our stories, our stories might be living us.

Unfortunately, it’s common throughout our current time and through history for people to tell themselves stories about their lives that are self-deluding. Often these stories are driven by unconscious parts of the individual’s personality that are defending against trauma, shame and fear of many different kinds.

Changing Perceptions & The Undiscovered Self

Our changing perceptions are actually a doorway to the undiscovered parts of the self. As we live with and come to terms with our perception that the world has changed, we come to terms with what Jung called the undiscovered self. Our reactions to, and experience of, the world coming into being, and our sense of loss attached to the past that is gone, show us different parts of who we are. They are trying to come into our conscious awareness, and to be accepted with compassion.

Work with a compassionate and supportive depth psychotherapist can help immensely in dealing with our changing perceptions. It can also assist in bringing a deep sense of compassion for ourselves, and for others, in this turbulent time.

With every good wish for 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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These Tough Times Show Us the Need for Roots

September 20th, 2021 · 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.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

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

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

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