Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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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Ancestral Wounds: Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma

August 23rd, 2021 · intergenerational transmission of trauma

In recent times we’ve become more aware of intergenerational transmission of trauma, and of how traumatic wounding gets passed from generation to generation.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

What exactly do we mean by intergenerational transmission of trauma? Well, for a long time, we’ve know that the psychological wounding of parents can be passed on to their children. In fact, some of the most important early documentation of this was in the work of Sigmund Freud, the famous Viennese psychoanalyst, who often showed the linkages between the coping issues of parents and children in his writings.

Yet, it’s only in much more recent times that we’ve started to understand the ways in which trauma can be transmitted from generation to generation. One of the most studied groups in this respect are the families and descendants of holocaust survivors. Quite a number of studies have shown that otherwise healthy children of parents who survived the holocaust are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder if a traumatic event occurs in their lives. There seems to be strong evidence that there is a similar effect with grandchildren of holocaust survivors. There also seems to be evidence of an increased predisposition to anxiety and depression in these groups.

Now there is also strong support in the research for similar effects among other groups. The research of Hofstra University Prof. Robert Motta and colleagues suggests strongly that the children of war veterans carry elements of trauma transmitted by a veteran parent and other studies have shown the same. It seems to be that whenever a parent carries trauma, there is a good chance that the children and even the grandchildren will be affected by it.

How Do I Know if I’m Suffering from Intergenerational Trauma?

How would you know whether you’re subject to intergenerational trauma? The first question to ask would be whether you are the child or grandchild of parents who suffer from PTSD, or who have been subject to serious traumatic experiences. This might be something like the Holocaust, being a forced migrant or a refugee, or experiencing a war which would represent trauma connected to a large historical event. On the other hand, a parent who has been subject to trauma such as physical or emotional abuse that has come down through the generations may also transmit that trauma to a child.

Please be aware that the fact that a parent who has been subject to trauma transmits that trauma to his or her child does not mean that the parent can’t also transmit good things. The parent may have many wonderful attributes from which the child benefits, while still also transmitting trauma.

How Can I Get on a Healing Path?

One of the biggest steps to moving toward the healing of intergenerational transmission of trauma is recognizing that a parent’s trauma has impacted your view of the world, and your responses to the world. Often someone who has been subject to intergenerationally transmitted trauma is strongly motivated to make the world safe and predictable, and the individual may notice that tendency showing up in her life in many different ways, such as obsessive-compulsive tendencies, or perfectionist tendencies that are aimed at having things turn out with perfect results. The child of a parent who has suffered trauma may have found that the parent has trouble with regulating their emotions and with soothing themselves into a calm state. This may mean that the child faces similar challenges in regulating their emotions and finding calm. If you experience any of these tendencies it’s important to ask yourself if any of this can have come about as the result of a parent’s trauma.

Intergenerational Transmission of Resilience?

Although the concept of intergenerational transmission of trauma is fairly new, C.G. Jung anticipated some of its key aspects in his writings. At one point in his writings, Jung states,

The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents.

In the context of intergenerational trauma, the “unlived life of the parents” is represented by the ways in which the parent’s trauma has gone untreated, and has often dominated the family life of the individual. Depth psychotherapists are aware that, among other things, we inherit our family’s story and perspective about the nature of life. Families that have unresolved trauma, depression or anxiety can easily pass harmful coping strategies and views of life rooted in fear and mistrust onto future generations.

While trauma can be transmitted down the generations, so can the capacity for resilience and for overcoming and resolving trauma. From this perspective, one of the best things and most hopeful things you can do for your kids and for future generations is to work on yourself. Not only does it help you: the intergenerational transmission of resilience to those who follow after us provides a strong sense of empowerment and that can be an important part of our journey towards wholeness.

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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Finding Your Passion in Life

August 16th, 2021 · finding your passion in life

“Finding your passion in life” sounds like a slogan from a TV ad for new cars! Yet the phrase actually points us in important and life-giving directions.

Vacations are great, but we need a daily life that makes us say “Yes!” (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Yet, we have to be careful about what we mean by “finding your passion in life”. If we think that “our passion” is out there, lurking behind some bush or cloud, waiting to strike us like a bolt of lightening, we’re probably waiting for something that is never going to occur. Researchers like Professors Paul O’Keefe of Yale and Carol Dweck and Greg Walton of Stanford have shown that “passions are not found full-formed… It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion…”

So, we find our passions in life by investing in them and developing them, and that’s a process to which we have to be open. Does that mean that our “passion in life’ can be absolutely anything, if we just work at it? Is that what we mean by “finding our passion in life”?

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

We have to be careful, here. Someone I know has what must be one of the largest collections of buttons taken from various clothing items that is owned by a private individual anywhere. I find it very inspiring and commendable that she has followed her interest in this way, and that she has learnt and experienced everything that there is to know about buttons in this wonderful way. I find it interesting to talk to her about buttons; she has some wonderful and surprising anecdotes about their history. But do I think that, even if I worked at it for years and years, the subject of buttons could become my passion in life? No, I don’t!

The Call of Life

In a way that was unusual for a psychologist of his time and place, Jung in his writings very often emphasizes the idea of vocation, or call. He acknowledges that this can be a religious idea, that God calls us to do or be something, but he also emphasizes that there is another way of looking at it, in terms of what he would refer to as “the call of life” or “the law of our own being.” His idea is that each of us has our own true nature or identity, and that life has put us here to express or live that out, and that, in a sense, life “calls” us to this identity, and this living out of who we truly are.


Jung didn’t think of “the law of our own being” as something that was going to strike a person like a thunder bolt, zapping you from being directionless to finding your passion in life in an instant. He saw it as a process, which involves uncovering things that have meaning for us over a long period—in many ways, as something that evolves over the whole course of our lives. While it might be a source of anxiety for some, Jung knew that this search for meaning, for what has true value, can genuinely be a long journey. We move into a deeper sense of value and fulfillment, as we do the work of learning more and more about ourselves, and who we really are. As we explore and live our lives, with all of their challenges and surprising turns, we are embarked on the road to finding our passion in life. The ability to find meaning and value in the whole fabric of a lived life—your or my particular unique life—is what Jung referred to as individuation.


This process of bringing together all the various strands and bits in my life, to gain a sense of what really motivates me and what really holds value in my life is what Jungian depth psychotherapists often refer to as the journey towards wholeness. Rather than being struck by a lightening bolt, it involves a gradual bringing together of the different elements in our lives—experiences, interests and values. Some of these may seem almost contradictory, but they are all parts of us. Here are some questions that can help in this process:

  • What do I love to do?
  • What are the causes that really matter to me, to which I would devote time, treasure or talent?
  • What do I feel is wrong with the world, that I would love to see made better?
  • Who are the people I really connect with? And, just as important, who are the people I really don’t connect with?
  • What are the parts of me that I have yet to explore?

Often, a supportive depth psychotherapist can help a great deal in exploring and finding your true passion in life. The process of journeying toward what really matters in life can be greatly aided by a therapeutic space in which a person can examine the whole of their lives.

With every good wish for the 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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Making Life Changing Decisions

August 9th, 2021 · life changing decisions

Sooner or later, we all have to make life changing decisions. They might be decisions about a very wide range of things, but they all share one thing in common. They are decisions with the potential to change our experience of living.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Many potentially life changing decisions are about relationships, e.g. “Should I marry X? or “Should I get divorced?” Many are about career, e.g., “Should I study to be an engineer?” or “Should I stay in this job?” Some are about the stage of life we’re in, e.g., “What are my priorities now that I’m at mid-life?” or “Should we have children?” or “What do I want to do with my life, now that I’m retiring?” And there are many other kinds of potentially life changing decisions.

Often the need to make a potentially life changing decision or decisions can be a source of great anxiety. It may well be that it feels risky or insecure to make a life changing decision. This can often lead us to avoid or procrastinate, rather than looking at the situation in our lives squarely, and then deciding what to do. How can we face the decisions that we have to make, and really come to terms with them?

Knowing a Life Changing Decision When We See One

Sometimes, we have to go through quite a process before we accept that a decision of major importance has to be made. We may live with a situation for many years, and then find one day that it is confronting us in ways that we simply can’t afford to ignore.

How do we know when we’re confronting a life changing or “big” decision? In some ways, it’s fairly straightforward, as UTS Prof. Adrian Camilleri states:

A “big” decision is one in which you intentionally [make] a choice between two or more options knowing that the outcome would have a significant and often long-term impact for yourself or others.

On an intellectual, thinking level, this is fairly straightforward. What makes things difficult, though, is that life changing decisions often have a huge emotional charge on them. For this reason, it’s important to accept that making a big or life changing decision can be genuinely hard. If at all possible, we have to be kind to ourselves and give this kind of decision the time and attention that it deserves. We want to

Stuck and Unstuck

Often, we have to self-compassionately acknowledge that there is part of us that would rather not have to make a life changing decision! This can be about inertia, or emotional denial. It can also be about a part of ourselves that might like to not have to choose, and would prefer to keep all the options on the table—forever—having our cake and eating it, too.

This last attitude may be related to an important part of ourselves that Jungian psychotherapy is particularly aware of: the shadow. The shadow is essentially that in ourselves that we would simply prefer not to acknowledge. It has attitudes, and often wants things that the ego, the major conscious part of our personality, feels are completely unacceptable. To finally reach a real choice in a life changing decision might well require that we look at and acknowledge how the shadow part of ourselves really feels about it. Bringing that awareness into consciousness, admitting all that we really feel, may be a major piece of psychological work.

Choosing to Make a Decision

Sometimes, it can be hard to face our need to make a decision. We can procrastinate and distract ourselves, which may feel better in the short run. But it doesn’t really help us in the longer run if there is a decision that has to be made, for our well-being, or the well-being of those near to us. Also, in lots of situations, as Paul Tillich stated, “not to decide is to decide”—if we don’t consciously make a decision, it often amounts to stumbling into one fateful course or another. It’s often much better to embrace the need to make a decision.

Often, psychotherapy can be of a great deal of help when we have to make life changing decisions, and Jungian depth psychotherapy can be particularly helpful in supporting individuals through a decision-making process. It can be of great value to have a skilled and supportive psychotherapist / analyst who can assist us with extending compassion to ourselves as we grapple with our choices, and simultaneously assist us with staying honest and accountable to ourselves. The choices that we make in matters involving life changing decisions can form the backbone of our journey to wholeness.

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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How to Get the Most Out of Therapy

July 19th, 2021 · how to get the most out of therapy

A lot of people wonder if they should go into therapy, and also wonder how to get the most out of therapy, if they do. Can therapy help me, and how can I make the best use of the opportunities therapy provides?

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

The precise answer to these questions is going to vary a bit, depending on the type of therapy you decide to do. To make cognitive behavioural therapy or dialectical behavioural therapy work for you will require some different things than will be needed to make Jungian depth psychotherapy effective. Yet there are a surprising number of things that they have in common. What follows is a list of some of the most important things that you need to really make good use of therapy.

Connect Well with Your Therapist (or Analyst)

This is downright essential. Therapy or analysis is not a cookie cutter thing, where everyone goes to therapy in the same way, has the same relationship with the same therapist, and comes out with the same standardized result. There has to be a “good fit” between the client and the therapist. For instance, if a client wants a very structured experience, with a lot of input and feedback, he or she will probably want a different therapist than the client who looks to the therapist to basically hold space and listen. Finding a therapist whose personality you can connect with, and whose therapeutic and interpersonal style and whose view of the goals of therapy fit with your own is essential to the therapeutic process.

Have a Good Therapy “Container”

Jungian depth psychotherapists, in particular, emphasize that, for therapy to be successful, it needs a good “container”. They mean several things by this. Firstly, the therapy has to be and to feel safe. The client has to feel that her/his personal material is going to be confidential. More than that, the client needs to feel that the therapist will treat their personal revelations with a deep sense of respect that is nonjudgmental, affirming and curious in a way that is positive to the client. It’s essential that the client feel that he or she can be open and honest, and that the therapist will be careful with the precious things that the client reveals. This is especially true where the client is bringing forward material from the unconscious, such as dreams or fantasies, as these need to be handled extremely respectfully.

Maintain the Rhythm

As Emory’s Prof. Jennice Vilhauer asserts, scientific research shows that if therapy is going to be effective, it needs to be relatively frequent, and it needs to go on for a length of time. There’s a clear indication that not much gets accomplished in therapy unless there are about 20 sessions at roughly a weekly frequency, or more, over a longer time. Clearly, for much bigger things, considerably more therapy may be required. And for an ongoing process of comprehensive growth like Jungian analysis when a client is going through a major life transition, a regular rhythm has to be created over a longer time.

Live Out Your Insights; Put Some Trust in the Process

An important learning about how to get the most out of therapy is to take action on the insights that come up for you in the course of therapy. In Jungian circles, the Jungian analyst Toni Woolf, one of Jung’s associates, was famous for this. When people had an insight, or an interpretation of a dream brought a new perspective, she would bluntly ask her clients “Well, what are you going to do about it?”, or words to that effect.

(PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

And, in fact, doing something about insights in therapy, or possibilities of action that you and your therapist identify can do a lot to make therapy more effective. Put into action what you learn. Keeping a journey of insights from therapy can be incredibly helpful in this way. To make therapy work, it has to be more than just talking: you have trust the process enough to “translate” the insights into real action steps and attitude changes in the outer world.

Thinking carefully about how to get the most out of therapy can make a very important contribution to your overall growth through therapy and your journey towards wholeness. If you really intentionally engage with the therapy process, it can make a great deal of difference.

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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