Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Tending the Soul and the Passage of Time in the Holidays

December 5th, 2022 · passage of time

The yearly arrival of the Holidays reminds us of both continuity and the passage of time. What does this mean for tending the soul, the essence of ourselves?

(PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

As we go through the repeated cycle of the year there is something that is comforting and reassuring in its recurrence and stability. Yet, there is something else as well. As we see the years go by, we are reassured to see the seasons pass in their regular ways. But then, we are also haunted by an awareness of something else. That is the passage of time, and its meaning for our particular, individual lives.

The seasons, and particularly the Holidays, come back to us in their endless repetition. In many ways, with their traditions and patterns, they stay the same, recurring again and again. Yet what happens to us as individual humans, is different. We find that we change, and we age, in many ways. Each of us is a somewhat different individual every time that the Holidays come back to us.

With each year, we have had a little more experience, a little bit of change in ourselves. We notice this particularly as we get near to the midlife transition, and then travel on in the second half of life. These life stages draw our attention more and more to the passage of time and the changes in ourselves.

These types of realizations can evoke very strong feelings. The Holidays are a time when we might feel them particularly strongly.

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, [whatever they do, whoever they are].

~C.S. Lewis

It All Passes By!

In many ways, it’s very good news that we experience the passage of time through the return of events like the Holidays. As a culture, we experienced an unbearable sameness of time in the lockdowns of the recent pandemic period. I wrote about this in my 2020 blogpost Lockdown, Soul and the Passage of Time . We need some ways to mark and measure the passage of time, in order to feel that life has momentum and meaning—in essence, to keep it human.

The Holidays appear and then reappear in our lives, with something of the same feelings associated with them every time they make their return. Often this adds to the sense of meaning in our lives. We are connected, to our earlier and later selves, to family, friends and everyone who is celebrating the same season, and to previous and following generations. This connection with the fabric of the human race, and to the flow of the human story, is of great importance to us.

The Passage of Time in Our Individual Lives

Yet this same awareness of the passage of time associated with the Holidays may lead us to reflect on our lives as individuals. Each passing Holiday season may remind us of the passage of time in our individual lives. As another year goes by, we may well reflect on what the year has brought for us as individuals. It may lead us to ask ourselves whether we’re getting the things that we want and need from our lives. These questions may be particularly acute if we’re going through a major life transition, or are dealing with grief or major loss.

Our awareness of time may lead us to the question of individual identity and meaning. For human life to stay viable, we have to have some sense of meaning connected to our individual existence. What we find meaningful varies greatly from individual to individual. That we need something meaningful in our lives for us is a basic fact of each of our human lives.

Who am I? The question I had my whole life.

~Kim Namjoon, BTS

The passing seasons and years make us strongly aware of the passage of time. That may give a sense of deep importance and urgency to the question of what has deep meaning and reality in our lives. As the unique individual that I am, what, for me, carries the deep sense of reality and value for which I yearn?

Meaning and Reality for Me, In the Passage of Time

The search to discover what has meaning and reality for each of us, in our uniqueness, is a key part of the individuation process. It’s an essential element in the unfolding of our unique selves. Another way to look at this is to view it as a fundamental kind of compass. It gives us the ability to know to what we wish to say yes to, or no to, on the journey of our lives.

Working with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist or analyst can be of immense help in furthering our search for meaning and reality. It can be of great value as we seek to unfold the majesty and mystery of the passage of time in our lives.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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Tending the Soul Through the Holidays

November 29th, 2022 · tending the soul

“Tending the soul through the Holidays” is the theme I’ve chosen for a series of blog posts for the period leading up to the Holidays at the end of December.

We tend candles throughout the Holiday season, and we tend lights... What about tending the soul?
(PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Now, for those of us living in 2022, “tending the soul” and “getting ready for the holidays” can seem like complete opposites! I hear many stories from clients about how stressful and anxious it often is to deal with the Holidays. There are plenty of reasons for this.

Not least of these is the huge sense of expectation the Holidays create, in children, certainly, but often no less in adults. Another major issue is around dealing with family members and other relationships during Holiday interactions. For many people, this is all complicated by particularly wounding experiences that may have occurred right at the holiday season. These might include the loss of a loved one; or deeply hurtful experiences with a relative struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. and many other kinds of issue. Additionally, there are a surprisingly large number of people who suffer from religious trauma, and for these individuals, the Holidays can actually be quite triggering.

Also, the Holidays are a period associated with being social and gregarious. People do a lot of socializing during the Holiday period. I’ve recently been told by several clients that the majority of the socializing they do all year occurs within a 6-8 week period around the Holidays. Tending the soul is an activity that we would see as having an inward or introspective dimension. This might seem like swimming upstream during the Holiday period!

The Absence of Soul at the Holidays

This last point brings us up against an important issue. For many people, the Holidays can actually seem to be a time where they experience the absence of soul. By this, I mean something more than simply experiencing the Holidays as hectic and frenetic. For many people, the Holidays can feel artificial and superficial. This is a time when people are looking for something lasting and real, especially given the stressful and unpredictable character of these recent pandemic years. “They” tell us that a deep, solid, lasting reality is what the Holidays are all about. Yet it can seem very hard to find that unshakable, comforting reality.

Soul’s Call, and Tending the Soul

We feel a beckoning in us for something real, something lasting, something that gives our lives solidity. Where can we find that, amidst all the Holiday messaging that saturates us in the media? Jung gives us his assessment:

Who knows the way to the eternally fruitful climes of the soul? You seek the way through mere appearances…. What good is all that? There is only one way and that is your way. You seek the path. I warn you away from my own. It can also be the wrong way for you. May each find [their] own way [italics mine].

C.G. Jung, The Red Book

“There is only one way and that is your way.” Jung is underlining for us the importance of discerning and connecting with the depths of who we are. For Jung, this is a very individual activity. We cannot follow someone else’s formula to do this—not even his.

If we’re going to go our own way, we’re going to have to know ourselves. That means exploring ourselves, and taking the time to understand our genuine reactions. It means understanding our history, certainly, and the events that have really shaped us. It also means understanding, in a compassionate way, our own most fundamental nature.

So, What are We Going to DO About Tending the Soul?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

So, how do we actually do any of the things that involve going our own way? That is going to be the subject of the posts to come in this series. However, one key starting point is genuinely listening to what we can find or see of the voice of our genuine selves. This is deeply connected to value and meaning in our lives, as emphasized by logotherapists like Viktor Frankl. It may appear in the most surprising of places sometimes, and we have to be careful not to dismiss, judge or overlook it.

This voice of the self may take some real discernment to start to locate. Jung indicates that it was a demanding process even for him, We have to try and locate the things that have genuinely lasting value, for us, in our own individual lives.

This time leading up to the Holidays when, surprisingly enough, this search for value and meaning in or own individual lives becomes a matter of great importance. To embark on our own personal journey towards wholeness may be of great healing value at this Holiday season. From the perspective of Jungian depth psychotherapy, this search is of incomparable importance.

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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These Things Are On My Bucket List—Or Are They?

November 14th, 2022 · on my bucket list

In recent years the phrase “on my bucket list” has come into popular parlance. This isn’t surprising; it’s a phrase we often find useful!

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

What do we use this phrase to indicate? Well, if something is “on my bucket list”, it usually means that this is something that is so important to me, that I want to be absolutely certain that I do it before I die (or, “kick the bucket”). You now often hear people use this expression when they are describing travel destinations, e.g., “going to the Amalfi Coast is on my bucket list”.

At least in the part of North America that I inhabit, it seems that we are all walking around with our bucket lists. We add items from time to time, perhaps substituting items for others. And marketers are more than keen to tell us what should be on our bucket list!

Well, why do I have things “on my bucket list”? The short answer is because these particular experiences must be of the greatest value and importance to me. I simply must see, do, or experience them while I have life left to do it. Of the endless number of things that I could see, do, or experience during my life, these things top the list. I may fit all other kinds of experience into my remaining life, but, to use my example above—visiting the Amalfi Coast has got to get done!

So, how do things get to be so important that they end up on your bucket list? Well, they must have great meaning and value. And where does that come from?

The Things That Get On My Bucket List

The things that get on my bucket list must be things that really grab me. When I think about having, experiencing or doing these things, it must seem to me that they would be peak experiences. Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow defines a peak experience as follows:

The emotional reaction in the peak experience has a special flavour of wonder, of awe, of reverence, of humility and surrender before the experience as before something great”

This is very akin to what C.G. Jung would call a numinous experience. These are experiences in life of tremendous, incomparable value. To be the experiences that are the most valuable of an entire lifetime, means that we put them at the head of our personal list. The following particularly apt story from the New Testament makes exactly the same point:

…a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value… went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Matthew 13: 45-46

How Things Get on My Bucket List

Things get on our bucket list through our memories and life experiences, our feelings and anticipations—and in so many other ways. What we have felt, known and been in our past profoundly influences our desires and our hope for future life. Our hopes and aspirations are deeply coloured by our prior life experiences. What we yearn for in the future is definitely a reflection of what we have been, and what we are now.

Here’s something that’ important to be aware of: things may yet get on my bucket list in the future, as a result of parts of myself of which I’m currently unaware. It’s true! I know what I want consciously now. Yet, I also have unconscious needs, energies and aspects of myself that may step into the spotlight of consciousness. These things may change the shape of what I need, desire and aspire to. These yearnings might even be at the root of a current experience of depression or anxiety.

In other words, don’t assume that your bucket list is finished and complete just yet! Your undiscovered self may have much to add to the list. What are the deep desires and yearnings that are unfolding in you?

What are Your Pearls of Great Price?

As long as we are alive, the process of discovering our deepest values and yearnings continues to unfold. So does the process of discovery of our deepest selves. Often the process of working with a discerning and supportive Jungian analyst or depth psychotherapist can greatly assist in the process of moving toward what is finally most valuable and meaningful in our lives, and what it is that we most deeply desire.

Wishing you every good thing for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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Finding Your Real Life After Retirement

November 7th, 2022 · life after retirement

Real life after retirement?’ some might ask, “Is that a thing?” It most certainly is, but you’d never know it from the messaging we get around retirement!

What can we expect from life after retirement? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

A lot of messaging around retirement in our culture has very little to do with “real life after retirement”. The vast majority of the retirement messaging we get falls into the “freedom after age X” category. “Age X” may vary, but one famous example that permeated the media for a very long time was an insurance advertisement that extolled the freedom that individuals would attain from retiring by a certain age—a very young age by most peoples’ standards. This advertising was targeted at boomers, but this meme or theme of retiring at a precociously young age is still around. A slightly different form of it seems to have captured the imagination of of Generation X and millennials. Now, the idea is often portrayed in terms of accumulating the resources to retire very young, and thus escape the clutches of corporate life.

The overriding theme here seems to be some variant of “retirement as escape”. The idea is that, if the individual can accumulate a certain level of wealth, then he or she can move into a life that has none of the negatives of working life. The individuals’ life will finally be his or her own, and days will be filled with the individual doing exactly what he or she wants, all day long. This sounds idyllic.

The other messaging is at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. It images retirement as a state of lack of direction, and most often imagines that state as associated with a process of decline and atrophy. A process of slow disintegration and disconnection that ultimately ends in a completely dependent state. Needless to say this image is the shadow of the “freedom” imaging described above. Negating all the happy talk, these images float around the edges of our consciousness about “freedom at age X”. But they serve to bring us back to the basic question: is it possible to find real life after retirement?

Real Life After Retirement: Not Into Nothing

At one point, C.G. Jung writes about a man who made the decision to retire, who had a very difficult experience. He found he could not stand the ennui when he retired. Yet, he also found that he could not get re-engaged mentally to his former business when he tried to return to it. Jung relates what he said to the man:

I say to him: ‘You were quite right to retire from business.  But not into nothingness. [Italics mine]  You must have something you can stand on.  In all the years in which you devoted your energy to building up your business you never built up any interests outside of it.  You had nothing to retire on.”

You were right to retire, but not into nothingness. You must have something you can stand on. This idea of “something to stand on” is essential to finding real life in retirement. It’s not enough to just have “freedom” in retirement. There must be lasting meaning and value—something that gives the retiring individual’s life substance. Many people dread the prospect of retirement, because it can feel like a descent into meaninglessness and purposelessness. Is there any way to find underlying meaning and value in this huge life transition?

Individuation and Meaning in Retirement

How to we begin to find what it is that will sustain us through our retirement? Or, for that matter, at any stage in our lives? One important way is for us to understand and appreciate our own life journey, and our own uniqueness.

It can take some real effort to understand the journey that we have been on in this life, what makes our life journey unique and what it is that has particular meaning or value for us in that journey. This really requires that we look at our lives carefully, with compassion and curiosity.

It can be very tempting not to look at our lives this way, and to see our life journey as “pretty much like everybody else’s”. It might be easy from this perspective to be dismissive of where our lives have taken us, maybe even contemptuous, and to see ourselves as simply “one of a million”. From there, it might be easy to feel that the things that have mattered to us in our lives are not really that important. I’m reminded of someone I know, an Albertan, who was asked to comment on a website on what he had done in the forty-five years since leaving high school. His only comment: “In the oilfields.”

“In the oilfields”—OK, I get it. But I’m curious! What happened out there in the oilfields? What was it like? What was my friend’s unique experience in the oilfields? How has it affected him? What matters to him most deeply—now–in the light of his experience, in both his conscious and unconscious selves?

Soul and Real Life After Retirement

This takes us into the territory of what Jung, and people like archetypal psychologist James Hillman would call soul. This is the exploration of what has the deepest and most lasting value in our lives on both the conscious and unconscious levels. The question of how we’re going to connect with that deepest value, and live it forward, is of primary importance in our retirement years. The exploration of that deep identity is the crowning culmination of a life, and it can be of the greatest importance to find an ally who can assist us in this such as a supportive Jungian analyst or depth psychotherapist. This work goes far beyond the work of merely checking items off on a bucket list.

Join me next time for the sequel to this post, “Beyond the Bucket List”!

With every good wish for your personal life journey,

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

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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Midlife and Beyond: Unfinished Business in Later Life

October 31st, 2022 · unfinished business in later life

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

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

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

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

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

Tripping Over Our Unfinished Business in Later Life

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

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

Yearning and Unfinished Business

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

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

Living in Denial

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

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

Beyond Unfinished Business in Later Life

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

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

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

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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Who are you really? Identity, Vocation and Wholeness

October 24th, 2022 · who are you really

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

Really. (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

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

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

Identity

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

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

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

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

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

Vocation

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

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

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken

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

Wholeness

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

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

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

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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People Pleaser Personality Traits and the Call of the Self

October 17th, 2022 · people pleaser personality

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

(PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

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

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

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

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

Lucy Maude Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

What Do People Pleasers Do?

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

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

Rooted in the Unconscious

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

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

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

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

When the Spirits Come Back

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

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

The People Pleaser Personality and the Self

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

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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Making Hard Decisions: Through the Fire of Tough Choice

October 3rd, 2022 · making hard decisions

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

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

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

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

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

Not to decide is to decide.

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

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

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

Making Hard Decisions at Key Points in Our Lives

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

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

hardest choices: conflict of values

Why We Tend to Avoid Making Big Decisions

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

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

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

Making Hard Decisions and Our Deepest Values

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

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

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

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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What Does It Really Mean to Live Your Own Life?

September 26th, 2022 · live your own life

“You’ve gotta live your own life” is a trope that might remind you of the 1960s! Yet, there’s profound truth embedded in what might seem like a mere slogan.

What would it mean for you to live your own life? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

We can feel this impetus to “live your own life”, and the ways it has embedded itself in popular culture. For instance, through the time of the pandemic, and now in its aftermath, we have been hearing about “the Great Resignation”. Through the pandemic, many people have been actively leaving jobs where they faced burnout in precarious or stressful work environments. They have simply made the move, and gone on to other things. The popular imagination has been captured by the image of large numbers of people suddenly moving in the direction of what they want in life. As we have gone through this major life transition, it has evoked the question of “how do I go after what I really want?”

The inner urge to “live your own life” can powerfully capture our imagination. We can imagine going with our deepest inclinations, and being captivated by them, finding our lives suffused with meaning and value. There may be part of you that hears that persistent call to “live your own life”. But how do you actually do it?

“‘Live Your Own Life’? Well, Maybe If I Won the Lotto…

In fact, the stock and trade of companies that run lotteries are fantasies that riff on the theme of “live your own life”. In the fantasy space of lottery advertising, people cavort unencumbered by financial and other restrictions, apparently waking up every day to live out whatever whim comes to mind. But is that really what it means to “live your own life”?

For most of us, living our own lives would need to be something more than random cavorting. Questions of meaning and purpose or value are fundamentally connected to what it means to live your own life. What is it that you ultimately value the most, or that has the most significance for you? It might take some genuine inner search, to find the value or meaning that would be central to the feeling that “I’m living my own life.”

What kind of things carry the greatest meaning and value for you? When do you feel that you’re most yourself?

Listening to Your Own Life

If you’re like most people, it may take some genuine effort to properly answer the question of what really carries meaning and value for you. Most of us are so bombarded by the busyness of our culture and the constant din of advertising that we find it hard to get to what really matters to us in a personal way. C.G. Jung writes of how he went through a prolonged period in the middle of his life where he was trying to get down to the depths of himself. My experience working with individuals in midlife transition suggests that many people have an experience that is not all that different.

Part of what makes this process more involved is that each of us has an unconscious aspect of our personality. This is not something broken or pathological; it is part of the overall richness and wonder of who we are. But it does mean that we have to try to understand and explore our unconscious selves, if we are to be genuinely able to truly live our own particular unique life.

Quite often, people will carry awareness of themselves in their unconscious mind that is partially or fully unknown to their conscious personalities. It is only when we start to listen to the voice of the unconscious, in our dreams, in our emotional reactions to others, and by finding ways to express our inner life that we can really begin to meet the challenge to “live your own life”.

Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

To live and to live out who we really are is our unique privilege. Seeking to compassionately understand ourselves and to live in accord with what has the deepest meaning for ourselves is one of the most important and valuable things that we can do. It can be of immense benefit to work with a supportive depth psychotherapist on the great journey of “living your own life”.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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Here Comes Autumn: Coping with Life Changes in the Fall

September 19th, 2022 · coping with life changes

I write reasonably often on the subject of coping with life changes. In this blog, I’d like to focus on life changes associated with the Fall of the year.

Travelling Fall Roads (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

In North America, at least, Fall is a season when the issue of coping with life changes comes to the fore. In this season, a lot changes in many of our lives in quite a short span of time. Naturally we immediately think of children going back to school, and students returning to university, but the actual range of changes is a great deal wider than that. What is more, those changes are certainly not confined to the youngest among us. Those of any age can easily be subject to major change with the coming of autumn.

The coming of Fall makes us acutely aware of the passage of time. The rhythm of life changes for children and students, as they go back to their studies. Fall activities of many kinds resume, such as sports, book clubs, service clubs, yoga and mindfulness meditation classes, to name just a few.

Fall Changes and the Passage of Time

As we move into Fall in the mid-range northern latitudes where I live, changes in the natural world are very dramatic. Often almost overnight, the trees shift from the richness of lush green foliage, to brilliant yellows and oranges, and then those leaves fall and blow as dried husks across the land. It’s a remarkable change of state, and it presages changes in the minds of those who witness it. We become acutely aware of the passage of time, and not just in the abstract. We become aware of the passage of our own personal time.

Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.

~Gilda Radner

Changes in nature are mirrored by equally striking changes in human affairs. The young mother watching young children going back to school remembers her own early school years. The middle aged father sees the practice of the high school football team, and remembers the feeling of the helmet and the ball. The grandparent follows the grandchild’s start at university, and remembers sitting in the big lecture hall, awaiting the first lecture of freshman year. There are connections, passages and patterns. Fall is a season that evokes deep feelings and reflections about our lives.

The Changes of Fall Echo Major Life Transitions

As we watch the events of the Fall, we may be brought back to major life transitions from our past. Or the unfolding of Fall may serve to make us more conscious of major life transitions that we are currently undergoing. For instance, it can be a very significant moment when the youngest child leaves for university, and a couple or a single parent is confronted with an empty nest and the the life questions that brings.

Similarly, a middle-aged person may confront poignant depression or anxiety at this time of year and may be confronted by the reality of mid life transition or later life transition. Really, anyone at any age may find that this time of year asks some very pointed questions. They may sound like: “My life is going by. Am I finding meaning and value in it? Time is precious. What do I need in my life now?

Coping with Life Changes and the Path to Wholeness

Fall brings deep changes in weather, light and vegetation. Combined with the whole shift in focus of our activities at this time of year, it also often brings the passage of time home to us in a very visceral way. Autumn can be a season that makes us profoundly aware of the reality of coping with life changes. These changes often affect us profoundly in ways that are both conscious and unconscious. It can be of the greatest importance for us to become aware of these movements and changes in our psyche, and to respond to them in ways that are life-giving.

Depth psychotherapy can often greatly assist the process of coping with life changes, and understanding their deeply personal significance. Jungian therapy has a particular focus on the meaning and importance of such changes, and work with a supportive analyst can often bring deep benefits.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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