Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Living a Life That Matters: Can Depth Psychotherapy Help?

August 19th, 2019 · living a life that matters

Everyone wants a life that is meaningful and valuable to them. The idea of “living a life that matters” rings true to nearly everyone.

Yet, how do we actually do that? What is it that is I need in my life to enable me to say, “my life matters” or “my life has value”? Very clearly, there’s great individual variation in each person’s answer to this question!
As the life cycle goes on for each of us as individuals, this question often takes on more importance. What is more, as the years go by, the question can often become more focused: what is it about my particular life, about specifically being me, that matters, and that gives my life dignity and meaning?

What Makes My Life Matter?

What exactly is it that makes me feel like my life matters? Well, pretty clearly, the answer to that question is going to vary greatly from person to person. We can talk in general terms about some key things, like love, meaningful work, and a sense of purpose, among other things. Yet, what really matters are the specifics.

If I’m going to understand what it is for me to live a life that matters, I’m going to have look in some real detail at myself, and at what it is that makes specifically my life matter. Through advertising, social media and other means, there are continual social pressures put upon us to find certain things meaningful or valuable. Our culture is always trying to tell us that this car, that vacation trip, or this mutual fund is going to take us straight to the things that really matter in life. This kind of messaging ignores individual differences between us — and if we ignore our individual characteristics, we can’t hope to find what it is that gives our own unique life value and dignity.

It’s a common experience for individuals to find that the question of what makes my life matter, or what makes life meaningful, takes on more and more importance as life goes along. (Although, as we saw in last week’s blog post, issues of meaning can be very important for people around the middle of life, or even well before that time.

Getting More Urgent in the Background

We can try to find refuge in what everyone else is doing, but it likely won’t enable us to get to the personal answers that we really need about our own unique lives. There can be a level of comforting numbness in just living a conventional life and “doing what everyone else does”. This is akin in some ways to the experience that Baudelaire calls “bathing oneself in the crowd”. Yet people who are basing their lives on convention can find it particularly painful and alarming to sense that they are just “going through the motions” in their lives.

Often, when an individual is living a life of “just going through the motions”, the unconscious mind starts to give urgent clues that this outward conformity is not reflective of who the person really is. An individual in this situation may have considerable anxiety and depression. Or, they may be subject to sudden inexplicable bouts of anger. They may also have a variety of violent and disturbing dream images. Terrifying dream images of strong, out of control angry figures, or hopelessly sad figures may appear.

Affirming The Value of Our Lives

To find the life that truly matters for us, as individuals, we’re continually drawn back to our own experiences of depth. Jung, when helping analysands to find what really matters to them, would often draw people back to their own childhood experience, and ask them what activity they enthralled them as a child in which they could completely lose themselves. It can also be very important for people to think about experiences they have had in later life that seemed charged with life and meaning. These are the experiences that humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow would refer to as “peak experiences’, while Jungians might call them “numinous”.

We also might find that the individual’s dreams overall have a great deal to say, as might the individual’s body. James Hollis tells us,

Transformation often comes to us in symbolic form. We have a dream image that perplexes, a symptom that will not go away, a relational pattern that continues to fester — each of these is a summons to ask What does the soul want of me? … this transformation has little if anything to do with the ego’s comfort or control, or the approval of others.

Hollis, What Matters Most

Hollis is not using the word “soul” here in a religious way, but in the sense of the deepest and most fundamental aspect of who we are. It is acknowledgment of that part of ourselves that leads most fundamentally to living a life that matters. Depth psychotherapy can be a vital tool in the process of connecting with those parts of our psyche.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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When Does Middle Age Begin — And What Does It Mean When It Does?

August 12th, 2019 · when does middle age begin

When does middle age begin? It might seem easy to determine whether someone is middle aged or not. But when does someone enter the psychological middle of life?

when does midlife begin
And what happens to a person when they do? The answer to these questions involves much more than determining the person’s chronological age.
Surveys show that people generally identify the middle of life as occurring roughly between the later 30s and age 60 or slightly earlier. But what exactly is the experience of being middle aged? What is psychologically different about the middle-aged period? And what does it mean for you or I when this midlife transition begins to occur?

When Does Middle Age Begin — Mentally?

There are all kinds of information sources out there which will tell you when middle age begins physically. They will point to all the issues around physical appearance, tiredness, aches and pains, eyesight, bladder, etc. However, the best of those articles will also tell you that the fundamental part of the arrival of midlife or middle age is psychological, and has to do with a specific midlife mindset.

What really characterizes this midlife mindset? Well, we have to bear in mind that there are huge differences psychologically between those who are in the midlife years. It’s essential that we respect the individual differences between people. Nonetheless, there are certain psychological characteristics that are shared very widely (if not universally) by those who are in middle age:

  • Awareness of mortality, and of the passage of time. The individual on some level comes to appreciate that they won’t live forever, and that time is passing.
  • Frequent feelings of discontentment and/or restlessness. The sense of the passage of time in life can lead us to wonder about how we’re spending our time, and “whether it’s all worth it.”
  • Questions of meaning and purpose. It’s not at all uncommon for people at midlife to start to ask some pretty fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of their lives
  • Experiences of depression or anxiety. Full-blown “midlife crisis” likely happens to only a minority of people undergoing the midlife transition. Yet, for all of the reasons above, it’s not at all uncommon for people to experience anxiety and depression in this phase of life.

Midlife: You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

What starts to make all of this very complex is that we live in a culture that prizes. This is linked to our society-wide fear of aging. As psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, noted, our civilization really has no cultural ideal of old age, or even middle age, and so,

our civilization does not really harbor a concept of the whole of life.

For many people, this can be extremely scary. With no ideals held out as we age, going into middle age, (or, even worse, the later years) can feel like slipping into a huge black hole. To use one of Erikson’s famous phrases, it can lead to a massive identity crisis. We can end up refusing to look at all he big issues described above — awareness of mortality, questions about whether its all worth it, and about the meaning of it all, and associated anxiety and depression.

We can find ourselves in grave doubt about who we are, and what our lives are worth — and, worst of all, we might not even be able to admit to ourselves that we’re wracked by fear and doubt.

When Does Middle Age Begin — For Me?

So, psychologically, middle age begins when I can accept and admit to myself that the big issues about the passage of time, and about being in the middle of life are real and alive for me. That may manifest in different ways for you than it does for me, or for someone else.

Each person will experience his or her journey through what Jame Hollis calls “the Middle Passage” in his or her own way. We can pretty much expect, though, that each of us will find that the middle of life poses deep questions to us about our own identity and the value and meaning of our lives. Finding personally meaningful answers to those questions — answers that are satisfying to you — can be a matter of vital importance.

Depth psychotherapy can be of great aid to individuals seeking to find a direction through the uncharted reaches of the middle of life. Working with a good depth therapist or Jungian analyst to become more aware of the undiscovered self can be a key part of our journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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Canada Day and the Psychology of Home

July 8th, 2019 · psychology of home

I’m writing this shortly after Canada Day 2019, which is a very fitting day to be thinking about the psychology of home.  The same is true of the U.S. July 4th holiday.

psychology of home
Canada Day, July 1, Parliament Hill, Ottawa
Canadians, new and long-term, are all familiar with the words of the Canadian national anthem:

“Oh Canada, our home and native land”

Our national anthem clearly draws the connection between Canadians’ national identity and the symbol of “home”. This sense of home, what Jungians would call the archetype of home, gets deeply evoked by our national birthday. It’s clearly something that resonates deeply with many, many people.
We all seem to crave somewhere that we can call “home”. This could be on the national level — that sense of “belonging to” or “coming from” a “home and native land”. (Or home and adopted land, as is the case for many of us in Canada, this land of immigrants). It is also a very powerful need on a number of other levels, like having a specific place to live, being part of a family, being in a relationship with a significant other, and many, many other things.

Where Am I at Home?

For all of us at some times, and for some people most of the time, the question “Where is home?” becomes central. For all human beings, this question of “Where do I belong?” is a crucial one. The human psyche seeks always for a sense of secure base: a place where we can be safe, secure and be ourselves.

What this means can vary greatly, from individual human being to individual human being. Some people have experienced environments of radical physical insecurity, such as war zones or physically abusive families, and their primary need is for somewhere physically safe. Other people may have a strong need for an emotionally secure environment, if they have experienced early family life with great emotional turmoil. Others may seek an environment where they are understood, and their differences and uniqueness are acknowledged and accepted. We reflect our needs in our image of home.

What If I Can’t Find Home?

Like me, you may have had times in your life when it’s very hard to find any sense of home. Sometimes, we can go for long periods of time before we are even able to acknowledge that we lack this sense of home or belonging. Yet the lack of a sense of home or secure base or fundamental safety and acceptance can be a major factor in anxiety and depression.

Sometimes we can be in denial that we are unable to find a sense of home. Until someone points it out to us, we may not be aware that that is what we’re experiencing. For instance, an executive in a multinational corporation may have had a fast-paced career in 15 cities in 10 countries, and because the work is so involving, he never has the chance to notice that he is suffering from a deep sense of disconnect that pervades his life. Yet when he slows down, he feels a sense of anxious foreboding. It can be easy for such an individual to keep running at his or her flat-out pace, rather than acknowledging what he feels. When the driven activity ceases, the individual may find themselves in the middle of a major life transition.

It may be essential for us to stop and look at our lives, and acknowledge that we do experience alienation and disconnect. We may need to approach ourselves with kindness, rather than trying to ruthlessly drive ahead.

Being More and More at Home in Myself

In Homer’s great work, the Odyssey, the hero Ulysses struggles for many years, against untold difficulties, so that, in the end, he can finally come back to his home. For us, too, coming to that sense of being at home in ourselves can also be a long process, and yet it may be exactly what we need.

The process of depth psychotherapy can contribute greatly to a sense of home. It can help us to feel more at home in the world, and, even more fundamentally, at home in ourselves. “Travelling home” in the sense of greater self-knowledge, self acceptance and self compassion is right at the heart of the journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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Spirituality and Depression: The Surprising Relationship

June 24th, 2019 · depression, spirituality and depression

Spirituality and depression are not discussed together too often, but probably they should be!

spirituality and depression
Some might even see spirituality as potentially banishing depression, but the relationship between the two is not nearly that simple. We often tend to see spirituality in terms of light, and possibly joy, and we can easily slip into tending to view it as almost a kind of “cure” for depression. Yet the relationship between depression and spirituality is subtle and complex.

Spirituality May Not “Cure” Depression

There are diverse opinions about whether spirituality and religion can assist people in dealing with depression. Some studies suggest that there is a positive link, but some recent studies have been more cautious in their findings.

A common thing in our time is to find people who would describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”. There is a movement in our time away from formalized belief systems in favour of various types of more personal spiritual exploration, characterized by activities such as yoga, meditation and even pilgrimages like the Camino de Santiago. SUch exploration can be a very common part of the midlife transition.

Some studies done on those who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” have found that there is a higher incidence of the symptoms of depression amongst those who would describe themselves as “spiritual”, but who don’t participate in formal religious institutions or activities, than in those who might describe themselves as more conventionally religious. “Spirituality” can sometimes tend to be a bit ungrounded, and a bit disconnected from the realities of living everyday life, in ways that may even actively contribute to a sense of loneliness and isolation.

How do we get to a spirituality that doesn’t contribute to depression, and that may even help us to overcome depression?

How Do I Deal with Spiritual Realities?

Jung saw spirit as a non-material aspect of human existence that can’t really be fully described or defined. Yet, he certainly didn’t feel that this elusive character means that spirit is unreal — far from it! Spiritual realities have their own sense of purpose connected to them, quite distinct from our human expectations. Jung sees the appearance of this dimension of human life as usually associated with strong feeling, as researchers like Profs. Neal Krause and Kenneth Pargament have emphasized in more recent times.

But there’s something important to recognize here. In some ways, Jung and others like him see spiritual reality as basically the opposite of the material reality that we live in every day. So, potentially, we could live our lives, eat sleep, work and do all the regular things that we do, and not really have any connection to spiritual reality. On the other hand, we could choose to live almost entirely in spiritual reality, with as little connection with the pragmatic realities of the world as possible.

However, Jung argued that neither of these paths would ultimately lead to a very meaningful life. From his perspective, in Andrew Samuels’ words, “spiritual goals must be embodied for fulfillment.”

So, how can we bring spiritual and material realities together, so that the relationship between spirituality and depression is a positive one?

Living Out Our Spirituality

One of the key requirements of a spirituality that is truly grounded in, and connected with, our own real lives is that the spirituality genuinely emerges from our lived experience. There is only one way that this can happen, and that is, if we examine our own lived experience, and really seek to understand who we are and what has happened to us in our lives in an honest and self-compassionate way. Only a spirituality in which all that we are can be welcomed in an open-hearted way can be a spirituality that helps us move away from depression, rather than miring us deeper in it.

One very effective way of understanding and developing compassion for our own unique lives is through depth psychotherapy. Engaging in therapy or analysis with a therapist who is attuned and sensitive to spiritual values can be a powerful way of integrating one’s journey to wholeness, and one’s particular spiritual path.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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Rocketman: The Journey of Accepting Who You Are

June 17th, 2019 · accepting who you are

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

accepting who you are

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

The Problem of the Public Self

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

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

When the Mask Gets Too Painful

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

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

Accepting the Exile

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

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

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

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

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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Amidst All the Pressure, Staying True to Yourself

June 10th, 2019 · staying true to yourself

Social pressure, of one kind or another, is a powerful, all-pervasive thing.  Staying true to yourself in the face of it can be a difficult task.

staying true to yourself

It’s easy for any of us to be unaware of, or to underestimate, the amount of pressure we all feel to fit into someone else’s idea of who we ought to be. Yet, if we truly going to find our own direction, it’s essential for us to be aware of just how much pressure to follow the desires and expectations of others we actually face.
The cost of social pressure can be high for individuals. Sometimes we realize this cost only in retrospect. Often, it’s only when we think about the roads not taken in our lives, that we start to realize how much letting others take us away from what we actually want has actually cost us.

Group Pressure is Surprisingly Powerful

Recent studies on the power of social pressure have a lot to teach us. Building on nearly 50 years of social psychology research, Emory University psychiatrist / neuroscientist Gregory Berns has demonstrated that social pressure can actually be strong enough to lead people to change their perception of reality, and that those who resist group pressure can experience very significant levels of emotional discomfort.

This has particular importance for us in relationships. Key relationships, such as families, are absolutely essential to human existence. Yet, at the same time, those key connections, like families, can do tremendous damage to our awareness of ourselves, and can enforce rigid forms of social conformity. Although we look to families for emotional shelter and support, often a family can be extremely intolerant of individual differences and the characteristics that make individuals unique. As Jung himself noted,

Children don’t belong to their parents… often they are about as characteristic of their parents as an apple on a fir-tree.

C.G. Jung, Correspondence

Given that group pressure has tremendous psychological power, and given that even our conjugal families and families of origin can be pressure vessels that induce conformity, what chance is there of staying true to yourself?

Individualism Isn’t the Same as Staying True to Yourself

Now, this all seems disquieting, because we live in a society that ostensibly values the individual and individual expression. We all give lip service to freedoms like freedom of mobility and freedom of expression. Yet it would probably be fair to say that we stress the value of individualism, of individual achievement, more than the value of individuation, which is the process of becoming the person you or I are most fundamentally meant to be.

Certainly, product marketers use the language and visual images of individuality to great effect in marketing campaigns. We all know the powerful images of the individual alone in his or her car, perhaps in some panoramic wilderness or some warm velvet night, putting pedal to the metal and sailing off in his or her Own Direction [capitals mine]. This must be very effective imagery: the automotive industry has used it for many years now. You can find similar usage of images in marketing a wide range of products — perhaps the most famous of all time being “The Marlboro Man”.

Yet it’s striking that this kind of advertising is itself a kind of social pressure, applied to induce thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or even millions of people to engage in the same behaviour. It raises the question, what would it be like to really “go in your own direction” — to really live in a way that fundamentally expresses who you are.

What’s more, the norms of whole communities, neighbourhoods and certainly family units get shaped by these kinds of social pressure. It’s easy for the individual to see themselves as functioning autonomously and independently, when there are all kinds of pressures at play that take us away from who are really are, and what we really want.

It’s very easy for each of us to delude ourselves, when it comes to “staying true to yourself”. We can think that we’re living out of our spontaneous selves, when we’re really living out of the long buried expectations of society, or some significant other, buried deeply and for a long time in our psyche. Is there any way past this dilemma?

illusions of individuality. marketing

Hearing Your Inner Voice: Staying True to Yourself

So then, is there no way to hear the voice of the self, and to live it out? Are we doomed to perpetually meeting the expectations of others and of our social surroundings?

Actually, there are things we can do that bring us more into contact with ourselves. It sounds incredibly simple, perhaps even simple-minded, but we can find ways to listen to ourselves.

As we explore our life story often we can begin to discern what is our true self, and the places where others, wittingly or unwittingly, have applied pressure upon us to do things other than what we wanted to do, to want things other than what we really want, and perhaps to be someone other than who we really are. The places in our lives where we have gotten the message that who we really are is not enough, or is even just plain “wrong”, are often places where we encounter anxiety and/or depression.

There are many ways of getting in contact with who we really are. One way is to explore what it is that we really like to do, and, especially, as C.G. Jung emphasized, getting in touch with the things that we really liked to do as a child, or as a young person. Finding ways to genuinely express ourselves in some way — through writing, through visual arts, through improv, through dance — can all be great ways to connect with the depths of you.

In addition, like many people, you may find that engaging in depth psychotherapy, especially Jungian analysis, can be a tremendous aid in staying true to yourself. Working with someone to investigate our unconscious and undiscovered self can be a tremendous benefit on the journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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How to Fix My Life? Some Bad News — and Some Good News…

May 27th, 2019 · how to fix my life

how to fix my life

“How to fix my life? ” is a huge question in our time. Self help books, TED talks, gurus on Oprah or Dr. Phil — all are devoted to answering this question.

We live in a time when there is a great obsession with trying to get our lives right, and finding the magic secret that will make us who it is that we really ought to be. It’s not really surprising that we think like this. We live in an era when our ingenuity and our technology have solved so many problems.
Only a hundred and fifty years ago, most people got around on foot or on the backs of animals. If you wanted to talk to someone, you had to go and see them face to face. Now everything has changed! Shouldn’t we expect the same kind of powerful fixes for our own personal lives, perhaps with issues like anxiety and depression?

First the Bad News: No Silver Bullets

It can be tempting to expect that the answer to “how to fix my life” should be as simple as buying a new car, or a new suit of clothes. However, the truth is,that the self-help gurus who have simple formulas for making your life or my life better are not really giving enough weight to how complex we are as creatures, or how complicated life can be.

There can be lots of talk of “re-wiring the brain” in this or that way, and change in the brain is possible, but it doesn’t usually come quickly. When it can occur, it requires quite a bit of time and effort. Experiences that have affected us very deeply, like experiences of the mother-child bond, or experiences that are difficult and overwhelming, that we call traumatic, have a profound effect on us that is not easily removed or erased. Many of the things that shape us as human beings remain with us, in some form, throughout the entirety of the human journey. We cannot expect some surgery to remove them as if they were a ruptured appendix.

What Do We Do With the Hand We’re Dealt?

WhIle we might be able to change some factors in our lives, and in our personal psychologies, there is much about our selves and our situation that we simply cannot change.

We have to accept that we have come to the place we are in our lives as the result of the action of many different factors. These factors include genetics, environment, family, cultural and others in combination with any experience that the individual may have had of trauma. We are who we are, in the particular place and time that we live in.

Life can be a real struggle if we cannot accept our own real lives. People can end up running from themselves in so many different ways, and yet never really be able to get away or escape.

We have to start by playing the hand we’ve been dealt. This life we’ve been given is the one life that we have: it defines who we are. It’s our starting place, and we can’t pretend that it’s not. If we can accept the hand we’ve been dealt, then perhaps we can start to play it. That might mean coming to greater understanding of who we really are, finding things we can change in our lives, and maybe finding ways to connect with others who can help us feel grounded and valued in our lives.

The Good News: Self Acceptance and Self Compassion

One of the very best things we can do for ourselves, as C.G. Jung frequently emphasized, is to actively work on bringing ourselves to a place of fundamental acceptance of who we really are.

It might sound very odd to say it, but to the degree that we can accept ourselves for who we are, we actually bring a profound kind of change into our lives. That might not seem at all like an answer to the question of “How to fix my life?” However, it is about a deep change in our relationship to ourselves.

The on-going work of understanding and accepting ourselves in depth psychotherapy, and living out of who we really are, is not an instant change or a magic bullet. However, if we stay with it, it is something that we can experience as deeply healing.

One very good starting point for this journey to wholeness can be a willingness to talk openly about ourselves in the context of therapy, and to work diligently toward self-understanding and self-acceptance. The real heart of the human journey, as Jung tells us, is the journey of individuation, the journey to become more and more who we are and to live that out in the world. To do this requires a fundamental kindness toward, and acceptance of, ourselves. The ongoing work of moving toward this goal is the very heart of Jungian depth psychotherapy.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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The Mother Child Bond, and Why It Matters SO Much

May 20th, 2019 · mother child bond

We’ve just celebrated Mother’s Day. This holiday affects people differently, but certainly leads us to reflect on the vitally important mother child bond.

mother child bond
Maternity (1935) – José de Almada Negreiros
You might think that Mother’s Day is a manufactured holiday, or you might feel that it’s a highly meaningful family event. Either way, there’s no question that it invites us to think about the crucial mother child bond — and what it means for the whole of human life.
This is not just important for children! The mother — archetypal mother — has huge symbolic significance for us through out the whole of our life journey.
The mother child bond is unquestionably the single most impactful relationship that a human will have in the course of a life. That impact may be positive or negative in any of quite a number of ways. What is certain is that we will experience its influence, both consciously and unconsciously throughout the life journey.

At Home in the World — Or Not?

We humans are born very dependent on our parents — especially our mothers. Compared to a lot of other species, a lot of our developing occurs after we leave the womb, especially in the first early years. As Prof. Robert Winston of Imperial College, London emphasizes, neuroscience, psychology and epigenetics all stress that a tremendous amount of our happiness and future mental health depends on the interaction between mother and child. We experience the impact of the mother child bond far into our adult lives.

The ground-breaking psychiatrist John Bowlby first developed the idea that a strong emotional and physical attachment to a primary caregiver is critical to our personal development, and this is a cornerstone of psychology today. However, years before, in 1927, Jung wrote that

The mother-child relationship is certainly the deepest and most poignant one we know… it is the absolute experience of our species [italics mine], an organic truth…

C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Volume 8

The mother-child bond, or lack of it, influences our ability to relate to others. Even more, it impacts the whole of our ability to relate to, and to trust, life and the world. This is true in infancy, youth and all through adulthood.

Running From — Or To — Mother

Jung emphasized that facing the reality of our experience of mother is essential if we’re to be able to journey toward wholeness as individuals. Whether experiences of “good mother” or of “bad mother” predominate in our lives, if we don’t look at or explore our experiences of mother, they can have a profound effect on our relationships — and the whole of our lives. As Jungian analyst Andrew Samuels puts it:

…if bad experiences predominate over good in infancy, then the “bad mother” pole of the range of expectations is activated, and there is no counterbalance.

Samuels, Andrew, et al., Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis

So, what might this look like? Such an individual might struggle with lack of trust in life, and especially trust in relationships. characterized by pessimism and a lack of trust in life in general, and perhaps of his or her own abilities in particular. There might well be a tendency for the individual to struggle with chronic depression and anxiety.

Well, does that mean that the person who has a purely positive experience of mother will be set up for smooth sailing through the ocean of life? Actually, according to Samuels, and to Jung, it does not. As Samuels tells us,

…an idealized image of the mother-infant [and, we might add, mother-child] relationship can lead to only the ‘good” end of the spectrum being experienced, and the individual will never come to terms with the disappointments and realities of life.

Samuels, Andrew, et al., Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis

So, such an individual, who has only experienced the positive side of mothering, may go through life with a kind of a “glass jaw”, as boxers would say. They may be particularly unable to “take it on the chin” when things get difficult in life, and may not be able to deal with the challenges that require accepting that what life dishes out is not always fair or easy. Such people may experience particular difficulty in dealing with major life transitions such as divorce, loss of a loved one, career setbacks, and other similar life challenges

“Good Enough” Mother Energy

As preeminent psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott stressed decades ago, what we actually need to enable us to cope with life is a mother child bond that is not perfect — but that is, as he put it, “good enough”Such a bond would include positive experiences of “good mother”, but also experiences where the mother cannot save us from all hurt or difficulty, where we have to gradually develop our capacity to look after ourselves in the world.

There are a great many people who have genuine gaps in their experience of mother in their families of origin.  (I would certainly include myself in that number.) Often, working with a supportive and empathetic depth psychotherapist can allow us to re-visit our experience of mother in ways that bring greater self-understanding, self-compassion and resilience.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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Retirement and Depression: Breaking the Linkage

May 6th, 2019 · retirement and depression

Can we break the all-too-common link between retirement and depression, as the retirement stage of life keeps lengthening?

retirement and depression
Many of us know at least one person who is wrestling with depression in retirement. When that individual is a close friend or a relative or a parent, we become very aware of the challenges involved in the major life transition that we call retirement. When that person is ourselves, the issue takes on even more importance.
I want to emphasize here that, in our time, the linkage between retirement and depression can begin quite some time before retirement actually starts.

P – Retirement and Depression: What’s the Root Connection?

C.G. Jung once said something important about retirement. He said it quite a number of years ago, but it’s even more relevant today than when he first said it:

It’s good to retire — but not into nothing.

~ C.G. Jung

“Retiring into nothing” is very much related to the linkage between retirement and depression. In the sense in which Jung meant it, “nothing” here refers to a meaningless life. The person who is “going into retirement” needs to feel that they’re not entering a vacuum where all the meaning and value that they’ve found in their previous work life has been sucked out, leaving them with nothing. No one who intentionally enters retirement does so with the idea that they’re signing up for a drab, meaningless existence. Yet many experience something not far from that.

Perhaps surprisingly, this discussion of “good retirement” and the topic of our last blog post, on “signs of burnout” both involve the same thing: the need to find meaningful, substantial involvement in life.

Let’s suppose that you enjoy your job, at least to some extent, and find that it provides some sense of meaning or purpose in your life. Then you cannot expect to find a valuable retirement, unless you’re getting these same needs for involvement and meaning or purpose — perhaps “making a contribution” — in your post-retirement life. Similarly, if your work life has fallen short in providing a sense of enjoyment or meaning or contribution, it’s going to be essential to find these things on the retirement life journey.

My clinical experience in a suburban depth psychotherapy practice suggests that finding these things in retirement is a substantial problem for many people. As a result, in too many cases, there is a connection between retirement and depression.

A – Retirement: Fantasy & Reality

As a culture, we have a lot of collective fantasies swirling around the subject of retirement.

retirement and depression
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Fantasyland?

In the post-war era, there was an understanding that people were “working toward” retirement at age 65. You were considered to have done exceptionally well if you were able to retire before that age (“Freedom 55”!). There was an emphasis on “escaping” from work. There was a sense that, when you retired, you would be entering a wonderful time that was essentially carefree, when you could do whatever you wanted to do with your time.

However, studies suggest that the likelihood that someone will suffer from clinical depression actually goes up substantially after retiring. The illusion that retirement is automatically some sort of Magical Mystery Tour has worn pretty thin. What is clear now, according to the leading experts is:

“The most successful retirees plan out their post-working lives.”

~ Prof. Ronald E. Reggio, Claremont McKenna College

Whether prior to, or during, retirement we need to reflect very carefully on our needs. This will lead us into important questions about our key values. You may be a person who puts a primary emphasis on creative forms of leisure, or a person who has a longing to create something on an on-going basis, or a person who fundamentally needs to be doing some kind of work.

How will you live out who you actually are? Failing to address this, and failing to think creatively about this stage of your life is a way of increasing the odds that depression could be your companion in retirement.

In large part that’s because work, whether we realize it or not, provides many of the ingredients that fuel happiness, including social connections, a steady routine and a sense of purpose. 

Retirement and Real Life

Living our complete life journey in a way that we find valuable and meaningful is key to avoiding the combination of retirement and depression, or getting out of it if we are already in it. There is great value in thinking creatively about where we are in our life journey.

Here’s a list of six fundamental things that we can do for ourselves in or near retirement:

  • 1) Staying active and in good shape, as good health is essential for good retirement.
  • 2) Keep social: deepen your existing bonds and make new ones.
  • 3) It can often help to keep some sort of routine or plan for the day, as structure often helps to get more out of the day.
  • 4) Carefully consider doing some form of meaningful “work”, in some sense of the word. Often part-time workers often stay in a better place mentally than those who quit cold turkey.
  • 5) Consider doing something that involves “giving back”, or volunteering — contributing can increase mental well-being.
  • 6) Think about some form of learning or classes, as a way of exploring new things and staying mentally alert.

In addition to all of the above, retirement is one of the major life transitions that leads an individual to ask deep level questions about her or his own identity and life story and about what is ultimately meaningful in his or her life. It can be an excellent time to embark on working with a Jungian depth psychotherapist, to help find orientation on the life journey.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)


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Connectivity, Loss of Identity and Signs of Burnout

April 23rd, 2019 · burnout

There’s every indication that more and more people are showing signs of burnout related to our always-on world.

signs of burnout
Technology has had a big role in changing our relationship to work. That change is continuing at a very rapid rate in our time, perhaps even more rapidly that ever before. As a result, the signs of burnout that are associated with being connected 24/7 are more and more apparent in the lives of many business and professional people.
Though information technology seems to play a key role in the intensity, rapidity and depth of this type of issue, it shares the familiar characteristics of all burnout. While long hours are very often a precursor to burnout, the banner signs of burnout are well-known:
  • cynicism;
  • depression;
  • lethargy;
  • insomnia;
  • anxiety;
  • physical symptoms such as skin rash or hair loss; and,
  • lack of any feeling of achievement at work.
What is really at the root of this epidemic of burnout?

Connectivity and Distorted Identity

Very often social media and other forms of connectivity (text, email) act like office politics on steroids. We know from research that they can easily lead to endless struggles to find status and a sense of self-worth that comes through recognition by the peer group. Often this can mean finding false identity in endless work hours, or in markers of corporate or social status. Depending on the nature of the job, this can lead to a strong sense of being out of touch with who I really am, and of “the genuine me” not being valued. One key symptom of this may occur when an individual is never feeling ready to face the job or to face co-workers.

Yet, social science research shows what we might intuitively expect. Finding value in a work role doesn’t actually come from this kind of jostling for status and social position. As the research of a leading authority, Yale’s Prof. Amy Wrzesniewski has shown, the single biggest factor in finding value in work is finding work meaningful — the belief that my work somehow makes a real difference to people, or somehow makes the world a better place.

If my work doesn’t somehow give me this sense of meaningful contribution, the sense that I’m giving myself to some lasting meaning or value, it’s likely that I’m not going to feel any great sense of value in my work. If, on top of that, work makes all kinds of demands on me that are either over my boundaries, or, at odds with who I really am, there is then a very high likelihood that I’m going to start displaying the signs of burnout.

Toxic Work Persona?

As we face unprecedented levels of burnout, it’s important for each of us to ask ourselves whether our work is something that we find personally meaningful, and that we can see as an expression of who we really are. Because if who we really are isn’t acceptable in our workplace, we can pretty much take it as given that there will be pressure on us to adopt patterns of behaviour that are over our boundaries or that don’t line up with my real identity.

It’s not uncommon in many business cultures to glorify working hard, late at night or early in the morning. It can become a badge of honour to work longer and harder hours than your co-workers. Consider quotes like the following, which you can find all over social media:

“All the late nights and early mornings will pay off.”

“If you’re not going where you want to be in your life … consider what you’re doing between 7 p.m. and 12 a.m.”

These quotes embody common attitudes that lead to a person being attributed status or being seen as virtuous in many workplaces now. No one is saying that working hard is not a good thing. But depth psychotherapists know that working without limits or boundaries greatly increases the odds of damaging your physical or mental health.

If you’re working in an environment where what is exalted as “good work” is something that consistently takes you outside of your boundaries, two things are true. First, the persona or social presentation that the work environment expects of its workers may well be toxic for you. Second, if you persist in that environment, even though, at a deep level, you really know it’s wrong for you, then you may well be in denial, and you may well be hurting yourself.

Identity and Vocation

Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner [person]: [s]he is called.

~ C.G. Jung

We discussed above how it’s necessary to feel that our work is of benefit, or that it makes a positive contribution, in some way or other, if we are going to feel that it’s meaningful,. Jung would tell us that, the more we feel that our work is really a genuine expression of the person we most fundamentally are, the more we will find it of value, and the more likely we are to feel that it is bringing something of benefit.

This idea of work as an expression of who we most fundamentally are, is central to Jung’s concept of vocation. Certainly vocation is about more than just the work we do, but it certainly includes our work. The fundamental idea of Jungian vocation is living out who we most fundamentally are.

From Jung’s perspective, the way to best counteract or reverse the signs of burnout involves recovering, or just plain discovering our true identity, and understanding what really resonates with “the inner person”, as Jung might say, in terms of work.

Trying to recover this sense of what really resonates, and what makes us feel truly alive, is a journey toward wholeness that we can all embark on today. Working with a depth psychotherapist, and getting to know ourselves in much more intimate detail, can also be a tremendous benefit when we’re on the road to our truest vocation.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS: Holly Lay (Creative Commons Licence)

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