Journeying Toward Wholeness

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What’s My Life Story? The Story I Buy Into Affects My Life

January 27th, 2020 · what's my life story

One of the most important questions a person might ask themselves is “What’s my life story?”

Why is that such an important thing? Well, it turns out that the stories we repeat to ourselves have a way of replaying and replaying in our lives. That can be a good thing for us — or something very debilitating.

Some people are surprised at the idea that we each have a life story that we tell to ourselves and quite possibly to others. “I’m not somebody important or famous! I don’t go around ‘telling’ my story!” Yet, the fact is, that in some very important and perhaps surprising ways, we do exactly that.

Recurring Themes and Bedrock Beliefs

Without realizing it, we all fall into the grip of certain key stories, and they can have an immense impact on our lives. We can all recognize some of the themes that appear in our stories, often from very early in our lives. Here are some examples:

  • The Hero Child – the one “destined” (or expected) to achieve great things;
  • The Victim – the one who always gets (and expects to get) mistreated by life or others;
  • The Outsider – the one who, for some reason, never quite “fits in”;
  • The “Good” Girl or Boy – the one who is destined (or expected) to be good all the time;
  • The “Bad” Boy or Girl – the one who always does “bad” or rebellious things;
  • The Caretaker – the one who is destined (or expected) to always take care of others.

You can probably think of people in your life who fit into one of these categories. Or, perhaps you realize that one of these stories governs all or some important part of your life. There are also many other “stories” that we can find governing all or part of our lives.

These stories are important, and they actually have a huge impact on our lives. That can be a very good thing if the stories genuinely reflect who we really are. In that case, they can help give our lives value and meaning.

In the words of the famous narrative therapist Michael White:

The most powerful therapeutic process I know is to contribute to rich story development.

While Jungian and depth psychotherapists might have a somewhat different understanding of “story” than White does, the above statement is profoundly true!

The Power of Hidden Stories

What are your hidden stories? The “narratives” that form and shape your life? As Jungian Gary Trosclair tells us,

One of the fundamental tasks we need to accomplish in therapy is to step back from the isolated details of our lives and get a sense of the larger picture, the patterns and themes that comprise our stories and to some extent define our lives. [T]hese stories … lead to our fundamental beliefs about who we are, how the world operates … and what will make life fulfilling for us…. Bad stories make us sick and good stories heal [Italics mine].

If we diligently ask, “What’s my life story?”, we can make conscious stories that are the real engines behind our lives, understand them, and see how they make us feel and act. If the story lines up with a good self-compassionate assessment of who we really are, we can see how it strengthens our sense of ourselves, reduces anxiety, and empowers us to walk into our lives in a good way. If it doesn’t support us, we can begin the search for better, more fulfilling stories.

If we remain unconscious of our stories, they retain a power over our lives that can be shocking in its effects. Often, the really powerful stories in our lives start to appear before we’re old enough to consciously make choices. These stories can give us extremely powerful messages about who we are, and what we can expect for our lives.

Example. C. is the daughter of parents of humble backgrounds who immigrated to Canada slightly before she was born. Her parents made enormous sacrifices for their children, and lived lives that were almost totally oriented to “the kids’ future”. On some level C. felt an enormous pressure to succeed. She worked furiously, and excelled at academics, got a full scholarship to university, attended a fine U.S. medical school, and went on to become a well respected orthopedic surgeon. At 46 years of age, she asks “Is any of this really what I wanted? Who am I, anyway?”

“What’s my life story?” is a hugely important question, and the answer to it can make all the difference in the level of fulfillment and self-acceptance I find in my life.

In the second part of this post, “Getting to the Real Story”, we’ll look at some of the important ways in which we can start to get nearer to our real story, and further our journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Making Choices at Demanding Times in Your Life

January 20th, 2020 · making choices

Making choices can be easy and pleasant, or can take us through some of the hardest parts of our life journey.

Which way?

It often happens that we end up having to make major choices during the most demanding parts of our lives, which are sometimes called major life transitions. In fact, it may be the need to make a particularly important choice that actually creates a major life transition!

Sometimes choices are easy, but when they’re about things that are really important, they are often hard. When the choice is about something really demanding, often life is asking us who we really are.

I can recall one really difficult choice in my own life journey. It was a choice made in my very early 30s. I can truly say that it was a choice that determined which of two substantially different versions of being myself I was going to live out, for the rest of my life. After I had made it, I truly felt that I was somebody different than I was before i made it, much as Robert Frost wrote in those famous lines:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

When I Have to Choose

When we have to choose, and we sense that this choice is going to “make all the difference”, what are some of the most important types of decisions that we as people make? Well, this is far from exhaustive, but here’s a list of some typical major decisions in life:

  • to return to university for an advanced degree;
  • to stay with my career, or start my own business;
  • to get married;
  • to leave a marriage;
  • to have children;
  • to not have children; or,
  • to retire.

I’m sure that you could add many items to the list. What are some of the things that go on inside of us when we have to make these kinds of choices?

Well, one thing that is often present is that we are keenly aware of the things that we might get with each respective choice that we make, and we are simultaneously aware of what it is that we might lose. Often, we are also very keenly aware of what we know about making this choice, and also what we don’t know. And sometimes we’re keenly aware that we don’t know what we don’t know — that there are great gaps in our knowledge.

We may look at the issue from a very logical perspective, and that can be a very important thing to do. Yet there’s often a great deal more to a decision than that. Sometimes it can be very important to listen to our intuition, or “hunches”. Or we may have very strong feelings about the choice options. It may also be that our conscience or morality is trying to speak to us: if so, it can be essential to listen, for the sake of our long-term peace and well-being.

As we examine this, we pretty soon start to see that a very major decision is a very complex, very delicate thing. And it’s often all bound up in some very important ways with who we really are.

What Makes Choices Worse

What would make a choice dramatically worse would be to approach it in an unconscious way. “Now, that sounds just silly.” you may be saying, “How can you be unconscious, if you’re making a choice?” The answer is that consciousness is not black-or-white, on-or-off, but a matter of degree or level.

It’s possible to go through a decision-making process but still to not listen to large and very important parts of ourselves. This can happen in many different ways. Perhaps we’re meeting the expectations of someone else who wouldn’t like it if we brought certain thoughts or feelings into our decision-making. Or, perhaps it might be as straightforward as an incident recounted by Jungian analyst James Hollis:

In speaking of these matters in a public setting recently, someone said, “Why should I bother to think about these things?” “Well, because perhaps you are living someone else’s story if you do not,” I replied. “What does that matter if I’m happy?” she retorted…. I [had] the lingering impression that she did not want to work very hard at this identity stuff. I also know that our psyches will not be mocked and that somewhere deep within something profound gets wounded and ultimately reaches the surface as symptom, projection, obsession….

James Hollis, What Matters Most

Clinical experience tends to support what Hollis says about unconscious decisions. It’s astounding how much time people spend in therapy talking about fallout from previous bad decisions. It’s well worth it to be as aware as we can when we face those major times of choice.

Life-Giving Decisions

It’s possible to make decisions that treat us well as we move into the future. These tend to be honest decisions where we bring all of our feelings, our intuition and our thoughts into making choices, and also where we don’t get sidetracked or bogged down with small issues, or our own past baggage.

Depth psychotherapy can be a vital support as individuals go through the process of making choices involving key life issues. The safe container provided by this kind of therapy enables us to look at all the factors, conscious and unconscious that go into making the decisions that are so fundamental to our journey toward wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Another New Year: Time, Change and Resiliency, Part 2

January 13th, 2020 · resiliency

In Part 1 of this post, we examined how remembering where we’ve been contributes to our resiliency in facing the present and the future.


We’re still in the early days following all the emotion associated with the coming of the New Year. Yet the daily news is filled with stories of the devastating Australian bushfires, the conflict between the U.S. and Iran, and the tragic downing of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran, carrying so many young Canadians. These events are sobering reminders of pain, challenge and anxiety in human existence, and of the need to find strength and a sense of meaning to cope with the broken parts of life.

New Year’s, especially, may be an important time to reflect on our journey. It gives us a perspective to understand our past experience and life transitions, and all the things in our conscious and unconscious lives that have enabled us to “get through” to this point in our lives. These may be key resources as we move into our future.

The rest of this post offers some key questions to ask of ourselves: 1) as we seek to understand our life journey through the past; and, 2) as we seek to find the resiliency and strength to move through our future.

Refiner’s Fire: Experiences Which Have Formed Us

The first set of questions relate to experiences in our past that may have been very difficult, which have nonetheless shaped us to be who we are.

What have been the most difficult experiences or stressors in my past?  What have been the experiences that have really shaped me? How have each of those events impacted me?

The most difficult experiences in our lives may be things that we would rather not even think about. Yet, often these harrowing experiences can be the very ones that show us the strong and enduring part of ourselves, if we can just discern it.

If you recall the most difficult experiences in your life, can you remember what was so difficult about them? Or, how you got through those times? It’s likely that these experiences have profoundly affected or shaped your life. If you or I can discern how such events have made a difference to us, we’ll likely learn something important about who we are.

The Key People

Who are the important people in my life who’ve helped me when I’ve been distressed?  To whom have I reached out for support?

In every human being’s life, there are key people, who’ve been an integral part of the journey. Some people may be part of the pain and struggle in our lives, as they are tied to very negative experiences like abuse and betrayal. However, almost always there are key people who’ve been essential to our journey, and who’ve had a stabilizing and supportive impact, often at times that were crucial for us.

Who are the people who’ve been key supports in your life journey? What role have they played in your life? What is it that they brought to your journey, that made such a key difference? How did they see you? What does that tell you about who you really are — as opposed to the hyper-critical stories that it’s often so easy to tell ourselves?

The Voice of the Self

The final set of questions really emerges from previous two:

What have I learned about myself and about what’s really important to me during difficult times? Have I been able to overcome obstacles, and if so, how? What has helped me to find hope for the future?

Who are you really when confronted with extreme difficulty? What are the characteristics of my most fundamental self when the going is at its roughest? If you have faced extraordinary obstacles, how did you get through or around them? In such situations, we might expect ourselves to be at our worst, or perhaps we even remember ourselves at our most fearful or despairing. And yet, when you listen to peoples’ stories of these dark times, what you often hear is something else: people talk of a part or an aspect of themselves that somehow got them through this extreme difficulty.

This sense of a part of us that is wise and strong, and which abides with us in even the most difficult situations is one of the most important things that underlies genuine hope for the future. It can be essential to our life journey to seek to come into contact with that wise part.

A strong, supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be a vital asset in seeking to come into contact with our fundamental self. Such a therapeutic relationship can be of inestimable value in finding our way through our lifelong journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Another New Year: Time, Change and Resiliency

January 6th, 2020 · resilience, resiliency

People seem much more likely to think about and make resolutions at the New Year’s season, than they are to think about change and resiliency.

finding happiness in life

That’s probably because we see the New Year’s season as a time for renewal and new beginnings, which in some respects, it certainly is. New Year’s resolutions allow us to feel that we are starting anew, perhaps that we are beginning again. I may have intended to use the exercise machine four times a week last year. That may have not worked out so well, — but here we are at New Year’s, and it’s a new beginning.

This has validity and importance for people, without a doubt. Yet there are other significant dimensions to the coming of a New Year, that carry important meaning. In a time like ours, when we’re constantly buffeted by change, it’s important that these other dimensions, which involve the fullness of our life journey, also be recognized.

Throughout the English-speaking world, it’s long been customary to take a moment in the beginning minutes of the New Year to sing Robert Burns’ “For Auld Lang Syne”. We might dismiss this as a musty tradition, but it’s worth bringing the lyrics of that tune into focus. The phrase itself is probably best translated as “for long long ago”, and the rhetorical question posed by the first lines is probably best rendered as:

Is it right that old times be forgotten?

Remember How You Got Here

It’s easy to give this question endless amounts of smarmy overlay and dreary sentimentality. Yet it’s very important for each of our own lives and our journey to wholeness. In our time, the internet, smartphones and an endless succession of other technologies bring a continual influx of the new. It’s an era when “disruption” is seen as a positive, even life-giving thing. This current information culture gives us strong incentives to focus on the novel, and on what’s changing, rather than understanding and appreciating the things in our collective or personal past that have made us who and what we are today.

Yet it’s important for each of us to turn a discerning and compassionate eye onto our own journey. We need to understand, in a self-compassionate way, how we got to where we are today. That entails understanding just how much change each of us has undergone to get here. It also entails understanding and appreciating the experiences that have really shaped us into the particular unique individual that each of us is.

Easy to Forget the Journey…

There are many voices in our culture that seem to imply that the best way to be strong and advance in life is to forget all about the past, and to live in a way that just moves forward. In a time like ours, this is a very seductive message. As wave after wave of change washes over us, it’s very easy to feel disconnected from our personal past, with all it’s pain, courage and hard-won clarity.

As we celebrate the end of a decade, it may be valuable to think back on ourselves of ten years ago. Given the fast pace of events, can we even remember ourselves and the world as it was in 2010? Yet, it’s not that long ago!

Often that past experience of ourselves, and of how we have gotten through the demanding experiences of the past can be an important part of our resilient core as we approach the future.

Resiliency Through Affirming Who We Are

As the American Psychological Association tells us that,

[r]esilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress …. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.

APA Website

We face a world now where there is a continual onslaught of anxiety and stress from ongoing, relentless change. We need to be able to “bounce back” in the face of continual stressors. One important way to gain such resilience is through connecting with our past in meaningful, healing ways. These often involve connecting with out past experiences in life events such as past major life transitions. Depth psychotherapy can be centrally important in helping us to access these resources for resilience, contained deep within ourselves.

In our post next week, I’ll be continuing our exploration of resources within ourselves that contribute to our resilience.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Avoiding Burnout or Depression at Christmas, Part 2

December 16th, 2019 · depression, depression at Christmas

In my last post, we looked at Christmas burnout, and this post continues to explore that theme.

What is the root cause of all the Christmas burnout and depression at Christmas? Do we have any idea?

Well, a recent study by human resources firm ADP Canada looks at the “time off tax” that Canadians pay around holidays and vacations. It turns out that, in the present work environment, people often feel that they have to put in a pretty substantial number of hours of extra work before and after time off from work, to make up for “lost hours” devoted to themselves and family.

This is certainly not the only thing that makes holidays like Christmas very demanding — far from it. However, it surely is an indicator of one of the things that can make holidays like Christmas so stress-inducing. That is the strong feeling that many people have in our culture that “I am not doing enough.” or, simply, that “I just am not enough.”.

Often, people in our culture confront a specific sense of depression at Christmas. This may well be because they cannot rise to the challenge of making the holidays (and their own individual lives, and their family life) into the wonderful, magical festival of light, joy, peace and good feeling that they are told that this season ought to be. Anyone seeking to gain a sense of the kind of enormous expectations generated by this season need only look at some lines from the most popular Christmas songs:

  • “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”
  • “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time”
  • “Children laughing, people passing / Meeting smile after smile…”
  • “What a bright time, it’s the right time, to rock the night away…”
  • “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year…”
  • “Voices singing, let’s be jolly / Deck the halls with boughs of holly…”

When we look at all the messaging around the holidays, it’s pretty hard to avoid the sense that “the Christmas spirit” or “that special Holiday feeling” is something that we’re supposed to whip up, or create. No wonder people feel pressured, or even burnt out or depressed!

A Season of Renewal

We may be very pressured trying to turn Christmas into something that meets the expectations of others, along with our own. Yet, perhaps we need to ask: is that the only way to look at the Holiday season? If so, it makes the Holidays seem pretty bleak!

What exactly is a holiday, anyway? In his book The Archetype of Renewal, Jungian analyst D. Stephenson Bond examines one of the most ancient holidays we know of in history. This holiday was a New Year’s festival that originated in ancient Sumer around 3500 B.C.E. It was known as the Akitu festival, a name which means “power making the world live again”.

This holiday had to do with “the death and re-birth of the King”, and what that meant for these ancient people was that the whole of life — the King, the society as a whole, the individual — went through a kind of death and re-birth. Everything in this society was renewed through this festival.

The people of ancient Sumer and Babylon did not sit around, worrying whether their preparations for Akitu were adequate, or whether they had done enough, or whether they were going to “have a good Akitu”. Their perspective was that the Akitu festival came, and it renewed them.

Does this perspective have anything to offer us?

Renewal: Are We OK with That?

What would it be like for us to view the Christmas and Holiday season as a season of renewal, rather than as a big sense of obligation that leaves us feeling inadequate or disappointed? We are so busy in the lead up to the holidays: gift-buying; planning travel and/or activities; decorating home and tree, and many other activities. Often, the “day of” Christmas is absolutely frenetic. Going to parents’ house, parents-in-law, brothers, sisters, the home of the ex to spend some time with the kids — the number of separate destinations in this time period is mind-boggling.

What would it be like in the midst of this period to take even one day to:

  • grow;
  • authentically connect with people;
  • listen to your own inner voice; and,
  • reflect on what’s really important to you, what you really want at this point in your life journey?

If the fundamental (Jungians would say archetypal) essence of a holiday or festival is renewal, what would it mean in our time and place to open ourselves to renewal in the Christmas or Holiday season?

Beyond Depression at Christmas, to Renewal

The most profound kinds of renewal often stem from our own depths. Often both our barely acknowledged conscious selves, and the unconscious mind are full of the desire for renewal and the need to travel our own journey towards wholeness. The healing journey involved in the relationship at the heart of Jungian depth psychotherapy can be a path to renewal and a connection with our own very deepest values and perspectives.

On the cusp of the Holiday and Christmas season, 2019, may I take this opportunity to wish you authentic joy, true peace and lasting renewal as you travel the road to yourself.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Do You Have “Christmas Burnout”? Many People Do!

December 9th, 2019 · christmas burnout

Christmas burnout is a psychological reality, as depth psychotherapists well know. Many people experience it. It happens on a number of levels at the same time.

Christmas and the Holidays are a time of very high expectations, in a number of different ways. Traditionally in the western world, Christmas is regarded as the most significant and joyous season. It was loaded with deep religious meaning for our ancestors, and for a significant number of people, it still is.

In addition to this heavy freight of religious meaning, Christmas is also regarded as loaded with very special meaning for family life. It’s expected to be a time when families connect in a unfailing, unfaltering way to each other, and love, joy and peace abound. There should be that “special Christmas feeling”, and there should be no conflict or sadness, anywhere in sight.

At least that’s the set of expectations that we continually absorb from the television, movies, music, product marketing, eggnog lattes and endless other Holiday-related messaging that fills our culture at this time of year. It’s easy to be influenced by this, consciously and unconsciously, and drawn into carrying a huge set of expectations, almost before we know it.

Holiday Expectations and Realities

Everyone knows that the holidays are “supposed” to be a time of joyous celebration and connection with family, but they can also be an immense source of stress as we try to meet that expectation, depending on what we are dealing with in our lives.  Those who have lost an important loved one, or those who may be dealing with a separation or with realities such as job loss can find this time of year very challenging, and extremely stressful.  But many who are not facing this kind of major life transition can also find the holidays very challenging.

For many people, just the process of getting together with family members can be a very demanding thing that is full of anxiety. Socializing with family members when there might be personality conflicts, outstanding issues, or great political differences can be a very sizable stressor. In my own family’s case, I can remember deep political divisions between family members causing many a stormy “Merry Christmas” in my youth!

Stuck in the Rut of Overwhelming Expectations

One of the most difficult things about the holidays, and something that can contribute most directly to Christmas burnout is the way that we “should” or “ought” on ourselves about what this season must be. It can be easy to get locked into a lot of rigid, painful patterns, because we have our inner voices that tell us that “It’s GOT to be this way, or it won’t really feel like Christmas.” or “This is the traditional way that our family / church / culture celebrates the holidays.” or “What would everybody else think, if we did something other than XYZ?”

To put it bluntly, there might be a whole lot less Christmas burnout if we stopped focusing on meeting the collective expectations around the holidays, and focused on what might be meaningful for ourselves as individuals. What if we listened to our inner voices around what might be valuable, healing and hope-creating at this time of year, and let ourselves off the hook about how we’re not being enough in someone or other’s eyes. Might it be that we would find ways to make our holiday season much more Self-directed in the best sense of the word?

Finding Our Own Way

In the second part of this post, I’ll be focusing on some suggestions for ways to keep the holidays that emphasize our own needs and personalities, rather than what other people, the groups we belong to, and our culture as a whole culture expects. Jungians would emphasize that it can be an important part of our individuation journey to keep the holidays in ways that retain meaning for our own real lives.

The key to avoiding Christmas burnout begins in a place of self-acceptance and self-compassion.


Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Men and Emotions: a Key Part of the Journey to Wholeness

December 2nd, 2019 · men and emotions

The whole subject of men and emotions is a big one in our lives today. For us men, it’s all tied up with our ability to accept and be kind to ourselves.

work related stress

Accepting our emotions? To be frank, this is exactly what men in my age group were taught not to do. We were taught that the last thing you wanted to be as a boy growing up was “emotional”. That was equated with being weak, or, to use that horrible phrase, “being a sissy”.

For guys my age, “growing up” was equated with learning to hide your feelings, which, of course, was a sure recipe for anxiety and depression. I would like to think that things have improved since I was younger — but the evidence would seem to indicate that we still have a long way to go.

Studies by researchers like Emory University’s Robyn Fivush show that mothers of children between ages 2 and 3 respond quite differently to boys and girls around emotion. Girls are often encouraged to feel the emotions more directly than boys, and girls tend to be given the message that it’s OK to feel sad — but not to get angry. Meanwhile, boys get the message that anger is much more acceptable than sadness. Girls are also encouraged to rely on a support network around feelings, while boys are encouraged to be much less expressive and more contained about feelings — and especially not to shed tears.

Maleness and the Spectrum of Feelings

In our culture, men tend to learn to be cut off from their feelings, especially strong feelings like sorrow or grief. This dissociation can be a major barrier to accepting who and what I am, and to the journey to wholeness, or individuation process.

The fact is that large parts of our life and our identity are fundamentally connected with experiences involving strong emotion. If those experiences are curtailed, or if we cannot share them with others in order to help process them, it can genuinely diminish us as people.

If men are taught to cut themselves off from their feelings, to shun emotional contact with others and/or to use substances and distractions to bottle up feelings and repress them, the consequences can be severe and far-reaching. This was shown very insightfully in a recent CBC Alberta documentary, “Digging in the Dirt” which highlights the mental and emotional price paid by oil and gas industry workers in isolated areas.

The film documents the stories of several men working in the trades in isolated camps, where there is no nearby town, no social support and where the workers “FIFO” — fly in, fly out — at the beginning and end of every 3 week shift. Each of these men tells how he had learned to repress and deny feelings of isolation, loss and emotional hurt. This included hiding these things from other men, but even more fundamentally from themselves, often in ways that involve drugs, overwork and alcohol use. This attitude toward feeling, along with an aggressive, “hypermasculine” male culture in an environment where there were no emotional supports was utterly disastrous for these men. They were — mostly — able to pull out of the tailspin in which they found themselves, when they began to connect with supportive others, and began to acknowledge and accept their own feelings and emotions.

Why Being a “Strong Guy” May Hurt More Than Help

Most boys are brought up to revere the image or ideal of the “strong man” It’s an ideal as old as Homer’s Iliad — and much, much older. For the most part, that “strong guy” image doesn’t include any kind of emotional vulnerability. Can you imagine The Invincible Iron Man having a moment of emotional connection and sharing his deep sadness?

If being a “strong guy” is about suppressing emotion and avoiding real connection with others, it may hurt us far more than help us. The whole thing may end with being not so “strong” after all. It may also keep us from connecting with some essential parts of our own life and story. Often for men, exploring the parts of our lives where we’ve felt things most strongly, and felt at our most vulnerable, can be a doorway to experiencing ourselves in new and liberating ways.

On the other hand, if we men don’t explore our emotional reality, and if we even resist it, we may well find our world getting smaller and smaller, and more and more out of control, emotionally. That was certainly the experience of many of the men featured in Digging in the Dirt. This can lead to experiences of deep distress, especially at times of major life transition or mid-life transition.

Emotions and the Journey Towards Wholeness

Exploring our emotional life is a key part of our journey to wholeness. It’s only as we come to fully accept all of our emotional and feeling states, including the difficult ones like anger, sorrow and fear, that we start to get a comprehensive sense of who we are. Only then do we begin to explore the undiscovered self. Sometimes, what our emotional states can tell us about ourselves comes as quite a surprise.

Yet recognizing and accepting our emotional selves is only part of the journey with our emotions. Eventually, we will seek to have enough distance from our emotional states to not be completely run over by them and controlled by them. However, to get to that place, it’s necessary to first accept our emotional states for what they are.

This journey to find our emotional life can be intense. It requires courage, patience and a genuine kindness for oneself and self-acceptance. It can be tremendously helpful in this work to have the support of a compassionate and trustworthy depth psychotherapist, who can assist in processing the full range of our feelings safely.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Parenting an Adult Child: a Key Transition in Life’s Journey

November 18th, 2019 · parenting an adult child

definition of self control

The experience of parenting an adult child can be a major turning point in life’s journey. It can lead to incredible growth, but also intense vulnerability.

Naturally, where the relationship is healthy, parents feel a unique connection to their children, at any age. But as the child grows into the place of having more autonomy in his or her life, the challenges that the parent experiences can often increase. Sometimes it takes a lot to know how to respond in an authentic and loving way to adult kids!

Interaction with clients brings home to me again and again how much importance this issue has for so many people at this present time. Economic change has greatly affected young people starting out, and their timing for leaving home. We’re living in a time of rapid social change, where roles and living arrangements are having to evolve. The question of parenting an adult child in authentic and meaningful ways keeps shifting and changing.

Boundaries vs. Connection

The needs of an adult are often quite different from what was needed when that same individual was younger. As experts like Clark University Prof. Jeffrey Arnett stress, people in this phase of life need support and connection in a different way than earlier in their lives. It’s essential that the emotional connection enhance the individual’s confidence in their own capacity to manage situations in their lives. They need parental acknowledgement of their increasing capacity to take on the duties and demands of life — even when situations go wrong, or attempted solutions fail.

This can lead to challenges for the parent! While, as Jung would tell us, the healthy parent’s impulse toward the child is eros, by which he means the desire for connection, the parent is faced with the question of how to connect with the adult child. Naturally parents want to connect with, and help, their children, but it’s essential to respect and build the adult child’s sense of agency and autonomy. We want to help our kids, but if we are too ready with the help, we can end up “saving” our children from life situations that they would do better to figure out their own way through. In this way we risk setting up an unhealthy pattern rescuing the child every time they face a difficulty.

If adult children remain overly dependent on parents, it is often as a result of being enabled in this by their parents. So, parenting an adult child often entails striking a fine balance between offering enough support and connection of the right type, so that the adult child feels empowered and confident, while simultaneously knowing where to draw the line, so that the child’s judgment and ability are not undermined.

What is the impact of this on the parent, on his or her psyche, and on the individuation process?

Pitfalls of Unconscious Parenting

Parenting an adult child can be particularly difficult if the parent is unclear or unaware of their own needs or motivations in the situation. If an adult child is in an overly dependent position relative to the parent, it might be easy to blame the child for this. Yet, it might be very important for the parent to have a very good, long look at the ways in which said parent may be enabling their child in this pattern of behaviour.

Sometimes the parent may have to ask themselves whether this pattern of enablement stems from the parent’s need to be needed, which may even be largely unconscious. On the other hand, in some cases, the child may be facing difficulty because they are not being supported enough, and this may also stem from semi-conscious or unconscious motivations, such as hostility or indifference. These can be very challenging motivations to confront, and it may take considerable courage to do so.

It’s essential, though, that the parent look at his or her motives in the course of parenting an adult child. If the parent allows her- or himself to be run by unconscious motivations that are rooted in an inability to allow the child to grow up and have autonomy, the consequences could be very grave — for both the adult child and the parent. It is quite possible that the child might end up locked into a view of him- or herself as being incapable of doing essential life tasks, and as unable to withstand the knocks and falls that are part of an adult life.

The consequences for the parent could be equally severe. The energy that goes into an age-inappropriate parenting relationship is energy that the individual should be putting the process of maturation and individuation as the parent moves into the latter stages of life. If that energy is thwarted, and the individual finds themselves “stuck” in an out-moded stage of development, it may well be a source of anxiety and depression.

Parenting Adults and the Individuation Process

So, clearly there is a key part of this process that relates to the parent’s own journey, and to her or his individuation process. The changes that go on for the parent in this process constitute a very substantial major life transition.

This is a a life stage when many are called to a major examination of the course of life, and it may involve some travel in unexpected and unfamiliar directions. It may well be a time when individuals begin to discover some parts of the as-yet-unknown undiscovered self.

For many faced with the challenges of parenting an adult child, it can be extremely helpful to enter into a supportive and compassionate depth psychotherapy relationship. Such a relationship may afford real opportunities for growth, freedom and acceptance and exploration of the Self.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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How to Get Out of a Rut in the Second Half of Life

November 11th, 2019 · how to get out of a rut

We may not often speak of it, but many of us wrestle with how to get out of a rut — particularly at midlife or later in our journey.

anxiety about the future

As people move through the life journey, they can easily get into certain unyielding patterns in their lives. This can especially occur from the stage of midlife on, although many people feel a sense of stuckness at earlier points, too.

There are certain types of pattern or habit that we adopt that make life easier, and that enable us to cope with the demands of life better. However, we can also find ourselves bound into habitual patterns of response in life that seem flat, joyless and counter-productive. Many individuals end up feeling that their life unfolds like clockwork, but is lacking in any sense of vitality or meaning.

Stuck in the Comfort Zone

We can easily find ourselves stuck, because we don’t want to move out of our particular individual comfort zone. It might seem like “being in your comfort zone” might be a very good thing, but that all depends. We can become very “comfortable” with situations in our lives that really don’t offer us very much. For instance, it can happen that our anxiety hems us in, and keeps us in patterns of behaviour or thought that don’t really offer much meaning or satisfaction, while also making it extremely difficult to try or even to consider more life-giving options.

Anxiety is not the only feeling that can keep us locked in a very flavourless “comfort zone”: the same thing may come about as the result of depression, or guilt or shame — or from feeling powerless to bring about any change, or any different state of affairs. This latter sense of powerlessness may be strongly connected with a sense that change would involve too much risk.

Example. “Tom” has worked in the same white collar, middle management job for 25 years. He doesn’t find it challenging, but the routines of the job are very familiar. It requires relatively little effort for him to go into work and do what he’s always done. He fantasizes about starting a business related to his interest in gardens and home renovation. Yet, whenever he thinks of it, he remembers his father suffering a mental breakdown, which led to unemployment and nearly losing the family home — a time of immense anxiety. “I just feel like, how can I take the risk, when I can just keep on doing what I’m doing?”

Facing Being Stuck…

One of the hardest things about being stuck in a rut can be facing the fact that we are, and that it is keeping us from exploring and opening up new opportunities. It can be uncomfortable to face the fact that “I’m stuck”, and sometimes it’s just easier not look at it.

As we’ve seen, a number of factors may keep us stuck in our habitual patterns. Another powerful thing that may keep us from even acknowledging that we’re stuck can be the investment we’ve made in the status quo. In the past, we may have labored hard to get to this very point in life — that we now so much need to get away from. The time, the money, the giving of our hopes and dreams over to the very thing we’re now stuck in, can be very hard to admit. Yet staying fixated on what we’ve invested in may keep us from acknowledging what we want and need in our lives at this time.

To get past being stuck in a rut may require us to get past our denial about what we need in our lives. It may require us to get to the place of acknowledging our deepest yearnings — the things that we most want in our lives. These can be so deep within us that we don’t even really acknowledge them consciously. They may emerge most powerfully in a person’s fantasies or in their dreams. This is part of the reason that Jungians attend to dreams when they are available: they reveal deep unconscious aspects of the authentic person.

Going on My Journey

How to get out of a rut? A big part of the answer lies in getting in touch with our real identity and what we really want — then finding meaningful and creative ways to live those things out. The journey to wholeness has a great deal to do with acknowledging the devalued or denied parts of ourselves. It is ignoring those parts of ourselves, very often, that leads to getting stuck in ruts that often have nothing to do with who we really are.

A truly supportive relationship with a depth psychotherapist can provide a very important and healing container in which to explore the hidden or undiscovered aspects of who we are. It can be a very valuable and meaningful part of the answer to the question of how to get out of a rut.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Anxiety, Depression and Sleep

November 4th, 2019 · depression and sleep, depression and sleep

We live in a radically sleep deprived society. Many of us face the interconnected issues of anxiety, depression and sleep.

severe emotional distress

In our time, we’re aware that there are many things that can damage our sleep. Certainly, our consumption of commodities such as caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and sweetners can reduce quality of sleep. Similarly, we’re increasingly aware of the negative impact of screen technologies on our sleep. What we’ve learned about the relationship of depression and sleep presents a more complex picture.

As sleep experts such as Johns Hopkins University researcher Dr. Patrick Finan affirm, depression often leads to more difficulty in falling and staying asleep. Yet on the other hand, poor sleep may create difficulty in regulating emotion, which may leave a person with greater vulnerability to depression.

There’s a similarly complex relationship between anxiety and sleep, sometimes known as “the vicious cycle of anxiety and sleep loss”. Simply put, this means that sleep loss often occurs prior to anxiety disorders, but, on the other hand, anxiety can often lead to sleep loss.

Depression, Anxiety & Sleep — What Gives?

If depression and anxiety are often related to insomnia or loss of sleep, what does this mean for us? As experts such as Harvard’s Prof. Clifford Saper indicate, sleep deprivation is usually about degradation of sleep over time, rather something that comes about because of an absolute lack of sleep.

Saper also shows that much of what we mean by sleep deprivation, with all its negative effects, really refers to deprivation of that part of sleep known as rapid eye movement or REM sleep. In this phase of sleep, the body becomes becomes quite relaxed, while the brain becomes more active. Normally, we spend twenty per cent (perhaps an hour and a half?) of our sleep time in REM sleep, but when sleep gets disrupted, this can become much less. When REM sleep is disrupted, there are negative consequences for memory, the nervous system and our immune systems, among other things. We also know that the amygdala, the “fire alarm” of the brain that is in charge of our fight or flight response, becomes much more active when we’re sleep-deprived.

The Meaning of Sleep

During REM sleep, as noted above, the body becomes quite relaxed and the brain becomes very active. Scholars such as Yaneer Bar-Yam have suggested that, in REM sleep, the mind-brain is active, but essentially cut off from sensory input. In this state Bar-Yam theorizes, the brain can process our waking experience, and break it up into pieces that become the building blocks for creative learning, enabling adaptive responses to situations we encounter in the future.

This is what is occurring in REM sleep, which is the period of sleep in which deep dreaming occurs. In the words of Margaret Wilkinson

…one result of such processing is that, through metaphor, the unconscious is conveyed to consciousness. Thus dreaming … may yet be said to revitalize the mind-brain in an associative and integrative manner.

Margaret Wilkinson, Changing Minds in Therapy

So, it would seem that this type of sleep, REM sleep, with deep, intense dreams often involving symbol and metaphor, is essential to the health of the organism, and has an important role to play in avoiding anxiety and depression.

Tending to Our Sleep and Dreams

So it would seem that sleep, and particularly the deep dreaming part of sleep, has an important relationship with staying in a healthy mental state. Sleeping well is importantly connected with staying in an integrated, emotionally regulated place, while tending to our dreams can actually contribute to our becoming integrated, learning, adapting individuals.

These and other forms of self-compassion and self care are all important elements of the journey to wholeness. Working in a good supportive relationship with a depth psychotherapist can be of tremendous assistance in this process.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


Some rights reserved by  Robert Couse-Baker (Creative Commons Licence)

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