Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Eros and the Meaning of Valentine’s Day: Connection

February 13th, 2018 · meaning of valentine's day

If you ask people about the “meaning of Valentine’s Day”,  you might get some pretty cynical responses!

meaning of valentine's day

Some might tell you that it’s a holiday made up to sell more greeting cards, which is, of course, largely true.  An individual therapist might well hear from a client that it’s a sentimental celebration of romantic love, that is sickly-sweet to an even greater degree than many of the confections sold this time of year.  Yet, could it possible be that, under all the froth, there is something of real substance?

Valentine’s Day is a Manufactured Holiday–But…

…the reality to which it refers is a key part of the human experience.

Very often on Valentine’s cards, or boxes of chocolates, you can see a picture of a chubby little childlike sprite with wings — we know him as Cupid.  He is actually the sentimentalized version of the Greek deity Eros.

meaning of valentines day

Who Is Eros?

Eros is the Greek god of sexual love and passion, but really he is a representation of much more than that.  As Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp tells us, Eros is,

[i]n Greek mythology, the personification of love, a cosmogonic force of nature; psychologically, the function of relationship.

So, in Greek mythology, Eros, “love” has a key role in bringing the universe into being. What is more, he is a personification of the entirety of the human desire to be related to others — in any way whatsoever.  As Andrew Samuels puts is, he is symbolically

“The Principle of Psychic Relatedness”

Eros is really the principal of connection.  He represents all the ways in which we connect to, and are aware of, and bond with others, in any way, shape or form.  However that happens in our lives, it’s fundamentally important to our identity.

meaning of valentine's day

Jung stressed the fact that we need to individuate, to become the unique individual that contain the potential to be.  Some people have interpreted that as a call to individualism, a sort of John Wayne-Clint Eastwood-Marlboro Man stance of “me versus the world”.  However, Jung didn’t mean that .  He stressed that there is no way for us to become the unique people that we’re meant to be, or to move towards that goal, unless we are in some way shape or form involved in a serious and important relationship contact with others.

That doesn’t mean that we have to be “in a relationship”, as our culture puts it — meaning “in a romantic relationship”.  But it does mean that we have to be involved in significant ways with others: open to them, connected to them, with empathy towards them, listening to them.  This is especially important at midlife and beyond.

The Need for Connection

Psychotherapists, and especially depth psychotherapists, know that it’s essential for us to be connected to others, for health, well-being and growth.  We now know from attachment theory, developmental psychology and neuroscience that we can’t even become human without human connection.  We certainly can’t individuate, in Jung’s use of the term.

It’s essential for all of us to be connected to others.  In my opinion, that’s the true meaning of Valentine’s Day — or Eros Day, as I would rename it if I could!

Relationship and Psychotherapy

Humans fundamentally need relationship, and often,  an important part of, yes, individual psychotherapy can be enabling the person to find closer connection with others.  The fundamental work of individuation in psychotherapy comes in part because Jungian psychotherapy is a healing relationship.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:  Vinoth Chandar (Creative Commons Licence) ; AmazonCARES (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, OntaWIthout rio (near Mississauga)


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Dancing with Your Unlived Life: Living Life Without Regret

February 4th, 2018 · living life without regret

Living life without regret is the desire of many who are consumed by past choices, and haunted by thoughts that “it could have been different”.

living life without regret

“If I could turn back time…”      (PHOTO: MattysFlicks)  

Strong regret can impact us at any stage of our life journey.  The human condition is such that, at any point in our life journeys, we may become haunted by “what could have been”.  Or we can feel keenly that we made the wrong choice. Or that we didn’t act, and if only we had, things would have been so much different.
Are there particular stages of life where regret can fasten onto us?  Actually we can feel regret at any  stage of life.  It can hit in a particularly painful, bitter way after the loss of someone we love, however that loss might occur.  It is also often potently strong in the second half of life, when individuals very often start to intensively review the whole of their life story, and to try to understand their lives as part of a meaningful pattern.

The Burden of Unlived Life and Regret

C.G. Jung was among the first to speak of the psychological implications of the “unlived life”, though many have since followed him.  Here is one of his more famous quotes:

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

Here Jung makes the point that the unlived life of an individual is one of the strongest influences on the environment in which an individual finds him or herself.   Jung makes a point of stressing that this unlived life impacts particularly  on the lives of the individual’s children.  We can assume that the influence Jung is describing is certainly not always for the better.

What Is the “Unlived Life”?

What is this “unlived life”?  At its most fundamental level, it relates to who each one of us is.  It relates to those possibilities that exist deep within us that we sense we could have lived out, but have not. As Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson reminds us, it relates to those feelings we have that there is something we could have done, something we could have experienced — for which some part of us is deeply yearning.  This unlived life is often there in those three in the morning waking moments, when we realize a profound sense of longing for something that could have been.

All human beings, no matter how talented or successful, have possibilities contained within them which have not been realized.  At least a few of these options, or perhaps quite a significant number, are associated with regret, either explicitly and consciously recognized and acknowledged, or else carried unconsciously, in unacknowledged ways.  Sometimes we exert incredible amounts of effort to keep from acknowledging them.

Unlived Possibility: It Wants Something from Us

The weight of these unlived-out possibilities can grow and grow as we move through our lives.  This can become so intense that, quite frequently around the middle of life, or sometime after, the issue comes to the fore in an individual’s life in a way that demands a resolution.

Even if the issue doesn’t present in quite so dramatic a manner, the unlived life, and the yearning and regret associated with it, may easily become one of the most important issues in our lives.

Getting Creative with Regret

Needless to say, these feelings are not something that we want to carry in an unbalanced way through the rest of our lives.  To imagine living out life in this way might seem intolerable.  Is there anything we can do to reduce the sense of loss, grief and regret?

Is there any way that we can engage with this unlived life, and either somehow live it out, or else make our peace with it?

living life without regret

Living out a childhood passion... leaving corporate life to look after abandoned dogs

Living Life Without Regret

Individuals often enter depth psychotherapy seeking in some manner to work with, and come to terms with, the various aspects of the unlived life.  They seek to find ways to move beyond regret and grief, and into a creative and life-giving living out of possibilities in the now.  Much of this involves coming to terms with and creatively engaging their own life story, and their own personal journey towards wholeness, .

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Counselling for Depression or Anxiety: Will it Work for Me? ~Pt 2

January 29th, 2018 · counselling for depression or anxiety

Continuing from the last post, we’re looking at more of the factors that help to make counselling for depression or anxiety effective for you.

counselling for depression or anxiety

Could it be effective for you?…                            PHOTO: Robert Bejil

As I mentioned at the outset of that last post, therapy or counselling for depression or anxiety can offer unique benefits in helping the individual to peacefully accept him or herself, and in terms of accessing creative and life-giving ways to approach her or his life.  In the previous post, we looked at some ways in which this occurs in effective therapy.  Here, we look at some more…

Am I Really Willing to Forge a Close Connection with My Counsellor / Therapist?

In counselling for depression or anxiety, as in all forms of therapy, the therapeutic relationship is crucial.  Psychotherapy experts such as Prof. John Norcross and others note that the quality of the relationship with the psychotherapist largely determines the success of the counselling or therapy.

If you can:

  • openly discuss how you experience your interactions with your therapist directly with him or her;
  • discuss your positive or negative reactions to your therapist, and,
  • discuss what you imagine your therapist might be feeling or thinking,

you will actually develop a great deal of insight into what is happening inside of you.  (Warning: this isn’t going to happen in the first 3 sessions!}

Being Honest with Myself — In a Way That’s Kind to Me

Therapy or counselling works when we have the courage to be as honest with ourselves as possible.  However, it’s also essential to avoid beating yourself up once you’re been honest!

As many have stated, to make counselling or therapy work you need a combination of non-defensive honesty with genuinely compassionate self-acceptance.  It’s easy to fall into a defensive, self-protective stance when we face an uncomfortable insight into how we’re living and handling situations in our lives.  When we react this way — and we might well, if counselling or therapy are asking the right questions — it’s essential to try as hard as we can to be both honest, and full of love and compassion towards ourselves.

What’s My Basic Personal Story? Am I Willing to Let Go and Change It?

The human mind constructs a fundamental story about our lives in the world.  We use story to help ourselves make sense of the events and complexity of life.  The kind of story we tell ourselves will greatly impact how we feel about ourselves, and on what we expect from our lives, and our relationships.

Depth psychotherapists know that the story we tell ourselves is often largely unconscious.  Yet it’s still extremely powerful.  If we’re in the grips of a story that has us as the hero who must save everyone, or as the perpetual victim, or as the perennial misfit, it can basically run our lives.  Virtually every situation in which we find ourselves can seem to confirm the story.

Are we willing to try to observe patterns in our lives that might give us clues as to the nature of the overarching story in our lives?  It can be very important to take in the big picture in our lives, and then ask — is this story good for me?  Does it really reflect who I am? Am I willing to try and change it — change my beliefs — if it’s a limiting or crippling story that just isn’t fair to me?

Am I Willing to Actually Change Things in My Life?

counselling for depression or anxiety

Experiment!   (PHOTO: NASA)

Are we prepared to act in support of new beliefs or changing attitudes, by doing something concrete in the outer world?  If therapeutic work is to make a difference, the work must extend beyond the therapist’s office, and into our lives.  Am I willing to make appropriate outer changes in my life? To try new and different patterns of activity?  Am I willing to do inner work, like journalling, creative work, or exploring dreams?  Undertaking such concrete, conscious steps may be essential to making my therapy work real and effective in my life.

Counselling for Depression or Anxiety as A Journey to Wholeness

Jungian depth psychotherapy occurs both within the hour of therapy or counselling, but also inside the individual client and in his or her outer life outside of the therapy session.  The integration of these elements structures the journey towards wholeness, .

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:  Robert Bejil (Creative Commons Licence) ; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Counselling for Depression or Anxiety: Will it Work for Me?

January 22nd, 2018 · counselling for depression or anxiety

Many people consider counselling for depression or anxiety if they find themselves struggling with these issues.  But is it a good idea?  Here’s a frank assessment.

counselling for anxiety or depression

There are a number of factors that go into deciding whether to seek therapy or counselling for depression or anxiety.  Therapy or counselling can be highly effective with these issues, but it’s essential to understand what the process entails, before committing to it.
There are many other approaches to treating depression or anxiety — e.g., medication, exercise, mindfulness meditation, etc.  All of these can be of some benefit, and many of them can be profitably combined.  However, the path of counselling or therapy offers unique benefits, in terms of self-understanding, self-compassion and forging new and creative directions in life.  To gain these benefits, though, it’s essential to give the process what it really needs to move forward.

Am I Prepared to “Get Real”?

We all hide behind masks in our world, and to some extent, we all have to.  If we were to just uncontrollably vent our feelings of anger or frustration on our boss, or on the traffic cop who pulls us over for a ticket, things probably wouldn’t go well!  So, hiding who we really are, to some degree, is often a very important thing to do in life, enabling us to survive and flourish.

Yet, there may be a lot of situations in life where we wish that we could be real, and show who we really are, perhaps more than we do.  This can be a very important area of growth for many people.

In particular, it can be essential to show who we are, if we expect counselling for depression or anxiety to help us.  Only if we’re honest about our reactions, and what we’re thinking and feeling, can we really begin to accept, understand and take care of our true selves.

People may come into therapy, and feel that they’re expected to wear a “good therapy client” mask — to be who the therapist or counsellor expects them to be.  Yet in all kinds of counselling or therapy, and especially depth psychotherapy, it’s essential to be honest and open about who we really are.

Can I Acknowledge My Feelings — and Not Get Totally Lost in Them?

Part of being real is truly acknowledging my feelings.  It’s essential to bring those feelings into the counselling or therapy and to work with them.

Some feelings are easier to acknowledge than others.  Anger, shame, and intense grief are examples of very strong feelings that are hard for many to be honest and open about in the context of counselling or therapy.

On the one hand, acknowledging our feelings can be a demanding task.  Yet, once we bring them in, it’s equally important to not to be just run by our feelings.  We need to acknowledge them, but not let them “take over the show”.  Just venting, or what used to be called “catharsis” of feelings won’t bring healing.

We need to bring up our feelings, to know them well, and to be compassionate towards the parts of ourselves that feel them.  We can then use what we learn from those feelings to help ourselves in the whole of our lives.  Developing the capacity to do this is often an essential part of counselling or therapy.

The Source of Genuine Change — is in Me

Ultimately, genuine change comes from acknowledging who we really are, while changing what we actually can in our lives.  This especially involves changing our attitudes and approaches to things inside of ourselves.  When all is said and done, willingness to find the ways to change what we can in our lives, and particularly in ourselves, will be decisive factors in effective therapy or counselling for depression or anxiety.

Jungian depth psychotherapists emphasize the importance of the unconscious mind.   For effective therapy, much depends on whether the client is open to the changing attitudes that are trying to emerge from the unconscious.

counselling for anxiety or depression

Counselling for Anxiety or Depression as A Journey to Wholeness

The authentic connection involved in therapy can be of tremendous value to those suffering from anxiety or depression.  Central to this process is the environment or climate of acceptance created in good counselling or therapy and the positive and supportive alliance between the therapist / counsellor and the client.  A strong alliance enables the creation of self-acceptance and self-compassion and the process of being profoundly honest with oneself.  These factors are the dynamic core of real change.

The work of Jungian depth psychotherapy has as its goal the journey towards wholeness, a self accepting and self-compassionate understanding and integration of all that we are.

For Part 2 of this post, click here.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:  Caitlin Regan (Creative Commons Licence) ; D. Brandsma (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Reactivated Memories of My Childhood in the Second Half of Life

January 15th, 2018 · memories of my childhood

The extent to which “reactivated memories of my childhood” are a theme for many clients in the second half of life — is striking.

Those powerful linkages to childhood  (PHOTO: Alyssa L. Miller)

Naturally, childhood memories can be a focus for any individual in any part of their journey through adulthood.  Yet there is often a unique quality in the life stories of individuals at mid-life or later.  When they speak of experiences, or patterns of experience, that they have had in young life, it’s clear that these experiences have often impacted the whole of these individuals’ lives.  What’s more,  when people speak about often stunningly intense childhood experiences, it’s often clear that they have become intensely aware of the emotional and life-altering power of these experiences in a whole new way in the most recent part of their lives.


Rediscovering the Power of Memories of My Childhood

The human psyche is programmed to facilitate the survival of the individual.  Not always, but often, an individual may undergo difficult or painful experiences, yet keep moving forward in his or her life, going through the life tasks of childhood, the teen years and the first part of adulthood.  She or he may be so focused on survival issues during these life stages that the painful experiences remain very much in the background.

However, it may be that, as the person approaches or moves through midlife, even into later life, perhaps even as they watch their children go through key transitions in their personal journeys, the emotional impact of key life experiences from the past may become apparent.

There are a wide range of such painful or difficult emotional experiences that can have a deep impact on the whole direction of a life, and may well have linkages to depression or anxiety.  Some of these may relate to traumatic experience, such as the possibly physical injury or the loss of a key family member.  Others may relate to difficulties in key relationships.  For instance, very problematic relationships with a parent who cannot bond with or love a child, or cannot accept a child, can have a very pronounced effect throughout life, as psychotherapists well know.


memories of my childhood

Central Memories

Specific life events may activate the memories of childhood in the second half of life.  The times when children in their teens pass key milestones in their life journey (first love, transition to university) can touch key emotional sensitivities (called “complexes” by Jungian depth psychotherapists) in parents.  This may open up significant emotional territory.

Example.  Cecily’s 22 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with ADHD.  As she learned more about her daughter’s diagnosis, and the nature of ADHD, she became acutely aware that her father had shown almost identical characteristics throughout his adult life, and that ADHD-related patterns of behaviour had led to a great many difficulties for her father and her family, and had involved great personal cost to Cecily.  While she had soldiered through these issues as a young person, Cecily, now in her 50s, began to find that the feelings were now impossible to ignore.

“Cecily’s” experience has power, because it touches on some of the key aspects of human experience: fatherhood, parenthood and the family.  Jung used the word “archetypal” to refer to “patterns of thought or behaviour that are common to humanity at all times and in all places” (D. Sharp, The Jung Lexicon).  In this sense, we can say that peoples’ experience of the reactivation of “memories of my childhood” are often archetypal.

Jungian depth psychotherapy deals with the past of the individual, including the “memories of my childhood.”  It embraces the whole of the individual’s experience and life history, and accepting all as a key part of the “journey towards wholeness”.  Through being open to all that the individual is, through this perspective of wholeness, the work seeks to uncover a new sense of personal identity, direction and meaning.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Alyssa L. Miller (Creative Commons Licence) ; Neville Wootton (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)




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New Year’s Renewal: Can You Recreate Yourself? …Should You?

January 8th, 2018 · recreate yourself

We have just begin the New Year, a time associated with renewal and often with a subtle message of the need to “recreate yourself”.  For what are we actually yearning?

Re-Creating Me… Take One!                      (Photo: Eelke)

At New Year’s we often desire to bring things into our lives that have a greater sense of reality, meaning and authenticity.  Perhaps we make New Year’s resolutions: to lose weight, to quite smoking, to travel more.  These urges stem from awareness of the passage of time, and a sense that we want the time to count, to get more from our lives than perhaps we’ve actually been getting.  What, concretely, can we do with these yearnings?

New Year’s and Renewal

Jungian analyst and depth psychotherapist D. Stephenson Bond stresses that marking the New Year fundamentally involves us with the “archetype of renewal”.  This ancient theme of renewal was present in New Year’s celebrations in ancient Sumer as long ago as 3500 B.C.E.  Sumerian New Year concerned the renewal of the King, who was seen as the embodiment of consciousness and cosmic order for the society, and the rites were called Akitu, meaning “power making the world live again”.

New Year’s, touches our own deep yearning for renewal.  As Stephenson puts it,

Renewal is a theme that expresses itself in every culture, every individual life, every analysis….  There are times at life’s deepest reach when the guiding principles that once made sense of the world seem to falter.

At New Year’s, we may intuit that “guiding principles” that once made our lives coherent and meaningful, and that gave us forward direction are faltering.  We need somehow to move forward on our journey towards wholeness.  But how?

Re-Inventing Ourselves?

Our current culture is full of yearning for deep and fundamental renewal.  One recurrent phrase carrying that kind of meaning is “reinventing oneself“.  Even popular psychology magazines carry prominent articles entitled, “10 Rules for Reinventing Yourself”.  That sounds inviting, but what are we to make of this idea of “self-reinvention”?

Depth psychotherapy would tend to see such language as potentially rooted in failure to accept ourselves for who we most fundamentally are.  One of the things which can trap people in endlessly repeated patterns of pain in their lives is the inability to accept who they really are in a genuinely compassionate way.

Such patterns get lived out again and again.  We may know individuals who goes from one painful romantic relationship to another, attracted to hurtful, abusive and even psychopathic partners because they cannot accept and value themselves.  Often, there is an unconscious part of themselves that feels that a difficult and even punishing partner is all they can attract, or is what they deserve, or is somehow their fate.

Often, if the individual can get to a place of genuine, self-compassionate acceptance, this painful and destructive dynamic can change.  But if “re-inventing oneself”, means that by massive effort of will, the individual is going to cut through very long held patterns in his or her life, and somehow push that life onto another track — this may just be another form of violence to the self, of turning anger inwards and expressing self-hatred.  It may even be associated with an unconscious and self-attacking fantasy of “being someone else”.

To find true meaning in our individual lives we need more than this.  Depth psychotherapy would emphasize our need to seek in the direction of C.G. Jung’s observation, using the gender conventions of his day, that,

“Every individual has the law of his life inborn in him.” 

 recreate oneself

The Journey to Who We Are

How do we get to this unique, inborn ” law of life” within?  The essence of this journey is through a compassionate exploration and listening to our own being.  This involves a clear-sighted examination of our lives and our journey, together with an attempt to listen to and be aware of the unexplored aspects of what Jung called the Undiscovered Self.  This occurs through dreams, perhaps journalling, artwork or other forms of self-expression, and through noticing the many unexpected ways in which who we truly are emerges in our daily lives.

Jungian depth psychotherapy serves the deep human desire for renewal.  It assists the individual in discovering meaning, direction and vitality through enabling the individual to connect with his or her most fundamentally identity, and finding viable ways to live out that reality.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Eelke (Creative Commons Licence) ; Nagesh Jayaraman (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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New Year’s 2018 and the Fear of the Future

December 18th, 2017 · the fear of the future

Leonard Cohen’s lyrics in his song The Future reflect the fear of the future many now experience: “I’ve seen the future / Brother, it is murder.”

the fear of the future

Happy New Year…

Depth psychotherapists are very aware that many people carry intense fear of the future in our time.  While there has always been a dimension of such fear, at this particular moment in our society, it is particularly widespread and intense.
In our era, there is great fear of many large-scale calamities: job loss; economic downturn; climate change and environmental disaster; uncertainty about health and uncertainty about children’s futures would be some of the most significant fears and future-oriented anxieties. It’s really not surprising to see this fear and anxiety intensify as we come nearer to the holiday that celebrates the advent of the future: New Year’s.

Thank Goodness for Fear and Anxiety!

One of the great things distinguishing humans from other species is our ability to anticipate the future and to plan by creating options and selecting from them.  This as our threat management system.  It greatly assists our individual survival, and that of the species.  However, as U. of Queensland Prof. T. Suddendorf illustrates, this threat management system has a downside: we can get stuck imagining mental scenarios that torment us with anxiety and fear.

While anxiety and the fear of the future can empower us to protect ourselves and take precautions, this same mechanism can lead us to be paralyzed by fear of what might happen.  So, New Year’s celebration can easily be coloured by the dark clouds of imagined possibilities.

the fear of the future

Learned Helplessness

Fear of the future, in our age, is fed by media and others who follow the rule of thumb that, “if it bleeds, it leads“.  Unfortunately, media and advertisers have learned that, if they can increase our fear and anxiety, they increase our attentiveness to their messages.  This tends to lead to a kind of “learned helplessness”, a numbness and inability to respond to situations in life.  If it’s not fear of terrorism that’s the flavour of the day, then it’s economic fear, fear of war or disease, or — you name it.

Fear and Franklin

1932 was a grim year.  President Hoover was completely immobilized by the steadily worsening Great Depression.  The United States felt spiritually as well as financially bankrupt — a nation immobilized by fear.  In March 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt in his first Inaugural Address uttered a now famous phrase:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

This phrase is so famous it can feel like a shopworn cliche.  But let’s understand the profundity of Roosevelt’s insight.  He saw a nation full of resources and individual people who were fundamentally strong.  He also saw the possibility of fear immobilizing that people, and taking away their power to undertake even the first step towards the life they wanted for themselves.  He literally saw that the only thing stopping them from moving forward with courage and imagination — was fear.  This is a fundamental insight into his time, but it also captures a fundamental truth about the human condition.  For our own time and situation,  famous Jungian analyst James Hollis unpacks this same truth:

So there you have it.  Fear is the enemy.  Life is not your enemy; the Other is not your enemy; fear is the enemy…

Ask yourself of every dilemma, every choice, every relationship, every commitment, or every failure to commit, “Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?”  Do not ask this question if you are afraid to find the answer [italics mine].  You might be afraid of what your own soul will require of you, but at least you will then know your marching orders…

If you are still afraid, imagine your tombstone: “Here lies one who was not here, one who did not show up!”  That is something to really fear; compared to this, our daily fears are trivial [italics mine].

~James Hollis

Courage and the Future

In an important sense, we humans are always locked in struggle with our fear, as the greatest barrier between us and our individual destinies.  As Roosevelt so eloquently stated, like the humans in every place and time, we must fear the fear that could keep us from full and authentic life.

A key goal of depth psychotherapy is empowering the individual to move through fear, to live life as an authentic expression of who she or he most fundamentally is.

I wish you the happiest of Holiday seasons and the blessings of an authentic and courageous New Year!

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution John Eisenschenk (Creative Commons Licence) ;  Sarah (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Caring for Aging Parents During the Holiday Season

December 11th, 2017 · caring for aging parents

Caring for aging parents is a matter of deep concern, stress and anxiety to many people; those concerns are often intensified at the Holidays.

caring for aging parents

Are you a caregiver for aging parents?  It’s a complex task, that can often seem lonely and thankless.  Because of the emphasis on family at the Holidays, and everyone’s heightened expectations, the task of caring for aging parents can feel even heavier at this time of year.

Not a “How To” Article

This isn’t a “how-to” article about looking after aging parents.  It focuses on individual caregivers, and how they might best take care of themselves emotionally.  How can adult children respond to aging parents? Is there a way to offer care to aging parents, while still “hanging onto ourselves”, our own needs and life goals?

Caring for Aging Parents: Unprecedented Demands on Their Children

Aging parents are living longer, and imposing formidable demands on children.   Parents have increased lifespan, but also increased levels of disability, illness and cognitive impairment.  Adult children can feel overwhelmed by such situations, when simultaneously helping their own children to “launch”, and dealing with issues of midlife transition and the second half of life.


A common response to all these demands is guilt.  This takes several forms, as Prof. Satow of Brooklyn College reminds us.

We can feel guilty for not doing what we “should” for parents.  Often this means not doing what someone else thinks we should for a parent.

Or we can have what Satow calls separation guilt.  This is guilt caused by physical separation, as a result of moving or living away from parents.

Another source of guilt stems from parental envy.  The child is younger, perhaps in better health, and perhaps more affluent or less encumbered. The parent may wish it was otherwise, and the child may experience that as a source of guilt.

Even more significant is guilt resulting from ambivalent feelings toward the parent.  This can stem from a parent who never connected with us, or from experiences of wholesale abuse and neglect.  You might think that this affects a relatively small number of people.  The experience of depth psychotherapists suggests otherwise.

A final issue that must be taken seriously is the case where we might feel guilty around parents, as a result of a sense of having violated our own moral values around treatment of parents.  This is very significant when it occurs, but as we can see, a whole range of other kinds of guilt can masquerade as this one!

You Cannot Save an Aging Parent from Aging

Aging and the decline and breakdown of the body are inevitable parts of the human experience.  We might wonder whether our difficulty with accepting the aging of the parent doesn’t sometimes originate in our own difficulty accepting aging in ourselves.

All human life is an aging process culminating in death.  We have to accept the reality of the human condition, and simultaneously the need to become ourselves and make meaning in our lives.  This is a task that our parents face, and it’s the task that we ourselves face.

The Necessary Courage to Follow Your Own Path

From the perspective of Jungian depth psychotherapy, we must balance the obligation to parents with the real and genuine call of the self.  We need to have the courage to follow our own path, not losing sight of ourselves, and of the necessity to live out who we really are, as we face the challenges of caring for aging parents.

caring for aging parents

Finding the Center of Your Own Labyrinth

Identifying Your Authentic Role

Care of parents and connection with them must be balanced with our sense of vocation and authentic life.  Often, it involves a process of a balancing of doing the “decent” thing with the call of the individual’s own life to be lived and the demands of being who we were intended to be in our lives.  Sorting through these demands is not an easy task, and may require us to face our own guilt, fear and anger.

Often, the process of depth psychotherapy enables the individual to clarify their personal issues around caring for aging parents, and to find a way forward that honours as much as possible both our moral commitments, and the call of the Self.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Sheila Sund (Creative Commons Licence) ; Brian (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Understanding and Relieving Holiday Stress Depression and Anxiety

December 4th, 2017 · holiday stress depression

With every passing year, holiday stress depression and anxiety become an ever greater issue in our society, with more and more of us affected.

holiday stress depression

PHOTO: “Holiday Blur” by Mitchell Haintfield

Because of it’s importance, I’ve written on variations of this issue several times previously.  Yet, it’s very important to keep exploring this issue in ways that give us deeper understanding of stress and negative emotional reaction to the holidays , and that also allow us to see some ways of alleviating these strong reactions, and possibly finding joy and depth of meaning in our holiday experience — and in our lives.

Expectations of “The Holiday Experience”

We expect so much of this time of year, and we expect so much of ourselves at this time of year.  Because of the ever-increasing demands of jobs, and often because of the ever-increasing expectations we face with respect to meeting our children’s needs and keeping them in extra-curricular activities, many people in communities like my own suburban town of Oakville lead demanding, exhausting lives of near-continual activity.  This can lead us into a range of unrealistic expectations for the holiday season.  We can end up pinning totally unreasonable hopes upon the season — and upon ourselves — for what must happen, if we’re to have a worthwhile holiday season.  Between Christmas and New Year’s, this can mean spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

What if we let ourselves off the hook, and accepted that we could have good holidays, connecting with those we love and value — and, above all, with ourselves — without spending an enormous amount of money?  What if we could have a warm, connected and meaningful holiday season, with reasonable expectations, without slave-driving ourselves with perfectionistic ideas about “how it’s gotta be”?

Expectations and Family

This brings up a related subject, painful for many.  In our culture, we are flooded by images of happy families gathered together for the holidays, getting along famously and harmoniously.  This imagery floods TV ads, holiday music videos and Christmas specials.

For many of us, however, the reality of family during the holidays is much more ambiguous, and often very painful.  Many of us carry memories, some absolutely traumatic, of family occasions of conflict associated with the holidays.  Many people’s experience of the holidays in previous years is scarred by tragic or traumatic experiences associated with alcohol or other addictions, often involving a close relative.

It’s essential to approach the issue of family at the holidays with a spirit of constructive, rather than destructive hope.  By “destructive hope”, I mean the kind of hope, often rooted in childhood, that keeps hoping against all odds that someone will respond in a positive, life-giving way, when all that they have repeatedly shown is destructive, hurtful and life denying.  If we are to get beyond holiday stress depression and anxiety in the context of family and relationship, we must be conscious and clear-sighted about relationships. We need to invest in relationships where we are going to get support, love and affirmation, and we need to grieve relationships where that’s not the case, and move on from them.  The holidays can be a crucial time for making life-giving decisions about close relationships.

Spirituality and Meaning

Spirituality and meaning are essential aspects of moving beyond holiday stress, depression and anxiety.  Perhaps the traditional spirituality associated with a season like Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa has great meaning for you.  If so, that’s wonderful, and you should by all means incorporate traditional religious observances into your celebration of the season.

Yet, contemporary depth psychotherapy shows that such symbolism speaks powerfully to some in our time, and not at all to others.  If traditional religious symbols are not meaningful for you, the holidays might be a time to start your own exploration of the kind of spirituality and sources of meaning that genuinely matter for you.  Spirituality can mean many different things.  Humans strongly need to feel connected to some value greater than the human ego — whether God, the Tao, the Ancestors, the human race, or some other value.

holiday stress depression

Holiday Stress Depression & Anxiety… and the Whole of Our Lives

The broad questions of spirituality and meaning posed to us by the holiday season matter for the whole of our lives — they are existential issues.

Jungian depth psychotherapy work is always deeply concerned with the broad issue of finding meaning, significance and purpose in the life of the individual.  It recognizes that part of the uniqueness of an individual is the values that he or she holds most deeply.  Depth psychotherapy helps the person to express those values, as a fundamental part of the individual’s journey to wholeness .

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution mitchell haindfield (Creative Commons Licence) ; Stephen Kelly (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What is Real Success in a Status-Driven World?

November 20th, 2017 · what is real success

What is real success?  Some people would tell you that the true indicators are readily visible, and are embodied in key brands like “Rolex”, “Gucci” and “Porsche”.

what is real success

…or, possibly, “Lambo”…

Certainly, we live in a world where the outward signs of “success” appear to be more and more prized all the time.  In a large metropolitan area like the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area, where I live, the marks of success seem to be very visibly on display.  There’s no lack of cars, houses and wardrobe items that seem clearly intended to convey the message that their owners have “arrived”, as the expression goes.

Real Success — At What?

If we disdain to view such material things, pleasant as they might be, as the hallmarks of success, we might adopt an alternative standard based on the degree to which a person’s accomplishments conform to a set of widely accepted social values.  These might include material or financial success, or else an individual’s social prominence or status.  Such things are indeed common yardsticks used in our culture to determine whether an individual has attained the things that render an individual life worthwhile.  Another, somewhat more altruistic standard that might be applied would be the level of the individual’s contribution to the well-being of society (for instance, through enterprise, philanthropy, or performing a particularly socially useful service such as medical care or piloting jet airliners).

Yet, here is a psychological fact borne out by clinical experience.  An individual might do any or all of these things, and still feel that he or she has not succeeded, that what he or she has done is not fundamentally worthwhile.

What’s Worthy of Being Called Success?

Any of the things mentioned above might easily be regarded by one person as the true criteria of success, and by another as something completely worthless.

Santa Clara University’s Prof. Thomas Plante reminds us,

Too often in our increasingly competitive, connected, and often Darwinian world we are told in multiple ways that success is defined by money, power, fame, and basically being better than everyone else! …[I]t seems like the meta-message is “more is always better than less” and that you can never be satisfied until you have more than what you have now.

The essence of what Prof. Plante describes is comparison.  Hence, success amounts to comparing yourself to others, and, if you feel that you come off better than they do, well, congratulations, you’re a success!

Social sciences literature is now full of articles describing the relative effects of so-called “upward” and “downward” social comparison, and which makes you happier.  Certainly, any psychotherapist knows that we’re going to compare ourselves to others; that’s a pretty innate impulse in humans.  But is there any other possibility for determining a way to success?

Inner Directed Success

Well, it’s a psychological truth that humans can choose to apply yardsticks to things in their lives that emerge from their own being, rather than from externals.  What if we were to draw our understanding of success from our own inner standards of what we find meaningful?  Jungian therapy, in fact, gives us a bit of a touchstone that helps us connect with our own inner standard of true meaningfulness:

What is Real Success

…A Touchstone!

The child’s capacity to be utterly absorbed in something, to give her- or himself over completely to an activity or engagement helps us to see and understand how it works when something is truly important to an individual.  Despite the distractions of the urge for external comparison, the individual needs to focus on what it is that truly grips him or her at the deepest level, and to try to embody that value in his or her life.

So, in a sense, there is an objective inner standard for each of us as to what success is.  However, that standard is very personal and unique.  To understand it, we have to engage deeply with our own inner reality.

What is Real Success? That Depends on Your Inner Journey

“Real success” will depend on being attentive to your own inner experience, and you own inner journey.  It will be impossible to tell if you have attained real success if you don’t understand your inner life.

The work of inner journey is the heart of psychotherapy in a depth modality.  The shift from an outer, other-directed focus to a definition of success focused on living out the essence of my own being touches on the fundamental meaning of our journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Attribution Philippe Put (Creative Commons Licence) ; (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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