Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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

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


Some rights reserved by  Roy Blumenthal (Creative Commons Licence)

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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

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


Some rights reserved by  Roy Blumenthal (Creative Commons Licence)

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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

© 2019 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

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


Some rights reserved by  Roy Blumenthal (Creative Commons Licence)

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Anxiety About How to Be Myself

October 29th, 2019 · how to be myself

It may seem like it should be dead easy to figure out how to be myself. But the fact is, it’s often not that easy at all.

how to be myself

Why is it so hard? Shouldn’t it just be a matter of getting up, going through my daily routine at work, interacting with the people I care about in my life — and getting up and doing it all over again tomorrow?

The trouble is that we can be haunted by questions about ourselves that can be very hard to answer. Questions like, “Am I doing the things I do because they make me happy — or am I doing them to please someone else?”

When we start to realize that there may be immense pressure on us to meet the expectations of others, the question of “how to be myself” starts to seem more complex. Then we might start wondering whether the things we do as part of our daily routine are really what we like, or a result of the ways in which we’ve internalized the expectations of others: “Dad always voted for XYZ political party, and I always vote for them, too.” “In this neighbourhood, everybody drives an SUV.”

There can also be a big question about the less well known or undiscovered parts of ourselves. We tend to think that we know ourselves pretty well, and that we know what we want, and yet it can often be that we confront new, undiscovered or forgotten parts of ourselves at different key points in our lives.

Authenticity and Integrity

The question of “how to be myself” is fundamentally linked to ideas of authenticity and integrity. Authenticity refers to behaving and outwardly acting in accord with the nature of the true self. Jungian psychiatrist John Beebe defines integrity as:

1. an inner psychological harmony or wholeness;

2. a conformity of personal expression with psychological reality… of the outer with the inner self; and,

3. an extension of wholeness and conformity with time, through thick and thin [italics mine].

John Beebe, Integrity in Depth

What both these concepts share is the idea that the outer person should be consistent with the inner, and this is fundamental to the idea of being myself. We would say that a person is “being him- or herself” when we sense that the outer “presentation” or way of being of the person seems consistent with their inner being — with the whole inner way in which that person experiences her- or himself.

How can we respond to our outer lives in a way that is consistent with our inner selves? It sounds like it should be easy — but sometimes it’s not.

One key time when the question of how to be myself may become front and center is during major life transitions. It’s often the case that going through a major transition, such as the midlife transition, or a major career change, can bring questions like “Who am I, really?” right to the surface.

Anxiety and the Struggle to be Myself

The fact is that we have to watch carefully to keep our outer state consistent with what we most deeply think and feel. Sometimes, this can bring us anxiety, especially when it’s new and unfamiliar. Sometimes, we might have to fly right into the face of our own uncertainty, or the expectations of others.

Yet, much more intense experiences of anxiety may occur when we force ourselves to behave in ways that are at odds with who we most fundamentally are. If we find ourselves inexplicably anxious in an on-going basis, it may be important to ask ourselves whether the life we’re leading outwardly is genuinely reflective of who we are, deep in our interior. This can be particularly true during important transitions like the midlife transition. At times like that, an individual can either feel that he or she is moving in a direction that is consistent with a basic sense of who he or she most basically is, or else that person can feel marooned in a life script that is not their own.

Sometimes, we might even completely refuse to face or even acknowledge the question of “How to be myself?” People may seek to do all they can to avoid or deny the question of fundamental identity or selfhood. But it may well be that issues of authenticity and fundamental integrity will make their presence felt in the form of anxiety, depression, somatic effects or bodily illness.

Your True Self Does Exist!

An important part of dealing with the question of “How to be myself?” is recognizing that my true self does exist. Not only Jungians and depth psychotherapists, but therapeutic perspectives like Internal Family Systems have come to share this perspective. There is a part of me that really holds what I authentically am, even though it can be extraordinarily hard to have a concept or a mental model of it.

The call of the Self is something very real. Working on recognizing and responding to its voice is a very important part of a supportive and discerning depth psychotherapy relationship. In turn this is an integral part of our fundamental journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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


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Perfectionism and Depression are Issues of Soul

October 22nd, 2019 · perfectionism and depression

There’s a strong connection between perfectionism and depression. By “perfectionism”, we’re not referring to those who are just very motivated to do well.

perfectionism and depression
A true perfectionist is a person who can’t bear to make a mistake, and who can’t let themselves off the hook when their performance falls short of what they regard as ideal. Most of us have some perfectionist in us; some of us have a great deal.
Are perfectionism and depression closely related? There’s some very good reasons for believing that they are, and that people who genuinely struggle with perfectionism are also struggling with depression.
Sometimes we refer to someone as “perfectionist” because they have a strong motivation to strive for excellence. But striving for big goals isn’t what makes someone a perfectionist. What makes someone a perfectionist is what they do if they don’t meet those high goals. A person who subjects themselves to relentless self-attack because they don’t measure up to some preconceived or arbitrary standard is demonstrating one of the key characteristics of perfectionism.

Perfectionism, Procrastination, Paralysis

A person with problematic perfectionism can accept nothing other than sheer flawless perfection. A true perfectionist can torture her- or himself if the result is anything less.

This can often result in the perfectionist person getting stuck in extreme procrastination. The individual will keep trying and re-doing the task, delaying completion, to make sure the result is absolutely perfect. Alternately, the individual may continually avoid ever starting the task, because the judgmental self-criticism starts from the moment that the task is commenced, and it’s just too hard to bear.

In a similar way, people struggling with perfectionism may be highly averse to trying anything new. The individual may have always wanted to dance salsa, study Spanish or play blues guitar, but intense fear of outright failure or not being good enough keeps her or him from taking the plunge and starting.

In many ways, perfectionism can work to shut down the spontaneity and joy of those who are in its control. It can keep individuals out of long term relationships, fill them with great anxiety in social settings, and result in a number of other unfavourable impacts.

Where Perfectionism Meets Depression

Researchers such as York University’s Prof. Gordon Flett have shown that perfectionism about oneself is often associated with fairly severe depression, especially when it is connected with stress in
achievement-oriented activities such as school or work. This is not really surprising: if an individual feels in such important areas of his or her life that they don’t and can’t possibly meet the standard, they are of course going to feel devalued and powerless.

Many perfectionists feel immense pressure to appear together, in control and competent to the rest of the world. Yet for many who deal with perfectionism, that “togetherness” mask is just a facade. Inside perfectionism is a highly devastating and painful tyrant, forcing the individual to lash themselves for the least little failure or shortcoming.

Sometimes, people will not even admit to themselves that they are in the grips of a highly corrosive form of perfectionism. They try to run from it, but can’t escape its devastating effects.

How can the perfectionist find healing and peace? How can she or he get beyond being crippled by depression?

Perfectionism and Depression are Both Matters of “Soul”

The perfectionist needs self-acceptance, self compassion and self love, certainly, but how will she or he ever get there, when the inner voices scream so loudly that she or he has so completely missed the mark?

I think that depth psychotherapist James Hillman gives us some important clues:

Each of us needs an adequate biography: How do I put together into a coherent image the pieces of my life? How do I find the basic plot of my story?

James Hillman

Perfectionism is many things. One aspect is that it’s about living my life in a way that’s bound to someone else’s story about my life, and someone else’s standards. My self-esteem becomes completely dependent on my living up to standards that someone else has imposed and that I have internalized. One key element that the perfectionist has absorbed is the judgment that I am not enough. This cruel message can easily keep us from understanding our inner worth and value.

We begin to take away some of the power of perfectionism if we can enter into our own story with love, or, if you prefer, self-compassion. In order to do that, we have to first accept ourselves. I’m put in mind of the famous C.G. Jung quote:

The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.

C.G. Jung

Self-acceptance can be terrifying, because it forces us to go up against our worst demons — the ones that tell us that who we are really doesn’t measure up. To push through this, and to get to the place where we can really see and acknowledge how hard we try, how difficult it is to hope, and how much we actually suffer is demanding soul work. To go further, and to have compassion and kindness for that suffering being — our self — takes even more.

Such work can be very hard to do on our own. We often need help, and it needs to be help that we can rely on. For many people, the safe container of depth psychotherapy is essential for this purpose. It is here that we can work to find what Hillman calls the basic plot of our own story, which is the same thing Jung calls our personal myth.

It’s essential to begin to claim our own story as our own, as something that ultimately no one but we ourselves can evaluate or appreciate. To understand that, in ourselves, we are a uniquely precious reality. This is the true meaning of soul, and the very heart of the journey toward wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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


Some rights reserved by  Roy Blumenthal (Creative Commons Licence)

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What Does it Mean to be Creative — and to Live Creatively?

October 14th, 2019 · what does it mean to be creative, what does it mean to be creative

Ask very many people, and they will tell you they want to live creatively. But what does it mean to be creative — in actual fact?

Phillip Firsov, Russian-born British painter
If you ask most people what the phrase “creative person” evokes, you will probably get some pretty vivid examples of “creatives”. Someone might mention Lady Gaga, or Salvador Dali, or even J.K. Rowling.
Salvador Dali
These powerfully iconic figures are certainly striking, but they can be deceptive. Do I have to be such a figure to live in a creative way?
I’m very struck by a statement by the psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden on the nature of creativity, which runs counter to what we might first think or expect:

To be alive (in more than an operational sense) is to be forever in the process of making things of one’s own [italics mine], whether they be thoughts, feelings, bodily movements, perceptions, conversations, poems or analytic papers.

Thomas Ogden, Conversations on the Frontier of Dreaming
This is startling in one sense — while in another, it isn’t. Ogden doesn’t see creativity as the sole possession of the great writers, painters or musicians of history. That may run counter to all the preconceived notions of “creative” people that run through our heads whenever we think about this subject. Yet, I think that many of us will resonate with his description of creative living as “making things of one’s own”.

Making Things of My Own

I think that many of us have at least some intuitive sense of what it is to “make something of my own”. We know what it is to make something that comes out of who we genuinely are. And that doesn’t have to be painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, (no slight intended to Michelangelo’s wondrous creation!)

Often I can tell when I’m “making something of my own”. It has a certain feel; I can genuinely feel that this thing is “me” or “mine”. It might be my special creation on the bar-be-que, the particular way that I sew on sleeves or the way that I take photos of my dog — the list is endless.

I remember a particular time in my own life. Things were at a really difficult point for me, and I hadn’t been in Jungian analysis for very long. I was having a really difficult time expressing or even knowing what I felt in some important areas of my life. That was the moment when I was introduced to working with self-hardening model clay. It actually made a big difference in my life.

It wasn’t that I turned into a great sculptor. No, far from being the next August Rodin, other people could barely discern whether what I had made was a bison, a bear or a kitchen table. Yet what was significant about these little bits of clay was that what I was working on had really taken hold of me, and I was expressing my feelings and myself in a manner in which I was really “all in”. It also helped — for me — that this form of expression didn’t use any language, and wasn’t the least bit “thinky”: this enabled me to let parts of myself that didn’t usually even see the light of day show their colours.

Hiding From My Creative Self

It can be uncomfortable to reach down inside ourselves and experience elements that usually get obscured or silenced in the regular business of the day. It can seem so scary and so disruptive that some people never do it. People can end up running from the aspect of themselves that really wants to make things, and express itself. They may be conscious of doing this, but it can also happen without conscious awareness.

There’s a danger involved in this running away from the part of ourselves that wants to make things. It’s implied in the Ogden quote above. This is that, without that sense of making things, without putting our creative energy out into the world, life can start to seem pretty sterile and even dead. What does it mean to be creative? Well, one key thing it means is to be alive, and to know it — to feel it! Something deep within us yearns to get to the place where that’s a lived reality.

Making Your Life Your Own

A lot hinges on our ability to be in our lives, and to feel that we can do things or make things that are genuinely expressive of ourselves.  There’s a fundamental part of human nature that wants and needs to make something that allows some part of our inner life to be something that we and others experience “out there” in the world..  This may feel like “living into” our lives — making them our own in new and important ways.

For many people in search of a more creative approach to their lives, depth psychotherapy can play an important part in the process.  A trusting, dependable relationship with a depth psychotherapist or Jungian analyst can be a safe place to explore the creative parts of ourselves that are yearning to emerge. That was my experience when the therapeutic relationship gave me a safe place to explore working in clay. Such experiences can start to give us a wholly new and different answer to the question, “What does it mean to be creative?”

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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


Some rights reserved by  Roy Blumenthal (Creative Commons Licence)

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I Feel Lost in Life. What Can I Do About It?

September 30th, 2019 · I feel lost in life, I feel lost in life

Although we may not say it to other people, many of us have known that feeling: I feel lost in life. It’s a feeling that may be associated with anxiety, or even depression.

I feel lost
A considerable number of people could tell you that there are even numerous times in their lives when they have felt genuinely lost. To be perfectly honest, there are at least three or four times in my own life when I would have to say that, yes, I felt genuinely, deeply lost.
Feeling lost can happen at many different stages in life, and for many different reasons. Very often, feeling lost can mean that an individual is on the edge of a major life transition, although this isn’t always the case.

I Feel Lost in Life”: Most of Us Do, at One Time or Another

What is it like to be aware that “I feel lost in life”? The experience of “feeling lost” may vary greatly from one person to another. Often it can come shortly before or after a major life transition. For instance, someone might feel a need for a change in their career, for instance, or might actually make a change in her or his career, and might experience that sense of “lostness”. Another person might have a similar experience if he or she was thinking of leaving a long-term relationship. In a very different way, someone might experience a deep sense of lost-ness after the loss of a loved one, or close family member, or after the adult children have finally left the family home.

What does it really mean to say that you’re lost? St. Mary’s University Psychology Professor Kenneth Hill is one of world’s foremost experts on the psychology of people who are literally, physically lost. He points out that the essence of being lost is being disoriented — which in the case of physical lostness, can occur in any of a number of ways.

We are using the word “lost” here in a more metaphorical, symbolic way. We’re wondering what it’s like when we’re psychologically lost. And the truth is, it’s similar to being physically lost, because the individual is now psychologically disoriented. Normally, in the physical world, we are oriented because we’re among familiar surroundings, or because we can see some indicators as to what direction we’re headed. We’re lost when we’re not in familiar surroundings, and when we can’t find any indicators to tell us where we’re heading.

The same is true in the realm of psychology or soul. When we’re psychologically lost, it means that we can no longer tell where we are, and / or we cannot determine the direction in which we should head. Often this can happen because we’re suddenly heading in a new and unfamiliar direction, such as a decision to leave a long-term relationship, or changes, such as the loss of a loved one, have suddenly put us in an unfamiliar place, psychologically speaking.

What can I do when I feel lost in life?

Pretending That I Don’t Feel Lost — Doesn’t Help!

A very key part of dealing with being “lost” involves acknowledging that we’re at a point in life where we don’t know where we are or where we’re headed. There are those who would suggest that if you feel lost and lack a sense of fulfillment, you are basically giving in to a victim mentality. However, I don’t think that approach does justice to the fact that we can and do face things in life that genuinely disorient us, and that truly leave us not knowing which way to head. That’s not a matter of moral weakness; that’s being part of the human race.

Often, it can be very difficult to look at a feeling of being lost or even somewhat out of control. We can find our denial mechanisms coming into to play, telling us that we just need to work a little harder, think a little more clearly, or be a little more optimistic. Yet, in fact, there just are times when we’re lost, and when we find ourselves without answers and without direction.

In fact, actually being lost, and admitting to oneself that one is lost, may be essential to finding a new and quite possibly very different orientation.

To Find Your Direction Again

Finding a new direction and emerging from a state of lost-ness may be a process that takes some time, and some serious self-examination. It can entail some very important depth psychotherapy work that involves trying to closely listen to the unacknowledged or undiscovered parts of the self. Some of these parts of ourselves may have been waiting in the wings for a very long time, and yet it may be those very parts that provide the orientation or direction to move forward. Often, what the individual requires to become oriented may be a new perspective that is quite different from what has dominated her or his waking life in prior times.

Meaningful Jungian therapy can contribute a great deal to the process of finding orientation in an individual’s life. The value of a constantly affirming and supportive witness, who can help the individual recognize, understand and incorporate the energies in her or himself that work for re-orientation and renewal, can be great indeed.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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


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How to Connect with People

September 23rd, 2019 · how to connect with people

how to connect with others
PHOTO: Damian Gadal

Figuring out how to connect with people is a matter of deep concern throughout the course of life.  But getting the connection that we want with others isn’t always easy!

The challenges people face in getting the connection with others that they want vary immensely. In this post, I’ll be focusing on those connections that involve deep intimacy and acceptance, in forms like romantic love, deep friendship and family bonds.
Most people would readily agree that connecting with others in these profound ways is a key part of what makes us human. Such connections are also often among the most meaningful of human experiences. Why is it, then, that this issue of how to connect with people can often give us so much trouble?

Barriers to Connection (in Ourselves)

There are many kinds of barriers to connection that can stand between us and connecting to others, whether that connection is romantic in nature or an intimate friendship. Many of these barriers have to do with fear.

Fear is probably the single most powerful motivator, as research by University of Illinois social psychologist Melanie Tannenbaum et al. seems to demonstrate. And, as depth psychotherapists are very aware, fear doesn’t have to be conscious to be very potent in our lives. In fact, some of the most powerful fears that we have are often unconscious.

Fear of intimacy is a most powerful form of human fear. Most often, this is linked to the fear of being vulnerable. What if I get connected to someone, and they genuinely see who I really am — and they reject me or shame me for being myself? A risk like that can seem simply too great to bear. That is particularly true if I have a very unstable relationship with myself; if I’m ashamed of, or intensely dislike, myself, it’s very unlikely that I’m going to want to take the risk of rejection or shaming by a lover or friend.

I may also fear failure or loss in a relationship. What if I give my heart or commitment to a friend or lover, and then I lose them? What the connection or intimacy between us is actually good, maybe even wonderful, but then the person goes away, or passes away, or just gives up on the relationship? Anyone would find this extremely painful, but for some people, it’s a risk that they can’t even think about taking — often because of very painful losses in relationship that they have already had in their lives.

On the other hand, we may be subject to fear of commitment. This is most common in romantic relationships, but is not exclusively confined to them. The individual may fear the loss of freedom that commitment in a relationship would bring. This fear is often rooted in past experiences of being in suffocating relationships, whether in the family of origin, or in subsequent romances or friendships.

We could go on and on listing “dis-connectors”, but I will end with one very powerful one: the psychological mechanism of projection. Projection is something that the psyche does to protect us from anxiety. We can transfer our difficult emotions and the unacceptable parts of ourselves onto the beloved or the friend, seeing that negative characteristic as belonging to them. This may help us feel less uneasy about ourselves, but it often generates huge distances between people.

Running Away from Soulful Connection

We can often completely sidestep the question of how to connect with people. The way we do this is by going through the motions, avoiding real connection with others, and staying completely unconscious of what we’re doing to sabotage genuine relatedness. In this way, we can completely thwart any chance for real intimacy.

It’s very difficult to individuate, to become who we truly are, in isolation. Yet we can often be in relationship in a way that both avoids in-depth encounter with the other, while simultaneously avoiding the more difficult parts of ourselves. This can be particularly apparent for us, as we wrestle with key transitions in our lives, such as the midlife transition.

Often, the painful parts of relationship, and the ways in which we experience disconnect with the other serve to bring us back to ourselves. The ways in which we avoid the other very often have to do with the ways in which we unconsciously connive to avoid ourselves. If we can stand to see ourselves the way that the other sees and experiences us, we may learn some essential things about ourselves in relationship, and about who we most fundamentally are.

James Hollis, speaking of projection and our individual journey towards wholeness, puts it like this:

Projections embody what is unclaimed or unknown within ourselves. Life has a way of dissolving projections, and one must, amid the disappointment and desolation, begin to take on the responsibility for one’s own satisfaction. There is no one out there to save us… [b]ut there is a very fine person within, one we barely know, ready and willing to be our constant companion.

James Hollis, The Middle Passage

The Way of Connection

At its most fundamental, the challenge of connecting with others is tightly connected with the challenge of connecting with ourselves. Jungians emphasize that the goal of human life is individuation, that is, becoming who we most fundamentally are. Yet, he was equally emphatic that we need connection with others to individuate (and, simultaneously, that individuating enables better more authentic connection with others).

Depth psychotherapy provides a safe, supportive environment to explore issues of relationship, and our inner barriers to intimacy and connection. It also offers solid insight and support for individuals as they wrestle with the key questions of how to connect with people. Continuing to become more conscious of how we show up in relationship is an essential part of Jungian work, as well as a key part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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


Some rights reserved by  Roy Blumenthal (Creative Commons Licence)

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Saying Yes to Everything Means Saying NO to Being Myself

September 16th, 2019 · saying yes to everything, saying yes to everything

Saying yes to everything that other people want can be a very powerful pattern, into which we can very easily fall. It can also be very costly.

saying yes to everything
If we’re honest, we have to admit that constantly saying yes can become a kind of comfortable routine. After all, humans are social animals. We strongly want to get feedback from others that we’re liked, that we’re seen as valuable and competent, that we’re a valued member of the team. It’s easy when we’re tired or wanting positive feedback from others or feeling low on self-esteem, to just go with the flow and say yes. If we’re dealing with some measure of anxiety or depression, it can be even easier.

The Yes Trap

So why is saying yes to everything a problem? The simple answer is that what we want and really need may not be what others want us to do. If we don’t listen to our own inner voices about what we want and need, we can get badly lost and confused. We might well end up feeling violated, or, even worse, might lose our ability to know what we really think and feel at all.

That’s why modern depth psychotherapists emphasize the necessity of maintaining healthy boundaries — of being very aware of where other people end, and where I begin. Being aware of our own needs, and our own boundaries, is essential.

Some people might object, and say that focusing on our own needs and wants rather than the needs of others is a route to becoming narcissistic and self-preoccupied. However, I think that social scientist Brene Brown has it right when she states that self-affirming people

…say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment [italics mine].

Brene Brown, Rising Strong

Any route to compassion for others must begin with compassion for ourselves. That will entail saying yes to our inner voices, and sometimes saying “no” to the wishes of others.

The High Price of Saying Yes to Everything

Saying “no”, particularly in situations where there’s a lot at stake, can seem like a very costly thing to do. The temptation can be there to simply agree with others, and go the accepted way — because it’s a whole lot easier.

Sometimes we can end up just going along with what other people want us to do because it’s too scary or feels to costly to even think about the alternative. It’s a common enough experience to have someone sitting in my office who has:

  • stayed in a job, despite knowing it was wrong for them;
  • put up with aspects of a marriage relationship for decades, rather than challenging their partner;
  • despite being an adult, has accepted a mentally or verbally abusive relationship with a sibling or a parent; or,
  • a host of other circumstances where the individual has ignored their inner promptings, and just done what the other wanted.

When we do such things, consciously or unconsciously, we will often start to carry the gradually accumulating weight of our unlived lives. In a variety of ways, we start to find ourselves confronted with the need for transformation in our lives. That usually means saying “No” a lot more to other peoples’ expectations, and may entail looking at ourselves and our lives in a new way. Jungian analyst James Hollis writes:

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

James Hollis, What Really Matters

The Individuation Journey: Saying “Yes” to My Unique Individual Life

When we stop “saying yes to everything”, and start asking ourselves “Yes… but what does the deepest part of myself want and need?”, we begin to walk on the path toward our own individuation. Which is another way of saying we start to discover what it means to be uniquely ourselves.

Listening to the voices in myself and giving them flesh is essential for the journey of wholeness or individuation. We really need to clearing away enough of the external “noise” to be able to hear voices in ourselves that can be quite quiet, and hard to discern. So many things in our society work against us paying attention to our own inwardness. Yet one of the most formidable is the constant, subtle, often unconscious pressure from others to be who they want us to be, and to do what they want us to do.

At key points in our personal journey, there will be a very strong need for us to say “No” to the expectations, assumptions and pressure of others., and yes to something else — the true self. Finding that true self, listening to it and defending it — these are some of the most important tasks in our lives.

One of the great benefits of depth psychotherapy is that it creates a safe, protected place, with a supportive observer and witness, for us to hear our inner voices. that represent who we really are, and to let them emerge. This can be a vital part of our journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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


Some rights reserved by  Roy Blumenthal (Creative Commons Licence)

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