Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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)

PHOTOS: Garry Knight (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)

PHOTOS: Garry Knight (Creative Commons Licence)

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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)

PHOTOS: Garry Knight (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)

PHOTOS: Garry Knight (Creative Commons Licence)

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Are You Facing “Autumn Anxiety”?

September 9th, 2019 · Anxiety, autumn anxiety

autumn anxiety

Autumn anxiety is very common. As we know, the autumn season often involves major life transitions.

Young people go back to school or post-secondary education, fall activities re-commence, and the days grow shorter, while we feel the approach of winter. All of these things can make autumn anxiety a profound reality. As Westchester Medical Center psychiatist Stephen Ferrando this can be an agitated and anxious depressive state.
There are very specific things that individuals can do for such anxiety. For instance, children or young adults experiencing anxiety around return to classes can learn various breathing and relaxation techniques, which can be tremendously helpful. If the shortening days trigger depression/anxiety, often there can be great benefit from properly using tools like light boxes, which expose the individual to very bright light for specific daily periods.
Yet, beyond these types of experience, adults may experience other kinds of autumn anxiety, which are very specific to the adult journey.

Passing Time, and the Unlived Life

With shortening days, the sun lower in the sky and falling temperatures, autumn reminds us powerfully of the approach of winter. It can be a very powerful symbol of the passage of time in the individual’s life, and it can lead us to ask some very searching questions.

The whole autumn season gives us the message that we should be getting ready, making preparations, doing more. Sometimes that can resonate with a powerful feeling that I’ve somehow missed out on my life or that I’m somehow not on the right track. These can be intensely disturbing, extremely anxiety provoking feelings.

We may need to really focus in our lives and identify where such feelings come from. We may also need to grieve lost opportunities, but also seek for ways in which the deepest yearnings within us can find some way to come to life, and to be made realities in our present lives.

Ignoring Our Inner Voices

We can keep trying what we’ve already been doing, and hope for a different, better outcome. Yet it’s likely that ignoring the pressing questions that life asks us about our success, our failure, our dreams and aspirations and about getting older, will just make the questions get louder.

Sometimes our autumn anxiety can be rooted in a deep anxiety about ourselves, and about intuitions that whisper to us that life has more for us than what we’ve experienced. Yet such intuitions can be deeply unsettling and anxiety-provoking. They may require us to move away from our preconceptions of who we are, so that we can let in the reality of who we are, and how we most deeply feel about our lives.

What About You?

Some people might tell you that it’s selfish or narcissistic to look at questions about meaning, about what I value or about living out the creative purpose of my life. Yet, it’s a psychological truth that, unless I can value who I really am, and listen to my own deepest self, my capacity to give to others is likely to be very limited. Compassion for others starts with self compassion, and as Jung would tell us, self-compassion starts with accepting who we really are.

So who am I, really? Who are you? What are the desires and abilities that have been locked up inside of you, never acknowledged or expressed, or perhaps just forgotten? Finding these things is all part of our journey towards wholeness.

Depth psychotherapy can help us to answer fundamental questions like these. It can be of tremendous value to sit with someone positive and non-judgmental, who can help to find self-acceptance, self-knowledge and the deep places within ourselves that carry the precious awareness of who we really are, and what we really desire for genuine fulfillment.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

PHOTOS: Garry Knight (Creative Commons Licence)

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Going Through Changes: The Stress of Fall Transitions

August 26th, 2019 · going through changes

going through changes
PHOTO: Charles Knowles, The Knowles Gallery
The late days of August, and early days of September are quite an extraordinary time of year. In this time period, we move from the more leisurely, and often more fun-oriented activities of the summer period into the whole avalanche of fall activity.
In some ways, you could argue that this time of year is almost more of the beginning of a new year for us than the New Year’s holiday! It’s time of immense change in our routine. And in many cases, it’s a time of major life transitions.
If we think about younger people at this time of year, there are some very evident ways in which they’re going through changes. Almost all school age kids begin a new school year. That’s a very significant change in the lives of young people and also certainly their parents. Some younger people will be going through changes that are even more significant, such as beginning their first year of high school, commencing university or going to another city for undergraduate or graduate studies. For some, it will be their first Fall after finishing post secondary education — also a very major shift.

Changing Seasons in Parenthood & Adulthood

These transitions are highly significant for the young person involved. What’s less obvious is that such major life transitions also have an enormous impact on the parents of those going through them. Also many adults who are not in the parenting role can find themselves strongly emotionally affected at this time of year.

For the parents of young people undergoing these changes, the change that a daughter or son is experiencing can mirror equally profound changes experienced by the parent in their sense of identity and their life journey. As I know from personal experience, a lot can be stirred in a parent by that first day on campus, helping your freshman child move into residence.

One aspect of this is separation anxiety. We naturally expect that the teen moving into residence for the first time will experience some separation anxiety along with the anticipation and excitement around what’s to come. It may be less expected that the parent will experience separation anxiety, yet that is often a part of the experience.

While high school may well be a significant adjustment for parents, they likely retain some aspect of surveillance or control over the teen’s life. But when a child goes away for post-secondary education, the parents knowledge of what is going on in their child’s life depends entirely on what the child communicates. Not surprisingly, the young adult may be feeling a need for independence, and may well share less than parents would wish to know. This lack of knowing can ratchet up parents’ anxiety.

Parenthood and Identity

Alongside of the parent’s separation anxiety, something even bigger may well be going on. The parent may be experiencing a big change with respect to role. That can run deep enough that it may even lead to some pretty fundamental questions about identity.

By the time a child is ready to start post-secondary education, parents have been involved in the parenting role for quite a long time. In fact, that role has probably been through quite a number of permutations and changes. In a typical suburban context, it has likely been a very involving, consuming role for both parents. Then, perhaps quite suddenly, it changes, and takes on another character. From this point on, to an increasing degree, the child will take control of his or her life.

The Call of the Self in the Midst of Our Changes

For the parent, this transition can lead to some pretty fundamental self-questioning. It may be that the individual asks her- or himself questions like:

  • What is changing in my life?
  • What’s really important to me, now?
  • What about all the things I wanted to do with my life, but didn’t?
  • What do I want to do with my life, moving forward?
  • Who am I, really?

These questions may have been waiting in the background of the individual for a very long time. They may be painful to confront. Yet they’re incredibly important, and, at this time in the life of a parent, they may be incredibly fertile.

Depth psychotherapy provides a safe supportive space in which to open up important questions like these and to find creative responses. That’s the essence of the journey toward wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

PHOTOS: Garry Knight (Creative Commons Licence)

going through changes

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Living a Life That Matters: Can Depth Psychotherapy Help?

August 19th, 2019 · living a life that matters

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

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

What Makes My Life Matter?

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

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

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

Getting More Urgent in the Background

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

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

Affirming The Value of Our Lives

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

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

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

Hollis, What Matters Most

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

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

PHOTOS: Garry Knight (Creative Commons Licence)

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

August 12th, 2019 · when does middle age begin

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

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

When Does Middle Age Begin — Mentally?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Does Middle Age Begin — For Me?

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

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

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

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

PHOTOS: Garry Knight (Creative Commons Licence)


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Canada Day and the Psychology of Home

July 8th, 2019 · psychology of home

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

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

“Oh Canada, our home and native land”

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

Where Am I at Home?

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

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

What If I Can’t Find Home?

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

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

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

Being More and More at Home in Myself

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

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

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

PHOTOS: Garry Knight (Creative Commons Licence)

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Spirituality and Depression: The Surprising Relationship

June 24th, 2019 · depression, spirituality and depression

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

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

Spirituality May Not “Cure” Depression

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

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

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

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

How Do I Deal with Spiritual Realities?

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

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

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

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

Living Out Our Spirituality

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

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

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

PHOTOS: Garry Knight (Creative Commons Licence)

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