Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Coping with Holiday Stress: A Depth Psychotherapy Point of View

December 10th, 2018 · coping with holiday stress

We’re now right on the edge of the time when most people start coping with holiday stress.  For a great many people, this is easily the most stressful time of the year.

coping with holiday stress

I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, but I think that it is still as relevant as ever!  Most depth psychotherapists are aware that this time of year is one in which they receive many contacts from potential clients, quite simply because it is such a stressful time of year for people.
There are many aspects of coping with holiday stress, so much so that it would be relatively easy to write up two dozen different blog posts on the subject — relatives, finances, time pressure — the list goes on and on.
For this post, though, I’ve decided to focus on one aspect of the holidays alone, one that is central to the impact of holiday stress.  That is the tremendous expectations that we so easily place on the Christmas / Holiday season.

The Heavy Weight of the Holidays

One of the most difficult aspects of the holidays can be the way that we carry such an idealized weight of expectation about them, which can easily lead to intense anxiety.  If you consider lists of the most popular Christmas music you’ll find titles such as the following:

  • “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”;
  • “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”;
  • “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”; and,
  • “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”

If you listen to these songs, they’re no doubt charming and even beautiful.  But if you listen closely to the lyrics, you become aware of something else.  They portray an incredibly idealized picture of Christmas, with mistletoe, endless joy and a universal friendly feeling with a warm glow, with every particular detail just right.  Yeah: no pressure people — just get every detail perfect, or else “the most wonderful time of the year” won’t be what it’s supposed to be.

Needless to say, in these songs, there’s no mention of relationship difficulties.  Or financial difficulties.  Or unemployment.  Or the recent loss of a loved one.

Coping with Holiday Stress is Harder if We’re in Denial

Many of us grew up in households where Christmas was idealized to quite an extent.  Yet, perhaps without even being fully aware of it, we can easily perpetuate this attempt to reach an idealized summit of “maximum Christmas” without really ever becoming fully aware of what we’re doing.

We can keep doing that, year after year, trying to live up to some ideal perfect Christmas that never arrives for us.  This can be particularly difficult if people feel an intense amount of pressure to give their children the wonderful Christmas that they perhaps never had for themselves.  Many people are striving so hard to make Christmas right for their kids or grandkids, or other family members.  Often, that can be a source of genuine credit card bill anguish in January.

Changing Our Expectations

It may be that the best means of coping with holiday stress is to change our expectations to something more human and self-compassionate.  What would an approach to the holidays that was kinder to ourselves look like?

It might well be that the holidays would be less stressful if we could meet them with a lot more acceptance of ourselves and of our own life situations.  If we could approach them less as a perfectionistic test that we have to pass, where we and everyone we love has to somehow “make the grade” in terms of our holiday experience, and more as an opportunity to get outside of the busy stress-filled round and re-connect with our selves and our journey to wholeness.

There might be real value in approaching the holidays as a gift to us, rather than as something that we have to achieve.  Perhaps taking the time to value what we do have, and to give ourselves the holidays that we need and want, rather than the ones that meet the marketers’ expectations.  Perhaps acceptance of our lives as they have been over the last year, and seeking to be open to seeing the meaning in our own real lives might give us the holidays we genuinely want and need.

This process of self-acceptance and of uncovering the meaning in depth of our lives as they unfold is a key part of the process of  depth psychotherapy .

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: MollySVH (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Are You Satisfied with Your Life? If Not, What Can You Do?

December 3rd, 2018 · are you satisfied with your life

Are you satisfied with your life?  We all feel that this is a crucial question, but it can be tricky to answer!

are you satisfied with your life
If someone asks me whether I’m satisfied with something more specific, like my dinner in a restaurant, or my new car, or even a job, or perhaps even a marriage — it might be easier to give a straightforward answer.  But if someone asks you “Are you satisfied with your life?”, the question can seem really hard to answer, because our lives are such complex, intricate things.
Work by psychologists such as Prof. Ed Deiner of University of Illinois has shown that this is a much more useful and revealing question for people to ask themselves than whether or not they are “happy”.  Happiness is necessarily very transient, and our happiness is up and down a lot.
Instead, when we ask ourselves, “Are you satisfied with your life?” we get at deeper, more fundamental questions in our lives viewed as a whole.  This sense of deeper satisfaction gets very close to Jung’s meaning when he emphasizes that a sense of meaning is far more important to a person than “being happy”.   As he puts it,
The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.
I’m certainly aware in my own journey of times when my satisfaction with my life has been very high, and times when it has been remarkably low.  The times when life satisfaction is low always have a great deal to reveal to us.

When You’re Really Dissatisfied with Life

When life is really dissatisfying for us, it manifests in a variety of ways.  We may experience anxiety or depression.  The flavour may seem to have gone out of things.  It even seem to us that whatever we have in our lives is just never enough.

Psychological theorists, both ancient and modern, have suggested that human beings are always dissatisfied.  In a sense, that’s true.  We are always motivated to seek something — that’s what makes us human.  This “divine dissatisfaction” that the poets speak of keeps us continually moving in search of more fulfillment; this is what keeps artists and others always stretching and growing.

Yet there’s another, more troubling state, which we could call absolute life dissatisfaction, where, so to speak, everything turns into dust as soon as we taste it.  This is a common experience of people in modern North American life: people surrounded by “stuff”, but the level of unease and discontent experienced by many has never been greater.

The High Cost of Going Through the Motions

Lots of people respond to this type of life dissatisfaction by just doubling down on what they’ve always done.  A person who has focussed all their energies on getting and maintaining a beautiful home may feel a sense of hollowness or emptiness that their house pride just doesn’t help resolve.  Yet, instead of genuinely asking themselves “are you satisfied with your life?”, someone might simply choose to double down on getting a bigger and better house.  And when they’ve got that one, they’ll look for an even finer place.  We can keep up this futile channelling of our dissatisfaction in this way, possibly for a whole lifetime, never getting nearer to lasting value.

In Search of True Value

Yet, often a major life transition like the loss of a loved one, or entering into midlife transition or later life can lead the individual in a different direction.  It can often be that the question “Are you satisfied with your life?’ points the individual in the direction of the undiscovered parts of the self.

The paths that bring some sense of meaning, purpose or satisfaction can be quite unexpected.  The mathematician discovers a love of cooking.  The realtor becomes devoted to her tango classes.  The parent moves from grieving the empty nest to passionate devotion to a cause that he or she finds meaningful.

Often, depth psychotherapy can be of vital assistance in helping the individual to find the wellsprings of value and meaning in life that are truly unique to the individual.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Filip Deblaere (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Stress and Time Management: Are We Getting It Right?

November 19th, 2018 · stress and time management

In our time, there is a great concern in the collective psyche about stress and time management.  It’s one of the great preoccupations — and addictions — of our era.

stress and time management

CBC Radio host Michael Enright recently interviewed Brad Aeon , of Concordia University School of Business, an expert on time and productivity.  He stresses that our society is obsessed with being more and more productive — and that it’s hurting us a lot.  As he states:

“We tend to judge other people and their status by the number of hours of work they put in every week. 

Work 80 hours a week? You’re a good person.

Work 20 or less? You’re a slacker.”

According to Aeon, the productivity bar goes constantly up.  This is because we tend to look at people we label “overachievers”, and use them as the standard for what average people are supposed to do in a day.  But as Aeon points out, these overachievers are often not the typical person: they are often very well off with access to much support that others may not have.

The Obsession with Doing More and More

From the perspective of psyche, why are we so obsessed with doing more and more?  How has such endless pressure and anxiety found its way into our everyday awareness and our fundamental life choices?

Aeon sees this attitude as rooted in a sense of guilt and inadequacy, which we are somehow trying to overcome or compensate.  This would seem to be at the heart of “the Protestant Work Ethic”, as Max Weber called it — although it affects us regardless of religion!

The whole complex around stress and time management certainly has a deep hold on us.  It’s easy to find statements in psychological writings like this: “Poor time management can be related to procrastination, attention problems, or difficulties with self-control.”  Sometimes that’s true enough, but Aeon provides us with a useful contrast:

[M]any people believe if they become more productive and do everything right, they’ll finally be happy….  [But there] is no end to the quest for efficiency and time management, meaning you’re never going to be satisfied with your current level of productivity.

What’s at the root of this driven-ness, that pushes us to do more and more and more?

Stress and Time Management: Keep on Running (On Empty)

Such pressure can certainly be rooted in the fear of job loss, but often it’s rooted in even more fundamental things.  At its most virulent, it can be rooted in feelings of inner hollowness, powerlessness, and the fear that my life is inconsequential, as measured against the lives of other “more significant” people.

Before we let ourselves be pushed around by this pressure, it’s wise for us to take into account Brad Aeon’s haunting words: you’re never going to be satisfied with your current level of productivity.  To stay on this treadmill means that we have to run on it ever faster and faster, or face the anxiety and depression that comes when the addiction isn’t fed.

Self-Acceptance, and the Call to be Oneself

There is always going to be pressure from economics, but that’s only part of the pressure around questions of stress and time management.  There are bigger issues that we have to confront.

Jungians know that a prime factor is whether we accept and have compassion for ourselves.  To accept and love myself means to move into a psychological place of embracing what I am, and accepting and welcoming the fact that I am not someone else.  This is not always an easy task — but it’s the only route to feeling a sense of contentment and value in your life.

Hand in hand with such acceptance is the awareness that there is something uniquely valuable in me, that wants to be lived out — that only I can live out.  Only a major life transition can enable us to be finally free of the endless, deadly trap of weighing ourselves against others.

This task of accepting and valuing myself, and finding my own unique identity and meaning is far from easy.  It’s the work of a lifetime.  Often, depth psychotherapy can be of vital help in creating an environment where we can find this.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: woodleywonderworks (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Severe Emotional Distress: It’s a Part of Human LIfe

November 12th, 2018 · severe emotional distress

Severe emotional distress is a normal part of human experience, even though we might sometimes act like it isn’t.

severe emotional distress
I’m writing this on November 11th, when we commemorate the sacrifices of all those Canadians who served in the military and experienced war or conflict. This year saw something very significant happen in Canada’s remembrance of our veterans.
For the first time ever, Canada’s Silver Star mother, Anita Cenerini, was the mother of a soldier, Pte. Thomas Welch, who took his own life on a Canadian Forces base after returning from overseas combat duty.  She worked tirelessly for 13 years after her son’s death to gain official recognition that his suicide was directly connected to traumatic experience incurred in the Afghanistan war zone.
The recognition of Ms. Cenerini as a Silver Star mother marks a very important step in our growth as a nation.  We have just marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1.  Many soldiers came back from that war suffering from “shell shock” as it was called then, and struggled with the stigma of being perceived as weak or cowardly.  Canada now recognizes that Pte. Welch’s death was the direct result of untreated severe emotional distress from traumatic experience in active military service.  This is genuine growth in our consciousness as a nation.

The Pain of Severe Emotional Distress

We still see a certain tendency in our culture to regard severe emotional stress as some kind of a flaw or deficit in the individual who has it.  This is often true even when we ourselves carry the severe emotional stress.  As a therapist, I’ve often been privileged to witness individuals sharing their own experience. Often peoples’ stories involves a high level of emotional suffering.  Yet often the individual will follow up by assuring me that he or she is weak, or self-indulgent, or telling me, in a phrase well-known to depth psychotherapists, that “lots of people are worse off than me!”


Such individuals are right, of course.  In almost all cases, it is possible to find someone somewhere who has had it worse.  Yet, recognizing that doesn’t change anything about the fact that the individual sitting in front of me is dealing with a harrowing amount of severe emotional distress.  We sometimes need to just face up to that fact, in a self-compassionate way.

Unacknowledged Severe Emotional Distress

If we deny the reality of our emotional pain, if we minimize it, or find some other way to run away without dealing with it, we can expect to pay a heavy psychological price.  We can certainly find ourselves experiencing intense anxiety or depression.  We may also find that our lives get diminished in a range of ways, as when we end up running to addictions — to food, alcohol, drugs the internet, work or a whole range of other things — as a means of coping with severe emotional distress.  Or, we may simply lead very small lives, in an effort to avoid situations where we might re-experience our pain.
How can we acknowledge our pain, and move towards finding some sort of healing or growth, without being overwhelmed by it?

Severe Emotional Stress & the Journey Towards Wholeness

There is a great deal of research evidence to back up what Jungian psychotherapy and other depth psychotherapies already know from clinical experience.  As UCLA Prof. Annette Stanton et al. have established through research in the area of physical illness, actively processing and expressing emotions reduces distress.  Conversely, avoiding and denying strong negative emotion can easily lead to worsening symptoms.  Very often, expression and processing of severe emotional distress is best done in a controlled, safe, accepting environment, and many have found that depth psychotherapy can provide an environment that facilitates healing and allows the individual to move more fully into his or her life.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Ben Seidelman (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Many Faces of Fear of Failure — and How To Get Past Them

November 5th, 2018 · fear of failure

A culture like ours, which so prizes and praises accomplishment, has a shadow side; among other things, it appears in our fear of failure.

fear of failure
As depth psychotherapists are acutely aware, the psychological atmosphere that most of us inhabit in North America is charged with tension.  That’s about a sense of opportunity, at times, to be sure, but in our particular contemporary time, many of us have an especially strong sense that our world is full of risk.  For many, this reality can generate a strong sense of fear of failure.  This fear can be so intense that it can pull people into a place where they are frozen into inaction, afraid to attempt anything that moves life forward.

Everyone Experiences Fear of Failure

We’ve all had experiences of failure.  If you’re anything like me, you’re probably had them in some high stakes situations, where you really wanted to succeed.  If you have, you recognize that failure can bring a range of emotions including sorrow, anger or rage, deep regret, a sense of overwhelm, confusion and disorientation, or feelings of frustration and powerlessness, among others.  Two of the most powerful feelings that failure can bring are a sense of self-recrimination, and above all shame.  It is this last, corrosive feeling that is most potently tied to the sense of fear of failure.

To experience shame in a very limited, moderate way is one thing.  To know it at its extreme, for which we use the expression to be ashamed of oneself — that’s quite another.  It’s that kind of shame that is associated with failure in the experience of the fear of failure.

Jungians know that shame of this kind is intimately involved with the part of the personality that Jung called the shadow.  Jung defined the shadow, broadly speaking, as that part of our personality that we do not wish to acknowledge.   Failure can be viewed as an invitation to accept, and love, those parts of ourselves that we would rather not acknowledge.

Fear of Failure Can Lead to Disengagement

If fear of failure, and the shame that often underlies it remain unaddressed, they can take a really deep hold in a person’s life. This is particularly true in the aftermath of a person encountering a sizable setback.  Such a setback can  be occupational, romantic, financial, or of some other kind.  The individual may come to avoid challenges, or even avoid the mainstream of life.  He or she may find him- or herself living a very small-scale life — all due to fear of failure.

What’s more, the fear of being a failure can intensify as we age.  As we move past midlife, and into the second half of life, the individual may even be consumed by the sense that he or she has been a failure.  This fear or sense of complete failure can manifest as something truly devastating in the individual’s life.

Fail Better!

Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No Matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

~ Samuel Beckett

As famed neuroscientist Gregory Berns emphasizes, the paralyzing power of fear of failure is often rooted in the sense of condemnation and shame from others that we anticipate experiencing if we should fail.

What will people think of me if I fail?” — this thought encapsulates much that lies at the core of the fear of shame that mires individuals in the ruts of life.  It paralyses them from trying the things that something deep within them calls to them to try.

C.G. Jung pointed us in another direction, the path of what he called “the law of fidelity to our own being.”  This means trying things that we genuinely feel drawn to, and moving beyond our fear of the condemnation of others, and our self-condemnation.  It means moving to a place where even failure can be seen as growth, and as life-giving — in Samuel Beckett’s words, to fail better.

This is a life-giving place, but it may be a part of the journey towards wholeness that we’re required to travel pretty much on our own.  It’s at this point that truly supportive depth psychotherapist may be of tremendous value.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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I Need to Change My Life, But… HOW?

October 29th, 2018 · I need to change

Do you need something different?  Many of us get strongly hit by the awareness somewhere in our life journey that “I need to change my life”.

i need to change

In my case, this has occurred with great intensity twice, but with most intensity around age 45 — deep in the heart of the midlife transition.  This a frequent time for such an awareness, but there can be many other times where we’re struck by the realization that I need to change.

There’s a potential big difficulty, however.  It may be completely apparent that I need to change.  The difficult part is that it may not be easy to see how.

When the Need to Change is Inescapable

There are many different messages that I might get that would indicate to me that “I need to change my life.”  Sometimes these messages may be on the level of basic physical or economic survival.  If it is a matter of basic health or even life itself, the requirement for palpable change is clear and very hard to argue with, even if I’m very unclear on how to bring the change about.

However, sometimes the need to change is really just as inescapable, but we can’t see it — or we refuse to do so.  We might face a clear inner voice manifesting through anxiety or depression , an intuition, or “hunch”, something that comes through our dream life, or a physical health issue.  (Sometimes when we need to bring change into our lives, and we have not yet acknowledged this reality, or are ignoring it, the images in dreams can make this clear in very graphic ways!)

A – If I Ignore, or Run From My Need for Change

It’s possible to run from or deny the part of myself that’s giving me the message that “I need to change”.  It’s also possible to just continue on, doing what we’ve always done, staying stuck in a rut, even though we really know that we have to change our circumstances, or perhaps some fundamental attitudes.  If we do try to avoid the challenge of change, it often has real consequences.

Being in denial about the need for change can devastate our relationships with others.  For example, if I can’t control my anger, or if I can’t be more emotionally available, I may risk alienating or completely losing people who are important to me in my life.

Denial or avoidance of the need to change can even more dramatically impact our relationship with ourselves.  As psychiatrist Abigail Brenner stresses, impetus for change may come from an “inner voice” telling us that we have to move to a different place than where we are.  Awareness of this sense of call, which Jungians tend to think of as vocation may occur in any of the physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual aspects of our being.

To ignore our vocation can leave us feeling that we’ve missed something very important in our lives.  In some cases, it may even feel like our lives are drifting towards meaninglessness.

S – Facing That I Need to Change — Practically

At some point, the fact that I need to change may become inescapable.  This may become apparent through very strong emotions, such as intense anger or strong grief, motivate us to move towards something different.  Or, we may just come to the point of genuinely feeling intensely that “This is enough.  I need to change.”  Or our outer circumstances might combine to make it absolutely clear that I can’t continue as I’ve done to this point.  The awareness may come to us in a huge variety of ways.

While it’s essential for us to come to the point of recognizing that we genuinely need to change, depth psychotherapy can help us explore what we feel, helping us to uncover the undiscovered self, and helping us to find ways to make the change real in our lives.  The journey towards wholeness. centers on finding ways to move forward on the path of choice and change, so that we honour who we most fundamentally are.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Robert Couse-Baker (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How Do I Stop Being a People Pleaser?

October 22nd, 2018 · stop being a people pleaser

At some point in our individual journey, we may well end up saying to ourselves that “I need to stop being a people pleaser!”

Many depth psychotherapy clients confront this issue in one form or another.
A lot of us get the message at a very early age that what we’re supposed to do, is to meet the needs of others, and, often, to put those needs before our own.
This can occur in a range of different circumstances.  Sometimes an individual experiences a parent who models the pattern of putting others’ needs before his or her own.  Sometimes in difficult family situations where there is abuse or addiction, an individual learns that he or she must step in, forget their own needs and look after siblings, or even a parent.  Sometimes, in dealing with unreasonable parental demands, the message is clearly communicated that there is no room for the individual’s own needs.
As I know from my own experience, it doesn’t help things that distorted versions of major religious traditions reinforce the message that we should ignore our own needs, and always place the needs of others first. (Paraphrasing the poet Walt Whitman, we need to carefully examine our religious traditions, and discard any parts that insult our souls!)
But, we may say, isn’t it a good thing to make other people happy?  Well, that depends…

When I Can’t Stop Being a People Pleaser — and It’s Really Hurting Me

Being a people pleaser can really hurt you.  People suffer greatly when forced into roles that require them to ignore their own needs.  This can be true in romantic relationships, where one partner consciously or unconsciously ends up sabotaging basic needs, to meet the needs of another — who may consciously or unconsciously be reinforcing this behaviour.   Also, many parents continually end up giving in to the demands of children, and putting their own fundamental needs on the back burner.  In our intensely workaholic age, it can be true with bells on for the employee or worker in a pressurized workplace, whose inner voice keeps giving the message that it’s never enough.

People pleasing behaviour can also have powerful links to health issues and self-harming behaviours.  Case Western’s Prof. Julie Exline and colleagues have shown that there’s often a linkage between people pleasing and over-eating.

People Pleasing: Obstacle to Being True to Myself

From a Jungian perspective, there’s a whole other dimension of this.  Put simply, people pleasing  gets in the way of our being who we’re really meant to be.  Long ago, Jung used the analogy of an acorn and an oak to illustrate the potential latent within us that we’re meant to live out, realize or express.  This is the manifestation of our particular uniqueness, which we gradually realize through the process of individuation.

If I’m obsessed with pleasing others, it gets harder and harder to feel the beckoning of my own true nature and my own vocation, the call of what Jung referred to as the Self.  To travel my life journey, and then realize that I’m not actually expressing and being who I really most truly am — would be a grievous loss.  Missing this connection to who I fundamentally am, as a result of people pleasing, or other factors, results in a great deal of anxiety and depression.

S – Pleasing My Self

The path to stop being a people pleaser will lead us into a place of listening carefully to ourselves, to the voice of ourselves that may be trying to get through.  This voice may show up in shadowy ways — anger, or maybe even depression.  Yet listening may be crucial, even if it has things to say that are hard to hear.

There may be a great value in working with a depth psychotherapist to help us hear this voice of the Self, and to act on it, so that we’re honouring ourselves and our fundamental nature — not just seeking others’ approval.  This is often a key element n the journey to wholeness.

We can begin this work of self-acceptance which is tied to self-forgiveness, on our own.  However, it’s often of tremendous support to work with a compassionate, supportive psychotherapist.  A good therapist can help us find the way to make real peace with our vulnerable, fallible but preciously unique selves on the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: brett jordan (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How Do I Forgive Myself? For Many, A Crucial Life Question

October 15th, 2018 · how do I forgive myself

How do I forgive myself?  For a great many people, the importance of this question cannot be overestimated.

how do I forgive myself

For an awful lot of us, there may be events in the past (or present) that come with a crushing load of guilt.  Almost all of us at one point or another have suffered from an abiding sense of guilt about something that we’ve done, often that has affected others in a very painful way, that has involved the betrayal of some fundamental trust, or that has let others down in some fundamental manner.  Certainly that’s my experience, and I strongly suspect that it is the experience of many readers.
An individual can suffer from a general, pervasive sense of guilt, or they may have a small number of particular things that leave them with that feeling — or she or he may be struggling with both.  This feeling of guilt is often associated with feelings of shame.

 “I Just Can’t Let Myself Off the Hook”

Depth psychotherapists are very aware of just how big an issue self-forgiveness can be.  The issue appears with a stunning amount of regularity in our consulting rooms.  And with good reason.  Many experts would describe self-forgiveness as the most difficult psychological challenge that we as individuals will encounter in life.

The situations where individuals are most clearly seeking self-forgiveness often have to do with the feeling that the person has inflicted undeserved pain on another, or others.  So there is actually a complex relationship between guilt, empathy for others, and being tormented by the question, “How do I forgive myself?”  It may well be the most empathetic of people who actually feel the most need to find a way to forgive themselves.

In any case, there can be a great deal of pain associated with an inability to forgive oneself.

When A Person Runs From, or Ignores Guilt

If an individual finds that he or she can’t forgive him- or herself, it can result in serious problems.  This can be particularly true in individuals who deny or avoid the question of “How do I forgive myself?” when it is actually a pressing matter.

Individuals who carry a suppressed burden of guilt may find it “leaking out” in various ways.  It may turn into anger turned inward on the self.  When that happens, it may turn into self-defeating or self-destructive behaviour that can play out in all kinds of circumstances from work to relationships.  It may also result in physical illness or psychological coping problems, such as anxiety or depression.  Or, it may turn into a profound sense of over-obligation, with a overwhelming tendency to take on utterly inhuman levels of responsibility, commitment and sacrifice.

Unacknowledged unforgiven guilt may also turn into anger projected out at others.  This can have very negative consequences for the individual, or for other people.

Accepting Myself — In Detail

In many respects, the answer to the question “How do I forgive myself?” is inextricably bound up with the acceptance of what it means to be human.  To be a human being means coming to accept the human state as limited and imperfect.

We all acknowledge this to be true on the abstract big-picture level.  It can be quite a different thing for us when we have to accept it as being true about ourselves on a very concrete, down-to-earth level.  Acknowledging that I am human, that I am capable of doing things that are callous, cruel or brutally negligent — this takes us into the territory of what Jungian psychotherapists call the shadow.  The shadow can be described briefly as those parts of ourselves that we do not wish to acknowledge.  As Jung famously said, “The most difficult thing is to accept oneself completely.”

We can begin this work of self-acceptance which is tied to self-forgiveness, on our own.  However, it’s often of tremendous support to work with a compassionate, supportive psychotherapist.  A good therapist can help us find the way to make real peace with our vulnerable, fallible but preciously unique selves on the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Koshy Koshy (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What Do I Want To Do With My Life?

October 1st, 2018 · what do I want to do with my life

“What do I want to do with my life?”  Does this sound like a question relevant only to late adolescence?  Don’t be too sure of that!

what do I want to do with my life

Certainly, the question is very important to people in the post-high school period. At that time, individuals are confronted with big decisions about what studies they will undertake, and the potential career path they will follow, along with many other vital choices. Yet, this question has a great relevance long after that time in life.
For example, consider how important this question is for many people going through midlife transition.  At this stage in life, individuals are often well aware that time is passing and life is passing, and so the question of “What do I want to do with my life?” takes on a whole new level of meaning — and urgency.  It can become an absolutely crucial matter!
If anything, this may be even more true for an individual still further along his or her life journey, say, during the years immediate prior to, or immediately after, retirement.  The days and years have become even more valuable at this stage in life!  And the question of what to do with those precious days — what is good for me, now — is unavoidable.
This question is much broader than simply “What job do I want to do?”, although it often certainly includes that.  This is a question about what is meaningful and valuable in all aspects of my life.

How Do I Get to MY Answer to This Vital Question?

“What do I want to do with my life?” is an intensely personal question.  To come up with anything like a satisfactory and meaningful answer, it’s necessary to examine oneself very carefully.

When we initially ask ourselves this question, we may draw a complete blank!  We may be so used to “going with the flow” in terms of the expectations of others close to us, or of society as a whole, that we find it hard to even get in touch with what we really feel is important to do with life.  Sometimes, when people have been driven by necessity long enough, it can seem impossible to get in touch with our deepest real desires.  I recall a time in early mid-life when I felt just this way myself.  Yet, as I know from my own experience, seeking a satisfactory answer to this question is well worth the effort, in terms of feeling that one has had “the life well lived”.

Maybe surprisingly, as Jung pointed out, sometimes we find clues about what’s really important to ourselves by looking at what what we really loved to do as a child…

The Perils of Not Honouring My Individuality

Given our highly pressurized modern world, it can be easy to “keep on keeping on”, just doing what we’ve always done, without making the attempt to get in touch with what we really want for our lives.  Yet, if we’re really not doing what we want with our lives, the question can come back to us in some very powerful ways.  We may experience intense burnout; we may experience substantial anxiety and/or depression.  We may even get to the place where we feel that we have substantially missed our lives.

What I DO Want to Do with My Life

It doesn’t have to turn out like that.  We can find ways to cope with the question “What do I want to do with my life?” — and with the answers that emerge from it.  As Jungian Robert A. Johnson points out, we need to find a way to live out the life in us that remains unlived, either literally or symbolically, if we’re to feel at all fulfilled.  This just keeps getting truer and truer the further we go on our life journey.

Focusing on the question of “What do I want to do with my life?” helps us to bring into focus our deepest desires, and to get a sense of where we want to take our lives.  Depth psychotherapy can often help even more us to see ourselves clearly, however.  It often enables us to become more conscious of the unacknowledged parts of ourselves, and gives us a non-judgemental space in which we can explore how we might want to live out our truest calling — to be who we really are.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Jayanta Debnath (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Should I Leave My Marriage? — Some Further Reflections

September 24th, 2018 · should I leave my marriage

Should I leave my marriage?  As we saw in the last post, this is an agonizing question for many people.  In this post we’ll be looking at some other related key questions.

should i leave my marriage


Having been divorced, I’ve experienced how complex the question “Should I leave my marriage?” can be.  Often, it seems there are a lot of more specific questions about our lives that we may have to answer before we can give a firm “yes” or “no” to the question of leaving or staying.
Once again in this post, the focus will be on the questions that an individual must face, rather than those questions that might be more appropriately worked on by a couple in couples’ therapy.  There most certainly is a very important dimension of individual decision-making involved, and that’s what we’ll be looking at here.
So what kind of questions might precede a decision to stay or go in a marriage?  There are very many, but here are a few important ones that the individual may have to contend with.
Can I really find what I need in this marriage?  This broad question requires being generally honest about all aspects of the marriage, and how it really fits with what we need.
Is marriage really for me?  Perhaps I have to be honest in confronting whether I’m really well-suited to being tied down in any marriage?
Do I really love somebody else?  Have I gotten involved with someone else?  And, if I have, the real test of honesty may be in asking — is my “outside” relationship a love relationship, or is something else going on?
What about my unlived life?  Are there fundamental aspects of who I am that I really need to live out, in some form — and, if so, are they compatible with this marriage?
What, really, is keeping me in this marriage?  Love?  Kids?  Fear?  Money? Sense of duty or guilt?

Facing Key Questions May Mean Facing the Shadow

Answering the questions above may well mean that I have to confront what Jungians call the shadow, which C.G. Jung once defined as “that in ourselves which the ego refuses to acknowledge.”  In other words, it is those aspects of our whole personality that everyday consciousness is not comfortable with, and would sooner pretend don’t exist — all our thoughts, feelings, desires and intuitions that are not acceptable.

Is the shadow evil?  No, not necessarily.  It may contain parts of ourselves that, for some reason or other we find it very hard to acknowledge, but which may actually be very precious.  Does the shadow contain evil?  Yes it might well contain some things that don’t fit with our espoused values or morals at all.  It may be extremely hard to accept or admit that these thoughts or feelings are there.  Yet acknowledging their existence may be absolutely essential to our well-being, our wholeness as a person — and to having any kind of healthy perspective on our marriage.

You Can Run, But You Probably Can’t Hide

The shadow is hard to face.  It leads us to ask questions like those above, and the answers may not always be very easy to tolerate.  Yet,  depth psychotherapists know that a prolonged refusal to look honestly at our feelings, thoughts and reactions in marriage in a self-compassionate way can lead to lasting trouble.  If we fail to look at our real thoughts, feelings, yearnings and resentments, it can certainly pave the way to anxiety and/or depression, possibly quite severe in character.  It might also lead to a host of other issues, such as self-medication with various forms of addiction  — from gambling to alcohol to porn to drugs to work — or physical illness.

Leaving or Staying — But First, Facing the Questions

The best way to come to terms with the “should I leave my marriage” question is to identify, face, and do our best to answer some of those tough, more specific questions about your marriage as described above.  Trying to be as honest with yourself as you can be is a key element.  It’s often a great deal of benefit to consult with a depth psychotherapist when considering the question of leaving or staying in a marriage, or dealing with any other major life transition.  It can be of tremendous value to gain knowledge of yourself and to gain support for yourself in the midst of such a demanding time.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Annabella Moore (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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