Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Am I a Loser? How Do We Deal with Experiences of Failure?

November 16th, 2020 · am I a loser

This week, we’re in the realm of shadow. Most people wouldn’t answer the question “Am I a loser?” in the affirmative. Yet perhaps we’ve suffered self-doubt, and asked the question.

We live in a culture where this term is bandied about, and all too often, applied to people. It seems sometimes that our world is determined to divide us all into “losers” and winners.

Very recently, we’ve had the opportunity to watch this play out in the political sphere. As we watch the recent results of the American Presidential election, we can hear the term loser bandied about very frequently. It’s featured in the rhetoric of some of the candidates, and it gets used by commentators and comedians alike. It’s apparent that, in this very high stakes political game, losing the election can often be equated with being a loser at life.

It probably goes without saying, but there is a great deal of anxiety that is associated with the question, “Am I a loser?”, because the term “loser” is here understood to mean “loser at life”. It’s implied in this terminology that life is a test or contest, and that some will pass, and some will fail.

Toxic Labeling

Speaking in terms of pure logic, if I am asking myself, “Am I a loser?” in this sense of loser at life, then I must also believe that, somewhere, there are winners in life. Speaking in Jungian terms, it’s very important for us to notice the symbolism of this.

The underlying image here is that life is a great game, and that each of us are players in this game. We all have our turn, and at the end of things, it would seem, each of us has either a “win”, or a “loss”. Presumably, then, if we are on what looks like the path to a “win”, we are a “winner”, while if we are on the path to a loss, well, sorry, Sir or Ma’am, but you’re a “loser”.

The underlying assumption here is that life is fundamentally about achievement or accomplishment. On this view of human life, if you accomplish valuable things in your life, then your life has value. On the other hand, if your accomplishments are of less or no value, then your life has no value, and so, sadly, you are a loser. Are we sure that we want to buy into this?

Life as a High Stakes Crap Shoot

It’s important to reflect for a bit on how deeply embedded in our collective view of life this metaphor is. It’s not that we necessarily go around saying it all the time, but it’s pretty clear that, as members of this society, we often do assign value to ourselves and others based on what the individual achieves, in terms of outward accomplishment.

Many people look at themselves and others this way, without really being consciously aware that they’re doing it, and this has a very deep level effect. When we look to our accomplishments as a means of establishing our worth as individuals, our positive feeling about ourselves is going to be dependent on the things that we’ve accomplished. Our self-esteem is going to rely upon whether we, or others, feel that we have put in good performances—done good things, or “won”. If we have, we’ll feel good about ourselves. If our performance is not good, we end up feeling that we’re worth less, or even that we have no value, that we’re “losers”.

What’s more, individuals can start to feel like they’re on a treadmill, and that even their good performances are never enough for them to feel really good about themselves. There are many, even very outwardly successful people who live in fear and anxiety that everything they’ve accomplished could come apart at any time, leaving them with nothing—and with no value.

Is there any alternative to relying on our accomplishments for our sense of worth? Or are we fated to be “only as good as our last performance”, and continually at risk of being “losers”?

Our Unique Worth

Is there a way for our worth to not be dependent on our accomplishments, and on whether we “win” or not? From a depth psychotherapy perspective, the answer depends on discovering our own unique self, and our own unique journey.

We often don’t reflect nearly enough on ourselves, and on what makes us unique. Often we only see ourselves the way that others see us, which may often mean viewing ourselves in terms of the success-failure measuring stick that the society holds out to us, as described above. Yet there are some very important ways we can look at ourselves that lead us to quite a different place.

In this time of COVID, if we judge by society’s conventional measures, there have been winners and losers in many ways that no one would have expected. This may be a very important time in our individual lives and in the life of our culture to examine the sources of our own unique identity and worth. Individual depth psychotherapy may be of great help in this essential part of our journey to wholeness.

With warm wishes for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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In This Strange Time, We Carry So Many Hidden Emotions

November 8th, 2020 · hidden emotions

Here we are, in the midst of the pandemic, and in the middle of a brutally stressful economic and political period. Is it any wonder that we carry hidden emotions?

In the other posts in this series on “Emotions of the Pandemic”, I have dealt with various specific types of emotion that we may experience during the pandemic. However in this post, I discuss more generally the hidden emotions that have been generated in us in this time, and that we carry in unconscious, or semi-conscious ways, often in our bodies.

I’m writing this on November 8, 2020, the day after Joe Biden was declared to be the President-Elect in the United States’ election. It was very striking to see the reaction of many people in that country as they erupted into spontaneous outpourings of joy on the streets of major U.S. cities. Certainly, we were watching displays of relief at what many regarded as a dramatically improving political situation, yet it seems that there was more to it than that.

I think that, for many people in that country, and for many in our own country of Canada, and around the world, there was a release of emotion that individuals have carried pent-up inside since the pandemic arrived, bringing change to our lives so suddenly and forcefully. Many of us have been carrying huge reserves of fear, anger, anxiety, grief, resentment, and a whole range of other feelings, as a result of the strange, dramatic and, at times, hard-to-comprehend changes in our lives that we’ve experienced in the recent past.

If we’re to have any kind of well-being in the present time, and any ability to continue on our journey to wholeness, it’s essential that we come to terms with the burden of hidden emotions we have been carrying in our lives through this time. It’s important for our health, our growth on our own personal journeys of individuation, and our own ability to make meaning out of our lives that understand and come to terms with these often very powerful affects.

There are quite a number of ways that we could begin to process our feelings, and to express the things that we may not even know we’re carrying. Yet one of the most effective of these may be to express these feelings in the safe container provided by the relationship with a skilled, compassionate and trustworthy depth psychotherapist. As Jung said, that which remains in our unconscious, we will experience as fate, because we will have no control over it. Yet the intense feelings that we can experience and own as ours can be fundamental to living our lives with creativity and freedom.

Wishing you every good thing on your individual life journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Disgusted by People During COVID-19? It’s a Common Feeling!

November 2nd, 2020 · disgusted by people

If we’re going to honestly look at all the “Emotions of the Pandemic“, one emotion that many experience is being disgusted by people!

Being disgusted by people is a more frequent emotion during this unusual 2020 period than most of us would care to admit. Given the amount of pressure people in general are under, and the abnormal circumstances, it is actually fairly easy for the emotion of disgust to get triggered, sometimes when we’re not expecting it at all.

As I write this, I’m thinking of numerous experiences that friends, relatives and clients have related that involve the element of disgust. One person I know was sitting in a coffee shop, where masks and social distancing were supposedly being practiced, when a group of 10-15 unmasked people came in and sat right next to her, talking and laughing. Another person is a student from a family that takes social distancing very seriously, who finds that no one in his school classes views COVID-19 precautions as important. On the other hand, I’m aware of people who are disgusted because various professionals will not offer badly needed face-to-face services, due to the need to maintain COVID protocols.

In bringing up these various examples, I’m not trying to suggest who, if anyone, is in the wrong, or in the right. I’m seeking merely to point out how common this kind of reaction is under our current conditions. I know very few people who are happy to be feeling these kinds of things, and yet a great many of us are dealing with such reactions.

How Do We Get Disgusted by People?

There are a couple of different ways in which we can end up disgusted by people. Both of these major variants are affecting us here in the midst of our current situation.

First, as Prof. Val Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and colleagues have shown, the emotion of disgust is a device evolution has developed to help us avoid contact with potential disease and maintain hygiene. In primitive times our reactions of disgust served the evolutionary purpose of keeping us from consuming food and water and being near other sources of disease and parasites. They maintain that function today.

The second source of disgust probably grew out of the first in our development as a species and that is moral disgust. University of Texas Prof. Art Markman has summarized research that shows a strong linkage between feelings of disgust and moral outrage. If we find something particularly morally wrong, we will often find that we also have a sense of disgust, that is not all that different in character from the disease-avoiding type of disgust. We will often hear people use language that connects the two, e.g., “You make me sick!” or, “What a scumbag!”

So, these are two powerful sources of the emotion of being disgusted by people. I would suggest that they are both powerfully at play in our current situation. In a time when we are deeply concerned with disease, and with ensuring that everyone “does their bit to keep us all safe”, it’s easy to see how our sense of disgust can easily be activated towards others.

Hiding Our Reactions

We don’t always find it easy to acknowledge that we are disgusted by the behaviour of others. Lots of times, we may find it easier and less disturbing to hide our reactions of disgust, even from ourselves. We may start to feel moral revulsion, or the feeling that others are doing things that are unclean or unsanitary, and to suppress those feelings. Yet, if we don’t acknowledge such feelings, we may find that we start to experience more anxiety or depression in our lives. Or, they may accumulate and come out of us in the form of very powerful anger, or even rage. The media show us extreme examples of this, where actions such as wearing a mask, or refusing to wear a mask have led to hostile or even violent reactions.

It’s important to acknowledge our feelings of being disgusted by others—to ourselves at the very least. It’s important on the very fundamental level of just being honest with ourselves about how we feel. But, also, from a Jungian perspective, it’s important to acknowledge that, when are disgusted by people, or morally repelled by them, we may be projecting on the other aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge, that are part of our shadow, in Jungian terms. For instance, we may feel strong feelings of moral disgust towards the individual who doesn’t wear a mask, or refuses to wear it properly. Yet, could it be that, deep down inside us, there’s a rebel part of us that actually envies the mask denier his or her freedom?

Finding Healing in Our Disgust

If we’re in touch with feeling disgusted, the plain fact is that we probably wish that we were feeling something else. Yet that doesn’t mean that even our disgust has no gifts to give us. If we can tolerate it, and explore it, we may well find that it leads us to a deeper level of self-understanding, of acceptance of our own weaknesses, and of compassion for ourselves and others.

Often, exploring the ways in which we’re disgusted by people in a supportive relationship with a depth psychotherapist can bring a sense of healing, and an awareness of ourselves at a greater level of wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Hope and Trust, and Reclaiming the Future

October 19th, 2020 · adapting to change, hope and trust

In this post, I’m moving slightly away from my recent posts on “Emotions of the Pandemic”, to examine hope and trust.

Hope and trust might seem like they’re very important things in a major life transition such as this pandemic period, and of course they are. However, they’re equally important for any season in our lives. Many of the things that are true about hope during the pandemic are true, really, about a great many stages and points in our lives.

Hope is an essential part of human life. You may have heard some version of that old saying:

Humans can live about forty days without food, maybe three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only about one second without hope.

Yet what exactly is hope? How do we get it? As C.G. Jung tells us, it’s not just something that happens to us:

Faith, hope, love, and insight are the highest achievements of human effort [italics mine]. 

C.G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul

Jung ranks hope as one of the great accomplishments of the human spirit, and he recognizes that there’s more to it than might at first appear.

Hope and Trust: Not Exactly Emotions

Hope is not just a naive, feel-good emotion that carries us along. It’s a dynamic motivator that involves at least three of the four psychological functions: thinking, feeling and intuition. The emotional and feeling part of hope follows the thinking and intuitive part which generate motivating goals. There can be an inspirational aspect to hope, in that the things that really move us to persist and to strive can sometimes come in a full-blown way out of the unconscious.

Hope has an emotional part, a positive emotional charge that comes out of our capacity to imagine possibilities, and ways in which we might start to be able to realize them. It relates to our capacity to establish what psychologists like Prof. Charles Snyder call learning goals, which are goals that help us to aspire to improving our situation, and that of those we care about. This contrasts with those who lack hope, who tend to choose only mastery goals, which are easy goals that don’t require us to challenge ourselves, or do anything we haven’t tried before. These are goals that don’t aspire to anything better than the present situation. They are devoid of hope. Very often, they can be associated with high levels of depression and anxiety.

Where Can I Find Hope and Trust?

The road to hope starts with imagining possibility, ways in which things could be different and better than what we currently are experiencing. So there is definitely an element of imagination in hope.

Sometimes, our experience in life may prevent us from imagining possibilities that are different from the things we experience at present. This may be as a result of experience from even the early days of life, when perhaps the family dynamics, economic conditions or other factors led us to close the door on anything other than the particular situation in which we as children or young people found ourselves.

Or, it may be that, as a result of setbacks and issues that we face in the present that our capacity to imagine and take steps to move toward good things in the future has been damaged, or lost altogether. This situation is what we call “losing hope”. It can be caused by many types of life circumstances, but it’s an experience that a good number of people are encountering during this time of COVID-19 and lockdown.

We need to get back to our hope, and to trust in a future that can offer us good things.

Strength for Now and the Future

In order to move into a personal future that is worth having, we need to be able to envisage a better possibility for the future. We also need to have the motivation and resilience to pursue those possibilities, and we need to be able to see at least the outline of a way of getting to those goals. It can be a crucial and demanding piece of psychological work to move into a place of healing, from which hope is possible.

Working with a depth psychotherapist to develop the ability to imagine better future possibilities that can actually be achieved, and to find the inner motivation and resiliency to move toward them, can be a very important step towards recovering genuine hope and trust in our life journey.

Wishing you genuine and lasting hope and trust for your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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COVID 19 and Boredom: Journeying Towards Meaning and Value

October 5th, 2020 · COVID-19 and boredom

You might not think of boredom as an emotion, but it is. In fact, it’s one of the most widely experienced “Emotions of the Pandemic”

Boredom is one definite aspect of what we’re experiencing in the pandemic. Certainly, this lockdown period is a time of stress, uncertainty and fear, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t often find ourselves succumbing to boredom. We might feel that we shouldn’t be bored at this demanding and unusual time, that life somehow demands more of us—but that doesn’t necessarily stop it from happening.

We might well feel, as Margaret Talbot writing in the New Yorker puts it, that

The… plot thickens by the hour. We need to be paying attention. But boredom, like many an inconvenient human sensation, can steal over a person at unseemly moments. And, in some ways, the psychic limbo of the pandemic has been a breeding ground for it—or at least for a restless, buzzing frustration that can feel a lot like it.

Talbot, Margaret, “What Does Boredom Do to Us—and for Us?”

Boom Times for Boredom?

This pandemic period has seen many people stuck for prolonged periods in their homes, either working from home, or, in a good many cases, unable to work. Social activities have been cut back dramatically, as has attending restaurants, theatres, sporting events, gyms, libraries and many of the other activities that form the social, cultural and recreational backbone of our society. The result has been that many people have experienced considerable amounts of boredom, which U. Illinois-Springfield Prof. Shahram Heshmat describes as

an unpleasant emotional state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest in and difficulty concentrating on the current activity…. Boredom is such a motivating force that people do all kinds of things to ease the pain.

This description aptly describes a state that many people will clearly recognize as occurring frequently during the lockdown period.

There are a few typical “stepping stones” to boredom. If you’re experiencing these things, you’re very likely on your way to being bored:

  • Monotony occurs when tasks are too predictable and repetitive;
  • Lack of “Flow” happens when we can’t immerse ourselves in what we’re doing;
  • Need for Novelty comes about when there’s an absence of external stimulation;
  • Unengaged Attention strikes us when we just can’t concentrate on something;
  • Emotional Unconsciousness hits us when we’re unaware of our emotional states, and don’t really know what will make us happy;
  • Undeveloped Inner Resources may keep us always looking outwards, searching for stimulation and novelty; and,
  • Feeling Trapped occurs when we feel stuck or constrained—as many people do during the lockdown.

Many people have been aware of experiencing these things during the COVID 19 lockdown period.

COVID 19 and Boredom: Taking Hold

How do we deal with the boredom we may be experiencing now? One of the important challenges with respect to COVID 19 and boredom is admitting to ourselves that we’re in fact bored. We may find that we resist acknowledging our boredom. Why is that?

University of Calgary Classics Professor Peter Toohey, in his 2011 book Boredom: A Lively History describes the concept of acedia, an ancient Christian term which was applied to the boredom that hermits and monks experienced as a temptation to abandon their life of prayer and contemplation. As Margaret Talbot tells us, “Though boredom no longer strikes most people as a sin, as acedia was for medieval monks, a dusting of shame still clings to it, especially when it can’t be blamed on a job endured to pay the bills.”

Often we do associate a sense of shame or inadequacy with the idea of being bored, as if being bored was a personal or moral failure. But we need to approach our boredom from a place of self-compassion. What if our boredom is simply an emotional state, that puts us in contact with a deep need in our lives for things that are real, meaningful and full of vitality?

What’s Meaningful Now?

In our boredom, we can discern an emotional state that forces us to ask some deep questions about our lives. We can seek to avoid those inquiries by seeking for refuge in more and more entertainment and/or thrill-seeking behaviour, or through the experiences that are at the root of much addictive behaviour (alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.). However, those types of experience are likely to leave us feeling that we are still lacking what we ultimately need.

The challenge in our experience of COVID 19 and boredom is to find the things in our lives that involve us and give us the sense that we are having real and substantial experience. This entails finding the experiences that connect us with soul. The search for what is ultimately meaningful in this way has particular importance for the midlife transition, but also comes into the foreground at times of major life transition, as we’re experiencing with pandemic and lockdown.

Depth psychotherapy can often be of tremendous help in identifying what is truly meaningful, by bringing us into intimate contact with the rich resources we have in our inner life and in the as-yet undiscovered self.. The most important answers to the questions posed by our experiences of boredom are grounded in our journey to wholeness, and in connecting with out authentic selves.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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The Big Uneasy: Coping with Covid 19 and Anxiety

September 28th, 2020 · coronavirus, COVID 19, covid 19 and anxiety

This third post on “Emotions of the Pandemic” focuses on one of the more powerful and obvious manifestations of our COVID 19 experience: anxiety.

We may be used to thinking of anxiety as a “disorder” or a “problem, but as the American Psychological Association reminds us,

Anxiety is an emotion [italics mine] characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.

“Anxiety”, APA website

Anxiety is a regular part of human life, which everyone experiences to some degree in the course of living ordinary life. Yet it can also be one of the most excruciating experiences that we can have when it’s at its worst.

Psychology and neuroscience affirm that anxiety is the nervous system’s standard and predictable response to uncertain and threatening circumstances—to crises. Our brains and nervous systems are wired to feel anxious when we encounter threats that have unpredictable aspects.

The Alertness Emotion

Anxiety was created by evolution for a purpose. It’s meant to protect us and to keep us alert when we’re facing situations of potential threat. It’s intended to motivate us into taking action that keeps us and the people and things near and dear to us safe when there’s danger in the environment. So, anxiety can actually be a very good thing, that enables us to take good care of ourselves.

However, we can become overloaded with anxiety in situations where we feel we’re dealing with too much uncertainty. If it gets too great a hold in the wrong way, anxiety can overwhelm our capacity for coping, and it can cripple our ability to function effectively. For many people, this has been the experience with COVID 19 and anxiety, as they deal with digestive issues, headaches, relentless worry, sleep problems and nightmares, and experiences of sudden rage that seem to come out of nowhere. It’s not surprising that some people are turning to alcohol, drugs or other means of diversion at record levels. As renowned physician and addictions counsellor Dr. Gabor Maté emphasizes,

A lot of us carry a great deal of anxiety that we usually cover up or distract ourselves from, through work, relationships, going to the pub, watching sports, exercising. Some of these are good things to do, but they can also function as a way of binding or diverting our anxieties.

Now that there are fewer of those options for coping, people’s anxieties are rising, and that’s showing up in their behavior. [Much] anxiety was not born of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was there before, and in almost every case, it goes back to people’s earliest experiences.

Mate, Gabor, “When The World Won’t Hold Us”

Denial, Minimization, Diversion

Certainly, when it comes to COVID-19 and anxiety, the anxiety can be so continuous and so overwhelming for many people that they try consciously to deliberately minimize it, or, on an unconscious or semi-conscious level, they deny its existence, or try to divert from it. They seek to live their lives as if nothing untoward or different is happening.

It may well be that much of the resistance to wearing masks or engaging in social distancing comes from the fact that acknowledging the anxiety that the present situation arouses is simply too uncomfortable or painful for individuals to take in. Also, in many cases, the anxiety of the COVID situation connects too powerfully with other anxieties that we’re had in our lives for an incredibly long time, but may have been able to keep at bay—until now.

COVID-19 and Anxiety: How To Deal with It

If you’re facing an overload of anxiety at the present time, how can you best deal with it, and restore yourself to experiencing normal and appropriate levels of anxiety, as opposed to overload?

One simple answer is to connect with things that give a sense of calm. This can include quite a number of straightforward practices, including deep breathing, and exercise of many forms. Many people find great value in practices such as yoga and T’ai Chi. There’s a lot of scientific evidence that getting out and exercising in green spaces enhances relaxation and a sense of well-being.

There’s something I’ve mentioned before is limiting consumption of news channels. These days they’re full to the brim of stories about COVID. One good approach can be to confine yourself to one trustworthy news choice, which you listen to just once a day, rather than bathing yourself in the constant 24 hour a day news cycle.

Another important type of thing we can do is to move our anxiety towards action. We can do this by doing something where we take hold of our power. Generally speaking, anything that you can do that genuinely increases your sense of control in your life, and helps you to feel that you do have power you can use is good. It will tend to help you feel better and less anxious. This could involve help for other people, or creating things that bring more of what you want into your own life.

To effectively address COVID-19 and anxiety issues, it can be extremely valuable to do therapy with a depth psychotherapist who can help you to greater insight about the roots of your anxiety, and how it might relate to what is trying to emerge in your life. This can be very valuable, if the therapist also has an understanding of the neuroscience of anxiety. For people who are experiencing the COVID-19 crisis as a major life transition, this kind of help can bring important healing and growth.

With very best wishes for your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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How to Deal with Grief and Loss of All Kinds During COVID-19

September 21st, 2020 · how to deal with grief and loss

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’re all struggling with how to deal with grief and loss during this COVID-19 period.

I’ve chosen the subject of grief for this second post in my series on “The Emotions of the Pandemic” because grief is such a pervasive and powerful emotion during this pandemic lockdown. We may well not be aware of all the ways in which it is emerging for us in this extraordinary time.

Perhaps we’re aware of the very difficult circumstances that anyone who has lost a loved one has faced during the COVID-19 period. The hardships have been notorious and very well-publicized, including families being unable to visit dying relatives in the hospital, harsh limitations on attendance at funerals, and a range of other very trying ordeals.

Other manifestations of grief may be less obvious. We experience them without even labeling them as grief, yet we may experience them in ways akin to depression.

The Many Forms of COVID Grief and Loss

In a recent article in the Amplify section of the Globe and Mail, Lara Pingue writes about her experiences with her son’s first day of school this year as a senior kindergartner. She notes how getting him ready with mask and hand sanitizer, “after the longest and least rejuvenating March break in history” left her with a keen sense of sadness. She came to realize that this sadness was a sense of grief, stemming from her lost sense of normalcy as she thinks about her son, going to SK in a mask, “who knows that he can’t hug his teacher or high-five his best friend”, and as she thinks about all the normal experiences of work, home and social life that we’ve all had to leave behind in this pandemic period.

As we noted above, Pingue recognizes that she had previously thought of grief in terms of catastrophic loss: “the sharp pang of a lost mother or father, a job, a home”. But she recognized in her experience that the loss of the small things that make life ordinary and secure can result in very substantial experiences of grief.

Pingue quotes the famous thanatologist and grief expert, David Kessler, writing in the Havard Business Review:

We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving.

Kessler, David, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”, Harvard Business Review

Working Hard to Avoid Grief May Not Help

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are grieving in this pandemic period, in a multitude of small ways. We may also find that we are trying very hard to avoid acknowledgment of our grief as we make our way through so-called ordinary life in the pandemic. We’re experiencing a major life transition, with all the emotional fallout that entails

It’s natural to want things to be normal, to damn well insist on them being normal, even when they clearly aren’t. That’s one way in which we try to cope, and among other things, try to reduce our anxiety. Yet the plain fact of the matter is that grief has a way of being present to us, even when we seek to ignore it, and perhaps berate ourselves for feeling it, because we “haven’t had a catastrophic loss.”

Finding Meaning Amidst Grief and Loss

Kessler emphasizes the importance of finding meaning in our grief and loss, as a way of coping with it. In this, he is very much on the same page as C.G. Jung, who continually emphasized the need to find meaning in life, and especially to find it in life’s dark and hard experiences.

What would it mean for us to find meaning in our experiences of grief and loss during this pandemic? First of all, we would have to be willing to look at those experiences, and genuinely acknowledge our sense of loss, and sorrow, much as Lara Pingue did with her experiences. However, we should be aware that our experiences of loss may well be very different from hers. Someone I know finds it really distressing that the whole experience in grocery stores has become so slow and joyless. I personally can feel a huge sense of loss in the way one day blends into another. How do you experience the pandemic?

Working with a depth psychotherapist to process feelings of grief and loss over the pandemic, or any experiences of grief and loss can be of great value. The process can lead us on the path of finding meaning in our loss.

With very best wishes for your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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How to Cope with Anger During COVID-19

September 14th, 2020 · how to cope with anger

This post on “how to cope with anger” is the first post in my new series on “The Emotions of the Pandemic”.

As we all know, the COVID-19 experience is stirring up strong, complex feelings. How do we cope with them? What do they mean? In this series, I plan to look at anger, fear, despair and other emotions to attempt to answer these questions for each emotion—and what they respectively mean for our lives at this point in our journey.

Today’s post deals with anger, and the ways in which we’re experiencing it during the COVID lockdown period. Has anger been a part of your experience during the lockdown? It certainly has been for very many people. It’s important for our health and our growth as human beings that we understand as much as we can about what’s going on with this feeling.

Our Anger Now

Bernice (Not her real name) is angry. “My business is really struggling. We’re way down from last year at this time, because of social distancing, and because my business depends on bringing groups of people together. I’m fed up with all the stores and my favourite restaurants being closed. We didn’t really have much of a summer, because of travel restrictions, and everything being shut down while we were away. Now the kids are going back to school, and I really don’t know what to expect. Is it safe? Who knows? And if one more person tells me that this is ‘the new normal’—I don’t know what I’ll do!”

Many of us can relate to the kinds of things that Bernice, and the many people like her, are saying. For many of us this is a very anxious, painful, frustrating time, and whether we want to admit it or not—we’re pretty angry about it. What can we do about it?

Owning Our Anger

Before we can do anything else to respond to our anger, we have to acknowledge that we have it. A lot of people don’t acknowledge anger, and that failure can have some very negative impacts. Anger which we deny or refuse to acknowledge can come out sideways, leading to passive-aggressive responses to other people. Also. anger can get displaced, so that our anger ends up getting dumped on those who don’t deserve it–a loved one, an innocent party, or even a family pet. Or, unresolved anger can end up coming out in our lives as anxiety.

To feel better about our lives and to get more of the good things we want from our lives will mean that, at some point, we have to come to terms with our anger. Even to move towards becoming the unique individuals that we have the potential to be (to individuate as Jungians say) will require us to acknowledge our anger and to come to terms with, and somehow incorporate its energy.

The Dynamic Side of Our Anger

As anger researcher Prof. Ryan Martin of U. Wisconsin-Green Bay reminds us, anger is

the emotion we feel when we are treated unfairly or our goals are blocked…. Anger can be helpful in that it energizes us to confront injustice or solve problems.

That is, provided we find ways to use that anger that are healthy and constructive. Seeking to find such ways to be creative and life-giving with our anger is particularly important for all of us who are now seeking out how to cope with anger in the midst of these pandemic times

It can be of genuine benefit to both explore the roots of your anger, and discover creative ways to express its energy through working with a supportive depth psychotherapist. What comes out through working on your anger may be of great importance for the whole course of your life.

With every good wish for your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Parenting Stress & Anxiety During the Pandemic

August 31st, 2020 · anger management, anger management therapy, parental stress

Parenting stress and anxiety are very often high in September, but this year it’s higher than ever for many parents.

This year, as we all know, it’s not just a matter of the regular parenting stress and anxiety associated with the start of the school year, which can be quite high enough. In addition, parents are dealing with all the uncertainties and pressures from COVID-19 that schools and other institutions are seeking to address with the measures they are taking to attempt to create a safe, non-contagious environment for students and staff.

As is natural and normal for human beings, when we’re stressed and dealing with uncertainty, we seek re-assurance, and we try to look for ways to make the situation more controllable and certain. That’s exactly how many who are parenting now are responding, seeking to learn as much as they can, and arrange things as well as they can, to maximize a sense of stability and control. Yet the decisions that have to be made now, around education, social connection and maintaining health can certainly be challenging. What is more, it’s hard to see any “perfect” solutions. Many parents are feeling forced into difficult choices, trade-offs and compromises.

The Vulnerability of Parenthood–Especially Now

I have no pretensions to being any wiser than anyone else about what the right course of action is for parents who are seeking to do the best thing possible for their children. I know that many parents are weighing big choices, such as whether to send their children back to the classroom with whatever element of risk that entails, or to keep their kids at home for “virtual school” or homeschooling, with all the social, educational and occupational challenges that each choice would imply.

It can feel like there is a very great deal at stake, both for the well-being of children and the peace of mind of parents. How can parents find their way through this exceptionally demanding time, and both look after those whom they love, and simultaneously avoid being overcome by parental stress and anxiety?

At this time, many parents are deeply feeling the vulnerability inherent in being a parent. That vulnerability is always there, because, try as we might, parents can’t control all the ways in which life might impact our children negatively. We’re always trying to make our children secure, and to find paths through life that will enable them to grow as human beings and to have rich and meaningful lives. At some particular times, however, we feel the insecurity and anxiety of this more than at other times. This is particularly true in this time of pandemic, and now of needing to face choices around education in the midst of it.

Smiling Through?

The response of some people to this kind of situation is denial. They just go on as if everything is fine and seamless. They try to convey to everyone that they are motoring along, and coping without any parental stress. They especially try to convey to their children the message that there is no need to worry, and that everything is under control.

Unfortunately, however, it may become readily apparent at some point that everything is not under control, and that these kinds of decisions are hard. If we try too hard to give the sense that we’ve “got it all under control”, things have a way of showing us that they’re not. Things can backfire disastrously upon us when we don’t acknowledge the “shadow” of things, as Jungians say. And what may be in the shadow—and what we may not admit, even to ourselves—is our awareness that all is not under control, that the education options are imperfect, or even, at points, just plain wrong for the situation. And that we as parents are uncertain, scared and unable to make it all alright.

Self-Care and Meaning

An important form of self-compassion is involved in admitting to ourselves that we can’t possibly control all the variables in this situation to guarantee that things will turn out perfectly. This doesn’t make us bad parents. It makes us human parents who are dealing with the complexity and uncertainty of a rapidly changing world.

It’s a matter of key importance that we don’t hide this human and vulnerable side of ourselves from our children, as we confront the major life transition of kids returning to school in the midst of the pandemic. While it may not be appropriate to make them party to all of our doubts and fears, it is essential that children get the message that we don’t know it all when it comes to making the choices around going back to school, that we love them, and we’re striving to do our very best to make wise choices.

Given the significance of the choices involved, it’s extremely important to involve children of whatever age in the decision-making process to at least some degree, so that they feel certain that their needs and wants are being taken seriously.

As I mentioned above, confrontation with the vulnerability we face as parents around back-to-school decisions in this pandemic time may well be part of a major life transition that we are undergoing at this time. This whole pandemic situation may well be part of a changing understanding of our place in life and our identity, and our key values and priorities that very many people are experiencing at this time.

It may be of key importance to gain the benefit of good therapy in confronting the parental and other challenges of this time. Jungian depth psychotherapy can be particularly helpful in that it is concerned with finding deep meaning in our life situations, combined with a deep level of acceptance of ourselves, in all our strengths, weaknesses and complexities.

With very best wishes for your continuing journey towards wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Why Go On a Journey of Self Discovery? Why Now?

August 24th, 2020 · a journey of self discovery

The phrase “a journey of self discovery” may seem a little over-used and cliche, but the symbol of human life as a journey is as archetypal as it gets.

The idea that humans need to go on a journey where the destination is self-knowledge is also very ancient. Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras and Aristotle all urged their followers to “Know thyself”. The impulse to know and understand ourselves was actually already very old even in their time. What is it about understanding ourselves that is so important?

Well, Jung helps us to understand that self-knowledge is connected to wholeness. Knowing ourselves, being connected to the various parts of ourselves, and fundamentally accepting ourselves, in Jung’s conception are key to having a meaningful life. It’s only when we can start to see all the various parts of ourselves, and meet all those parts with kindness, that we can begin to experience a sense of who we are as individuals, and to live that out in a meaningful way.

The Call of the Moment

Many people are finding that the issue of self-knowledge has become important at this particular time. This is occurring as people encounter various issues and situations in their lives, a good number of which have been intensified by the pandemic. While in some cases the pandemic created these situations, it seems, more often, that people are finding that issues and questions that they have been living with for a long time have been brought into clearer focus by these unusual times.

Here are some examples of situations where people have been finding that the issue of self-knowledge has come into focus.

  • An individual has been confined to home by the pandemic with their spouse, and questions about what he or she wants from the marriage, and from life, have come into the foreground,
  • Pandemic conditions have changed peoples’ work situations in some very big ways, and individuals are asking themselves pressing questions about their work, and even more broadly about their overall sense of vocation, meaning or purpose in life.
  • With the lockdown, people have been spending more time inside, and on their own, and often find themselves thinking about issues from their past, or thinking about previously unexplored aspects of themselves, or about regrets or aspirations.

These are all issues that many people had somewhere in their minds prior to the advent of COVID and the lockdown. Yet, it seems that, for many in this time, the questions and issues have become much more urgent.

But Don’t I Know Myself Already?

Now, many people feel that they know themselves well already, and have no real need to put effort into understanding themselves. They feel quite confident that they see and understand themselves as they really are. Yet there may be some indications that their self-understanding is not as great as they might think.

Often, an individual might be surprised at what others who know them well might be able to tell them about themself, that the person either doesn’t know, or has only dimly suspected to be true about themselves. Jung is far from the only psychologist to note that other people know things about us of which we may still be unaware.

This is because a substantial part of the human mind, and of our personhood, is unconscious. The unconscious mind, and the portions of the brain where it functions, are vast, indeed. A great portion of the operations of the brain occur in the unconscious. While Sigmund Freud was one of the first to refer to the unconscious mind, he tended to associate it with repressed content related to the sexual and aggressive drives. Today, the modern understanding of the unconscious mind has moved beyond this, and researchers such as Prof. Ap Dijksterhuis of Radboud University have shown that much feeling and emotion and much of the intuition and creative activity of human beings is grounded in the unconscious.

It can be of great importance to become acquainted with the unconscious parts of ourselves, for our happiness and sense of meaning and fulfillment. Making a connection with the parts of ourselves that we know less well can lead to an increase in our sense of overall vitality, and our feeling of being genuinely connected to our own unique lives.

Meeting the Undiscovered Self

The journey of self discovery is an on-going process. It unfolds as we meet new stages of our experience in life, and we may particularly gain awareness when we go through major life transitions, such as the midlife transition, or the transition into retired life.

A journey of self discovery can often be enhanced by working with the right type of psychotherapy. Most often, for dealing with issues of meaning, fulfillment or integration of conscious and unconscious elements of the personality, working with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of great benefit.

With very best wishes for your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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