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How To Know What You Want, Part 2

May 30th, 2022 · how to know what you want

In the first part of this series, we opened up the large and important question of “how to know what you want”. It’s often a tough question, that masquerades as something simple.

How do I know what I want?

As Steve Jobs asserted in the passage quoted in the first post in this series, knowing what it is that we want is often not a matter of logical or rational certainty. It is more often a matter of intuition, especially when we’re dealing with really major life choices.

In our business-oriented world, decision-making is often portrayed as a very rational straightforward thing. You can often find that the decision-making process described as something much like a balance or a ledger sheet. Should I do X? Well, let’s write down a list of all the pros to doing X on one side of the page. Then let’s write down all the cons to doing it on the other side of the page. Then we just assign a weighting to each thing that’s for X, and to each thing that’s against X, add up the totals at the bottom of the page, and voila, instant major life decision! It seems very straightforward, doesn’t it?

But the trouble is, this isn’t how human beings actually make decisions. Study after study has shown that the actual human decision making process is much less rational than this, and that it involves a lot of intuitive factors, and also that a lot goes on in the unconscious mind when we make a decision. When you add to the complexity and importance of the decision, the process becomes even more involved.

Demanding Major Life Choices

Often the challenge of “how to know what you want” is felt most acutely when we face major life choices. These are the kind of choices that are going to make a big difference in our lives for a long time. It’s quite common for these types of choices to arise when we’re about to undergo, or are already undergoing, a major life transition. Here are some examples of choices that individuals might face that are connected with major life transitions:

  • Should I stay in my marriage, or should I leave it?
  • Should I have a second child?
  • Should I retire?
  • Do I reconcile with my brother (or sister, mother, father, etc.)?
  • Do I seek another career?

When facing these kinds of choices, the decision-making processes can be very involved and complex. They may be so involved that it’s impossible to list all the factors that go into them, let alone to weigh up each one in a completely rational manner. How can we possibly know what we want, and choose it?

Telling Ourselves We Know What We Want

The anxiety associated with major life choices can be overwhelming. The individual can be aware of how much is at stake, and can find him- or herself flooded by angst. It can be all too easy for the ego to simply disconnect, because there are too many options, or because the merits and demerits of each option are so hard to process. As Swathmore College Psychology Prof. Barry Schwartz puts it,

If we’re rational, [social scientists] tell us, added options can only make us better off…. This view is logically compelling, but empirically it isn’t true.

When it comes to a very important major life choice, it can be easy for the ego to tell itself that it has everything under control. We can find it easy to believe that we have the choice in hand, that we know what we want and that we’re moving ahead in a way that accords with our deepest wishes. Sadly, sometimes nothing could be further from the truth. We can end up making choices that we later realize weren’t really reflective of who we are—or of what we really want.

Knowing in Depth What We Want

There is an ages-old folk wisdom that urges us, before we make an important decision, to “sleep on it”. There is a profundity to this. It’s often easy for our conscious mind to feel that it knows exactly what we want, and that it knows the very best route to pursue to get it. But it’s important to recognize that our conscious mind is only a part of what we are. When it comes to making a very important decision, and to addressing how to know what you want concerning the things that are most important and all-encompassing in life, it’s important that as much of who we are as possible is engaged. That certainly includes the vast part of ourselves that is in the unconscious. When we “sleep on” a decision, we let the unconscious mind work on it.

When it comes to how to know what you really want, it’s essential to engage the unconscious. We have to hear from the unconscious parts of ourselves that are so easily missed and forgotten. In Jungian analysis or Jungian depth psychotherapy, we explore the reaction of the unconscious to our everyday lives, and to the big issues and decisions that we face in the course of our journey to wholeness. A supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of immense value in solving the question of “how do I know what I really want?”

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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How To Know What You Want: Is It Even Possible?

May 15th, 2022 · how to know what you want

“How to know what you want.” It sounds so deceptively simple doesn’t it? Yet, getting in contact with what we really want in many situations can be difficult.

Figuring out how to know what you want. (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Part of the trouble with “how to know what you want” may be that we don’t just want one thing. Or maybe we just don’t know what it is we want at all. Or we want something, and for all kinds of reasons, we find it hard to admit to ourselves that that is what we really want.

The importance of knowing what you want has been highlighted by astute observers, practically since the beginning of time. It was critic and author Arthur D. Hlavaty who observed that:

The secret to getting what you want is knowing what you want [italics mine].

And it was Steve Jobs who uttered the following words, which many people in our culture have found stirring:

You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Certainly these are inspirational words. Yet an honest response to this exhortation on the soul level might well be: that’s great, I love it—but how do I do that stuff?

Jobs’ remarks are not really very different from the attitude that C.G. Jung and modern depth psychotherapists might have to the question of how to know what you want. Yet many people, when confronted in their own real lives with this type of question can find themselves lacking clarity, and swamped with anxiety and indecision. How can we actually, pragmatically, find the way to what it is that we really want—and bring it into our actual lives?

In my next post, we’ll be exploring in a self-compassionate way how to know what you want. We’ll be looking concretely at where to find the signs and traces that help us to actualize this most important aspect of our individuation process.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Adult Play: Needed on Our Journey Towards Wholeness

May 9th, 2022 · adult play

Adult play is seriously misunderstood, and very under-rated. In our culture, we adults are not very good at playing. Yet, we need to play, in order to grow.

Adult play opens up something inside of us (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

When I use the phrase “adult play”, what comes into your mind? Perhaps it’s thoughts of video games or the casino, or even a sport like tennis or golf. Yet, while those activities would definitely fit the definition of “leisure activities”, I mean something different when I refer to “adult play”. The type of play I’m referring to accesses a different part of the self.

C.G. Jung offers us insight into the nature of this type of play:

The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable. It is therefore short-sighted to treat fantasy, on account of its risky or unacceptable nature, as a thing of little worth.

Jung uses the terms “fantasy” and “play of imagination” in this quote, and seems to value these things very highly. Why is that? How can something that can seem so trivial be of such value?

Adult Play is Fundamentally Creative

For Jung, the key lies in the creative nature of play. Jung tells us that we can see this in the kind of play in which children engage. If you have the opportunity to really observe a child who is deeply engaged in play, what you see is very striking. One key characteristic is that the child is completely absorbed in their play in a way that is completely lacks self-consciousness. By this, I mean that the child is entirely absorbed in his or her pretend worl. They are not embarrassed by it and they do not “feel silly” At the moment of play, the child is completely given over to his or her fantasy, paddling a canoe up the great river to reach the city of the elephants, and there is no self-criticism. Children enter right into their imagination!

Jung stresses that entering into this creative play state actually has immense benefit for adults. Yet it sometimes can be difficult for us to get there. As Notre Dame psychology prof Darcea Narvaez points out,

Play breaks down when people become self-conscious about making mistakes, start to compete or compare, become hostile, seek power, or start justifying actions.

Yet, if we can get past our strict and stiff inner critic, and past our anxiety about what others will think, entering deeply into experiences of play can open us up to the vast array of creative resources in the unconscious mind. As Jung relates in Memories, Dreams, Reflections , this is something he himself found vital to do in the crucial period after he broke with Freud, when he was experiencing a sense of complete lost-ness and disorientation in his life.

When We Deny Our Need for Imaginative Play

It’s very easy for us to reject play. After all, we’re competent twenty-first century people, aware of all of our responsibilities, the realities of the business world, the financial and technological realms, etc. etc. It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’re much too busy or too adult to spend time with our imaginations. Yet, Jung emphasizes how important it is not to treat our fantasy as something of little worth.

If we lose our capacity for fantasy, we are also losing our capacity for spontaneity, and, what is more, losing our connection to possibility, to the awareness that things could somehow be different than they way they are. We also lose vital contact with parts of ourselves that may be striving to come into consciousness. This capacity to open up a new and fresh perspectives on things is essential to our mental health and to the on-going growth in our journey through life that Jung and others call the individuation process.

If we deny our need for imaginative play, we risk cutting ourselves off from the flowing current of our own real lives. This is always a matter of great concern, but it is especially so when we are undergoing a major life transition.

Play That Opens Doors

Adult play opens doors in our lives. Sometimes that play is something that we share with others, as in psychodrama, authentic movement or improv. Often it can be a process that we do on our own, as we create space for the various parts in ourselves to speak to us. This happens in what Jungians call active imagination, or in a wide variety of forms of creative expression. Contrary to that kind of play being a form of irresponsible self-indulgence, we need this kind of activity to open up our awareness of the undiscovered self.

Connecting with the creative fantasy or adult play part of ourselves is a very important part of Jungian depth psychotherapy. Working in a supportive relationship with a Jungian analyst, can be one of the best ways of creating a capacity for valuable and constructive adult play.

Wishing you every good thing on your journey to wholeness,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Road After 60: Finding Meaning & Value in Later Adulthood

May 1st, 2022 · later adulthood

Jung is famous for his focus on the second half of life. And within that second half of life, there are specific challenges for individuals 60 and over. It’s very worthwhile to explore the importance of later adulthood, when we each complete that precious creation, our unique life.

Later adulthood can bring a distinct kind of freedom (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Our culture doesn’t really help us when it comes to later adulthood. Despite the fact that people are living longer than ever before, our society is morbidly gripped by the cult of youth. Advertising, television and movies all proclaim that what is really to be prized in life is youth, and that aging is a dismal, threadbare process that we should all work actively to shun in every possible way. The age we live in screams at us to do everything we possibly can to our skin, muscles, hair, and minds to avoid the curse of getting older.

As psychotherapist and writer Connie Zweig reminds us,

Today the divine messengers of age go unheralded. Though they are inevitable, they go unwelcomed…. We may throw a party to celebrate a retirement. But afterward? Most of us tend to view our final years, which may last decades, merely as a slow decline, a series of disconnected, meaningless events and impairments eventually leading to death.

No one teaches us how to heed the messengers. No one models for us how to retire, become a grandparent, recover from illness, or lose a loved one as a sacred passage into a new stage of awareness.

Connie Zweig, The Inner Work of Age

The Importance of Later Adulthood

No one teaches us, or models these things for us, in our present-day culture. However, it wasn’t always that way. For thousands of years our ancestors in earlier societies had a strong and clear vision of later adulthood, or elderhood, and they respected older adulthood through ritual and tribal customs. They were keenly aware of the potential for a different kind of consciousness that was sometimes possible for older adults, and this they called “wisdom”.

What would it mean for us to listen to the “divine messengers of age”? One key step would be to recognize and give due weight to the major life transitions that we undergo in later adulthood. As noted above, given the biases of the time we live in, it’s easy to experience each major change as merely a diminishment and a loss. As noted aging activist Zalmon Schachter-Shalomi put it,

Everywhere you look, old age suffers from a bad reputation. Because of negative images and expectations shared by our culture, people enter the country called “old age” with fear and trembling. Feeling betrayed by their bodies and defeated by life, they believe they’re condemned to lives of decreasing self-esteem and respect. As citizens of this oppressed nation, they expect to suffer from reduced vigor, enjoyment, and social usefulness.

This is the experience of many in later adulthood. Yet people like Zweig and Schachter-Shalomi—and Jung—hold out another possibility. This is that age can bring initiation into a broader and deeper sense of our own identity.

Beyond Denial and Stereotypes

C.G. Jung had many astute observations about later life, including the following:

The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different.”

The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.

Jung also makes an observation about the United States, that would actually apply to a great many 21st century people:

Where is the wisdom of our old people, where are their precious secrets and their visions? [Italics mine] For the most part our old people try to compete with the young. In the United States it is almost an ideal for a father to be the brother of his sons, and for the mother to be if possible the younger sister of her daughter.

So, what is Jung telling us? Well, one clear message is that the second half of life is just as precious and meaningful as the first half, but that it has a different meaning.

He suggests that the first half of life is properly devoted to all the things that our society values so much. This includes all our achievements, building of reputation, hard work and expressions of vitality. They all go into the creation of a certain kind of identity that is structured by the ego and its projects. But Jung suggests that the second half of life is “going inward and letting go” of the ego and its projects. There is something different that we can open up in the second half of life, and especially in later adulthood. This time in life offers us the opportunity to go deeper into soul, into our own true identity.

This sense of real identity can carry us beyond the frantic denials of aging. It’s possible to enter into a meaningful sense of our later years that carries us beyond the toxic stereotypes and into an awareness of fulfillment, completeness and contribution.

Being Here Now

An experience of meaningful later adulthood can take us into a place where we value the present moment, and are able to make our peace with the past. This contrasts with a later life experience that frantically chases some unrealized future, and is consumed with regret and avoidance of the past.

Working in a trusting relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of great assistance in helping individuals to appropriately welcome the messengers of age, and to find a later adulthood filled with value and meaning.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Soul Work: Picking Up the Pieces of My Whole Self, with Love

April 18th, 2022 · my whole self

Here is a deceptively simple phrase: “my whole self”! We often feel like we know all of ourselves, yet there’s more to each of us than we suspect.

My conscious ego is only one slice of a very large pie: my whole self! (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Human beings have a strong bias toward assuming that my whole self” is that part of myself of which I’m conscious. Yet the reality is that the whole of myself is a much vaster thing. For each of us there is a very great part of ourselves of which we’re unaware—unconscious. This unconscious includes, but is not limited to:

  • traumatic material from which our conscious mind has become dissociated;
  • memories which we have forgotten;
  • memories which have been repressed because their contents are unacceptable or threatening to the ego;
  • memories or feelings which are not socially acceptable , and would be socially condemned;
  • feeling toned complexes which tend to lie dormant in the unconscious until some stimulus triggers them, and we react—perhaps strongly—to them;
  • the contents of the collective unconscious, which consists of the archetypes and related materials, which we and the whole of the human race share; and,
  • a range of other things!

What this means for our personal journey to wholeness is well summarized by prominent Jungian analyst Murray Stein:

We leave parts of our self out of consciousness in order to adapt to social conditions and to find a place in our surrounding social context. Then at a later stage of life we have to go back and retrieve what has been left out or what has not been accessible so far. We have to bring ourselves along toward psychological wholeness, making the self as conscious as possible. [italics mine] Ultimately the symbol of maximum achieved potential is the mandala, the circle.”

Murray Stein, Four Pillars of Jungian Psychoanalysis

Being Kind to Our Adaptive Self

You might find that you’re realizing just how much of the whole of who you are has been left out of the picture by your conscious ego. Please be aware that you’re in good company. We all do it!

Please also approach your conscious ego with kindness. It’s true that you may have left a lot of things behind on the journey to where you find yourself in your life. Yet, it may be important to remember in a compassionate way just how much your ego has had to deal with, to bring you to this point! As Stein reminds us, C.G.Jung referred to our journey through the first half of life as “the hero journey”. Particularly when we’re thinking about our youngest selves, it’s important to remember that many of us have had to heroically overcome a range of threats and challenges in young life to survive and stay sane.

One author who recognized this without flinching was the Swiss psychotherapist Alice Miller. She frequently powerfully reminds us that childhood experience is often no paradise or bed of roses. As she tells us,

The more we idealize the past and refuse to acknowledge our childhood sufferings, the more we pass them on unconsciously to the next generation.

That’s a sobering thought. Jung says very much the same thing about our “unlived life”.

Being Kind to Our Shadow and Undiscovered Self

In addition, there are elements of my whole self that manifest in different ways. We may also need to be kind or compassionate to them in very different ways.

For instance, Jung defined the shadow as “that which we do not wish to be”. This specifically pertains to the parts of ourselves that the ego wishes weren’t part of us. We may experience guilt, shame or revulsion when these parts start to rise up in our conscious minds, or when we experience them in dreams, or in other ways. Yet it can be very important for our personal journey to acknowledge these parts with compassion. Sometimes this acknowledgement can bring remarkable gifts. As Rilke writes,

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.

If we can find a way to acknowledge and welcome the unacceptable parts of ourselves, we may find that aspects of ourselves that we never even imagined were there start to appear.

My Whole Self: Ongoing Work of a Lifetime

What are the parts of you, waiting in the wings, looking for their cue to come onstage? What parts of your early life need to be met with a great deal of compassion for yourself? What parts of yourself come towards you, bearing great psychic energy, and needing to be met with openness and curiosity? As Jung told us when he discussed “the Undiscovered Self”, there are always more aspects of us that are waiting to to come into consciousness.

Often we have a vital need to bring certain aspects of our psyche into our awareness. This is true in many life situations. The individual who continually sabotages him- or herself, or is locked into cycles of self condemnation, or that grapples with chronic imposter syndrome—such folks need a greater experience of who they are. The individual in the midst of a major life transition, perhaps at midlife, or later life is probably also struggling to find a deeper or fuller understanding of who they are. In many and varied situations, my real need, what I’m really searching for, is greater experience of “my whole self”.

The experience of Jungian depth psychotherapy, with a supportive and empathetic analyst can often be a highly effective way to gain a greater experience of the whole Self. It can also be an experience that genuinely heightens the compassion and respect we have for our true selves, and our own real lives

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Jungian Psychotherapy and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

April 4th, 2022 · emotionally healthy spirituality

Just what is “emotionally healthy spirituality”? Is “spirituality” important? How does it contribute to emotional well-being and to psychological growth?

Emotionally healthy spirituality can take many forms (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

As I’ve indicated in some prior posts, the word “spirituality” is not my favourite word. It can easily suggest a sense of otherworldliness and disembodied “spirits”. This may be the nature of some peoples’ spirituality, but “spirituality” can often be something very different from that. The full sense of the word “spirituality” refers to something broader and deeper. Spirituality connotes the things connected with our very deepest yearnings, the things we value the very most, and the things that carry the deepest meaning in our lives.

I wish we had another better word than “spirituality”! Still, it’s hard to find a word in English that better expresses this broad reality.

So, how can spirituality, in the broad sense, help us toward emotional health and psychic growth? And when does it get in our way, or even actually hurt us?

Jungians are deeply interested in spirituality, it connects deeply to the unconscious aspects of human life.

Where Does Spirituality Start?

Genuine spirituality often starts with the things in life that we really yearn for the most, and that carry the greatest value. This can be a much wider range of things than we often think of as “spiritual”. The things that really engage a person at their core are often matters of spirituality.

Recently, I watched a CBC documentary on Randy Bachman, the Canadian rock musician who was the guiding light of the rock groups Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive. In it, another performer comments that, “it may sound blasphemous to say, but it seems that if Randy has any spirituality—it’s playing the guitar.” Yet, why is this blasphemous? if we understand spirituality as connecting with what has the deepest value and meaning in a person, this performer’s comment makes perfect sense! Someone’s “spirituality” might be grounded in their experience of playing music, or writing, painting, hiking, travelling or many other activities that engage the person in depth, but that aren’t “religious” in any traditional way.

Jungians hold that spirituality has very deep roots in the psyche. In fact, it’s rooted in the deepest parts of the human mind, which Jungians call the collective unconscious. It’s rooted in the archetypal dimension of the psyche. As Andrew Samuels et al. tell us, this is the inherited part of the psyche, where there are structuring patterns of psychological response to life that are related to instinct. It’s from these fundamental roots of the human psyche that true spirituality arises.

When Is It NOT Emotionally Healthy Spirituality?

True spirituality takes many different forms, but it is something that arises from the deepest layers of the individual. As Jung tells us,

From a psychological point of view, the phenomenon of spirit… appears as an intention of the unconscious superior to, or at least on a par with, intentions of the ego.

C.G.Jung, CW 8

This sense that spirituality involves some kind of a connection with something “greater than” the ego or individual personality is a key part of its value for the individual. As A. Bozek et al. assert, at its best, spirituality can have powerful positive effects on the individual, including the following:

  • positive assessments of yourself and your previous life history;
  • continued development as a person;
  • the belief that your individual life is purposeful and meaningful; and,
  • a sense that you can determine your own direction in life.

These are the characteristics of emotionally healthy spirituality. Yet, it’s important to remember that it’s quite possible for spirituality to be emotionally unhealthy. Certain kinds of spirituality can leave the individual feeling trapped in shame and guilt, feeling that the individual’s life is stunted and essentially meaningless, and that the individual is essentially powerless. As I’ve previously discussed, certain types of spirituality can ultimately lead to the individual feeling a profound sense of betrayal and/or a sense of religious trauma.

It can be extremely difficult when an individual is immersed in an unheathly form of spirituality, and is unaware of it. People can find themselves in a places of shame, guilt and fear, and have no sense that this is anything other than being “righteous”, or “following the spiritual path”. For people in that position, questioning a spirituality that is shame or trauma-based may seem to sinful and/or blasphemous temptation. Yet, to enable the individual to unfold and become who it is that they truly are, questioning crippling spirituality may be an essential part of the journey to wholeness.

In addition, there is the phenomenon that Buddhist psychotherapist John Welwood first referred to as “spiritual bypassing”. In his words, spiritual bypassing refers to the tendency

“to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”

John Welwood, “Human nature, Buddha nature. An interview with John Welwood” in Tricycle

As Welwood wisely points out, we can sometimes use spiritual and religious practices to shield us from psychological work that we need to do to move towards becoming who we’re truly meant to be.

Meaning and True Identity

This whole question of our true identity is deeply interwoven with the nature of emotionally healthy spirituality. In my opinion, it’s a psychological truth that we need some form of spirituality as a part of our journey to wholeness, though our particular spiritual needs are very individual and vary widely. Humans have a deep need to find lasting meaning in human existence. This was the consistent message of Jung, shared by existential psychotherapists such as Victor Frankl. Yet, it’s essential that this sense of meaning be compatible with, and emerge from, our own unique selfhood and journey to wholeness.

Finding an emotionally healthy spirituality that meets our individual needs is often one of the most important parts of our journey to wholeness. Many people experience it as a deep and abiding need. At many different points in life, it may emerge as a very high priority.

The process of working with a supportive and attuned Jungian analyst or psychotherapist can be a key part of developing a life affirming personal spirituality. In analytic work, we seek to integrate issues that emerge from a person’s daily life with the large scale themes that emerge in the course of a whole life journey. To have genuine support in such a crucial process can be vitally important, especially during major life transitions.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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How Do I Deal with Imposter Syndrome? A Jungian View

March 21st, 2022 · deal with imposter syndrome

How do I deal with imposter syndrome? This is a vital question for many people who outwardly seem to be very accomplished and capable.

Fake It and Hope to Make It? …How Do I Deal with Imposter Syndrome?
(PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

“Imposter syndrome” refers to the psychological state in which  people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. It’s not an officially recognized psychological disorder, but the term “imposter syndrome” has been around since clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes published their paper on “The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women” in 1978. Their initial work was on the imposter syndrome in high achieving women, but over time, it came to be realized that people of all kinds were subject to, and forced to deal with imposter syndrome.

When people are subject to imposter syndrome, they doubt their own accomplishments and they have a deep fear of being exposed as a fraud. People who are dealing with this issue may have ample evidence that they are successful and capable, and yet, they often fear that others will see “that I’m not really the person I pretend to be”.

If you’re subject to “imposter syndrome”, the anxiety and fear can be excruciating, and the effort to hide what are experienced as “failures and inadequacies” can be exhausting. So, how do I deal with imposter syndrome? How can I feel good about who I really am?

The Inner Narrative of Imposter Syndrome

In order to deal with imposter syndrome, we first have to become conscious of the inner story that it generates in us. Imposter syndrome produces anxiety-laden narratives that undercut our accomplishments.

If we land a good job, imposter syndrome tells us that we either put one over on the interviewers, or that they were short on good candidates, and “desperate, and so they had to pick me”. A common feature of imposter narrative is the feeling that our inadequacies and general ineptitude are just about to be exposed. The senior executive riding the elevator up to her office finds the inner voice telling her that “today will be the day”. This means that the day when her professional weaknesses and general lack of skills get exposed has finally arrived. The professional who has demonstrated great skill in doing one professional activity is bombarded with a sense of foreboding and failure if he has to do something slightly different from the familiar. “Now everyone will see who you really are”, the inner voice tells him.

What makes it essential to deal with imposter syndrome is the way it can stop us from seeking new opportunities, exploring new areas of our lives, and putting our energy out into the world.

In Jungian terms, the imposter syndrome is a powerful affect-laden complex. It is sensitive to, and triggered by. situations where we might be capable and confident in our own abilities. It seems to want us to not trust ourselves. Why?

Avoidance is Not the Way to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Avoiding looking at our imposter syndrome, and avoiding the feelings that go with it, is not going to help us to get out from under its self-sabotaging energy. Research shows that people with imposter syndrome tend to greatly doubt their abilities and to have a deep fear of failure. They often have a perception of phoniness about themselves that others often don’t experience. They often perceive others as having very high expectations of them, and that can often align with their own sense of perfectionism. They also tend to be people who have a strong need to achieve something of significance, and have a very strong need to be liked.

If we can stand to look at our imposter syndrome, we can see that it is often rooted in shame that originates very early in life. We may have experienced deep toxic shame at an early point in life’s journey, and now something in us is defending us from ever experiencing that again. As a defence against shame, it keeps us in a place of self-doubt and disengagement from life’s challenges. If this is the dynamic, we need to confront our need for healing.

Persona and Imposter Syndrome

From a Jungian perspective, imposter syndrome is rooted in the persona, that part of ourselves that we show to others and the social world. This social aspect or mask is something we can easily over-identify with, and mistake for being who we really are. Yet we’re actually much more than that.

We can deal with imposter syndrome by working on affirming our strengths and abilities. That may be very worthwhile. Yet a more lasting, deeper healing may come from the place of deep acceptance, when we are finally ready to experience, to be kind to, and to love the whole of who we are.

Working in a stable, trusting relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be one of the best ways to reach this deep acceptance and cherishing of who we are, both conscious and unconscious. To have respect and love for our own personal way through our life, and to feel that we are living that life out, is ultimately the best way to deal with imposter syndrome.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Dealing with Family Conflict and Family Rupture

March 7th, 2022 · dealing with family conflict

The reality is that many more people than you might think are dealing with family conflict. If family conflict is a reality you’re facing in your life, you are far from unique.

Family Conflict Can Take Many Different Forms (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

What does it mean for our personal journey when we’re dealing with family conflict? The answer to that question can vary immensely. It depends on the type of conflict involved, the personalities of the individuals in conflict, and the nature of the family system. One thing that we know for certain is that individuals often deny or downplay the impact that conflict with family members has on their lives.

There are aspects of family conflict that properly belong in the realm of couples’ therapists or family therapists. Yet there is also real importance in looking closely at the impact on the individual who finds her- or himself dealing with family conflict. What is the impact on us personally and individually of dealing with conflict within our families? How does it affect the individual psyche? Is it part of a major life transition? What gets stirred up in the unconscious?

Clearly, family conflict is a matter of importance at all times and seasons. However, the pandemic has brought home the reality of dealing with family conflict in a way that is unprecedented. Long bouts of lockdown have led to tensions in families. Many have had the experience of deep rifts in families resulting from differing attitudes and values around COVID.

It is now clear to me that the family is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the family: issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world.

~ Virginia Satir

The greatest tragedy of the family is the unlived lives of the parents.

~ C.G. Jung

When We’re Dealing with Family Conflict

Needless to say, dealing with family conflict can have a huge psychological effect on people. We expect that conflict will have an enormous effect on the emotional security of children. However, what may be less apparent is the impact on the sense of security and well-being of adults. Certainly, conflicts between parents and children, between spouses, between siblings of any age, and all other forms of family conflict impact us in profound ways.

So, here are some of the most common examples of family conflict:

  • Issues over finances and jobs;
  • Issues related to in-laws;
  • Issues related to marital fidelity;
  • Conflict over family events;
  • Sibling conflict over care of an elderly parent;
  • Divorced parents in conflict over care of a child; and,
  • Conflicting political or social values within a family or extended family

These are only some of a large number of possible sources of conflict.

The Unconscious Aspects of Dealing with Family Conflict

When it comes to family conflict, we may be dealing with an “iceberg” situation. We may be consciously aware of feelings, attitudes and emotional responses engendered by conflict. Yet there may be a great deal of unacknowledged and/or unconscious material below the surface in the unconscious. It may be essential to try and make this material conscious, and to come to terms with as much of it as we can.

For instance, we may be carrying long-held unconscious resentments. Or, there may be repressed parts of ourselves that we could never bring forward into the family. Then again, there may be parts of our shadow bearing emotions or attitudes that are not even acceptable to ourselves, let alone to the family. These various factors may be linked to experiences of depression and anxiety. If we are to find any kind of healing or any sense of integrity around family conflict, we may need to explore such psychic contents.

Journeying Towards Wholeness and Healing

When an individual is cast into the depths of family conflict, it can be profoundly disorienting. It may be essential to seek healing and to discover ways to make meaning of what has occurred. As I write this, I’m thinking of clients who have experienced conflict with spouses and parents over the last two years. In many cases, this has been extremely painful, and has left individuals feeling that they have lost their bearings. As a result, they have a strong sense of wanting to recover their compass.

When dealing with family conflict, it can be of tremendous benefit to rely on the support of a relationship with a Jungian psychoanalyst or depth psychotherapist, who can help in processing all the aspects of the conflict.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Facing Disillusionment with Life, and Finding a Way Through

February 28th, 2022 · disillusionment with life

At this point in our collective journey, disillusionment with life has almost become a pandemic of its own. A great many people in our time are having to deal with disillusionment, in one of its many forms.

disillusionment with life
In our time, disillusionment cuts deep for many people (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

For a good number of people, the experience of the pandemic has led to a sense of disillusionment with life. However, prior to the pandemic, many modern people were having their own particular disillusioning experiences. There are a good many factors in modern life that can weigh heavily on our sense of optimism and our trust in others.

Yet, what do we actually mean when we refer to disillusionment? Essentially, disillusionment is the feeling state that arises from the discovery that something—of importance—is not what it was anticipated to be. Often, there can be a traumatic element to disillusionment. This is because it can involve discovering that a belief or perception central to our sense of identity, or to our sense of basic trust in life, is no longer true. Or, possibly, that it never was true.

During the pandemic many people have experienced deep disillusionment in connection with work, career or profession. Others have uncovered a profound sense of disillusionment with life in the context of close relationships and family.

What Seemed to be True, Isn’t

We can see a very clear example of disillusionment if we look at the experience of many people in the education or health care professions over the course of the pandemic. People who enter these fields usually have high professional standards and a very strong ethic of care for the people for whom they provide services. However, many who work in these fields have found themselves subject to extraordinary demands throughout our COVID-19 experience.

During this period, many in these professions have found themselves dealing with extreme situations. They have been expected to meet very high professional standards, in which they themselves deeply believe. Yet they found themselves lacking the capacity to meet those standards. For a variety of reasons, the institutions for which they worked either could not, or would not, provide them with the means to fulfill their professional obligations in a way that aligns with their personal values. Sometimes this had to do with demands imposed by new technology, or with situations of being hopelessly short-staffed, or with conflicts between highly important obligations.

The nursing profession even has a term for this type of experience. Dr. Marian Altman of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses refers to “moral distress”. Both educators and nurses have been strongly affected by having to work in environments where they are:

  • performing care or activities perceived as futile;
  • carrying out unnecessary or unneeded treatments or activities;
  • witnessing needless suffering or distress;
  • coping with inadequate staffing; or
  • experiencing poor, inadequate or misleading communication.

Life Experience and Disillusionment

While the pandemic has made these issues particularly apparent for those in education or healthcare, the experience of disillusionment is shared by people from all walks of life. CBC As It Happens host Carol Off is stepping back from her role, and recently spoke of an acceptance of “mediocrity”, or an “It’s all we can do” mentality in fields like business and journalism.

Similarly, through the pandemic, many people have discovered that relationships that seemed secure and reliable, with friends, or within families, are more fragile. I have heard numerous clients describe family conflict due to different perspectives on COVID-19, and many authorities attest to this. Sometimes this conflict can be so intense that key relationships, such as between spouses, or parents and children, come under great tension, or break down.

It’s a common experience in life to discover that organizations or institutions don’t live up to the values that they proclaim. It’s an equally common experience to find that relationships that are supposedly trustworthy, secure and supportive don’t prove to be reliable, perhaps when we most need them. This is especially true during major life transitions.

Getting Past Illusion and Finding Something Real

To experience disillusionment with life is often to experience a loss of some or all of the sense of meaning in life. There is a strange blessing in disillusionment. Where once we held onto an illusion, now we no longer do, and we know the truth. This truth may be very painful, but at least we are no longer clinging to manifest falsehood.

In saying this, I certainly am not meaning to minimize or dismiss the pain that accompanies disillusionment with life, What can we possibly to to help ourselves deal with that? Is there anything good that could possibly come from disillusionment?

C.G. Jung gives us this surprising quote:

A life of ease and security has convinced everyone of all the material joys…but it has never produced spirit. Probably only suffering, disillusion and self-denial do that [italics mine].

C.G. Jung, CW 18

Initially, this seems somewhat shocking. Disillusionment is such a harsh experience. How could it possibly produce spirit?

Disillusionment can easily lead to feelings of sadness, fear or even anger. If we find ourselves experiencing these feelings, we might sit in them and become paralyzed, and immobilized by feelings of anxiety and depression. But Jung seems to suggest another possibility. This is that we might somehow face our intense feelings around disillusionment and acknowledge them, including mourning the loss we have experienced in the death of our illusions, and then somehow work with that raw material in such a way that it becomes spirit.

Small Steps Beyond Disillusionment with Life

This might entail a number of seemingly small steps. It would include acknowledging the full range of feelings that accompany our disillusionment with life. This actually might not be small at all. It might then be important to see if there is any way that I can turn my anger, sadness and disappointment into some kind of meaningful action. Disillusionment might lead me to feel that I lack power. Yet, is there any way I can use the power I do have to affect something, to bring change to something, to make something happen?

Similarly, is there any way that I can use this time to make connection? This might take a number of different forms. Can I make connection with others who share my values, and perhaps work towards a common cause or just share my friendship or experience with them? Are there any possibilities for reaching out in a way that helps others? Finally, is there some way of connecting to God, the universe or the Ground of being, however you might conceive of it, and honouring that reality?

In many cases, people find it valuable to find support through an affirming relationship with a depth psychotherapist when dealing with issues involving disillusionment.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Keeping Up Appearances: What DO We Do with Our Persona?

February 14th, 2022 · keeping up appearances, keeping up appearances

“Keeping up appearances” is a necessary part of life; we all do it. As a social species, humans have to manage the way that they appear to each other.

One way of keeping up appearances: a sharp blue suit! (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Jungians have a name for that aspect of ourselves that each individual shows to the outer world. We call it the persona. It includes many things, from the way we dress to our speech, mannerisms and attitudes.

Jung pointed out long ago that we need the persona, (the Latin word for “mask”). It’s a way of keeping ourselves safe, feeling secure and getting along with others in a social world. It’s fairly closely related to the social psychology concept of “social self”. As neuroscience researcher Sapien Labs puts it:

Social self refers to how we perceive ourselves in relation to others. It involves relationship building, empathizing, and communicating.

The persona is always helping us to swim in the ocean of social interaction. And that’s a good thing, right?

Persona is a Good Thing, but…

The persona is always trying to mediate between our inner private world and the outer social world. It tends to do this by comparing us with others. Often it’s concerned to ensure our membership in social groups that have what it interprets to be “high status” or “the right characteristics”.

As social psychology research establishes again and again, the social self tends to divide the world into “inners” and “outers”. For better or worse, we tend to compare ourselves to others, in terms of the groups to which we belong. We have an unconscious tendency to see the groups that we belong to as somehow “better” than the other groups. And we tend to see ourselves as “of the better sort” because we belong to this or that group. To chose a fairly mundane example, say someone is a Montreal Canadiens fan. He or she will tend to view “Hab fans” as just more savvy when it comes to hockey, and her- or himself as sharing in that coolness (sorry, Leaf Fans!).

But what happens when the less acceptable parts of ourselves emerge? Enter the Shadow…

Unfavourable Comparisons

As discussed in previous posts, Jung very succinctly defined the shadow as being “that which we do not wish to be”. We tend to become aware of our shadow as the parts of ourselves represented by “repressed desires and uncivilized impulses, morally inferior motives… all those things about oneself one is not proud of”, in the words of Jungian Daryl Sharp. When we do become aware of these things, we often run into persona problems.

It may be that we’ve seen ourselves and presented ourselves to the world in a certain way. Moreover, the way that we present ourselves may indicate strongly the kind of person we see ourselves as being, the kind of groups we belong to, and the kinds of people who are “like us”. So, what happens when we see ourselves in a different light?

Consider the individual who is entirely identified with the work that they do. Let’s say that this person is so consumed with work that he or she might be described as a “workaholic”. Yet, that individual may be in a workplace and / or a profession where working extremely long hours is the norm—or is even a badge of honour. That person may be completely identified with their role of working long, grueling hours. Even if the hours and pace of the work are destructive of the individual’s health, the group may identify this work pattern as being “tough” and a “team player”.

So, what if, for whatever reason, an awareness begins to surface in the individual that they actually don’t want to work this hard? Or that this brutal work pace is actually wrecking their health? Or that they would rather be doing something else? This new awareness is likely to be dismissed by the individual. “I don’t really feel that way; I’m just being a wimp.” she or he may say. He or she may even feel ashamed, or like a failure, relative to peers and colleagues. There may be a great deal of anxiety. It may be easy to turn away.

Yet, what if that impulse comes from who the person really is? What if it’s the voice of the authentic self?

When Who We Really Are Shows Up

Such an awareness may be contrary to the voice of the peer group. It may even be contrary to the persona, to the story we have told ourselves and others about who we really are. Yet, often enough, it may be the voice of our real identity breaking into our lives. And it may be that “keeping up appearances”, the way we present ourselves to the outer world, will have to change.

The journey to our real identity often includes getting beyond over-identification with a certain specific persona. Equally as much, it often involves finding a new persona, or way to be in the social world. This process of finding a new persona that fits with the parts of ourselves that are emerging is often part of major life transitions.

It can be of tremendous value to work with an insightful and supportive depth psychotherapist, as we work through this process of adjusting our persona to fit our emerging self.

I wish you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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