Journeying Toward Wholeness

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How Does Your Personality Type Affect Your Life? PART ONE

March 18th, 2019 · Jungian personality type, Personality type

Understanding your personality type can have an enormous impact on the way you live your life.

The Many Shades of Personality!
Many people have encountered the Myers-Briggs Personality Typology through work or schooling. They often don’t realize that it’s based on the ground-breaking work that C.G. Jung did around personality type as far back as the 1920s. They also often don’t realize how revolutionary and transformative Jung’s understanding of personality type truly is.
This is the first in a series of blog posts exploring the deeper meaning of personality type and how it profoundly impacts the entire way that each of us inhabits our lives.

Fundamentally Different Approaches to the World

People of different personality types take in the world in different ways. Jung’s theory of personality types seeks to help us distinguish the different fundamental components of our consciousness.

If we start with the two attitudes, introversion and extroversion, they represent two fundamentally different ways of being. As Jungian analyst Andrew Samuels tells us, if you’re an introvert, you’re someone who is stimulated and energized by the internal world. If you’re an extrovert, you’re stimulated and energized by the external world. These are two utterly different things, and you could expect the life journey of a strong extrovert to look very different than that of a strong introvert.

In the Jungian personality typology, each individual also has a primary function, which is one of sensation, thinking, feeling or intuition. As Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp indicates,

Thinking refers to the process of cognitive thought, sensation is perception by means of the physical sense organs, feeling is the function of subjective judgment or valuation, and….through intuition we have a sense of [a thing’s] possibilities.

Daryl Sharp, C.G. Jung Lexicon

If a person’s primary function is one of these four, his fundamental way of taking in the world will differ dramatically from an individual of the other three types.

Personality Type: A Dance of Opposites

Aspects of personality type aren’t just different. Many of them are actually fundamentally opposed to each other. This means that it may be very difficult for me to understand an introvert, if I’m an extrovert — or vice versa. Or, it may be very hard to relate to a person whose “superior” (i.e., most developed) function is feeling, if my superior function is thinking.

Yet, there may be a great deal of value in trying to understand personality types that are very different than our own, just as there is great value in really seeking to understand our own personality. Often, we can feel a strong attraction to personalities that are very different from our own, because on some deep, probably largely unconscious level we are drawn to those who have the characteristics we most lack. Thus the age-old saying that, in romantic relationships, opposites attract! Depth psychotherapists are very aware of how true this can be, and are aware of the opportunities — and complexities — that this can bring to relationships.

Personality Type and Self-Acceptance

Awareness of our personality type can be very important in enabling our acceptance of ourselves. In each culture, there are particular aspects of personality that are prized, and which are given particular emphasis and importance.

In Canada, for instance, extroversion has tended to be prized and valued over introversion. This is even more true among our neighbours to the south in the United States! This can often mean that introverted people in such a culture can end up feeling that there is something basically wrong with them, that they are somehow “odd” or “off” or “weird”. It can be a tremendously liberating thing to have an explanation for why we are the way we are, and to realize that that way of being has unique strengths.

Understanding, accepting and cherishing our personality type can be a very important part of understanding and welcoming all that we are. While we can learn a great deal about our personality type on our own there can be immense value and immense assistance on our journey toward wholeness through work with a Jungian depth psychotherapist.

With every good wish for your journey!

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

PHOTOS: Borja García de Sola Fernández (Creative Commons Licence)


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What is A Midlife Crisis? What is a Transition to Later Life?

March 11th, 2019 · Psychology and Suburban Life

Well, what is a midlife crisis? Could you possibly be having one now? Or, is something else important unfolding in your life?

Image: “Mid Life Crisis 2” by Steve A. Johnson
The standard image of a midlife crisis has certainly made its way into the media and the popular psyche. It’s a pretty stereotypical, almost cartoon-ish image! It has a lot to do with middle-aged males leaving their wives for much younger women, and zipping around town in newly purchased flashy red sports cars. Some people do have midlife experiences of this type. Yet, it’s important to cast our net much more widely if we want to understand the kinds of transitions that people undergo at midlife — and later in the second half of life.
Firstly, it’s not just males who go through major life transitions in the middle of life. Far from it! Females are just as likely to enter a period of real questioning and soul-searching as a part of midlife transition. Males and females alike often fully realize in midlife that life doesn’t last forever, and feel that that puts particular emphasis on what each of us chooses to do with the rest of life.
What’s more, the particular challenges of the middle of life, and the second half of life have a way of being very individual. We can see the first half of life for many people as very much being about living in a way that meets the broad expectations of family, peer groups, or society as a whole. The second half of life is very much about finding things in life that hold value specifically for me. So, the particular way that these issues come up for each person in a “midlife crisis” or midlife transition vary so enormously that we always have to ask, “What kind of a ‘midlife crisis’ is this individual having?

What is a Midlife Crisis — for Me?

Each of us has to ask ourselves how the previously unacknowledged parts of ourselves are confronting us as we move into, or through, the second half of life.

One person may find that issues around career are bringing up deep questions about what is meaningful or worth doing in life. Another may find him- or herself asking important questions about key relationships with a partner or a spouse. Someone else may find that they are going through significant changes in their ethical, spiritual or religious orientation. Others may find that they are strongly attracted to some new interest that seems even “out of character” with the way that they have thought of themselves to this point in their lives.

In my own case, at one point in my midlife journey, it was pretty much a blend of “all of the above.” Your experience will differ — as it does from individual to individual. As Jungian analyst James Hollis tells us,

When one has let go of that great hidden agenda that drives humanity and its varied histories, then one can begin to encounter the immensity of one’s own soul.

James Hollis, The Eden Project

It’s important to recognize that any and all of these experiences may also be accompanied by the experience of anxiety and/or depression. The presence of anxiety or depression may well be one of the things that alerts us to the fact that we are going through the transition into the second half of life.

Business as Usual? — Probably Not An Option

There’s a psychological liability in trying to ignore the inner voices that may come up in the middle of life. It can be very tempting to simply pretend that everything in our lives is just as it always was — even though at the deepest level, we know that it isn’t. Hollis speaks of this inertia in us in the context of spirituality:

In moments of spiritual crisis we naturally fall back upon what worked for us, or seemed to work, heretofore. Sometimes this shows up through the reassertion of our old values in belligerent, testy ways. Regression of any kind is just such a return…

James Hollis, What Matters Most

Often we can try to simply ignore the reality of what is happening in mid-life. However, it’s not likely that we’ll be able to feel that life is flowing for us, and moving beyond stagnation, unless we take changing realities seriously.

Your Unique Journey

The process of uncovering the personal meaning of these changes will involve creative disruption. Moving in the direction of living out our own uniqueness is the only life-giving way through these challenges. Hollis puts it in perspective for us:

We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide [examples] for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being. As the gods intended, we are here to become more and more ourselves.

Hollis, What Matters Most

It’s only when we’re on the road to our own individual selves, our own particular, unique sense of what is meaningful in our lives, that we can find any lasting sense of value in our lives. It’s essential to commit ourselves to trying to understand ourselves as we emerge, and to discern what begins to call to us, as we journey into the second half of our lives. Jungian depth psychotherapy may well prove to be an invaluable aid on this journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

PHOTOS: Borja García de Sola Fernández (Creative Commons Licence)

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I Don’t Want to Feel Ashamed… How Can I Find Freedom?

March 4th, 2019 · to feel ashamed

To feel ashamed is to experience a primary form of human emotion — which is also one of the most difficult experiences in human life.

Shame is universal; all humans experience it.
Shame is a hard emotion to talk about, because, as many experts have noted, shame is highly motivated to hide itself: it doesn’t want to be seen. We should never underestimate the power of the connection between shame and anxiety. Shame has a very big role in our lives, even though we may keep the particular moments when we’ve experienced shame hidden, even from ourselves. In fact, we often particularly keep them hidden from ourselves. That’s how negatively potent shame can be.

What Feeling Ashamed Does to Us

Shame is a powerful emotion throughout our lives, but never more than when we are very young — such as in the second year of our life. This is the time when we first begin to encounter demands on ourselves related to bodily processes and toilet training.

If we get positive messages about the body and what it produces from parental figures, it’s going to enable us to feel competent and to value ourselves. However, if we get messages of shame, not measuring up, and generally devaluation of ourselves, we come to dislike ourselves and to not even see ourselves as autonomous — as able to do things for ourselves. Psychologist Erik Erikson labelled this the life stage of autonomy versus shame and doubt.

Experiences of shame can really corrode our sense of self, not only at this early life stage, but throughout our lives. Experiences of destructive shame can easily keep us from having any clear sense of ourselves and our own ability to take steps to get the things we want and need in life, especially in the course of major life transitions.

As family therapists Fossom and Mason put it, toxic shame is connected with the “violation and dimunition of personhood”. Genuinely shaming experiences stay with a person, often burned in memory. They can have a profound impact on us many years and decades after the original shaming experience. What is more, shame is associated with that part of ourselves that Jung referred to as the shadow.

To Feel Ashamed… of Our Shadow

Jung’s very concise definition of the shadow was “the thing a person has no wish to be”. He demonstrates that it contains, in Jungian analyst Andrew Samuels’ words,

the negative side of the personality, the sum of the unpleasant qualities one wants to hide, the inferior… and primitive side of man’s nature, the other person in one, one’s own dark side.

Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis

The shadow has a very important connection with the shame we feel in our lives, for, as Jung also notes,

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it… But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected, and is liable to burst forth suddenly in a moment of unawareness, At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.

Collected Works, vol. 11

In our shadow, then, is basically everything about ourselves of which we are ashamed, and which we would rather not acknowledge.

Practically speaking, we can run from the shadow, but we can’t really hide. We encounter the shadow in those areas of our life in which we feel:

  • a sense of inadequacy or inferiority;
  • contact with parts of ourselves where we are less moral than we would like to appear;
  • awareness of those very things of which we feel most ashamed.

These things are the essence of shadow. We may live in denial about these things, and stay disconnected from our shame much of the time. Yet, ultimately we know it’s there, and we know that living in denial will only make things feel worse.

Real shame is often connected with intense pain. Is there any way to find some freedom from it?

Freedom Through Acceptance

Shame is something that all human beings experience. It’s in the nature of shame to make us feel that we are somehow separate or different from the rest of the human race. Yet, the experience of shame is a universal human thing. As many observers have pointed out, it’s easy to “feel ashamed of being ashamed”, but actually, every human being goes through the agony of feeling ashamed. That you and I experience shame shows that we are human.

If we can accept that we aren’t alone in our experience of shame, that it’s a human thing, then maybe we can stop defending ourselves so hard from our shame, and just be able to encounter the shadow, and begin to accept these aspects of ourselves. And the key lies in compassionate acceptance of the suffering being that feels compelled to feel ashamed — ourselves.

We can do this to some extent on our own, but a depth psychotherapy relationship where we can truly find acceptance can be of immense importance. Gradually being able to accept ourselves and release our shame in the context of a healing therapy relationship can be a key part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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Dealing with Aging Parents: The Meaning of Mother and Father

February 25th, 2019 · dealing with aging parents

Dealing with aging parents is often a key experience in midlife and the second half of life.

It’s easy in our culture to sentimentalize family life, but, in our time, the realities of family are complex for very many people. While dealing with aging parents might seem like a subject for family therapy — and it is — it also has a lot to do with each of our individual lives, and our discovery of our unique selfhood, our journey to wholeness.

Aging Parents in Midlife and Later

The connection between midlife and aging parents was brought home to me powerfully in my mid-40s. At that time, I was dealing with a very significant mid-life transition. At the same time, I was also dealing with the serious illness, and ultimately, the passing of my father. This process of dealing with aging parents brought some profound changes into my awareness and my priorities for my own life.

For many people, the time around midlife will start to bring changes into the adult child-parent dynamic. Often, this will be a period when the child is living life largely independent of the parent. Yet, it can also be the time at which parents start to encounter limitations that may require some degree of assistance or support from a son or daughter.

This is a complex time for the aging parent. As Penn State Prof. Steven Zarit points out, “One of the scariest things to people as they age is that they don’t feel in control anymore”. Aging parents often indicate that they want both autonomy and connection with their children. Yet, adult sons and daughters are often put in the difficult position of taking responsibility for aspects of the lives of parents who once took care of them. These are the same parents who, at an earlier stage, may have been important images of what it meant to be an autonomous and engaged adult.

The Adult Child’s Journey

Dealing with aging parents can lead to some key transformations in the individuation journey of the adult child. Often the adult child can find her- or himself involved in some form of caretaking of the older parent.

This is a huge psychological shift. The adult child will often carry vivid memories of the parent as powerful and hopefully protecting and nurturing. It can be an highly emotional, difficult life transition to see the parent’s vulnerability, and limitation — while simultaneously trying to honour the parents’ dignity and sense of self.

Dealing with adult parents and their changing needs can have a profound effect on adult children. It can produce very serious economic and psychological stress, particularly when it is coupled with trying to meet the demands of parents and children simultaneously.

Parents: Personal & Archetypal

In the course of dealing with aging parents, profound inner changes can occur in the adult child’s inner image of the parent.

In Jungian terms, the most profound experiences of the parental archetypes of father and mother occur through the child’s experience of its own parents in the family unit. As a result of this bedrock experience, each of us carries father and mother complexes. These are positive and negative in varying degrees, which means that they either support each of us on our journey through life, or they hold us back.

It is a virtual certainty that the experience of dealing with aging parents will strongly activate our father and mother complexes. This may be a source of distress and anguish. However, it can also be a source of genuine growth and development, as we sift through our experience of relationship with our parents, acknowledging and accepting who they are.

A genuine willingness to explore the full range of feelings around dealing with aging parents can lead to increased self-knowledge and self-acceptance. It can often be very helpful to work with a depth psychotherapist at this time, to help us explore all the dimensions of ourselves, conscious and unconscious, that get activated during this life stage.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

PHOTOS: Borja García de Sola Fernández (Creative Commons Licence)

PHOTOS:  Jesper Sehested (Creative Commons Licence)

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Resilience and Meaning

February 11th, 2019 · resilience and meaning

Resilience and meaning have a lot to do with each other. Much more than we might at first think.

resilience and meaning
In a way, this post is almost “Part 2” to last week’s post, Anxiety and Dealing with Uncertainty in Life. We’re likely much more aware of the linkage between resilience and anxiety, and to realize that building up your capacities and challenging yourself can help you deal much better with anxiety-creating events in life. But how could meaning be connected to this?

It’s striking when we see research of to-day that validates the powerful insights of an earlier time. Dutch psychologists and trauma experts including Prof. Rolf Kleber of Utrecht University conducted research on veterans of wartime and peacekeeping service. Their work revealed that, after military service, those veterans who were better able to process and find meaning in their military experience had higher levels of resilience. This included a greater capacity for personal change and lower levels of distrust of other people, within a general climate of valuing of the self, a broad optimism and a sense of control.

These findings seem very similar to the observation of existential psychologist Viktor Frankl, who saw that, even in the extreme environment of a Nazi concentration camp, individuals who could find meaning or hope stood a better chance of survival than those who lacked these things. Similarly, C.G. Jung emphasized the key importance of meaning in one of his most famous statements:

It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

Resilience and Meaning in My Life

In fact, much of Jung’s work as a psychologist centers around the great importance of people finding sustaining meaning in their lives. As Jungian Andrew Samuels tells us,

The question of meaning was central to Jung and to all that he undertook as person, doctor, therapist

Samuels, Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis

Jung makes it clear, though, that each individual has to find what it is in life that is particularly meaningful to him or her, and that this differs a great deal from individual to individual. It could be found in religious or philosophical or ethical values — or in the particular hobby that suits me best. But it’s only this individual sense of meaning that will add resilience and a sense of value to my life

Masquerading as Meaning

We can sometimes get misled by things that seem like they carry real meaning for us, when they actually don’t. The current of popular fads, fashions and trends can often seem seductive, and like they carry us toward deep and real meaning. Yet if, in the end of the day, they have nothing to say to me about the value and direction of my own unique life, then what will last through the most difficult parts of life? These are questions about what really deeply matters when we go through loss, grief, major life transitions and midlife transition — things that require great resilience.

On The Quest for Individual Meaning

What kind of meaning will last through life? Often, it is the most difficult times in life that make us ask that question at its most profound level. Individual meaning, things that are invaluable to me as an individual. The symbollic

Resilience and meaning go hand in hand. To find a sense of individual meaning is to gain the sense that my individual, particular way of being myself in the world matters, makes some difference, counts.

To find what is meaningful, and to align myself with it, to live in accord with it, is one of the most important pieces of work that a individual will do in the course of life. It is also, often, one of the most sustaining, because of the intimate link between resilience and meaning. In the normal course, it becomes one of the most important aspects of an individual’s work in depth psychotherapy.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

PHOTOS: Borja García de Sola Fernández (Creative Commons Licence)

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Anxiety and Dealing with Uncertainty in Life

February 4th, 2019 · uncertainty in life

Dealing with uncertainty in life is one of our greatest challenges. We live in a time when people are dealing with it as never before.

The ways in which we experience uncertainty in life are very individual. The uncertainty that is of greatest concern to each of us is usually associated with our greatest anxiety. What are the forms of uncertainty that concern you most?

Ambiguity, and Not Knowing What Will Happen

I can’t speak for you, but, in my experience, situations where there’s a lot at stake, but the outcome is highly uncertain, can be very painful.  We are creatures whose brains are designed to help us maximize a sense of certainty and control. When that sense is not there, and the situation is one we care about a lot, we can feel extreme discomfort.

In our time, there are many sources of uncertainty and hard-to-predict outcomes.  Issues with work and employment, health, children’s future and well-being, aging parents, social and political uncertainty — all these and more.

In addition, we face all the questions about how to live with uncertainty and ambiguity. How can we tolerate situations where we just don’t know the outcome?

The Head Game of False Certainty

One possible response to uncertainty in life is to simply pretend that it doesn’t exist. Sometimes people try to do this consciously, but more often, its a matter of unconscious denial.

At a deep level we humans need to see ourselves and our world as solid, stable, and lasting. When we experience things that threaten that view of the world, it can be intensely anxiety-provoking and disorienting. So as a result, we can often perceive things as more stable and lasting than they are. It can be reassuring to let ourselves be lulled into seeing things as stable and lasting.

But what about the times when we really do have to face the facts, and accept that our world — and our lives — are changing? Sometimes we really do have to find a way to do this, even though we might find it so much easier to believe that the “same old same old” is occurring?

Such uncertainty can occur in the midst of major life transitions, and during midlife transition. The individual may want to believe that all is going on in life as it always has, but in reality, life is moving in different directions, and some of them might be very difficult to accept.

How can we deal with all the uncertainty in life that comes our way?

Accepting Uncertainty and Moving Toward Trust

We are never going to eliminate the uncertainty from our lives. How can we live with the unexpected?

Part of the answer can be learning techniques and approaches that help to reduce our anxiety. There are good things that we could and should do to reduce the anxiety that we experience from the uncertainty in life.

Yet, in addition to that, there is importance in finding connection to something greater than ourselves, that persists unchanging through the course of human life. It is essential for each of us to find a sense of meaning for ourselves that goes beyond the endless chances, changes and uncertainties of our life. C.G. Jung tells us that the coping issues that we each confront

must be understood, ultimately, as the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning.

The process of finding the deeper sense of meaning and security in our lives, and moving toward trust is a life-long project. The journey to this sense of security can be aided a great deal through exploring and accepting the uncertainties in our lives. which is a key part of the work of effective depth psychotherapy.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS: hectorbuelta (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Deal with Adversity

January 28th, 2019 · how to deal with adversity

At times, we all struggle with how to deal with adversity. What can help us get through fundamentally difficult situations in life?

how to deal with adversity

Adversity can take many different forms, that vary a lot depending on people’s age, life situation and particular life experiences. I’ve previously written about emotional pain, which certainly can be a very great source of adversity, but it’s far from being the only kind.

The Many Faces of Adversity

Adversity is something that can come in many shapes and sizes. Starting from relatively early ages, often in our early teens, humans become aware of adversity in the lives of people close to themselves, and often in their own lives.

Teens begin to realize that people face adversity in very different ways. As they mature, they discern that sometimes people face and grow through adversity, even when it’s incredibly severe. They also realize that sometimes individuals can be devastated by their adversity.

The question of how to deal with adversity becomes very real for them. Like all of us, they start to develop their own approaches to dealing with life’s most difficult situations, on both a conscious and an unconscious level.

How Adversity Can Take Us Down

The adverse situations in life can have a very negative effect on us. They can play a major role in addiction, self-harm, helplessness, and many other types of difficulties.

As Jungian analyst Gary Trosclair describes, we often have a response to adverse situations in our lives on two levels. He describes how the initial reaction to emotional and adverse situations is a primary emotion like anger, sadness or anxiety. What can then make things a great deal worse is a secondary reaction that can involve a strong, tense reaction that takes us to a place of defensive body postures, secretion of harmful amounts of cortisol, and generally giving way to the feeling that we’re confronting absolute disaster.

However, as Trosclair tells us, and University of Pennsylvania’s Prof. Scott Barry Kaufman affirms, we don’t have to just sit in this destructive, corrosive place. There are creative alternatives.

Creative Responses to Adversity

One possible response to the question “How to deal with adversity?” is through exploration of the creative dimensions of the Self.

Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to hear prominent Jungian analyst Kathrin Asper lecture on the life and work of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who used her creativity to help her deal with adversity. Kahlo suffered numerous highly adverse experiences, including polio in her childhood, a nearly fatal accident, intense chronic pain and an extremely difficult marriage. Kahlo explored these experiences through her art, and was courageous enough to let her deepest pain be the foundation of her creative work. Through her art, she was able to find meaning in her most deeply painful experiences.

It’s striking that, in his book Wired to Create, Prof. Kaufman also sees the life of Frida Kahlo as illustrating the role of creativity in dealing with adversity. As they state:

Art born of adversity is an almost universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent creative minds…. Much of the music we listen to, the plays we see, and the paintings we look at—among other forms of art—are attempts to find meaning in human suffering. Art seeks to make sense of everything from life’s smallest moments of sadness to its most earth-shattering tragedies.

Nor is it just artists who respond creatively to suffering. We can see much the same in the vast creativity of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in response to the adversity of ALS, and in C.G. Jung’s Red Book, which is a response to a harrowing psychological crisis he experienced in midlife transition.

I can’t speak for you, but I’m no Kahlo or Hawking or Jung. But each of us can still use our creative capacity as a means of answering the question of how to deal with adversity. Instead of just succumbing to the type of secondary reaction Trosclair describes, I can make the choice of searching for a creative response to my adversity. I can get very curious about my reaction to the problems in my life, and I seek different ways to respond to those situations. I can also find ways to express what I’m feeling through writing, drawing, painting, or other forms of self-expression.

Depth psychotherapy can often greatly assist the individual in responding to the adverse experiences of life in creative, meaningful and life-giving ways.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS: Pat David (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What Are the Goals of Therapy? Why Do It?

January 21st, 2019 · goals of therapy, goals of therapy, goals of therapy

Sometimes psychotherapists are not overly clear about the goals of therapy. Why should I bother getting therapy, anyway? What is it going to do for me?

Vague messages appear in mass media about the purposes of therapy. These might convey a sense that “therapy will help you to be a happier person” or “therapy will improve your mental health”. But what kind of a concrete difference will doing therapy really make in my life?

Therapy: Not Just About What’s Wrong with You

In earlier times, therapy was thought to be exclusively about healing an illness. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, was known to say things like the following;

A layman will no doubt find it hard to understand how pathological disorders of the body and mind can be eliminated by ‘mere’ words.

Freud certainly thought that the function of “talk therapy” was to treat and heal “pathological disorders”. He has been followed in this by many different types of therapists with very different approaches, who all have felt that the role of therapy is to heal mental sickness.

Beyond Healing Illness

But that’s certainly not true of all psychotherapies. So-called humanistic psychologies have long had a different view of their task. We see that in the following quote:

In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I heal treat or change this person? Now I would phrase the question this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his or her own personal growth?

~Carl R. Rogers

In more recent times, we have the assertions of the “positive psychology” movement which imply that psychotherapy should be focused on

…valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present)…. the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom.

~Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi

Jung’s View of the Goals of Therapy

Much is commendable in humanistic and positive psychology. However, as impressive as these views are, there’s still something missing. In my opinion, C.G. Jung, who actually predates many of these figures, captures much of that something when he tells us that

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.

The underlying idea in this quote is that each of us has a fundamental identity hidden in the core of our being that we are trying to live out. In the process of finding my true identity through the course of all the experiences and major transitions of my life’s journey, I gain a sense of my individual place in the world, and of the unique meaning of my particular life.

True therapy, effective therapy (or analysis as Jungians call it) is about discovering the human being that I truly am. The central goals of therapy are all intimately related to the living out of my true identity in the world.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS: Rick Obst (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The New Year and the Psychology of Hope

January 7th, 2019 · psychology of hope

The early days of the New Year confront us with the question of the future, and the psychology of hope. Where can I find solid hope for my future?

psychology of hope

New Year’s: Crossing the Bridge to the Future

In our era, people face substantial anxiety about the future.  We’re bombarded with news and information from many directions — economic, environmental and political, among other sources — that often seem bleak. Additionally, each individual has to deal with their own particular life circumstances.  Where can we find some source or sense of abiding hope that will help us to move forward into a future that seems welcoming, that seems to be a place where we would actually want to live?

The Dominant Stories

That sense of hope may be difficult to find in some of the dominant stories that our culture gives us about what is really meaningful and valuable in life.

Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics, is an expert on the measurement of happiness.  He recently wrote an article in the Guardian Newspaper entitled

The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet?

Dolan is using the word “myth” here in a different way than Jungians use it, but his concern is that we can come under the influence of harmful stories, which he also calls narrative traps, such as the stories in our culture around wealth and success, that tell us that, no matter how much we have of these things, we ought to be reaching for more.  As he puts it, these stories tell us that “ever more happiness is achieved with ever more money and more markers of success”.  Dolan stresses that, beyond a certain point, this just isn’t true, and that the “happiness hit” that you gain from more money and more status actually gets smaller and smaller the more you get.

Dolan suggests that to be happier we need to move from a culture of “more please” to one of “just enough”.

We might agree with Dolan that the “more please” approach doesn’t really bring happiness — or hope.  Yet Dolan doesn’t seem to give us anything to put in its place that really could provide valid hope.  The idea of “just enough” may give us a sense of moderation or responsible environmental stewardship — but is that really something to live for?

What Really Brings Us Hope?

Humans fundamentally need hope!  This is especially true at the times in life that involve major life transitions.  As Paul Tillich told us, “Without hope, the tension of our life toward the future would vanish, and with it, life itself.”

However, we can’t go to the store, and just pick up hope off the shelf.  Jung stresses that, “Faith, hope, love and insight are the highest achievements of human effort.”  Contrary to what many voices in our society might tell us, we actually have to put concrete effort into creating hope in our lives.  As the positive psychologists would tell us, we have to live an engaged life, where we use our strengths and virtues to gain genuine gratification in the main areas of our lives.  We also have to use our abilities in the service of something much larger than ourselves.

How Do I Find My Hope?

All of this sounds good in general, but how do I go about finding what genuinely gives me, my individual self, hope?  “There is no recipe for living that suits all cases” Jung tells us, meaning that I have to go on an individual journey to find out what I need to live my own true life in my authentic way.  What works for other people, and brings meaning and hope for them, may be different than what works for me.  Again, as Jung asserted in one of his most profound quotations,

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.

The task of finding what gives us a truly individual sense of meaning and hope will take our real effort, and in many senses is the masterwork of a lifetime.  Yet we can begin to search for what is fulfilling right now, right where we are.  Often working  with a skilled depth psychotherapist can be an important part of opening up our individual journey to hope and meaning.

With best wishes for a New Year of Meaning and Hope!

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Daniel Jolivet (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Coping with Holiday Stress, 2: Concrete Steps to A Better Holiday

December 17th, 2018 · coping with holiday stress

Our last post explored coping with holiday stress, and expectations.  This post explores practical steps for alleviating holiday stress.

coping with holiday stress

Let’s look at things pragmatically, but also from the perspective of viewing the holiday period and coping with holiday stress as an important part of our journey towards wholeness.  From this vantage point, what can we do that would assist in coping with holiday stress?

Acknowledging That the Holidays Do Create Stress

As we discussed in the previous post, it’s important for us to simply acknowledge that, for many of us, the holidays are an extremely stressful period!  Many of us face stresses during the holidays around time, money, meeting the expectations of others, family stresses and wounds — and a host of other possible factors.

We need to be up front with ourselves and acknowledge that our holiday experience is often far from perfection.  We may find much of value in the holidays, but we need to accept the places where they can make excessive or unacceptable demands upon us.

Denial: Not a Great Way of Coping with Holiday Stress

With the holidays, we can be tempted to tell ourselves that there’s nothing wrong, and that everything is just going wonderfully. Part of us may really want to channel our inner Will Ferrell or White Christmas Bing Crosby and just believe we can have a blissful stress- and fault-free Holiday Season.

This approach can end up amplifying holiday stress.  We need a more down-to-earth method of coping with holiday stress.

Accept the Demanding Parts of the Holiday Season

Acknowledging the good parts of the holidays is important, but equally important is acknowledging the difficult parts– and the parts of ourselves that have trouble with the holidays.

Here are a few key practical suggestions on how to cope with and accept all the parts of the holidays, including those that may provoke stress in us.

a)  Keep your expectations realistic.  Not everything about the holidays is going to be perfect. It’s essential to be compassionate to ourselves, recognizing that we can’t use magic to get a perfect Burl Ives “Holly Jolly Christmas”.  No one gets to have “perfect”.  Be kind to you, and enjoy the good things that really are there in the holidays,

b)    Don’t over-commit.  Getting over-tired and taking on too much leads to the opposite of a warm holiday — it can feed depression and anxiety.  Limit yourself to reasonable and enjoyable commitments.  Get others to help with tasks, if you need them

c)   Don’t overspend.  This can be a major contributor to post-holiday blues.  It’s wise to set a realistic budget, and stick to it.

d)  Don’t try to do everything at the last minute.  Thinking about your holiday plans, and getting them in place in advance can certainly save a great deal of holiday stress.

e)  Learn to Say NO!  This word may seem to have nothing to do with the “Christmas spirit”!  Yet, it has everything to do with self-acceptance, self-compassion and maintaining healthy boundaries that reduce stress.  Other people may have lots of ideas of how you should spend your time on the holidays.  Some might be very appealing.  But, ultimately, as with many things in life, it’s important to ask yourself, what do I really want?

f)   Accept people and situations for what they are.  Christmas can be difficult for many people, because they have to encounter people, often family members, with whom there is conflict, a possible history of trauma, or who are dealing with addictions, mental illness or other major problems.  It can help to try to set aside differences, where that’s possible.  In some cases, as when there has been abuse, that simply is not possible.  Then it’s essential to avoid contact by whatever means possible.

g)  Above all, acknowledge your feelings.  If you have experienced loss, separation or grief, it’s essential to recognize those feelings.  If the Holiday season is associated with bad memories, as it can be for a significant number of people, it’s important to acknowledge that, and work on good ways to take care of yourself in this season.  Whatever, you feel, it’s important to acknowledge it, not fight it.

Talking to a skilled depth psychotherapist to explore the individual value and meaning of the holiday season, and how it forms part of our journey to wholeness, can be of genuine benefit.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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

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