Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Genuine Connection and True Value in Life

February 8th, 2021 · value in life

Our recent experiences have given many people the opportunity to focus on the question of what has true value in life. The answer to that question may be tied very closely to the issue of genuine connection.

Photo by Frédérique Voisin-Demery on (Creative Commons Licence)

By ‘genuine connection”, I mean something that is fairly broad, and that involves a lot of fairly different types of connection. Yet what they all have in common is that they all involve reaching out beyond ourselves, or, at least, beyond the self that we so often may think of as being “me”.

We humans often have a very limited concept of what has value. We often think that what we value is based on our individual decision, or on the particular whims of the society in which we happen to find ourselves. Yet the truth runs much deeper than this.

A Crisis: Value in Life and Connection

We live in a time that celebrates individualism, which is not the same thing as cherishing individuation. There is all the difference in the world between an individualistic approach, which entails me pursuing my own advantage, regardless of the impact on others, and an individuation-based approach, which is focused on my exploration of myself and my unique characteristics in relation to others in my circle and in the world.

In our culture, we’re used to focusing on the needs and wants of the ego. As Jungian Andrew Samuels tells us, the ego is the conscious part of ourselves. It’s concerned with our individual personal identity as we usually define it, with maintaining ourselves over time, testing and sorting what is real from what is not, and so on. The ego has a certain understanding of who we are that is probably partly accurate and partly not. The ego may be strongly influenced by attitudes from our families, our schools, workplaces, media and the society as a whole.

That last point can be where we run into trouble, that may be related to great deal of depression and anxiety. We live in a society where untold billions of dollars are spent to try and influence our attitudes about what we want, and particularly where we should spend our money. This leads to an environment where what we want can be very strongly influenced by the marketplace, and there can be a subtle but strong pressure on us to want what everybody else wants. In the midst of this pressure, it can be easy to lose connection with our real desires at the deepest level, and, in fact, to lose contact with who and what we most fundamentally are.

I’m continually struck by the experiences of numbers of clients, particularly in midlife. These individuals tell me that they look back on certain choices that they have made in their lives, perhaps to go into a certain career, or perhaps to buy or not buy a house, or to embark on having a family, or to decide not to have a family, and they simply cannot understand the choice they made at that earlier point in their lives. “What was I thinking?” they ask me, “Who was I trying to please? It’s like I was in a daze or a trance….”

This kind of situation can occur when the ego is making decisions based on what it thinks its values are, at a particular point in the life journey. The lyrics of a song from the 1980s put it so well:

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack / And you may find yourself in another part of the world / And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile / And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife / And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?” (Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”)

We need connection to our true values, to the things that stay meaningful because they are fundamentally connected to who we most basically are.

Ego’s Delusion of Self-Sufficiency

In a somewhat similar way, in our culture, the ego can be lured by a false sense of self-sufficiency. Our culture holds out the ideal of the individual in such a way that it can certainly seem like what is valued is people who don’t really need anyone, who do everything independently and who are never really open or vulnerable.

While, in the past, it was males who were primarily subject to a pressure to adopt this kind of individualism, we see that in more recent times that women are now subject to the same pressures. Not so very many years ago, it used to be men in corporate workplaces who were subject to the pressure to put in long hours at the office, sacrificing time with children, partners and those they care about. Now, many women are subject to exactly the same demands. In fact, social distancing and working from home has been a wake up call to many people, as they become aware of just how much time at the office had come to dominate their waking lives.

In our culture, not only does the ego tend to rely on its values, rather than something more deeply rooted in the Self, but there is a tendency for the ego to lapse into an isolated self-sufficiency that actually diminishes the person. Given the values of our culture, we can easily fall into the expectation that disconnectedness, loneliness and isolation are the norm.

True Value in Life and Nourishing Connection

If you want to get connected to what you truly value in life, you have to dig a bit, reaching down into yourself, to connect with unexplored aspects of yourself, seeking to understand what for you has real value in life. This process could well involve looking at the values in the family you were raised in, as well as the values reflected in the ways in which you live. It will probably also entail looking at where you live, and how you spend your money, and on what you spend your time. It will almost certainly involve connecting with some deep parts of yourself in a new way.

Oddly enough, this process bears some real similarity with the process of opening up and being vulnerable to other people. Both types of connection involve opening yourself up for possibilities of connection not previously encountered, and a kind of flexibility and vulnerability. Jungian depth psychotherapists often emphasize that meeting previously unknown parts of ourselves can resemble meeting someone new—except that they’re parts of us, what Jung called “the undiscovered Self”.

Connecting with the undiscovered parts of ourselves, and finding our most fundamental values is all part of the journey towards wholeness, as is finding meaningful and authentic connection to others. The process of connecting with true value in life can be greatly enhanced through working with a Jungian depth psychotherapist.

With very best wishes for all your future journeys,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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Power and Identity: Male Psychology During the Pandemic

February 1st, 2021 · male psychology

In the 2020s, male psychology was already facing many challenges. Then along came the pandemic, and brought home a lot of issues even more forcefully.

Photo: some rights reserved by Nicolás Boullosa on 
(Creative Commons Licence)

For quite a long time now, men have been dealing with the realities of a changing world. There was a time in our society when “the man’s role” was clearly defined by social consensus, and everyone understood what that role was. In more recent times, things have been less clear, and it has been harder for men to feel good about their identity as men.

A lot of men have a very strong investment in their role as providers, and a lot of men also place a very high premium on independence. This valuing of independence is no accident. Men in our culture are taught from a very early age that they’re supposed to be independent, and they’re supposed to solve their own problems. In addition, there’s evidence that men are taught to expect judgment and even hostility from other men if they indicate any inability to cope, or any need for support

Clearly, a lot of men are doing fine in our world. However, as Prof. Matt Englar-Carlson, Director for the Center for Boys and Men at Cal State, Fullerton puts it, summarizing his research, “There’s a lot of men out there who suffer, who go through a lot of difficulty and aren’t getting the support they need.”

The Pandemic and Male Psychology

The reality that “there are a lot of men out there” who need more support than they’re getting is brought home even more strongly by the pandemic, and all that it has meant for many men’s lives. The “traditional rules” for men in our culture include physical and emotional strength and toughness, not displaying emotions and taking care of things by yourself. When men are also confronted by the realities of the pandemic and the related issues we’re all facing, it creates a situation for many men that is extremely demanding.

Strength and independence are great things. There are situations in everyone’s life where the ability to to step up, take hold of an issue and deal with it on your own in a self-sufficient way is an extremely useful skill to have. However, there are also situations in which being unable to show your feelings, or to reach out for help can be very damaging. Quite a number of these situations, where there would be a great benefit in men being able to reach out for help, are occurring during this pandemic.

One of the big areas where we see is situations of job loss, or where individual’s jobs have gone from full to part-time, and other related changes. For many men at different life stages, this can be a great ordeal. Where an individual has seen himself as economically independent, and/or as someone who played a major role in meeting the economic needs of his family, such a sudden career change can have an enormous effect on a man.

Something else that can be extremely difficult is being more or less confined to home. Even if he is working full-time, it can be very trying for a man to see himself confined to a space in his home, quite possibly sharing it with others, and communicating with the external world via Zoom or email. If a man has valued the part of his life that enabled him to leave home, engage with the world, and then return, confinement can feel like he’s lost his place in the world, and even his male identity.

A man may also find himself dealing with anxiety or depression—not an uncommon experience in the middle of this pandemic. If a man has learnt that being independent—“being a man”—means that he can’t ask for help for his depression, then this can lead to very severe consequences.

Male Psychology: Towards a New Understanding

The pandemic may be creating many difficulties. However, one opportunity that may be indirectly emerging from it for many men is the opportunity to change their understanding of what it is to be male.

It may well no longer be possible for a man to respond to the present situation, and the personal difficulties that it is creating by doubling down on the “old school” approach to masculine identity. It may also not be possible for a man to remain emotionally contained, and self-sufficient, or even withdrawn as he confronts the challenges of the present. He may not be able to sustain living in denial about feelings of sorrow, grief, fear and other complex emotions. He may engage in a great deal of self-reproach and self-attack, because he cannot be the totally independent, self-sufficient, emotionally unaffected “lone ranger” figure of his ideal. He may well start to realize that such approach could have grave, even tragic consequences.

A Different Approach to Masculinity

If those things are true for a man, what’s the alternative? It may well be facing the feelings that have been pushed down into the unconscious, and possibly even experienced as illness or bodily pain. It may be recognizing deep needs for connection and support from others—both men and women—as he confronts the unique challenges of this time, and the major life transition that is embodied in them. It may be the time in a man’s journey toward wholeness when he confronts the shadow aspects of the Self—those parts of himself that he doesn’t wish to acknowledge. In doing so, he may come to a greater level of compassion and acceptance for himself, and a greater capacity for connection and intimacy with others.

Jungian depth psychotherapy can be an excellent way for a man to support his journey of self-exploration and self acceptance. A Jungian approach fosters the acceptance of all that we are, conscious and unconscious, and enables a man to find his own particular wisdom, and his own way of accepting and cultivating all that he is.

With best wishes for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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Hope and Connection: Accepting the Other—and the Shadow

January 25th, 2021 · hope and connection

The phrase “hope and connection” feels very uplifting. It’s easy to feel strongly that “Yes, this is what we need now!” Surely, as we find our way through the pandemic, we yearn for—hope and connection.

Amanda Gorman at the Inauguration of U.S. President Biden

However, maintaining hope and connection can sometimes be a daunting thing. That’s because human beings are demanding, complex and imperfect. For many of us, accepting our own imperfection can be a painful and trying path. Yet, accepting the limitations of the other person can be just a whole other level of difficulty.

The poet Amanda Gorman, in her poem “The Hill We Climb”, explores hope, connection and community, and touches upon an important truth:

And yes we are far from polished / far from pristine / but that doesn’t mean we are / striving to form a union that is perfect / We are striving to forge a union with purpose

Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

This describes the nature of human connection so well. We can’t have a union that is perfect; that would be inhuman. Yet we can strive intentionally to create connection with others—“a union with purpose”.

This intention to connect with others is a key element in any relationship where we consciously wish to enter into depth or sincere common purpose with others. It is true of the whole spectrum of connection, from a nation seeking to develop a sense of unity and common identity, to two people in a relationship seeking a genuine and intimate connection.

Hope and Connection: What Are We Seeking?

Here we are, in late January, 2021, in the midst of a lockdown which can seem perpetual. As we make our way through this anxiety-laden time, we yearn to find hope, and we yearn for connection with others. Yet, what do we mean by that? What is it that we actually want?

Hope is of central importance to us. As famed hope researcher Prof. C.R. Snyder asserts, hope affirms and keeps alive the possibility of a better future. Hope lives in an active, rather than a passive approach to life. Hope occurs when we’re moving and finding our way toward something, even if we see where we’re headed only very dimly.

Similarly, connection with others matters a great deal to us. As we feel so strongly in the isolation of this time. It’s important to realize that the sense of feeling connected with others has to do with the sense of sharing things with them, such as our deep thoughts, dreams and aspirations, our biggest fears, and our strongest feelings. When this kind of sharing occurs, it’s well-documented that there is very powerful activation of key centres in the brain, and key hormones get released. In Jungian terms, such connection between people is very “numinous”, meaning it has a very powerful, very hard to explain attraction.

We can readily see when these two things are combined—hope and connection—something very strong and potent occurs. When people are connected, and share their hopes, the bond can feel overwhelmingly positive.

Connection and Shadow

Yet hope and connection can also be a very heady, very dangerous combination. We may feel connected to someone, or may want to feel connected to someone, or some group of people, and this may lead us to having huge hopes for the relationship with no possible downside.

This is unlikely to be a sound basis for relationship. As C.G. Jung would tell us, that it doesn’t take the shadow into account. Jung defines shadow as that part of our personality that we don’t wish to acknowledge. In a relationship, the shadow can have a profound impact. The shadow of the other may be very hard for us to see, because they keep it hidden. Hence, we can idealize the other person or group, and see them as a perfect fit with what we want. We may be in for a big surprise when reality hits home.

We also keep our own shadow, the parts of ourselves that we don’t wish to acknowledge, hidden from others. It may come as a real surprise to them when they see our shadow. It may bring up the other’s own shadow in powerful ways such as petulance, rage and manipulation.

On the other hand, far from idealization, our own shadow may get projected on the other, leading us to see them as having negative qualities that they don’t possess. This is very commonly seen in the ways that various groups in society can end up being negatively stereotyped by others.

Union with Purpose

It would seem that the only way to genuinely experience hope and connection is through what Amanda Gorman describes as “union with purpose”. To put that another way, this involves working hard to see others—and ourselves—in the most realistic way possible. Then, within that realism, striving to discover hope that will carry us through the demanding but worthwhile goal of connecting with others who are different from us, and who have their own weaknesses.

The process of self acceptance, that allows us to accept our own shadow and weaknesses, and the shadow and weakness of others, is at the very heart of the process of Jungian depth psychotherapy.

Wishing you every good thing on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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When Does A Lie Hurt Me the Worst? When I’m Lying to Myself

January 18th, 2021 · lying to myself

Photo: some rights reserved by wuestinigel on 
(Creative Commons Licence)

In our time, we’re deeply concerned with truth and lies. Often there are fiercely different, competing versions of the truth. Yet the greatest danger occurs, not when others lie to me, but when I’m lying to myself.

Many people might find this last observation to be very puzzling. “We live in a world full of horrible deception!” they protest. “Look at the level of lying that is perpetrated by our highest political leaders, or by those in positions of power in giant corporations. Or consider the lies that nations tell about their intentions and about what’s really going on in the world? How could you possibly say that our capacity for “lying to myself” is more damaging or more immoral that that?

Yet I believe that what I claim is true. Lying to ourselves can be more dangerous and damaging than all of the above. The lies that we tell ourselves can end up disconnecting us from reality in ways that are incredibly dangerous and painful. Also, often, the “big lies” that are told by governments, totalitarian political parties or manipulative corporations are so destructive because they build on lies that we have told ourselves, where we find it too painful to face what is really the truth

What’s Going On When I’m Lying to Myself?

The expression “lying to ourselves” or lying to myself gets used fairly frequently, but what do we actually mean when we say it? As Harvard Prof. Michael I. Norton notes, it is “one of the most puzzling things humans do.” Empirical psychology provides a great deal of evidence that lying to ourselves, which psychology refers to as self-deception is a very, very frequent type of human behaviour. Here are a few examples of self-deception or lying to myself:

  • Willful Ignorance. One way to deceive myself is to simply avoid learning the facts. E.g., if I don’t want to face the fact that my brother-in-law earns more money than me, I can simply avoid looking at what houses cost in the area he lives in.
  • Denial. In the face of facts that are very hard to confront or bear, people can tell themselves, “It isn’t really happening”
  • False Self-Image. We can all hold on to a lot of illusions about our attributes and abilities, in an effort to boost our self-esteem.
  • Cherry Picking Facts. When we want to convince ourselves of something, it can be easy to focus on the facts that support it, and ignore the facts that tend to refute it.

These are only a few of the many ways in which we can engage in self-deception. Now, we don’t tend to think of them as “ways I’m lying to myself”. But doesn’t mean that they aren’t.

The Hidden Hazards of Self-Deception

Some commentators emphasize that there can be situations where there is genuine benefit in lying to myself. For instance, the person who is in denial about a traumatic state of affairs may need that denial, for a time, to keep from being completely undone by the situation. Nonetheless, self-deception can lead to a great many painful and dangerous situations.

Self deception, “lying to myself” is often a big component in addictive behaviours. An individual may tell themselves that they aren’t addicted or that they “can’t help it”, or any of a number of other lies that just keep the addiction going. Similarly, we may all tell ourselves lies when the alternative is accepting a truth that is altogether too threatening or painful.

For instance, Jungian analyst Murray Stein describes how, as can often occur, a person faces a very difficult and defeating situation in the middle years of their life. Rather than accepting what has happened and starting to chart a new course for themselves as a part of a healthy midlife transition, the individual tells him- or herself that nothing has changed:

Who has not known a [person] whose climb to the top was to everyone but [him- or herself] decisively halted, yet who kept dressing up to go to work and forcing [herself] to believe that this was only a pause in the ascent, as [she] continued pursuing the same goal, all the while being profoundly uncommitted to it…? ~Murray Stein, In Midlife

As we can see, in midlife, or in any major life transition, self deception can be a powerful disruptor of our individuation process, the vital journey to becoming and expressing who we really are at the most fundamental level.

Self-Compassion and the Truth

The truth can be hard, yet compassion for oneself is rooted in what Jungian analyst John Beebe describes as a sense of “integrity in depth”. It’s only when we’re committed to the journey of being truthful to ourselves that we are truly embarked on the journey to wholeness. Jungian depth psychotherapy is fundamentally about this commitment to being truthful with oneself, to moving beyond lying to oneself, and to cultivating compassion—without apology—for who we really are.

Wishing you every good thing on your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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Individuation, Individual Choice and Crowd Psychology

January 11th, 2021 · crowd psychology

This last week, along with all of our other challenges, we have had a stark object lesson in crowd psychology and the madness of crowds. How is this important for us, now?


Not surprisingly, I’m referring to the recent riot at the Capital in Washington, D.C. In this shocking event, many otherwise ordinary people were swept up by crowd psychology into a mass storming of the primary seat of legislative government in the U.S. This led to very graphic negative consequences. These included the deaths of five individuals and a collective sense of desecration shared by many Americans, and by pro-democracy people the world over.

Stress, High Emotion & Group Think

It’s a fact that, in times of great stress and anxiety, events like this riot are more likely to occur. When individuals are highly stressed, and there are powerful emotions at play, as was the case at this pro-Trump gathering, it becomes easier for individuals to get caught up in crowd psychology, and to surrender their own personal sense of judgment and decision-making to the mob. Such crowds can often be driven by the responses of a small group of possibly irrational and emotionally disturbed individuals. It is certainly often the case that such a mob will function at the lowest common denominator of morality and responsibility.

As we look at the recent events at the Capitol, we’re reminded of the words of Charles MacKay in his 1841 study of crowd psychology:

[People], it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

MacKay, Charles, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds [not to be confused with a much more recent book entitled simply “The Madness of Crowds”}

Collective Psychosis and the Need to “Hang Onto Ourselves”

C.G. Jung was well aware of this tendency in human beings, and watched from Switzerland as it played out with particular ferocity in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In his writings he used the term “collective psychosis” to describe the way in which individuals are prone to surrendering their own intellect and feeling to the inferior, crude and often aggressive mindset of the crowd. As Jung famously put it, using the gender terms of his age,

…it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer, but man [sic] himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics.

One of the more poignant comments on the events at the Capitol came, unexpectedly, from former California Governor and movie superstar Arnold Schwartzenegger. Among other things, he movingly describes growing up in post-Nazi Austria, in the aftermath of the defeat of the Nazis. He describes the way that his father and many others of his age group, had been caught up in the rise of Nazism and misled by its lies and cruelties. He relates how they ended up as essentially broken men, living in great remorse, unable to escape the condemnation of their consciences for participating in something so horrific.

It’s easy to see how people could get caught up in the Nazi hysteria. Similarly, the Capitol rioters, many of whom are probably decent ordinary individuals, got caught up in something that turned ugly and went horribly out of control.

As noted above, this sort of distorted thinking and temporary loss of sanity often accompanies times of great stress, peril and uncertainty. As we face the difficulties of our current situation, how can we avoid falling into this kind of crowd- or mob-think?

What About Us, Now?

We Canadians could easily lapse into a sense of smug superiority and feel that the events that we’ve witnessed in the U.S. this week could never happen in “Our Home and Native Land”. That would be very naive. In times of great stress and uncertainty, the potential for losing ourselves in pack- or herd-think becomes much greater.

This could take the form of something as dramatic as the riot at the U.S. Capitol, but crowd psychology could also show up in forms that are less vivid, but perhaps no less destructive. One of the ways this appears is in black-and-white, us-and-them thinking of the kind that plays so great a role in political extremism, fanatic religious cults, and other groups that negate the value of the individual.

It could also include things as apparently innocuous as mindlessly giving in to pressure to conform from family, social group, neighbourhood or peer group. It even turns up in the kind of pandemic herd mentality that results in hoarding and irrational stockpiling of consumer items which are not in short supply, as UBC’s Prof. Steven Taylor has documented.

Jung emphasized that there is an impetus deep in each of us to individuate, to become conscious of our own individual nature, and to live in accord with “the law of our own being”. An important part of that work is to become as conscious as we possibly can of our own motivations and our own real nature, and to live in integrity with our own deepest values and nature. To live in this manner will lead us to continually confront and reckon with the impulses in us that could seduce us to mindlessly run with the herd–the essence of crowd psychology.

The path of individuation is fundamental to our journey towards wholeness, and forms a central part of the work done with clients by Jungian depth psychotherapists.

With very best wishes for the lifelong journey of becoming yourself,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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Overcoming COVID: Holding the Hope; Coping with Impatience

January 4th, 2021 · holding the hope

COVID has been with us for quite a while now and we’re all finding that demanding. Holding the hope that we’ll move beyond it can be even harder.

Naturally, everyone wants the pandemic to be done and over. This is especially true now that we have arrived at the early days of the New Year. As it has since the time of the Babylonians, and even before, New Year’s celebrations symbolize that the world is being made all over again, fresh and new. That symbolism of the renewal of the world takes on an even greater power for all of us at this time, as we yearn to see the world freed of COVID, and our lives returned to their former richness and freedom—renewed indeed.

Things Seem to be Moving Slowly

The problem for many of us is that the new post-COVID world is being born, but it’s taking some time to get here. There’s a very big difference between wanting that renewal to occur, and actually seeing it take place.

At the present time, we’re dealing with a very mixed picture. It seems like the world now has three vaccines which experts view as being effective against COVID-19, which is very welcome news. However, it seems likely that it’s going to take quite a while before enough of the population is vaccinated to turn the tide and bring about the end of COVID. Simultaneously, we’re dealing with record or near-record levels of COVID infection and hospitalization, here in Ontario, and in many places worldwide.

Many of us are in the position of trying to have hope and be optimistic about the future. Many of us also find ourselves in the position of being frustrated and discouraged about how long it’s taking us to get through this COVID-19 period. In terms of what science knows about how epidemics play out, this is not surprising. As U. of Toronto epidemologist Ashley Tuite puts it, “There won’t be a V-day where everyone runs into the streets and hugs…. Just a gradual return to normal.”

Andre Picard, writing in the Globe and Mail, neatly sums up our situation:

History tells us that pandemics don’t have Hollywood endings. The denouement tends to be slow and messy and COVID-19 will certainly be no exception.

COVID Makes It Complicated

We can take this in intellectually, but where does it leave us on an emotional, or even a spiritual level? We are dealing with a collective major life transition, a situation where the way out requires a great deal of patience and perseverance over a long period of time. This is not something that comes naturally to humans.

Our nervous system is very good at responding to immediate, visible threats. Our ancestors in the stone age would have known very well how to respond to an immediate threat like a sabre-toothed tiger. Similarly, Londoners who faced the extended aerial bombardment of the Blitz in World War II were able to stay motivated for a long time because the threat and its effects were very clearly visible. But how do you maintain optimism and resilience in the face of an invisible foe, when you’re in a situation of social isolation?

Hold the Hope; Find the Meaning

It’s easy in a situation like the present for people to respond from a place of anxiety, and that’s something that occurs with great frequency at present. One form that anxiety takes is denying the existence of the threat. If I simply convince myself that COVID isn’t a threat, or is greatly exaggerated, then my anxiety will be lessened. I suspect that this dynamic is occurring in a lot of people who are “anti-maskers”, or who oppose social distancing, or who want businesses and public events to open up and “just be normal”,

But what if we recognize that we can’t allow ourselves to move into that kind of denial? How can we keep ourselves from lapsing into despair, or finding the lockdown unbearable?

This is a question of great importance for the many people who “just want to get through this thing”, and keep on “holding the hope”. There are a number of different and important answers that include things such as maintaining healthy social connections and getting exercise and healthy sleep. Yet, there is one dimension of situations such as this that psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl highlights that merits out attention:

Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Certainly Jungian psychology would agree with this assessment. From a Jungian perspective, there is a strong link between having a sense of hope, and finding meaning in our situation. This may be an important time to take stock of what it is that provides a sense of meaning in your individual life. That could be connection to people whom we love, religious or spiritual values, commitment to particular ideals or beliefs, or so much more. At this difficult time, exploring and committing ourselves to what we find meaningful is an essential source of hope.

Exploring the sources of meaning and hope in our individual lives will be one of the most important things that each of us does in this New Year of 2021, for ourselves, for those we love, and for the wider world.

I wish you every blessing and good thing in this coming year, and may the year find you “holding the hope” for your own individual journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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Holiday Mental Health & 2020 Holiday Disappointment

December 14th, 2020 · accepting who you are, holiday disappointment, holiday mental health

Holiday mental health can be a genuine concern, and this year, many people are dealing with an especially high level of holiday disappointment.

Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on (Creative Commons 2.0 Licence)

Psychotherapists are acutely aware that the Holiday period produces high levels of stress, and of anxiety and depression, for very many people. It’s one of those paradoxes in our collective life. We’re supposed to be in high spirits, and in a celebratory mood for the “most wonderful time of the year”. Yet this season can be full of disappointment, and of difficult memories for many people. These are only compounded by the collective expectation that we are all to be full of mirth, and to quote Paul McCartney, “simply having a wonderful Christmas time”.

That’s the general psychological background of the Holiday season. Yet, this year we have a whole series of other factors to consider, due to the presence of the pandemic in our midst. We are confronting Holidays where the size of gatherings will be severely limited. Also, many activities that we might associate with the Holiday period—restaurants, theatre and other shows, movies—are all very seriously curtailed. It will be a challenge for many of us to avoid a feeling of holiday disappointment this year.

The Pressure to be Happy

There is a great collective pressure to be happy around the holidays, which can be very tough on people. There is an understandably strong yearning to make the Holidays as rich and memorable as possible, but it can be experienced as a very cruel kind of demand by those who are dealing with difficult things in their lives. This is true for many people who’ve experienced trauma or the loss of a loved one, or for those, like many children of alcoholics, who may have difficult memories associated with the Holiday period. It can also be a very difficult time for many who are undergoing major challenges, such as illness or the breakup of a marriage or family unit during the Holiday season.

And against this background, we’re confronting all the uncertainties and restrictions of the pandemic. This year’s Holiday season will be wildly different from any that we’ve experienced in our lifetimes, due to the range of restrictions that many of us will encounter. For many who feel a strong pressure to be happy in the Holiday season, the demands of the 2020 season may well compound the difficulties that they face.

Acknowledging the Feelings

It may be, for many, that the net effect of this combination of the pressure to be happy in the Holidays, and the unique difficulties of the 2020 Holiday season will be even stronger pressures to put on a happy face for the outer world throughout this Holiday season. This may mean repressing the feelings of holiday disappointment that they experience.

The difficulty with repressing or not acknowledging our feelings of Holiday disappointment is that, unacknowledged, they can have a deep impact on our Holiday mental health. By not consciously recognizing and accepting our disappointment and hurt about this years Holidays, we may find that our Holiday season is blighted by a pervasive sense of hollowness and flatness, no matter how much we try to seem “merry” to those close to us, and to the wider world.

What Has Meaning During the Holidays?

It may be essential to confront our Holiday disappointment, and to acknowledge what we really feel. But, as UBC psychology Professor Elizabeth Dunn expressed it in a recent Globe & Mail interview, you may need to “let yourself be disappointed, but then say, what can I do that I really care about“? [bold and italics mine]

The question of what we really care about—what really has meaning—is key to finding value in our 2020 Holidays. We will need to confront our grief that this Holiday period doesn’t bring many of the good things that we have either experienced in Holidays past, or had hoped to experience this year. We will also need to look at our power, at the capacity that we still have, right here and now, to bring about good things in our lives and the lives of others. This will involve engaging, and perhaps discovering capacities for connection, expression and creativity that we possess, and using them to bring about results that we find meaningful.

For Jungian depth psychotherapists, questions of what we care about as individuals, what really has meaning for us, are central not only to our “holiday mental health” but much more fundamentally to the whole process of discovering who we individually and uniquely are. Jungians refer to this as our journey towards wholeness. It may well be that engaging with a sensitive and attuned Jungian depth psychotherapist is part, not only of a meaningful Holiday experience, but of an ongoing process of finding meaning in our individual lives.

With every good Holiday wish, and with warmest wishes for your individual journey towards wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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How to Feel Secure During the 2020 Holidays

November 30th, 2020 · how to feel secure

The question of how to feel secure is usually not something we would especially associate with the holidays—but this year is different.

Usually the Holidays are a time when we mostly don’t have to worry about how to feel secure. For many of us, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or other seasonal holidays are associated with feeling very secure, at least most of the time. However, this year, we may be having feelings that are at odds with this.

Most of us are heartened by the recent news of vaccines that are now just about ready to be manufactured and distributed, but, for many of us, there’s the feeling that we are facing a long winter of lockdown ahead of us. The holidays are normally a period when we’re cheered by contact with relatives and friends. However, this year, things have a different feel, as for many of us there will be restrictions on the number of people we can gather with for celebrations—in many cases, only one or two people beyond those who live in a household…

Easy to be On Our Guard

Given these pandemic realities, it’s easy to feel like our holidays might be disappointing. In fact, many people experience the present time as feeling very insecure, even though the holidays are coming. The uncertainty of the present situation can certainly put us on our guard.

Human beings, like all other creatures with a nervous system, have an innate system of responses to threats. We may fight back, physically or verbally, we may retreat or run away, or when the threat seems particularly grave, we may “shut down” or freeze. When we’re confronted with a unfamiliar and potentially threatening situation, like at present, it’s easy for us to respond from this kind of hypersensitive place.

If we look around carefully, we can observe all of these characteristic reactions as we try to get through the COVID period—fight, flight and freeze, sometimes in combination! When we hear of individuals responding with physical violence to those who either do or don’t wear masks, or when we find ourselves retreating from going out into the community, or when we find it hard to get up and go in the morning, we can see the presence of ancient responses to threat. It seems very likely that these responses will be with us throughout the Holiday period, and into the New Year.

Denial is NOT How to Feel Secure

Whether these responses and reactions are our own, or those of other people, they will influence the Holiday season, along with all the other experiences of unfamiliarity or strangeness that we might have as a result of the changes that have come about through COVID-19. We are all living with the reality of insecurity and anxiety that the pandemic creates, and inevitably, it changes the way that we experience the Holiday season.

As we go through the Holidays, we can try and pretend that “nothing is wrong”, but it’s apparent that things really are quite different this year. If we try to make out that this is “just like every other Holiday season”, we’re not likely to convince anyone—not even ourselves. It can be easy at times like this to try to deny uncomfortable realities, but we still continue to experience them.

Belonging and Meaning

What can possibly sustain us in this holiday period? What can help us to hang onto a sense of normalcy as we enter this season, when so many things in our world seem more than a little abnormal?

Well, one thing that we’ve learned as the result of the work of renowned brain-body researcher Prof. Stephen Porges and others is that, in addition to the other innate responses to threat in our nervous system, we have a “higher social brain”. This causes certain neural circuitry to be activated when we hear a calm, gentle voice, see smiles or relaxed facial features, and/or experience the calm gestures of others.

In short, we get calmer and feel more secure in the presence of others who give us relaxed “social safety cues”. We can even give ourselves social safety cues that will help ourselves, and others near us to feel secure and safe. In addition, just feeling compassion for others when we’re in their presence can lead to us giving social safety cues to others. Many of these social cues can even be given to others over online connections!

Also, connection with meaningful symbols can provide a sense of security and meaning, as Jungians continually emphasize. These might be symbols that belong to a particular faith or social group, symbols shared by a family, or even symbols that we have discovered to be personally meaningful. (Some of these can occur in dreams, in the arts, or in other parts of our life and experience.)

Some of most important exploration of how to feel secure can occur in the context of an affirming and supportive relationship with a well-attuned depth psychotherapist. This can help us to cultivate a sense of security through the holiday season, the time of COVID, and in our journey to wholeness well beyond that.

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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Taking the Responsibility: What’s Enough & What’s Too Much?

November 23rd, 2020 · taking the responsibility

It might seem odd that a post on “taking the responsibility” is in my series on “Emotions of the Pandemic”, but there’s a good reason for including it.

That’s because “taking the responsibility” is connected with an individual’s feelings of responsibility. While “responsibility” certainly does have a thinking component, it also has a substantial emotional or feeling component. When we “feel responsible” for doing something, helping someone, or whatever may be the case, we are genuinely having feelings, meaning that—rightly or wrongly—we are positively valuing the responsibility or connection.

Sometimes, it’s entirely appropriate for us to be “taking the responsibility”. If I get into my car to drive somewhere, it’s entirely appropriate for me to take control of the vehicle and drive it in a manner that doesn’t endanger other people or others’ property. But if I started to feel responsible for how everyone in my neighbourhood drives, and I laid awake nights worrying about how I could get all these other people to drive in the manner that I feel they should, we might well say that I was taking the responsibility for something that I shouldn’t, because someone else should be looking out for those concerns.

It’s quite easy for people to end up taking the responsibility for more than they should. This is true in general, but it’s particularly true in the era of COVID-19.

Feeling Overly Responsible

Taking the responsibility for appropriate things in our lives is a good thing. Carrying appropriate responsibility is actually something that empowers us, and helps us to bring more of what we want into our lives. This is the opposite of a victim stance, where we blame other people or forces for the way that things are in our lives, and passively give the power to them, and just let things happen to us. In contrast to this, appropriate responsibility allows me to feel that I can take control, use my power and make things occur in my individual life that suit who I am and what I want.

In contrast, feeling overly responsible is very similar, in some ways, to a victim stance. If I feel responsible for something that I can’t control or change, I can end up feeling powerless in very much the same way as someone who is wrapped up in seeing themselves as a victim. However, taking the responsibility for too much has the added disadvantage that I may well feel guilty or blameworthy for something that I shouldn’t even be taking on, and that I don’t really have the power to change. It may be apparent that feeling overly responsible can also be accompanied by a great deal of anxiety as I ruminate or obsess about situations where I have limited or no power.

Examining Our Underlying Feelings

It can be challenging for people to realize when they are taking the responsibility for something that they really shouldn’t. It can also be challenging to face the real emotional causes for being overly responsible. The difficult question is, what emotional factors led the individual to feel that they have to take the additional responsibility.

In many cases, it’s necessary to look at someone’s experience in their family of origin to understand the forces that keep them locked into taking the responsibility when they really shouldn’t have to do it. The goal here is not to “blame our parents”. Yet the fact is that our experience in the family of origin has a huge impact on our personality and on the way in which we experience the whole of our lives.

Even the best of parents and families of origin are able to give us certain things we need, but not the whole of everything we need to move through our lives. We may find that our experience in the family of origin led us to experience heightened sense of guilt and responsibility that leads us into feeling overly responsible in the present. Clinical psychologist George Simon, an expert on manipulation, refers to what he calls “covert aggressions”, which might include phrases like the following:

  • “I’m counting on you” (using guilt);
  • “I really need you to do this” (playing the victim);
  • “Only you can do this” (guilting and misrepresenting); or,
  • “You’re such a good son/daughter” (flattery and guilt)

We may find that we’re harbouring a great deal of emotion about this, both in terms of guilt and fear, but also feelings of anger at having our boundaries violated by excessive demands for responsibility.

For some people, the pandemic lockdown that we’re experiencing may be a time when they experience a heightened sense of responsibility for things that are beyond their individual control, perhaps combined with feelings of guilt and fear. If you find yourself overwhelmed with demands at this time, perhaps including things that are really beyond your control, it might be time to ask whether you have a tendency to take on too much responsibility.

Taking the Responsibility—Responsibly!

Taking appropriate responsibility for our own lives, for the commitments we make, and for our own journey to wholeness, is a key part of what it is to be human. Yet, it’s an equally key part of that journey that we find the means to extend compassion to ourselves, and to not be overly responsible. Working with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist can be an excellent support as we sort through what authentically taking the responsibility means for our lives.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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

November 16th, 2020 · am I a loser

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

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

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

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

Toxic Labeling

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

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

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

Life as a High Stakes Crap Shoot

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

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

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

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

Our Unique Worth

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

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

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

With warm wishes for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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