Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Improving Your Self Esteem, Right in the Middle of Lockdown

May 3rd, 2021 · improving your self esteem

“Improving your self esteem” is a subject that’s always important and relevant, but it takes on even greater meaning in the midst of situations like our current lockdown.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Self esteem is a complex thing, with many different dimensions. We all have a lot of different individual factors that influence whether we feel good about ourselves, or not. One thing we know for sure is that the isolation, anxiety and unique stresses of this lockdown period have challenged a lot of people’s self esteem and basic positive sense of themselves. As Prof. Thiago Matias and colleagues put it in their paper “Human needs in COVID-19 isolation”,

These are extraordinary times. Throughout history, there have been plenty of pandemics but the human response to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is unprecedented. It is estimated that close to 4 billion people are living in social isolation during this mother of all pandemics…. The cumulative impacts of social distancing will be truly profound.

As these authors tell us, we know that connecting with others normally helps individuals to regulate their emotions, cope with stress, and remain resilient. Combined with other factors, the lack of these things could easily have a sharply negative impact on our self esteem. 

To Value Ourselves

But what is self-esteem really based on, anyway? What does genuine positive self-esteem look like?

Actually, we generally know healthy self-esteem when we see it. We can often feel it when we experience any of the following in another person—or in ourselves, s/he :

  • is able to set and keep boundaries;
  • is not afraid of feedback or conflict;
  • is assertive without being controlling;
  • doesn’t fear failure;
  • doesn’t need to people-please, or curry approval;
  • doesn’t have feelings of inferiority;
  • is not overly perfectionistic; and, above all,
  • accepts her- or himself.

A person with positive self-esteem might well acknowledge that regular contact with people can bring validation from others, and would accept that getting affirmative support from others is a good thing. Yet a person with positive self-esteem has a certain attitude toward validation that comes from others.

Validation from Others is Good, But…

A person with positive self-esteem may welcome the positive regard of others, but there’s something s/he won’t do. Individuals can feel they have positive self-esteem, and never realize that the only reason they feel that way is because others approve of them. In such people, the positive regard of others is acting like an air pump attached to a balloon with a hole in it. If we remove the air pump, the balloon will slowly deflate. Similarly, if a completely other-directed person loses the approval of others, what seemed like a solid personality will be filled with self-doubt and loss of direction.

Affirming and Respecting Our True Identity

True self-esteem welcomes the approval of others, but doesn’t depend on it. Rather, self-esteem depends on finding our most fundamental source of approval within ourselves. The renowned humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow asserted that, when our most fundamental needs are met, it becomes possible for us to strive for our individual sense of meaning and fulfillment. In Maslow’s view, the ultimate source of self-esteem comes from striving to be ourselves. As he stated, using the conventions of his day, “What a man [sic] can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”. This is very like the statement of C.G. Jung that “The only meaningful life is a life that strives for the individual realization — absolute and unconditional— of its own particular law.”

What is your unique route to self-esteem? How can you begin, even during lockdown, to honour and respect your own unique being?

Many of us are currently going through a time that is very challenging in several different ways that intertwine. All of these different stressors and challenges may impact the ways in which we value who we fundamentally are, and our personal story. The importance of finding ways to be compassionate to ourselves, and to cultivate deep respect for our personal journey towards wholeness has never been greater.

Depth psychotherapy is a valuable tool for many who are striving for a deeper appreciation of who they are. A Jungian approach, which emphasizes the importance of seeing our own unique lives against the background of the universal themes of human life, and finding our own personal story or myth, has tremendous value in a time like the present, which asks us such deep questions about our personal journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Right Here, Right Now: Breaking Out of a Rut During COVID

April 26th, 2021 · breaking out of a rut

Sometimes, breaking out of a rut is very important. It’s a piece of psychological work that you just have to do to stay true to who you really are. And during COVID, we can all fall into some pretty deep ruts.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

(SPOILER ALERT: while this article has some real relevance in the midst of the COVID lockdown, getting stuck in a rut is something that can easily happen to us at any time!)

You might think that things would work the other way, that, with our regular activities outside of our homes on hold, we would have a lot of free time, and so there would be opportunities to explore new things and go in new directions. While this might be true in theory, I know that my clients’ experience during this major life transition is very different, and so is my own!

One of the things that I enjoy and find meaningful is creative writing. I try and do it on a very regular basis, because I feel that the effort I put into it adds a lot to my life.

Pre-COVID, I had a pattern that I would follow for writing. Not far from where I live is my favourite cafe. I used to schedule specific blocks of time, at the same time each week, when I would leave my office for the day, head over to my cafe, get my favourite non-fat latte, sit at my favourite table with its view onto a busy streetscape, and write. It was a great way of marking a shift from my daily work mode to the special time that I devote to writing.

That seems like quite a long time ago now. Along came COVID and lockdown. It wouldn’t be possible any longer for me to go and sit in “my cafe” and write, until the pandemic is over. So I would sit at home and try to write, but would find it so hard to shift away from work and get into my writing “headspace”. It was clear to me that I was getting stuck in a rut.

Breaking Out of a Rut Means Accepting That You’re in One

As clients have talked about their pandemic experiences, I’ve heard many echoes of this story. People are feeling the disappearance of the usual things that demarcate the limits of time, such as the commute from daytime workplace to evening home or family time, or the going out to restaurants, theatres or activities that make “weekend time” different from “weekday time”. Without these markers it’s easy to just drift.

When you’re stuck in a rut, it can really sap your life energy. It’s not uncommon for the sense of being in a rut to be associated with depression, anxiety, or both. In such a state, it can easily happen that life starts to feel colourless and meaningless. We just get up and do it again, going through the day. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes we rationalize, and tell ourselves that things will get better—but often we can be vague on how exactly that will happen. We may engage in magical thinking—“Any day now, things will get better.”

However, for things to actually get better, it’s essential for us to acknowledge that we’re in a rut. This is something that we may need to face with real compassion for ourselves, as it can be easy to go to a place of self-blame and regret, which can suck away our emotional energy. Instead we need to do what we can to focus our energy to move beyond this stuck place.

Taking It Deeper

To find the courage to acknowledge that “I’m in a rut” means accepting that life might not be what I want it to be at this point. To get beyond that, and begin to fix the problem may require going deeper, as depth psychotherapy affirms. It may be essential to ask oneself why am I in a rut?

Part of the answer to that question may be “We’re in a pandemic.” However the sense of being in a rut may also relate to a number of bigger questions, such as;

  • What parts of life have genuine meaning for me?
  • What are the major sources of stress in my life?
  • What am I doing in my life, just because I don’t want to feel that I’ve wasted the time or energy that I’ve invested in it?
  • What parts of myself have I yet to explore?

Breaking Out

I was eventually able to find ways to preserve blocks of time for my creative writing. Just as importantly, I was able to re-connect with my motivation for writing in the first place, and to recognize that it’s a very fundamental and very important part of me. I don’t see any Pulitzer Prizes for me in the near future, but that’s okay: the writing allows a part of me to be alive that doesn’t otherwise get to surface, and, for me, that’s precious.

I can’t go out to “my cafe” to do the writing, but I’ve found some simple rituals to do that mark my change from “being a therapist” time to “creative writing time”. Changing location, and putting on specific music are two of the several things that mark that transition.

A number of clients have had similar experiences in breaking out of a rut during the pandemic. This has often involved individuals finding new ways to acknowledge and honour what has lasting value in their lives, and to explore the parts of themselves that are seeking to emerge, even in the midst of a pandemic. Breaking out of a rut can certainly be in service of the journey toward wholeness.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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At This Point in COVID-19: Living with Loss

April 19th, 2021 · living with loss

When it comes to our experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of us are “living with loss”.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

The experience of living through COVID-19 and the pandemic has led to pretty significant losses for very many of us, and yet we may not be used to thinking of them as losses. The pandemic may lead to changes in our pattern of life, and we may think of these as impositions, or as adaptations or adjustments that we would rather not make. Yet often, they can be more than this.

Today, I was out on an errand, and I drove by a major intersection in Oakville, where a large colourful resto-pub with an outdoor beer garden is located. It was a pleasant enough early spring day. On a normal spring Sunday, you’d expect to see families enjoying a lunch or brunch, and groups of friends laughing, joking and enjoying one another’s company, with friendly hospitable staff winding their way between the tables. But, alas, today there was none of that, because, once again, we’re facing a stay-at-home order here in Ontario, which has closed down restaurants for all but take out.

As I drove by and realized this, I felt a distinct sense of sadness. Why, exactly? It’s not that I personally couldn’t go sit at the outdoor seating. It was much more that something that I’d expect to see as part of the delight of the gradually lengthening days of spring was painfully absent. Initially, I didn’t recognize that there was a dimension of grief around this experience—yet it was most certainly there.

Many of our experiences of loss and grief at this time have this kind of initially hidden character. It isn’t until we really acknowledge and stay with what we’re feeling that we can really understand what’s going on.

What Loss or Grief Does to Us

It may sound like playing with words, but the experience of loss leaves us bereft. There is the sense of a “hole” or absence in our lives of which we may or may not be conscious. As renowned grief expert Dr. William J. Worden asserts, there are four challenges with which loss or grief confronts us:

  • Accepting the reality of the loss;
  • Experiencing the pain of the loss;
  • Adjusting to the new situation; and,
  • Emotionally investing in the new state of affairs.

Unlike some models of grief, Worden sees these four challenges as states that we can go back and forth between rather than stages that we pass through in a sequence.

As I hinted at above, with COVID-19 issues, we can get stuck in failing to accept or acknowledge the reality of the losses that we’ve incurred. It can be very easy to not recognize or acknowledge that we’ve actually experienced a loss. We write it off as an “inconvenience” or a “frustration”. When it involves our sense of social connection to others, or our sense of security and and our sense of a predictable, manageable future, what we’re experiencing is not inconvenience—it’s loss.

Heaviness, Hope and Self-Care

Depth psychotherapists know that individuals living with loss are often burdened by a sense of immobilization and heaviness. Again, this can often go unnoticed by the person suffering or grieving the loss. This is especially true with the sense of loss that stems from many different situations in the pandemic, because people are often completely unsure of whether it’s legitimate for them to acknowledge or grieve any of their losses. So, what people are often left with is a sense of heaviness or stuckness that they just can’t explain. We commonly don’t know what to do with it.

As grief experts often observe, the “heaviness” of grief can sap our motivation to reach out to others. This can be a particularly big difficulty during the pandemic, when we’re already challenged to connect with others as a result of social distancing, closures etc. It can be essential for us to creatively find some means of social connection, as a means of sharing our losses and finding meaning within them.

Last week’s blog post discussed the importance of social contact in maintaining our hope, and that is also an important part of living with loss. Another thing that is essential to keeping our hope is self-care. Working out what exactly that means for each of us individually, and then developing some concrete ways to care for ourselves is an essential part of self-compassion in our place and time.

Meaning and Our Losses

Also, we should not lose sight of the element of meaning on the journey of living with loss. Finding meaning in what we experience is centrally important, especially as we deal with grief and as we go through major life transitions.

Often in life, finding meaning in what we are undergoing involves exploring what is undiscovered. It can often be that learning something, or exploring something previously unknown is a way of finding meaning in the face of loss. This might mean exploring something unfamiliar or creating a new pattern or routine in our lives. It might also mean deepening an already existing commitment to something valuable, and exploring aspects of ourselves that we haven’t opened up before.

One of the fundamental elements of Jungian depth psychotherapy is finding meaning in our individual lives. This certainly includes the centrally important soul work of finding meaning in our experiences of living with loss. A supportive therapeutic relationship can be central to finding the means of living with loss during the pandemic period and beginning to integrate it into our journey to wholeness.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Keep on Hoping: Making Hope Concrete in an Uncertain Time

April 12th, 2021 · keep on hoping

“Keep on hoping” is the buzzword of this time of lockdown. Yet, when we make hope concrete or solid, for ourselves or others, it changes the way we feel.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

It’s essential at this demanding time of major life transition that we find concrete ways to support ourselves, both independently, and in connection with one another. It’s still a time when we can find ourselves bombarded by discouraging news, in some ways more than ever, even though there’s some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. It’s important for us to connect to something that can be life-giving.

I’ve written about hope a fair bit over the last while, and there’s a reason for that. There’s an archetypal dimension to hope. Jung recognized that hope comes from some more fundamental place in us than the ego. Yet we can do things for ourselves that support hope and invite courage—and right now is a very important time to be doing that.

My Experience Getting the Vaccine

As many of you either have, or soon will, I was fortunate enough to get the first shot of my COVID vaccination at OTMH in Oakville this weekend. I’m mentioning this not to show how lucky I am, or anything of the sort, but to notice something that I think is important about the experience of getting the vaccine.

To be completely frank, I was actually approaching the prospect of vaccination with a degree of trepidation. I had heard so much about side effects and I was worried that the situation might be disorganized or chaotic. When I arrived, however, the process was simple and straightforward, and we went through the process quickly, thanks to the efficient and courteous hospital staff. We soon found ourselves in the post-vaccination waiting room, and after a few minutes we got to leave.

While we were sitting there, all socially distanced, waiting for the all-clear to leave, I felt that we were infected with something: hope. It seemed to me that there was a shared feeling that maybe we were starting to see some daylight. I don’t think that I was the only one who came away from that experience with a sense of (dare I say it?)—joy.

Hope is Something We Do Together

How can you get a sense of joy from getting a needle? I think that the strong emotions that people feel on getting vaccinated generally have to do with the long wait, and with the sense that maybe, finally things are starting to get somewhat better. As San Jose, CA therapist Melinda Olsen put it in a recent HuffPost article:

After I got the shot I started to tear up; it felt like there was finally some hope after [endless] months of personal difficulty and collective trauma due to the pandemic.

There is also something incredibly powerful about a shared community of hope. Even though on Saturday morning, the group of us gathered, waiting to get the “green light” to leave after our vaccination were a group of people essentially thrown together by circumstance, there was a sense of something shared in this sense that maybe, just maybe we’re starting to see some daylight and we’re ever so slowly starting to move towards it.

Renewal in Shared Trauma: Keep on Hoping

The American poet Emily Dickinson touches on something profound and fundamentally human in her deceptively simple poem “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”:

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

“And never stops at all”—this is a sure sign of something archetypal, as Jung would tell us. Hope is something present at the very base of the human soul. Beyond our intellectual assessment of situations, our weighing of odds, hope “sings the tune without the words”. We humans have an immense capacity to sustain hope, to engender it in others and to keep on hoping. Together, we have a vast capacity to hold hope as a shared thing.

As we move through the pandemic and eventually bring it to a close, the capacity to keep on hoping is one of our most precious gifts. The process of working with a depth psychotherapist may prove to be an invaluable aid to our individual capacity to keep on hoping, and to share our hope with others.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Hiding Depression, Part 2: the Signs of Hidden Depression

March 29th, 2021 · signs of hidden depression

As we saw in Part 1 of this series, hiding depression genuinely is a thing that we can end up doing. But, where does it hide, and what does that do to us?

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Depression can often appear in hidden forms, and, in a substantial number of cases, it may even be hidden from the awareness of the person who has it. So, when we’re hiding depression, what does it actually look like? What are the signs of hidden depression?

The Many Forms of Depression

There are many possible signs of hidden depression. Some of the more visible indicators are described below.

Changed patterns of sleeping, eating and drinking. Often hidden depression can manifest when a person sleeps, eats or drinks in a manner that is unusual for that person. This can entail sleeping or eating in unusual patterns or unusual amounts—either too much or too little. Similarly, if you catch yourself drinking in unusual amounts, or at unusual times, it might be important to see if this is related to anxiety or depression.

Forced “Happiness”. If you become aware that you’re wearing a strained “happy face”, or that you’re trying very hard to appear happy when you’re in the company of others, you might be engaged in “forced happiness”. Similarly, if you find that you’re trying to avoid spending too long with people, it might be important to ask if this is because you don’t want them to see your real mood.

Feeling continuously tired. Very frequently, those who are struggling with depression experience a state of near-continual exhaustion. Even if they have regular sleep, they may wake up feeling exhausted. Lacking another explanation, people may even blame themselves, and feel that they must be hopelessly lazy, or some other character flaw.

Preoccupied with “deep questions”. Don’t get me wrong: asking deep questions about life can be a very important thing to do! Yet, if you find yourself preoccupied with questions like “What’s it all about?” or “Does anything really matter?”, and you’re a person who doesn’t usually get engaged by these kinds of questions, it might be important to ask—what’s going on? It may be that you’re experiencing some signs of hidden depression. Simultaneously, it may also mean that you’re undergoing a major life transition, and there’s a need to really look at questions of value, purpose and meaning, which Jungian depth psychotherapists often see as an essential part of soul work.

Feeling things more intensely than normal. If you have hidden depression, you may find yourself experiencing emotions more intensely than you normally would. You might find yourself feeling sadness or anger or even attachment to others in uncharacteristic ways. If you do, it’s important to ask yourself if you’re finding yourself emotionally “triggered” in ways that are not usual for you.

Less optimistic than normal. It may also be that you find it harder to muster optimism than you have at previous times in your life. People who are depressed definitely tend to have a less rosy appraisal of life in general. If you note that your perspective is seeming to be more jaded than usual, it may be an indicator that you have some measure of depression.

Beyond Secret Depression

As Jungian analyst James Hollis tells us, in depression,

Life’s energy, life’s intentionality is thwarted, denied, violated… Life is warring against life….”

To begin to move beyond this thwarting, it’s necessary to become conscious of our depression, and to stop hiding it from ourselves. When we pass this milestone, we are starting to come to terms with our own real lives.

When we recognize the signs of hidden depression in our own approach to life, what begins to opens up is the opportunity to explore our feeling life together with the chance to extend compassion to the deeply wounded and unrealized aspects of ourselves that may lie beneath the surface of our depression. Andrew Samuels reminds us that Jung recognized that depression can be a damming up of psychic energy. When that damming up is eliminated, the energy released is available for creativity and life.

Many people find that working with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist can be an effective way to both understand the feeling dimension of depression and to move past the signs of hidden depression into a fuller experience of life.

Wishing you every good thing on your journey towards wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Are You Hiding Depression? Possibly Even from Yourself?

March 22nd, 2021 · hiding depression

Hiding depression? Is that a thing? Do people actually do that? The truth is that we certainly can do that, and sometimes, we can even hide our depression from ourselves.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Depression can be a many-sided thing. It can appear in many different shapes and forms, some of which can even fool or surprise experts. As UK psychiatrist Rebecca Lawrence asserts “Is [the hidden depressive’s] depression as real, or as valid, because they manage to go to work, to smile, even to crack a joke? I think it is.”

This is a different perspective than the one that typical stereotypes of depression would suggest. Rather than the sad, emotionally flat and energy-less images we might have of depression, the person who is hiding depression might well appear to be as lively, energetic and socially engaged as anyone else, and yet such a person might be harbouring unseen depression.

What could be going on in the inner life of such a person, who “presents”, as they say, in a way that is so much at odds with what is really going on in their inner life? Dr. Lawrence offers us an important insight:

[D]oes that mean they suffer less when smiling? No: in fact, the strain of keeping up appearances, the weight of a misplaced sense of responsibility to others, can be one of the most onerous aspects of mental ill health.

Dr. Rebecca Lawrence, “When depression wears a smile”, The Guardian, 18 March, 2021

This offers us an important insight: if we’re hiding depression, we may well be doing it for the other people in our lives. This misplaced sense of duty or care has the potential to do us serious and undeserved harm.

Am I Hiding Depression?

For some people who are dealing with the reality of hidden depression, the answer to the question “Am I hiding depression?” will be obvious. These individuals know that they are hiding depression from co-workers or people that they love. This hiding is done to protect these people, to keep things in a good place in the work place, or for some other consciously chosen reason. Yet there are many other people who are either semi-conscious or completely unaware of their own depression.

How do I know whether I’m hiding depression? Well, there are several common characteristics exhibited by individuals who are struggling with depression that is hidden.

People with hidden depression can often be perfectionistic. They are often people who set a very high bar for themselves in many areas of life. They have a sense of constantly measuring themselves against expectations—and there’s an inner critic ready to lacerate them with intense shame if they fall short.

People with hidden depression can actually often be “rigidly positive”. They can feel a strong face of shame or failure if they are anything other than unfailingly positive and optimistic. It can often be that any attitude of kindness to oneself, or acknowledging any of the difficulty or pain in one’s life is prohibited by a rigid, shaming inner critic.

Facing or expressing painful emotions can often be difficult for some one who is hiding depression. Sadness, anger, disappointment and grief often are all “no go zones” for the individual with hidden depression.

People hiding depression can have a very high need to feel that a situation is under control, and can feel intense anxiety when it is not. There is a very strong drive to feel in control, which individuals may keep very well hidden. Such a person may tend to worry a lot, and avoid situations where they cannot be in control.

An individual with hidden depression can have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. This means that the individual certainly has no trouble taking responsibility for things—but can all too easily end up blaming themselves.

Being Honest with Others—and with Myself

When people are hiding depression, it can be a real challenge to be fully honest and vulnerable with other people. It can also be really difficult sometimes to be fundamentally honest with themselves about their actual mood state. Yet it can be fundamentally important to listen to what others are saying about how we seem to them. Even more basically, it may be important to listen to ourselves, on all kinds of levels.

This certainly means stopping and trying to gain an understanding of how we really feel about things. Taking a few minutes to check in with yourself on a daily basis may be essential, including noticing things like energy levels, whether appetite is normal, length and quality of sleep, and just basically asking yourself how you’re feeling about things—and giving yourself an honest answer. Some people find that journalling every day on what is happening in their lives and how they feel about it can be an invaluable tool.

Staying in touch with yourself, dialoging with yourself… This may all be new territory. Yet it may have a lot of life in it.

If I’m Hiding Depression, What Can I Do About It?

If you’re concerned that you’re hiding depression, it can be a very good thing to speak about that concern with someone whom you really trust. Sometimes, it can be very valuable to talk to a relatable, knowledgeable and supportive counsellor or therapist, such as a Jungian depth psychotherapist. (NOTE: If you are in need of immediate support, please contact your local distress line. In my area, that is Distress Line Halton 905-849-4541) It can be of tremendous value to speak with someone who validates you, and who affirms that your feelings are important and worthy of respect.

Exploring those feelings and what your deepest, even unconscious, self has to show you about the threads of meaning and energy in your life can be vital. It can certainly help immensely in opening up what lies beyond hiding depression—moving on the journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Coping with Changes in Life in This Demanding Time

March 15th, 2021 · changes in life

Major changes in life, or major life transitions are always a challenge but this particular time makes them even more so.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

In this context, I’m using the term “changes in life” in quite a broad way. These might be changes that are imposed on us externally, by, say, a job change. Or they might be changes that seem to come from a more internal place like the transition that comes in midlife, or the transition into life as a older adult.

The major changes in life have always been matters of deep concern to human beings for as long as we have been human. One of the reasons our distant ancestors developed rituals and rites of passage was to enable human beings to better cope with change, as the noted French anthropologist Arnold van Gennep illustrated in the early twentieth century.

It’s not just unexpected changes that can be demanding or difficult. Even changes that we expect and plan for can cause us upheaval and stress. Also, it’s not only changes that we would interpret as bad that can cause us a great deal of stress. Changes that we would interpret as good can also be very demanding. For example, an individual may have wanted the opportunity to move to a certain favourite city or location for a long time, yet when it comes, the process of moving there can prove demanding and stressful.

Facing Changes in Life Now

In addition to all the other changes in life that we encounter, we are currently still living with the pandemic lockdown. The end of this situation may be in sight, but it’s not over just yet, and we continue to deal with its unique stresses. All the major life transitions that we’re undergoing are occurring against the backdrop of the most impactful outbreak of disease in over a hundred years.

This has a big effect, as I’m very aware from my experience with clients in this time. Situations that would be very demanding at any time can easily seem unmanageable against the backdrop of society-wide stress and trauma. Individuals are facing very important life issues such as: relationships undergoing change; the shift in priorities that often accompanies midlife; the loss of loved ones; issues around vocation and what is fundamentally meaningful in life, and many other things. Often people can find that situations that, at least until recently, seemed fundamentally containable and manageable are not feeling that way any longer.

People currently facing such changes in life can easily feel that their particular ways of coping are exhausted, and that they are experiencing considerable anxiety and depression. They’re aware of needing something different, but they’re not sure what it could be.

Powering Through?

One of the things that we all have a tendency to do when we are confronted with a type of life change that seems insurmountable is to just try and “power through”. We can easily feel that, somehow, if we just keep on doing what we always done, maybe a little more intensively, the situation will be fine, and all will be well.

Often, this kind of response amounts to a form of psychological denial of what it is that we’re living through. It can easily amount to simply acting as if the change was not occurring. In the long run, it’s highly unlikely that this kind of response is going to do anything other than make the situation worse.

Well, is there anything else that we can do to cope with a changing situation, other than just hoping to “power through”? There are a number of kinds of awareness that it can be helpful to have as we move through major changes.

For instance, we need to stay in the awareness that major changes in life almost always create puzzlement and disorientation. We thought that we knew the rules! It turns out now that things are not so predictable.

Finding ways to connect with other supportive people can be very valuable for us in the midst of change. This is harder in the midst of the pandemic, but there are ways to do it that are worth exploring.

A third important thing to do is to practice self-care. Finding things to do that really feel like taking care of yourself are particularly important. This can include exercise, meditation, and also depth psychotherapy.

Compassion for Our Changing Selves

A fourth and vital thing is to be self-compassionate, and to avoid judging yourself. It may take some doing to get our inner critic quieted down in times of intense changes in life, because it’s easy in times of intense change to feel that something is wrong, and all too easy to believe that what is wrong is really us—when we may well be doing our very best to manage unpredictable change.

As human beings, it’s also essential for our well-being that we are able to make some kind of meaning out of the change. Often, this can be where symbols and messages from the unconscious psyche can be of great assistance. For many, working with an empathetic and supportive depth psychotherapist at a time of major life transition can be a valuable form of self-compassion.

With very best wishes on your journey of change and growth,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Personal Care and Compassion for Self in a Demanding Time

March 9th, 2021 · compassion for self

This post will be quite a lot briefer than my usual posts, because I’m away from the office for a couple of days, engaging in some activities involving compassion for self.

Photo: Stock Photo Secrets

I felt that it was important to take a couple of days with a different rhythm, because I’ve been pretty busy over the last while. So, I’m catching up on a couple of professional requirements, and also taking time to do some things that are concretely for me.

As I’m taking this time, I’m reflecting quite a bit on compassion for self. It’s a phrase that we hear quite frequently in therapy and other circles nowadays, with many therapists, self-help authors and authorities of different types urging us to have compassion for self. On the whole, it seems to me that this emphasis is a very good thing.

The very best of therapy has always emphasized self compassion (as Jung certainly did). Yet the fact that now it’s talked about as much as it is means that we’ve become more consciously aware, and more intentional.

It’s good for us to talk about self compassion, but it’s even more important to ask what we’re actually going to do about it. It’s important to value ourselves by taking concrete steps that turn that value into action. What will you do to make your compassion for self a reality in your life? This is a question that takes on particular importance as we emerge from the demanding times of the pandemic.

For some people, it can be an essential kind of self compassion to seek to explore themselves, through a supportive depth psychotherapy relationship. Whatever you do, make sure that it’s something that reflects a kind and appreciative attitude to yourself.

I look forward to being back to regular blogging, continuing on themes of hope and resilience, next week.

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Hope, Consciousness and Healing Collective Trauma

March 7th, 2021 · dealing feelings, healing collective trauma

Healing collective trauma is a matter of particular importance as we move through and beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Hope and increased awareness will play decisive roles in this healing.

During the era of COVID, people have gotten used to (and fed up with) quite a number of buzzwords. I will certainly never forget the significant number of my clients who have said to me, “If I hear one more reference in the press or on the media to COVID as ‘the new normal’, I’m going to scream!” Fair enough: I understand how they feel. It might be easy to see the term “collective trauma” as just another such shallow buzzword, but there are very good psychotherapeutic reasons for regarding it as much more than that.

What Is Collective Trauma?

A collective trauma is a traumatic event that is shared by a group of people. This can be a small group, like a family, or the occupants of a vehicle, or it can be big enough to take in a whole society. As social worker and psychology lecturer Amy Morin asserts,

Traumatic events that affect groups may include things like a plane crash, natural disaster, mass shootings, famines, [or] war…. Well-known collective traumas include… slavery, the Holocaust, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the September 11 terrorist attacks. We are currently experiencing an ongoing collective trauma through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amy Morin, LCSW in Very Well Mind

It might seem that COVID doesn’t have anywhere near the impact on us that the other events Morin lists had on those who were affected. However, if we really examine the kinds and amounts of change that COVID and the associated disruptions have brought to our work, schooling, social gatherings, travel, key social rituals and so much more, it’s clear that we’re dealing with a formidably impactful collective trauma.

A lot of trauma experiences are individual. A life-threatening illness may affect only one person, for instance. Traumatic experiences differ greatly in their effects. Two very similar traumatic experiences may affect two people very differently, with one person emerging virtually unscathed, while another has his or her life fundamentally changed.

Trauma may negatively impact our ability to handle stress. Or, it may make it difficult to enjoy things that were once quite pleasurable. It’s common enough for people who experience trauma to feel that their lives have lost meaning, or, alternately, that questions of meaning or spirituality have become front and center for them.

These effects of trauma may be experienced by individuals, or they may be experienced throughout an entire group or even a whole society. In this age of modern media, people don’t need to experience events first-hand to be traumatized by them. Trauma can be transmitted through radio, television, or social media.

How Can We Begin Healing Collective Trauma?

As a society, we’re experiencing collective trauma from our society’s experience with COVID. If there is strong evidence to support that conclusion—and I would suggest that there is—how can we begin to find our way to some kind of healing?

One of the most important steps in healing collective trauma around COVID is for each of us to acknowledge that it exists, and to acknowledge the impact of this trauma on our own lives. Many of us have encountered some degree of trauma as a result of COVID, and it’s very important for us to honestly acknowledge that.

This acknowledgement, that COVID has hurt us, has cost us, has traumatized us, is a centrally important thing of which we need to be aware. It can be a very hard thing to look at, to acknowledge the damage that has been done, but as C.G. Jung would tell us, there is something vitally important in this consciousness. Difficult and painful as it is, it is the first step to hope and renewal.

There are some famous lines in Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”, a song which essentially celebrates the acceptance of the way things are when they’re broken. As Cohen puts it.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in [Boldface mine]

Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Paradoxically, it’s only when we can find the undesirable crack, that we can start to see the light that streams through it. In the case of our COVID trauma, this means that we can only find our way to the seeds of hope by first of all acknowledging the depth of our wound.

Moving Beyond Collective Trauma

Acknowledging our trauma can be an important step in feeling better about it. Although individuals will naturally wish that the event never occurred, they can also acknowledge the resourcefulness, strength and resilience in themselves which has carried them through the experience to this point, and will enable them to get to the end of it.

Positive things may also occur on the collective level from acknowledging our trauma. People who acknowledge trauma, and share its impact can feel a sense of deep connection and solidarity with one another. They can even feel less psychological pain and anxiety as a result of carrying it together with others. Through supporting each other, they may come together on shared goals and even find a sense of shared meaning.

Finding ways of healing collective trauma starts with our own journey, and with acknowledging on an individual level that we have experienced trauma. Jungian depth psychotherapy can be an excellent supportive place to start this journey of healing.

With very best wishes for your journey towards wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Where Do We Find Psychological Resilience in Tough Times?

February 22nd, 2021 · psychological resilience

“Psychological resilience during tough times” may seem like a pat slogan in the midst of our current difficulties. Yet it refers to something incredibly important.

Photo by sabrina c on (Creative Commons Licence)

Psychological resilience is important in any phase of life. However in a moment like the present, where there are particular difficulties and things we have to endure as a result of the lockdown, this is especially true.

Nearly everyone is experiencing some difficulty and hardship as a result of the fallout from COVID-19. However, it’s certainly true that some people are faring better with what they’re facing than others. This can be due to factors that the individual can’t control, such as genetics, the experiences that the individual had in early life, and just plain luck. But are there many factors that the individual can control, that will help her or him to come through demanding experiences in better shape?.

Things That Make a Difference

If we never have any adversity in our lives, we’ll never know whether we’re resilient or not. However, if we do face real difficulty, we face the question of how it will affect us, and how we’ll cope with it.

It turns out that there are quite a number of things that we can do that would help us get to a more resilient place. There are, as stated above, a large number of factors that come down to genetics or luck. Yet there are other elements that have to do with fundamental attitudes that we take towards our lives and the things that happen to us. The research of developmental psychologist UCLA Davis Prof. Emmy Werner and others shows that contrary to what we might expect, a significant number of people who are subject to high risk / high stress environments, actually don’t succumb to their difficulties.

The reason that they have psychological resilience has to do with how they respond to their environment. In Werner’s words, these individuals choose to “meet the world on their own terms.” They function in an autonomous manner, able to think for themselves and to be self-reliant. Yet they remain positively disposed toward others. They also remain open to new experiences, and seek them out. Perhaps most importantly, though, these individuals retain what Prof. Julian Rotter called an “internal locus of control”: a fundamental belief that it is themselves and not their outer circumstances, that ultimately determines how things turn out in their lives.

Meaning, Hope and Resilience

This fits well with a famous saying of C.G. Jung’s:

I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.

C.G. Jung

This axiom of Jungian psychotherapy is very important for our particular time. As our society struggles to come to terms with the pandemic, it can very easily feel that our “locus of control” has shifted from somewhere inside of ourselves to somewhere outside—to medical experts, to politicians, even to the disease itself. We can end up feeling like our fate is completely in the hands of external forces that may seem largely indifferent to our real needs and aspirations.

At this time, and at every time, it’s very important to feel that that we have control in the way our lives turn out. We need a strong sense that difficult or traumatic events or experiences of setback and failure don’t overcome us and suck away our life energy. How do we stay in a place of feeling in control of our lives?

How Can I Get to a More Resilient Place?

There are some very specific things that we can do that will help us to feel more in control. To begin with, here is a list of fairly straightforward “doable” things:

  • getting outside of the house more;
  • increasing your level of physical exercise;
  • connect more with family, friends and loved ones;
  • get more good quality sleep and improve your sleep hygiene (e.g., cut caffeine, cut evening use of bright screens); and,
  • limit your intake of news to manageable amounts.

In addition, for many people, staying more connected to their particular spirituality may be of real value. This could be through organized religion, spiritual reading, or practices such as yoga, meditation and active imagination—if those practices leave you with a sense of security and positive connection to something greater.

In addition, working with a depth psychotherapist can assist with alleviating depression, anxiety, and the pain of difficult experiences, trauma or attachment wounding that may originate from experiences in early childhood. It can also help with exploring what is trying to emerge at this time in your life, especially if you are going through a major life transition. It’s well worth considering as we continue to confront the emotional and psychological impact of the pandemic, but it really has value at many different points in the journey towards wholeness.

Wishing you all the very best on your life journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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