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Jungian psychotherapy: between the symbolic and the imagination

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One does not achieve enlightenment by fantasizing about the light but by making the darkness aware

—Carl Jung

Inside the different psychoanalytic schoolspsychotherapeutic that arose from the approaches of Sigmund Freud, and that are sometimes included under the term of deep psychology (psychoanalysis, Adler's individual psychology and Jungian analytic psychology) the premise of the existence of a psychic substrate containing unconscious factors that condition and determine the ways of thinking, feeling and acting of individuals.

The unconscious: repressed desires and collective patterns

For Freudian psychoanalysis, the unconscious it is a conglomeration of fantasies and desires that have been repressed by the individual in their process of adaptation to the social environment. Therefore, he refers to content related to the personal history of the individual, giving special relevance to the memory linking with parental figures.

The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, creator of analytical psychology, is partly in agreement with this assumption but argues that in addition to the biographical contents,

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in the unconscious it is also possible to identify elements that are part of the phylogenetic history of humanity. He then proposes that in addition to the personal unconscious, there is a collective unconscious made up of prototypes of experiences and behaviors shared by all human beings as a species.

Archetypes in the collective unconscious

These patterns of behavior to which Jung called archetypesare closely related to instincts, insofar as they operate as stimuli that compel us to perform certain behaviors and promote reactions typical situations before different circumstances of our life (emancipate ourselves from parents, start a family, have descent, looking for a livelihood, appropriating a territory, participating in the collective, transforming the social order, death).

Unlike instincts, which are drives with a relatively closed and concrete realization circuit, archetypes behave openly and symbolically; However, its non-fulfillment is also a source of discomfort and frustration.

Jung suggests that it is possible to infer the existence of archetypes from their manifestations, one of which is images and structures typical dramatics that it is possible to find, with different cultural costumes, in mythological and fantastic narratives of different places and epochs.

The myths show us how humanity has faced different critical situations, and although some of them have thousands of years, continue to resonate and have an impact on our psyche as the challenges they allude to follow us accompanying.

Jung emphasizes that it is not possible on many occasions to adduce direct or indirect contact between peoples to explain the structural similarities of myths. It is also relevant that these typical dramas and characters also appear spontaneously in delusions and hallucinations. psychotic, as well as in altered states of consciousness as an effect of meditative practices or by ingestion of substances psychedelic. Some dreams whose contents cannot be related to biographical aspects, they can also be an expression of archetypal images.

The archetype of the solar hero

Freud and Jung not only distanced themselves by their different conceptions regarding the unconscious, but also by his statements about the nature of the fundamental energy that moves human beings: the libido.

As is well known, the libido is, according to Freud, sexual in nature, while for Jung, the sexual is only one of the manifestations of a much broader and more encompassing vital energy. Jung describes the libido then as a creative energy, which is the origin and motor of the universe. This energy manifests itself in human beings as a longing for transcendence, for fulfillment, for the expansion of consciousness. Jung found that this process of manifestation and unfolding of vital energy is mythically manifested through the archetype of the solar hero. This archetype that is the prototype of many ancient and contemporary stories in which the transformation of the hero is narrated (The odyssey, Star wars, The Lord of the rings)

Through a series of voyages and adventures (going on a journey, fighting with the dragon, descent into hell, death, rebirth), and the encounter and confrontation with other archetypes (shadow, animus anima, wise old man, the great mother) the hero enters into relationship with the forces of the underworld (the unconscious,), finds the treasure sought and returns to its place of origin to share the "light", the wisdom, with his people.

Jung proposes to understand this mythical structure, as a projection of a psychic process of transformation and evolution to which all human beings are called. Each human soul is forced to confront a series of circumstances that lead it to manifest its vocation, its particular calling, its unique contribution to the collective, to the world. It manifests itself as a longing for knowledge, for improvement, for totality. I call this evolutionary path the process of individuation and it is also considered a symbol of the gradual transformation of the ego in its confrontation and adaptation to the forces of the unconscious and the world external.

Affective complexes

The archetypes are humanized in individuals from what Jung called the personal affective complexes. Complexes in addition to being imbued by archetypes, they are nourished by our personal experiences. They can be considered as a set of images and representations, emotionally charged, around a common theme (relationship with the father or mother, power, eroticism, etc.)

Different circumstances of our life constellate, that is, they make a certain complex more relevant. A constellated complex it alters our conscious perception and will, staining it with the traces of the corresponding archetypes added to previous experiences with respect to the same theme. Ancient demonic possessions and multiple personality disorders they are expressions of highly constellated complexes. In these cases they behave as massive invasions of the unconscious that oppress and cancel the functions of the ego and consciousness.

Complexes are expressed in our psyche as urges, needs, points of view, emotional reactions, feelings of disproportionate admiration or contempt, obsessive ideas. They have the ability to personify themselves in our dreams, and to generate events and circumstances in the physical world with analogous meanings (somatizations, accidents, encounters with people, repetition of the finished type of relationship). The externalization capacity of archetypes and complexes is the basis of the phenomenon described by Jung as synchronicity.

Affective complexes They are considered the constituent particles of the unconscious psyche, therefore they are not only part of the field of psychopathology. They work as if pets live in our house, that if we ignore or neglect them, sooner rather than later they will end up going against us causing multiple havoc. The alternative is to get in touch with them, pay attention to their needs, so that over time and effort we get somehow to domesticate them, being able to even make use of their resources potentials. The unconscious, whether we like it or not, is going to act in us so the most appropriate thing is to delve into its mysteries

This dialogue with our complexes, with our inner characters, which as we saw are the expression of the drama towards the realization of our deepest being requires the deployment of a symbolic attitude through imagination and creativity.

Imagination and creativity as a dialogue with the unconscious

Imagination has been reviled by rationalistic and materialistic thinking since the Enlightenment, considering it of no value to obtain valid and productive knowledge. Jung, however, joins the hermetic and phenomenological current that recognizes the realm of the imaginary, which includes myths, dreams and fantasies as elements that allow access to the paradoxical complexity of the psyche, to the depths of human nature and above all to that other sublime reality that inhabits and conditions us.

Imagination

The symbolic property of uniting and reconciling polarities is recognized in the imagination; to express, suggest and evoke the elusive; to comprehensively approach unclassifiable phenomena through concept and rationality. The analyst James Hillman proposes the imagination as the language of the soul.

The imaginary manifests itself spontaneously in dreams and that is why its interpretation is a fundamental part of Jungian psychotherapy. Also it is possible to artificially induce the imaginary in the therapeutic space through the technique of active imagination. This consists of giving the opportunity to express themselves to the contents of the unconscious, making use of their capacity for personification.

It is proposed then to get in touch with our inner characters, listen carefully and rigorously, interacting and conversing with them as if they were real entities.

Ways to approach the unconscious

Our inner characters can be evoked through the image of a dream, an intense emotion, a symptom. Each of us has a modality that facilitates this communication. There are people who can hear voices, or perceive interior images, some express themselves through body movements in a kind of dance. For others, contact with the unconscious is possible through automatic writing, a technique used by the surrealists.

Jung differentiates idle fantasizing from active imagination, stressing that In the latter, the ego assumes an active attitude, that is, it does not passively and submissively abide by the voices and images of the unconscious, but calls them. The active attitude implies supporting and maintaining tension with the unconscious, allowing what he calls the transcendent function, that is, a new birth, the emergence of a new attitude, the product of this confrontation.

The transcendent function of the psyche is that which enables the reconciliation of apparently irreconcilable opposites. It is the emergence of a third element or perspective, which includes and integrates the elements that have been in dispute. It is a process of conflict, negotiation and transitory agreements.

The active imagination technique is often used in advanced stages of analysis, as it requires a structured ego that bear the tension of opposites and do not succumb to dissociation or identification with some of the contents of what is unconscious.

Jung emphasizes that taking the unconscious seriously does not mean taking it literally, but rather giving it credit, giving you the opportunity to cooperate with the conscience, rather than disturb it in a automatic. This cooperation of the unconscious is related to the self-regulating principle of the psyche, a fundamental concept in the Jungian perspective.

Imagination as a facilitator of the self-regulating mechanism of the psyche

The psyche is posed as a dynamic system of opposing forces (conscious-unconscious, progression-progression of libido, matter-logos), with an intrinsic tendency to maintain a Balance. This self-regulatory mechanism implies a permanent interplay of compensation and complementarity between the psychic components.

The state of mental balance is regularly altered by stimuli from the lability of the internal and external world. This alteration requires modifications aimed at adapting to new requirements, promoting a transformation in the psyche to stages of increasing complexity and comprehensiveness. Neurotic symptoms (obsessions, depression, anxiety, accidents, somatizations, repetition of patterns of relationship, self-sabotage) are expressions of an attempt by the unconscious psyche to search for this balanced state higher. An attempt to raise awareness from the stumbling blocks.

Dialogue with the unconscious psyche through imagination allows the psyche's self-regulating mechanism to act without the need to resort to symptomatic phenomena. It is somehow anticipating events and avoiding that Jungian sentence by which, "everything that is not made conscious will be lived abroad as a destination."

Self-regulation: one of the keys to the unconscious

The self-regulating mechanism of the psyche is termed by analyst James Hillman as our inner daimon. With this Hellenic concept he tries to refer to that force that leads us through good times and bad to express our vocation, our particular calling. Imagination and creativity are a means then to interpret the winks of destiny, the signs of our daimon.

The development of the symbolic attitude that is intended to promote in Jungian psychotherapy through imagination, allows us to escape the narrow literality of the facts. It gives us access to paradoxical subaltern logics. It links us to the deep polysemy of events through symbols, analogies and correspondences.

The symbolic attitude also broadens our sensitivity and willingness to respond constructively to everything that the diversity of life summons us and to integrate and coexist with our dark aspects. Dialogue with the unconscious allows us to become co-creators of our reality and not simply slaves or victims of circumstances.

Bibliographic references:

  • Hillman, J. (1998). The code of the soul. Barcelona, ​​Martínez Roca.
  • Jung, C. G. (1981). Archetypes and the collective unconscious. Barcelona, ​​Paidos.
  • Jung, C.G (1993) Structure and dynamics of the psyche. Editorial Paidós,
  • Buenos Aires.
  • Jung, C. G. (2008). Complexes and the unconscious. Madrid, Alliance.
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