Today began with a recap on Jung and his ideas (one of my favourite theorists), and so I began positively.
We mentioned his beginnings, as the ‘heir apparent’ to Freud, and his break with that association – leading to his ‘psychotic breakdown’, and the ideas that followed thereafter; the innate potential of the psyche to heal itself; his influence by eastern philosophies leading to his ideas on the creative unconscious and archetypes; personality types, and the idea that the psyche is made up of opposites – the shadow being made up of our negative, unwanted ideas, the anima/animus representing our gender opposite characteristics and the persona being the public face assumed, and the concept that the focus of therapy should be in recognising these opposites within ourselves in order to achieve a unified self. Individuation is the name Jung gave to the process of achieving wholeness, and he strived to achieve that in therapy through the use of active imagination – using dreams, visualisations, art and other creative techniques to bring the client into contact with their unconscious – the transcendent function.
Towards the end of our discussion we were asked to consider which archetypes we most relate to, and many of us admitted to relating to the healer largely. Although I may have felt that in the past, these days I find that I am further away from that image internally than I have ever been. If anything, I have felt more like the patient in recent years – and I haven’t enjoyed that one bit. It has been disempowering, and I have resented the idea of allowing my inner world to match my outer world when I am so unhappy with both! Part of me (quite egotistically really) related to Jung himself – this idea of being the rebellious child who takes the ideas of the father and makes his own sense of them; rejecting some notions and choosing to do it his own way, facing the consequences of a complete mental breakdown in search of the ‘truth’ rather than towing the line and never feeling real, fulfilled, ‘actualised’. I relate to the freedom of thought that comes with hitting the very bottom, losing what seems like the last touch on ‘reality’, and admire the way he turned this to his (our) long term benefit, forcing himself to stay in the scary place in order to understand it better. When I hit that place I was terrified, and forced myself back to the ‘real world’ as a drowning man would hit the sea bed and strive to bounce back to the surface, taking huge gulps of both air and water. Sometimes I still wonder if I still have water in my lungs…
This reflection connected well with the next chunk of theory we tackled – the work of Melanie Klein, best known for her Object Relations theory. When we initially learnt about this last year it took me a long time to get my head around these ideas, but in discussing it in class, I realised how much of it I had really absorbed. During the Jung part of the morning, when relating to the favoured son rebelling against the authoritarian archetype, I automatically began to question the attachment between me and my mother – a Kleinian concept. She felt that difficulties in our relationships with our early caregivers affect our relationships in later life, our relationships with all objects, including food, and even relationships with ourselves. Although, I am fundamentally insecure in my attachment style (my mother returned to work when I was very young, and I hated being given to childminders), I have always been in denial about that (as has my mother, constantly reminding me that I was the most spoilt, well-loved child there ever was), and have chosen to ignore obvious signs that relationships aren’t what they appear to be (refusing to admit to myself that my ex husband was having affairs, even when he obviously was)
Klein called our mental constructs of the world around us our phantasies. These fluctuate and change with us as we grow and form our new opinions and perceptions of the world. Often we use the defence mechanism splitting to guard ourselves from emotional pain – separating good feelings from bad feelings, dealing in opposites, understanding the world by placing situations/objects into opposing places. This is an immature, primitive defence – as we grow older, or work through issues in therapy, and our phantasies are understood and deconstructed we see the world as a less black and white place, containing elements of both good and bad. The clearest example of this for me would be when my ex-husband left me, and I found it impossible to deal with our relationship ending unless I began to hate him (or hate myself, resorting back to the anorexia – impossible, being the sole carer for my two young children; I had to remain functioning). Until I could start to do that, it was unreal to me. Luckily/unluckily – not sure which – he did actually give me very good reasons to hate him, once I deconstructed the phantasy that nobody who loved me could consciously hurt me, and accepted his part in things!
Another defence mechanism Kleinians call projective identification is where our phantasies get rid of our unbearable feelings by pushing them into someone else. My example of this is also from the time shortly after my husband left me. My best friend at the time had, in retrospect, had a slightly -inappropriate relationship with my ex-husband, and I think that when he finally left me, she couldn’t cope with the guilt she felt about the part she may have played in our break up. Unable to face me, she made excuse after excuse as to why she couldn’t be there for me in the months that followed, until I eventually felt hurt and angry by her lack of support, and started to properly question her part in our relationship’s demise. Her negative feelings were projected into me because she couldn’t cope with them.
Hefty stuff! Even though, this was theory I already thought I knew and understood, being asked to apply that theory directly to my own experiences was hard. It is the way to learn though, and although it isn’t always nice to revisit those places, it is necessary if one really wants to absorb these ideas – otherwise they are abstract. This gives them form, even if it is an ugly one.
I consciously chose to lighten things for myself in the afternoon session; choosing a dream to discuss in the practical part of the day, trying to engage with the therapy as ‘play’ (Winnicott’s instructions!) through my ‘speaking’ session. I am not afraid to embrace my ‘shadow’ (as Jung would call it), but I learned from last week that the exchange of energy within the group can be so powerful that I have to engage an element of self- protection at a certain point – definitely a lesson being learnt for the future. It is possible to engage honestly and directly without giving to the point of exhaustion, and I am beginning to do that. Well, I have to, really…