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A Short Introduction to Jungian Analysis

by Patricia Skar
Copyright © 2015

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) called our unique developmental journey through life the 'individuation process'. In his Collected Works, volume 6, Jung defined individuation as "the process by which individual beings are being formed and differentiated; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology....". [CW6, para. 757]

Jung's own individuation process had critical points where he was forced to choose between an already established, socially secure path and one less defined. Mostly he chose a direction that left room for his unique, individual development. For example, after being intensely connected to Freud as a friend and colleague since 1907, major differences in their points of view finally led to their separation. For Jung, the period that followed (approximately 1913-1920) is often referred to as his 'descent into the unconscious'.

During this period of relative retreat from a conventional, career-oriented, outwardly productive focus, Jung worked with the symbols that emerged from his unconscious. He was convinced that there were ordering forces at work, processes connected to what he was later to name the 'archetypes'. More specifically, he started to feel that there was an ordering center at work in human development, which he called the 'Self' or 'self'. Jung wrote:

In the last analysis every life is the realization of a whole, that is, of a self, for which reason this realization can also be called individuation. All life is bound to individual carriers who realize it, and it is simply inconceivable without them. But every carrier is charged with an individual destiny and destination, and the realization of these alone makes sense of life. [CW12, para. 330]

Jung saw the self as an unconscious ordering factor that is in some ways comparable to a seed that contains the potential for the full development of the organism. Just as a seed needs soil and a climate adapted to its needs, people need a facilitating environment in order to develop their innate potential. Self-realization also depends on the presence of significant others who provide psychological mirroring, essential for developing our sense of self-worth and individual identity. In general, our developmental process leads from an original fusion with archaic 'self-objects' to an increasing sense of 'I'. Jung termed this conscious sense of self, the 'ego'. A healthy ego enables us to maintain our identity while enabling us to form empathic relationships to others. However, it is important to remember that in Jung's view this 'ego' is not the same as the 'self', but rather, a much smaller entity that grows out of it.

In his own life, Jung encouraged what he called the 'dialogue' between ego and self, through 'active imagination' and 'dream work'. While he felt that one's life-path and important choices should ideally flow out of this ego-self dialogue, he always stressed that we are morally responsible for the decisions we make: we cannot blame them on a socalled 'pronouncement' from the self! So, while the ego must ultimately take responsibility for our decisions, our unique individuation process entails more than ego concerns.

The Function of Analysis

Jung considered the main function of analysis to be a furthering of the process of individuation. First of all, this meant that there should be no inherent goals or treatment plans in analysis. Instead, Jung viewed the analyst/analysand relationship as a two-person journey into the unknown, which could potentially change both parties. Although it is the analysand's life that is being consciously examined, both analyst and patient are 'in' the process together. For Jung, the appropriate analogy for the analytic relationship is the 'opus' or work of the ancient alchemists. The analytic 'container' (like the alchemist's 'vessel' or 'retort') creates a safe place for the 'chemistry' of the psyche to 'heat up' and begin forging a new path of development. This new life-journey might go against the expectations of the collective, but can lead toward the analysand's 'gold' or 'philosopher's stone' of unique wholeness.

However, as many myths and fairy tales warn us, the process of individuation is often painful. This could be the pain of letting go of what previously held great meaning, whether in work or relationships. Emotional pain might also emerge in feeling the conflict between ego needs and the 'demands' of the self.

Here we come to another of Jung's important ideas: the theory of the 'opposites'. Jung observed a tendency in the unconscious to correct an overly one-sided conscious position. In fact, a psychic disturbance or imbalance often is revealed when we place too much emphasis or value on one of these opposites. For instance, we might overvalue conscious adaptation (whatever is expected by friends, family and society) at the expense of our own true nature and needs. Eventually, this may result in a neurosis or mental breakdown of some sort.

A neurosis can take many forms, such as physical symptoms, illness, anxiety or phobias. Neurotic symptoms may be caused by the ego's attempt to hold back from a needed development, such as facing a new stage of life and its responsibilities. In this context, anxiety can be seen as an invitation to strengthen and extend the conscious attitude. Jung often referred to neurotic symptoms as manifestations of 'complexes'. However, Jung's view of the complex-contrary to its popular definition-is not negative. For Jung, complexes actually form our individual identity: they are our own unique history of experiences clustered around typical dynamic aspects of development (archetypes). When one of our complexes causes problems, the 'purpose' of this is to get our attention, in order to facilitate a restructuring of our conscious ego position. So in this context, the outbreak of a neurosis can be positive: in fact, it may be the psyche's compensatory and self-regulatory way of healing itself.

Jung further defined neurosis as disunion with oneself or as an unresolved expression of opposites. The neurosis may be a misguided attempt to incorporate the unrecognized side of the total personality into conscious life. Jung's method is often called 'synthetic', as he was in general less interested in the causes of neurosis than in its meaning and purpose within the framework of the personality. What was important for Jung was the hidden meaning of the symptom, or the underlying archetypal process. However, he thought that sometimes we need to return to the source of the complex affecting us in the present. This could mean looking back at behavioral patterns formed in childhood, which could now be unconsciously affecting us, keeping us trapped in old roles and preventing us from becoming who we really are.

For example, developmentally our 'mother complex' is formed through our personal relationships with our mothers. However, the mother complex is not only personal: according to Jung it has an 'archetypal core'. This means in essence that the basic human mother/child developmental pattern is shared by all of us. There are certain types of experiences we need to grow and develop normally, and these are what Jung called 'archetypal'. So, our unique mother complex is a product of all the personal experiences we have with our real mother (or primary caregiver) and how our inner archetypal mothering needs are met. The behavioral patterns formed in interaction with our parents play a big role in whether we can successfully grow and separate from them as we reach adulthood. If we stay 'stuck' in an earlier stage-for instance, 'dependent child'-then this role may be acted out in our adult relationships.

If we look at a man's development, his early relationship with his mother will usually have an effect on his later relationships with women. In Jungian archetypal theory, the type of woman to whom a man is attracted often resembles the contrasexual 'anima complex' in his unconscious. Jung felt that these contrasexual archetypes in our unconscious-'anima' and 'animus'-contain the opposite qualities to our conscious personalities, and are very important for our development: they embody our potential for wholeness. The type of person we fall in love with is a good clue to the nature of our animus or anima complex in the unconscious. This is because, in Jung's view, through relationship with such an opposite type, we are challenged to broaden our own way of thinking and being.

The mother and father complexes, which grow out of our early relationships with our parents, have a strong effect on our later 'animus' and 'anima' complexes. For example, a son who has not been able to separate from a dominant mother may choose a partner who is also quite dominant or mothering-he simply transfers his mother-dependency to his new partner/wife, who then becomes (archetypally) his mother! Jung would say that in this situation the anima has been thwarted in her 'archetypal task' of inspiring the 'hero' to slay the 'dragon': in other words, the man still needs to complete the developmental task of separating from his mother. Since his wife has now symbolically become mother, the man finds himself attracted to women outside the marriage. These new 'anima images' then carry huge energy-the potential for liberation from the mother complex. However, it is easy to see how this pattern can be repeated again and again, as each successive partner, once gained, turns into another symbolic mother. A man caught in this pattern usually needs to face his general dependency on women and his fear of being alone. When this fear and dependency can be faced and suffered through in the empathic containment of the analytic relationship, a space is cleared for a conscious movement toward more mature love relationships.

We might similarly describe a process in a woman who has not been able to break free of a powerful father complex: she may unconsciously choose dependent-daughter status in her relationships with men. In Jungian terms, she needs to liberate her animus (masculine side) from this identification with an earlier developmental stage. Often, the realization of how much of her life has been spent in this pattern may be painful, but these feelings can be worked through in the safety of the analytic relationship. For many women, the increased consciousness and energy that emerges may take the form of new creative outlets, or some type of work where they feel valued on their own terms.

An important note: often people fear change, especially in long-standing relationships. But many do not realize that when one partner changes, the other often does, too. Of course, not always! In these cases, the only way forward may be to separate. However, what many couples eventually learn is that their old pattern of relating was holding them both back from really enjoying life. Sometimes a couple's journey out of a regressive relationship pattern can be the entry into their happiest years together.

If psychic disturbances are connected to blockages in developmental processes, it follows that what is known as the 'repetition compulsion'-for example, when we find ourselves in the same 'no-win' situations again and again-could really be a symbolic return to the point of the original blockage or behavior formation. Jung's more positive view of this tendency is that we may be going back to move forward. It is as if our unconscious sets up the old situation with the hope of a breakthrough to a new type of experience, with the 'aim' of releasing us from the prison of the old neurotic pattern. As Jung writes:

But the obstruction will not last forever; it is rather a reculer pour mieux sauter, and the water will overleap the obstacle. [CW10, para. 399]

This 'drawing back in order to make a better leap forward' is actually what can happen in analysis. It provides a safe space for introspection and regression, where the conscious and unconscious sides of a person are free to form a new inner dialogue, and undiscovered dimensions of the personality can emerge and grow.

Jung thought that it was important to be on good terms with the unconscious-to try, as he wrote, "to attain a conscious attitude which allows the unconscious to cooperate instead of being driven into opposition" [CW16, para. 366]. This attitude then improves our capacity to accept our unique being and have a more realistic self-appraisal. In a Jungian approach to analysis, what matters is not so much what we are or what we have been, but what we are in the process of becoming. This is also the essence of the individuation process.

In summary, many people who initially inquire about entering analysis ask me what analysis can accomplish, or what the goal of the process is. Overall, I think Jung gives the best reply:

The goal is important only as an idea; the essential thing is the opus which leads to the goal: that is the goal of a lifetime.  [CW16, para. 400]

Copyright © Patricia Skar 2013