A Guide To Jungian Concepts
At the risk of oversimplification, I would like to give some information about the key concepts in a Jungian approach to the psyche. A central concept in Jungian theory is that of the Self, which is understood as an organizing and balancing function of the psyche. Similar to other regulating systems in the body such as blood pressure, heartbeats, and pupils, the Self is a psychic function that operates to balance both conscious and unconscious contents of psychic life.
As an older, archaic, mechanism of the psyche, the Self mediates information through more right-brain functions, including preverbal and symbolic manifestations such as physical symptoms, dreams, imagination, fantasies and synchronicities. The left-brain is more insight oriented, and tends toward logical, linear, linguistic, reflective, and analytical processes—dividing the world into categories. So we can say that the right-brain creates an “AND” perspective, while the left-brain establishes an “OR” point of view.
Jungians, being more mythopoetic, like to describe this as the tension between eros and logos, being and action, feminine and masculine, or the infinite and the finite. Helping clients to develop both aspects of these psychic capacities is an important part of the analytic work, for insight and creativity emerge, not from one side or the other, but through the integration of the two.
This integration process is lifelong. When this Self-ing function is also in dialogue with Jung’s concept of a unique individual self, we have a description of the process of individuation. Life itself can become a creative endeavor, led by the urgings of the Self, as the experience of one’s individual self grows in depth and breadth.
Jung described the unique individual self as a psychic individuality that correlates with the physical individuality. Psyche and soma are viewed as one. When this unique self is not mirrored and nurtured in childhood, the child often develops a false self, or persona, in the effort to accommodate his or her environment. It is important that we live our one, unique, life. If that is not allowed to happen, deep suffering occurs.
When looking for this unique individual self, we will listen for what you know about your early disposition. Were you introverted or extraverted, resilient or rebellious? What are the early stories? Were there early talents and interests? What were you, or are you, passionate about now?
Jungian sessions are conducted face-to-face, so much information can be communicated on multiple levels. Deep healing in the realm of relational patterns with self and others may also occur, providing the client with experiences that can mediate and change one’s sense of self. Internal capacities may emerge to soothe and manage oneself when in distress.
In addition, the Self, as the organizing and balancing function of the psyche, is capable of operating in the interpersonal field between the analyst and the client. It works in this capacity as a more mutual process that helps to make conscious what is unconscious in the therapeutic field. This may occur through symbolic manifestations such as sensations, feelings, thoughts, images and intuitions. Understanding and insight are important, yet it is the lived experience with the analyst that has the effect of altering unhealthy fixed positions, fixed views, and fixed automatic responses.
As Jung said:
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed – Jung, 1933.
I also want to mention humor, that experience that embraces seeing and hearing, thought and emotion, pleasure and pain, resonating in the space between an old and a new pattern. I love to laugh with my clients, and often find it has created a new way of being within ourselves and with each other.
Finally, what about dreams? Dreams during the analysis can also be very helpful. They are understood as providing an image and an experience of what has been unconscious to the ego attitude. So dreams are also seen as part of the psyche’s self-regulating system, giving us information about how to achieve balance and wholeness, and how to unfold one’s unique individual self.
Dreams are impartial, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche, outside the control of the will. They are pure nature; they show us the unvarnished, natural truth, and are therefore fitted, as nothing else is, to give us back an attitude that accords with our basic human nature when our consciousness has strayed too far from its foundations and run into an impasse.
– C.G. Jung (CW10:317)
As they appear from the Self, and are integrated through understanding and experiencing what was unconscious, it is a wonderful opportunity to develop the personality, and allow insight and creativity to emerge.