At times relationships can feel like a nightmarish war zone. Whether the bond is romantic or sexual does not matter. Nor is it of any significance whether the partner is of the same or opposite sex. What matters is whether the “other” got under your skin. You know it when you feel it. An attraction, an affinity, a blissful roller coaster which can quickly break down all the coping strategies of a carefully created and nurtured persona. At times it may feel like madness knocking. That is not what we had in mind when we opened ourselves to another! Needs and emotions we never thought we had are gushing out of us. We may then find ourselves at a crossroads, though initially the choice of way is hardly in our control.
One thing that might happen is that all our defenses kick in and we regain what feels like ground under our feet. The inner whirlwind of affect is warded off ~ at the cost of our soul’s longing for a true connection to the inner other. The notion that there is an inner other, imaged and personified as a being of the opposite sex is at the core of Jungian thought. At first the ego knows nothing about this dynamic. But psyche needs to become conscious of herself. This evolutionary push towards consciousness is archetypal, it simply is. If we resist it, we will be dragged along, kicking and screaming and raging at the world. If we accept this archetypal urge towards consciousness, we can learn to breathe through the ride, as bumpy as it may be. Jung expresses this notion of the inner other in the Red Book (RB) as follows: “You, man, should not seek the feminine in women, but seek and recognize it in yourself….you, woman, should not seek the masculine in men but assume the masculine in yourself”.Psyche is bisexual. This is entirely unrelated to our sexual identifications. How do we then learn about the other within us? We unconsciously put (project) our unknown self onto another person. What we experience when these dynamics are enacted is a strong emotional reaction to another person. We might be irritated, repulsed, ticked off, but mostly, for better or worse, we might fall in love.We cannot help it because, as Jung says, “You are a slave of what you need in your soul”.
Let us consider the other direction at our crossroads. No doubt the less comfortable one, as the soul’s way always is. Welcome to our brave soul’s battle in her adventure of connecting to spirit. Because ultimately it is through the contrasexual archetype that the world beyond ego, the transpersonal, spiritual dimension opens up to us. “The part that you take over from the devil – joy -leads you into adventure”. How might one read this statement in the context of relationships? I opt to offer the following: to not resist the pull of your emotions, to make room for your love and hate and all the shades in between them, without allowing the emotional storms to take over. Not to be overtaken is often the hardest part and may require practice and support. Most important, however, is to never lose sight that while our attention is entirely hooked on the other person, we are always exploring and learning about ourselves. We are always reaching for and touching on an aspect of ourselves in the other.
Jung allows us a glimpse into the awkward and raw experience of his soul’s journey towards his feminine side. Writing from a man’s perspective in general and his own very private, subjective one in particular, Jung notes: “It is bitter for the most masculine man to accept his femininity, since it appears ridiculous to him, powerless and tawdry”. A woman’s experience will be different, but in most cases she will also struggle with her acceptance of the masculine within herself. This is when love can turn into hate. Because “he” is so dominant, so controlling, so violent, so insensitive etc. “He” may be all of that but these qualities may lie dormant in the woman’s psyche, unbeknown to her, but usually experienced by others. “The feminine in man is bound up with evil…..the masculine in the woman is bound up with evil”. Not an easy statement to swallow, “Therefore people hate to accept their own other”, Jung continues. The darkness of what we experience as evil feels too much to own and therefore needs to be projected on the one we are close. Remember a time when the one you loved turned into a monstrosity? I do.
“But if you accept it….that when you become the one who is mocked the white bird of your soul comes flying. It was far away but your humiliation attracted it” Jung writes. Only then can we claim to be a complete person. Only then can we venture into relationship. On one hand a relationship into the amoral world of the archetypal cosmic psyche and the other hand into a fully fleshed out relationship with another person. Only then may we be able to see and love the person for who they are.
Oh yes, said Eve to the serpent, lead me into temptation. For I want to know.
What did happen to psychotherapy? The word alone can send unpleasant shivers down the spine of some and evoke images of state regulated symptom control in order to increase “evidenced based” productivity in the workforce and compliance with societal norms. It sounds sickening, but is true. We have created a narrow path of what is considered “good mental health” and in the process marginalized large numbers of people who do not fit the established criteria. Is psychotherapy supposed to be that? It is certainly not what I had in mind when I entered the field. And I would like to believe that the founders of modern psychotherapy from Freud to Jung, would be, maybe not surprised, but still abhorred by what psychotherapy has become nowadays, particular in institutional settings.
Psyche means soul and psychology is the science of the soul, while our word therapy derives from the Greek therapeia, which means healing. The Greek myth of Psyche talks about her suffering, not because she is “ill” but her suffering being an unavoidable “symptom” of her journey towards union with her love Eros and ultimately on her journey towards immortality. By learning to love and by enduring the pain associated with it we transcend our physical limitations.
Looked at from this perspective we are all in need of healing and guidance. It removes the prevalent and stigmatizing divide between the “healthy” and the “ill”. Our current definition of “mental health” causes more harm than help. It terrorizes the soul. The truth is we are all in the same boat. We may have different life stories and we may be at different stages of psychic development, but we all participate in the same divine drama of becoming conscious of who we are, which may be just another way of stating our movement towards immortality.
Therapists of the Jungian persuasion appreciate the soul. We are stewards for psyche. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve the collective and psyche at the same time. When Jung developed his idea of “individuation”, he understood that an individual following his true calling may be taken far from collective values and expectations. To walk one’s own path may at times take one even far from what is considered “good mental health”. If you have not ventured into the darkest recesses of your soul, no treasure shall ever be yours.
But we therapists must not fall into the deadly trap of believing that we facilitate a healing or that we have the capacity to guide a patient’s psyche. That would be a fatal inflation. What we can, in fact, what we must do is twofold. For one, we must provide a safe space, a container for the work to occur and we must develop eyes to see the energetic shifts and battles fought out in this space. We can hope, maybe even pray that the true guide of souls, Hermes, shows up and guides the work.
This necessary safe space is not unlike the alchemical vessel. It is both an actual physical location, as well as an imaginal space. It is the field created between therapist and patient. We can imagine this field as a crucible, an open vessel. This kind of soul work is not counceling. We do not give advice. On the imaginal level it is a relationship between two equals. The sparks and darts (transference) will fly back and forth. It will get heated. The imaginal vessel needs an opening for toxic vapors (emotions) to be released. A therapist will begin to “see” the circulating energy as old contents are broken down, bottomless despair is mutually suffered and only then, with grace, a new content in the form of an unexpected thought, an image, a dream will present itself.
At other times the vessel of soul work needs to be imagined as hermetically sealed. When new life needs to be protected. This could be when the therapist senses, “sees” the shimmer of a newly emerging attitude in the patient. Often before the patient has any awareness of it or is unwilling to imbue it with any energy. Just like a plant needs water and light, a barely present new psychic attitude needs to be watered with feeling and fed with the energy of intent.
All too often have the inner workings of the therapy vessel been forgotten. What has survived are the outer manifestations of confidentiality and the code of ethics to protect the patient. Both are crucial aspects of therapeutic work, but without an eye for the drama lived out in the imaginal space of therapeutic work, soul is abandoned one more time again. So you psychotherapists out there, in whose service are you?