The Relevance Of The Concept Of “Archetype”
The Relevance Of The Concept Of “Archetype”
Adam Blatner, M.D.
(This paper was presented at the Department of Psychiatry Grand Rounds, University of Louisville School of Medicine, June 7, 1990, revised a little since. Posted on website, July 8, 2002)
Psychotherapy has evolved significantly in the last several decades, marked chiefly by a proliferation of different theories and techniques. This in turn both generates a need for a metatheory which can integrate the best insights of these seemingly competing approaches, and also offers some hints for achieving this synthesis. The most obvious approach is to seek a common denominator among all the various schools of thought. The best description of that common denominator, I have found, approximates Carl Jung’s concept of the “archetype.”
Finding a Common Denominator
One way of thinking about the primary differences among the various schools of thought is that each approach addresses a different facet of human motivation. Freud pointed to sexuality and the need to repress ego-alien ideas and emotions; Adler highlighted the drive to overcome inferiority and experience a sense of power; Wilhelm Reich added the phenomenon of the body’s muscular “armoring” as an assertion of a characterologic attitude; Jung pointed out the universal need of people to seek meaning within a religious or spiritual context; Otto Rank noted the essential conflict regarding separation from the caretaker, and the importance of will and creativity; and John Bowlby, Fairbairn, and others of the English school emphasized the basic hunger for a relationship with the parenting figure. Heinz Kohut stressed the centrality of the development of a cohesive sense of self. The list could be extended at length. Recognizing this, the question is not a matter of deciding which one of these theories is more “correct,” but rather how to construct a more encompassing theory integrating the best insights of all of the present schools.
But to return to Jung: More than his own addition to this list of basic motivations, Jung went a step further. He pointed out that there are many of these basic motivations, which he called “archetypes” (Jung, 1958, p.vii). (He took the term from its use by St. Augustine and also its earlier use by neo-platonic philosophers; there was also a relationship with the concept of “elementary ideas” describe by the nineteenth century ethnologist Adolf Bastian.) The term, “archetype” should thus be recognized as the name for the category of the fundamental themes in human psychology, and the noting of this category also suggests the nature of the common denominator among the various types of basic human motivations. “Finding a name for something is a way of conjuring its existence, of making it possible for people to see a pattern where they didn’t see anything before,” wrote Howard Rheingold.
Searching for a common denominator in a complex system means opening a new frontier, a perspective or level of understanding of dynamics which in turn makes it possible to generate new hypotheses. As an analogy, the creation of the concept of the atom as the common denominator which could explain the various discoveries in chemistry less than two hundred years ago was incredibly heuristic, enabling scientists to look for and find other basic elements and, more, to begin to methodically develop the field of chemistry.
How Archetypes Function
Archetypes function at a more basic or “deeper” level of the unconscious than, say, the defense mechanisms or most other psychodynamic patterns. They represent the inherited, intrinsic tendencies in cognition, imagery, and emotion in the human species. Archetypes are the extensions of the phenomenon of instinct, as complexified and expressed in human experience. In themselves formless and expressing the sociobiological dimension of neurophysiology, their manifestations may be found in themes in art, ritual, custom, imagery, dreams, philosophy, psychopathology, and every other human endeavor.
Jung elaborated the idea that there are two types or “levels” of the unconscious around the time he first developed the concept of archetype–the second decade of this century. He agreed to a large extent with Freud’s theory that there was an unconscious level of activity–Jung called it the “personal unconscious”–which “contained” the complexes of ideas, emotions, and perceptions which were incompatable with the dominant sense of self. In addition, Jung suggested that the personal unconscious also included perceptions and ideas which had not attained the threshold of explicit consciousness.
More importantly, though, Jung suggested that many of these experiences and dynamics were influenced by a yet more fundamental set of operations or constraints, the innate tendencies to think and feel and image in certain ways which represented our most essential nature. If the personal unconscious were compared to a computer, the repressed ideas as well as many of the habitual ego functions would be the equivalent of the basic programming of the software. The archetypes, then, would be the “hardware,” the actual circuitry of the computer which imposes certain constraints on the software programs.
This archetypal layer of the unconscious are instincts in human form, the psychological experience or imaginal expression of the instinctual process. The mysterious and powerful nature of instinct are worth contemplating, along with the many types of instinctual behaviors which have been observed in animals. These include communicative and social complexes which have evolved to preserve the species, behaviors relating not only to mating, nurturing, feeding, migrating, and other more biological constraints, but also more subtle themes of territoriality, dominance, group hunting, etc.
In the two million or so years of human evolution, psychobiological and sociobiological patterns evolved along with changes in anatomical structures. Because of the development of the human nervous system, the phenomenon of instinct becomes far more subtle, diversified, and elaborate. The neocortex renders humans capable of imagination, language, symbolization, intuition, reason, subtleties of emotion and other manifestations of a tremendous expansion of complexity. We have become not just quantitatively but qualitatively different from animals because of our capacity to reflect on ourselves, on our own death, to laugh at ourselves, to express ourselves artistically, to tell stories, to create religions, and, in short, to express a variety of abilities and inclinations which are to be found in all human cultures.
Because of the way instinct in humans is transformed by the phenomenon of consciousness, another term is indicated: not “instinct,” but “archetype.” The choice of word is important in psychology, for semantic associations subtly influence attitude. Terms such as “drive” imply a more steady-state or cyclically recurrent force, while archetype suggests a complex (i.e., Jung’s term for a psychological grouping or constellation of ideas, feelings, habitual behaviors, etc.) which, like instincts, can become catalyzed in the course of development or when triggered by some external circumstance. Similarly, words such as “want,” “need,” or “motivation” are simply too general and simplistic, if not actually misleading.
Archetypes are tendencies rather than forms. The term “archetype” should be differentiated from “archetypal image.” The former is the intrinsic pattern, the latter is the “clothing” of the pattern. Another analogy is that if a crystal is the form, the underlying pattern which determines whether the crystal will be, say, tetrahedral or hexagonal arises out of the characteristic angles which the atoms of the various substances form with each other (Wickes, 1976, p.xii). The archetype is the patterning tendency which is the equivalent not of the formed crystal, but of the angles at which the atoms connect.
An example of an archetype might be the tendency to develop an emotionally tinged image of a hero and, in different cultures, the hero may take on the form of Sir Galahad questing for the Holy Grail, Gilgamesh seeking the flower of immortality, Hildegarde of Bingen standing up to the conservative authorities in the medieval church, or Abraham Lincoln braving the turbulence of politics in order to promote his ideals (Jung, 1970, p.41). The archetype of the mandala, a circular artistic design, may take on the archetypal image of the rose window in Chartres Cathedral, a specific Navajo sand painting, or a personal drawing of a patient in psychotherapy.
Archetypes operate at a dynamic level somewhere between the present gross knowledge of neurophysiology and the most elementary psychodynamic processes. At a certain point in the nervous system’s processing of an internal or external stimuli, the network of neurons complexifies to the point of a kind of “spill-over” into a glimmering of awareness. Gestalts of images and cognitions begin to form which are inevitably tinged with emotions ranging from the subtle to the strong, the simple to the most complex.
The mind processes information with an associated tendency to attribute value–an aesthetic function, and this (archetypal) tendency differentiates the mind from any computer (Jung, 1970, p.12). Nor are the emotions generated reducible to simple responses of pleasure or pain, fight or flight; rather, we are inclined to experience on many levels at the same time (Blatner & Blatner, 1988), and so human consciousness includes such uniquely human feelings as irony, humor, awe, altruism, envy, tenderness, or insight.
The concept of archetype is particularly useful in elucidating a special kind of experience which is not easily explained in other theoretical systems–the feeling of “numinosity.” This is that feeling of being gripped by an idea or an image, swept up by a sheer sense of significance or importance. Numinosity also tends to be sensed as somewhat inexplicable in rational terms, or even mysterious. Falling head over heels in love is a numinous experience, as is a near-death experience for most people, or a religious vision. Groups and entire nations can be caught up in the influence of an archetype. The ancients’ concepts of their gods were personified names for these more abstract experiences, the awe-inspired reactions to the spaciousness of the sky, the never-ending, pervasive energy of life, the intuition of magic or mysterious powers in the cosmos, etc. (Bennet, 1985, p.109). These emotions must be included as phenomena to be considered in any holistic system of neurophysiology. They should not be too quickly explained away as mere temporal lobe epiphenomena.
Perhaps the most important quality of the archetype is that it operates autonomouslyin the psyche, organizes itself into images, and presses those numinous images upon the conscious ego. The complexes thus organized in some ways function as sub-personalities which have the potential of engaging in an active dialogue; that is, they can respond to questions posed by the conscious ego as if they had their own intentions and personalities. This feature has clinical implications which will be discussed later (Bennet, 1985, p.83).
Some Examples of Archetypes
Archetypes represent basic cognitive-emotional-imaginal structuring patterns which these can be described fairly obvious and down-to-earth ways. Carl Jung described a variety of archetypes which are more esoteric in their associations. Knowledge of his examples is not necessary to appreciate the essential concept and its clinical relevance. Indeed, I am not suggesting a wholesale adoption of Jung’s work, for he addressed many different issues ranging from his own theory of temperamental differences to an elaborate analysis of such practices as the hidden wisdom of the medieval alchemists.
Because so much of Jung’s case was painstakingly constructed from his analysis of cross-cultural phenomena–myth, art, rituals–and also of his patient’s dreams and the symptoms of psychotics, his writings and those of many of his followers tend to be rather scholastic, full of strange allusions, Latin terms, and dense concepts. Yet the common denominators he discovered deserve to be distilled and recognized, not as muddy-headed esoterica, but rather as practical concepts regarding basic tendencies in human nature.
The first example of an archetypal function is that the mind tends to organize ambiguous perceptions into meaningful sets, to construct meaning–even when, as demonstrated by a number of psychological experiments–the basic data are in fact unrelated (Gazzaniga, 1984?). This is the archetype of meaning and relates to Viktor Frankl’s approach to existential psychotherapy (Jaffe, 1975; Frankl, 1966?).
A related theme is the tendency of the mind to find common denominators, which is also reflected in the archetypal images of unity, the number one, and monistic trends in philosophy. Of course, the concept of archetype as a unifying element in the psyche, like the atom in chemistry, also expresses this archetypal tendency.
Primary numbers can be seen as expressing archetypal intuitions. The number two also reflects the mind’s tendency to think in terms of dualities, to see ambiguous complexes in terms of contrasting opposites (Jung, 1959, p.73). Good and bad, dark and light, masculine and feminine, spirit and matter, etc., all are constructs imposed by human thought on what is objectively a boundary-less external reality. This archetype can be found in philosophy as well as art. Dualistic thinking can also be pathological, for the immature mind tends to experience some situations in an inappropriately either-or fashion, when an ability to see other alternatives should be sought.
The archetype of the number three reflects the mind’s capacity to intuitively organize situations in terms of triads, often with the third element functioning to mediate or include the other two. In religion, this archetype may be expressed as the archetypal image of the Trinity, with Christ functioning as the mediator between God and humanity. In philosophy, Hegel’s concept of dialectical process showed how the idea of synthesis was the third element, the response to the dualistic tension between thesis and antithesis.
In psychodynamics, too, this modulating potential of the archetype of three operates in the healthy resolution of the Oedipal struggle. Part of the problem of jealousy in children around the age of four or five is that they are still only able to relate to one playmate at a time and they are just beginning to learn to relate to two or more in the same play activity without becoming jealous. This conflict is projected on the two parents. Freud was correct in noting the universality of this shift, but only partly correct in asserting that its only determinant was the theme of sexuality and fear of castration. Often in families the child learns smoothly that he can love mommy and also feel included by daddy in a threesome.
The archetype of four is evoked whenever two different dualities are seen as interacting. In ancient medicine, the dualities of warmth and cold interacted with the dualities of moist and dry, the result being the four humors. The four categories generated by creating a chart based on the orthogonal axes is an important feature in geometry, calculus, and, when enclosed in a circle, the aforementioned artistic device of the mandala.
Numerous listings of different types of archetypal processes are possible, ranging from approaches to spiritual transformation (Metzner, 1986), various base metaphors for describing life (LeGuin, 1985), steps in the creative process (Blatner & Blatner, 1988a), and others (Zolla, 1981). The defense mechanisms, types of interpersonal and social manipulation, and the aforementioned basic motivations in psychodynamics (Madsen, 1968), all express archetypal tendencies. Thousands of these themes overlap, interpenetrate, and resist elucidation as distinct variables. As much as our scientific tradition seeks to define processes, there is no a priorireason to assume that the actual nature of mind is organized in this conveniently compartmentalized fashion.
A few other essential archetypal processes need to be mentioned here for the purposes of the present discussion: First, a tendency towards homeostasis occurs in the psyche just as it does in the body. This involves an intrinsic capacity to sense imbalance among various psychosocial activities and to press for an expression of any capacities which are being repressed or neglected (Jung, 1958, p.125-6). Consciousness is required to ensure that the balancing processes are adaptive in the long range. Much of psychopathology can be viewed as the unconscious expression of this archetypal trend towards balance, but often this expression utilizes cognitions and perceptions which have never been matured in the context of explicit consciousness, and so the channels for expression or gratification are correspondingly immature, egocentric, overgeneralized, or otherwise ridden with residues of infantile thinking. On the other hand, if the mind were to be attuned to these intuitions and impulses, if the symptoms of imbalance could be correctly identified, then more effective adaptive channels could be constructed in the service of more holistically-integrated living.
One of the most useful archetypes, related to the archetype of meaning, is that of wisdom. The idea that we can intuitively discover constructive principles for living is expressed in many archetypal images: the “still, small voice” of God; the “old wise man or woman”; certain totem animals such as the owl, the wolf, or the buffalo; and other complexes which serve as sources of inspiration and guidance.
Jung, of course, acknowledged the activity of the personal unconscious and much of his work addressed his patients’ dynamics at this level. Yet he also considered the meaning of the phenomenon of inspiration. Creative people in the sciences as well as the arts would often remark that their processes of creativity included moments in which the flow of images or ideas or words came as if from some source which seemed other than the creators themselves (Jung, 1970, p.15). Part of the creative act seemed to involve simply being receptive to what the ancients called “the muses.” (This expresses the aforementioned archetype of autonomy.)
Here is a crucial difference between the basic sensibility of analytical psychology and psychoanalysis, reflecting the Jungian vs. the Freudian view of the unconscious. If the unconscious functions as solely as a repository of feelings and ideas which have been repressed, as the Freudians suggest, then therapy targets the elucidation of these patterns. Implicit in this view is the assumption that the wisdom to integrate what is brought into consciousness resides entirely in the conscious mind. The Jungian view, in contrast, suggests that there might be potentials in the unconscious which contain wisdom. These sources of inspiration and guidance are built into our sociobiological heritage and, therefore, methods for helping the “inner wisdom” to be expressed would have great value as supplements to the traditional approaches to psychotherapy.
Implications of the Concept of Archetype
What is the value of this view of dynamic psychology? How can the concept of archetype be useful? To begin with, although what I am presenting is theoretical, as the social psychologist Kurt Lewin (1951: 169) said, “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.” There are relevant and practical aspects to the concept of archetype.
First, it represents a new category which includes a variety of other processes which had previously not been integrated; as such, this idea generates a new, more useful system of classifying phenomena. (S.I. Hyakawa said, “Science seeks generally only the most useful systems of classification: these it regards for the time being, until more useful classifications are invented, as “true.”) In this sense, the concept of archetype acts as a bridge among the different schools of thought. I mentioned earlier some of the many basic themes in psychodynamic psychology. The essential ideas of Freud, Adler, Jung, Rank, Horney, Kohut, and the others all can be thought of as being explorations of different kinds of archetypes. This is their common denominator.
A psychology based on archetypes is one which is essentially pluralistic in nature, and which takes as a starting points the idea that human nature is not determined by one or even just a few basic drives, but rather is influenced by thousands of tendencies. Admittedly, some of these are more strongly expressed and pervasive than others, such as sexuality, aggression, the sense of self, etc. Yet more subtle tendencies are also archetypal, such as the desire to express originality and to be seen as special, the enjoyment of petting an obviously responsive animal, or the involvement of a philosophical dialogue.
Two corollaries to this theme exist: One is that the concept of archetype supports the emergence of a consensus about an integrative approach to dynamic psychology. The field as it has been, full of different seemingly competing schools of thought, was problematic because nonpartisan outsiders tended to doubt whether any of them were valid. An integrative approach is far more credible. Indeed, I believe that this could herald a revitalization of dynamic psychiatry. (I have developed a meta-theory in which the concept of role serves as the basis for such an integrative approach, and these ideas about archetypes enrich the broader system of applied role theory (Blatner, 2000)
The second corollary is that this archetypal theory addresses the widest range of human experiences, including such dimensions as playfulness, spirituality, social concern, belongingness, art, politics, creativity, etc. These are qualities that are ignored by psychologies which are based on the behavioral reactions of of lower animals; there are enough dehumanizing trends in modern life. We need a psychology which recognizes the importance of these more uniquely human qualities.
Such a psychology has an immediate clinical relevance: Patients sense the respect implicit in a therapist who believes in a more complex, wide-ranging theory of psychology. Such a therapist treats patients as individuals with many aspects to their lives, unique strengths, the potential for surprising depths of humor or insight, and a capacity for spontaneity and creativity. Such an attitude strengthens the treatment alliance and supports thinking of patients as being influenced not by just a few drives, but by a rich plethora of archetypes. Therapists are empowered to relinquish the reductionistic tradition which led them to be termed “shrinks” and to take on the role of “expanders.”
An archetype-based psychology goes beyond the old implicit hierarchies which reflected now-obsolete cultural values, such as the tendency to think of masculinity as more primary, basic, or in any other sense subtly better than femininity, reason more valuable than emotion, spirit more noble than body, task more important than relationship, etc. (Goldenberg, 1989; Lauter & Rupprrecht, 1985). In contrast, an archetype-based psychology recognizes that each archetype has its own integrity, its own place in the scheme of things. This confronts people with the responsibility to create, and help the culture create, more adaptive and inclusive value systems.
Archetypes as Connecting Agents
The concept of archetype also acts as a bridge or connection with a wide variety of dimensions of our life and times.
Jungian psychology is becoming a more prominent element in the contemporary intellectual scene, and the idea of archetype is its most essential concept. A number of books on related topics have recently become quite popular and study groups on the work of Jung and his followers are proliferating. Some of these groups operate within the aegis of established religious institutions, because the Jungian approach is unique in its capacity to make psychological bridges between religion and psychology.
Modern religion–at least the more liberal tradition in a number of denominations–seeks to promote relevance, to make spirituality something that can be used by the church membership as a vital element in their lives. Psychology helps to personalize issues, to relate them intellectually to the scriptures as well as to other literary and scientific sources.
A related phenomenon has been the growth of interest in comparative mythology–a more cross-cultural way of examining the basis of religion. The work of the late Joseph Campbell, in particular, has been popularized, especially by a PBS television series of interviews of Campbell by Bill Moyers in 1988 (Segal, 1990).
Yet this study of comparative mythology represents a more pervasive quest–that of finding the intellectual foundation for a number of relatively recent cultural trends–especially among the better educated younger generation, i.e., the growing interest in such a diverse group of subjects as the mystical traditions within Christianity and Judaism; the spritual wisdom inherent in Native American, primitive, Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, Sufi, and other cultures (Grof, 1988a); the principles of esoteric and occult studies; etc. These traditions are rich in imagery, symbol, and themes which require for their understanding both spritual intuition and psychology. Again, Jung’s ideas are illuminating in this regard.
The resurgence of interest in Jungian ideas really began in the 1960s, probably not coincidentally at the time when many people, mostly serious seekers and investigators, were experimenting with psychedelics. (The rash of irresponsible experimentation emerged only at the end of this decade.) The need to rationalize the intensity of psychedelic imagery and make intellectual connections with contemporary perspectives in theory was satisfied best by Jung’s psychological approach (Grof, 1988b). This capacity of the concept of archetype to exercise an integrative function may be seen also in another type of convergence. In the last century, a number a fields have been studying the nature of thinking itself–of course, depth psychology is one of those fields. The following fields are addressing similar questions, namely, how does the mind work (including how the mind can so effectively deceive itself, derail itself, and engage in foolish as well as clever activities). Because this is a group and interpersonal question as well as a matter for individual psychology, such fields as sociology, anthropology, artificial intelligence, linguistics, paralinguistics, which studies nonverbal communications, communications theory (including the study of how, as Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message”), contemporary trends in philosophy, history, cultural criticism, futurology, organizational development, political science, literature are engaging in what might be called a “metacognitive” endeavor–thinking about how we think. Again, the concept of archetype finds utility, as it does for the fields comparative mythology and religion (Jung, 1959, p.329).
In this regard, there are also commonalities between the concept of archetype and other intuitive ideas about basic underlying patterns in the cosmos as well as in the mind: Plato’s concept of “ideal forms”; Sheldrake’s (1981) theory of “morphogenetic fields”; Whitehead’s concept of “eternal objects”; Moreno’s concept of “metapraxie” (Blatner, 1988a), etc.
On a more personal level, learning about our common heritage can be reassurring, because what tends to be experienced as a personal failing can be reconsidered as part of the human condition. This is what Yalom refers to as the universalizing benefit of group psychotherapy. The concept of archetype offers a vehicle for people talking about the themes they share in common and, indeed, which are themes intrinsic to the human condition. This encourages the sublimation of personalized pain into expressions of the archetypal themes in poetry and art, political action or the organization of self-help groups, spirituality or humor.
Widening the circle of identity, we can use the concept of archetype to appreciate what we have in common with people in other cultures. In addition, it stimulates cross-cultural studies which in turn offer the additional benefit of showing us some ways of dealing with issues in life which our own culture may not have evolved. Since we are living in a time which is characterized by nothing so much as change itself, it behooves us to reconsider many of our society’s norms and customs. The cross-fertilization which comes from the metacognitive study of anthropology, social psychology, and related fields may be productive of some valuable techniques for adaptation.
This greater degree of understanding may foster tolerance for other peoples. The link between archetype and instinct may generate a heightened consciousness about our relationships with other forms of life, perhaps helping motivate us to take up the challenge of developing an ecologically stable planet.
This growing recognition of our common bonds with others and with all of life involves a mental mechanism we have all known about, identification, but which deserves to be appreciated as being of immense significance. The capacity to identify with something is archetypal, of course,–related to the building of the self-concept, of defining what is or is not part of “me.” Identification is a complex activity, occurring on many levels. The most familiar form is as a relatively passive action, as in identifying with one’s favored football team or with the hero–or perhaps the villain–of some movie. A more complex form of identification reflects the culture’s emerging holistic perspective: the awareness that in many cases, our own fate is tied up with what we feel a part of and, on an even deeper level, that we must recognize that we are in some small way responsible for determining that fate. We affect our collective destiny by what we choose to support economically, what we buy, who we vote for, what letters we write, and, also, the awareness comes that our inaction is also an act of permission given to others who might choose a different goal.
As our awareness grows, our consciousness expands: what we are learning to identify with is all of life–this is symbolized by the picture of the blue-green white-speckled earth as seen from the moon, an icon which has entered our consciousness only within this last generation. An attitude of identifying with the wholeness of things is the operational equivalent of what in other contexts has been called spirituality. Spirituality is thus bridged to psychology through the archetypal act of identification with an ever-increasing scope of integrated activity and this activity includes also one’s own deepening consciousness.
Relationship With the Unconscious
The most important and clinically relevant implication of the concept of archetype is that it fosters a shift in the way we think about the unconscious. As mentioned before, one of the features of archetypes is that they act autonomously, offering images, impulses, and emotions even when they are unbidden. Clinically, it is useful to personify the archetypal complexes, which means to relate to them as if they were persons with whom one can have a give-and-take encounter (Jung, 1959b, p.325).his represents a significant shift in basic theory as well as technique. Traditional psychotherapies such as psychoanalysis analyze the contents of the unconscious, but do not dialogue with it. On the other hand, approaches such as psychodrama, psychosynthesis, and analytical psychology utilize this more direct encounter (Gordon, 1987; Blatner, 1988b). Jung called his style of doing this “active imagination” (Hochheimer, 1969, pp.87-89). Describing the technique fully is beyond the scope here, but suffice it to say that it involves the development of a mental state of receptivity in which the unconscious acts freely–a kind of conscious dreaming in which the patient is able to exert some will in asking questions or taking some imagined action, but yet not attempting to control the responses of the figures of other beings in the fantasy. Their “dissociated?” behavior inevitably offers important clues for further analytical work, which is also utilized–the two approaches being synergistic in the overall therapy. There are many variations of this approach (Watkins, 1986?; Feinstein & Krippner, 1988; Assagioli, 1968?; Ahsen, 1988?, etc.).
Recent work on multiple personality disorders have found that the best way to treat them is to use a similar technique of calling out and dialoguing with each sub-personality as if it were a real person, and then helping the different parts of the psyche negotiate together. This is a fairly useful approach with many people who are not disturbed to the point of full dissociation and the organization of truly autonomous sub-personalities. Yet most people have what could be considered different roles or parts of themselves, and these complexes also respond to being personfied and dealt with in this more mutual fashion. As a result of the utility of this technique in therapy, the growing interest in the sequelae of trauma, the nature of denial and quasi-addictive behavior, and other findings in such areas of study as split brain research, the dynamics of partial and subtle dissociation are becoming recognized as being more pervasive as a psychodynamic mechanism. In turn, this theoretical shift is compatable with a pluralistic theory of archetypes.
A similar attitudinal shift may be seen as being implict in Jung’s approach to dream work, in contrast to Freud’s. Freud thought that dream work generally disguised unacceptable wishes, but Jung viewed dreams as being relatively direct, undisguised reflections of the inner situation. Of course dreams are expressed symbolically–that is the main language used by the unconscious–but that does not mean that these symbols are efforts at disguise. In fact, most dreams, especially the vivid and eventful ones, are impressively direct, if one considers them as poetic expressions of paradoxical or ambivalent feelings. The key is to imagine that the unconscious includes a dream-maker whose job it is to be helpful–there’s that theme of having a relationship “with” rather than simply thinking “about.”
This technique fosters a deepened sense of self-respect. Just as the therapists’ treatment of patients as complex, spontaneous beings strengthens the treatment alliance, so do patients’ treating their own unconscious with a similar degree of respect generate an expanded and strengthened sense of self. An internalized alliance is established with a partially constructed ego-ideal, or what in Kohut’s self psychology might be called a built-in idealizing and mirroring selfobject.
As a result, people who exercise their imaginations and who become increasingly receptive to the spontaneous flow of intuitions and impulses arising from the never-ending fountain of the archetypal level of the unconscious begin to experience themselves as possessing an incredibly wealthy and wise depth of being. This source of psychological energy engenders a sense of vitality, interest, and, yes, challenge and humility, for the unconscious also surfaces any unresolved conflicts and deficits which call for remediation or compensation.
The Emerging Archetype of Individuated Interdependence
The re-emergence in our time of a primordial archetype ties all this together: that of our interdependent nature, our connectedness, our “we-ness.” This is our tribal heritage. Yet in the last several centuries, we can see (in retrospect) the growing influence of another, equally real archetype: the individual. Humans also have the tendency to experience themselves as isolated, separate, unique, and existentially alone. Many historical influences, ranging from the industrial revolution to the experience of mass education have fostered a preponderance of this more alienated experience in Western culture.
Yet we are presently entering a period of cultural enantiodromia–another term coined by Jung to describe the way processes in life often run in cycles, the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, or things turn into their opposites. What may be occurring now is an interaction of the group and the individual as a dialectical process: The thesis is the group mind, brooking no deviance and allowing only the slightest degrees of originality; the antithesis is the creative individual, the hero archetype, isolated and struggling alone. The synthesis is made possible through the interaction of a depth psychology which informs the group process, celebrating both individuation and social cohesion. An example of this is the therapeutic group in which the norm is the production of creative responses, using dreams, art, drama, and other aesthetic vehicles.
The archetype of creativity breaks old structures while yet remaining grounded in the committment to social re-integration and operates at the deeper level of potentials rather than of crystallized forms. The exploration of this archetypal level of functioning in the human psyche thus promotes the re-emergence in a more sophisticated form of our soreley needed awareness of interdependence, our connectedness, our we-ness, leading, finally to a greater capacity for relationships with our deeper selves–our souls–with our fellow human beings, and with all of life. It is an idea whose time has come.
Source | THE RELEVANCE OF THE CONCEPT OF “ARCHETYPE”
Adam Blatner, M.D