The Complex and the Transcendent

Aida-Izadpanah-Transcendence-10-Mixed-Media-on-Canvas-18-x-18-2014Izadpanah, A. (2014) Transcendence [Mixed media on canvas]. New York: Elisa Contemporary Art.

“Since life cannot tolerate a standstill, a damming up of vital energy results, and this would lead to an insupportable condition did not the tension of opposites produce a new, uniting function that transcends them”

Jung, C. (1971) The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Volume 6. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

We are reviewing features of Carl Jung’s philosophy of the psyche in relation to the chapter by Nora Swan-Foster called “Jungian Art Therapy”. This is Chapter Nine in the Ulster University E-Book Approaches to Art Therapy: Theory and Technique by Judith Rubin.

What did you learn from the chapter? Be prepared to share your insights, and how you have consulted further resources to learn more about Jungian psychology and its applications to art therapy.

Here are headings from my own notes, after I read the chapter “Jungian Art Therapy”.

Psychological Complexity 

A complex is an emotionally charged entanglement—a combining of the past and the present, unconscious and conscious elements uniting in a patterning that informs experience.  A complex has a theme, a story and can be experienced through emotional outbursts or reactions. It exists as an unintegrated part of the psyche. It is autonomous and seeks attention as it interrupts and disrupts. You may already be familiar with the terms inferiority complex, superiority complex and a guilt complex. Metaphors, images and symbols mediate complex responses to reality. Jung believed that the unconscious mediates one-sided living or habits of perception and experience that discount the value of opposites and diversity. Jungian analysis seeks to decrease the affects of the complex, so that we understand its meanings, its message, and then seek to find a compensatory symbol to minimise its influence.

We are challenged to embrace difference, through compensatory images that attempt to mediate our opposing frames of mind. Archetypes (found in folklore, myths, spiritual and cultural traditions) are patterns of behaviour that are collective, societal and ancestral. They relate to our our current situation in their capacity to depict the human condition as a collective endeavour. To embrace the journey of individuation (personal development) is to acknowledge the combining of opposites and to understand our shadow (aspects of ourselves that we may disown or defend against), as an essential feature of our identity. The challenge is to observe the many features of who we are, some of which we live out and some of which we choose to ignore or negate. Investigating the complexity of selfhood challenges the ego to embrace an expanded sense of consciousness and flexibly. This is growth on both a personal and societal level.

A complex can operate independently and influence our actions in a unanticipated way. Traumatic experiences can be understood as a complex that exists as a collection of felt responses to an overwhelming experience of distress, where our psychological (and physical) survival felt threatened. There may be conscious connections to the experience, but it can be triggered spontaneously when a current life experience coincides with the traumatic experience.

The Theory of the Opposites 

Extract from the “The Psychology of Dr. C.G. Jung 1: An Overview by Helen Drucquer” in Foundations in Psychoanalysis, Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies, University of Sheffield.

“The psyche is a self regulating system, with its own energy….this energy flows between two opposing poles. The task of the individual is to adapt to the alternating reconciliation  of opposites and to develop experiences that compensate for a one-sided attitude of consciousness. This brings into a consideration the idea of compensation. Jung says that we are continually living within an energetic tension between the opposites, which attempt to hold us in an equilibrium. The unconscious can compensate for one-sidedness in conscious life. It does this by producing a symbol, a capacity Jung called the transcendent function, which allows the uniting and transcendence of opposites. Action from this point of view does not lead one to suppress or eradicate a symptom…but to evolve in a fuller consciousness of the opposites within oneself. So all those aspects within a person, which oppose one another and seek resolution in some way or other…can be reconciled through the transcendent function of the self. For Jung, the self contains all the elements embraced by the conscious and unconscious [the self is more than the ego and includes the unconscious and also the collective unconscious as the archive of human experiences]. ”

The Transcendent

The transcendent function is the capacity for the psyche to extend and incorporate unconscious material; it is the ability to pay attention to inner conflicts, tensions and challenging life situations and to observe images that emerge in an attempt to bring us into a new understanding or perspective. We can “rise above” a challenging situation through our attention to symbolic antidotes that already exist within us. However, dedication, time and space are needed to deliberate upon how our creativity can bring us to a new place of experiencing.

The Symbol

Extract from the “The Psychology of Dr. C.G. Jung 1: An Overview by Helen Drucquer” in Foundations in Psychoanalysis, Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies, University of Sheffield.

“The symbol is the psyche’s way of providing a bridge between consciousness and unconsciousness, and takes the form of an image directly experienced in consciousness. It it an expression of the creativity of the psyche in its constant attempts to forge its own individuality and derives equally from the activity of the unconscious and from rational perceptions, feelings and so on…The symbol is both the container of the clash of the opposites and the pointer to a new reality beyond the tension. This is why Jung calls the process the transcendent function, because it it not only a statement of the fact but also contains the creative energy to find a new conscious standpoint. It facilitates transitions.”

Marion Woodman

Marion Woodman was a distinguished author and Canadian Jungian analyst. Her scholarship was featured in my own art therapy training in Canada. I am including a few videos for your viewing and hopefully you will find them interesting and informative in relation to understanding applications of Jungian analysis.