We are beginning a historic new time in our American collective, welcoming a new president, a first African Asian American woman vice-president, with an electoral change that reinforces the strength of our American democracy. This is important to me as an African American woman, a mother, and a descendent of African slaves. All of these and more are relevant to my personal and professional life. The politics of America, and the constant striving for social justice, have been and remain hallmarks of the life of America’s citizens of color. We have depended on American laws and acts of justice–from the Abolitionist Movement to the Black Lives Matter Movement, to provide us with visions and acts of freedom for our bodies, our minds and hope for our future children of color. The economic, political, and educational struggles of Africanist people lasted through four hundred years of slavery. Our cultural lives have been marked through these centuries with an awareness of the struggle for survival, and the necessity of faith, tied to a belief in the resiliency of our cultural group. This is a part of my American identity as an Africanist woman and my calling as a Jungian analyst.
Psychoanalysis began from Eurocentric roots. As a Jungian analyst, I have been taught American Jungian psychology with the elements of this Eurocentrism, including its influences of raciality and colonialism. I believe that the movement of 21st century psychoanalysis, is to move us into a consciousness that acknowledges the pain of American racism, while creating a new voice of diversity and inclusion. These must always be recognized, as they have so often been excluded, as a part of our training as professionals in the field of psychology. The attention we give to racial diversity, inclusion and equity, provides more assurance that we as practitioners, can give our patients a deeper understanding of compassion and healing. In advancing the relationship between social justice and psychoanalysis, we must accept our historical beginnings, and commit to integrating the specialization of psychoanalysis through the acceptance of those traditionally designated as “Other”, due to skin color, culture or ethnicity. We as psychoanalysts are not separate from our American politics, and therefore social justice which must always speak to issues of American societal racism, and its elimination. The consciousness of the American psyche bears the history of slavery and the potential for repair. These have a presence that includes how we live psychologically–as citizens and psychoanalysts.
We cannot separate the two because this is a time that calls us to be in humility for all that we have endured as American citizens of a racialized body politic, as we become even more conscious containers for healing racism, within our psychoanalytical clinical settings, as well as for the communities we serve.
We embody all of our history–no matter how painful. In this moment, we must hold a vision and light for revealing and healing our racialized American shadow.
Fanny Brewster Ph.D., M.F.A. is a Jungian analyst, Professor of Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and member analyst with PAJA. She is a multi-genre writer who has written about issues at the intersection of Jungian psychology and American culture. The Racial Complex: A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race is her most recent book. (Routledge, 2019). Dr. Brewster is available through her website, www.fannybrewster.allyou.net/
In the opening pages of Mary Trump’s book about her family, she describes a visit to the White House to celebrate the birthdays of her aunts: Maryanne, who is turning 80, and Elizabeth, who is turning 75. It’s 2017 and the aunts’ younger brother is now the President of the United States. The author shares her reflections on her last name, something that once was a source of pride but now is a reminder of her complicated family legacy. Then she introduces the major players in her family but the one that stands out most in this book is her grandfather, the family patriarch. The first memory she shares about him is when she stood before him as a 20-year-old asking permission to return to college. He questions her decision, calling it “stupid” and suggesting she go to trade school and become a receptionist. She holds her ground and insists she wants to return in order to get her degree. Then she describes his response: “I must have said it with a hint of annoyance, because my grandfather narrowed his eyes and looked at me for a second as if reevaluating me. The corner of his mouth lifted in a sneer, and he laughed. ‘That’s nasty,’ he said. A few minutes later, the meeting broke up.” (p. 3)
Mary Trump is a psychologist and she appears to have spent plenty of time reflecting on of her family, since she lays out a very thorough anamnesis of her family’s difficulties that resulted in the death of her father at age 42 and the rise of her uncle’s fame. At the center of this saga is her grandfather, Fred Trump, a self-made German immigrant who had no time and no tenderness for his five children. The author describes her grandfather as rigid, callous, and controlling. He spent six days a week at the office and did not believe that taking care of his five young children was his responsibility. Since his wife was often ill, their care was left to a nanny or to the eldest sister; neither, of course, being able to provide the nurturing and care that would lead to a secure attachment and healthy personality. In writing about those early years of her father’s siblings, the author applies her psychological understanding to show how the two youngest children (Donald and Robert) learned to never show neediness. This lack of proper parenting explains the “not enough” of the books title. The “too much” refers to the negative attention and stifling expectations placed on Freddy, the eldest son. Reading his story is painful, especially as the author makes it clear that despite an early attempt to break away from his father, he was unable to do so psychologically. After failing in his chosen career Freddy returned home to suffer more humiliation and defeat until his untimely death.
From a Jungian perspective, the problem the author describes is negative father complex. A complex refers to unconscious contents, usually resulting from childhood wounds or trauma, that develop around a common feeling tone. A complex operates autonomously, outside of a person’s awareness, so that when it’s triggered, one’s actions follow a certain predictable pattern. This becomes particularly problematic when the complex leads one to act in ways that are against one’s best interest or bring harm to others. A negative complex indicates that the effect on the person was detrimental and it can take many forms.
By Mary’s description, Fred Trump was an autocrat and gave his approval only his children followed his rules. When they didn’t, they were subject to being mocked and humiliated. As the eldest son, Freddy was expected to work at the Trump Management office; however, he wanted to be a pilot. Instead of supporting Freddy’s dream, his father criticized him, calling him “a glorified bus driver” and saying he was an embarrassment to his family. Fred Sr. valued toughness, so he ridiculed any show of vulnerability and mocked his eldest son when he apologized for failing to intuit his father’s expectations. Consequently, Freddy’s self-worth eroded over time and he was left with an overwhelming sense of shame and worthlessness. Freddy’s desperation to get approval from his father persisted throughout his adult life so that his dream of being a pilot was sabotaged by his drinking. He returned home, a failure in his own eyes and in the eyes of his father. This is one of the potential pitfalls of a negative father complex: the son has to follow the path set out for him by the father, even if the son’s abilities and temperament are not suited to the role the father expects him to play.
Another problem in this family was the differential treatment Fred bestowed on his sons. The dynamics between Freddy, the eldest son, and Donald, the middle son, recall the archetypal themes of warring brothers where one is clearly preferred to the other. As in the Biblical story of Cain and Able, one lives and the other dies. There are also themes of the younger stealing the elder’s birthright, such as in the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob’s mother helps him fool the father, but in the Trump family, it is the mother’s neglect of her sons that creates a vacuum and increases the competition between the sons for favor from their father. But it is the father’s role in setting up this unintended rivalry that twists the gut. After his eldest son failed in securing a difficult business deal, he withdrew any but the merest financial support for Freddy and his family. Consequently, they were denied an application for a house and lived in a drafty Trump owned apartment that was never repaired. At about the same time, Donald was being driven around in a company car and earning profits from his father’s business deals despite not have contributed to them in any way. The author points out the discrepancies in the arrangements between her parent’s divorce and Donald’s. Her mother received $600 a month in alimony; Donald’s first wife signed a pre-nuptial agreement that included a bonus of $150,000, worth almost 21 years of what her mother received. In this telling, it is clear that one son’s gain is the other’s loss, and this continues to the next generation when Freddy’s children realize that they were cut out of their father’s share of the inheritance.
The dynamics of the Trump family, as described by Mary Trump, are reminiscent of a Greek tragedy and brought to mind the tale of the doomed house of Atreus. The trouble began with Tantalus who, as a friend of Zeus, was invited to the banquets on Mount Olympus. Tantalus stole the food of the gods and fed it to humans. Later, Tantalus invited the gods to a banquet. In order to test them he cut up his son Pelops and added him to the stew. The gods and goddesses were horrified and refused to eat it. In the Trump family, it was the eldest son who was cut up and sacrificed while the middle son was given honey and nectar. It did not end well for Tantalus. His kingdom was ruined, and he was strung from a fruit tree that leaned over a lake. Every time he reached for the fruit, it would evade his grasp and when he bent to drink, the water would recede. Although he was hungry and thirsty, he could neither eat nor drink. In the Trump family Fred’s children were emotionally starved and, despite Fred’s wealth, many of them lived with a scarcity mentality. The final chapters of this book describe the cursed cruelty of the Trump family, passed down through the generations. A sad but tantalizing tale.
Virginia Woolf said that there is a spot the size of a shilling on the back of one’s head, which one can never see for oneself. At present, I am wondering, if we have lost the essential energy to find a way to see that spot, or to get the help needed to see it. Perhaps, in these disruptive and unsettling times, it has become necessary to keep that spot unassailable. It is certainly possible that at this moment, the place that lies in the shadows at the edge of our personal and collective unconscious may remain in the dark due to a failure of nerve.
Without a doubt our nerves are frayed by the demands of the “Spirit of the Times” and the attempts of one tribe or another (even if it is our tribe) to intrusively define reality. This is particularly disheartening and disorienting when the proclamations of intention or of “truth” are profoundly, obviously, and compulsively unanchored to any moral compass. We are confronted daily with our too willing participation in the sins of society against humanity. The most horrendous of these is slavery, (racism of any kind) and for us, the sin is not experiencing this crime in the profoundly disorganizing, and reorganizing fashion necessary to fully understand our complicity in it, and what we have lost of our humanity as a result.
In our attempts to bring meaning to our current circumstances, a disconcerting symptom (or consequence) has emerged: this is settling for clichés and abstractions which are devoid of subtle affect and nuance. As a result, we are tossed between compelling and seductive spins on reality. “Cliché” is after all, “the thing we all try to escape,” in our life and in our work. The offense, of losing hold of the struggle, and succumbing to cliché, however, according to James Wood, “is not merely aesthetic or musical: it is epistemological—cliché blocks our apprehension of reality. In place of singularity, it substitutes commonality; in place of private oddity, it offers the shared obviousness,” and most importantly, for me, it intensifies a shared oblivion. (The New Yorker, 9/2020, p. 70). It appears there is much of value lost to psyche in this bland and often coy translation of external events, and our consequential unresponsiveness to what is most essential for us to understand.
It is most striking to me that as I try to place into words for myself and for my patients the collective, and political context in which we all live today, my words often “fail the novel, the specific just at this moment when it is most critical that they succeed. Is it too speculative to suggest a failure of…nerve here, (my nerve) as if the most burning material”… cannot be taken in, and metabolized, made translatable and enlarging? (Ibid, p.70) The moment is instead subtly soothed over, colored by the conventional gaze, which results in an innocuous abstract version of events. I begin to understand how dangerous it is, to be unwilling to pause, and to struggle to reconsider.
Such moments of disconnect (disassociation), momentarily slow the heartbeat for a few minutes, and then return us, like a good day of indulgences, to our original breathless state. Is the air less breathable, the fires on the west coast observably limiting the refreshing moment of a good deep breath? Or have I lost the ability to pause, to fully suffer the moment. I make excuses for myself as I am living in this time, and as easily defined by it as my friends and my patients. I make excuses for not continuing the unendurable struggle to keep informed of the powerful forces that threaten to define and hold my life captive, and above all to blind me to the captivity.
A moment, most striking in this context, occurred when working with a couple who are gratified at the success of their efforts at building a place of reflection in a marriage, a relationship that began with outrageous and unmonitored reactivity to one another. This place of reactivity has, surprisingly to them, been replaced by a place of informing compassion. This space has allowed them to build generative structures, both internally and externally in their marriage and their life.
Yet, they feel, magnetically held by a stultifying context. In fact, unable to discern this force with any objectivity they feel that they can muster only limited movement. They describe this movement in place as iterative, compulsive and annihilating of any perceived movement at the surface. They acknowledge that we are living in a context, a collective moment that needs to be further understood. This knowledge appears to be an important first step towards an awareness of an inner force that profoundly limits their autonomy.
Linda, 83, forced to shelter in place, in solitude, has a dream. With her dream, the “Spirit of the Depths,” offers her a possibility that is both refreshing and informing. It is easy to overlook that the “Spirit of the Depths” not only relates to the personal psyche, but to what is unconscious that lies in the collective and cultural as well. She reveals her dream:
I was going to be in a play. The time for the play was practically upon us—I hadn’t seen the script, and then someone handed me the script. I immediately started reading it and studying it. My friend Charlie was also in the play, is in the same situation. And now reading his part. We are thinking we are going to memorize it because we are starting soon. I have got to do it because it needs to be done. …Something to do with this time, the times, the pandemic, something unusual has to be done—I have to do it.
It seems, these problematic times gives Linda a new access to her personal mandate. The “Spirit of the Depths,” has given her access to a part of herself that is very different from the persona and the ego. “Someone” handed her the script, that allows her ego to act in tandem with the shadow (animus), and allows the unlived aspects of her life to emerge. She experiences this with an urgency, and she seems to know intuitively that being handed the script demands her performance. She accepts the powerful and fated necessity of the mandate. She accepts that it is the time to act.
I have seen the mandate that has become accessible for Linda emerging in me, and in friends and patients. In these times it appears we either begin to manifest some openness to what we have not readily seen as fateful patterns in ourselves, or we sink into stultifying complacency. It appears that the play is thrust upon us, and this includes the implicit mandate, “I’ve got to do it because it needs to be done.”
Accessing this moment takes a bit of nerve, but when I witness the accessing of this in myself and others, it seems to flow through each of us with as much necessity as the river flows to the sea.
Joan Golden-Alexis, PHD is a clinical psychologist, a Jungian analyst, and couple and family therapist located in New York City. She is a senior training analyst at the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association, and Director of Training at the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts. She writes on art, psyche, and the intersection of psychoanalysis and the political. email@example.com
Between the memories of not-that-long-ago missing family that has transitioned.
Between the remembrance of walking into a room and what is forgotten in a moment’s slice of time. The sought for object gone.
Between the small anxiety of trying to remember last night’s dream image and being startled (again) into realizing that the death numbers of those who have died from the pandemic has not waited.
It keeps growing each day. Somewhere.
There is a silence in which I walk feeling my way along. Masked. Covered. Bubbled.
I sometimes think that I’m waiting. Not like at 42nd Street, hot July day, for the 4 train. Knowing it will come. More like watching clouds float across Caribbean waters.
They move like something unexpected.
This is the word we use now. Uncertain. All the conversations about what we knew for the future have almost stopped. There is a silence here. It meets us in that space where we might consider nothingness. It can feel like the uselessness of the self just before falling into giving up. Letting go.
We can still hold on though once we recover from the blankness of the space between.
We can hold on to hope that things will change once we recover. Once we get the remedy. The vaccine.
Some of us can hold on to our rage at such malicious incompetency that has allowed so many to die.
Then the silence returns and we hold all that we can.
Fanny Brewster Ph.D., M.F.A. is a Jungian analyst, Professor of Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and member analyst with PAJA. She is a multi-genre writer who has written about issues at the intersection of Jungian psychology and American culture. The Racial Complex: A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race is her most recent book. (Routledge, 2019). Dr. Brewster is available through her website, www.fannybrewster.allyou.net/
Two years after the Parkland shootings, the children of a Miami middle school created a magazine entitled First Shot. Some of the students, involved in the magazine, wrote the following poem, and on the two-year anniversary of the shootings (February 14, 2020) sent it out to all the members of the House and the Senate. The accompanying letter stated that 130 children have been killed in school shootings, and they are hoping that their representatives in congress will feel “sad enough” to do something about it. I ask, along with these middle-schoolers, who exist much closer to the pulse of what is possible, than I do, “Will they feel sad enough, or even sad at all?”
Children walk out the door hands raised as in praise.
Men still talk in suits and ties
While they watch, the future dies.
I don’t want to be first shot.
The middle-schoolers, make it clear that “hands raised as in praise” in a scene involving gun violence, are hands raised in abject surrender. It is heart-wrenching to witness this poignant gesture, depicting the children surrendering, not only to the other youths, who wish to do them violence, but to the myopia of their forefathers, who “talk” and “watch” as the “future dies.” According to the children, these forefathers, dressed in the uniforms of power and wisdom, have lost their feeling for the children, for the future, and for the possible. We, the witnesses, of the moment, are obliged to suffer the voices of these children falling mute, their song extinguished, or reduced to speaking in between the voices of the things already established.
The voices ignored are the sounds of the emergence of the new. Jung terms this openness to the future, the emergence of the child archetype, which according to him heralds the “Divine Child.” The “Divine Child” surfacing in our dreams, or in our lives, fosters “the liberation from imprisonment” by the frozen and inert aspects of our psyche, and “the liberation and strength in advancement.” (Black Book 7, pp.76-70, The Red Book) This wise energy supplies the telos for the individuation process both personally and collectively.
Ferenczi, calls this intuition for, or whiff of the future, the “Wise Baby.” For Ferenczi, dreaming of the “Wise Baby” is dreaming of the child who, having been extremely and often traumatized, has acquired, highly acute sensitivities, intuitions, and wisdom beyond his years. Dreaming of the “Wise Baby” announces the potential within the dreamer for this kind of wisdom. (Ferenczi, 1923, p. 349)
For both Jung and Ferenczi, in the poem above, the voice of the child archetype, or the voice of the “Wise Baby,” are reduced to the shadows, and eradicated of their power to transform our vision of the future. Ignoring the child, ignoring what the children have to say, we close our ears and eyes to the possible, and allow the future to be a carbon copy of the past.
According to Levinas, “fecundity is the property of the child.” (Quoted in Critchley, 2015, p. 102). It is through the fecundity of the child, through the dynamic of the child archetype, as expressed through the force of their fears, their hopes, and the power of their song that stale repetition ceases.
Viewing change in this way, it appears the dynamics of the child archetype, has the potential to create a different sense of time, one that is transformative and creative. One can imagine that through the refreshing, and creative energy of the child archetype, monotonous, and iterative time is dislodged. Instead, the child archetype introduces a time that moves creatively through a multiplicity of transforming acts, where each of the following acts resolves the preceding one, and opens, and anticipates the next. Through this transformational time, there is a rupture in stagnating continuity. This is a rupture that at the same time is a linking, a “continuation across that rupture.” (Ibid., 107) Living in “transformational time” created by our connection with the child, and through the child archetype, can bring us into a renewed and renewing light of day, where the novel is a welcome companion.
Story reported on NPR, on February 14, 2020, from WRLM by Jessica Bakerman
Critchley, Simon, 2015. The Problem with Levinas. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Ferenczi, S. (1923/1994). “The Dream of the Clever Baby”. In Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis. (J. I. Suttie, Trans.) London: Karnac Books.
Jung, C. G. The Red Book. 2009. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Joan Golden-Alexis, PHD is a clinical psychologist, a Jungian analyst, and couple and family therapist located in New York City. She is a senior training analyst at the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, and the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association of New York. She writes on art, psyche, and the intersection of psychoanalysis and the political. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
He came just before dawn my first companion in chains the father of four sons who died exhaling his last fevered breath onto my back now he returns breathing softly onto my worn flesh he whispers in my ear words I cannot understand but I know it is him telling me of the pain the joy of leaving his body the apprehension of giving up life. I listen intently to know what my life could be on another journey a different kind of journey.
He does not touch me will not touch me unless I say yes, take me.
Pushed forward by the cradle rock of the ship, leaning, I smell him not as when we were chained brothers with the pungency of vomit, bloody sweat sticking to our salt bodies, but different.
Slight guava scent after first morning rain.
I am tempted to touch him, let him take me
beyond where my captured body lay but a great fear grabs me.
Squeezes my heart. Holds my breath. I cannot release, free myself.
And so he leaves me with my fear and the terror of this life.
From, Journey: The Middle Passage, Psychological Perspectives, v. 59, Issue 4
A Day in August
Four hundred years ago the White Lion arrived in Hampton, Virginia,following it’s ocean voyage from Britain.This ship’s arrival and its occupants were to contribute to the creation of an American society that combined all that many of us hold dear, and paradoxically that which many of us have the strongest desire to change. Aboard the White Lion were twenty-plus enslaved Africans stolen from Angola. These men and women, were the ancestors of African Americans who were sold throughout Southern states, building an economically strong plantation system that amassed wealth for white America.
Many of us who seek change in our American social system wish to increase social justice. This type of justice points to a history of slavery and racism in the early American colonies and through four hundred years of social injustice. Injustice that included not only economic suffering, but also immense psychological and mental trauma.
It is difficult to separate Africanist suffering into strands of economic, gender, educational. These and more are so evenly braided together—from our American Constitution, to our contemporary education system. Not one place of our American society and psyche has been untouched by the arrival of the White Lion Africans who came ashore that day in August.
Engaging the psychological work of healing intergenerational trauma, recognizing cultural complexes, understanding archetypal DNA and epigenetics involved in attachment theory, related to the African Holocaust, binds us. All of us—as Americans. There is often a wish, perhaps as an aspect of a racial complex, to forget, create amnesia regarding those first African American ancestors. However, it rests with all of us who live today to remember them as creating the path for millions who followed. Their journey was one of suffering, as was that of their descendants. My writing is to remember and honor those first Angolan Africans stolen and brought to America. It is to remember them with love and compassion because their path has been our path, and we have not yet finished the journey.
Dr. Fanny Brewster is a Jungian member analyst with PAJA, Professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and the author of The Racial Complex: A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race. (Routledge 2019). Dr. Brewster is available through her website, www.fannybrewster.allyou.net/
seems not to occur to the contemporary citizen that the ecological crisis that
we now face is, in fact, the symptom of the success of a one sidedness of our
vision of the world. Armed as we are with the illusion that our rationality
represents, most of all, the path to a better existence, that we are becoming a
more just, peaceful, and reasonable people, we miss the fact that incrementally
the discrete benefits that we have attained at one level of experience are paid
for at another. The late Biologist Brian Goodwin, in a little book called,
Nature’s Due, observed the following.
“The process of continuous growth that our politicians and economists offer as a path to happiness and fulfillment is in fact a policy of conflict resolution that continually transfers our debt to nature, whose bounty we are living from and systematically destroying.”
(Goodwin, 2007, p.161)
Central to Goodwin’s observation is a level of unconsciousness on the
part of humanity of any means through which the fate of individual could
actually be felt as intimately tied to that of nature. The core reason for this
is that with the arising of scientific thought and its power, all other modes
of existing in the world, and relating to it were not simply eclipsed, but
actually negated. Problematic, for this perspective, was the lack of any
understanding that that the former forms of awareness that seemed suddenly
illegitimate were not addressing the same problems of existence as the one that
supposedly supplanted them. The mythological mind, as well as the magical and
the archaic, served very different functions, and addressed very different
aspects of experience. Most problematic of all, the exclusively outward gaze of
the rational mind cast into shadow the inner world of humanity, an inner world
whose nature was the very thing driving our actions in the physical world.
Sayyed Hossein Nasr states this point beautifully.
“For a humanity turned towards outwardness, by the very process of modernization, it is not easy to see that the blight wrought upon the environment is in reality an externalization of the destitution of the inner state of the soul of that humanity whose actions are responsible for the ecological crisis.”
(Nasr, 1997, p. 3)
Ralph Waldo Emerson also expressed a very similar view.
“The problem of restoring to the world original and eternal beauty is solved by the redemption of the soul. The ruin, or the blank, that we see when we look at nature is in our own eye. The axis of vision is not coincident with the axis of things, and so they appear not transparent but opaque. The reason why the world lacks unity and lies broken and in heaps is because man is disunited with himself.”
(Emerson, “Nature”1941, p.114)
All around us today there is a cry to wake up to the climatological crisis. At issue is the fact that we must act differently from now on. While not wishing, in any way, to speak against such a move, my experiences as an analyst tells me that this will likely not be enough. Our attitudes towards the interior universe, with which we all participate, will, in the long run, likely matter far more than our outward gestures. This is so because in spite of what our society has taught us, the universe of magical consciousness, and of mythic consciousness, forms that still exist within us, served us well. They tethered us meaningfully to the nature around us and rendered visible and relatable the universe within us. Theirs was not a project of domination of nature, but of participation and relatedness with it. It is not a more rational world that we need. It is a more connected one. The problems of our time will likely not be solved by the amassing of information about the material order, but rather through a coming to terms with the one aspect of nature that we understand hardly at all, our own inner nature.
To the modern, the old forms of awareness, those forms which tied human consciousness intimately to the cosmos, represent merely quaint, ill conceived, and unsuccessful, means to manipulate the world. This perspective merely illustrates how trapped within a given perspective we actually are. Rene Guenon wrote;
“Modern civilization appears in history as a veritable anomaly: of all known civilizations, it is the only one to have developed in a purely material direction, and the only one not based on any principle of a higher order. This material development, already underway for several centuries now, and continuing at an ever accelerating pace, has been accompanied by an intellectual regression for which it is unable to compensate.”
(Guenon, “Symbols of Sacred Science”.2004, p. 2 )
The irony of all of this is that, drunk on the power to manipulate nature, humanity has, by virtue of dissociation from nature, nearly succeeded in destroying itself. Psychology, for its part, has participated in this process as theologian Jurgen Moltmann pointed out.
“Any therapy is directed towards health. But health is a norm which changes with history and is conditioned by society. If in todays society health means ‘the capability to work and the capability for enjoyment’, as Freud could put it, and this concept of heath even dominates psychotherapy, the Christian interpretation of the human situation must nevertheless also question the compulsive idolatry which the concepts of production and consumption introduce into this definition, and develop another form of humanity. Suffering in a superficial, activist, apathetic and therefor dehumanized society can be a sign of spiritual health.“
(Moltmann, “The Crucified God”, 1974, pp. 314-315.)
The irony of much of this is simply that the means to establish our
connections back to nature were never really lost. Those forms of awareness,
which evolved as meeting places between man and nature, and of which we are the
inheritors, never left us. Additionally, the purported superiority of rational
thought was itself a myth. To be sure rational thought is indeed, in it’s own
way, quite superior. In the realm of manipulating matter for humanities
presumed advantage, it is unsurpassed. But the problem lies in its tendency to
assume a role of power over all meaning, a role that is logically impossible.
Like many other things ascendant, it has became a basis for a societal belief
system and has sought to extend its purview infinitely, something it could only
achieved through the denial of the existence of anything it could not account
for. And like all things that seek dominance and define the world according to
a given view, a shift occurs so that they go from being a means to extend
humanities relationship with nature, to something that begins to obscure. That
is what Emerson told us above.
Poet William Stafford, drawing in part from his Native American roots,
offers the following simple poem.
These are some canyons
we might use again
What Stafford points to may be literally come to pass. Humanity, if it
survives at all, may find itself once again returning to the shelters that
nature once provided for us. But I have in mind another reading of Stafford. That
such canyons have always been within us,in the inner landscape of the
soul. There to offer shelter from everything we have wanted to see as progress
but only served to draw us away from ourseleves.
MFA, MA, ATR-BC, LPC is a
Certified Jungian Analyst and an art psychotherapist with credentials as a
Registered, Board Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor
(PA) with nearly twenty years’ experience. He has been an Adjunct Professor at
Arcadia University since 1990. Previous work experience includes providing
addiction treatment at the Charter Fairmount Institute, Clinical Case
Management for the Adult Day Program, and serving as the Clinical Coordination
of the Geriatric Outpatient Programs at Belmont Center for Comprehensive
Treatment as well as his private practice. His volunteer work includes
providing clinical intervention with violent and displaced youths in the
Violence Postvention Program and at The Northern Home for Children in
Philadelphia. Mr. Dean has been the recipient of the National Endowment for the
Arts Award for Artistic Excellence and has twice received the Pennsylvania
Council of the Arts Award. Prior to his graduate training as an art
psychotherapist, Mr. Dean was a professional artist. His work is featured in
several prominent private and public, national, and international collections. Mark
can be reached at email@example.com.
Everyone knows about terrible mothers in fairytales – and they
were originally mothers. The Brothers Grimm spun them into stepmothers, feeling
that multiple instances of mothers who envied, betrayed, and abandoned their
daughters would be too grim for public consumption. (They may also have considered
the likely negative impact on sales.) Happily, stepmothers were safe to hate,
and their eventual defeat could be all the more celebrated.
As a child I was hazily aware of peculiar family dynamics in
fairytales, but what with fiery lakes, magic mountains, and mean stepmothers, a
disappeared dad was almost beyond my capacity to notice. I got to thinking
about this because my friend Audrey recently told me she hadn’t allowed her sons
to read fairytales when they were young. “Too many weak fathers,” she said. “I
didn’t want my boys learning that women would compensate for their failings.” I
thought of Cinderella, Snow White,
Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Beauty and the Beast, and Rumpelstiltskin, well-known tales that come readily to mind. There
are more such tales but I think I’ve made my point.
Cinderella and Snow White had tuned-out dads. After their
starter wives died, they acquired new ones as easily as buying a new appliance.
Household order now restored, these lords of their respective manors whisked
themselves off to—somewhere. Perhaps these fathers were too dissociated–or
just disinterested–to notice their daughters’ abuse, much less their collusion
Other dads were surprisingly witless wimps. When Rapunzel’s
old man got caught stealing the greens his pregnant wife craved – doubtless the
start of the kale craze – he agreed to hand over their baby after birth as
payment. In Hansel and Gretel’s even more food-deprived home, dad ditched his
kids in the forest—twice—because even though he felt bad about it, his wife
insisted, so what could he do?
The third group of failed fathers skipped any pretense of
blamelessness and out-and-out sacrificed their daughters to save themselves.
Beauty’s father allowed her (she insisted!) to live with the Beast so he wouldn’t
have to. The father of the nameless maiden in Rumpelstiltskin set her up for life in a dungeon or decapitation
(take your pick) by telling the king she could spin straw into gold. The father
of The Girl Without Hands – a lesser-known
tale for grisly reasons — chopped off her hands after making a deal with the
Now I know that from a Jungian point of view, all the characters in a fairytale represent various aspects of an individual psyche: we all have an inner maiden, witch, prince and so on. From that point of view, each of the tales I’ve cited can be viewed as a depiction of the psychological development of the feminine. These heroines snap out of their innocence complex to overcome their negative father complex. Then the contra-sexual inner opposites unite, which means each she marries a princely he, and happily-ever-after wholeness is achieved.
No child—and few parents, for that matter–read fairytales
this way. I had worked my way around the library corner from the syrupy Peter Rabbit, Raggedy Ann and Mother West
Wind tales to the juice and justice of fairytales. Here, fish and frogs
talked, mile-high beanstalks sprang up overnight, and forests were places of
mystery and surprise. I was thrilled.
The heroines who inspired me were the ones who sacrificed
themselves for others. I could–would!–love the Beast, or silently knit
sweaters out of nettles to save my six swan brothers (and nobly ignore my
bleeding fingers). I would take on the tasks required to rescue Tam Lin from
the Queen of the Fairies, though having to hold hot coals gave me pause.
I can acknowledge the logic and merit of Audrey’s injunction
against fairytales. If her sons might have learned that they wouldn’t be
accountable for missing backbones, daughters like me learned that love was often
defined as unstinting and selfless service. But I also absorbed a felt
recognition of a truth that hadn’t risen to consciousness: feckless fathers and
mean mothers are a reality. Heads up, kids —you’ve been told, this story is
old, and you’re not alone.
If the heroines I loved were self-sacrificing, they were also radically persevering – and/or brave, clever, and incredibly good. If these girls (and they were girls) were overlooked, neglected or abused, neither had they been steeped in cultural gender norms. They didn’t learn what they were not supposed to do, so Cinderella took off for the ball, Rapunzel hopped into bed with the prince, and the miller’s daughter faced down Rumpelstiltskin. Harsh circumstances forced them to find individual solutions, which even today is not a bad idea.
We tend to idealize parental love and paint childhood in
pastels despite what any therapist (or your next-door neighbor) can tell you
about family shadow. Or trauma. Fairytales dive right into the dark side. Whether
our situation then or now is merely unfair or unspeakably awful, fairytales
tell us that given the givens, we’d better get real and get going. Even if we
don’t live happily ever after (spoiler alert: we won’t) we can live
authentically, learn a lot, and climb hand-over-hand into wholeness.
Deborah Stewart is a Jungian
Analyst and Licensed Clinical Social Worker residing in Cape Cod, MA. She can
be reached at www.DeborahCStewart.com She
is a member of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, where she
co-chairs and teaches in the training seminar. She is an active member of the
Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and participates in other
professional organizations. She is co-creator and contributor to This Jungian
Life podcast at www.ThisJungianLife.com.
She has a special interest in trauma and is the author of Encounters
with Monsters: The Significance of Non-Human Images of Trauma in the Psyche.
It was the Best of Times; It was the Worst of Times
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
–Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Recently, I re-read this paragraph which was, as I recall
the experience, forced on me in Highschool. It had meant little, or nothing to
me at the time, except for the music that the rhythm of the words left in my
ears, and a slight vibration to that music, that the music in words, always leaves
in the heart. I am surprised to discover that the depth of meaning contained in
these oppositions could, this many years later, offer me something so essential.
Now, the words bring light to the dark
corridor, I have recently entered. I had attributed this darkness simply, and
one-sidedly, to the “Spirit of the Times,” giving no nod to its opposite, and
its potentially broadening “Spirit of the Depths.”
Ali Smith, a Scottish author, states in her interview in the
Paris Review, in the Spring of 2017:
What is the point of art, of any art, if it doesn’t let us see with a little bit of objectivity where we are?…I use the step-back motion that I learned from Dickens—the way that famous first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities creates a space by being its own opposite—to allow readers the space we need to see what space we’re in.
…We are living in a time when lies are sanctioned. We always lived in that time, but now the lies are publicly sanctioned. Something tribal has happen which means that nobody gives a damn whether somebody is lying or not because he is on my side…in the end will truth matter? Of course, truth will matter….But there is going to be a great deal of sacrifice on the way to getting truth to matter to us again.
tells us in fiction, the truth, that perhaps, at times, only fiction can offer.
“Fiction tells you, by the making up of truth, what really is true.”(Smith,
2017) In this case, and, obviously, in many others, fiction offers entrance to
a world that we may not have yet come to fully know from the travels and
meanderings of our own psyche.
through fiction that we have an opportunity to occupy the realm of the
opposites. Dickens’ prose creates for us the organic experience of occupying the
coveted realm of possibility. Reading the beginning quote, has within it the
inherent possibility of transporting us to a moment when the opposites can be
experienced together, or at least in in the vicinity of one another.
Jung, it is shadow, that stands at the gateway to this experience. Shadow’s presence
leaves the door open to begin our acquaintance with the opposites. Jung, in describing the
function of shadow, draws attention to shadow’s subtle, and unconscious
exclusionary process, and suggests that it requires a depth of moral fortitude
and integrity to be willing to tolerate the dissonance that the presence of
How much can we learn from
the phrase: “It the worst of times,” when we have the courage to add, it’s
shadow opposite, “it is the best of times” to it; and when we add to “we had everything before us, the
phrase, “we had nothing before us”? For me, expanding my psychic realm like
this, creates a sympathy for noticing things at the margins. I have learned
from life, that extraordinary things happen at the edges. Jungian theory
requests that we hover there, gaining perspective and regaining a lingering
sense of the possibility offered to us at the edge of things.
Many of us have grown up in the
margins of the realm created by our mothers, challenged by the world of our
fathers; the realm of the nationality of one parent, transformed by the
nationality of the other; the realm of our home life, augmented and changed by
our school life; our private internal life, augmented by the outside world in
which we live; our lived life, transformed by the life brought to us by our
reading, and the multiplicity of our education.
Collectively, has also been
enlarged for me in my lifetime. My sense
of “White” has been augmented and transformed by my changing sense of “Black”;
the meaning of “Nationalism” has changed by the foul history of “nationalisms.”
On my first trip to Europe my sense of being an American, was shattered (and
enlarged) by the French seeing my country as inhabiting only part of the vast
continent of North American. Also, the word “colonies” that I learned all
about in history has been profoundly transformed by my understanding of the
I have learned from all of this
that opposites do not exist easily and cooperatively, and naturally in
consciousness. One side of the equation seems to live in the darkness to allow
us to exist peacefully in the realm of the “oneness” of the other side, and it’s
consequential, one-sidedness. It is only when we are able to hold these
oppositions as neighbors that we realize how much is hidden from us, how much
has been lost.
know from all this, that transformational things happen on the edges, that the
numinous and the mysterious happens on the edges. Great art, fiction, and our dreams informs us
again, and again that much that seems impossible, is possible at the edges. It is where the opposites meet, where margins can
be celebrated and where anything is possible.
However, there is a great deal of sacrifice on the way to
getting the margins of things to seriously matter to us again. It always
involves allowing ourselves to be seriously and utterly disturbed.
Joan Golden-Alexis, Ph.D. is a Jungian Analyst and psychologist in New York City. Her practice consists of individuals as well as couples. drjoangolden@gmail
Begley, A. “The Art of Fiction, No. 236,” Paris Review, Issue 221, Summer.
trauma is often defined, less in terms of the personal (the individual), and
more in terms of the collective (the social-political) with its potentially insidious
soul-destroying qualities. This is Maria Root’s concept of everyday or
“insidious trauma.” Root, here is referring to the “traumatogenic effects of
oppression,” racism, marginalization, and hegemony.
psychoanalysts recognize the resulting condition of psychic paralysis that
exists in an individual exposed to collective psychic trauma. Such individuals
are said to have a psyche colonized by collective and colonial imperatives, including
the internalized attitudes of cultural inferiority. (Fanon, 2008)
This internalization often entails “the loss of an unnamable domain…which one
might…mistake for constitutional exile.” (Kristiva,1982)
exile (the feeling of being set adrift, disoriented, and disconnected from
oneself) produces one of the most damaging aspects of psychic trauma. This is the
loss, of a connection to one’s interiority, and access to a creative
unconscious that can provide the psychic space for the reparation and
reconstitution of internal processes, impacted by trauma. The result is a
devastating inhibition in the growth of awareness of the extent of the psychic
injury, and above all, a loss of a linking to one’s autonomy and agency that could
provide the psychic space for repair.
schools of psychoanalysis emphasize the power of the unconscious in the healing
of a socially traumatized psyche. Some point to dreams for bringing a more
detailed map of the psychic territory impacted by the trauma, and exposing the
linkages to other vulnerable places within the individual. In this context,
Jung offers what he terms “The Spirit of the Depths,”  an aspect of psyche,
composed of both conscious and unconscious processes, available through our
dreams, that offers a space
of reflection, born of an understanding of the images that flow from the
is this force, according to
Jung, that offers the vision to unshackle both an individual life and also provides
the symbols that offer recovery from the impact of a culture that may be
tumultuous, disorienting, and assaultive to its members’ autonomy. These kinds
of dreams can prove fertile for the personality, enabling it to move creatively
forward, reacquiring or transforming inadvertently overlooked parts of the self,
and linking them to those encapsulated by the trauma.
It follows, that our
dreams, once embraced, can provide, one way, that we can return from a place of
exile, homelessness, rootlessness, and powerlessness, and help reinstate the inalienable
rights denied by a corrosive, society. Our dreams can offer us entrance into
the psychic space that we can call “home,” a home that offers acquaintance with
what is essentially ours, initiating autonomy from what has been destructively imposed.
Freedom, redemption, depth of feeling and understanding of the world around us,
and ourselves, is intimately connected to keeping the door ajar to this psychic
There are some dreams
that appear to be specifically commenting on the “Spirit of the Times”—the impact
of the social context—the collective—and at the same time seem to be commenting
on the personal. These dreams offer the special gift of shedding light on both
the distinction between the personal and the political, and their juncture, giving
insight to their linkage, and their impact on each other.
I have termed this
type of `dream, “dreams at the interface.”
Although not all dreams prompt a feeling that they are commenting on the “Spirit
of the Times” as well as personal complexes and issues of the individual
dreamer, Lama Z. Khouri in her poignant essay “Buried Neck Deep” in Room 10-18.5offers just such a dream and gives us the opportunity to study the linkage
between the personal and political in some detail.
As we explore Khouri’s dream we will see how the
personal and political have interacted to produce her current experience. The
dream, itself, with its message understood, can help her restore generativity
and choice in her psyche, a psyche that she describes as impacted through her
identification as a Palestinian (a people, both colonized and abandoned by
other Arab countries, their plight overlooked) and having a profound emotional
connection to, and understanding of the people of a village in Gaza
symbolically (and literally) described by her as an “open-air prison.”
It is almost impossible, not to pause, as one
attempts to absorb the catastrophic and emotive power of the image, which is
center stage in Khouri’s dream, dreamed 12 years ago, when her son was age 4,
and now again is rising to consciousness. It seems that such an image can only
emerge from a psyche that has had the primary experience, and in addition been
a primary witness to, the insidious traumatogenic power of oppression. The
dream imagery carries forward to her consciousness and ours the soul-destroying
aspects of collective trauma.
However, it is important to note, that dreams rarely
restate what the dreamer already knows, their gift is always to be our most
informing friend, constantly surprising, urging us to notice shadow aspects of
ourselves, existing, in the darkened areas of our psyche. Focusing on these areas,
clarifies linkages, and assumptions that may give us the capacity to unlock doors
to internally, and externally constructed prisons.
It is this aspect of Khouri’s dream that we look to for
the vision to unshackle her personal complexes, and issues that have arisen in
relationship to her collective experience of trauma. These personal issues can
be just as catastrophic and immobilizing, left unnoticed, as the original collective
psychic trauma. In addition, when the collective and personal aspects of the
trauma are not sorted, their interaction can dramatically intensify psychic
In addition, when such a powerful dream image
rises to the surface of consciousness yet a second time, it carries the suggestion
that there must be something important that Khouri needs to notice. Perhaps it
might possess the quality of the “unthought known” of Christopher Bollas. a
“thought” that is existent in one’s psyche, but its poignant and
transformational power makes it impossible to process.
Lately, a dream I had twelve years ago has been coming back to me. I dreamt that my four-year-old son (he’s sixteen now) was buried neck deep in the middle of a neighborhood and surrounded by modest houses. Passersby would kick his face, but he remained silent, as if the kicks were part of life and not to be contested — as if, to survive, he needed to keep his mouth shut.
This dream has had many meanings for me. Twelve years ago, I thought my four-year-old son in the dream was me: buried in a failed marriage with nowhere to go. Of late, my son in the dream has become the Palestinian people: “You either capitulate or we will continue to beat you to the ground.” Their struggle for freedom is terrorism, children throwing rocks are arrested or killed, many young adults have no hope —
Although many of the assumptions and images in the dream
may seem resonant to, and even a result of living intimately connected to a
colonized nation, it is important to note that there are many assumptions in
the dream that are stated as “just so” aspects of life, and it may be those
that the dream seems to be opening up for consideration and questioning. I have
noted these in bold above.
Are kicks in the face part of life and not to be
contested? The dream figure acts “as if” this is true He acts as if to survive, he needs to keep his
mouth shut. Is it true that in orderto
survive, one must remain silent?
Khouri says, at
first, she thought the dream image was her, buried in a failed marriage with no
place to go. However, one can be buried in a failed marriage without being
silenced and kicked in the face, and buried neck deep with no efficacy, no
motility other than the voice.
says, later that she felt that the dream image reflected the reality of the
Palestinian people. However, one can be oppressed, harassed, socially
imprisoned, and impacted by the Israeli’s abuse without assuming kicks are part
of life, and not to be contested, or without assuming that abuse is normal.
centrally one can be in an oppressive marriage, and/or oppressed by an
aggressive nation, and still not decide in order to survive one must keep their
mouth shut. The dream describes a certain conscious orientation to reality, certain
assumptions about life, and what one needs to do in order to survive, and it
shows the dream figure “buried up to the neck” in these assumptions, and
immobilized by them. It appears to me that it is these assumptions that allow
the dream figure no “wiggle room,” and
that it may be these assumptions, left unquestioned, that have accumulated to construct
his “open-air prison.”
appears that it is not the collective trauma itself that has destroyed the
dream figure’s power, and autonomy. Rather it is these assumptions about life
that has the dream figure catastrophically and hopelessly mired. The dream figure
has no wiggle room in relation to the assumption that abuse is a normal part of
life; that there is a normal and natural connection between abuse, and the
inability to act; that the connection between abuse and silent acceptance is
normal; and that silence, and
immobility are the only survival techniques. Above all, the
dream appears to be attempting to bring to the consciousness of the dreamer a
new option—the possibility of questioning the wholesale truth of the powerful
phase—”You either capitulate or we will beat you to the
It appears that the dream is here now, or 12 years ago,
and is remembered, again, to continue its dialogue with her. The dream specifically
throws light on these assumptions, and opens them to reflection.
Khouri, concludes her essay with these thoughts:
It is not enough for me to hold and contain the client’s
pain. I need to do what I can to change their sociopolitical environment.
Impacted by the powerful image in her dream, I would also
add that Khouri may notice dream images of her clients, or thoughts and
associations that demonstrate personal vulnerabilities and narratives, that exist
in their personal psyche in relationship to the larger collective trauma. Bringing
these to consciousness, differentiating the power imposed
from the outside, from the power given to the outside through internal personal
assumptions, and personal narratives, giving the link between the two, heat, focus,
and conscious reflection, may bring these “just so” assumptions to awareness,
and create a greater inner sense of personal choice for her clients.
Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, (London, United Kingdom: Pluto Press,
Kristeva, (Leon S. Roudiez, Trans.) Powers
of Horror; An Essay on Abjection, (Columbia University Press,1982).
CG, “Liber Primus,” The Red Book, (New York and London, W.W. Norton and
Company, 2009), 241.
A Sketchbook for Analytic Action. (2018) Iptah.org (analytic-room.com)
Bollas, The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known (New
York, Columbia University Press, 1987).
Golden-Alexis, Ph.D. is a Jungian psychoanalyst and psychologist in New York
City. Her practice consists of individuals as well as couples. (firstname.lastname@example.org)