Sleeping Beauty: a Wake-Up Call

thimble

I have been thinking about Sleeping Beauty lately—remember her? She was never one of my favorites. I felt on early reading that she was rather a twit, stumbling upon the one and only spindle left in the entire kingdom and then pricking herself with it. Surely, at age 15, she should have developed more hand-eye coordination. This unlikely occurrence—how sharp could a spindle be, anyway?—caused every living being in castle to fall into a coma, even the flies. I mean really, SB.

As a child, I resonated to tales of ego strength: Jack, after his initial bad bargain (trading the family cow for a handful of beans), climbed the beanstalk and polished off a giant. Cinderella had the chutzpah to go to the ball and was rewarded with a prince. Hansel and Gretel roasted the horrid hag in her own oven—gotcha. SB, on the other hand, zonked out for 100 years, and was then awakened by a prince who happened to show up at just the right moment. If there was a life lesson in this story, it wasn’t apparent to me then.

But let’s get to the Evil Fairy part: EF wasn’t invited to the celebration of SB’s long-awaited royal birth, so she crashed the party and cursed SB, which turned into the fateful spindle-prick and 100 comatose years even for flies, not to mention innocent citizens. All this because SB’s parents were royally witless. In one version of the tale, EF wasn’t invited because the king and queen ran short of gold dinnerware. In another, they thought EF was dead, and didn’t bother to check.

Neither did they explain the evils of spindles to their daughter in case the burning and purging they had decreed missed a few. Or, the minute SB turned 15, assign a bevy of bodyguards to fend off any spindles that might be stalking her. Instead, the king and queen went on a trip, SB went poking around the castle—and guess what? There was a spindle right there in the castle—duh!

With everyone out cold, plant life sprang into action: a Trump-tower high hedge of thorns grew up around the castle and entrapped any would-be hero trying to get through (what a way to die). But on the exact day the hundred-year curse was up, the malevolent hedge opened to Hero Prince, who was visiting the area and was curious about the rumored castle avec princess. Of course HP found SB even though she was up in a remote tower with that terrible spindle. Everyone in the castle came back to life, now very unfashionably dressed, and HP and SB got married, code for Problem Over.

What I found frustrating about this tale was its lack of human agency, and along with it, assurance that I, like many a hero and heroine, can overcome even the most daunting difficulty. Feckless parents are a common occurrence in fairy tales, but even dummlings like Jack could finagle a way out of a situational jam. SB, however, totally checked out, only to be rescued by a prince who was mostly in the right place at the right time—no clever effort, brave feat, or lofty love.

From a Jungian viewpoint all the characters in a fairy tale can represent aspects of an individual psyche. We can recognize parts of ourselves in SB’s clueless parents, an innocent princess, and the fury of a disdained fairy. What an unappealing cast of characters—I mean characteristics.

But what I have found most irritating in this tale is its fatalism: sometimes you-know-what happens and we just have to wait in situ until a savior arrives. But no worries: when the time is right (even if it feels like a century), a hero-prince-rescuer will show up. Life and energy will then be restored without anyone having to make much effort. This is hardly a heartening message.

But wait: the fateful chain of events began when the king and queen excluded the 13th fairy. Because they were unable to engage her darkness, the shadow she represented became actively hostile. The royal couple had hoped to ensure their daughter a rosy life, but her life, and ours, must necessarily include shadow.

Conscious and unconscious must have it out with one another, a process Jung likens to that of hammer and anvil. Two sturdy opposites are required for psychic life and conscious individuation. Otherwise, as we see in the tale, collapse and stasis ensue.

The king and queen’s denial of shadow illustrates one of Jung’s famous dictums: When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate—which, as we know from the tale and from life, exacts a high price. Because everyone except the late and lucky hero falls unconscious, resolution resides outside human agency.  Redemption is left to the archetypal realm as fate.

We can, of course, mitigate fate: “We have to discover more consciousness, to extend consciousness, and the more it is extended the more we get away from the original condition.” (CW 11, p. 967) Perhaps that famous, fateful spindle can prick us into the value of ever more conscious engagement in our lives.

AUTHOR

Deborah Stewart is a Certified Jungian Analyst on Cape Cod. She is a faculty member of the Philadelphia Jung Institute and a co-creator of This Jungian Life podcast. You can reach her at http://www.deborahcstewart.com

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A Discipline of Image

discipline iof image

When Jung equated image with psyche he was articulating something that is often difficult for many people to understand. When we observe from a point of view that holds that the universe is completely describable through the methods of the physical sciences, whose power is its vast ability to accumulate information, we unwittingly begin to reduce the range of means of inquiry at our disposal. As a result, entire aspects of our reality fall from view. While it is true that scientific methodology, as we currently envision it, appears to be universally applicable, it actually is not. Nor does its broad applicability indicate a capacity to entirely define experience. It merely illustrates that a certain aspects of observable phenomena may be illuminated, in part, through its means.

It is the tendency of any mode of inquiry to potentially have two levels of effect. On one level it serves to illuminate a range of understandings that correspond to its methods. Indeed, the extent of this illumination may extend almost infinitely along the lines of its dominant theme. But this very same mode, once it begins to assert itself as an exclusive path to understanding, becomes altered in the role that it plays within consciousness. It begins to exert an occluding effect. When this occurs what was at one level highly beneficial then becomes problematic. This is as true of our contemporary scientific means of establishing what we take to be truth, as it was for those that predated it. The almost exclusively materially oriented order that we now inhabit is transiting the very same trajectory as the religious order that it supplanted, unveiling a new dimension of the cosmos but in the process descending into a more dogmatic and oppressive phase of expression. This latter function does not occur by intent, but is a natural consequence of the tendency to universalize its form of understanding.

Looking more closely, one begins to see that while any approach to phenomena can extend itself almost infinitely along the lines of its own mode of understanding, it cannot actually come any closer to the reality comprehended by aspects of consciousness that lie outside its assumptive stance. An absurdity becomes apparent, for example, when religious assertions frame themselves in the same terms as scientific findings. The biblical dating of Genesis and the scientific calculation are not going to agree. They actually do not need to, they are born of different modes of consciousness that describe different phenomena and function in entirely different ways. Likewise, a good deal of hubris is evident when the scientist purports to have figured out the function and role of creative process and art, or declares, based upon physical evidence, that the mythic epics of days gone by are embarrassingly wrong. Such things, as science would presume the capacity to define according is dominant mode of understanding, actually have little to do with external calculations and cannot be at all defined by them. Myth, Image, and creative process, are not at all about the atomization of reality but rather its logical coherence from a specified context. Assertions to the contrary make the scientist look entirely silly to those with a deeper familiarity with their nature, for they reveal their functional reality, not through a detached consciousness, but rather by virtue of one capable of an immersion in them. They are predicated upon a different order of understanding whose truths are not literal in the scientific and material sense of the word. We will need to wait a very long time for the deconstructions of creative process to lead to the engineering of the new Bob Dylan, and we will need to see if the great technological society lasts anywhere as long as its mythically based predecessors did. Indeed, the shadow of the literalizing mentality of our time is now appearing and carries with it a heavy cost.

Jung’s assertion that the nature of the psyche was consonant with image was by no means a throw back to older times, even though it embraces the rich inheritance of faculties of ways of understanding that were bought by our predecessors through the arc of their living. It was actually a leap beyond the confining nature of the narrowing Western mind, a deficient phase of its existence with its hidden fundamentalism. It points to a re-embrace of the more broad mode of psyche whose nature includes within its form, not only the spirit of science, but the unfolding of a living reality made observable through bringing to bear multiple modes of understanding. Largely lost has been the awareness that the frame of consciousness itself, as well as its evolutionary potential, is carried forward by the flow of experience far more so than the accumulation of facts. This experience is not merely what may be reduced to collective consensus but includes the individual as a point of contact with its immediate reality. This was as true of the evolving homo-sapiens on the plains of what is now Africa some millions of years ago as it is today. The unfolding consciousness of humanity becomes transmuted and internalized as an image of nature within our consciousness and within our very bodies. Upon that image actually rests the fate of humanity. Its nature cannot be reduced to a single pole of its existence for it carries not only physical traits but also participates in a universe that is more than physical.

Jung’s observation was that this image was not only a living phenomenon with a unity and purpose of its own, but that it represented a constellated reality as opposed to a quantitatively and linearly determined one. It draws its functional nature from any and all sources, those that are known, and those as yet unknown, those from without, and those from within, and these give rise to its specific form just as nature has with the meeting of the individual being and the ever-changing environment. It is clear, by now, that the process of humanity being primarily affected by the environment has become inverted. Humanities internal nature, our internal image world, the myth in which we are collectively ensconced, so profoundly affects the environment that the evolution of our nature is likely to respond to conditions of our own making. A mentality whose core modes of grasping nature are based upon materiality, exteriority, and literalizing tendencies, is at a loss to grasp the significance of the relationship of the image world whose nature now so profoundly affects the shape of the environment. Sayyed Hossein Nasr points this out in a little book entitled Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man. “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.” A given point of view has no means to compensate for the effects of a reality that its mode is incapable of grasping. This reality is the reality of image, which by its very nature actually mediates what is internal and what exists without. We find no “Garden of Eden”, nor evidence of an “Expulsion”, unless we employ a map proper to the logic of those images.

At every turn it appears that a humanity possessed of a singular vision of truth by and by becomes highly destructive. Jung’s comment runs against the grain of an unconsciously determined monism, possessed by its own power, and yet entirely ignorant of the limitations of its mode of understanding. It is actually a discipline of image that permits the flow of pluralistic phenomena to coalesce into the flowing reality that in truth forms the continuity of our experience and establishes the foundations of the evolution of our beings and relationship to the cosmos. In so suggesting, Jung was pointing less to the revivification of an archaic notion than to a fundamental reality of nature, but one whose reality follows not simply the immutable laws of physical nature but rather the imagistic laws of the soul. For these laws transit what is internal and what is external, what is material and what is more than material. Today, more than ever, the rediscovery of this discipline, the discipline of image, presents to us as a critical task for we live in an era in which this poorly understood faculty will, in all probability, determine our fate.

AUTHOR

Mark Dean, 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.

You can reach Mark at http://www.psychearts.org

What Goes on Down Below: The Collective Unconscious

I first started reading Jung in a New York library on East 79th Street back when library stacks were open. My library visits in those long-ago years were surreptitious affairs: a half hour stolen between work and home, or a weekend hour nicked from grocery shopping and kids. I felt like I was sneaking into an alchemist’s laboratory, tantalized by important truths I couldn’t fully understand. Although it eluded me, the concept of the collective—or objective—unconscious was particularly fascinating.

Dr. Seuss, In McElligot’s Pool, brings this concept charmingly closer to both understanding and experience.  A young boy, Marco, fishes in a small—very small—pool. A farmer looks on and says,

Young man…
You’re sort of a fool!
You’ll never catch fish
In McElligot’s Pool!
The pool is too small.
And, you might as well know it,
When people have junk
Here’s the place that they throw it.
You might catch a boot
Or you might catch a can.
You might catch a bottle,
But listen, young man…
If you sat fifty years
With your worms and your wishes,
You’d grow a long beard
Long before you’d catch fishes!

Hmm…answered Marco,
It may be you’re right.
I’ve been here three hours
Without one single bite,
There might be no fish…
But again,
Well, there might!
‘Cause you never can tell
What goes on down below!
This pool might be bigger
Than you or I know!

This MIGHT be a pool, like I’ve read of in books,
Connected to one of those underground brooks!
An underground river that starts here and flows
Right under the pasture! And then…well, who knows?
….This might be a river,
Now mightn’t it be,
Connecting
McElligot’s
Pool
With
The
Sea!

Our nascent depth psychologist, unlike the ego-bound farmer who thinks he knows what’s what, intuits a lot more going on underground. His little pool, like the psyche, is connected to a river, and the river flows to the sea. Furthermore, these waters are full of life, imaged as ever more fantastical fish–a delightful illustration of the collective unconscious as a wellspring of creative life. For Marco, the oceanic unconscious offers huge possibilities indeed:

I’ll catch whales!
Yes, a whole herd of whales!
All spouting their spouts
And all thrashing their tails!

He concludes:

Oh, the sea is so full of a number of fish,
If a fellow is patient, he might get his wish!
And that’s why I think
That I’m not such a fool
When I sit here and fish
In McElligot’s Pool!

Marco was right, though the treasures of the psychic deeps are even more wonder-full than the fish he so exuberantly imagines. Our individual psyches are connected to one another in a mysterious subterranean way, an idea that set Jung apart from other psychologies (along with his closely related theory of archetypes).

Like Marco, we can go fishing, a fitting image for psychotherapy. The process often starts with an exploration of the seemingly unpromising junk-filled pool of the personal unconscious. These are experiences we’ve repressed, suppressed, or simply forgotten–the dismaying feelings and memories represented by the old boots and tin cans of McElligot’s pool, close enough to the surface of consciousness to be readily hooked. But ego’s fishing line of intention also reaches deeper, and can be counted on to catch ideas, images and inspiration, especially through dreams.

Beneath the personal unconscious lies a level of the unconscious connected to group and regional history, represented by the underground brook. It is evidenced in religious and cultural traditions established over generations and absorbed by individuals. The symbolic life of groups is expressed in deeply felt resonance to particular rituals, holidays, or music, a collective level of psyche we experience as part of our identity: Japanese, Jewish, or a jazz fan with New Orleans roots.
Marco’s underground river, like psyche, eventually flows to the sea, symbolic of a deep and mysterious level of the unconscious common to all humankind. Jung said, “Just as the human body shows a common anatomy over and above all racial differences, so, too the human psyche possesses a common substratum transcending all differences in culture and consciousness. I have called this substratum the collective unconscious.” Or as Marco puts it,

You never can tell what goes on down below!
This pool might be bigger than you or I know!

Jung theorized the collective unconscious from his dreams and cross-cultural studies of myth, fairy tales, and symbols. He discovered universal human patterns that appeared, with variations, worldwide. We recognize the king, the crone and the quest, for example, because these motifs live in us with all their pitfalls and promise. They are the common psychic patterns, analogous to DNA, that define what it is to be human.

“The collective unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual.” It connects us to knowing beyond our individual selves, and compensates creatively for the limitations of consciousness. Dr. Seuss lets children and those who read to them know through Marco about the collective unconscious. Its life is abundant, encouraging us to look ahead toward growth and wholeness.

NOTE: I thank Jungian Analyst Lisa Marchiano for the idea of McElligot’s Pool as an image of the collective unconscious, and for her generosity in allowing me to use it.

AUTHOR

Deborah Stewart is a certified Jungian Analyst living in Cape Cod. She is a co-creator of the podcast This Jungian Life and a faculty member of the Philadelphia Jung Institute. She can be reached through her website at http://www.deborahcstewart.com

When Politics Invades the Personal: Towards a New Mandate for Psychoanalysis in the Trump Era

             attic beams

 James arrives at his session, bleary-eyed, having stayed up very late to hear the results of the 2016 presidential election. He doesn’t speak, but instead begins playing a recording of Judy Collins singing. As the song ends, he quietly repeats the refrain:

The weight of the world, too heavy to lift
So much to lose, so much to miss
It doesn’t seem fair that an innocent boy
Should have to carry the weight of the world

He says, “I am a seventy-year-old man, and feel like an innocent boy totally unprepared to handle the weight that the world now thrusts on my shoulders.” After a very long pause he continues, “Trump has said that he would demand that all Muslims be registered, citing as precedent the internment of Japanese Americans, both citizens and aliens, for national security, or rather” — James scoffs — “because of national hysteria and prejudice.”

His words take on the haunting rhythm of the song he has just played, as he yearns for a time when there can be room for diversity. James has begun to define a new anxiety. It has penetrated his heart and now penetrates the therapeutic space. He has the renewed sense that who he is (who anyone is) no longer has value.

Annick, another patient who is a writer, also feels a new kind of anxiety.  She reports that Trump has penetrated her dream life, and therefore infiltrated her psyche and her creativity. This “master of surprises,” and “internal terrorist” appears in her dream as an “evil magician, sly and catalytic.” In one dream, she is working on the final stages of writing an essay, and waiting for an important “package of words” to arrive. Rather than getting the package via FedEx, as she was expecting, Trump intervenes — arrayed in a colorful robe like a modern-day Merlin. He holds her package hostage and transforms it from a catalyst for her imagination into a briefcase of burdensome and tedious paper work that will keep her from completing her essay, consigning her to years of endless and “dogged slogging.”

Both James and Annick’s experiences of despair reflect their deepest terrors — especially their fear of losing their capacity to express themselves fully and realize their aspirations. But their stories — along with those of many more of my patients — stand out because they reflect the devastating and profound impact of our new political context. They show us not only the fault lines of their individual lives, but also how the new political environment in which we live has torn the fabric of our collective psychology. Their ability to speak of their suffering enlarges my understanding of what psychotherapy and psychoanalysis must now consider one of its most important tasks. Something new has nudged its way into the center of their psyches, and — for those who identify with a diverse and democratic America — something elemental and seemingly uncontrollable is making itself felt inside the inner sanctum of the therapy office.

The president-elect’s overt racism and sexism, his homophobic and xenophobic comments and his grand cry to “make America great again” have unleashed enormous fear in those who don’t support him. Donald Trump has demonstrated the capacity to invade the private world of each and every one of my patients, making inroads into the inner recesses of their lives. Many are able to resist the intrusion, but almost all experience his political style as an assault on their personal agency, their connection to their creative unconscious, and their ability to enjoy the generative and free interaction of emotions and ideas — all of which have previously informed their work and relationships.

Above all, news coverage of Trump’s incessant tweets constantly interrupts our thoughts. Never before have we had a political figure with so much need to make himself the center of all conversation. I think of this style as “manipulative power speak”; he bombards us every day in order to re-configure our version of reality and align it more closely with his. He brands everything he touches with his name, he disregards social and political norms, and he insists that nothing can stand in his way.

Many of my patients connect these intrusions with feelings of personal abuse. The ones who are most deeply affected reassure themselves by touching their stomachs or their hearts, or wrapping their arms around themselves as if to protect against assault. And like an intimate abuser, Trump keeps us hooked by occasionally giving us hope that he might respect our identity and dignity, or behave in “normal” ways. Then he resumes his rampage and rains down insult and threat without regard to consequences. His behavior is thus unpredictable and menacing. Even when we think he is wrong, he is still “right.”

The impact of the Trump phenomenon forces psychological professionals to think again about how our analytic work rests within the larger vessel that is society at large. Severe disruptions and transitions of values and emphasis in socio-political processes call attention to a force outside the analytic dyad that nonetheless has the power to alter the work done between analyst and patient within it. This force cries out to be defined and understood as having an impact that interacts explosively with other realms of analytic concepts. The necessity of articulating our changed context casts patient and analyst out of the safe space of the “analytic container” and into the larger world, where both are unprotected by the carefully constructed analytic logos that has traditionally provided security and clear guidance.

It is now up to us as psychoanalysts and psychotherapists to admit to the same vulnerability and loss of security that many of our patients are sharing with us during therapy. We must try to understand the powerful impact of the new political-social context on our work, and on the individuals in our practices. This involves a willingness to admit that the world in which we live has irrevocably changed for patient and analyst alike.

At the same time, the analyst must not get lost in the quicksand of the changing context, but always hold a stance — and a space — that allows for reflection. We must ensure that our patients do not unwittingly become absorbed in and “adjusted” to this intrusive and destructive social environment, but instead encourage them to grapple consciously with the “Trump within,” unseating his influence on internal psychological processes. Helping our patients reflect on the socio-political context in relation to their internal context will ensure that they don’t unconsciously succumb to this new kind of terrorism, one that works seditiously by negating their creative power and undermining their ability to think, live and act autonomously.

THE AUTHOR
Joan Golden-Alexis is a Jungian analyst practicing in New York City
The names and identities of the patients described in the following have been changed to protect their anonymity. In addition, signed consents to use their material have been obtained.
(drjoangolden@gmail.com)

Grief as Anger

           BW Grain

One of the most recognizable stereotypes of African American women is that of the Angry Black Woman.  I believe that this image of Africanist women has grown out of the Collective’s need to have a Feminine upon which to project strength.

Following the decades after slavery and the plantation system where black women worked in the fields, birthed and lost their children, took care of the children of others and suffered being a mothering slave, it seems that the American psyche would find these women to be strong of character.  This is oftentimes applied to black women—that they are strong.  But sometimes this strength is mistaken for anger—thus the angry black woman stereotype. Stereotypes exist because there was once an image, language, a story that created in our consciousness a tangible remembrance.  The recollection becomes solidified as a stereotype.

When I think about the stereotype of the angry black woman I begin to search deeper, looking for something else that resonates with what has risen to the surface.  But before going there it might be important to see why an African American woman might be angry.  The emotion of anger within ourselves can sometimes make us afraid.  We cannot tolerate the uncontrolled welling up and intense heat of the energy of rage or anger.  We can be equally afraid of the release of this anger.  I’m thinking of a situation that might cause one to be angry and yet be out of touch with how to express this anger—to have it suppressed for the sake of one’s survival. Just for a moment imagine that you are a female child born into slavery in the early 1800’s.  Your mother has birthed you and returned to the cotton fields within a month of your birth.

She sometimes comes home to breastfeed you when given permission but otherwise, your early infancy is spent in the care of an elder in the shack where you may have been born.   You might easily be cared for by a young boy if there is no elder woman available. As an infant, you continue to live with others in the shack who may or may not be biological family.  As you begin to get older you are given chores to perform in the white family’s house or in the fields.  These are minor chores and do not take up much of your time as you can still find time to play with the other small white children of the plantation owner.  The day eventually comes when you are no longer allowed to play with these children.  At the age of 8 or ten you must take on more serious jobs—you become a night-pillow for the mistress or worse yet for the master.  Your body, that never really belonged to you, now becomes recognized by you as being the possession of another. Suspicion of the ownership of your mother’s body is now finalized in your mind as you understand that she too belongs to a white master.  You find that your skin color makes you a slave.  You are told that this is how it is and how it will be for the rest of your life.  Imagine that this is your life—for the rest of your life. Imagine your anger.

The idea that slavery happened so long ago and has no place in our cultural thinking today is a part of  America’s Shadow.  It is difficult to bear the thoughts of what life must have been like back then but this is a necessary part of the healing of our American collective.  We wish to forget and we cannot forget.

When we remember and attempt to make some changes good can happen—a civil rights movement emerges which does not end in another civil war; voting rights are guaranteed by law; segregation ends.

But we cannot shine enough light onto the shadow for too long and so once more we sit at the edge of shadow awaiting the next racial storm to begin.  We have had our Ferguson and all the deaths of Black men and women by policemen within the last five years.  I believe that our cultural complexes are so activated by fear and anger that we have a great difficulty staying with patience for understanding what might help us heal our American racial Shadow.

We can understand our anger, our guilt. What of the grief that lives under the anger?  What happens to the emotion of generations of former slaves?  Jung says that our history is in our blood.  The DNA that we live with identifies us as historical and archetypal human beings.  If I feel into how my ancestors before me lived, whether through mirror neurons or the spirit of ancestors, how do I carry the traumatic emotions such as anger and the underlying grief of centuries-old slavery?  I think that we could be angry but we must also hold a deep place for grief.  So when I hear about the angry black woman, I am also trying to hold psychic space for the grief-filled woman.  Where does this grief emerge from and where does it go?  I think that at this point it could be just enough to consider that such a thing exist—an underlying grief that rests within the bosom of generations of African Diaspora women.  This grief can appear as anger.  Why not?  Within the clinical setting oftentimes the emotion of anger covers sadness and sorrow.  What would make this unlikely in a cultural group that has survived 400 years of slavery?  What is the archetypal grief of a mothering slave? These are questions that I ask myself because of the American life that I lead—both personally and professionally.

Biography

Fanny Brewster, Ph.D., M.F.A. is a Jungian analyst, PAJA member and Core Faculty with Pacifica Graduate Institute.

From Single Story to Multiple Realities

A Nigerian writer and speaker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, gave a TED talk called The Danger of a Single Story. Ms. Adichie grew up reading English stories about blonde, blue-eyed children who ate apples, discussed the weather, and played in the snow. In Nigeria, people ate mangos, no one discussed weather that varied little, and there was no snow. Ms. Adichie didn’t know people like her existed in books, so until she discovered African literature, she had only a single story about stories.

Later in life, Ms. Adichie’s college roommate in America was curious about her “tribal music” (a Mariah Carey tape) and wondered how she had learned to speak such good English (the official language of Nigeria). Ms. Adichie, in turn, came to believe Mexicans were the poor immigrants she read about in the U.S. press. Both she and her roommate had been caught in a single story about a people.

I have, perhaps like many of you, been caught this past year in a single story about Donald Trump and his inconceivable rise to the presidency. This story has made me grieve and fear for America…and then slowly realize there must be more to the Trump story than the unmitigated disaster I had constructed.

What I discovered has little to do with my opinion about Donald Trump. I cannot envision softening my opposition to pretty much everything he is and stands for. I sought instead to burrow around and behind the “Donald” story: what did some people who voted for him feel and think? I didn’t have to go very far.

My sister-in-law who lives in the South and is gay, voted for Donald Trump! She felt government had stagnated and he would get things done. Even if, she said, his administration did away with the Marriage Equality Act, of which she and her partner have been beneficiaries, there was promise of an overall better, more effective government. She was willing to forgo personal interest for what she hoped would be a greater good.

Our son voiced his opposition to Hillary Clinton. Trump had “called her out” on her thirty years of public service: she had not been the effective voice for change in the past she now claimed she would be as president. Why had she pandered to Goldman-Sachs with a series of very profitable speeches she refused to make public? Why hadn’t she listened to State Department counsel against her use of a private email server? We should, he thought, clean house and try a new approach: Trump.

One man was almost awe-struck by the “brilliant campaign” Trump conducted, implying the capability of effecting needed changes in Washington. Another said that despite Mr. Trump’s tendency to impulsivity, presidential decorum was no guarantee of wise governance. He cited Clinton era legislation that resulted in incarcerating huge numbers of African American men and George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

My husband, an avid historian who for the first time since reaching voting age did not cast a vote for president, holds out hope for an overthrow of a Washington culture dominated by lobbyists working for special interests. (According to Wikipedia, the number of working lobbyists is estimated at close to 100,000; the industry brings in $9 billion annually.)

The stories I heard are not venerations of Donald Trump. They are stories of concern and care for our country. They express ideals that transcend personal interest and ego—unlike some of the public service they find so disheartening. They hope Mr. Trump will serve as a catalyst for change. I expected to tolerate these stories. I did not expect to be touched by the paradox of multiple realities and shared human values.

I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. Psychoanalytic clients, after all, arrive in our consulting rooms with loss, confusion, and wounding, sometimes hardly daring to hope against hope that psychotherapy will help. Jung says:

…the patient who comes to us has a story that is not told, and which

as a rule no one knows of. To my mind therapy only really begins

after the investigation of the wholly personal story. It is the patient’s

secret, the rock against which he has been shattered.*

We help our clients tell their secret stories and create new ones. Now we are called to live into a new story about shaping our nation. Let’s take our eyes off Mr. Trump, if we can. Donald Trump is not a single story or even the story.

Let’s attend to stories about a country where people engage in matters that matter. They bring their daughters home from college to join the Women’s March in Washington, send their housekeeper’s daughter to camp, organize an online music event to benefit an environmental defense fund, open a synagogue to the homeless at night, and use vacation time to work for Habitat for Humanity.

There are multitudes of stories, and as Ms. Adiche points out, the stories that get told and who tells them shows where the power lies. I think it lies with us. Each of us has the power to forge a new human story.

*Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books, 1989, p. 117.

Deb Stewart is a Jungian Analyst in private practice in Brooklyn NY

dbrstewart@gmail.com

 

Fairy Tales – How They Heal

swan

This article in The New York Times introduced me to a new concept – “emotional granularity.” Emotional granularity refers to the ability to feel and differentiate finely tuned emotions. It is the ability to identify that you are feeling melancholy, irritable, or teary rather than simply knowing that you feel bad.  According to the article, those who possess emotional granularity have significantly better mental and physical health outcomes. Psychologists explain that being able to identify a range of finely tuned emotions allows us access to a greater repertoire of responses to our distress. While that makes sense to me, I have another thought as well.

Naming is powerful.

When I try to break down what we actually do when we work with someone in analysis, probably 80% boils down to attempting to “feel our way into” their emotional experience, and then translate that into words or images as accurately as we can. Finding words or images that correctly describe the truth of someone’s subtle inner experience is a huge part of how therapy works.

Why? Because language can help contain strong emotions.

I remember the day before I took the oral examinations one must pass in order to become an analyst. I was incredibly anxious about what I was going to face, and I ran into a senior analyst and mentor. When I told her I was there for the exams, she looked at me sympathetically and said, “Oh! You must be scared!” That word “scared” had an immediate calming effect on me. It was much more accurate – and therefore grounding – than the word “anxious.” I was scared – very. And having it put into words instantly calmed and contained. For language to be containing, it has to be highly accurate. You have to understand the particularity of that emotion.

A process in which I use my intuition will turn up a much subtler and more idiosyncratic description of someone’s emotional experience. I am likely to use metaphors or images. These often present themselves to me in an autonomous fashion.

A neurobiologist would say that when I am using my intuition to read someone’s implicit emotional experience, I am making use of the body’s smart vagal system to understand what is going on. I get images or sensations, and this happens faster than conscious thought. I then translate this up using the language centers of the prefrontal cortex to express the experience in words and make these subtle experiences fully conscious.

For example, I might say something like the following:

“What is coming up for me is an image of someone trapped in a collapsed mine. It’s terrible to be in there alone and in the dark. When you hear someone on the other side scraping away to get to you, that makes an enormous difference. If you felt like your husband understood what you are going through, it would be a huge relief, even though you would still be going through it alone.”

When I get it right, or close to right, the whole feeling tone in the room changes. I often see bodily or facial signs of relief or relaxation happen, or hear a marked change in vocal tone just because I was able to find language or image for a subtle emotional state. I contend that translating ineffable emotional experiences into image or language is a significant factor in therapy’s effectiveness.

As it turns out, there is neurobiological research that supports this idea that putting feelings into words reduces emotional reactivity and helps us manage negative emotional experiences.

The amygdala is a key component of the limbic system, that part of the mammalian brain that generates emotion, assesses the environment for safety and survival, and regulates approach and avoidance. Our amygdala is constantly taking in information from the five senses and from our bodies and evaluating this information for threats. From our external senses, it picks up someone’s subtle facial expressions, posture, or vocal tone. From our bodies, it receives information from the visceral regions – the heart and the lungs, for example. Using this information, it makes a determination about the safety of our environment in less than 1/10th of a second, much faster than the time it takes our brains to form a conscious thought or feeling.

A recent study found that when people see a photograph of an angry or fearful face, they have increased activity in the amygdala, which begins to sound a threat alarm. The researchers found a significant amygdala response even when subjects were shown the emotional photographs subliminally, that is, too fast for the photos to be perceived and consciously registered. When study subjects were shown the same images and asked to label the emotion shown on the face with a word such as “scared,” or “angry,” brain imaging analysis showed a marked decrease in amygdala arousal.

“When you attach the word ‘angry,’ you see a decreased response in the amygdala,” said Lieberman, lead author of the study, which appears in a recent issue of the journal Psychological Science.The study showed that while the amygdala was less active when an individual labeled the feeling, another  region of the brain was more active: the right ventrolateralprefrontal cortex. We use this region when thinking in words about emotional experiences. It also helps us inhibit behavior and process feelings.

So the study helps us understand better a phenomenon most of us have probably been aware of our whole lives – putting feelings into words helps us regulate and contain strong emotions. And we know from the emotional granularity research that being able to make refined distinctions in how we feel can also give us a greater range of options for managing these emotions.

If a single word like “scared” can be so effective, how much more potent a myth or fairy tale can be.

Fairy tales are a rich storehouse of psychic patterns. They provide us with an inexhaustible supply of images that catalog emotional states and life experiences with endless subtlety. Metaphor provides a powerful bridge between the amygdala and the more conscious parts of brain.

For a woman whose whole life has been characterized by feeling misunderstood, demeaned, or unseen, the words “excluded,” “unappreciated,” or “despairing” have the ability to contain aspects of her experience. But if that same person and I begin to discuss her experience in terms of the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Ugly Duckling,” we suddenly have access to a greatly enriched repertoire of language and image with which to describe her experience. The chicken in the farmhouse disparages and berates the young swan for his love of water, and because the swan has always been cut off from his own kind — his “tribe” — he doesn’t realize that he is being measured by inappropriate standards. Alone and full of despair, he is nearly frozen to death, immobilized in the ice. Many of us have surely had moments where we felt like that.

Images and language can contain strong feelings and allow us better access to our thinking functions to evaluate potential responses. But it also does one other thing.

Being able to put our inner states into complex and accurate language gives us back to ourselves. We can become an observing witness to our process and in this way know that we are having an emotional experience, not being had by one. When we begin to observe our inner weather systems without being overwhelmed by them, we are much better able to regulate and transform them.

Lisa Marchiano, LCSW is a certified Jungian analyst in private practice in Philadelphia. She blogs at http://www.theJungSoul.com.