Source: Sandner & Beebe on Splitting, Possession, and Working Through

“Jung recognized, at the beginning of his professional career, that understanding the dissociability of the psyche is the key to its psychopathology. Splitting off of psychic functions occurs throughout the life of the psyche, in the persona, the shadow, the anima/animus, and even the Self. Just as an individual ego accepts only one part of the persona for the “image” it shows the world, so also does the ego become accustomed to recognizing and aligning itself with only one part of its shadow, to the projection of only one part of the anima or animus in object relations, and to the connection to only one image of the Self in its deep estimate of its individual worth. Rarer, and less comfortable, are alignments that occur with other parts of the shadow, projections of other parts of the anima or animus, and the acceptance of alternate Self-images. These variants tend to occur in analysis only because of the heightened receptivity of the ego during the analytic process, fostered by the empathic encouragement of the analyst. The split-off parts of the shadow, anima/animus, and Self, therefore, have been truly unconscious until they gradually emerge in dreams, symptoms, or affects within the transference, seeking a relation with the patient’s ego. Sometimes, in analysis, which has an inductive effect, such unsuspected contents appear suddenly, filled with energy charge and the demonic quality of the returning repressed, to capture and possess the unsuspecting ego. In the high-energy form, they threaten not only the analytic field, but the patient’s general behavior as well, which is inevitably altered.

In association with his complex theory, Jung offered two fundamental concepts to formulate the psychopathology that we see in analysis: splitting and possession. Complexes tend to split into complementary poles, such as spirit versus instinct, and one-sided alignments occur between the ego and one of the poles, producing personality imbalance and a latent dynamic tension between the opposed elements. Working through any split requires not only disidentification by the ego from the more familiar pole of the complex, but also affective recognition of the contrary pole. Such recognition requires immersion in the side that has been unconscious. There is an unconscious tendency toward wholeness and relief of tension that fosters the emergence, under accepting conditions such as analysis, of the repressed pole. The consequence is that at least temporary possession by unfamiliar contents is a regular part of the life and of the analytic process, an inevitable prelude to the integration of unconscious portions of the Self.

It follows that in addition to the watchful and containing presence of the analyst, a strong and resilient center of consciousness – an ego – is required in the patient to accomplish and survive the cycle of possession, disidentification, and final integration that is the process of analysis. Although some Jungians have denigrated the ego and its defenses as mere identification with the hero archetype, the integrity of the ego’s standpoint and its capacity for realistic judgment can make the difference between the success and failure of the analytic enterprise. A task of the analyst is therefore to estimate the capacities of the patient’s ego before the difficult work of exploring complexes is undertaken, and carefully to support that ego’s efforts at discrimination once the analytic work is under way.”

Sandner, Donald F., and Beebe, John, “Psychopathology and Analysis,” Chapter Summary from Jungian Analysis, edited by Murry Stein

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