Archive for the ‘Learning to Think and Work Symbolically’ category

Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984, by Polly Young-Eisendrath (Source Quotes)

November 18, 2018

These source quotes are part of Polly Young-Eisendrath’s set up for the telling of the Arthurian legend Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell: “What is it that women desire most, above all else?” She orients us to the relationship problems associated with the loss of basic trust, and a cluster of associated archetypal energies: the archetypal feminine, the archetypal masculine, the Great Mother, the Terrible Mother, and the Jungian idea of the negative mother complex.

”The story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell provides a unique map or template through which to view a woman’s response to loss of basic trust. Basic trust is defined as both a sense of “continuity of being” (to use D. W. Winnicott’s term) in relationship and as the experience of secure reliance on another person to provide for one’s primary emotional needs within the interpersonal field of that relationship. Basic trust is synonymous here with attachment and specifically related to John Bowlby’s concepts of attachment and loss in human relationship.

The attachment of infant to parent is the initial interpersonal field in which the archetypes of Great Mother and Terrible Mother, as typical human experiences, are activated… we need only the images of the Great and Terrible Mother, of the provident goddess and the dreaded hag, to help us grasp the characteristics of attachment that we will explore. More specifically, when a woman feels continuous and “held,” or adequately embraced, in a relationship of basic trust… she experiences herself as an agentive “person.” As members of our species, we are “personal” when we feel ourselves to be agents of our own lives (or “useful” to others) and to be worthwhile or esteemed. We feel ourselves to be contributing members of our species, reflected by our partners as adequate, agentive and valued.

The image of Great Mother, as authority and nurturer, is the positive emotional experience of knowing one’s love is “good.” Interpersonally, it is the experience of being loved, held and nurtured by the other, of feeling oneself as good. We all need Great Mother experiences to feel that our nurturance is bountiful and powerfully good. The image of Terrible Mother, as savage goddess or hag, is the negative and overwhelming emotional experience of knowing one’s love is “bad” and feeling oneself as ugly, mean, overwhelming and destructive. Both negative and positive attachment experiences involve strength and power; both are necessary in relationship, but neither should become the dominant mode for personal identity on a continuing basis. As with other archetypal states, Great Mother and Terrible Mother are transitory identity experiences which are “bigger” then the person.

The story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell sketches out in a clear and practical way the problem of identifying with the hag or Terrible Mother. The hag, nag or bitch of contemporary couple relationships is quite prominent in psychotherapy literature as the domineering, suffocating, and overwhelming mother who must control family life at everyone’s expense. Through the help of the story, we come to respect the hag and to see her dilemma empathically. We learn that when relationships reach a breakdown in basic trust, when all rational solutions have failed and both partners are alienated, we should listen to the hag. Only she knows the answers that we’ll restore trust to the relationship.” (pp. 10-11)

The Importance of the Archetypal Feminine

For our purposes here, the archetypal feminine is the province of relating and caregiving. This is the domain of sustaining human and natural life within the human group. In other words, it concerns joining, attachment and involvement with people, things, and ideas. Its opposite, the archetypal masculine is the domain of distancing and separating. The masculine is characterized here as binding off, separating from, and aggression toward nature and human beings for survival purposes. The masculine involves dividing and separating, waging war and making boundaries, as well as analyzing people, things and ideas as opposed to the experience of joining with them. The following statement from Peggy Sanday, an anthropologist who has studied gender-related power differences in over 150 tribal and modern societies, further clarifies these distinctions as they pertain to human relating and culture:

‘One is struck with the degree to which the sexes conform to a rather basic conceptual symmetry, which is grounded in primary sex differences. Women give birth and growth children; men kill and make weapons. Men display their kills (be it an animal, a human head, or a scalp) with the same pride that women hold up the newly born. If birth and death are among the necessities of existence, then men and women contribute equally but in quite different ways to the continuance of life, and hence of culture.’ (Peggy Sanday Female Power and Male Dominance; On the Origins of Sexual Inequality, p. 5.

Because there are serious anthropological questions about whether these archetypal themes of “primary sex differences” are actually universally sorted out along the same gender lines i.e. feminine for women and masculine for men, I do not assume that women and men represent these archetypal domains through their gender identities. Rather, I’ve come to see both domains as potentially available to each gender for both identity and action purposes.

Our story helps us to understand what happens in intimate relations when the ordinary tasks of caregiving – managing a household, rearing children, sustaining emotional contact and soothing and healing wounds are devalued. When women and men devalue these activities, whether consciously or unconsciously, they fall into those habitual patterns and modes of relating which are connoted by the Jungian idea of the negative mother complex. This complex comprises behaviors, ideas, images and feelings that are concerned with escaping the intimacy of giving and receiving care. The negative mother complex is thus related to the idea of devaluing or excising the feminine from one’s identity and activity.

In our present society, men have a tendency to devalue the feminine in themselves and in women. Many feminine attributes are considered ”weakness” in traditional male gender identity. Consequently, men struggle to exclude and differ with women and with the concerns of care-giving in order to maintain separate identities as males…

Since women are the primary caretakers during almost everyone’s childhood years, the voice of female authority rings powerful tones. Men do not simply differ from women rationally or objectively; they often feel what Karen Horney has called “dread of women” and feel compelled to fight the feminine (both inside and outside) in order to experience any personal power in their male identity.

Women, on the other hand, must identify both with the devalued, “inferior” aspects of the feminine and with the powerful projections of female authority. Women feel at once too weak and too powerful in their mothering and authority. When basic trust is low and devaluing the feminine is high, then a woman tends to feel quite wholly identified with the negative and inferior powers of the hag, the witch or the Terrible Mother.” (pp. 12-13.)

“…We are ready, now, to turn to the story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell, which poses the question: “What do women really want?” This question, more than any other, provides a guide for us in doing therapy with couples who have lost basic attachment and trust in their relationships. Furthermore, it is a question which can lead us to the liberation and revaluing of the feminine both inside and out, in ourselves and in the lives of all men and women, for it directs us to the very heart of our humanity, to a concern for intimate relationship. Our failures in family making (not to be understood as the nuclear family ideal), our waste of human, animal and other natural resources, our despair about cooperating with human beings in other societies, and our oppression of our own partners and friends all reflect our devaluing of ordinary caregiving.” (p.15)

These source quotes are from: Young-Eisendrath, Polly, Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984.

For a Wikipedia orientation and brief overview of the story see:

See also my post on Embracing the Hag.

Prince Lindworm: A Robert Bly Story Telling and Interpretation

January 26, 2018

This is a 38 minute YouTube audio tape of Robert Bly working the story known as Prince Lindworm. The description provided notes this is: “a parable of your relationship with the hostile twin coiled inside you—who was cast away during childhood, who waits years before roaring back into your life and begins swallowing those around you.” The story is … “Followed by an in-depth discussion of the story’s meaning at the 1993 Minnesota Men’s Conference.

I will be adding a few comments at a later date .

Standing up to complexes is always very difficult.

Embracing the Hag

November 9, 2017

Here is an interesting frame offered in the discussion following the story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell: What Do Woman Really Want.

“Embracing the hag’ initially entails coming to terms with what is dark and frightening in oneself so that one can release the partner from the burden of carrying one’s resentment, frustration and despair. Each person needs to recognize and sort through resistance and fear of change, her or his own repressions, and the dominance of particular aspects of one’s own self.

The problem of confronting and embracing the disappointments and frustrations in oneself can be conceptualized as a process of differentiation between the concerns of attachment and those of dominance within the couple relationship. When a distressed couple enters therapy (usually through the wife’s insistence or because a child has “brought” the couple to therapy by acting out), the partners are usually operating out of a “dominance-submission” posture rather than an “attachment-separation” one. The basic mode of intimate relationship is the instinctual pattern of attachment and separation. When this pattern, with its expressive gestures, symbolic meanings and recurring actions, is abandoned in favor of a dominance pattern or “power struggle,” each person feels threatened and depressed on a day-to-day basis. Instead of the two people relating emotionally as interdependent individuals with the ability to see and satisfy each other’s needs, they relate as a symbiotic or fused unit in which one person is “on top” and the other is “underneath”; there is a constant power struggle on every issue.

Although the two people may recognize the non-rational nature of their struggle (e.g. they may say, “It’s ridiculous, but we just can’t stop fighting over petty matters”), they feel it is impossible to stop struggling. Until both people face the meaning of dominance and submission in their relationship, which almost always involves the devaluing of the feminine, they cannot shift their concerns to attachment. Confrontation with the potential loss in their situation, through the therapists’ backing and elaborating the voice of the hag, often moves people out of the power struggle that had been so prominently in the center. This is just the first step in working through the dominance and submission concerns, however.” (p.21)

(My italics)

Young-Eisendrath, Polly, Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984

Source Quotes: Dreams as Portal to the Source (Eward Whitmont and Sylvia Pereira)

November 9, 2014

Here are a number of selected quotes from a very wonderful offering by Whitmont and Pereira:

P. 2: Quotes: “the dream itself is an actual and necessary expression of the life force– One that manifests in sleeping consciousness and is sometimes remembered and re counted across the threshold of waking. Like a flower or a hurricane or a human gesture, its basic purpose is the manifestation in expression of this life force. It gives us images of energy, synthesizing past and present, personal and collective experiences.” (Page 2)

P. 3. “To approach dream interpretation adequately we need to find perspectives beyond those created by dualistic consciousness, which rest content with oppositions–exterior/interior, object/subject, day/night, life/death, functional – descriptive/imaginal, focused attention/openness, etc. While these opposites are valuable for defining rational awareness, we need also to develop an integrated consciousness that can read both daily and nightly actions and events and nightly and daily visions from many perspectives and to integrate these perspectives for our selves and the patient–dreamer before us in our consulting rooms. This capacity relies on an ability to shift between the many forms of magic– affective, body, mythological, allegoric, symbolic, and rational awareness.

 P. 5: “The clinical understanding of dreams requires both art and skill. The art consists of an ability to sense the dream as a multifaceted dramatic presentation, as if one were allowed to witness a scene from the play of life. The performance would require attendance with full respect, empathy, sensitive intelligence, intuition, and a sense of symbolic expression.”

P. 6: “…  the skills acquired through the practice of techniques must always be subject to the art of interpretation. The first ‘rule’, then, is the paradox of all the healing arts: the applicability of basic principles must be determined by feeling, sensitivity, and intuition.”

P. 6: “as expressions of pre-rational, ‘altered’ states of consciousness, dreams are as variable as nature itself. Indeed they are a lusus naturae, a play of nature that can never be fitted into rigid systems. Rather, our rational thought capacity has to learn to adapt itself to the Protean variability of the life processes which dreams represent. Rational or ‘secondary’ thought must learn to adapt itself to the feeling tones and images of the dream, in reverie and to play intuitively, as seriously as a musician does with a sonata, until meanings emerge.”

P. 7: “…  in clinical practice each dream offers diagnosis, prognosis, and appropriate material and timing to address the dreamers current psychological reality and to address and compensate the dreamer’s– and/or analyst’s – blind spots of consciousness. Diagnostically, the dream’s images and structure give evidence of ego strength and may reveal qualities of relationship between various forms of consciousness and the psychological and somatic unconscious. Prognostically, the dream calls attention to what confronts consciousness, as well as to likely clinical developments, and often, to how the present awareness and capacities of the dreamer and/or analyst tend to relate to those confrontations. … The psychological reality and blind spots of consciousness are addressed because every dream points to an unconscious complex and to the archetypal dynamism behind the complex’s emotionally charged layers.”

P. 8: “Not only does the dream inevitably address the dreamer’s and analyst’s blind spots, it also… is ‘an answer in hieroglyphics to the question we would pose.’ …  The dreamer is invariably unable to see those blind spots or to realize the nature of the ‘question’ he or she needs to ‘pose.’ Too often the dreamer identifies only with the dream ego’s perspective and it’s emotional responses to the images presented.

…  Dream work, thus, requires a witness, someone to provide a perspective coming from other than the dreamer’s context, with whom the dream can initially be encountered.”

P. 9: “But even at best, and even among experienced therapist themselves, dream work needs dialogue with another person. In spite of extensive experience with dreams, such collegial checking and confrontation usually reveals essential details and personal applications that were overlooked. The saying popular among doctors, ‘the doctor who treats himself has a fool for a physician,’ applies here, for the dream brings us unconscious dynamics, and we cannot, by definition, be aware of them easily.

P. 11: “Musing on the contents of the person’s ‘own’ dreams with an empathic other, associating to them, grounding specific dream images in analogous events and patterns of daily life, finding objective explanations, sharing reactions–all provide method and material to build the safe enough therapeutic relationship in which, eventually, genuine affects and individuality can come forth. Repeatedly, such dream work brings about a sense of valuable individual contents and of awareness of capacity to deal with images. Over time such mutual activity assists greatly in conveying and developing a sense of fluid and merged, yet constant and separate, identity – a felt individuality for which play and symbolic understanding is both possible and pleasurable.”

P. 12: “Knowing immediately what a dream purports to mean rest usually on a projection of the therapist’s own bias or countertransference, rather than on genuine, and often necessarily mutual, understanding. Like all utterances from the ‘other side’, the dream tends to be multi-leveled and oracular, hence ambivalent (even polyvalent) and resistant to a rational, black– white, simplistic approach.”

P. 14: “… the therapist must revere the dream’s image material carefully in it’s context and with open puzzlement until a corresponding associative affect–response emerges from the dreamer. …  Jung’s warning: ‘The analyst who wishes to rule out conscious suggestion [must] consider every dream interpretation invalid until such time as a formula is found which wins the patients assent.” … If assent is to be reliable, it must come from what might be called an embodied or gut sense of ‘Aha!’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Touché.’ This kinesthetic validation presents a deep confirmation from ‘the Self in the body’ which knows even when the conscious ‘I’ cannot. Unless this response is forthcoming, the analyst’s views of the meaning of a dream can only be considered hypothetical possibilities still awaiting confirmation or disavowal from the Self of the dreamer. Inevitably, too, the following dreams will confirm, modify, or challenge an interpretation and the dreamer’s understanding of the dream.”

P. 17: “The dream is a spontaneous self portrayal, symbolic form, the actual situation in the unconscious.” Jung

“In each of us there is another whom we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves. When, therefore, we find ourselves in a difficult situation to which there is no solution, he can sometimes kindle a light that radically alters our attitude. (Jung)

Jung called the dream ‘a highly objective, natural product of the Psyche…  [a] self representation of the psychic life– process. …  The dream compensates or compliments a deficiency of the dreamer’s conscious position; And/or of the therapist’s position with regards to the dreamer or the analysis.”

Page 18: “… to differentiate Jung’s postulated Self from the self concept psychoanalysis… we shall capitalize it and referred to it as Guiding Self…. It is also to be viewed as the source and director of the individuation drive, that archetypal urge to ‘become what one is’. It is also to be viewed as the source and director of life events and of dream material, both providing invaluable metaphoric/allegoric and symbolic messages which aid the individuation process to those who learn to read them.

The Dream ego may represent: the dreamer’s actual and felt sense of identity as observing witness or actor.

Appears as the Guiding Self sees her or him.

The dream may point up the Self’s view of the dreamer’s identification (merger) with an ego-ideal or an inflated grandiosity.

P. 22: “Developmental possibilities through Dream Work

The dreams dramatic outcome, then, is to be considered conditional: given the situation as it is now (namely, the setting or exposition of the dream, to be discussed below), this or that is likely to develop. … nothing in a dream outcome, therefore, is to be regarded as fixed or unalterable; unless it is explicitly shown to be so by the terms of the dramatic structure of the dream itself and by the symbolic or allegoric tenor of the images.”

P. 24: “Rarely, if ever, will the dream tell the waking ego what to do. Even when a problem is solved in the dream this shows only a possibility that is available. The dream shows what psychological realities the dreamer is up against, what happens to work for or against his current attitude and position, and what the effects of that position or particular approach are likely to be. It leaves the matter to the dreamer to draw his or her own conclusion, to make decisions, and to act. In this way an ongoing dialectic occurs between conscious and unconscious dynamics. For better and/or worse, conscious freedom of response is respected and preserved.

The ‘situation as it is,’ seen from the perspective of the Guiding Self, includes both inner developmental potentials and trends, as well as the consequences inherent in the dreamer’s current, ‘just so’ psychological situation.”

P. 119: “dream series

Until now, we have been dealing with single dreams. However, there is a continuity, we might almost say, an extended story, as dreams unfold sequentially as part of a steadily evolving series. They tend to tell a running narrative, which feeds the conscious ego the kind of information it requires and is able to assimilate, given its particular position in the developmental process. As consciousness takes in response to the dream’s messages, the dreams again respond to the newly gained positions of consciousness; thus a dialectical play develops. When it is a matter of vitally important or fundamental life issues and consciousness does not respond adequately to assimilate the message, dreams will recur. Sometimes they repeat in the same form; sometimes the images become more numerous, larger, or threatening. These kind of recurrent dream series may even lead to nightmares. Such nightmares and recurring dreams – and particularly those that have been recurring since childhood – deserve urgent attention.

… When a dream journal is kept, one gets the impression of an unfolding continuum of views, and of a seeming intentionality in the selection of themes for each given moment.

Indeed, in the instance of a specific, organic symbol, birth in dreams can usually be seen to refer back to a process seeded some nine months before. Or the age of a dream figure will refer to some energy that was ‘born’ those many years before. But more than that, it is as though dream number six in October knew what dream number twenty-nine in April was going to raise and was preparing the dreamer with preliminary insights. Subsequent dreams quite often, therefore, need to be considered in the light of preceding ones, that might have dealt with the same or similar subject matter. A central theme or themes are developed in sequence overtime. Often, one cannot avoid the impression that the series operates as though the unconscious could ‘anticipate . . . future conscious achievements,’ no less than future unconscious dilemmas, for an early dream seems already to know or plan what a later dream is to pick up and carry further. This is an aspect of what Jung called the ‘prospective function’ of dreams.

Usually, such an elaboration occurs not a linear progression but rather like a circular or spiral movement around a central thematic core, casting light upon the central theme from, what might be considered, different psychological angles. It is as though dream one raises a theme; dream two raises a seemingly different one; dream three presents again another angle and so forth; while dream 12 may perhaps pick up on one, and 14 may link up what was raised by three and 12 – or whatever. This circumambulation of the dreamer psyche field bus repeatedly brings up crucial complexes, and elaborates on them, building on previous consequences. Gradually a sense of wholeness pattern adults to the process of being shown the various aspects of the themes, presented with all their very nations from a variety of viewpoints. And keeping up with the images of the dream series, one can keep up with the life– And the individuation process.”

see: Dreams, A Portal to the Source, by Whitemont, Edward, and Pereira, Sylvia, 1992.

Edward F. Edinger: On Calcinatio

January 17, 2010

“The image of invulnerability to fire indicates an immunity to identification with affect. Experience of the archetypal psyche has this effect to the extent that it enlarges and deepens ego consciousness. There is then less likelihood of identification with the emotional reactions of oneself or others. By contrast a weak ego is very vulnerable to being consumed by encounter with intense affect. This phenomenon is described in a poem by Dorsha Hayes:

Filled with a clutter of unsorted stuff
a spark can set a man ablaze. What’s there
heaped high among stored rubbish at a puff
will burst in flame. No man can be aware
of how inflammable he is, how prone
to what can rage beyond control, unless
the piled up litter of his life is known
to him, and he is able to assess
what hazard he is in, what could ignite.
A man, disordered and undisciplined,
lives in the peril of a panic flight
before the onrush of a flaming wind.
Does it now seem I seek to be profound?
I stand on smoking ash and blackened ground!

…Calcinatio has a purging or purifying effect. the substance is purged of radical moisture. This would correspond to the drippings of the unconscious that accompany emerging energies. Or, in other words, the energies of the archetypal psyche first appear in identification with the ego and express themselves as desires for ego-pleasure and ego-power. …calcinatio brings about a certain immunity to affect and an ability to see the archetypal aspect of existence. To the extent that one is related to the transpersonal center of one’s being, affect is experienced as etherial fire (Holy Spirit) rather than terrestrial fire – the pain of frustrated desirousness.”

Edinger, Edward, Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy