This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 13 table of contents.

Personifying Aspects of the Unconscious

Jung encouraged his patients to give free reign to fantasy, as Jung himself did in his self-analysis. He encouraged patients to paint and use other forms of artistic expression to express themselves. If a person could generate fantasy figures representing important psychological themes or people from the person's past, this was considered a worthy endeavor. In fact, Jung regarded it as one of the few ways to "communicate" with psychological processes that might otherwise remain buried. To personify something from the unconscious is to treat it like a person and even lend it a voice. This was similar to what Jung did with fantasy figures during his troubled period after parting with Freud. Jung himself found it therapeutic, so he encouraged his patients to imagine different people inside themselves as a therapy technique.

What does it mean to personify something? Why do it?

How did the student use Jungian techniques?

Following is part of a letter from a student who had a Jungian therapist. The therapist encouraged the student to generate some figures using imagination, then converse with them in order to get some wisdom about herself.

I wanted to share an exciting experience I had. I finally talked to some of my "selves" by myself—something I've been reluctant to do before (fear of losing control?). It took a dilemma to get me to do it [being offered a promotion into a clerical working environment].

My solution: I put on my tape of the ocean surf and seagulls, got comfortable and contacted my "Wise Old Man" who always visits in my dreams in the form of my late Grandfather. I visualized the two of us sitting on Rocky Seal Beach in N. California, me on the sand and Granddad in his rocking chair. I always loved his hands, so I visualized his hand hanging over the armrest next to my face. I thanked him for being there with me and told him how much I appreciated him... I then asked him questions: What about my conflict? He told me that I had always suppressed my differentness—intellectual pursuits/curiosity—in order to fit in with my family. I brought myself down to their level. That way of being was practiced for so long it became natural and familiar (though not necessarily comfortable or enjoyable). When I am in a "clerical" environment, it is necessary for me to suppress my differentness and bring myself down to that level... In a sense, I've substituted my work setting for my family setting; I'm in a familiar state of being and a familiar environment, though not a comfortable or enjoyable one.

...I asked why I was having trouble maintaining my momentum—getting information on areas of interest and exercising to lose weight. He invited another "self" to answer. She dubbed herself "My Different Self." She described herself as the thin one who exercised and felt good about herself and her body. She's the strong one who takes care of me and who I started suppressing years ago. She's the fun-loving one who wants to move forward... But the more she talked the weaker she got. And yet another Self showed up. (At this point Granddad and I were in the same place; My Different Self was in front of me, cavorting on the beach). My Fat Adult Self walked up from behind, in the shadows. She is angry and full of self-pity (feelings that still come out). Her story is that she wants to be taken care of and when she's not she gets angry and feels sorry for herself.

...A negotiation was made between the two selves: My Different Self will take care of me, bring me enjoyment by being friendly and in contact with people if the Fat Adult Self will loosen her grip and encourage exercise for the physical body and mental health. My little girl will be taken care of by Karen, my "therapist-mother." All four selves agreed to stay with me and offer help and advice when I needed it. I thanked them and felt 100% better. [Author's files]

Why would such a person not be in danger of developing multiple personalities?

The student refers to classic Jungian archetypes (the Wise Old Man, the Child, the Mother) as discussed in Chapter 11. She identifies four aspects of herself that she dealt with by personalizing them as fantasy figures. These included the childlike part of herself, the wisdom-dispensing Granddad, the poised and socially skilled My Different Self, and the self-pitying, depressed Fat Self.

Is such a person in danger of developing the multiple personalities of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)? Probably not. Authentic cases of multiple personality are almost always caused by traumatic events around the age of 3 to 6, not by role-playing in adulthood.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey