Archetype and Image

Archetype and Archetypal Image

If a lover sent you a letter, would your first task be to figure it out?  In opening ourselves to the images of the dream it can be very useful to receive the entire thing as a private letter from the unconscious.  Each detail is the best possible image to show you how the unconscious sees things.

The archetypes are not the images in our dreams.  The dream image is the means by which the ego perceives the archetype. The image is how archetypes manifests in consciousness.  Therefore, Carl Jung makes a distinction between the archetype which is unknowable, and the archetypal image which represents it.  Jung often uses the word symbol because the archetypal image points to and represents a reality that is unknowable.

Archetypal images appear like these: “I saw a spider in my dream.”  “You should have seen the volcano in my dream last night!” “There was this woman, but I don’t know who she was.” And a process of exploration that takes into account the feeling tones, associations and possible amplifications all help the dreamer hear the message the dream is conveying.

For years I have been observing and investigating the products of the unconscious in the widest sense of the word, namely dreams, fantasies, visions, and delusions of the insane. I have not been able to avoid recognizing certain regularities, that is, types. There are types of situations and types of figures that repeat themselves frequently and have a corresponding meaning. I therefore employ the term “motif” to designate these repetitions. Thus there are not only typical dreams but typical motifs in dreams. Carl Jung,  “The Psychological Aspects of the Kore,” CW 9i, par. 309.

It can be argued that relating to psychic contents as images allows us to respond in a mode that is more primitive, pre-rational: archaic.  It is as if the imagery forces us down out of the collective rational attainments of the enlightenment.  Dreams make us play by their rules and our rational predispositions can get often get cranky.  “I have no idea what this could mean,” is a common statement in the consulting room.

Dreams become elusive if we are primarily interested in figuring them out.  To do so seeks a solution.  To figure something out, like a problem on a test, is to be done with it. Dreams, on the other hand, are a path that draws unknown parts of ourselves closer to consciousness.  To truly receive a dream requires a posture of relatedness toward the unconscious and a bit of art.


What is an Archetype?

Archetype of the Collective Unconscious

Archetypes are not representable in themselves but their effects are notable in images and motifs, and as our experiences in this direction develop, encounters.  The most common archetypes in Jungian literature are mother/father, shadow, trickster, anima/animus, wise old man/woman, power animals, and the Self.  Likewise locales like mountains, valleys, churches and roads; situations like initiation and marriage; and affects like rage and shame, all of these are also archetypal realities.  The difficult thing about this subject is that without the encounter, it seems like we are talking about ideas. If you’ve never been to Idaho, you will have some notion of the place, but that remains only an idea until you step foot inside it’s borders for the first time and see what it really is all about.

Archetypes are, by definition, factors and motifs that arrange the psychic elements into certain images, characterized as archetypal, but in such a way that they can be recognized only from the effects they produce. Carl Jung, “A Psychological Approach to the Trinity,” CW 11, par. 222, note 2.

The effects that archetype produce can be both terrifying and sublime.  States of possession and ecstasy both qualify. The collective dread regarding madness is in recognition that archetypal energies can be too much for the ego to handle. That being said,

 “We can never legitimately cut loose from our archetypal foundations unless we are prepared to pay the price of a neurosis, any more than we can rid ourselves of our body and its organs without committing suicide. If we cannot deny the archetypes or otherwise neutralize them, we are confronted, at every new stage in the differentiation of consciousness to which civilization attains, with the task of finding a new interpretation appropriate to this stage, in order to connect the life of the past that still exists in us with the life of the present, which threatens to slip away from it.” Carl Jung, “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” CW 9i, par. 267.

Shame, the Invisible Affect

Shame, an Archetypal Affect in Psychoanalytic Process

The presence of any of the archetypal affects helps us recognize a complex has been activated in an individual.

Affects occur usually where adaptation is weakest, and at the same time they reveal the reason for its weakness, namely a certain degree of inferiority and the existence of a lower level of personality. On this lower level with its uncontrolled or scarcely controlled emotions one . . . [is] singularly incapable of moral judgment. (Carl Jung, Aion, CW 9ii, par. 15.)

There is a hint of a judgmental attitude in this passage, for the intolerable affects are archetypal realities just like the great mother, the trickster and the messiah.  In Jung’s contempt for the affects, which many other passages also reveal, the definition of this passage can actually be turned around on him. Within a contemptuous attitude lies hidden a complex driven by shame.  Lest you find this claim shocking, it is neither new nor original.  In her book Masculine Shame, Mary Ayers has rendered portraits of both Freud and Jung and demonstrated their incapacity to carry shame, persuasively pointing out the impact of this issue on the development of psychoanalysis.

Shame, Toward a Working Definition

With this backdrop in place, I want here to explore the archetypal affect shame.  In Stewart’s theoretical synthesis of the archetypal affects he provides an interesting insight. The experience of rejection and alienation result in a dual affect: contempt/shame.  It’s as if these form the two sides of the same coin as they rip through our culture.

Similar in dynamic to sadomasochism (from a psychological perspective), contempt/shame and the disgust it engenders pervasively disrupt the functioning of consciousness on a collective level.  Racism, misogyny, homophopbia, religious and political extremism, homelessness; all types of exclusion, bullying, and disdain for others find their roots in this deeply embedded archetypal reality.

While the hatred of contempt is often overt and visible, even in the subtle signal of a slightly lifted chin while passing by a homeless individual on a city street, the wounds of the shame carrier often stay hidden in the recesses of soul.  Especially in those whose contempt is leaking out all over the place.

And shame, while somewhat on an experiential continuum with guilt, is significantly distinct from it.  Guilt arises when we have done something wrong.  Shame is rooted in the perception not that what I have done is wrong, but who I am is wrong. The alienation of all abandonment, as well as the accumulated effect of neglect and abuse of all sorts, indicate the presence of the dark tar pit of shame constellated in the unconscious.

Psychoanalysis and Shame

When working with individuals in psychoanalysis on the parental complexes, in my experience the constellation of contempt/shame is by for the most prevalent affect in the process.  Due to it’s alienating nature, shame needs to be coaxed into the field. Embodied it is often nauseating.  Counter-transferential somatic symptoms like nausea, an upset stomach and acid reflux in the analyst during session (if no other likely personal factors would give rise to these symptoms) can signal an attempt by shame to enter the process.

Working with shame is a slow difficult dance.  At an archetypal level, far beyond the storms of fear, the valleys of grief and the towering infernos of rage, the rejections of all ages fill unfathomably wide and surrounding oceans of shame.

I am a firm believer that until we collectively begin to take some responsibility for shame on the individual level, the cultural ills outlined above will continue on as unsolvable social riddles.