Neuroscientific research has now established beyond doubt that much of the way we think and feel is processed unconsciously. This means that we humans are not always consciously aware of this. Most people will have experienced how a sudden anxiety may have crept in without apparent reason. Likewise sudden helpful thoughts and ‘gut feelings’ arise from the unconscious parts of the mind.
Our way of experiencing the world is on the one hand determined by genetic factors. Extrovert people like much company, introvert characters prefer fewer friends and solitude. On the other hand and more importantly, however, our experience in life will have a decisive influence on our expectations, hopes, motivations, fears and relationships. It does make a difference on our outlook in life if we grew up in a caring and supportive family or if our early experience in life was characterised by neglect. Generally speaking, experiences early in life leave a deeper mark than those later on but all emotionally charged encounters will influence the way we think and feel. Typical ways of thinking and feeling have also been described as ‘internal working model’. It will vary from person to person. For example, the experience of breach of trust will result in difficulties to establish trusting relationships. Frequent criticism and put-down may cause low self-esteem.
Most people have their individual areas of heightened vulnerability. Carl Gustav Jung called these areas ‘complexes’. He described these as emotionally charged ideas and images, which usually group around a core problem. Fear of abandonment, of humiliation, of betrayal, of impoverishment, of loss of power and many more can be at the centre of a complex, which interferes without the smooth running of our lives. Disturbance in any of these areas often leads to a varity of symptoms, especially low mood, anxiety, general dissatisfaction in life, relationships problems, eating disorders and lack of interest and energy.
Therapists trained in analysis and so called psychodynamic psychotherapy aim at identifying those individual patterns of experiencing the world. In a process of identifying these complexes and in making new and healing experiences within the protective environment of a therapeutic relationship it is possible to achieve change with a greater range of freedom, which will allow a less restrictive and generally a happier life.
In Jungian analysis and psychotherapy we particularly emphasize two means of approaching these difficult and fear-laden areas of our mental life. One is a genuine relationship with a therapist who can provide a holding environment while at the same time keeping a neutral distance. The good analyst will be truly committed and prepared to engage with the pain of the patient. It is unavoidable that conflicts arise within the therapeutic relationship just as in any other genuine relationship. These need to be worked through and understood as they often stand representative of conflicts within other relationships.
The other aspect of working in line with Jungian concepts is the exploration of manifestations of the unconscious mind. In the centre stand the interpretation of dreams and the exploration of symbols as they may present themselves during the course of the analysis. Dreams and symbols are a means of communication from the unconscious part of the psyche, which often provide insight into the working of the unconscious mind and which give indications as to imbalances and possible areas of development.
Jung wrote about dreams: “Dreams are impartial, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche, outside the control of the will. They are pure nature; they show us the unvarnished, natural truth, and are therefore fitted, as nothing else is, to give us back an attitude that accords with our basic human nature when our consciousness has strayed too far from its foundations and run into an impasse.”
[Collected Works Volume 10, paragraph 317]