Through a Jungian Lens

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Balancing Libido Between Inner and Outer Aspects of the Psyche

with 2 comments

Resting along He Hai Lu

I took this photo earlier today, just before I ate my lunch.  The scene was quite near the apartment, less than 50 metres away.  Because it was lunch time, the people who work at hard, physical jobs such as taking care of the boulevard green spaces, often quickly eat a small lunch then use their time to rest.  They have learned the art of sleeping on pavement and hard ground at a moment’s notice.  I guess one could say that they have mastered the art of energy conservation.

In Jungian terms, psychic energy is often referred to as libido:

“All psychological phenomena can be considered as manifestations of energy, in the same way that all physical phenomena have been understood as energic manifestations ever since Robert Mayer discovered the law of the conservation of energy. Subjectively and psychologically, this energy is conceived as desire. I call it libido, using the word in its original sense, which is by no means only sexual.” (Jung, C.W. Volume IV, paragraph 567)

The photo talks about conservation of energy and about the absence of energy, at least in terms of conscious energy.  Digging further into my texts to see where the absence of conscious energy would take me, I soon found myself looking at the word depression.  Interesting.  As a therapist I have often been faced with clients having serious issues with depression.  In their waking life they had little energy to perform tasks, to be present in their relationships, to care about themselves or their work.  Since I learned long ago in science classes that energy is neither created or destroyed, it made sense that the energy that used to be present in waking life had to have gone somewhere in the psyche.  But where?  If not in the conscious psyche, it must then be in the unconscious psyche.

The unconscious has simply gained an unassailable ascendancy; it wields an attractive force that can invalidate all conscious contents – in other words, it can withdraw libido from the conscious world and thereby produce a ‘depression,’ an abaissemnet du niveau mental (Janet). But as a result of this we must, according to the law of energy, expect an accumulation of value – i.e. libido – in the unconscious.” (Jung, C.W. Volume VII, paragraph 63)

Since the energy has gone underground, so-to-speak, in order to regain energy in the conscious state we must do the work of connecting with the unconscious via dream work, or via active imagination.  In a way this work is not much different from being a plumber and unplugging a drain or a toilet so that the water (energy) can again run free.

For myself, continuing to work with active imagination sort of acts as a way of preventing an accumulation of libido (energy) in the unconscious as well as having too much energy located in the outer psyche (ego).  I do better when there is balance between inner and outer


2 Responses

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  1. this is a classic Jungian explanation for depression – the sucking of libido back into the unconscious to get the person with it to stop and look/work inward, not go running amok. So it is a ‘warning signal’ like the engine light of your car. It is not a medical disorder to ‘fix’. I spend a great deal of my professional life listening for depression that is Jungian based – for these folks need a counselor companion, not a prescription for Prozac.


    September 8, 2011 at 11:26 am

    • I agree, that is why we need psychiatrists with a good knowledge of Jungian as well as cognitive, behavioral and pharmacological therapy models. Thanks for bringing your expertise to this blog site. 🙂


      September 8, 2011 at 7:53 pm

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