Through a Jungian Lens

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Active Imagination – To Engage or Not Engage

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Something not quite right - fractured reality - Vietnam

There is a danger in entering “depth work” via active imagination. The truth is that one can get caught in the world of the unconscious if the ego is not strong enough. Opening the door to the unconscious is like opening a Pandora’s box- one might not have the strength to return to regain control of the ego.  Entering into fantasy so as to bring unconscious contents into consciousness is part of the journey that Jung calls individuation. However, one cannot become individuated if the unconscious gains control of the psyche:

But when the unconscious contents – these same fantasies – are not ‘realized,’ they give rise to a negative activity and personification, i.e., to the autonomy of the animus and anima. Psychic abnormalities then develop, states of possession ranging in degree from ordinary moods and ‘ideas’ to psychoses. All these states are characterized by one and the same fact that an unknown ‘something has taken possession of a smaller or greater portion of the psyche and asserts its hateful and harmful existence undeterred by all our insight, reason, and energy, thereby proclaiming the power of the unconscious over the conscious mind.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 370)

It makes one reconsider the use of active imagination with oneself or with one’s patients or clients. ‘Am I truly ready for this?’ and ‘Is my client ready for this?’  I know that I rarely move into this approach with my clients, and only after having worked at some length using Solution-Focused therapy, Cognitive therapies and ensuring with the aid of a medical practitioner that the issue is not biochemical which can best be addressed with appropriate medications.  But, when the client is in the second half of life, has demonstrated success and is suffering more existential pain, then I approach cautiously.  Why? In my opinion, the deep-rooted questing of the client is more about what I have labelled a ‘call’ that it is about a behavioral or cognitive dysfunction. There is a call to individuation.

Here one may ask, perhaps, why is it so desirable that a man should be individuated. Not only is it desirable, it is absolutely indispensable because, through his contamination with others, he falls into situations ans commits actions which bring him into disharmony with himself. From all states of unconscious contamination and non-differentiation there is begotten a compulsion to be and to act in a way contrary to one’s own nature. Accordingly a man can neither be at one with himself nor accept responsib ility for himself. He feels himself to be in a degrading, unfree, unethical condition.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 373)

It is that need to be ethical, to be true to oneself that pushes one to individuation.  To refuse the task is to be left in a state of victimhood or to live in perpetual dissatisfaction knowing one has taken an easy way out at the cost of one’s soul.  In working with the self or with a client, one needs to be clear why the work of active imagination is being pursued. What are the motivations of both therapist and client?


2 Responses

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  1. I’ve been reading your posts and doing research on the internet. What I’ve come to realize is that I do this already but didn’t have a name for it. I don’t often use active imagination but when I have in the past, it has been very helpful. There is a space inside of me that holds a wisdom I didn’t even know I possessed.


    September 17, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    • I am glad that my writing has provided you with a sign post along your own journey. Thank you for sharing this information here. 🙂


      September 18, 2011 at 7:26 am

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