Blog Post by Dr. Bonnie Bright and Dr. James Newell
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) is widely known as a pioneer and founder of the field of depth psychology, which is based on his theories about archetypes, the unconscious, and the process of individuation.
Depth psychology offers a rich and nuanced perspective on the human psyche and provides an effective framework for understanding how our beliefs and behaviors are driven by what is unconscious within us. When we learn how our daily difficulties can be transformed by shining a light into that unconscious, we receive valuable insights and tools for personal growth and transformation.
Because Jung believed that the psyche has a natural tendency towards self-regulation and adaptation in order to overcome challenges and to experience wholeness, he found it quite natural that human beings develop unconscious coping mechanisms to help protect us from the overwhelming emotions or psychological distress that most of us typically encountered in early life when we didn’t have enough agency, power, or capacity for rational thought to confront those disturbing challenges head on.
Jung identified several psychological coping mechanisms, including repression, projection, rationalization, and compensation. Repression involves pushing unwanted thoughts, memories, or emotions into the unconscious mind, while projection involves attributing our own expectations stemming from our lived experiences onto others. Rationalization involves creating justifications or excuses for one's actions, while compensation involves making up for perceived weaknesses or shortcomings in one area of life by excelling in another.
The key to effective coping, Jung believed, is to bring the unconscious processes we have developed as a response to our environment into conscious awareness, so we can understand our own values, perceptions, and patterns of behavior and take steps toward change if we so desire.
Thus, using a soul-centered perspective which evolved as a way for Jung to work with his own biographical and transpersonal challenges, Jung established depth psychological techniques that can help us uncover unconscious coping mechanisms and process deep-seated emotions, beliefs, and patterns of behavior that may be holding us back in life. These techniques can also help us tap into new and fertile resources for our understanding and transformation.
Contemplate the image of an iceberg, which has often been used as a metaphor to illustrate how the part of the iceberg that is visible above the surface of the water, is a tiny fraction of the entire iceberg. Similarly, our conscious awareness encompasses only a minute fraction of what is potentially available to us in relation to the collective unconscious, a realm which Jung identified contains the entirety of existence, past, present, and future. Jung argued that the collective unconscious is made up of archetypal patterns—universal patterns which are the building blocks of the psyche. When we recognize that our conscious experience is only a small part of our overall psyche, we can start to explore and integrate the unconscious aspects of our being in everyday situations such as work, money, and love.
So how do we make the unconscious conscious? Deciphering our dreams can play a powerful role, as Jung believed. Jung also developed a process he called active imagination, which allows us to explore and integrate unconscious material. Active imagination involves intentionally engaging with the unconscious through imagination and visualization in order to bring forth unconscious contents into conscious awareness. By working with the contents of the unconscious, individuals can gain greater insight into their own psyche, and potentially resolve inner conflicts and move towards greater wholeness.
The process of active imagination is often described as a form of creative play, where individuals allow their imagination to unfold spontaneously and explore the images, symbols and stories that emerge. By engaging with these unconscious materials in a conscious and intentional way, individuals can gain a greater understanding of themselves and their inner world.
In everyday life, our coping mechanisms can quickly compromise an experience when we get triggered and fall into old unconscious patterns. However, the challenges we face in relationships, health, finances, and career can all be addressed when we are willing to engage in what Jung referred to as “living the symbolic life.” It is up to each of us to implement techniques that allow us to decipher what the unconscious has to say, whether it’s showing us unwanted patterns that no longer serve, or whether it’s providing insights and resources that can help us let go of suffering and live into more freedom, creativity, and joy.
Working with unconscious somatic sensations and exploring symbols that hold latent psychological meaning, just as Jung proposed through the processes of dreamwork and active imagination, can allow us to identify the underlying beliefs and values that drive our relationships with our work life, with money, and with other individuals—not to mention ourselves. By bringing the unconscious into awareness, we can gain a greater understanding of ourselves and our motivations, and work towards a more integrated and fulfilling life.
JOIN US TO EXPLORE MORE ABOUT THESE CONCEPTS IN COMMUNITY!
You’re invited to attend an online Community Conversation on Depth Psychology in Daily Life, with Dr. Bonnie Bright, Founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, and Dr. James Newell, Director. The conversation will be opened up to the community in the second half of the event after Bonnie and James‘s opening remarks. This event is free and open to the public via Zoom, though registration is required. A recording will be made available for all who register.
When: Saturday, May 20, 2023