Though I am distinguishing fantasy from imagination, we are delving into the application of metaphor and the ego’s involvement. As my posts reflect the writing, literature and topics of my dissertation, here I am focusing on an element of my research. I introduced the concept of metaphor from a Jungian orientation on July 29, 2012, in Metaphor and Symbolism: An Expressive Medium. I also began a brief introduction of alchemy as a metaphor on August 5, 2012, in Alchemy: A Deeper Metaphor. I would like to delve deeper into the discussion of symbolism and metaphor and see how they relate to fantasy and imagination. Imagination allows for a conceptualization, or engagement of metaphor, yet the extent to which an individual can engage with symbolism is dependent upon the strength of an individual’s ego. The difficulty with addiction is that the addict, the ego, engages through the function of desire and fantasy, not imagination. From the notion of desire we then move towards the addict’s tendencies of dissociation and fantasy, which leave out the function of imagination. Describing the difference between imagination and fantasy Raff (2000) informed that “while imagination opens the door to profound experiences of the Self, and makes the formation of the Self possible, fantasy leads to inflation, illusion, and stagnation” (p. 43).
Looking through my books I encountered a statement from Ulman & Paul (2006) who explained “even an individual who is moderately healthy is never completely free of the seductive and captivating powers or the archaic form of fantasies” (p. 27). My attention is drawn towards the statement of fantasies, and specifically to how this relates to the individual who is addicted. For the addict there is a significant struggle to function, manage and tolerate experience in response to a mediation and understanding of either fantasy or imagination. Through imagination, real-word encounters integrate with an ego that functions with the ability to hold symbolic interpretations as personified projections (Schwartz-Salant, 1995).
Before I go any further, I would like to momentarily bring attention towards establishing a reference point for ego, as there are noticeable differences in the conceptualization of ego within the various psychological orientations. I will take some time in a latter post to further integrate the depth psychological understanding of ego in addiction, trauma and alchemy. For now, before further delving into how the ego is engaged with imagination and fantasy, lets look at Jung’s (1951/1979) statement:
We understand the ego as the complex factor to which all conscious contents are related. It forms, as it were, the centre of the field of consciousness; and, in so far as this comprises the empirical personality, the ego is the subject of all personal acts of consciousness. The relation of a psychic content to ego forms the criterion of its consciousness, for no content can be conscious unless it is represented to a subject (p. 3).
Edinger (1996) directs the attention to the development of the ego and the ego being established as the subject of consciousness. Jung (1951/1979) explained that the ego “seems to arise in the first place from the collision between the somatic factor and the environment, and, once established as a subject, it goes on developing from further collisions with the outer world and the inner” (p. 5). Furthermore, Jung (1951/1979) informed that consciousness, in theory, has no limits, unless consciousness encounters that which is not-known.
Fantasy is “an unconscious undertow into non-differentiation to escape conscious feeling” (Kalsched, 1996, p. 35).
An important statement to remember regarding the function of the ego is that “no content can be conscious unless it is represented to a subject” (Jung, 1951/1979, p. 3). Content may either filter through the ego or barrage the boundary, inflicting trauma. If the content is unbearable the individual may dissociate to a more manageable realm of disconnection and reside within fantasy. This dissociative realm exists in addiction and is enabled through the engagement of fantasy. The addictive elements then exacerbate a desirous existence. For the ego that thrives in fantasy, there is little chance for true engagement as the addict strives through desire. The addict may also experience dissociative states, yet there is also a desire for wholeness, though this is being sought through fantasy. The dissociative states act as blockades to the encounters with the real world.
The addict is one who meanders the dissociative realms, seeking shelter from intolerable experiences. The addict’s desires will inevitably overrun the values and needs of the psyche. When fantasizing, the individual is in a dissociative state (Kalsched, 1996). Fantasy, then, is not in the realm of the imaginable or of reality. The act of fantasy can be in response to intolerable anxiety (Kalsched, 1996). Gilbert (1964) informed that “imagination is the capacity to form mental representations” (para 2). It is about what fantasy and imagination intrapsychically procure within the individual who is addicted. “It remains an open question whether the opposition between the two standpoints can ever be satisfactorily resolved in intellectual terms” (Jung, 1921/1990, p. 63). We can get lost in the rational and avoidance of difference, plausibly siding on what provides comfort rather than a mediating tension or resolve.
Jung, C. G. (1990). Psychological types. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 6). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1921)
Jung, C. G. (1979). Aion. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 9). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1951)
Gilbert, R. (1964). Creative Imagination in Terms of Ego ‘Core’ and Boundaries. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. 45, 75-85
Kalsched, D. (1996). The inner world of trauma:Archetypal defenses of the personal spirit. New York, NY: Routledge.
Schwartz-Salant, N. (1998). The mystery of human relationship: Alchemy and the transformation of the self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Edinger, E. (1996). The Aion lectures: Exploring the self in C. G. Jung’s Aion. Toronto, ON, Canada: Inner City Books.
Raff, J. (2000). Jung and the alchemical imagination. York Beach, ME: Nicolas Hayes.
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Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex