As for any chosen alchemical operation there are varying avenues of exploration. I chose not focus on interpretation as we can get lost amidst the temptations of concrete findings. Although from metaphor, almost as a poetic observation, the alchemical operations can be discussed symbolically. As I tend to observe life experiences from addiction, I am exploring the associated experiences of shame, frustration, guilt, and rage. The tendency to fantasize in an attempt to move away from such demanding affect is in response to a “denied justification” as the frustration of desire “becomes the fire of calcinatio” (Edinger, 1994, p. 43). I have written more on the topic of alchemy:
In my dissertation I had explained that calcinatio is an alchemical operation that signifies a purging of volatile elements. Fire is a symbol for the operation of calcinatio. Edinger (1994) stated “reality often generates fire by challenging or denying” desirous fantasies (p. 43). Fire is a metaphor referring to the frustration associated with the desires of addiction. Psychologically, frustration, rage, and shame are symbolized as the incineration via the fires of calcinatio. What is being acknowledged from the metaphoric statement of incineration are the anxieties of annihilation. We are needing to look at the frustration, shame, and rage that is intertwined within the guilt of an addict. The frustration is indicative of an ego’s fear of annihilation and attempts at displacement that continue to harbor the complex derived from the experience of becoming addicted. For addiction, the death is representative of what the addict deems experientially relevant at the moment of the ego’s anxiety of annihilation. Yes, we can delve into how the death may signify the separation from the addiction, etc., yet this is where we allow the individual experience to be explored rather than determined or suggestive. Edinger (1994) is essentially bringing the symbolic representations of alchemical operations into the context of psychotherapy.
The frustration of chaos is encountered through the calcinatio, as this operation is dismantling a false sense of wholeness. The sense of wholeness is found in how the addict is presumably able to tolerate ego collisions through the dissociative experience of addiction. Yet as the ego is pulled from the fantasized realm, the ego will experience, witness the intolerable anxieties. Whitmont (1991) explained that there will follow an existential anxiety in attempting to relinquish the substance use, and this increased anxiety is intolerability. The ego can be incapacitated by an overwhelming amount of anxiety as well as through the utilization of psychoactive substances. Here we see that “pathologic anxiety is anxiety that is produced on the basis of an incorrect estimate by the ego of a given situation” (Furst, 1967, p. 14).
The addict sways to and from various dissociative states. As the addict attempts to intrapsychically abandon the overwhelming imagery that is affectively associated with an experience, they are unable to consciously sift through the symbolic and metaphoric representations of the experience. As the overwhelming emotions breach consciousness and impair ego functions, a paradoxical and cyclical pattern might emerge as the engagement in addiction and dissociative states assist in repressing overwhelming affect, making symbolic and metaphoric material inaccessible. What becomes amplified is an intapsychic state of hopelessness and helplessness.
Edinger (1994a) explained that “the necessary frustration of desirousness or concupiscence is the chief feature of the calcinatio stage. First the substance must be located; that is, the unconscious, unacknowledged desire, demand, expectation must be recognized and affirmed” (p. 42).
For the addict, the ego will continue to encounter developmental collisions which will challenge the individual’s ego strength. The addict may at times chose to engage with imagery, fantasized or imagined, that does not overwhelm the ego. By using imagery to contain affective experiences or states, a deeper meaning can be captured without the ego becoming overwhelmed. Although, addicted or not, the issue is not in if the images are to emerge within consciousness, to be made aware, or contemplate their existence. The individual needs to attempt to understand them. More connections are then made, which allows for a more holistic picture of the psyche to be held in conscious awareness.
Edinger, E. (1994). Anatomy of the psyche: Alchemical symbolism in psychotherapy. Chicago, IL: Open Court.
Furst, S. (1967). Psychic trauma. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Whitmont, E. (1991). The symbolic quest: Basic concepts of analytical psychology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
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Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex