“I managed to translate the emotions into images—that is to say, to find the images which were concealed in the emotions” (Jung, 1961/1989, p. 177). Emotions are powerful forces that can at times overwhelm the psyche. If we are able to look deeper, and withstand the pull and not become engulfed by them, emotions can carry with them meanings that are crucial for our growth and understanding. “Had I left those images hidden in the emotions, I might have been torn to pieces by them” (p. 177). By staying with the emotions, Jung found a way to translate and capture their significance into something manageable and meaningful. The images act as a bridge, connecting us to material that might otherwise overwhelm us. Following my discussion of imagination on August 19, 2012, in Fantasy, Imagination, and Desire: The Ego and Metaphor, and my discussion on July 1, 2012, in Emotional Estrangement, I am now delving into the notion of how meaning can be gleamed by uncovering the images hidden within the emotions.
The significance of an image can be recognized by how they are actually “representing an inner reality which often far outweighs the importance of external reality” (Jung, 1921/1990, p. 442). The images are a combination of unconscious material and conscious awareness at any particular moment in time. When these images touch upon material that is also mythological, the images may then capture archetypal motifs as well. At times emotions may be so overwhelming in their intensity that we disconnect from them in order to protect ourselves. When we become dissociated from our emotions, we lose the ability to create meaning out of them and the events or circumstances they arise from. Dissociation hinders our ability to find the images that capture the emotions.
“The inner image is a complex structure…It is no conglomerate, however, but a homogeneous product with a meaning of its own. The image is a condensed expression of the psychic situation as a whole” (Jung, 1921/1990, p. 443).
The emotion is what happens to the individual and at times we go to great lengths to try to deal with the emotions that we experience. The images that can be found within our emotions carry both meaning and the capacity to transform us and our understanding of the world. The deeper meanings inherent within our emotional experiences bring us to the philosophical underpinnings of alchemy. Alchemy captures unconscious processes through images and metaphor. The alchemist’s projected their own unconscious material onto material they sought to change through a series of procedures. Connecting these ideas to addiction, the very process of addiction involves becoming overwhelmed, disconnected, and estranged from parts of ourselves. For many, using a substance is a way to trying to move away from an emotional experience that feels unbearable. With substance abuse, there is no longer the possibility of translating the emotions into imagery, and the meaning is therefore untouchable. From the imagery within the emotion, reason, or meaning is plausible due to the imagined, conscious engagement towards awareness. To focus on the imagery in association with affect, one is seeking awareness of what has been experienced. As Corbett (2011) explained, “we can discern a symbolic meaning to the suffering, while other times the suffering seems meaningless” (p. 263) If we can find the image hidden within the emotion, we can also ascribed meaning to our most powerful and devastating experiences. Jung stated further:
It is equally a grave mistake to think that it is enough to gain some understanding of the images and that knowledge can here make a halt. Insight into them must be converted into an ethical obligation. Not to do so is to fall prey to the power principle, and this produces dangerous effects which are destructive not only to others but even to the knower. The images of the unconscious place a great responsibility upon a man. Failure to understand them, or a shirking of ethical responsibility, deprives him of his wholeness and imposes a painful fragmentariness on his life. (Jung, 1961/1989, p. 192-193)
The meaning of an image is then bound to the emotions and to the experiences. Emotions are what bind the associations of the symbolic experience while the images are what can help connect us to what we may find unbearable. Images, then, can be a means of preventing fragmentation or dissociation within the psyche. Jung directed our attention to the symbolic meanings and expressions of such images when discussing the alchemist’s expression of an inner experience. Jung (1944/1993) stated “what the written word could express only imperfectly, or not at all, the alchemist pressed into images. . . they often speak a more intelligible language than is found in his clumsy philosophical concepts” (p. x). From the symbolic meanings of intrapsychic experiences, the images found through emotion act as a bridge, connecting the emotions and imbuing them with meaning.
Corbett, L. (2011). The sacred cauldron: Psychotherapy as a spiritual practice. Wilmette, IL: Chiron.
Jung, C. G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections (A. Jaffé, Ed.) (R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.) (Rev. ed.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1961)
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. (1993). Psychology and alchemy. 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. 12). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1944)
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Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex