Jungian Therapy, Jungian Analysis, New York

Jung on active imagination: Volume 16, para 101-107; para 712-714
Narcissism narcissistic order narcissistic behavior narcissistic men narcissistic women narcissitic mothers

Vol 16 p. 101-107 Act. Imag. (as Painting)

So long as I help the patient to discover the effective elements in his dreams, and so long as I try to get him to see the general meaning of his symbols, he is still, psychologically speaking, in a state of childhood. For the time being he is dependent on his dreams and is always asking himself whether the next dream will give him new light or not. Moreover, he is dependent on my having ideas about his dreams and on my ability to increase his insight through my knowledge. Thus he is still in an undesirably passive condition where everything is rather uncertain and questionable; neither he nor I know the journey's end. Often it is not much more than a groping about in Egyptian darkness. In this condition we must not expect any very startling results--the uncertainty is too great for that. Besides which there is always the risk that what we have woven by day the night will unravel. The danger is that nothing permanent is achieved, that nothing remains fixed. It not infrequently happens in these situations that the patient has a particularly vivid or curious dream, and says to me, "Do you know, if I only were a painter I would make a picture of it." Or the dreams are about photographs, paintings, drawings, or illuminated manuscripts, or even about the films.

I have turned these hints to practical account, urging my patients at such times to paint in reality what they have seen in dream or fantasy. As a rule I am met with the objection, "But I am not a painter!" To this I usually reply that neither are modern painters, and that consequently modern painting is free for all, and that anyhow it is not a question of beauty but only of the trouble one takes with the picture. How true this is I saw recently in the case of a talented professional portraitists; she had to begin my way of painting all over again with pitiably childish efforts, literally as if she had never held a brush in her hand. To paint what we see before us is a different art from painting what we see within.

Many of my more advanced patients, then, begin to paint. I can well understand that everyone will be profoundly impressed with the utter futility of this sort of dilettantism. Do not forget, however, that we are speaking not of people who still have to prove their social usefulness, but of those who can no longer see any sense in being socially useful and who have come upon the deeper and more dangerous question of the meaning of their own individual lives. To be a particle in the mass has meaning and charm only for the man who has not yet reached that stage, but none for the man who is sick to death of being a particle. The importance of what life means to the individual may be denied by those who are socially below the general level of adaptation, and is invariably denied by the educator whose ambition I to breed mass-men. But those who belong to neither category will sooner or later come up against this painful question.

Although my patients occasionally produce artistically beautiful things that might very well be shown in modern "art" exhibitions, I nevertheless treat them as completely worthless when judged by the canons of real art. As a matter of fact, it is essential that they should be considered worthless, otherwise my patients might imagine themselves to be artists, and the whole point of the exercise would be missed. It is not a question of art at all--or rather, it should not be a question of art--but of something more and other than mere art, namely the living effect upon the patient himself. The meaning of individual life, whose importance from the social standpoint is negligible, stands here at its highest, and for its sake the patient struggles to give form, however crude and childish, to the inexpressible.

But why do I encourage patients, when they arrive a certain stage in their development, to express themselves by a means of brush, pencil, or pen at all?

Here again my prime purpose is to produce an effect. In the state of psychological childhood described above, the patient remains passive; but now he begins to play an active part. To start off with, he puts down on paper what he has passively seen, thereby turning it into a deliberate act. He not only talks about it, he is actually doing something about it. Psychologically speaking, it makes a vast difference whether a man has an interesting conversation with his doctor two or three times a week, the results of which are left hanging in mid air, or whether he has to struggle for hours with refractory brush and colours, only to produce in the end something which, taken at its face value, is perfectly senseless. If it were really senseless to him, the effort to paint it would be so repugnant that he could scarcely be brought to perform this exercise a second time. But because his fantasy does not strike him as entirely senseless, his busying himself with it only increases its effect on him. Moreover, the concrete shaping of the image enforces a continuous study of it in all its parts, so that it can develop it effects to the full. This invests the bare fantasy with an element of reality, which lends it greater weight and greater driving power. And these rough-and-ready pictures do indeed produce effects which, I must admit, are rather difficult to describe. For instance, a patient needs only to have seen once or twice how much he is freed from a wretched state of mind by working at a symbolic picture, and he will always turn to this means of release whenever things go badly with him. In this way something of inestimable importance is won--the beginning of independence, a step toward psychologically maturity. The patient can make himself creatively independent through this method, if I may call it such. He is no longer dependent on his dreams or on his doctor's knowledge; instead, by painting himself he gives shape to himself. For what he paints are active fantasies--that which is active within him. And that which is active within himself, but no longer in the guise of his previous error, when he mistook the personal ego for the self; it is himself in a new and hitherto alien sense, for his ego now appears as the object of that which works within him. In countless pictures he strives to catch this interior agent, only to discover in he end that it is eternally unknown and alien, the hidden foundation of psychic life.

It is impossible for me to describe the extent to which this discovery changes the patient's standpoint and values, and how it shifts the centre of gravity of his personality. It is as though the earth had suddenly discovered that the sun was the center of the planetary orbits and of its own earthly orbit as well.

Vol 16 para 712-714

We can distinguish between active and passive fantasy. Active fantasies are the product of intuition (q.v.), ie., they are evoked by an attitude (q.v.) directed to the perception of unconscious contents, as a result of which the libido (q.v.) immediately invests all the elements emerging from the unconscious and, by association with parallel material, brings them into clear focus in visual form. Passive fantasies appear in visual form at the outset, neither preceded nor accompaied by intuitive expectation, the attitude of the subject being wholly passive. Such fantasies belong to the category of psychic automatisms (Janet). Naturally, they can appear only as a result of a relative disassociation of the psyche, since they presuppose a withdrawal of energy from conscious control and a corresponding activation of unconscious material. Thus the vision of St. Paul presupposes that unconsciously he was already a Christian, though this fact had escaped his conscious insight.

It is probable that passive fantasies always have their origin in an unconscious process that is antithetical to consciousness, but invested with approximately the same amount of energy as the conscious attitude, and therefore capable of breaking through the latter's resistance. Active fantasies, on the other hand, owe their existence not so much to this unconscious process as to a conscious propensity to assimilate hints or fragments of lightly-toned unconscious complexes and, by associating them with parallel elements, to elaborate them in clearly visual form. It is not necessarily a question of a disassociated psychic state, but rather of a positive participation of consciousness.

Whereas passive fantasy not infrequently bears a morbid stamp or at least shows some trace of abnormality, active fantasy is one of the highest forms of psychic activity. For here the conscious and the unconscious personality of the subject flow together into a common product in which both are united. Such a fantasy can be the highest expression of the unity of a man's individuality (q.v.), and it may even create that individuality by giving perfect expression to its unity. As a general rule, passive fantasy is never the expression of a unified individuality since, as already observed, it presupposed a considerable degree of dissociation based in turn on a marked conscious/unconscious opposition. Hence the fantasy that irrupts into consciousness from such a state can never be the perfect expression of a unified individuality, but will represent mainly the standpoint of the unconscious personality. The life of St. Paul affords a good example of this: his conversion to Christianity signified an acceptance of the hitherto unconscious standpoint and a repression of the hitherto anti-Christian one, which then made itself felt in his hysterical attacks. Passive fantasy, therefore, is always in need of conscious criticism, lest it merely reinforce the standpoint of the unconscious opposite. Whereas active fantasy, as the product of a conscious attitude not opposed to the unconscious, and of unconscious processes not opposed but merely compensatory to consciousness, does not require criticism so much as understanding.