The big news for us from C.G. Jung, and depth psychology in general, is that we now have an overall operating manual of the human psyche. In many promising ways, we can use this new understanding for positive purposes, analogous to how the map of the human genome allows us to see all of the information needed for the body to grow and develop.
What, then, are the basic components of the human psyche, comparable to the essential components of DNA? Jung’s discovery was that the human psyche runs on images.
Images are the energy carriers of the human psyche.
These are not the kind of images that we create consciously, he says, but rather our psyche produces these images all on its own. For instance, the images underneath Anxiety come from an (as yet) unknown place, which we call the unconscious.
Anxiety is an emotion, and underneath emotions are images.
This image-forming dimension of how our psyche works is a structural element, an inherent part of the operating system of our psyche. But this fact actually runs counter to how we experience emotions moving through us. We experience our emotions just as they are, without being aware of those images underneath, and so most people would naturally have the reaction: really? If there are images underneath my Anxiety, prove it to me!
Jung’s revolutionary contribution to understanding Anxiety is that a basic amount of rapport is needed between the unconscious and consciousness. We need a mutual exchange of information between the images from the unconscious underlying our emotional experiences on the one hand, and our conscious emotional experiences such as Anxiety on the other. Improved communication between these two dimensions of our psyche is inherently healing. This finding really is revolutionary because we can prove its truth to ourselves.
Quick example: A woman whose days are filled with Anxiety has a recurring theme in her night- time dreams. A bear is chasing her. She runs away desperately and wakes up in a panic just before he is about to catch her. After much discussion in therapy of the role and the operation of fear and Anxiety in her life, she has a dream that she stops, turns around, and asks the bear, why is he chasing her? It turns out to her great surprise that she needs his “bear-like” quality to deal with her emotions, a quality she wasn’t willing or able to embrace before. She’s been running away from something she needs and it’s been chasing after her! The result of this process is an end to the repetitive dreams of being chased, and a significant reduction in daytime Anxiety.
It’s bitterly true that if we don’t know about our images, we can feel ourselves surrounded by unknown forces playing havoc with our daily mood, our thoughts, and our outlook on life. Naturally if images are energy carriers and we don’t know about them, we can feel these unknown highly energetic forces are dangerous or hostile or frightening, and profoundly depleting. When the unconscious dominates consciousness, Anxiety is often the result.
If we can get to the images underlying Anxiety, that is, if we can make those images conscious, we can receive (and assimilate) the message and the meaning of our Anxiety and thus reduce the terrible suffering that Anxiety causes. Potentially, we can transfer the energy of the “Anxiety images” into a more productive way of living.
Once this process takes hold, Anxiety changes from being a dominant force in life–Anxiety with a capital A—to an emotion that can be processed and contained: Anxiety becomes anxiety.
Examples of how this process happened for others are very helpful, although our proof to ourselves is the relief from Anxiety that comes when we ourselves undergo this process of making an image conscious.
Eventually our goal is to say, I’m feeling anxious, that means I’m having an image or two. Let me find out what are the images producing that anxiety. As Jung taught, dreams often are the astonishingly direct message of what the Anxiety consists of, and lead to a call to action about the meaning of the message.
So the big news is that images are the operating system of our common human psychic life, of what it means to be us, although the specifics of those images are unique to every individual. Until we get to know our own images, we don’t know a big part of ourselves. Not knowing about this part of ourselves is, in itself, a cause of psychic distress, says Jung.
So the work awaits us.
In the 5-class course Anxiety in Youth, Middle and Old Age, David Rottman discusses the key role of anxiety in helping us evolve through the developmental tasks of our life stages. He shares the essence of Jung’s deep approach to anxiety with clarity, warmth and a focus on what actually helps our anxiety. His earthy examples bring Jung’s ideas to life and a meaningful context to our life situations. Learn More Here.