Symptom or Symbol?Stephen Farah
- Dreams and fantasy material, particularly of a traumatic nature.
- An infant at play, relatedly re-enacting the experience of loss and recovery, i.e., with a favourite toy throwing it out of the cot and reeling it back in.
- The phenomenon of transference being the recapitulation with the analyst of developmental/childhood relational dynamics.
- “Destiny neurosis”, “the life-histories of men and women … an essential character-trait which remains always the same and which is compelled to find expression in a repetition of the same experience”
But precisely because the new symbol is born of man’s highest spiritual aspirations and must at the same time spring from the deepest roots of his being, it cannot be a one-sided product of the most highly differentiated mental functions but must derive equally from the lowest and most primitive levels of the psyche. For this collaboration of opposing states to be possible at all, they must face each other in the fullest possible conscious opposition. This necessarily entails a violent disunion with oneself, to the point where thesis and antithesis negate each other, while the ego is forced to acknowledge its absolute participation in both. If there is a subordination of one part, the symbol will be predominantly the product of the other part, and, to that extent, less a symbol than a symptom – a symptom of the suppressed antithesis. To the extent, however, that a symbol is merely a symptom, it also lacks a redeeming effect, since it fails to express the full right of all parts of the psyche to exist, being a constant reminder of the suppressed antithesis even though consciousness may not take this into account. However when there is full parity of the opposites, attested by the ego’s absolute participation in both, this necessarily leads to a suspension of the will, for the will can no longer operate when every motive has an equally strong counter motive. Since life cannot tolerate a standstill, a damming up of vital energy results, and this would lead to an insupportable condition did not the tension of opposites produce a new uniting function that transcends them. This function arises quite naturally from the regression of the libido caused by the blockage. All progress has been rendered temporarily impossible by the total division of the will, the libido streams backwards as it were, to its source. In other words, the neutralisation and inactivity of consciousness brings about an activity of the unconscious, where all the differentiated functions have their common archaic root, and where all contents exist in a state of promiscuity of which the private mentality still shows numerous vestiges.G. Jung, Collected Works, vol. 6, par 824 Jung offers a seemingly simple and clear binary distinction between these two distinct psychological phenomena.
- A “living symbol” is the expression of the full parity and conscious participation a union of opposites, thesis and antithesis. To put this another way, living symbol is the simultaneous expression of violently opposed perspectives, ideologies, desires, beliefs etc. The most obvious and easiest example to get a hold of being the frequent violent disunion and opposition between a desire and a moral injunction denying the fulfilment of that desire.
- A symptom, by contrast, is a consequence and artefact of a one-sided conscious perspective that fails to take into account its repressed unconscious antithesis.
- Repetitive and compulsive. And re-enacts or re-constellates a historical mode-of-being, particularly one that contains, and in its re-enactment expresses, unassimilated traumatic content.
- A consequence of a one-sided conscious perspective and expressing a repressed unconscious perspective, disposition or desire. Jung elsewhere, also characterises symptomatic consciousness as “narrow…[a] stiffness of attitude, and a spiritual or emotional horizon bounded by childish naivete or pedantic prejudice”.
- To start with the lowest hanging fruit, obviously any repetitive compulsion.
- Behaviour and psychic life that runs autonomously and has lost its animating spirit, i.e., has become dead and meaningless.
- Repetitions that fail to instil in the subject a sense of purpose, life, animation, meaning or joie de vivre.