Marie-Louise von Franz tells a story in her, ”Way of the Dream” series, about Jung’s style of working with the Unconscious. A patient bought a dream to him. He asked the man what he thought it meant. The patient shrugged. Then he asked the man, ‘what do you think I might say about it?’ Whereupon the patient interpreted the dream at great length.
Jung’s ‘technique’, was to accept the patient’s projection of wisdom without identifying with it, using it as a stepping stone towards the man finding his own gold.
More often than not we wind up identifying with people’s projections which doesn’t help anyone. Sometimes we catch them just in time. I’d spent an afternoon interveiwing a woman who wanted to do some therapeutic training. There was something about her I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Once home, I was already half way through my third double Gin before I could ask myself why I was getting drunk at 4pm. She had alcohol issues.
This capacity to coerce one another to participate in the fantasy dramas of our inner worlds can be extremely useful. Projective identification, the engendering of experience in another, gives us,
‘access to a very rich source of data about the other’s world. . . an induced set of thoughts and feelings which are experientially alive, vivid and immediate.’ T. Ogden.
not to mention wild and flamboyant.
For many years a client, Anne, had been nearly crippled with a painful physical condition. In one particular session, she was wondering out loud about the source of this pain. While I was listening to her I began to have the strange sensation that I was hearing her through water. She seemed distant and muffled. My own words felt slow and heavy, my gestures were ponderous and barring the fact that she seemed not to notice I might well have assumed that I was drugged or suspended in syrup.
My disorientation became more severe. The chair seemed to slip from beneath me and I felt that I was simply hanging in the room, swinging gently from side to side. Then, a distinct sense of pain in my belly button and a coursing through my system of intense discomfort. I managed to conclude the session without panicking and took myself directly to supervision. What on earth had happened? I was utterly perplexed.
The next time I saw Anne again she began the session in great excitement, saying that she now grasped the meaning of her suffering. She remembered a conversation with her mother who told her that when Anne was in the womb she had been prescribed with a certain drug to prevent spontaneous abortion. This mother had lost her first child years before. Latterly, clinical tests revealed that
the drug had untoward effects on the unborn child including the possibility of psychological traumata.
Suddenly my experience fell into place. I was experiencing Anne’s interuterine situation, the weightless suspension, the slow syrupy muffledness of everything, the pain in my umbilicus, the feeling of being poisoned and invaded. My containment of this experience had left her sufficiently free to conceptualise it without excess of terror and allow it to surface as insight. Anne’s anxiety greatly decreased thereafter and within a relatively short period she left therapy.
Sometimes ‘sharing inner space’ with others can be really ugly. I had a sex offender come and see me for sessions. For hours and sometimes days after each meeting I would find myself consumed with fear, loathing and disgust. I reasoned that it could not be at his adult crimes of which he was quite candid and ashamed and so lacked the ‘drive’ to get inside me.
It took months for me to realise that my excrusiating experiences was about what had happened to him and not what he had done. The denial and even idealisation of his own rape experience as a defenseless child meant he’d had to normalise abuse to the point of doing as he had been done by. Once he could re-own the trauma I had been effectively nursing for him sufficient to report the crime against him to the police, he ceased to be a danger and I stopped having the horrible visitation from his inner world.
Now imagine what your gut feeling might be like sitting alongside someone who not only denies what happened to them, but denies what they have done. The rapist who believes it was love, who feels he’s done his victim a favour.
Now imagine that the denied crimes are beyond counting….
and that the person you’re with is not only proud but wears a medal, one of many, commemorating his crimes. The medal comes with a sash. Red and white.
The patient, Leopold II, arrives each week in a gilded carriage. The doors are opened by footmen and a special chair bought to your consulting room for his highness to sit on. He wants to talk about his gout and the difficulty he has sleeping well these days.
What do you say? How do you respond to his sharing that he’d been awarded, not only the ‘Humane Order of African Redemption’ to support his belief that he’d killed and mutilated 10 million people for their own good, but also the ‘Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation ‘, by the Catholic Church for ‘supreme recognition of distinguished services’.
Under his breath he’s huming the new anthem of the ‘Free Congo’, ‘Towards the Future’, whilst he fishes out a letter he would like to read you extracts from, all about the missionary effort he’s making on behalf of the local people in Congo before he sends it off . He clears his throat…
“Reverends, Fathers and Dear Compatriots: Your principal objective in our mission in the Congo is never to teach the niggers to know God, this they know already. Your knowledge of the gospel will allow you to find texts ordering, and encouraging your followers to love poverty, like “Happier are the poor because they will inherit the heaven” and, “It’s very difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” You have to detach from them and make them disrespect everything which gives [them]courage. You must singularly insist on their total submission and obedience, avoid developing the spirit. Evangelize the niggers so that they stay forever in submission. Recite every day – “Happy are those who are weeping because the kingdom of God is for them.” http://www.nairaland.com/775131/king-leopolds-letter-christian-missionaries.an
How do you feel? What do you say? Do you have a bucket handy? What has happened to Leopold?
They say you get the leaders you deserve. The Congolese did not deserve Leopold but his native Belgians and European cousins might. Given that the French, Germans and English were all at it themselves in their own way and still are.
It seems we Westerners simply accept that our leaders are tyrannical despots. Adam Hoschild ( ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’ 2012) calls it The Great Forgetting. We forget because we profit from Leopold and his cronies who give us a standard of living we could not otherwise support. But mostly we forget because we are too busy..
‘dancing in the glory of monsters.’ Jason Stearns.
And why? Because for as long as we can be appalled at the Leopolds and Adolfs of this world we need not look at our own Hearts of Darkness. We need not consider how these monsters got there or the part that we play in maintaining their power. We can momentarily forget that
”the battleline for good and evil runs through the heart of everyone.” A Solzhenitsyn.
We have wicked leaders so that we can wash our hands of their deeds just in time to rub them together in anticipation of the windfall to follow, provided we just..
Our glorious leaders are agents of Lethe, totemic rivers of Forgetfullness and Oblivion. They carry our wickednesses for us, so that we need not feel, need not be anxious, need not question. We’re just following orders as good citizens. Shared inner space works both ways.
‘We forget everything. What we remember is not not what happened… but what has been driven into memory by incessant hammering’. ibid
We may vow ‘never again’, and yet here we are poised to elect the horrible to the world’s greatest seat of power. We know it will be horrible. Afterwards we’ll say, ”we didn’t know’. But we did know. We dance in the glory of monsters so that we can short circuit what we know in our own hearts. So that we can dance the two step of satisfying our own lusts and live with clean consciences at one and the same time…
for as long as the music plays.