Abstract: The traditional aim of psychoanalysis is to elucidate and resolve the unconscious problem. But sometimes the factors are too deep-seated to be eliminated. The goal is instead to find a way through which the complex can be lived in an upright and productive way. A new and higher expression can be found for the irresolvable complex. Instead of conscious integration, focus is on complementation — the way in which an unconscious content undergoes transformation and conversion. Since long-term analytic treatment is not required in such cases, psychoanalysis can become better aligned to the requirements of public health care.
Keywords: irresolvable complex, future of psychoanalysis, social-minded, NPD, complementation.
The gist of psychoanalysis is the integration of conscious personality with a discordant unconscious. Freud says:
[None] of this implies that the quality of being conscious has lost its importance for us. It remains the one light which illuminates our path and leads us through the darkness of mental life. In consequence of the special character of our discoveries, our scientific work in psychology will consist in translating unconscious processes into conscious ones, and thus filling in the gaps in conscious perception. (Freud, 1938)
Although psychoanalysis often uses different concepts than integration and assimilation, there is strong emphasis on the transformation of the conscious ego. The term ‘interpretation’ is often preferred, although intellectual understanding is often insufficient. The primary goal of interpretation is the lifting of resistance, which shall occasion the “return of the repressed” (cf. de Mijolla, 2005, p.862; p.866). What’s worse, a theoretical motley has been created out of the ‘transference-countertransference’ concept, with the consequence that one can’t see the wood for the trees. The transferential relationship with the therapist is a roundabout way of achieving ego-personality renewal. Also in object-relations theory this is accomplished via modification of the “internal object” through introjection (unconscious adoption of the therapist as role model). In a manner of speaking, a new “software version” is downloaded to guide conscious personality. In analytical psychology it is spelled out clearly. Says Jung:
In psychic disturbances it is by no means sufficient in all cases merely to bring the supposed or real causes to consciousness. The treatment involves the integration of contents that have become dissociated from consciousness — not always as a result of repression, which very often is only a secondary phenomenon. Indeed, it is usually the case that, in the course of development following puberty, consciousness is confronted with affective tendencies, impulses, and fantasies which for a variety of reasons it is not willing or not able to assimilate. It then reacts with repression in various forms, in the effort to get rid of the troublesome intruders. (Jung, 1883, para.464)
Nevertheless, I’m going to argue that the assimilation formula does not provide the whole picture. Psychotherapists have already accepted that the unconscious is sometimes disinclined to become integrated.
Acceptance of the unknown
Angelina M. Baydala argues that the groping in the dark is characteristic of psychoanalysis (cf. Baydala, 2000). Whereas psychoanalysis involves “an acceptance of the unknown”, other therapies maintain that truth is certain. Allegedly, they risk becoming authoritative techniques that become cover-ups of fear and insecurity. Still, psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapy is being criticized because it is expensive and time-consuming. It is not satisfactory in view of the efficiency of other therapies in reinstating people in society. So, can there be a goal-oriented civic-minded psychoanalysis as required by public health care institutions?
Although a long-term encounter with the unconscious is an essential aspect of psychoanalysis, it is not necessary for all patients. I contend that psychoanalysis and analytical psychology have failed in clearly differentiating between two fundamental groups of patients. A basic aspect of Freudian psychology is the resolution of the unconscious complex. This is the underlying motif of time-consuming and costly psychoanalysis. But what if it is not appropriate for all patients? In many people the unconscious factors can be too deeply fortified to be conquered and comprehended by the conscious personality. For example, a patient may suffer from a powerful mother complex impossible to assimilate; it can only be lived in a good-natured and acceptable way.
Such a complex can even come to expression in an high-minded and admirable form. In therapy of homosexuals this has been discussed earlier. Jolande Jacobi relates a case where conversion was not achieved, but the patient benefitted from the therapy in that he went on to lead a life on a higher moral level (cf. Jacobi, 1969). Marie-Louise von Franz (1998) analyses historical personalities and argues that St Bernard of Clairvaux and St Dominic lived the pattern of a mother complex, but in a high and admirable form. She says that “[in] such cases the goal of analysis is to discover how such a powerful mother complex, which cannot be changed, can be lived” (von Franz, 1998, p.105).
Psychoanalysts use to say about NPD patients (pathological narcissism) that their prognosis is bad. But isn’t NPD an obvious case where the resolution of the complex should generally not be attempted? Instead therapy would serve to find an expression of the content on a higher level of culture and morale. In the fairytale the devil or witch is sometimes fooled by the cunning hero, causing the evil one to do good work for people and society. If the devil is interpreted as an irresolvable complex, it means that destructive energy is being diverted and put to good use. Arguably, this is the dialectics behind the considerable ability that narcissists often develop in their trade (cf. Kernberg, 1975, p.229).
Sometimes one must avoid pulling the complex out into the daylight. In “Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales” (ch.10) von Franz discusses “untouchable dark secrets”. The complex, it seems, must not be revealed. With time, this will allow it to find another expression. In the fairytale, provided that the hero girl refrains from opening the door to the dark witch’s room, the latter will eventually turn into a white witch (fairytale “Wassilissa”). It is as if the complex cannot be resolved, but instead will transform into a positive expression. This theme is common in fairytales (the witch’s or the devil’s destructive energy is converted to a good and productive force). In such fairytales the hero lies about the nature deity and avoids saying the truth about it. Since the process does not aim at exposing and assimilating the unconscious content, it is proper to use the term complementation, as a counterpart to integration (cf. Winther, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2013b, 2014, 2014b, 2014c, 2015 and elsewhere).
There is a similar theme in the biblical Book of Job. Instead of answering back and revealing the painful truth about God’s obnoxiousness, Job bows down and places his hand on his mouth, expressing reverence. So what looks like a lie is really a gesture of reverence. Von Franz takes an example from Carl Jung’s practice where Jung engaged a patient who Jung felt carried a dark secret causing a very bad conscience (ibid.). But Jung had the feeling that he must avoid talking about it, so it became a sort of hoax analysis where they discussed dreams, etc., but never touched on the real issue. Jung recognized slow improvements in the man’s symptoms, and that’s why he continued with the fake analysis. Finally the patient admitted to Jung how grateful he was that he had never touched on the subject, and now it was time to reveal it. He had committed a great sin that he had to carry the rest of his life, but now his symptoms were gone and his energy back.
According to the modern moral code everything must be unraveled, and people would better take truth serum. But sometimes the problem cannot be resolved. Instead its light side can articulate itself if given time to maturate in the darkness. One must pay reverence to the forces of nature. Although the content cannot be assimilated, its energy can be expressed in another way. This is a truth belonging in fairytales and in ancient religion where the dark secrets of the deity must not be mentioned. Freudian psychoanalysis is very much in the Western and Christian spirit, which is partial to stark daylight and confession. But the forces of nature cannot always be treated with such indiscretion.
A central quandary in theology is whether or not the devil can be redeemed. Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) thought that he could, and for this he was excommunicated. I think that this is still the prevailing view, that evil cannot be reformed to work for the good, but would better be removed. But to transfix the unconscious complex with the sharp sword of consciousness is not always the right way. Although the problem is in the unconscious, the solution is there also. More often than not, it is as if the complex holds the key to its own solution. Consciousness is not only synthetic, but has also a sympathetic function. It may stimulate and cultivate a benevolent progression in the unconscious.
When a person has gone off the rails the psychoanalyst cannot presuppose that the underlying problem must be elucidated, and the complex integrated. Such a method only applies to a particular group of patients. In the other group the doctor must, together with the patient, try to find a way in which the complex can come to expression in an upright way. It amounts to tricking the devil. But it’s not certain that this method is practicable only because the problem goes very deep. As always, one must look to the unconscious, and what dreams it produces, in order to know in which direction to proceed.
If this is correct then psychoanalysis must begin to differ between the two forms of therapeutical directions. After all, it is costly to, month after month, year after year, grapple with a complex that is too deep-rooted to be resolved. It is a question here of thinking afresh and finding new paths. Resultantly, the psychoanalyst would be able to do a better job than the cognitive therapist because the unconscious and the progressive direction it suggests is acknowledged. Psychoanalysts, then, ought to cease holding patients with irresolvable problems in therapy aiming at resolution of the complex. Instead therapy must seek to upgrade the complex to a higher level of expression. In this way is achieved a more civic-minded therapy that goes along with the demands of society, and the overall time spent in analysis would begin to decrease. A goal-oriented psychoanalysis, on a par with cognitive psychotherapy, is feasible.
As matters stand, although there exist many psychoanalytic theories no-one clearly spells out that, at times, one should leave the complex be and let it maturate in the dark — only keep tip-toeing around it, as it were. Although I am certain that many therapists have already made this realization, I think we should give the concept a firm theoretical foundation. The traditional notion is that of the integration of the unconscious. As a correlative to this, complementation is suitable. It is reminiscent of the ritual of circumambulation in Buddhist worship (cf. Wiki, here). Complementation is characterized by a toning down of dominant consciousness, which means that it clashes with the scientific ideal of Western culture. Rather, it is akin to the ideal of contemplative mystic tradition. Integration and complementation is like diastole and systole of the heart. Both are necessary in psychic life.
© Mats Winther, Aug 2008 (augmented 2017).
Baydala, A.M. (2000). ‘Psychoanalysis and the acceptance of the unknown in the 21th century mental health care’. Clio’s Psyche, 7(1), pp.11-13. (here)
‘Circumambulation’. Wikipedia article. (here)
Franz, M-L von (1995). Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales. Shambhala.
Freud, S. (1938). ‘Some Elementary Lessons in Psycho-Analysis’ in Standard Edition Vol.23, pp.281-286.
------------ (1998). Dreams. Shambala.
Jacobi, J. (1969). ‘A Case of Homosexuality’. Journal of Analytical Psychology. (Jan 1969.)
Jung, C.G. (1983). Alchemical Studies. Princeton/Bollingen. (CW 13)
Kernberg, O. (1975). Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. New York: Jason Aronson.
Mijolla, A. de (ed.) (2005). International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. MacMillan.
Winther, M. (2011). ‘The Complementarian Self – The Twofold Self’. (here)
---------- (2012). ‘Thanatos – a contribution to the understanding of the collective shadow’. (here)
---------- (2013). ‘The Dark Shadow Of The Quaternity’. (here)
---------- (2013b). ‘The Spiritual Method – complementation as spiritual writing’. (here)
---------- (2014). ‘Complementation in Psychology’. (here)
---------- (2014b). ‘Complementation in fairytales’. (here)
---------- (2014c). ‘Critique of Individuation’. (here)
---------- (2015). ‘The Upward and Downward Paths of the Spirit’. (here)