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February 2020

The power our past has on our relationships


Like it or not, your past relationships seep into your present ones.

Therapists often find that patients will project on them their own past relationships, particularly those with parents, much like projecting a movie on a blank screen. The therapeutic process then is in part about unraveling all these past relationships and distortions.

Although this is common knowledge for therapists the phenomenon is not limited to the therapy setting. It is something that happens frequently (possibly every time) in our personal relationships. It is particularly common in that critical first-impression early stage of a relationship. Our impressions of others are never neutral but always filtered through the lens of other relationships, both past, and present, that have had an impact on our lives. We can and do transfer onto the other person an aspect of our own psychology.

Transference is a complex and multi-layered phenomenon but to simplify it, your new date might remind you of your ex in the way he seems to dominate the conversation, or your work colleague reminds you of the girl at school who bullied you. Sometimes the triggers may be more subtle - the new date has eyes like your father or his tone of voice reminds you of your brother; or your neighbour has the same sarcastic sense of humour as someone else you used to know.

Often these impressions, the contrasts, and comparisons are not fully conscious but they are powerful and form the basis for our initial attraction (or lack of). Our history of relationships is stored symbolically in our unconscious and influences us without us realising it.

Understanding its effect can give us a clue of why we get certain problems in relationships.

Do you find that you’re always attracted to narcissists or turned off by people who seem too nice or too passive? Are you always intimidated by people in authority?

We see and judge people through the filter of transference.  We are triggered both positively and negatively by our past relationships. We're moving beyond sexual chemistry and emotionally making assumptions, over-emphasising and likely distorting at least one aspect of the other's personality. This can blind us from seeing the real person beneath. He might seem, for example, to be non-judgmental and supportive compared to your ex, only for you to realise later that this stance is a cover for his being very passive and indecisive. Similarly, her assertiveness, which you initially found attractive, blinds you from seeing how controlling she can be.

So how can you stop repeating past mistakes? If you find yourself always getting involved with narcissists and always winding up getting hurt, you are just re-injuring that old wound, rather than healing it. Similarly, that strong and automatic attraction to the laid-back man or assertive woman tells you something that you may need.

This is important information. By seeing and understanding these patterns, you can make them conscious, rather than unconscious or semi-conscious choices.

You can actively and directly work on your past by getting some closure with your past relationships: You can have an adult conversation with your ex or with a parent about past grievances, or if this is not possible, you could write a letter to get these old feelings out on a page and out of your head. You don’t have to post it.

You could also consider therapy. As Jung Said, “Medical treatment of the transference gives the patient a priceless opportunity to withdraw his projections, to make good his losses, and to integrate his personality”. Carl Jung, CW 16, Para 420.

Transference is a natural psychological process, sometimes for the good and other times for the bad. You can’t control or prevent it. However, by becoming conscious of your transference patterns, you can learn a lot about your unconscious psyche: how it operates, what attracts it, and what repels it. You can come to understand your relationships on a much deeper and psychological level. Through becoming conscious of your transference patterns you have the opportunity to be more self-aware and in a better position to give the gift of your soul to others.

Please support my work by visiting my shop at Jane Redfern Art or by making a donation through Paypal With much love and appreciation. Thank you ❤️

Active imagination and the journey to wholeness

Active Imagination

Characters in our dreams can be seen as a meeting between our everyday waking Self, and parts of our Self normally outside consciousness.

The unconscious mind is vast and it functions much faster than the conscious mind. It isn’t controlled by the ego, and, very often, it has very different perceptions about our experience and lives than does the waking mind.

In dreams there is an encounter between the waking ego, or, at least a subset of it that we can call the 'dream ego' and the unconscious mind.

What do these characters in our dreams want?

That’s often the biggest and most important question to ask of characters who appear in our dreams.

We can expect that they want something different from the ego.  The dream is acting as a corrective on the perspective and attitude of the ego.  We need to incorporate part of that perspective into consciousness.

We must take dreams seriously, but combine them with the awareness of our ego.  We need to connect the ego’s perspective with the perspective of the unconscious mind presented in dreams.

Dreams lead us to meet the unknown or forgotten parts of ourselves.  The dream bids us to take a certain crucial kind of responsibility, by finding an attitude that takes the ego seriously but also considers the deeper self.  This is a fundamental part of the journey to wholeness.

One of the very striking aspects of the meaning of dreams is the on-going dialogue between the conscious and unconscious minds.  If we start to understand and have dialogue with our dreams, we often find that subsequent dreams reflect our understanding and actions.  Often the encounter with the 'other me' in dreams is only one of a series of connected dreams. The dialogue goes on, as we take in more of the perspective of the unconscious mind.  As we practice conversing with our unconscious with time we become more and more attuned to the meaning of that dialogue.

The things we see in our dreams are not signs that represent one specific idea, but rather fluid images to which we ascribe meaning based on our individual experiences. Dreams may reveal truths, philosophical revelations, illusions, fantasies, memoires, plans, irrational experiences or even prophetic visions.

The images in our dreams are ultimately representations of our own unconscious. Although they come from our individual minds, many images are manifestations of universal archetypes that represent unconscious attitudes hidden to our conscious selves. 

In his last major work, written when he was 81, titled Mysterium Coniunctionis, The Mystery of Conjunction, or unification, the bringing together of opposites (CW 14, paragraph 706), Jung gives a careful description of active imagination and dreams. He sees active imagination as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious. The following are five direct quotes from the long paragraph in Mysterium Coniunctionis simplifying it to five suggested steps that we can follow in our own active imagination.

Five steps to active imagination:

  1. “Choose a dream or some other fantasy-image and concentrate on it by simply catching hold of it and looking at it…”
  2. “You then fix this image in the mind. Usually it will alter as the mere fact of contemplating it animates it…”
  3. “A chain of fantasy ideas develops and gradually takes on a dramatic character… At first it consists of projected figures and these images are observed like scenes in the theatre…”
  4. “If the observer understands that his own drama is being performed on this inner stage…he will take part in the play instead of just sitting in a theatre…”
  5. “Fix the whole procedure in writing at the time of occurrence for you then have ocular evidence that will effectively counteract tendency to self-deception…”

To simplify, the five steps are:

  1. Choose a dream or other fantasy image.
  2. Fix it in your mind.
  3. Watch it take on a dramatic character
  4. Take part in the play
  5. Write it down

To do this effectively you must be in a meditative state. Your conscious mind needs to be relaxed, and ready to let you enter the inner world of your imagination. Sit quietly and let go of your worries, thoughts, and preoccupations. Once you are in this state, choose an image, hold onto it, watch it take life. Put it on the stage of your imagination. Take part in the play and then write down what happened. It is important to write it down because this helps us remember and learn from the experience.

When we speak to our images, they surprise us. And when we write it down, we are writing a story, the story of our encounter with our soul.

Please support my work by visiting my shop at Jane Redfern Art or by making a donation through Paypal With much love and appreciation. Thank you ❤️

Using Active Imagination to reprogram the unconscious


I had left the comfort of my home. It was a dark night and, when I looked to where I had come from, the warm light shining from the windows tempted me back into my comfort zone. When I looked the other way it was dark and nothing could be seen other than the darkness. A man drives up in his car and starts verbally abusing me. Afraid, I hide behind an oil tank. I nervously glance both ways – to the house (my comfort zone) and into the darkness (the unknown). I am dreaming and before I can decide which way to run I wake up.

Using a technique called ‘active imagination’ I meditate and go back into the dream. I ask myself, “Why are you hiding from him? Why are you letting him have power over you?” I stand up and look directly at the man and ask him what he wants and why he thinks he has the right to talk to me like that. His face changes, he doesn’t know what to say, and he drives away. I realise that standing up to him took away his power.

The unconscious manifests itself through a language of symbols. It is not only in our involuntary or compulsive behaviour that we can see the unconscious. There are two natural pathways that we can go down to bridge the gap between our conscious and unconscious minds – one is by dreams and the other is through the imagination. Both are highly developed channels that have developed so that the unconscious and conscious levels may speak to one another and work together.

Active imagination is not a ‘visualisation’ technique in which someone imagines something with a goal in mind. Active imagination has a different relationship with the unconscious, one based on recognition of its reality and power. In active imagination, you go to your unconscious to find out what is there and to learn what it has to offer to the conscious mind. The unconscious mind is not something to be manipulated to suit the purposes of the conscious mind, but an equal partner to engage in dialogue that leads to a fuller maturity.

In my dream, the man was my animus – the blueprint in my unconscious for how I could expect the typical man in my life to treat me. This was set in my unconscious mind by my narcissistic father and reinforced with the narcissistic relationships that followed. I had been programmed early on to believe that it was normal for men to treat me badly. Bringing this unconscious belief into my conscious awareness helped me to reprogram my unconscious and instruct it that this behaviour is not acceptable and something I will no longer tolerate.

"In each of us is another whom we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves." Carl Jung.

Please support my work by visiting my shop at Jane Redfern Art or by making a donation through Paypal With much love and appreciation. Thank you ❤️

Understanding the power of the unconscious mind

Understanding the power of the unconscious mind

Julie got into her car as usual and drove the five miles to her workplace. Along the way she was playing out in her mind a conversation she’d had the day before with a friend. She then started planning the evening meal and where she would stop to get some shopping on her way home. A myriad of other things went through her mind and soon she pulled up in her work car park and pulled into a space.

With her conscious mind totally occupied she had driven along busy roads, a dual-carriageway, and through several sets of traffic lights. She signalled properly and drove safely at all times. Once she had pulled up in the car park she came to her senses and realised that she couldn’t remember a single thing about her journey. She asked herself, “How could I drive this far and not remember anything about getting here? Where was my mind? Who was driving while I was daydreaming?” But this had happened many times before so she didn’t give it much thought.

Later, during her lunch break, she watched a colleague go into a rage because someone had left the milk out on the side instead of putting it back in the fridge. Julie was astonished at his behaviour. She wondered what had come over him because his behaviour was well out of proportion with the issue.

Later, when her colleague reflected on his behaviour he felt embarrassed and realised he would have to apologise. He asked himself, “Where did that behaviour come from? I don’t know what came over me.” He realised that the anger came from a place that had nothing to do with someone leaving the milk out.  But where did it come from? He didn’t know, so after apologising, he didn’t give it much thought.

We all feel the presence of the unconscious in our lives, during the ebb and flow of everyday life. We experience the unconscious as it acts in us and through us, working alongside the conscious mind. It will take over the control of our car when our conscious mind wanders off someplace else. We’ve all felt that experience of being on ‘autopilot’. The conscious mind drifts off and the unconscious mind simply takes over whatever we are doing. It stops us at red lights, puts the indicator on, brakes, and gets us to our destination. It keeps us safe until the conscious mind comes back to the here-and-now. It may not be the safest way to drive but it is a good safety net, a built-in back-up system that we all take for granted.

I remember many times sitting in class at university with my unconscious mind keeping me sitting there and looking like I was paying attention while my conscious mind wandered off for a walk through the woods. My conscious mind would suddenly be brought back to attention when the lecturer said my name, and I would feel very embarrassed if it was obvious I hadn’t heard a word they had said.

Sometimes the unconscious invades our conscious mind in an attempt to express itself – through the imagination and the use of symbol charged images. We also experience the unconscious through a sudden charge of emotion – such as irrational anger or a feeling of euphoria – that suddenly invades the conscious mind and takes it over. This flood of emotion makes no sense to the conscious mind because that’s not where it originated from. Julie’s work colleague for example, couldn’t explain where his anger came from. He felt that it came from somewhere outside him, that he wasn’t ‘himself’ for a few moments. But this uncontrolled anger did come from within him, a place within that he couldn’t visualise with his conscious mind. It came from his unconscious.

The unconscious is an incredible place, a universe of unseen energies, forces, forms, even distinct personalities that live within us. It has a complete life of its own running in parallel to our ordinary everyday lives. It is the secret source of much of our thought, feeling, and behaviour. It influences us in ways that are all the more powerful because they are unsuspected. We all have had the experience of doing something unconsciously when our minds were ‘someplace else,’ then being surprised at what we had done. Sometimes it startles us, “Where did that come from?!” we ask ourselves.

As we develop more understanding and become more sensitive to the surges of energy from the unconscious, we learn to ask, “What part of me believes that?” and “What was it that made me behave in that way?” We can also ask “Why does this subject set off such an intense reaction in that unseen part of myself?”

So, next time you think “I just wasn’t being myself” understand that “myself” also includes your unconscious. We all have hidden parts of ourselves that have strong feelings and want to express them. Unless we choose to do inner work and try to understand them they will stay hidden from our conscious view.

Sometimes these hidden personalities are not very likeable and can embarrass us when they show themselves. At other times we wake up to strengths and qualities within ourselves that we never knew were there. We sometimes draw on hidden resources we didn’t know we had, and find talents and qualities that we didn’t know we were capable of. We still have the startled reaction, “I am a different person than I thought I was. I have qualities, both positive and negative, that I didn’t realise were a part of “Me.”

We are all so much more than the “I” of whom we are aware.

Our conscious minds can focus only on a small part of our total being at any one time. Despite our attempts to understand ourselves better, only a tiny portion of the huge energy system can be incorporated into the conscious mind or function at the conscious level.

Therefore we have to learn how to go to the unconscious and become receptive to its messages: It is the only way to find the unknown parts of ourselves.

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." Carl Jung.

I will look deeper into this in the next few posts, looking particularly at symbols and active imagination and how they can be utilised to help us understand our unconscious better.

Please support my work by visiting my shop at Jane Redfern Art or by making a donation through Paypal With much love and appreciation. Thank you ❤️