Symbols

The power our past has on our relationships

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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.

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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.

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Using Active Imagination to reprogram the unconscious

Dreaming

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 ❤️