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Seeing the Unseen

Unconscious

Nobody can afford to look round and to wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself. But since nobody seems to know what to do, it might be worthwhile for each of us to ask himself whether by any chance his or her unconscious may know something that will help us.

C.G. Jung (CW 18, par. 599)

As a scientist I recognize how difficult it can be to communicate our current scientific understanding on climate change to the general public. As a Jungian analyst I recognize the essential role the unconscious plays in our ability to take in disturbing information associated with climate change. Being both a climate scientist and a Jungian analyst has helped me in finding more effective ways to communicate the science of climate to the public.

The field of depth psychology was born in the consulting rooms of Freud and Jung over a century ago. These two pioneers recognized the importance of unconscious processes in determining human thought, feeling and behavior. Each developed methods to make the unseen world of the unconscious seen. Jung carried out pioneering scientific work on identifying complexes that take center stage in our lives. They are the actors that cause us to say after the fact, “Why did I say that?” or “Why did I behave that way towards that person?” Freud explored how we unconsciously defend ourselves to insure that we are not overwhelmed by a disturbing reality. Complexes and associated defenses are core parts of who we are and how we react to the world.

Over the past decade many scientific studies have confirmed the importance of unconscious processes in human behavior. These studies have led to a plethora of popular books reporting on the important role of the unconscious in our daily lives, see for example: Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior; Thinking Fast and Slow; Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain; and Strangers to Ourselves. A number of scientific studies have argued these unconscious processes are rooted in evolutionary strategies. Thus, many of the early observations by depth psychologists are being confirmed with current research.

Despite the recognition of the importance of unconscious processes in human behavior most discussions on issues like climate change assume these problems are solely rooted in the conscious realm. Most plans to address the issue of climate change ignore unconscious processes. Given all that we have learned about the role of the unconscious, it is important that we begin to look social issues from a more comprehensive psychological perspective. We need to include our understanding of the unconscious in communicating and addressing the critical issue of climate change.

Jungian psychology has much to offer towards moving forward on the problem of climate change. Although many in this field focus their attention on the interior world of psyche, it would be of great benefit for members of this community to turn their gaze on the outer world and consider how a Jungian perspective can help the world at large. Likewise it would be of great value for the public policy community to recognize the research that shows how important the unseen world of the unconscious is to addressing many of societies problems.

 

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“It is … the incapacity to love which robs mankind of his possibilities.”

C.G. Jung (1912)

Jung is often described as Freud’s student, but nothing could be further from the truth. Even though Jung was much younger than Freud, from the start of their intense friendship, they were actually working colleagues, more than teacher and student. At the time Jung met Freud in 1907, he had published a number of papers on complexes and was established at a world-renowned psychiatric clinic in Zurich. In 1912, however, their relationship reached a breaking point. Jung had his own ideas about psyche that were very different from those of Freud’s. The catalyst for their falling out occurred one hundred years ago this Fall. For it is in 1912 that Jung published a work, which translated into English is known as The Psychology of the Unconscious. Freud could not accept Jung’s interpretation of the psyche put forth in that work.  It was the final chord in a growing dissonance between these two great thinkers.

To honor the centenary of this event, I have been reading the original 1912 work. It has been a joy to trace Jung’s thinking about psyche. The first part, published in 1911, is still very much in tune with Freud’s ideas, but as the book unfolds you see Jung becoming more independent about his interpretation of psyche, in which the key turning point is his view on libido. Jung felt libido was far more than just sexual instinct. He reframed libido in terms of the general concept of psychic energy. I like to think of this energy as where our interest lies, what excites us, or gives us a charge in life. Simply, to where does the love in our life flow? The quote above can be restated in the positive sense that our capacity to love gives us possibilities. What a wonderful way of looking at how to relate to the world around us. If we hold onto the capacity to love, then possibilities unfold before us. Jung further states that, “The resistance against loving produces the inability to love.” So, it is our own resistance to love that prevents us from being able to love. We may expect others to first extend their love to us, but this will be thwarted if we resist loving others. This resistance resides within us and it is our task to work with the resistance. If we cannot accomplish this, then Jung says we live with an “incapacity to lovingly include a thing outside of ourselves.” We live a life of isolation.

So, let us take Jung’s words to heart, words written a century ago, but still so relevant to living a life full of possibilities.

This week, discover your capacity to love.

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