Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Paul Ashton - Experiences of the Void

“A commonly encountered experience of both analyst and analysand is that of the void. It is spoken about at different stages of therapy and refers to experiences that have different origins. Sometimes the experience of the void is around a relatively limited aspect of the psyche but at other times the void seems much more global and threatens to engulf the entire personality; the whole individual psyche then seems threatened by the possibility of dissolution into nothingness. 

The void experience may result from the early failure of external objects to meet the needs of the developing ego, which leads to the sorts of primitive terrors that Winnicott described, or it may result when the Self itself seems threatened with annihilation, which may be more to do with a rupturing of the ego–Self axis. In the first case the fear is of disintegration, whereas in the second the experience is one of the living dead, as though the individual is cut off from her life source. But more than that, the intrusion of the void into the conscious experience of so many of us implies that its occurrence is not only the result of severe trauma but also a necessary aspect of the individuation process. 

Drawing on the writings of Jung and post-Jungians, and psychoanalytic thinkers such as Bion, Winnicott, and Bick, as well as on poetry, mythology, and art, and illustrating these ideas with dreams and other material drawn from my practice, I hereby attempt to illuminate some of the compartments of this immense space. As Estragon comments, in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, “there is no lack of void”, and this book looks at the genesis of this state in the individual in both its pathological and life-enhancing aspects. 

In certain of the void states, particularly those arising from severe trauma, memories of past events have disappeared as though sucked into a black hole. In others it is the emergence of the psyche into the white light of a higher consciousness that may be experienced in a threatening way. To feel the presence of the void is to reach the edge of the known world, inner or outer. It is a liminal state that extends backwards from the far side of memory yet continually emerges from the forward edges of our experience. It is by nature frightening and, usually, well defended against.

…My thesis is that the void, frightening as it is, is not something that can or should be obliterated, as that would lead to stagnation. Rather, that hidden behind the “clouds of unknowing” (Bion, 1967) that shroud the void, lie endless possibilities for growth and transformation and an increasingly strong connection with the objective other. It has seemed to me that the void experience in childhood and early adulthood is mostly associated with fear and can be deemed pathological. In order for the ego to learn to stand alone it appears that it has to deny, or live as though unaware of, the existence of the void. When the void is constellated in these individuals it is often defended against rigidly and what seems to be necessary is to help them find structure and meaning in their lives, i.e. non-void attributes.” (p. 1-2)

Ashton, Paul W. (2007) From the Brink: Experiences of the Void from a Depth Psychology Perspective, London: Karnac.

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