Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pamela Power - Negative Coniunctio, Envy, and Sadomasochism in Analysis

Jung wrote, "The coniunctio is an a priori image that occupies a prominent place in the history of man’s mental development." The coniunctio image is derived from alchemy, Christianity and pagan sources. It is used in analytical psychology to describe a process whereby two unlike substances are joined together; a related term is the complexio oppositorum, where many opposites are embodied in a single image. The coniunctio is the birth of something new; it is positive in the sense of growth, development, or individuation.

The central image of the coniunctio is a sacred marriage or sexual intercourse between two human figures. In the strictest sense, the coniunctio indicates the joining of two aspects within the unconscious. However, coniunctio is commonly used in other ways including the psychological process between conscious and unconscious, between analyst and analysand, between conscious standpoint of analyst and unconscious of analysand and the converse.

The coniunctio as a constellated archetype between two people becomes a highly charged energy field. This is where danger, as well as new possibilities, arises. When the coniunctio becomes enacted between analyst and analysand, technically it is ‘acting out.’ However, there are situations where this enactment, along with the danger it brings, is a necessary stage for any significant psychological development. Any negative coniunctio that becomes constellated between analyst and analysand is already occurring within the psyche of the analysand and to some extent within the analyst. When it becomes a dominant theme in the analysis between analyst and analysand, this indicates that analysis has become a necessary agent to modify the destructiveness and resistance that it indicates. This is no easy matter!

There are several forms of enactment that I designate as the ‘negative coniunctio’; among them are ‘envious pairing’ and sadomasochism. They are negative because the coniunctio does not produce positive development, and because it is a defense against growth and change. The negative coniunctio might as well be called anti-coniunctio; however, if the analysis can undergo a transformation, then negative can change to positive. The key to this shift is not altogether straightforward or easily understood. Diligent skill and consciousness on the part of the analyst as well as nearly surgical skill and intervention are essential. In alchemical terms, incubation, ‘marination’, and distillation, as autonomous activities of the psyche, also play a part. Certainly there is no ‘waiting around for the psyche to naturally unfold,’ no ‘making the unconscious conscious.’ Helpful here also are the words of Donald Meltzer who described some cases where the analysis is "a rescue operation and cannot be undertaken in safety."

The term coniunctio applies to these difficult cases because the powerful archetypal field that is constellated may have a numinous quality. Analyst and analysand get drawn into a primitive mystical connection (identity) with each other, something that Jung (drawing from the anthropologist Lévy-Bruhl) called participation mystique. It is a state in which the subject cannot distinguish himself from the object. This is to be differentiated from projective identification, a more actively defensive and communicative process, although there may be overlap between the two. The participation mystique that occurs in these cases, a mystical identity, is due to the activation of vital, primitive aspects of the psyche. The identity appears as an a priori condition, an initial identification that must undergo differentiation--as if for the first time. (pp. 34-35)

Passage from Pamela Power (2014). Negative Coniunctio: Envy and Sadomasochism in Analysis, in Mark Winborn (Ed.), Shared Realities: Participation Mystique and Beyond, Fisher King Press.

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