Sigmund Freud was fascinated with the depths of the unconscious. While his writing aims to get to know the contents of the unconscious, it continually bumps up against an unfathomable core at the depths of psychic life. At times, Freud calls this the “core of our being”. At other times he speaks of “the deepest strata of the mind.” Freud says:
“the deepest strata of our minds, made up of instinctual impulses – [it] knows nothing that is negative, and no negation; in it contradictories coincide. For that reason it does not know its own death.” (SE XIV)
Freud’s insight that the deepest strata of the mind is of made instinctual impulses is an interesting one. Freud tells us that there is a place in psychic life with no negation- it “knows nothing that is negative”. From this place the instinctual impulses arise. Freud called these instinctual forces libido. Carl Jung associates these instinctual impulses with the divine. Jung says:
“The attributes and symbols of the divinity must belong in a consistent manner to the feeling (longing, love, libido, and so on). If one honors God, the sun or the fire, then one honors one’s own vital force, the libido [instinctual impulses]. It is as Seneca says: ” God is near you, he is with you, in you.” God is our own longing to which we pay divine honors….To bear a God within one’s self signifies a great deal; it is a guarantee of happiness, of power” (CW 5).
Carl Jung associated the symbols of these vital forces, such as fire or the sun, with the divine aspect of existence and with God. He further associated our feeling and affect with the divine, feelings such as longing and love.
Jung once spoke of “the ever-hoped-for and never-to-be discovered One” (CW 12) . It is in the depths of the psyche that we encounter the eternal nature of the Self, though it is often hidden and obscured in archetypal imagery and emotions.
Philosopher Slavoj Žižek speaks of “what is in you more than yourself.” It is in the depths of psychic life that we discover an emotional and imaginal truth that lies beyond the articulations of language. The absolute nature of such depths is for each of us to explore, to know for ourselves. It is the deep truth emerging within us, presenting itself within hieroglyphic images, symbols and archetypal forms.
Freud took a medical model in interpreting this hieroglyphic language. He focused on the repressed events of our childhood that lay dormant in the unconscious. Freud understood that we can heal the psyche through understanding the symbols emanating from the depths. He was especially fascinated with what he called the repressed elements, and felt healing occurred when we brought them back into the awareness of the conscious mind.
Jung agreed with this premise, and often spoke of the importance of working through the repressed memories or fantasies stored in the unconscious. Yet, Jung understood that the repressed unconscious is only a small aspect of the vastness of the self. For Jung, interpretation of the unconscious will often include working thought repressed infantile elements. It can also lead us to something far greater: an encounter with the numinous nature of the Self.
- Sigmund Freud SE XIV, Our Attitude Towards Death
- Carl Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious or Symbols of Transformation(Collected Works Volume 5)
- Slavoj Žižek, The parallax view
- Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, (Collected Works 12) para 165.