Thursday, September 06, 2007

Freud, Jung, and Reich

The three big ones. Freud opened up the door to the other two by talking about the link between sexual drive and psychology, on the one hand, and the means of the unconscious (or subconscious) mind as a sort of intermediary between basic drives and the ego, something that is also a sort of repository for past traumas connected with unfulfilled or thwarted drives in psycho-sexual development. Whoah. I better slow down here. Ok, Freud.

Freud developed his psychology from two insights: first, that we all have certain instincts and drives, and second, that there are levels of mind that we aren't immediately conscious of, that are subconscious. The first was attested to by many authors from the literal dawn of time on, the second was discovered through things like hypnotism, which gave evidence of different levels of mind not normally accessible to people. Freud's genius came in connecting the two.

According to Freud, it's the drives, the instincts, that are connected to the unconscious functions of the mind. The instincts go through the space that hypnotism uses to the conscious mind. The ego, or I, is a sort of mediator between the information coming from the unconscious, which includes basic drives for things like sex and survival, and the outside world. The instincts aren't foreign to the outside world but have been developed purposely, over time, for survival out there, so that society could be seen as an intersection of people pursuing their instincts with the problems of life, navigating the problems of living through the instinctual urges that encourage them to do so. And also doing this in concert with each other. Freud made the claim that repression of some instincts, which in practice means modifying their expression so that they're not as direct, was necessary for advanced society, but I'm not going to get into that now.

The unconscious includes the id, which is the first intermediary between the raw instincts and the rest of the mind, the unconscious itself, and the preconscious, which is where the sort of thoughts and impulses that come into our minds, seemingly out of nowhere, come from. When you have an impulsive thought or reaction, it's related to your preconsciousness and can indicate an unconscious association that you have related to the event or to the contents of the thought. Why did it appear then? Why did you react like that now instead of some other time? That's a big subject that I'm not really that knowledgeable of, but it's the origin of the famous 'Freudian slips'.

To get back on track, Freud had two other interesting insights: first, that sexuality properly expressed was not bad and was actually good for mental health and second, that things that are unconscious and that are trying to force their way into consciousness shouldn't be repressed but should be let through and examined in order to get an insight into what the brain is trying to tell a person. Also, and this is related to two, that events in the past can themselves have hidden meanings behind them that can be brought to the surface, just like preconscious data, and that pursuing preconscious signals can lead to significant deeper memories that need to be dealt with.

Freud connected the two by saying that the problems manifesting in the preconscious, and in the conscious mind if you have a neurosis, are ultimately related in some way to the instincts and either the healthy expression or unhealthy expression of them, including the sexual instinct. The instincts are going one way, from the bottom of the mind out to the world, and the world is going the other way, from the outside in, and when they meet sometimes there are problems. The instincts can over power a person's interaction with the outside world and the outside world can damage the natural flow of instincts from the bottom of the mind outward. Both sorts of conflicts are lodged in the subconscious or unconscious mind, where they themselves cause trouble in the background that ultimately can lead to consciously felt problems. Psychoanalysis examines these unconscious conflicts, brings them to the surface, and through conscious examination helps resolve them so that the inward flow and the outward flow can commence in a healthy way.

From Freud branched off Wilhelm Reich and Carl Gustav Jung. Both of them in their own ways deepened the sense of the complexity of the unconscious mind, with Reich focussing on the complexity of the sexual instincts in their interaction with the conscious mind and with conscious experience and Jung focussing more on the complexity of the contents of the unconscious mind in and of itself.

Reich believed that the sort of instinctual flow from the bottom of the mind outwards was essential for mental health but that the scheme that Freud gave, which depended on thwarted sexual urges coming from problems in sexual development, was too simplistic to really gauge what was happening with people. Sexual fantasies and sexual problems were so much more complex, but Reich anchored this recognition of complexity with the yardstick of being able to fully experience the phenomenon of orgasm as the indicator of a resolution to these problems. He discovered something that is all too true, which is that if you really delve into peoples' attitudes and problems relating to the expression of sexuality you find enough material to keep you occupied for a lifetime. Resolving repressed and generally problematic attitudes towards the sexual urges coming from the person themselves and as they are expressed towards other people is far, far from a simple matter. And the point of his focus on the orgasm wasn't to have people have mind blowing orgasms, although pleasure is not bad, but for them to have healthy orgasms as the natural end to the expression of sexuality. Healthy orgasms in Reich's book were not just orgasms but were also the health of the psychological approach to the sex act itself as well as a healthy reaction after orgasm and the formal sex act is finished. It involves the attitude to the other person: are you objectifying them? Are you approaching the person projecting internal conflicts onto them? Can you truly let go of yourself and experience surrender during orgasm or are you thwarted by fear that if you experience surrender you'll therefore lose part of yourself, and so repress the feelings that lead to healthy orgasm out of fear of the potential consequences? Do you have self hatred in relation to sex or to sexual relationships? Where are your hang ups in reference to who you are attracted to? Are you trying to resolve family problems by being attracted to and pursuing a relationship with one type of person, or do you truly appreciate and try to understand them? The list of things that could be included here as problems related to the expression and psychological self conception of sexuality is literally endless. It is not a simple area. But it does provide an interesting gauge of mental health, since Reich like Freud relates the sexual instinct to other basic instincts and makes the deduction that if the sexual instinct is healthier then the rest of the instinctual interaction with the world is bound to be healthier.

Jung is another story altogether. The easiest way to start off with Jung is to say that he explored the weirdness of the unconscious mind. I have to confess, now that I've started this, that I'm much less familiar with Jung than with Reich or Freud. Anyway, Jung pointed out that there were contents of the unconscious mind that had little or nothing to do with actual symbols or data coming from psychosexual and familial conflicts. Not that these things weren't present, but that often there were other symbols, other ideas, other concepts, that went along with them. Where did these concepts come from? It seemed that there was all this sort of primal data that the unconscious just had, and that the unconscious used this data to express conflicts and problems dealing with the person right now. This is why he formulated his idea of the 'Collective Unconscious', a kind of repository based on common experience. But you don't have to believe in the concept of a literal Collective Unconscious to appreciate Jung.

When you look at the extra information that the unconscious puts forward you may notice certain primal themes that are used over and over again, in the expression of psychological problems and data. These things, Jung called Archetypes, and he related archetypes to almost mythological characters, i.e. the trickster, the hero, the mother goddess, things that were primal but seemed to form categories of thought that we unconsciously possessed and used.

What Jung ultimately came up with was that these primal things have relationships to each other that are their own and that represent another level of psychological data that need to be dealt with in themselves. In addition to the current psychological problems a person is having, that manifest in their preconscious mind, the depth problems, related to things buried in memory that are lodged in the unconscious also have an archetypical dimension in their placement and problems. Through treating both the traumas related to memories both in their literal and in their archetypal significance you get closer to resolving the problems than you would otherwise.

I think that Jung ultimately relates archetypes to the instincts.

So now we have an expanded task for mental health: deal with sexual attitudes, deal with archetypes as they relate to past memories and to problems, and deal with psycho-sexual incidents of unnecessary repression that interfere with the flow of instinct to the outside and information from the outside inwards. Wow. Tough job, tough job.

1 comment:

William Braylen said...

The first known as his systematic mindset, the second- personal. Their titles were in psychoanalysis so carefully connected that when Jung, introducing to the owner of the English Art gallery, to provide his name, that asked: "Freud, Jung, Adler, 'and observed the apology in response. Jungian concept