Symbols+Transformation May 15 2015, 0 Comments

by A.E. 


In the symbol the world itself is speaking.      (as cited in Jung, 1990, p. 173)

Symbols are powerful. Not in the authoritarian or controlling sense of the word power; but in their ingenuity, artistry, and effectiveness. “The mind opens itself to symbolization and the body becomes a field for a common language,” (Castellana, 2005). Through symbolism, real communication is possible. Sans-symbolism is a trap like that of Narcissus; a person never fully in communication with the other, but instead hearing fragmented echoes of what they themselves project outwards. “A real colloquy becomes possible only when the ego acknowledges the existence of a partner to the discussion,” (Jung, 1990, p. 132). To fail at the task of symbolization creates symptoms of immobilization: feeling stuck, depression, and a vast array of traps.

If movement and breath is to be found again, one must be able to give form to the symptom. As a creative object outside of oneself, the symbol can be contemplative and experiential.

"The object in itself, in its materiality and concreteness, is necessary in that it provides an opportunity for the imagination to attune to the intellect. Matter attracts, and through sensation makes possible the existence of a form on which intellect, the principle of order, can act. Thus something at first so subjective as to be inexpressible becomes communicable," (Castellana, 2005).

A symbol contains simultaneously a desire and an answer.

“When his internal reality is consciously externalized, the external reality emerges, followed by a reconsideration and revaluation of that reality,” (de Alvarez de Toledo, 1996). The act of physically creating symbols creates an answer to the symptom, and a space where choice enters and action is again a potential. To the person stuck in idealism or fantasy, the act of creative symbol-making through any medium seems too simple to have any effect. Paradoxically, it seems that through exposure of the inner reality to the external life through symbol-making, experience of inner satisfaction is possible.       

The inability of an individual to form symbols (through creative expression), seems to derive from a fear of the symbol’s innate power. Generally this fear is given an explanation, from the perspective of the polarizing ego, that it is irrational to believe the simple act of creating a symbol can be integrative. Fear of an idea which is not a consciously-held belief can be understood through the concept of a shadow aspect of self. Jung states that the shadow is, “tendencies that might in some circumstances be able to exert a beneficial influence are transformed into demons when they are repressed.” He goes on to say that, “this is why many well-meaning people are understandably afraid of the unconscious, and incidentally of psychology,” (1964, p. 93). “The shadow is a living part of the personality and therefore wants to live with it in some form. It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized in harmlessness,” (Jung, 1990, p. 20). The shadow will not disappear.

Integration is achievable through the creative communication of all aspects of self (symbol-making). In the context of symptomatologies, desires which the ego conceives of as negative find a place in the unconscious shadow of the psyche. “When a desire has to be given up because of conflict and repressed, it may express itself in a symbolical way, and the object of the desire which had to be given up can be replaced by a symbol,” (Segal, 1957). By replacing the object of desire with a symptom, an individual can still maintain their connection with the object of desire. Conscious symbol making through art, however, gives the individual a position of being able to contemplate their desire and provide a space in which to unmask the unconscious. Artistic symbol-making is a position of active engagement with the unconscious. “It is the difference between communion and possession,” (Kipnis, 2012). The artist who consciously engages with the unconscious is actively engaging in choice and the transcendent function which is described by Carl Jung as follows:

"When there is full parity of the opposites, attested by the ego’s absolute participation in both, this necessarily leads to a suspension of the will, for the will can no longer operate when every motive has an equally strong countermotive. Since life cannot tolerate a standstill, a damming up of vital energy results, and this would lead to an insupportable condition did not the tension of opposites produce a new, uniting function that transcends them. This function arises quite naturally from the regression of libido caused by the blockage," (Jung, 1971, par. 824).

Ignoring the shadow is to be, “unwilling to accept life’s challenge to live both the good and the bad,” (Henderson, 1964, p. 121). Refusing to integrate the shadow is to refuse being fully alive. To consciously live out shadow through creative interaction with symbols under the direction of the ego is to allow oneself a creative and whole life.



Castellana, F., & Donfrancesco, A. (2005). Sandplay in jungian analysis: matter and symbolic integration. Journal of analytical psychology, 50(3), 367-382.

de Alvarez de Toledo, L. (1996). The analysis of ‘associating’‘interpreting’ And ‘words’: use of this analysis to bring unconscious fantasies into the present and to achieve greater ego integration. International journal of psycho-analysis, 77291-317.

Jung, C.G. (1971). Psychological types. The collected works of C.G. Jung. Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press.

Jung, C.G., von Franz, M.-L., Henderson, J.L., Jacobi, J., Jaffe, A. (1964). Man and his symbols. London, England: Aldus Books Limited.

Kipnis, A. (2012, April). Presentation Pacifica graduate institute, Carpenteria, CA.

Segal, H. (1957). Notes on symbol formation. International journal of psycho-analysis, 38391-397.