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Oedipus and Sphinx

This paper is available online at Psyche Matters with the kind permission of Jef Dehing. Contribution to the  XV International Conference for Analytical Psychology. A shortened version of this text is to be published in the Congress Proceedings (2002).  Do not duplicate without permission. The author may be reached at  

Indivisible Reality
An Excursion in the Realm of the Unspeakable

Colorful Stone Stripe

Jef Dehing

"The rising world of waters dark and deep,
won from the void and formless infinite."
Milton, Paradise Lost.


In 1900 Freud first described the 'unconscious' and its peculiar logical rules. At the time of his correspondence with Jung however, anxious to confer scientific status to psychoanalysis, he partly disavows the consequences of this discovery.

Matte Blanco, resuming Freud's ideas about unconscious thinking, first opposed two forms of logic. Gradually his emphasis will shift to two antagonising modes of being: the dividing one (the splitting and polarising logic of our discriminating consciousness) and the Indivisible one (Reality as it is, prior to any dividing intervention of discriminating consciousness).

Psychoanalysis and analytical psychology are considered with regard to their attitude towards Indivisible Reality and discriminating consciousness. Both claim to be 'analytic' - and therefore dividing. But in the debate between Freud and Jung a polarisation occurred in which Freud clearly claimed the discriminating position, whereas Jung appointed himself defender of Indivisible Reality. This polarisation marked both psychoanalysis and analytical psychology, and gave rise to pretty unilateral and extreme positions. Both movements have developed, and one could witness some curious enantiodromies: today some Jungians are quite discriminating, while some Freudians come very close to Indivisible Reality. The present Jungian world itself appears to be divided by the very same split.

Indivisible Reality plays an important role in psychic development. I will introduce it as a 'position' which precedes Klein's paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions.

This will lead to some considerations about psychopathology: I will argue that discriminating consciousness is always 'pathogenic', in that it radically cuts us from direct contact with being; it destroys our primordial unity with nature. Premature and/or excessive introduction of discriminating attitudes - in the child and/or in the caretaker - will of course result in grosser pathological distortions.

These considerations have consequences for the psychotherapeutic situation. In my opinion too much emphasis has been laid on discriminating, 'analysing' attitudes, techniques and theoretical premises, especially by Freudian analysts. On the other hand, since we are human beings and therefore cursed with our inevitable discriminating consciousness, we have to maintain a setting that is ruled by rigorous laws: chaotic or 'wild' analysis has little to do with Indivisible Reality!


The first title of this paper, 'The Infinite in Depth Psychology', posed a problem: the concept 'infinite' implies its antithesis, 'finite', and this pair of opposites is a typical result of the splitting attitude of classical logical thinking. This 'Aristotelian' logic is governed by the contradiction principle: a statement is true, or it is not, and there is no third possibility. Descartes went as far as to consider our thinking activity, which is based on this bivalent logic, as the very foundation of our being: 'Cogito, ergo sum'.

My intention however was to introduce the reader to another dimension of our being. Many names have been proposed to designate it, implicitly or explicitly, but since these appellations all make an appeal on language, they are bound to fail: language is a set of interdependent signifiers, organised around polarised oppositions and therefore tributary to bivalent logic. Freud was close to that dimension when he first described the 'unconscious', and its very peculiar logical rules, in 1900: "It is essential to abandon the overvaluation of the property of being conscious before it becomes possible to form any correct view of the origin of what is mental. In Lipps's words [1897, 146 f.], the unconscious must be assumed to be the general basis of psychical life. The unconscious is the larger sphere, which includes within it the smaller sphere of the conscious. Everything conscious has an unconscious preliminary stage; whereas what is unconscious may remain at that stage and nevertheless claim to be regarded as having the full value of a psychical process. The unconscious is the true psychical reality; "in its innermost nature it is as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is as incompletely presented by the data of consciousness as is the external world by the communications of our sense organs." (Freud 1900, p. 613).

This revolutionary discovery turned the foundations of Western thinking upside down. Copernicus and Galilei had robbed mankind of the illusion that the earth is the centre of the universe. Freud adds a little extra: he calls into question the autonomy and the inviolability of the human Ego. Another blow for the hubris of homo sapiens! Freud excited Jung's interest, as soon as 1900, with his Interpretation of Dreams: a frontal attack on the supremacy of human consciousness and a search for the crazy laws that govern unconscious thinking. Unfortunately, Freud will abandon this promising position: at the time of his friendship with Jung he hopes that psychoanalysis will succeed in mastering the unconscious. Later he will state that where the Id used to be, the Ego shall become: the victory of the forces of discriminating light on the darkness of Indivisible Reality! In his last books however he will admit that psychoanalysis did not keep its promises: more often than not it is never-ending, infinite.

Freud and Jung

Freud thus repudiated his main discovery; consequently his debate with Jung will be governed by a huge misunderstanding: both approach the unconscious from radically different perspectives. Freud - at least at the time of their correspondence - looked at the unconscious from the outside, as it comes into being by repression. In those years the Freudian unconscious is exclusively composed of repressed contents. Later, to a large extent due to Jung's pertinent questions, Freud will introduce the Id: in this 'seething cauldron' non-repressed unconscious contents actually retrieve a space. Jung on the contrary considered the unconscious from the inside: the coming into being of the subject out of the unconscious is of central importance to him.

Roustang (1976) noticed the different styles of Freud and Jung's thinking: Freud was rather 'paranoid' in his search of scientific certainty. Jung's thinking is qualified by him as 'schizophrenic': "For the paranoid knowledge which dominates our civilisation, Jung's oeuvre is a soup, an attractive syncretism, a fish-rearing pond in which all fishes are given a chance." (Roustang 1976, p. 65) At first sight this statement is not very kind to Jung, but we may also take it as a compliment: at least the fish are not killed by discriminating dissection.

This opposition between Freud and Jung dominated their debate on some important issues :

  • Freud wants to reserve the term 'libido' to the sole sexual pulsion. Jung insists on enlarging it to comprise all the vital drives, sexuality being only one of its components.

  • Freud offers a very precise, rather mechanistic description of some psychotic mechanisms. Jung stresses the weakness of the Ego, that collapses, flooded by other complexes. Moreover, as soon as 1907, he shows how collective unconscious contents manifest themselves in psychosis.

  • Freud's approach of religion is reductive : it is 'nothing but' a disguised expression of sexual tendencies. For Jung religious manifestations are universal experiences expressing age-old and universal contents of the human soul.

  • Both distinguish two modes of thinking : conscious, rational thinking, and fantasy. Freud considers the latter as inferior, and relegates it to the status of a natural reserve. Jung, resuming Freud's original position, regards fantasy as the creative matrix of all conscious thinking (see Dehing 1984).

  • With regard to the attitude of the analyst, Freud advocates aloofness and discrimination ; his strict, unequivocal technique draws sharp limits between doctor and patient. Jung emphasises humanity and reciprocity, and adamantly refuses the medical model staging a healthy doctor and a sick patient.

In this brief summary, I deliberately accentuated the oppositions. Actually both Freud and Jung exhibit important fluctuations with regard to the described attitudes (see Dehing 1982). But the sketched antithesis corresponds fairly well to the positions on which the two men - and psychoanalysis and analytical psychology - parted.


Matte-Blanco's work (1975, 1988) may throw some light on this opposition.

This author too highly valued the 'unconscious' introduced in The Interpretation of Dreams : Freud's 'true psychic reality' comes pretty close to what Matte-Blanco would describe as our 'second mode of being' : Indivisible Reality.
Unconscious thought operates with a systematic logical structure of its own; unconscious processes obey different laws from those of the (pre)conscious. The ordinary concepts of cause and effect, time and space are turned on their head: we are confronted with a disconcerting absence of mutual contradiction and negation, with displacement, condensation, timelessness and the replacement of external by internal reality; the structure of thinking is profoundly disorganised.

Matte-Blanco was firmly convinced of the fact that neither Freud himself, nor his followers truly and fully made use of this revolutionary find. In their debates, psychoanalysts have tended to focus on various detail aspects of Freud's work (sexuality, Oedipus complex, castration anxiety, death instinct, etc), while disregarding the fundamental and disturbing implications of the idea that the mind works within a framework of timelessness and spacelessness. Theoreticians - more often than not - moved psychoanalysis away from the unconscious ; they did so either in their efforts to gain psychoanalysis a more respectable place in scientific psychology, or in their attempts to systematise the theories of the great pioneers. This rationalising process is encountered very frequently in psychoanalytical literature : psychoanalysis - according to Matte-Blanco - has wandered away from itself.

Conscious, logical and scientific thought make use of bivalent logic, which is characterised in the first place by discrimination: by it reality is split into opposite elements that are mutually incompatible: the 'contradiction principle'. Unconscious thinking on the contrary unites or unifies things which for ordinary thinking are distinct and separated. "[…] one might say that, while thinking usually works within a framework of distinguishing things, the unconscious that Freud investigates tends to unite and fuse everything. Herein lies the radical nature of this different mode, […]." (Rayner & Tuckett 1988, p. 16).

Matte-Blanco views the mind not only as a dynamic, but also as a discriminator or a classifier: "the human mind is, every second, carrying out classificatory activity; it forms, using mathematical terms, sets. This must go on for recognition, a vital activity, to occur." (Rayner & Tuckett 1988, p. 18) The ordinary 'logical' thinking activity is constantly dealing with combinations of triads: it recognises and makes propositions to itself about one thing, another thing, and the relation between those two things. Most of these relations are asymmetrical, for instance: 'John is the father of Peter', or 'A is part of B'; the converse of such relations is not identical to it. Some relations however are symmetrical, for instance: 'John is different from Peter', or 'A is identical to B'; they remain true when they are inverted.

The principle of symmetry

Ordinary thinking only deals with things which are in some way distinguishable from one another, and with the relations existing between such things. Some of this thinking is retained in unconscious processes, but it is accompanied there by a different type of thinking, that is governed by the principle of symmetry: asymmetrical relations are treated as if they were symmetrical. This 'symmetrical' form of logic provides a set of unifying principles: probably the most important of these principles is the equation between the part and the whole. Equivalence, sameness, and similarity are all symmetrical relations, which occur in ordinary bivalent logic. In the unconscious, symmetrisation 'breaks the bounds' of asymmetrical bivalent logic. What, in bivalent logic, would appear as a mere analogy, becomes utter identity when the symmetry principle is applied. .

In symmetric logic the part and the whole become interchangeable, classes are dissolved into increasingly larger wholes, until we arrive at 'Indivisible Reality': here the infinity of things is in a mysterious way reduced to one single thing.

We can only speak about this logic of the unconscious - or should we say: this 'non-logic'? - from the standpoint of classical logic, which, shocked by the devastating action of symmetrical logic, tries to map its disintegrating principles.


In the unconscious we find a mixture of ordinary, bivalent logic, and symmetric logic. Matte-Blanco called this mixture of two logical principles 'bi-logic'. He distinguished different 'strata' in the mind: the 'deeper' the unconscious, the higher the degree of symmetrisation. So a spectrum may be described. At one extremity - the 'upper' side - we find the most pure bivalent logic. Maybe pure mathematics approximate to this ideal ; so do electronic computations, provided that they are not disturbed by some symmetrising virus! The most rational elements of our consciousness come close to it, although they are never exempt from symmetrical infiltration. A discourse free from symmetrical elements is felt to be arid and deathly; it is 'inhuman', since all emotional resonances are repressed in it : emotions always contain a certain amount of symmetry.

At the other end of the spectrum we end up at the already mentioned Indivisible Reality, about which we actually cannot say anything, since any bivalent splitting up is missing here, and since our language is entirely based on bivalent logic.

Human psyche is caught in this fundamental antinomy between bivalent and symmetric logic. Between both poles all possible gradations may be found. The 'unconscious' is characterised by an increasing prevalence of symmetry : the 'deeper' the unconscious, the more symmetry.

Personally I wonder whether this symmetric logic actually exists as such: its 'laws' can only be formulated in terms of bivalent principles. I would rather situate the antinomy between on the one hand 'being', the Indivisible Reality before human interference, and on the other hand discriminating consciousness.

Discriminating consciousness

This discriminating consciousness is a typical human phenomenon. I do not know how and why it came into being. But I am convinced that it deeply influences our being-in-the-world. The senses by which we observe the things that surround us are extremely limited indeed, and the processing of these impressions by our brain is extremely selective, even if we do not notice these restrictions. But our discriminating consciousness automatically compels us to discriminate and classify these perceptions. " Friend or foe ? ", this is the crucial question to which our discriminating consciousness unremittingly tries to find an answer. Therefore it is very difficult to abandon this 'schizo-paranoid' disposition, however mild it may be. How readily, when we try to listen to a piece of music, to contemplate a landscape or a work of art, some 'discriminating' question pops up and disturbs our general impression! Human beings need a special 'grace' - or a psychotic decompensation - in order to retrieve some form of direct contact with the Indivisible Reality, beyond the dividing categories of discriminating consciousness.

Thus our asymmetric discriminating consciousness divides Indivisible Reality. This fundamental antinomy confronts the depth psychologist with a methodological problem : how can he speak in a meaningful way about the unconscious, without falling into a paranoid or schizophrenic pitfall ? I already alluded to the paranoid pitfall: the psychoanalytical attempts aiming at scientific respectability deprived Freud's brilliant discoveries of their inspiration: they become too clean, too rational, and Freud's unconscious gets lost. Matte-Blanco also gave examples of the schizophrenic pitfall (although he does not use that name): in Melanie Klein's formulations for instance the unconscious shows up very well, but her bivalent, 'scientific' abstractions leave much to be desired: analogy is often treated as equivalence; this symmetrisation is consistent with the unconscious experience, but it surprises in a theoretical deduction. Many of Jung's writings too are characterized by extreme symmetrisation: they do right to Indivisible Reality, but transgress the laws of analytical thinking.

The Infinite

By its splitting action, discriminating consciousness fragmentates Reality. This crumbling goes on - in a never-ending process. Consequently the subject is left with an ever-growing number of things: what was originally one and indivisible falls apart into a quantity of elements that tends towards the infinite.

By thinking, that is, by establishing relations between different elements, we try to mend the countless cracks that we brought about. This pathetic endeavour cannot possibly succeed, the more since at the same time discriminating consciousness continues its devastating work. Infinity only exists for consciousness, that is too small to contain Reality.

One could object that the classifying activity of our consciousness does not necessarily have to pound Reality to pieces: if one succeeds in reducing its discriminating aspects to a minimum, boundaries may eventually turn out to be more binding than dividing. But it takes a soundly established depressive position to realise this exploit. And didn't Meltzer tell us that attaining the threshold of the depressive position is the most we may expect - every now and then?

A metaphysical question

The fact that the symmetric mode of being allows us to have an undivided experience of reality does not mean that this reality is undivided. Maybe it is, maybe it is not: that is a metaphysical question. Is the world divided into facts, as Wittgenstein claimed, or is it one and indivisible?

What appears to be pretty sure though is that we, as human beings, continually introduce divisions, classifications and discriminations into our experience; sometimes we succeed in finding back the primordial unified experiential mode. But the fact that we experience unity or division does not allow us to infer final statements about the state of the Reality that is the object of our experience.

According to Matte-Blanco, relations do exist in the Indivisible Reality, but these 'relations' are different from the asymmetric relations we are familiar with. We cannot represent them: in order to do so we would have to asymmetrise them, to make them fit into our well-known discriminating - and reducing - schemes.


Our consciousness is - at its best - strictly three-dimensional in its spatial constructions, and its temporal organisation is linear. Anything - or almost everything - we 'win from the void and formless infinite' has to be caught in this reductive structure. These limitations affect our (ap)perception to a very high degree, although we tend to equate Reality with what we perceive: we are so much acquainted with the three-dimensional make-up of our perceptions that we naively believe that Reality itself is three-dimensional.

The assumption that Reality is infinite and multidimensional forces us to a radical revision of the alleged superiority of consciousness; this is extraordinarily difficult since we do not dispose of an Archimedean point that would allow us to consider our restricted viewpoint from a broader perspective.

On the other hand, three-dimensionality is a necessary condition for psychic health: important functions such as 'holding' and 'containing' presuppose the establishment of an 'inner psychic space'; all these spatial metaphors are soundly grounded in three-dimensionality, which a great majority of patients in analysis have the greatest difficulty to attain; as a consequence we too easily tend to believe that this achievement is the final point of human development, whereas it is merely a starting basis for a full human experience.

Limitations are very difficult to accept indeed. As human beings we are limited in many respects; the restrictions of our personal psychic system are but one example of these limitations: our 'collective' psyche may be multi-dimensional and infinite - in accordance with Reality in general - but in our dealings with it we are necessarily restricted by the limitations of our consciousness.

The split between psychoanalysis and analytical psychology

Let us return now to the dramatic split between Freud and Jung.

Freud stressed the differences: in his model conflict occupied a central place, and his clinical experience addressed mainly the 'neurotic' dimension of his analysands, the human, all-too-human vicissitudes occasioned by external circumstances. Jung on the contrary emphasised sameness: his obvious interest in the 'psychotic' aspects of his patients led him straight on to the germinative psychic core common to whole mankind; he considered its features as basically identical in all human beings.

Freud endeavoured to set up his psychoanalytical constructions according to the strictly discriminating laws of the prevailing western 'scientific' attitude. In his theoretical assumptions he tended to be dogmatic and inflexible. Jung on the other hand systematically refused to privilege any theoretical standpoint and rejected the classical 'scientific' attitude which claimed that something either was true or was not. Jung has always been averse to this principle of the 'excluded third'; he was fond of paradox, not so much on account of its inherent conflict, but because of its tolerance of the coexistence of two opposite poles.

Freud, in spite of his visionary discoveries (did he not intend to move the Acheron?), once hoped to 'master' the unconscious, to drain it by a final analysis of all its contents and symbols (he would later abandon these sweeping pretences). It turned out that an exaggerated reduction is precisely one of the main factors in the development of neurotic disorders. Jung reacted to this excess by an equal exaggeration: his 'amplification' ran counter Freud's reduction, but sometimes tended to forget the human-all-too-human limitations of our psychic apparatus. This attitude does more right to Reality as such, but, unless it is firmly anchored in the limited human psychic qualities, it opens the door to omnipotence and omniscience, if not to utter insanity: some psychotic people can be said to remain in contact with the Infinite - and they will adamantly refuse to abandon their 'direct' connection with it - but they are unable to experience it as human subjects.

Psychoanalysis has long been considered - especially by Jungians - as being to 'reductionist'; Jung's analytical psychology on the other hand had the reputation of being obscurantist, and 'mystical' in the most pejorative sense. It is more than time to transcend these caricatural oppositions, and indeed they have been transcended by many authors, both Jungian and Freudian.

After his rift with Jung, Freud will gradually resume some of Jung's views; his 'phylogenetic inheritance', with the concomitant 'primal fantasies', comes pretty close to Jung's archetypes. But he will not recognise this analogy, and his followers will chastely keep these aberrances under wraps.

Klein inaugurated a current that broke away from the orthodox psychoanalytic mainstream. As early as 1950, Glover accused her of inaugurating a heresy comparable to Jung's. He was right, although it would take twenty years for the Kleinians to discover it. Bion, when introducing 'O', the infinite, the 'ultimate truth', comes still closer to Jung; his repeated exhortation to eschew memory, desire and understanding clearly indicates a reversion from discriminating consciousness to Indivisible Reality. Finally Grotstein will openly advocate a return to Jung.

Winnicott - in his uncomfortable marginal position with regard to the Kleinian movement - unambiguously denounces the discriminating excrescences of psychoanalysis: he stresses the importance of the continuity of being, and with his transitional area he clearly bridges the gaps brought about by excessive splitting; playing in the potential space amounts to finding back some contact with a lost Indivisible Reality.

Matte-Blanco occupies a place of his own in the Freudian world. In 1962 already he commented on Jung's synchronicity as a principle of non-causal relations. In it he saw another manifestation of Indivisible Reality.

More recently, Ogden and other psychoanalytic authors stressed the importance of intersubjectivity in the analytical relationship: they threw overboard Freud's recommendations about analytic neutrality and asepsis. The myth of the analyst as an opaque mirror has finally been explicitly unmasked. The subtitle of Ogden's book Reverie and Interpretation (1997) is somewhat disconcerting: 'Sensing Something Human'! As if humanity had been officially banished from the psychoanalytic dialogue until then. Anyway, a return to Indivisible Reality is clearly present in these new developments.

Jungians have been quicker in exploring Freudian - especially Kleinian - literature. Fordham played an important part in this evolution: he assigned a Self to the infant, and described its psychological development in terms of an interaction between archetypal structures and the environment. In his clinical approach transference and counter-transference are of overriding importance. But Fordham and his London Group have been severely criticised by other Jungians. Conversely 'clinical' Jungians will often feel uneasy and bewildered when confronted with their 'symbolic' colleagues, and every now and then they will mock their theories.

This controversy between clinical and symbolical currents in analytical psychology is far from being resolved. In my opinion it is extremely difficult to find the golden mean between excessive discrimination on the one hand, and unrealistic dissolving in Indivisible Reality on the other hand.

Psychic development

The genetic code is certainly most asymmetric (some of its sequences are ordered in a symmetric way though, apparently in order to avoid reading errors in certain crucial developmental steps), and so is the - absolutely astonishing - embryological development: starting from the fecundated germ-cell, which contains all the genetic information, an unremitting differentiation will unfold itself. It will probably take an enormous deal of research to find out how the genetic code gets 'translated' into the different steps of foetal development. The archetypal structures or 'pre-conceptions' (Bion) too must be recorded in this code. Their progressive realisation takes place in a constant interaction with the environment. Fordham, Winnicott and Bion described some of the ways in which this fascinating developmental process unfolds itself.

During the first months of postnatal life the adaptation of the environment to the infant's needs is of paramount importance. In order to respect the baby's 'continuity of being', the caretaker, the 'self-regulating other' (Stern), usually the mother, will avoid to be different from the infant's inborn expectations. Winnicott's 'primary maternal preoccupation' facilitates this delicate adjustment.

Both psychoanalysis and analytical psychology have tended to equate the origins of psychic life with the appearance of differences. I see two main reasons for this confusion: (1) theoretical analytical statements are mostly inferred from pathological phenomena, in which a precocious introduction of difference often plays a decisive role; (2) psychic life is confused - even by analytical psychologists! - with consciousness and language; Indivisible Reality, since it cannot be caught in the discriminating devices, slips through their nets and falls into oblivion.

Freud (and later on Lacan and Bion) considered frustration to be the starting point of a healthy evolution; Castoriadis-Aulagnier (1975, p. 46) even spoke of 'the major scandal of psychic functioning', the first psychic activity being a denial: the hallucination of the (absent) breast! For Jung, psychic energy originates from opposition: the libido (and the underlying archetypal activity) can only manifest itself in terms of pairs of opposites, conflicting attitudes.

In my opinion, psychic life begins long before birth; during these first months it is solidly anchored in Indivisible Reality, with the support of a good enough environment. This period is decisive for psychic development.

Indivisible Reality

Many psychoanalytic authors have argued that Klein's paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions were preceded by another, earlier position. Ogden called it the 'autistic-contiguous' position; Meltzer suggested an initial depressive position. Following Jung (and his considerations about participation mystique), I proposed the term 'primordial identity' (Dehing 2000), but on second thoughts I prefer 'Indivisible Reality'. 'Identity' belongs too much to the realm of discriminating consciousness (with its opposite 'otherness') and moreover the term is ambiguous: it denotes both sameness and oneness (what I intended) and unity and persistence of personality (which is confusing in this context).

The absence of discriminating consciousness at this stage does not mean that the infant has no awareness whatsoever of reality, of itself and of the environment. Non-discriminating awareness constitutes the ordinary condition of the infant, especially when he is at rest, neither sleeping nor excited. This stage is characterised by a beginning 'sense of emergent self', coupled with a sense of 'emergent relatedness' (Stern 1985). This would mean that the little baby is aware of his 'self' in a relatedness, without oppositions though, to the other; clearly the accent is on sameness; the other takes the place of the 'subjective object' (Winnicott), distinct without being different, or - at least - not insisting on the differences.

The dominating function here is sensation: this function provides information about how things are, how they feel for the various senses, without any value judgment. Skin-to-skin contact is very important at this stage; a sense of 'depth' seems to accompany this cutaneous contact; the infant, if adequately touched, will gradually discover that his skin encompasses the totality of his body, and of his 'self'.

The archetypal structures (pre-conceptions) contain a virtual knowledge. When activated they urge the infant to search for an appropriate object in the external world, that is, an object that belongs to the class intended by the pre-conception (for instance the breast). If a successful mating takes place with a given element of that class, a particularised experience ensues, giving rise to an 'imprinting': the archetypally steered experience will henceforth be coloured by the particular features of that particular element.

If this experience is repeated, it will be gradually generalised. Stern introduced the concept of 'RIGs' (Representations of Interactions that have been Generalised); according to him, they "constitute a basic unit for the representation of the core self" (Stern 1985, p. 98)

A precocious, obtrusive introduction of difference by the environment at this stage may well provoke 'defences of the self' (Fordham) that manifest themselves as autistic features; if these impingements are very traumatic, or if the infant is constitutionally very sensitive to such intrusions, an autistic condition may ensue. Schizoid phenomena constitute a lesser degree of defensive reaction at this stage.

The anxiety is 'psychotic': disintegration, falling into pieces, falling endlessly, derealisation and depersonalisation (Winnicott), liquefaction/petrification (Affeld-Niemeyer), the 'black hole' experience (Grotstein). Winnicott's disruption of the 'sense of continuity of being' (equated by him to a psychotic breakdown) by environmental failures, Balint's 'basic fault', and Bion's 'nameless dread' are probably connected particularly to this first stage, as well as Bleger's concept of 'ambiguity'.

'Schizoid' anxiety, as described by Schols (1994), would also belong to this stage, rather than to the 'schizoid-paranoid position'. This 'schizoid' anxiety does not have a persecutory character; one could say that the persecutor is not yet clearly distinguished. Severe traumatic experiences may touch this 'deep' layer: the couple predator/prey then appears to be constellated as a whole, the subject 'identifying' himself with the two poles simultaneously, without discrimination.

Paranoid-schizoid position

'Islands' of (discriminating) consciousness (as opposed to non-discriminating awareness) appear from the very moment that oppositions arise; Melanie Klein's splitting probably corresponds to the first conscious activity. This splitting, usually considered as a defence mechanism, probably has a structuring function in the first place: by it human experience becomes 'split', divided into opposite poles. This opposition (which is by no means present in the observed 'thing-in-itself', but super-imposed on it by consciousness) has been taken as the starting point for both Freudian (especially Kleinian) and Jungian analytical theories.

'Good' and 'bad' thus come into the picture. It is very likely that 'bad' comes first in this conscious perception, pretty much like otherness is perceived before sameness can be acknowledged. This does not mean that up to now the baby was not aware of the presence of (good) things; psychoanalysis, in putting too much emphasis on consciousness (and the correlated unconscious), lost sight of the importance of awareness, especially of 'good' experiences. For the adult mind it is generally very difficult to suspend the discriminating activity of consciousness, and to be just aware; meditation may provide a condition in which this pre-conscious awareness can be recovered: here we are not 'beyond' good and evil, rather previous to their distinction.

But in this second stage consciousness comes into prominence; its splitting characteristics correspond to Klein's paranoid-schizoid position. The term 'schizoid' indicates this splitting activity; this does not mean that clinical schizoid phenomena are mainly linked to this stage: in my opinion they rather belong to the previous stage (see above).


The development of language will highly strengthen and perpetuate the gap that separates the human being from Indivisible Reality. Language is a system based on asymmetric distinctions; as a consequence it is alienating with regard to Indivisible Reality. Moreover, it is imposed by the environment. Even if the child disposes of an inborn capacity to receive this language, the imposition of it by the external world always contains the risk of extending this alienation: the violence of interpretation (Castoriadis-Aulagnier 1975)!

Splitting probably precedes the acquisition of language. It would be interesting to study the mutual influence of both phenomena in those early stages.

I refer the reader who would be interested in the subsequent stages to an earlier paper on the subject (Dehing 2000).


I argued that discriminating consciousness is always pathogenic: the best human being can hope for is to become a 'healthy neurotic'; he will always remain torn by the ravage created by asymmetry. 'Psychic health' would be a contradictio in terminis, an utter impossibility. The strange thing is that, since man has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of good and Evil, he cannot do without these defensive devices anymore.

"Asymmetry, according to Matte-Blanco, is always a form of exercising aggression since it implies a differentiation, a cut, a separation, a discontinuity within symmetry. In short, it is a necessary and indispensable transgression in order to live and to survive the experience of the symmetrical mode of being." (Casaula & al. 1997, p. 572-573) Asymmetrisation is implicitly violent. On the other hand however, a direct contact with Indivisible Reality, without the protection of asymmetry, would plunge us into "heaven and damnation, which flesh cannot endure" (Eliot 1935, p. 192).

Otherness does not necessarily have to be traumatic though. In the otherness experienced by the infant, without sharp discriminations, a sense of wholeness is maintained. Part of this type of otherness may be preserved after the onset of discriminating consciousness (and of the paranoid-schizoid position), thanks to Winnicott's transitional area: parts of the external world continue to be experienced as corresponding to the inner needs.

Discriminating consciousness on the contrary produces sharp-edged distinctions, in which splitting keeps the opposites apart, in total antagonism. The introduction of these oppositions will always be traumatic, and, as we have said, this asymmetrisation is necessary. The harm may be limited, 'normal' for the human beings we are, if it does not appear untimely. But a premature imposition of splitting and polarisation, in the first position, in which the link with Indivisible Reality is still prevailing, will most probably cause deeper disturbances.

The causes for such traumatic appearance of splitting may be various. It is important to keep in mind that we always have to do with an interaction between the immature baby and its environment: a maladjustment, a mismatch between the self-regulating other and the infant's self with its inborn motivational needs.

In some infants these needs are probably constitutionally 'abnormal'; they may be either too strong or too weak, or qualitatively deviant. Some mothers are less competent in regulating the infant's needs, for various reasons, going from accidental occurrences to severe psychopathology.

This conception of course reduces the conceitedness of people who consider themselves 'sane'. It may also account for the fascination exerted on healthy neurotics by their less fortunate fellow men: their often dramatic condition confronts us at the same time with two contradictory phenomena: on the one hand the 'basic fault' may be very obvious in highly pathological cases, painfully reminding us of the hidden split within ourselves, on the other hand the 'solutions' devised by these 'pathological' developments may sometimes give us the illusion that they succeeded in overcoming the split (by paying the price of accepting insanity).

The psychotherapeutic situation

This vision may also exhort the psychotherapist, especially the psychoanalyst, to lower his therapeutic ambitions: the goal of analytic psychotherapy is not to achieve some illusory psychic 'normality' (as Freud hoped). We should be very satisfied when the patient reaches the 'threshold of the depressive position' (Meltzer), and, resisting the temptation of the furor sanandi, we should nevertheless keep in touch with the suffering of our fellow human beings: if we cannot cure them, we still can care, as both Jung and Winnicott noticed.

Evidence based medicine is in progress nowadays: its influence is rapidly extending to psychotherapy: the therapist has to provide 'evidence' for his theories and techniques, and outcome studies have to provide 'proof' for the efficiency of his interventions. It is of course worthwhile to ask oneself which is the best approach for a given patient, even if this question is immediately associated with more economical considerations about cost-benefit analysis. But the providing of evidence is entirely dependent on asymmetrical data, statistical comparisons and double bind trials. As far as analytical psychotherapy is concerned, these tools can only be applied - to a certain extent - to its peripheral, measurable aspects; its essence, the encounter of two subjects, both with their unconscious, and the unspeakable phenomena arising within the analytical container, must necessarily escape any 'objective' assessment: evidence can only be established in 'asymmetrical' zones, not in the areas where Indivisible Reality prevails.

Of course we must question our theories and techniques, and psychoanalysis and analytical psychology did so since their origins. Psychoanalysis for instance has been trying - for nearly a century now - to define the healing factors that are at work in the cure. Many hypotheses have been advanced, some in a rather dogmatic way (the removal of infantile amnesia for instance), but none has been satisfactory up to now. With regard to technique, which has developed concomitantly, we notice a remarkable fact: psychoanalytic writers (Freud in the first place) appear to be much more rigorous in their writings about technique than in their actual practice. This may seem comical, but I am afraid that it contributed to the creation of a pretty severe psychoanalytic Super-Ego, transmitted from one generation to the other.

Theory and technique

A theory is necessarily an asymmetrical construction. We saw how analytic theories run the risk of being either too rational or too 'symmetrical'. We probably need both types of theories, in a dialectical interplay. Moreover, we should use all the theoretical information we can gather and digest, always remaining conscious of the fact that "theories in psychology are the very devil. It is true that we need certain points of view for their orienting and heuristic value; but they should always be regarded as mere auxiliary concepts that can be laid aside at any time. We still know so very little about the psyche that it is positively grotesque to think we are far enough advanced to frame general theories. […] No doubt theory is the best cloak for lack of experience and ignorance, but the consequences are depressing: bigotry, superficiality, and scientific sectarianism. " (Jung 1938, p. 7)

What about technique? Some of its aspects are 'discriminating', the setting (time and place of the sessions, frequency, fees, etc.) being the most obvious expression of an 'asymmetrical' organisation. Psychoanalysts, starting with Freud, have much insisted on the asymmetry of the analytical relationship, thus coming close to a medical model; from the very beginning Jung protested vehemently against Freud's alleged distant and unmoved attitude. We know how his too enthusiastic commitment led him to some uncomfortable impasses, in which Indivisible Reality was too invading while asymmetrical landmarks were painfully missing. In my opinion, this asymmetry between therapist and analysand certainly does not mean that the former is sane and the latter sick, nor that the doctor knows while the patient is ignorant; it should be strictly limited to the fact that the analytic situation is set up in function of the patient's needs: it should provide him with a space in which he can display his inner world, while sharing it with the analyst, who must avoid to create confusion by introducing his personal problems, preferences or life events.

The setting, however humane we try to establish it, may hurt certain patients by its asymmetrical aspects: it may repeat their traumatic experience with a not good enough mother who asked them to comply with her timetable and expectations. This may create extremely difficult technical problems: the analyst is not unlimited, and certain restrictions are inevitable, and 'interpretations' will not suffice to help the patient. Much creativity is required from the therapist, and it will not always be possible to overcome such problems.

The use of language is another asymmetrical aspect of the analytical situation; some patients feel painfully distressed by this limitation. I will never forget the sad reply of a schizophrenic patient when I urged him to tell me what was going on in his mind: "And what if I am not ready for words?" Anyway, we must always bear in mind that any verbal expression will fail when it comes to express something of the Indivisible Reality; this consideration may help us to avoid all too cerebral or final interventions.

So far for the asymmetrical aspects of analysis. Anchored to these structuring elements we can now 'let things happen' ('Geschehenlassen'), as Jung advised: pieces of Indivisible Reality may make their appearance, neither in the patient nor in the therapist, but rather in the intersubjective field that encompasses both. We will try to consider them attentively ('Betrachten'), and to catch them in our asymmetrical devices, proceeding from emotion to thinking, without choking them in a surplus of rationality. Only in the end will we arrive at the confrontation ('Auseindersetzung'): as the German term indicates this asks for a differentiation and an opposition of mutually discriminated elements. This ethical - and very asymmetrical - step is important, but it should not precede the unfolding of the more symmetrical aspects of the living experience.

'The rest is silence'

This brings us to the end of the excursion. Words, words, words, only to paraphrase an ancient piece of wisdom: there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in our analytical theories!


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Jef Dehing (Brussels)
Belgian School for Jungian Psycho-Analysis

Dr. Dehing maintains a full-time practice in psychoanalysis, analytic psychotherapy and supervision. He is a founding member and training analyst of the Belgian School for Jungian Psychoanalysis He has published widely, mainly on analytic subjects, in Dutch, French, English, Italian and German.

(Posted to Psyche Matters June 16, 2001)

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