The essence of psychic conflict seems to reside within the confrontation between two warring factions. On one side sits the hardened one-sidedness of ego consciousness with its abysmal feeling of inadequacy, on the other a numinous intuition, an image of wholeness and freedom emanating from the unconscious. This confrontation between pairs of opposites yields an intolerable tension which creates a third thing. The transcendent function, as it is called, is a new and elegant solution “. . . which manifests itself as a quality of conjoined opposites” (Jung, 1969, p. 90).
Why is this psychic tension necessary for the individuation process? It seems that without it, there would be no forward movement. Coppin and Nelson (2017) write that the psyche is dialectical, invoking Hegel and his view that “all human thought and nature itself is composed of paradox and contradiction . . . the source of the natural and necessary movements towards the ‘Absolute’. . . ”(Nelson, 2017, p. 157). Accordingly, the psyche is inherently teleological, and the transcendent function is a kind of engine that feeds on tension, driving the conscious ego into the arms of the Self. “Conflict, to paradox, to revelation;” says Robert Johnson, “that is divine progression” (Johnson, 1971, p. 91). We must suffer--allow and bear--the tension, so we may “. . . earn the right to unity” (Johnson, 1971, p. 88).
Allowing and bearing the tension can sometimes become unendurable. After weeks of weathering an emotional cacophony, I was finally led to reading about the shadow. I discovered why things have been so painful—I have not been honoring mine. I have brutally rejected my artist self. I began drawing images that symbolize and express different parts of my shadows. I enacted a ritual of acknowledgment. I did active imagination.
While this process is urgent and ongoing, relief has been instantaneous.
Jung, C. G. (1969). The transcendent function (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 8, 2nd ed., pp. 67-91). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1958)
Coppin, J & Nelson, E. (2017). The art of inquiry. A depth-psychological perspective. Spring Publications. Thompson: Conn.
Jonson, R. (1971). Owning your own shadow. Understanding the dark side of the psyche. Harper One. New York: NY.