Jung at heart

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Last month I found myself in Jungian analysis by mistake.

(I know this doesn’t sound probable, but trust me, it can be done.)

I guess if you subscribe to the synchronistic (and Jungian) theory that there are no accidents, which I pretty much do when I remember to, then it wasn’t a mistake, but it certainly wasn’t intentional.

But ever one to go with the flow, this perhaps being an extreme case, I am now committed.

I always loved the idea of doing Jungian therapy (because for one thing, as a woman, why would I ever trust anything Freud had to say?), but somewhere along the way I forgot.

So I was intrigued to find myself in this situation.   It did seem destined.  Also, the first thing my therapist did was buy and read my books, which you have to admire in a therapist.

I’ve had two bouts with therapy before.   I think a lot of people go into therapy looking to be fixed, and when a certain period of time goes by and you notice that you’re still not fixed, you look to do it again.  

On the other hand, I think a lot of writers, maybe other artists too, are wary of therapy and analysis because, hey, if you take away our demons, what’s left?

But a Jungian-based approach is very artist/writer friendly because you’re dealing with

A)   Dreams

B)   Fairy Tales


C)   All those people in your head.

All of which are writers’ stock in trade.

The dream landscape has been very interesting – it’s amusing how reading Jungian books makes you dream in Jungian symbols almost instantly.   I’ve never dreamed of a castle in my life that I can remember, but the other night after reading Robert A. Johnson’s Fisher King/Handless Maiden, there I was that night in a full-on medieval castle, interacting with a studious adolescent boy who was, I am gathering, one aspect of my animus, my inner male.   (He was not happy with me.  At all.)

And then the next night, another animus figure and I and this little wild girl child were excavating a statue of a goddess, or the goddess, but it felt like Aphrodite, which had become damaged, I believe cracked in the head, in the process of excavation and we had to stop.

Not my usual dreams at all, but the theory is that the unconscious really WANTS us to get the message and will obligingly adopt whatever symbolic language will make us get it the fastest.   At any rate, my dreams, which are usually interesting, have become suddenly very pointedly clear about my life situation.  

One big element of Jungian therapy is this idea of the anima and animus, that we all have masculine and feminine sides, or aspects, really.   (I will not even attempt to explain this myself, yet – here’s a great article. )

And what we do when we’re unconscious (not meaning asleep, but the general waking unconsciousness of most human beings on the planet) is project our own anima (for men) or animus (for women) onto the men and women we fall in love with.   And a true relationship is only possible when both partners are able to withdraw the projection and see their partner for the real person they are.

So (if I’ve got this right) theoretically, you do that by becoming aware of your anima/animus to begin with, which you can do by studying who and what shows up in your dreams.

In most of my dreams for the last week I have been interacting with a male figure, all different ages, or there is simply one by my side while I go about whatever else I am doing:  my brother, that brainy adolescent boy from the castle, an alarming number of exes, a completely insane homeless person, Alfred Hitchcock (I loved that one), and Joe Konrath.    (Yes, I know, scary, but the truth shall set you free.)

All aspects of my animus.  

One of my particular life problems is about balancing my male and female sides, which have been unbalanced for a long time, so this first step, becoming aware of what’s actually in there, is being fascinating.   It’s a marvelous thing that everything we need to know about ourselves is actually right there, playing itself out in our dreams every night.    It’s actually kind of addictive, to look at your life more as a novel, with its own structure and design, and to not be the writer for once, but the audience.

And of course, it’s all research – SO many new characters to keep in that character warehouse for when next I need them.

There’s another thing that’s being fascinating, in fictional terms as well as therapeutic, and that’s how my dreams will keep presenting the same symbols and variations on the same setting or situation – there are obvious themes, and a progression to the dreams, as if when I figure out what one is saying, the next dream will take it to the next level and there will be a new puzzle to work out to get to the next step.  

I find myself impatient to get through the day and get to sleep so I can see what happens next.

ALL of the above so obviously applicable to writing:  thematic image systems, a series of progressive puzzles, recurring characters, male and female sides in opposition, and the drive to find out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Now, I admit, I can’t see that the writing I’m doing during the day has taken any quantum leap because of my more conscious nightly adventures – yet – but on the other hand, I never know what I’m writing or how good it is until I’m finished.   And I can’t help but think that it’s going to help.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted.

So how about you out there?   Any Jungians?   Has therapy helped your writing or your life?  Any interesting dreams, lately?

Happy Solstice, Christmas, Hannuka, Kwanzaa, and everything else that everyone celebrates!


I will be teaching an online Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop through the Yellow Rose Romance Writers, Jan. 1 through Jan. 18. 

These online workshops are a fantastic deal, just $25 for two weeks, and here’s where you can get one-on-one feedback on the craft techniques I blog about here as they apply to your own story.  All genres welcome!

Go here to register.

More info on Screenwriting Tricks For Authors.

- Alex

23 thoughts on “Jung at heart

  1. billie

    Now you see why I am so hooked on sandplay therapy – which takes all of the above and puts it into a tray of beautiful clean sand in a room lined with a gazillion miniatures to choose from… 🙂

    Now that I’ve brought my trays and miniature collection to my home office, I often go in there to find that various of my family members have done trays in the night. A perfect palette for adolescents.

    I had a long, intensive psychotherapy in my early 20s, which I think *saved* my life. The sandplay therapy I did in my 30s opened the door to serious writing.

    I loved reading that you can’t wait to see what the next dreams bring – lately I’ve been having these very potent dreams that are almost like theatre of the absurd. I have been waiting to see what comes next as well. It’s been an odd year for me and I think the solstice energy and the promise of a new year is creating a deep cleaning of my psyche!

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Billie, I knew you’d be the first comment!

    I think the fantastic thing about sandplay is that the subconscious IS like a desert, like endless sand. Maybe that’s a particularly California POV, but still…

    I just would have trouble because I’d want to save the dioramas. I know, I know, something I need to work on.

    I collage instead, because you can put that in books and it takes up less space.

    Winter Solstice always seems to be the deepest, doesn’t it?

  3. billie

    Another wonderful thing about the sandtray is that it is a physical symbol of containment – it "holds" your unconscious for you while you work on it. The therapist of course, holds all the energy and emotion, and there is a beautiful diagram I made at a workshop that illustrates how the therapist is holding the energy for the client, but also holding his/her own energy, and in between there is a "numinous space" where the energy of the therapist and the client mixes and mingles – I personally think that is where the magic of therapy happens, and why it is so important to find the right therapist.

    Something about that diagram always reminds me of my writing process. Somehow I’m holding my own energy, the energy of my characters and the story, and in that numinous space is where it all comes together.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    This concept of the container keeps coming up in my readings, that you need a container for the process. I’m struggling with it but I can see how the sandtray acts as a container. I like that idea of the therapist holding the energy for the client. I will have to work with that because I don’t think I have that level of trust, yet. My own issue.

  5. Chris Hamilton

    Once, a long time ago, I thought I had a dream like that castle one before, but it turned out I’d fallen asleep with MTV on and they played a Bonnie Tyler video.

    Anything that brings your characters to life is a great thing.

  6. JT Ellison

    I am obsessed with castles. Probably why I like the Harry Potter books so much, and I get all tight in the chest when I watch the movies and see Hogwarts. But I have absolutely no idea where that comes from. I would love to do a dream intensive therapy, because I have some doozies.

    I’m so glad that you’re, well, enjoying yourself might be too strong a term, but making obviously significant progress. xoxo

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Okay, you totally hit on a subject I love. And I’m envious that you are exploring yourself with a Jungian therapist. I fell in love with Jung as I was reading Joseph Campbell’s "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." It’s such a creative journey. I actually did all of my script analysis through Jungian archetypes, and it always led me in the right direction. I’ve been too stressed out to pay attention to my dreams lately. I’m looking forward to the day when I lose the day job and can focus on writing and the exploration of my psyche. I think you will experience a great deal of spiritual growth during this process.
    And I think it’s awesome that your therapist read all of your books first.

  8. Catherine Shipton

    I like Billie’s comment that some of her dreams are like the theatre of the absurd. That phrasing describes the feel of some of my dreams brilliantly. In my dream state there is usually a moment where I pause for a moment and smile…because information is most often presented to me in unique and weird ways.

    For instance last month I had a song and dance routine of men in tuxedos with their bow ties undone (in a artfully disheveled fashion)….one man’s tie was neatly disheveled and I remember thinking oh he’s a Virgo for sure….which made me smile as my Dad is Virgo…make of THAT what you will.

    Anyway these guys were creating two seperate circles that intertwined. I often have the sort of framing in my dreams that you see in 1940 musicals. Oh and the lighting is always fantastic. One circle was singing of love, and the other of loss, in counterpoint to each other. My dreams if nothing else are entertaining. As I woke I was almost laughing thinking sure, make a song and dance about it…sheez.

    Also last night I had a dream I’m still grappling with.

    Thanks for this post Alex as it makes more sense using this symbology.

  9. Alexandra Sokoloff

    LOL, Chris! I dream about things that happen right before I go to sleep, too, but it’s amazing how the dream will use those ordinary trigger images and weave huge meaning into them. Dreams that I used to dismiss as mundane take on huge meaning when I’m actually looking for recurring patterns and themes.

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    JT, I actually am enjoying myself. About the dreams, anyway. Even when they’re disturbing (not because of nightmares, I almost never have them, but because of feeling stuck) – it’s all fascinating and there’s progress.

    A castle is supposed to mean your unconscious, although you always have to factor in what they mean to you, personally.

  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    LU, I might be wrong about this, but the animus isn’t the female dreaming state, it’s a male dream figure, which IS often angry and hostile toward the female dreamer – the Bluebeard or Dracula figure that tries to undermine everything creative and positive a woman tries to do.

    I was really blown away to read so many Jungians – and other sources – talk about this psychic predator that is in all of us. It makes so much sense, and it’s so disturbing to think that it’s IN us and has to be constantly acknowledged and defeated.

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Stephen, you would love the process… it’s too bad that we – I – have to be pretty much leveled in all areas of life to say, okay, I guess need a process.

    I read all of Campbell, too. I really am justifying like crazy that this is going to be good for the writing. But really, I hope it will be good for ME.

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Great dream, Catherine! It’s easy to say you dream like that because of your stage training (I have dance dreams all the time, myself) but that one seems MUCH bigger than that. I wouldn’t dare start to interpret it myself, though…

    Of course the EMOTION you’re left with at the end of the dream is important to look at, and apparently also the final image is the most important.

  14. BCB

    "Perhaps there are Jungian exorcists?" *snort* Cornelia, you crack me up.

    I studied all this dream analysis/symbolism stuff a very long time ago and now it all runs together in a mish-mash of unrelated and contradictory theories. I’m sure that’s bad, but I’m too busy these days to sort it all out.

    I’ve been having very strange and very disturbing dreams lately. I’m really not sure I want to know what they mean, as I have a history of dreams turning out to be prescient. Maybe I should cut down on spicy foods and stop reading thrillers.

  15. Catherine Shipton

    Alex the draw back shot was when I realised they were creating the infinity symbol….for me the dream became one of acceptance that there will be love, there will be loss ad infinitum…and damn if there isn’t also fun and a bit of razzle dazzle too. So my feeling was one of acceptance and amusement.

  16. pari noskin taichert

    Sorry to come to this late; I had a kid’s bday party to put on yesterday and the lil’ darlings left this afternoon.

    Here’s one for synchonicity (sp?): Years ago, around Christmas when our family was visiting an aunt in Laguna Beach, I had an incredibly vivid dream that incorporated Native American mythology and resurrection themes (Yeah, I know, just the thing for *me* to be dreaming about).

    Some day, if we’re in a bar, I’ll tell it to you. It would take far too long here.

    But . . .here’s where it gets even stranger: that next morning when I was walking along the beach I met a man who "just happened" to be a Jungian therapist. We spent several hours dissecting the dream and it remains one of the most powerful experiences of my life.


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