You are the person who makes yourself happy. You’re the person who makes yourself sad. It’s much easier to feel better when you keep remembering that. Sid Caesar
Probably known best for being one of the first comedians to make it big on TV, Sid Caesar had many writers who eventually became famous themselves: just a few are Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Neil Simon.
It was his own personal writing, though, that helped him through some of the rougher times of his later life.
Caesar’s obituary in The New York Times last week mentioned that he overcame his severe “addictions and neuroses” via “intensive psychotherapy and medical treatment.” It’s then added that later “(h)e found salvation and sanity…in a form of Jungian self-therapy: recording improvised dialogues each day between himself as Sid, a wise father, and Sidney, his wayward son, whom the father teaches to become a restrained, confident adult.”
What is this Jungian self-therapy? And can anyone benefit from it?
First, the Jungian part. C.G. Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist who believed we have a dark side to our personalities, the shadow. States psychologist Stephen Diamond, Psychology Today, “Whatever we deem evil, inferior or unacceptable and deny in ourselves becomes part of the shadow, the counterpoint to what Jung called the persona or conscious ego personality.” He quotes Jung:
‘The shadow…is ‘that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious’ (cited in Diamond, p. 96). The shadow is a primordial part of our human inheritance, which, try as we might, can never be eluded. The pervasive Freudian defense mechanism known as projection is how most people deny their shadow, unconsciously casting it onto others so as to avoid confronting it in oneself.
Certain creative outlets provide ways to access the shadow. Jungian analyst Lawrence H. Staples, describes this as Active Imagination, a technique “to help amplify, interpret, and integrate the contents of dreams and creative works of art” (Global One TV).
Which leads us to the writing part of Jungian self-therapy:
When approached by way of writing, active imagination is like writing a play. One takes, for example, a figure that has appeared in one’s dreams or creative writings. Usually, these figures express a viewpoint quite the opposite of one’s normal conscious view. Sometimes it is a male, shadow figure. At other times, it may be a feminine, anima, or maternal figure. One starts to converse with the figure in writing. One challenges the dream figure and lets him/her challenge the dreamer. The dreamer asks the figure why he appeared in the dream. He asks the figure what it wants from him. Then, the ego, like a playwright, puts himself as best he can into the figure’s shoes and tries to express it and defend its viewpoint. There ensues an iterative dialogue between the writer and the opposite figure in his dream or piece of writing. With practice one can become accomplished at expressing both viewpoints, just as a playwright does. One gets better at this the more one does it, just as the playwright does. The technique of active imagination tends to detach the qualities and traits that are first seen in a dream or in a story as belonging to external persons, and coming to see them as belonging to one’s self. Active imagination, then, helps the writer become conscious of his opposite qualities by forcing him to give voice to figures, like shadow figures, that carry qualities opposite those of his ego. These qualities personify the rejected opposites that are present in the unconscious. This technique helps recover these rejected opposites and make them available to the ego and consciousness without necessarily having to act them out.
Although this may especially appeal to those who are already fond of writing as a medium of self-expression, many other individuals would have the ability to use such a strategy if they’re so inclined.