Projection and "Participation Mystique" (Analytical Psychology)

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Carl Gustav Jung defined projection as an initial objectified representation of the contents of the unconscious beyond the states of so-called "participation mystique" (mystical participation) and "archaic identity," and he showed how the individual can be led to see through the illusions of projection and yet, at the same time, to experience symbolic life.

As early as his psychiatric studies written between 1900 and 1908, and also in his thesis, "Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena," which he defended in 1902, Jung was investigating the internal coherence and meaning of representational systems that were largely being ignored by his contemporaries. His conception of "highly charged emotional complexes" (gefühlbetonte Komplexe ) and his contact with Sigmund Freud led him to analyze, in his "Psychology of the Unconscious. A Study of the Transformation and Symbolism of the Libido. A Contribution to the History of Thought" (1911-1912), the poems and fantasies of a young woman by comparing them to a whole series of myths and rites that stage the difficult process of detachment from one's original attachments and inclusions. Jung's subsequent elaboration of his theory of projection was based on the analysis of states of participation mystique (he borrowed this French expression from the anthropologist Lucien LévyBruhl) or "archaic identity."

In the states of participation mystique and archaic identity there is no differentiation between object and subject and no distinction between lived experience and what the subject believes he or she perceives about the world. However, projection, which is more specific, enables the subject to apprehend and potentially recognize contents that are still unconscious. Thus, analysis of the religions of our ancestors, the literature and iconography of alchemy and, more generally, the arts, as well as the fantasmatic universe of a given group or individual from the perspective of modern psychology can be quite valuable.

In fact, the Jungian Shadow, Anima, Animus, and Self, before being recognized as presences or inner agencies, are ordinarily projected onto typical figures or acquaintances of the subject, in the same way as they are projected onto the analyst in the transference relationship. The recognition and withdrawal of projections usually provokes a state of disenchantment or, conversely, elation and inflation of the ego; however, these processes can also open the way to a practice of the symbolic life and of human relations without too much alienation or mystification, especially through the experience and analysis of the transference.

Some feared that Jung was indulging himself in an imaginary universe without concrete support. However, his analyses of the history of our culture, his position with regard to various religions and also within the history of psychoanalysis, and above all his ways of conceiving and eliciting the work of the unconscious, not only in its compensatory effects but also its effects of contradiction, give the clinical practitioner the means of avoiding this potential trap.

Christian Gaillard

See also: Transference (analytical psychology).


Gaillard, Christian. (1995). Jung. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Humbert,Élie Georges. (1988). C. G. Jung: The fundamentals of theory and practice. (Ronald G. Jalbert, Trans.). Wilmette, IL: Chiron. (Original work published 1983)

Jung, Carl Gustav. (1946). The psychology of the transference. Coll. works (Vol. 8). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Samuels, Andrew. (1986). A critical dictionary of Jungian analysis. London: Routledge.

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Projection and "Participation Mystique" (Analytical Psychology)

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