Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche

One of the most important energic phenomena of psychic life is the progression and regression of libido.

Progression could be defined as the daily advance of the process of psychological adaptation.

We know that adaptation is not something that is achieved once and for all, though there is a tendency to believe the contrary.

This is due to mistaking a person’s psychic attitude for actual adaptation.

We can satisfy the demands of adaptation only by means of a suitably directed attitude.

Consequently, the achievement of adaptation is completed in two stages:

(1) attainment of attitude,

(2) completion of adaptation by means of the attitude.

A man’s attitude to reality is something extraordinarily persistent, but the more persistent his mental habitus is, the less permanent will be his effective achievement of adaptation.

This is the necessary consequence of the continual changes in the environment and the new adaptations demanded by them.

The progression of libido might therefore be said to consist in a continual satisfaction of the demands of environmental conditions.

This is possible only by means of an attitude, which as such is necessarily directed and therefore characterized by a certain one-sidedness.

Thus it may easily happen that an attitude can no longer satisfy the demands of adaptation because changes have occurred in the environmental conditions which require a different attitude. For example, a feeling-attitude that seeks to fulfil the demands of reality by means of empathy may easily encounter a situation that can only be solved through thinking.

In this case the feeling-attitude breaks down and the progression of libido also ceases.

The vital feeling that was present before disappears, and in its place the psychic value of certain conscious contents increases in an unpleasant way; subjective contents and reactions press to the fore and the situation becomes full of affect and ripe for explosions.

These symptoms indicate a damming up of libido, and the stoppage is always marked by the breaking up of the pairs of opposites.

During the progression of libido the pairs of opposites are united in the co-ordinated flow of psychic processes.

Their working together makes possible the balanced regularity of these processes, which without this inner polarity would become one-sided and unreasonable.

We are therefore justified in regarding all extravagant and exaggerated behaviour as a loss of balance, because the coordinating effect of the opposite impulse is obviously lacking. Hence it is essential for progression, which is the successful achievement of adaptation, that impulse and counter-impulse, positive and negative, should reach a state of regular interaction and mutual influence.

This balancing and combining of pairs of opposites can be seen, for instance, in the process of reflection that precedes a difficult decision.

But in the stoppage of libido that occurs when progression has become impossible, positive and negative can no longer unite in co-ordinated action, because both have attained an equal value which keeps the scales balanced.

The longer the stoppage lasts, the more the value of the opposed positions increases; they become enriched with more and more associations and attach to themselves an ever-widening range of psychic material.

The tension leads to conflict, the conflict leads to attempts at mutual repression, and if one of the opposing forces is successfully repressed a dissociation ensues, a splitting of the personality, or disunion with oneself.

The stage is then set for a neurosis.

The acts that follow from such a condition are uncoordinated, sometimes pathological, having the appearance of symptomatic actions.

Although in part normal, they are based partly on the repressed opposite which, instead of working as an equilibrating force, has an obstructive effect, thus hindering the possibility of further progress. Carl Jung, CW 8, Para 60-61