Sometimes we wake up to find that we have lost our soul. Sometimes trauma interrupts and breaks our connection to our self and life. And sometimes this interruption is something that has happened a long time ago, resulting in the building of a wall in our very self that separates us from ourselves and the world. This wall, built along the ego-self axis, results in the inner world of trauma and we see its dissociative effects in our social-political world and in our personal-psychological worlds. Both worlds create their exiles and underworlds—socially and politically, among the outcasts and scapegoats; personally and psychologically, in the underworld of the unconscious.
But the problem with the underworld of the unconscious is that it is not outside of this world. It is not even under. The underworld of the unconscious exerts its effects in the world in which we live. We swim in it. In it, we live and move and have our being. What Jungian Analyst, Donald Kalsched, has shown in his two books, The Inner World of Trauma (1996) and Trauma and the Soul: A Psycho-Spiritual Approach to Human Development and its Interruption (2013), is that powerful dissociative complexes are marshaled in the inner world of trauma which paradoxically both protect the soul and harm it, by keeping it from embodiment in life and the world. These dissociative energies are at work in our inner worlds and exert power in the “overworld,” as may be readily apparent.
The psyche symbolizes these both self-protective and dissociative complexes and they emerge in dreams, myth, language, affect, bodily states, all those aspects of experience which are human. Kalsched calls this the self-care system. When trauma hits, that most precious part of us, that quintessence called soul, goes into exile and recedes to the nether regions of the psyche, because it is not safe to be embodied in the world. While the soul is whisked away into a kind of innocent hiding, it is taken care of by archetypal powers that “take care” of this exiled soul even as they dissociate it from the world and life. There the soul awaits its being found again and brought back into the world. In order to find the exiled soul, the inner world of trauma has to be entered into and it is a scary place held together by a strange combination of violence and tenderness. The tenderness expresses the innocence of the lost child, but the violence expresses the violent and cutting protective powers of the dissociative complex.
There is a mytho-poetic dimension to the psyche—indeed, a distinguishing function of the psyche can be seen as mytho-poesis in a relational context. The psyche keeps score and expresses the music of this score in its mytho-poesis. It is there—in the mytho-poetic stories of the psyche—that we may find, imaged forth and held, our own lost souls. These symbolic stories hold the mirror up to our inner worlds of trauma and hold the mirror out to our social worlds to reveal the dissociative dynamics operative in these inner and outer worlds.
One such telling forth of the journey into the inner world of trauma is Dante’s Inferno. Himself a social and political exile, Dante finds himself blocked in his life’s journey and the only possible way forward is down into the inner world of trauma—the Inferno. Fortunately, Dante has a mytho-poetic guide, the embodiment of Latin poesis and culture, the Roman poet, Virgil, someone who knows the terrain, having written of it in the Aeneid. From being blocked by a wall, Dante’s relationship with Virgil forms a symbolic bridge which enables Dante (and the reader) to confront the dissociative energies at work and play in Dante’s actual social-political and personal-psychological world. He sees their true nature symboled forth and finally comes face to face with the core complex at the root of this inner world of trauma—the powerful archetypal energy of dissociation which Dante calls Dis. With the wise guidance and symbolic witness of Virgil, Dante is able to find a bridge to belonging in the world of light and eros, “the love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Paradiso). He has found a symbolic bridge between the worlds and thus regains his own soul.
In his influential, The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel van der Kolk brings out the inescapable somatic dimensions of trauma and argues persuasively for bodily interventions in the psychotherapeutics of trauma. However, he does not mean this in a reductive way, as if trauma were merely physiological. In a conversation at a recent conference, talking about the current field and sharing my own interests and concerns, Bessel said to me, “Don Kalsched is a wise man.” In this brief yet meaningful conversation, I took this as an acknowledgement that there are dimensions of the human which register trauma which, including the body, involve other dimensions of experience. The psyche keeps score. And when events, traumatic or not, happen to the human psyche, they “happen” symbolically. They register and are registered according to symbolic processes that involve the body and the full range of human experience.
The introduction of the symbolic into the field of trauma, is really the reintroduction of something that has been operative all along, from the beginning, even in our sleep.
And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget,
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despair, against our will,
By the awful grace of God. (Aeschylus, Agammenon)
For, mytho-poesis was where the psychology of trauma was before it became psychology. In recent presentations, Bessel refers to the great tragedians, the Greeks and Shakespeare. What these “people who knew everything,” as Bessel has called them, knew was that the mytho-poesis of trauma, engaged in a relational and feeling way, helps to metabolize the traumas of being. But we need a mytho-poesis worthy of the depth of human experience—its dramas, losses and tragic victories. Fortunately, when the psyche keeps score, it may also rise to the occasion and descend to the depths of trauma’s underworld, there to find its lost soul and bring it, in a new birth, to a new belonging in a world now more worthy of the name human.
Mark Napack, M.A., S.T.L., M.S., studied archetypal patterns in comparative literature at Columbia University, after which he applied Jungian theory to the redemption motif in medieval theology for his thesis at Fordham University. He further studied Jung, psychology, and the history of religion at Loyola and Catholic Universities. A long-time graduate and college instructor, Mark has presented at international conferences and his work has appeared in scholarly journals and books in English and French. Mark Napack, LCPC, is also a Jungian informed psychotherapist in North Bethesda, MD.