Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

How images make it get better

Dan Savage (right) and husband Terry

I’ve received a handful of mail and comments (via Facebook) on my last post about the way images can help us confront the contents of the unconscious, so that repressed material can emerge. Although this is sometimes painful, it almost always produces positive gains.

Most of the people who wrote asked me to write more on the subject. There is really nothing terribly mysterious about this process. The psyche itself is constructed of images, according to Jung. The encounter with interior images, like a dream’s, almost always produces unexpected information. Likewise, images in the environment, like the dying cat I saw, can have the same effect as they are interiorized.

Here’s another example, at the cultural level:

The talk around my table at Starbucks a few weeks ago was about the “It Gets Better Project” started by Dan Savage.  You probably already know that, following the rash of suicides by bullied gay teenagers, Savage and his partner made a video urging gay kids not to kill themselves, because “it gets better” once you get out of high school. They invited other people to make videos sharing the same message.

The videos now number in the thousands. Among them are many by empathetic straight people, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But it’s the videos by gay people that most poignantly describe the pervasive agony of being bullied as a kid.

I confessed to my friends at Starbucks that I find watching the videos an almost unbearably emotional experience. I usually end up crying or tearing-up. I was surprised to hear that two other friends have the same experience. Gay people don’t talk much about the way it was when we were kids.

That’s because the experience of being bullied causes great shame, so many of us grow up keeping the profound pain of the experience walled off.  The video images poke a hole in the wall and we are flooded with terrible memories. (Think post-traumatic stress disorder.)

If you watch even just a few of the videos, you will notice that some of the people telling their stories often tend to look dissociated. They look away from the camera for a moment or their voice becomes flat.

That’s about avoiding being overwhelmed by the memories. This kind of dissociation is the way many young gay people learn to deal with their feelings. It’s important to understand that a kid doesn’t have the resources to pick and choose which feelings he represses. The shutdown of feeling tends to be generalized, so that, while it does indeed “get better,” the challenge is to stop anticipating rejection and living behind the wall of shame.

There’s much more I could say about this, but the point in this context is that video (and movies and art and theater) can connect with the deep contents of the psyche. (That’s one reason fascist governments always try to control aesthetic expression.)

What is harder to explain is the way, beyond catharsis, this is helpful. The answer is, “it just is.” What is required in James Hillman’s terms is “following the image.” That means bringing intention to the images that arise and watching them move on their own autonomy. They morph continually until finally coming to rest. And that is inherently therapeutic.

In the case of these videos, the therapeutic value is in internalizing the images (compared to an already interiorized dream image). They may trigger a memory or a mysterious new image and, as we pay attention to the image associated with the exterior image, we watch it morph, moving through catharsis to a place of rest.

I stress that to receive the full “message” of the image, one must bring intention to the process. Watching an emotionally moving film will often trigger the process with or without any intention. But it usually takes a conscious decision to move beyond the emotional upheaval to learn the image’s actual significance.

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There are 1 Comments to "How images make it get better"

  • LemonFiend says:

    Thanks for validating my feeling that fascists feel threatened by art. I read some of the articles on your website, by the way. You should write a book!

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