First coined by the Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl G. Jung, as early as 1916, the transcendent function involves the transition of contents from the unconscious to conscious awareness and vice-versa. When the two come together to form a union, the psychological transcendent function arises.
In Jung’s essay on the topic, he describes a ‘synthetic’ or ‘constructive’ method through which unconscious components can be united with conscious perceptions to produce a wholly new perspective. This is crucial to the central aims of depth psychology, namely to access, explore and integrate the unconscious, and thereby revealing the deeper meanings of the soul.
According to Jung, the unconscious and conscious behave in opposite, compensatory or complementary ways and the natural tendency of the psyche is to attempt to bring the two positions together to integrate them. An important element of this theory is the belief that conscious and unconscious opposites can be bridged by the emergence of a symbol from the psyche. In turn, the symbol introduces a new position or perspective that is common to both the conscious and unconscious without adhering to one side or the other. The concept of the purposive unconscious operating through the transcendent function represented an irreparable break from Freudian psychoanalysis.
The importance of the transcendent function to Jung is evident from the emphasis he placed upon its role within the psychological process. He viewed it as the key facilitator for transitions from one psychological attitude to another, and saw it as crucial to the process of individuation and the drive toward wholeness of the Self. Like individuation, the transcendent process is inherent in each person.
However, it’s important to note that the transcendent function is not a fixed end goal. Rather, it refers to an ongoing process of overcoming the cognitive types, addictions and psychoses that make up the human condition. It allows the cognitive type to become a malleable and fluid concept, rather than being boxed up and categorised.
Jung states: ‘The transcendent function does not proceed without aim and purpose, but leads to the revelation of the essential man. It is in the first place a purely natural process, which may in some cases pursue its course without the knowledge or assistance of the individual, and can sometimes forcible accomplish itself in the face of opposition. The meaning and purpose of the process is the realisation, in all its aspects, of the personality originally hidden away in the embryonic germ-plasm; the production and unfolding of the original, potential wholeness’.
In his Collected Works, he goes on to cite more than twenty benefits for both analysts and their clients in relation to the transcendent function. For one, the process can help clients grow past inner divisions, learning how to wrestle with the unconscious, perform active imagination and trust the Self.
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