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Symptom and Symbol

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The symptom or psychosomatic reactions have always been important tools for the diagnosis and evaluation of medical and psychological treatment, from the first studies of hysteria to the present day.


Freud described that symptoms develop as a sign of the antagonism between the contents of the unconscious and the consciousness loaded with emotion, trauma and/or defense mechanisms, that is, the symptom was a mnemonic symbol related to traumatic events, caused by factors as a result of the tension generated by the active defense mechanisms.

For Winnicott, even a good enough mother may not be good enough for a particular baby, as an archetype can handle itself in different ways for the same symbol, to which each individual, from an early age, can react differently, according to its sensitivity. In this case, trauma is a failed attempt by the ego to adapt to the environment, creating a conflict that leads to a neurosis, to the dissociation between affect and idea, leading to symptom or psychosomatic illnesses.


Jung considered that the constitutional disposition of the individual and the structure of the psyche has an important role in the appearance of symptoms and their connections with the autonomous complexes and their autonomy.


For Jung, the symptom is a symbolic manifestation of the unconscious complexes and can have a positive aspect in order to bring to consciousness the symbol to be elaborated. Symptom and psychosomatic illnesses are symbols of unconscious complexes and bridges between conscious and unconscious. Jung criticizes Freud's theory of repression, noting that complexes are not just repressed contents that had previously been conscious, but, in many cases, are an autonomous and spontaneous activity of the psyche.


For Jung, archetypes are expressed by the symbolic image and its polarities. A symbol is designed with a tendency to have only one of its aspects addressed, but the psyche has a natural tendency to self-regulate in order to constellate the opposite and unconscious aspect of the symbol, trying to bring the psychic energy into balance when this does not happen a neurotic symptom can be formed.


The most important is the fact that the neurotic symptom or psychosomatic illness must be a stimulator for the individuation process, not necessarily something to be avoided, but something to be elaborated and integrated into the personality.


Jung sees neurosis, depression or psychosomatic illness as an important opportunity to make the individual pay attention to himself, these symptoms, when treated, light the way to individuation.







ELLENBERGER, Henry F. (1970): “The Discovery of the Unconscious” - Basic, New York


FREY-ROHN, Liliane (1990): “From Freud to Jung. A Comparative Study of the Psychology of the Unconscious. Shambala, Boston


JUNG, C. G.(1960): CW 8 - “The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche” - Princeton University Press – Princeton


JUNG, C. G. (1974): CW 6 - “Psychological Types” - Princeton University Press – Princeton


JUNG, C. G. (1959): CW 9/1 - “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” - Princeton University Press – Princeton


JUNG, C. G. (1954): CW 16 - “The Practice of Psychotherapy” - Princeton University Press – Princeton


OPD Task Force (2007): Operationalized Psychodynamic Diagnosis OPD-2. Manual of Diagnosis and Treatment Planning. Hogrefe & Huber, Toronto


SHAMDASANI, Sonu (2003) - “Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology. The Dream of a Science” - Cambridge University Press, New York


Solange Bertolotto Schneider


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