After this discussion, I was reminded of something very important, which is that all parts of the psyche are valid and contain a good intention, even though the strategy that they use to meet that intention may ultimately prove destructive. The strategy can be destructive because it was generated at an earlier time when the person had less resources, or because it is too extreme or too absolute. Parts lack a holistic perspective and are concerned with what they are concerned with. Often they are concerned with protecting vulnerable parts from pain. Their concern is valid and needs to be integrated with the psyche as a whole.
Jung was one of the first psychological authors to write about parts, which he called complexes. Jack Molay has an excellent series on transgender and Jung here It was indeed my readings of Jung 10 years ago that first knocked loose my transgender identity. I remember reading this quote in particular, that Jack also quotes:
“In homosexuality, the son’s entire heterosexuality is tied to the mother in an unconscious form; in Don Juanism, he unconsciously seeks his mother in every woman he meets. The effects of a mother-complex on the son may be seen in the ideology of the Cybele and Attis type: self-castration, madness and early death.”
I began to wonder if I were taken over by the anima and not in my true self. At that moment I felt my body relax and that I could indeed be a man. However that did not last, as there was too much pain and I could not stay in that place. It was only years later that I was able to stay in that place.
Jung was a product of his time, and he did not separate homosexuality and transgenderism, further he definitely took a stance that all alternative sexualities and gender expression were pathological. Even his own writings were mixed as Jack further quotes:
“The growing youth must be able to free himself from the anima fascination of his mother. There are exceptions, notably artists, where the problem often takes a different turn; also homosexuality, which is usually characterized by identity with the anima. In view of the recognized frequency of this phenomenon, its interpretation as a pathological perversion is very dubious.”
What is important in Jung’s writing is that he details how to relate to these parts of the psyche. Indeed they should not be repressed, they have important things to say. Jung believed that the individuation process involved dialogue and integration with these parts of the psyche. That applies in the transgender case to any kind of cross-gender self. It is not a delusion, but a part of the psyche with valuable resources that has something to contribute.
However, Jung also warned against identifying with an archetype or complex. He warned of the potential of these figures to unseat the ego and rise to the head of consciousness. When this happens it can lead to inflation or other psychological issues. In Jung’s psychology, the ego is the captain of the ship, but is itself a servant of Self.
Self is the part of the psyche that is nonjudgmental, ultimately empty, and full of compassion. This idea also occurs in Buddhist thought. Anyone can have an experience of this state through the practice of mindfulness.
Later parts-based psychologies such as IFS and Voice Dialogue emphasize the importance of being in connection with this Self state in order to promote healing. Frequently we become “blended” with a part and mistake that part for the whole. This is something that is continuously happening and when it does happen we can return to connection to Self. Indeed an important part of my own work as a therapist, is to stay in connection with Self and avoid being flooded by a part so that my agenda does not contaminate the client’s healing.
So in summary, I do believe that cross-gender figures in the psyche are real and valid and have an important contribution to make. Indeed it is that process of dialogue and integration that leads to growth. I do however believe that care should be taken to remain connected to self and not be hijacked by a part. Only through practice can one discern the difference between these states. I know that for me being hijacked by a part feels dissociated and like I am not quite in my body. I also feel uncentered and conflicted.
I do believe it is possible that the road to individuation and growth can lead to transition, if so it should lead to an increase in embodiment, an increase in connection, greater peace, and greater compassion. Transition is often framed as an attempt to become more at home in one’s body, and that is how I thought of it at first. It just never led there for me.