The Affective Charge of Sulphur and Salt in Therapeutic Work with Narcissistic Compulsion
Jung’s description of the alchemical symbology of sulphur and salt, undertaken in his last major work Mysterium Coniunctionis, offers a useful imaginal perspective to clinical work in the area of compulsion and its possible transformations. In a long-term analysis with a patient, whose obstinate will to achieve shows the workings of sulphur at its fieriest and a dread of its coniunctio with salt, I have often found myself drawing on Jung’s ideas in search of containment for the emotional combustion in the patient’s life and its effect on me. The rarefied texture of Mysterium Coniunctionis offers a subtle anchorage, while also - it seems to me - requiring the analyst to weave in further threads following the specific patterns of each therapeutic encounter. In the clinical work I present in some detail in this paper, I have witnessed and experienced a range of intense affects - the many colours that the combustion of sulphur can generate - whether on the verge of unstoppable creation or ruthless destruction, often of archetypal intensity. Unlike other frequent contemporary symptoms where sulphur seems to be missing (schizoid withdrawal), or if present it translates into sterile compulsion (obsessive compulsive disorders), in this patient it manifests as a remarkable capacity to generate meaningful work, which however, driven by post-traumatic narcissistic omnipotence, ends up burning itself down to the ashes of psychic and physical injury. In our ongoing work, the encounter with sulphur has been lived through and survived until it has been possible to enter a transformative relation with salt, which until then had lived a dissociated existence in a nocturnal underworld of tears.
Giorgio Giaccardi is a Jungian Analyst in private practice in London. He is Training Analyst for the British Jungian Analytic Association (London), where he is also co-Chair of the Training Committee, and Member Analyst of the Associazione per la Ricerca in Psicologia Analitica (Milan). He has published papers and contributed chapters to books on a range of themes including the numinous, the ecstatic and the exploration of symbolic processes at play in specific areas such as sexual orientation and music. On the latter, he was commended in the 2014 Rozsika Parker Prize for his paper “Unconscious Processes, Instrumental Music and the Experience of the Sublime” published in the British Journal of Psychotherapy.