John Merchant

Early Infant Emotions, the Mind/Body Interface and Archetypal Imagery: a Case Illustration

This presentation explores the connection between intense emotion experienced at the foetal and early infant stages of development, the subsequent mind/body interface and archetypal activation through the case of a male patient who started life as an unwanted pregnancy, who was adopted at birth and who as an adult suffers with non-organic somatic symptoms like painful muscle tightness and rigidity. The case suggests that foetal trauma was foundational, the intense emotions via annihilatory impingement then being retained in this patient’s early mind/body. And neuroscience research certainly evidences that a pregnant woman’s intense emotions can effect the developing foetus (Merchant 2015).

Whilst this patient is in no way psychotic, in adult life he does experience intriguing occurrences like confronting synchronicities, waking visions and other paranormal phenomena not consciously sought. I have previously discussed these as either an unconscious-to-unconscious vector between this patient and his birth mother (as in Jung 1929, para. 163) and/or a splitting of the psychoid form of the Great Mother archetype into co-linear physical and psychic events and/or the Anima mundi’s ‘bond of community’ (Jung 1952a para. 927; 931) (Merchant 2015, 2017).

This presentation will overview the above but concentrate on three additional areas. First, how this patient’s developmental background speaks to the mind/body interface in relation to psychosomatic disorders. Second, aligning with Jung’s (1952b) statement that when ‘a distressing situation arises, the corresponding archetype will be constellated in the unconscious’ (para. 450), how this patient’s visions of a Self archetype nature (in his words, ‘spiritual entities of impossibly high form’) demonstrate an archetypal compensation in response to the intense annihilatory and abandonment emotions he experienced during early development that communicated ‘I do not want you to exist’. Third, how the interplay of body perceptions and emotional activation have impacted our analytic work and lastly, how all the above can inform archetype theory and analytic practice.


John Merchant PhD FACE FCollP(UK) MAPS is a Jungian Analyst and Registered Psychologist in Sydney, Australia, a supervisor with the Psychology Board (Australia), a Deputy Editor of the Journal of Analytical Psychology (London) and a member of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association (New York). John supervises clinicians in Australia and overseas and runs courses in Analytical Psychology at Sydney University. He has delivered professional presentations in Australia and overseas.

Recent publications

  • ‘Working online due to the COVID-19 pandemic: A research and literature review’. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 66, 3, 484-505. 2021.
  • ‘Archetypes and the “impoverished environment” argument: a response to Goodwyn’. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 66, 1, 132-52. 2021
  • Shamans and Analysts: New Insights on the Wounded Healer (Routledge). 2012.


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