Susan E. Schwartz
The Empty Chair
Jung commented, “As a result of some psychic upheaval whole tracts of our being can plunge back into the unconscious and vanish from the surface for years and decades...disturbances caused by affects are known technically as phenomena of dissociation, and are indicative of a psychic split” (Jung, 1934, para. 286).
Drawn to the empty chair in my office, she said it represents the desire to be held and supported emotionally. And, she wondered what the holding meant for her, for me, for us?
This presentation explores the personality characterized by emotional absence, a numbness of psyche, body, and soul deadened. Frozen in time, the wounds began early and repeated in adulthood, fostering the persona façade ‘as-if’. The experience is, “I don’t know who I am. There is a peculiar feeling of unreality. I feel like a facsimile, although I cannot say why. I was hoping to break through the sense of living behind a mask”. The comments represent the psychic fragility from un-integrated and unbearably painful emotions. The zest and passion for life is stilted, guarded and the self-enclosed and shut off, relationships held at a distance.
Dreams from this composite clinical example explore the inertia of self, the embodiment of emotions and narcissistic singularity are aspects of the ‘as-if ‘personality. Jungian thought parallels French psychoanalyst Andre Green’s concepts of absence, emptiness and negation of emotions denied along with the clamoring for their return. The impact of parents, here specifically the father figure, contributes to disturbed life responses.
The analytical transference and countertransference reenact the repressed desires, dissociations, and defenses. However, the empty chair holds the possibility of understanding emotions of shame, destruction, reparation and hope. The analytical relationship gives space to what formerly seemed unrepresentable, gathering language from the void, empty and numbed state. Arrested emotion begins to live through the analysis, dreams, and symbolism like the empty chair.
Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D., is a Zurich trained Jungian analyst and clinical psychologist. She is a member of the International Association of Analytical Psychology and AGAP. She has taught in numerous Jungian programs and presented workshops and lectures in the USA and many other countries. Susan has articles in several journals and chapters in books on Jungian analytical psychology. Her current book was published by Routledge in 2020 entitled, The Absent Father Effect on Daughters, Father Desire, Father Wounds.