Preamble: Psychoanalysis is very familiar with the conceptions of identification and projection. It is less outspoken about the obvious difference between the mechanism of identification, and its result: a figure, a phantom existing in us because of identification. If we identify—and this is always an unconscious act in contradistinction to conscious emulation—with a great man whom we admire, we might identify with his handwriting, the way he walks, clears his throat, smiles and shakes hands. The result is a phantom of the great man living in us. Part of our personality is then expressed in terms of this phantom; people who watch us recognize the phantom and our behavior may make us appear even slightly ridiculous. Our ambition to be as great as our model has chosen the wrong way. The correct way: to acquire the great man's real values, those for which he is admired, and to continue his work, is evidently much more difficult, meaning years of hard work with the possibility of failure because of inefficiency. To erect a phantom of the great man by identification is easier. It is accomplished without much pain or strain using the well lubricated machinery of identification. You wish to equal him? Very difficult, almost impossible, says reality. Very easy, says the dream; I can do it “in no time”.
It so happens that this narcissistic wishfulfillment crowds our psychic space with a number of phantoms, all of them results of identifications. They contribute to the structure of our personality, can be integrated and disintegrated. Unconscious tendencies of all kinds exist in us in the form of phantoms. Many of them are well known to psychoanalysis and were given the names of figures of myth and literature. Usually they wear the quite superfluous supplement complex (Oedipus complex, Jehovah complex, etc.).
This supplement—although universally accepted and very popular —is to my mind regrettable. It bestows a sort of scientific dignity upon our phantoms, but it bleeds them by depriving them of their life, their “incarnation” value. No one has an Œdipus complex, but everyone is somewhere an Œdipus revolting against fathers (authorities) and longing for mothers. No one has a feminine, a masculine, an inferiority complex, but we impersonate man, woman, child, devil and saint, conqueror and vanquished, and not in a vague general sense; we find definite individual phantoms in each case. All the world is a stage not only surrounding us but even more so within. There are phantoms that we have to live up to; there are others whom we fear, others we hate or secretely love. Some of them we consider to be our real self. Some of them must be punished, others cajoled. It is not always easy for the poor “ego” to find his way in such a crowd.
The more primitive unconscious layers in us defend themselves all our life long against the abstractions of civilized language by retranslating them into figures. Beauty and the wish for beauty live in the shape of a secret Venus within, failure in the shape of a kitchen-slavery-Cinderella. Villainy is a witch, virtue is “incorporated” in phantoms of saints. It is not even correct to call this process a translation because our phantoms are incomparably deeper rooted than any abstract conceptions which, as the word so appropriately calls it are abstracted from the phantoms.
Analyzing the deeper layers means to unearth phantoms—our own creations in the beginning, but later often our tyrants who force us into conflicts. Our conflicts are battles between two or more incompatible phantoms and can be appeased by throwing the searchlight of our mind upon them. I try to show their phantoms to my patients. Psychotherapy, when dealing with abstract conceptions, is in a precarious situation because abstractions cannot be felt and experienced. We experience our world in the shape of figures who, when chased from daylight into the obscure abysses of our soul, turn into phantoms. They become apparent in dreams, in artistic creations and also in the strange delusions of the psychotic, e.g. the megalomaniac. The psychotherapist therefore has to do sculpturing of a kind, artistic work which makes his reluctant patients see and understand the phantoms by which they are vexed and which they cannot control because they usually know very little about them.