Empathy, the ability to feel into the suffering of another, is an intrinsic part of being human. We have such a capacity to imagine others’ experience that we react physiologically and emotionally to painful situations even in film. We are surprised, sometimes shocked, when the empathy we expect in a given situation is not forthcoming. Although empathic deficits create wounding, an overly empathic stance can also be problematic, fostering psychic stasis. Jung related empathy to the causal, or “mechanistic” aspect of analysis, in which painful past experiences are traced to their origin in order to more fully integrate feelings, expand consciousness, and depotentiate a complex. However, Jung also emphasized the “abstract,” or “final-energic” direction of traumatic experience, which is more objective and relates to achieving a state of equilibrium. We are thus asked to hold the tension between empathy for feelings—our own or another’s—and a more objective stance toward meaning, choice, and action.
“I’m standing somewhere that is slightly above the level of the ground, and looking down on an alley that has water below. I know I have come to get into the water, but while looking at the way to get to the water is very steep and harsh. So, I think of jumping. The water is very, very clear, and I see that after a few meters on the side of the wall that I’m standing on, it gets very deep and blue. So, I think it might be very dangerous, if I throw myself in, and can’t swim. I don’t believe anyone will be able to either find me or help me get out of the water. So, I don’t jump. But for the rest of the dream I continue carrying a secret with myself that I should have jumped, but I haven’t. It feels like having to do something, but not doing it.”