LIBIDO: tracking inner energy

Dec 19, 2021

Photo Credit: Federico Beccari via Unsplash

Jung understood libido as psychic energy: desire, will, interest, and passion. Libido includes instincts for fulfilling bodily appetites and engaging developmental tasks. Although energy infuses all human activity, it is not a function of ego alone; for many, a worthy goal has lacked the libido to achieve it.

Feelings and actions can veer into symptoms, such as neurosis or addiction. Low libido is often a form of depression, and libido that is too high can be mania. Most often, a problem with libido is experienced as “stuckness,” the stasis produced from conflict between our natural, instinctual selves and familial and cultural expectations–internalized “shoulds.” We can face fear and engage desire, for acknowledging the truth of where attraction lies creates pathways along which life energy can flow. Psychotherapy could be considered a quest for each person’s authentic psychic energy. The innate direction of libido, the enlivening wellspring of the soul, is in service to individuation.

Here’s the dream we analyzed:

“I am walking around a garden, praying. I’m not sure whether I’m praying to God or to the earth or the trees, but I’m expressing gratitude for the beauty around me. There are two huge beech trees next to each other at the end of the garden. The knotted and gnarled trunks make each look like a laughing face – two friendly giants. I look up at the canopy high above – they almost seem to fill the sky with leaves. Then I notice that one tree is rocking in the wind, and there is a crack at the base of the trunk that opens and closes as it does so. I am concerned that the tree will fall. Behind the trees in the neighboring garden is a large, modern house which looks rather austere and forbidding. I wonder if I should warn the people in the house about the tree. Now two men in dark blue boiler suits arrive to examine the trees. Each reaches out a hand toward a tree, but before they can touch them, both trees fall over with a crash. I am sure the house will be smashed, but instead, the trees fall neatly onto two flatbed trucks which happen to be waiting. The men examine the trees and shake their heads. The trunks were hollow, and it’s clear they were not attached to the roots at all. The trucks drive off. The garden is left looking empty and forlorn.”


Murray Stein. Jung’s Map of the Soul, https://www.amazon.com/…/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp…


Learn to Analyze your own Dreams: https://thisjungianlife.com/enroll/


  1. Mamie Allegretti

    Hello Joseph, Deb and Lisa,
    This discussion of libido also makes me think a lot about regression and the natural tendency of our energy to flow backwards as well as forwards. Regression often gets a bad rap. If I’m not mistaken, Freud felt that regression was negative whereas Jung felt that regression was kind of needed to move forward – kind of in a paradoxical way. It’s the attitude and consciousness that we bring to the regression that is the key to keeping us locked in the negative quality of regression that keeps us from moving forward. But when you think about it, regression plays an important part in healing. In therapy, when we think about our childhoods, we are regressing to try to find events and patterns there so that we can understand them better by consciously shedding light on them. Hypnosis is a regression that purports to help the person by becoming aware of unconscious past events and emotions. Reflecting on past events is a regression to see what we can learn there. People sometimes go back to old places to review and come to terms with past situations and relationships. Even Jung kind of regressed when he went back to playing his old childhood games by the lake and the water. For him there was a source of creativity and energy that propelled him forward. We can even look back to see where our energy was in the past and whether that energy is still with us. We sometimes look back to the past and think of things we loved doing but no longer have time for. This happened to me with my studies of esotericism and Jung. When we were locked down, I thought of Jung and how much I loved reading him and started up again and found that the old energy for it was still there – and even more. It also makes me think of the alchemical motto V.I.T.R.I.O.L (visita interiora terra rectificando invienes occultem lapidem). I’ve often thought about the “rectificando” part of the work. This really involves going into yourself and rectifying what is there and that includes my past, patterns and approaches to living in the world and with myself. So again, a kind of regression is needed to move forward. So I think, like everything that has positive and negative aspects, there is the importance of striking a balance with regression and progression and consciously understanding what we are doing. In current events, we often hear people saying they want to “get back to normal” and put covid behind us. I think of this as a kind of negative regression that wants to childishly go back to former times to remove oneself from the pain and discomfort and changes that we have to go through right now. Paradoxically, in times of chaos and change, we do need something secure to hold onto – what supports us when nothing supports us – as Jung said. So again, it’s kind of a complicated balancing act. I’ve thought a lot about regressive restoration of the persona in my case quite a bit as well. So here we have the kind of regression that moves us backwards and keeps us locked in old patterns. I can see in my own situation where I may be likely to do this in a certain situation in my life. But if I can consciously understand why I might move in that direction, I might have a better chance of understanding it and moving in a different way. Maybe. Of course, there’s a lot to work with there. Anyway…thank you again for a thought provoking episode.

  2. Simcha

    Thanks for this excellent podcast, which fits well with the podcast on “Falling in Love.”

    Is it possible to do a “Libido 2” podcast about the difficult passage mentioned from childhood to adulthood libido? From needs-based to wants-based (JL), which seemed to be a major point of contention between Freud (where libido doesn’t seem to evolve) and Jung (where libido does seem to evolve, especially for individuation)?

    As for the dreamer waiting in a line that doesn’t move at a postoffice, at least this dreamer had the desire to tell the dream to a therapist. There’s a desire to wait, which isn’t an easy thing to do, as well as a desire to post something or to pick something up. A postal system is a vast system of potentially infinite global connections: people, messages, letters, packages, routes of exchange, modes of transportation, travels. Lots of invisible energy waiting there.

    As for hypomania, I’d agree with DS about the danger of romanticising any form of mania, also after reading Darian Leader’s “Strictly Bipolar” (2013), which focuses on the manic search to externalise extreme differences (from good and bad to work and relaxation). Aren’t hypomanics people who have more socially-acceptable symptoms than manic-depressives?

    Leader also traces personal and transgenerational trauma by studying autobiographies of bi-polars, including Patty Duke, Stephen Fry and Kay Redfield Jamison. A much-needed complexity for an either/or state of mind.

  3. Todd

    A few months ago i asked my analyst a simple question: “Does individuation suck?” Going into year 5 of analysis having done years of work now with much uncovered, accomplished and understood. But this doldrum occurred about a year ago and now is here for quite a long time. i have been awaiting this discovery of that well of libido as a sign of moving on or healing….but i have yet to find it. No anima dreams … no desire…. just a calm dry doldrum. Very few dreams even. Very unlike me… i had decades of dynamic living, but now i find myself in the longest lifeless period….quite aware but with no clear solution in sight. My guess is that some of the adaptations that i had made to survive held some of the energy and when stripped away in the process of peeling back the layer, i also came to a core were there was little life. Notably, i did have a very negative mother image ….conflated with the anima (negative one) and had to go thru a process of parsing it apart. But still did not solve this libido problem. It’s a hard one indeed…


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