Active imagination

In this artwork, the foreground frames the background vision. The strange animals, combining different pairs of opposites, represent the self. The man and the animal are gazing at each other, seeing each other. The head of the reflection in the water is obstructed by the foliage in the foreground. It is the task of the man to reflect consciously on this vision, and to live it.

The transcendent function is a central aspect of the process of active imagination. It was an early concept which Jung later developed into his concept of the Self. Active imagination with its compensatory function, was seen as the method. (1)

Definiteness and directedness are characteristics of the conscious attitude, because it must adapt to the outer world, but it is inevitably one-sided. The self on the other hand, is concerned with the well-being of the whole personality. (2) Natural conscious one-sidedness repeatedly leads to the building up of a load in the unconscious, and the transcendent function aims at restoring this imbalance. A dream might attempt to restore the balance, or a slip of the tongue might attempt to draw one’s attention to the problem. Active imagination in all its forms can assist in this process. (3)  

Jung initially approached active imagination by teaching his patients to develop their imagination. A patient would be asked to concentrate on an emotion or a dream image to develop his “theme.” Later he included many forms of creative expression as part of this process. (4) Depending on how much one invests in the image, by looking at it, it may “set one right.” (5)

In general, if one starts with an image, one looks for the affect, and if one starts with the affect or emotional content, one looks for the image. In the first part of active imagination, consciousness is led by the unconscious to gain access to unconscious content. The second more difficult part is the ethical problem of coming to terms with this content. (6) “An emotional and intellectual understanding is needed; they [the images] require to be not only rationally integrated by the conscious mind, but to be morally assimilated.” (7)


1. Chodorow, J. (1997) Jung on active imagination, encountering Jung. Princeton University Press, US. P.5

2. Chodorow quoting Jung, p. 43 – 45. (The transcendent function, par 131 – 138)

3. Chodorow quoting Jung, p.49 – 51. (The transcendent function, par 152 – 159)

4. Jung, CG. (1960) On the nature of the psyche. Bollingen Foundation, NY. Par 400 – 402.

5. Chodorow quoting Jung, p. 152. (The Tavistock lectures, par 413)

6. Chodorow, p. 10.

7. Chodorow quoting Jung, p. 95. (The aims of psychotherapy, par 111)