Of all the myths from antiquity, the one of Cupid and Psyche pertains perhaps most to the practice of psychotherapy, Jungian Psychoanalysis in particular. More generally, it has been proposed that this is the eternal story of Love and the Soul.
Working with Psyche and the development of it in individuation is the heart of Jungian psychoanalysis and the myth can be seen as a metaphor of this process. Psyche, the soul, and literally translated from the Greek: butterfly, is of course the object of psychotherapy. Cupid, otherwise known as Eros or Amor represents: relatedness. Cupid and Psyche tells us a story about transforming our relations to other people and ourselves.
The classical Jungian interpretation of the myth of Eros and Psyche is the one from Erich Neumann for whom the transformation of the feminine is central to the myth. This is also reflected in the subtitle of his book “Amor and Psyche, the psychic development of the feminine”. The perspective that I am taking in this lecture is that the myth is not so much the transformation of the feminine per se but about the transformation of the totality of psyche. Roughly speaking, I see Eros as the Self end of the ego-Self axis and psyche as the ego end of it. In the beginning of the myth ego is in the grip of the unconscious and later is transforming into a mature totality of ego-self relatedness. Like Neumann I see the story of Eros and Psych as the liberation of the individual from the mythical world. As a de-identification of the ego from the experience of the collective unconscious.
The myth is particularly relevant to therapy because Cupid, Amor, Eros — one of the three Greek words for love—represents attachment. Firstly, biographical attachment to the analysands’ early parental figures, secondly to the eros in transference and countertransference in analysis and thirdly, perhaps most importantly: Eros as the relationship between the unconscious and the ego. Importantly, Eros is a God and thus belongs to the Self side of the Ego-Self axis.
Through the work of Bowlby, Winnicott and Stern as well as from more recent research it has been established beyond doubt that a shortage of good enough early parental attachment (Eros), be it because of ignorant parents, or absent parents or alcoholic or disturbed parents, is a key causal factor in the etiology of much psychological suffering. Recent work by Fonegy et al. has shown that the reflective function of the child, its internal working model of Self-Other relationships, depends on childhood opportunities to investigate the mind of the parent. Insufficiently safe early attachments can lead to Personality disorders (particularly Narcissism), social anxiety disorders, depression and even ptsd.
Particularly from E.J. Kenny’s analysis of the myth, we learn that at the heart of Psyche’s transformation are the humbling of Psyche (deal with the shadow (her sisters) and perform seemingly impossible tasks), the transformation of Cupid and the transformation of his mother (Venus).
Last night, I gave a presentation on Eros and Psyche at a reading for the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists IGAP in London. Here you can find the text of the presentation as well as the Eros Psyche IGAP slides.