Jung in a Nutshell

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. - CG Jung

Carl Gustav Jung was born in 1875 in the canton of Thurgau to Paul Jung, a poor rural pastor in the Swiss reformed Church, and to Emilie Preiswerk, a melancholic woman who claimed to be visited by spirits at night. His paternal grandfather Carl Gustav Jung, after whom he was named, was a physician who was rumoured to be the illegitimate son of Goethe, and who rose to become Rector of Basel University and Grand Master of the Swiss Lodge of Freemasons. His maternal grandfather Samuel Preiswerk was an eccentric theologian who had visions, conversed with the dead, and devoted his life to learning Hebrew in the belief that it was the language spoken in heaven. He used to make his daughter Emilie (Jung’s mother) sit behind him while he composed his sermons, so as to prevent the devil from peering over his shoulder. When Jung was three years old, his mother had a nervous breakdown for which she needed to spend several months in hospital. In his autobiography of 1961, Memory, Dreams, Reflections, he wrote ‘From then on I always felt mistrustful when the word ‘love’ was spoken. The feeling I associated with ‘woman’ was for a long time that of innate unreliability.’ Jung’s father was kind but weak-willed, and all too accepting of the religious dogma in which he had long lost all faith.

Jung was a solitary and introverted child who imagined that he had two personalities, that of a typical schoolboy of his time (Personality No 1), and that of a dignified, authoritative, and influential man from the past (Personality No 2). He once carved a tiny mannequin into the end of a wooden ruler, which he kept together with a painted stone in a pencil case in his attic. He periodically returned to the mannequin, bringing to it scrolls inscribed in a secret language of his invention. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was not popular at school. At the age of 12, he received a blow to the head and for a moment was unconscious. He lay on the ground for much longer than necessary and thought, ‘Now you won’t have to go to school anymore’. For the next six months, he avoided school by fainting each time he was made to go, an experience which gave him an early insight into hysteria.

Inspired by a dream, Jung entered the University of Basel in 1895 to study natural science and medicine. His father’s premature death one year later prompted his mother to comment, rather eerily, ‘He died in time for you’. During his early years at the University of Basel, Jung had a dream in which he was making painful headway through dense fog, with a tiny light in the cup of his hands and a gigantic black figure chasing after him. When he awoke he realised that the black figure was his own shadow, brought into being by the light that he was carrying: ‘…this light was my consciousness, the only light that I have. My own understanding is the sole treasure I possess, and the greatest.’ After presenting a paper on The Limits of the Exact Sciences, he spent two years attending and recording the séances of a young medium, his cousin, Hélène Preiswerk. He submitted his observations in the form of a doctoral thesis entitled On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena.

Towards the end of his studies, a reading of Krafft-Ebing’s textbook of psychiatry led Jung to choose psychiatry as a career. The Preface alone had such a profound effect on him that he had to stand up to catch his breath: ‘Here alone the two currents of my interest could flow together and in a united stream dig their own bed. Here was the empirical field common to biological and spiritual facts, which I had everywhere sought and nowhere found.’ Jung was taken on at the renowned Burghölzli Psychiatric Hospital in Zürich as an assistant to Eugen Bleuler, who went down in history as the man who coined the term ‘schizophrenia’. Bleuler set Jung to work on Galton’s word-association test, and in 1906 he published ‘Studies in Word Association’, which he thought provided hard evidence for the existence of unconscious complexes. He sent a copy to Freud, and on their first meeting in Vienna the two men conversed without interruption for thirteen hours.

Jung needed a father as much as Freud needed a son, and Freud formally anointed Jung his ‘son and heir’. However, as time passed, it became increasingly clear that Jung was unable to accept Freud’s assumptions that human motivation is exclusively sexual, or that the unconscious mind is entirely personal. For Jung, sexuality was but one aspect or mode of expression of a broader ‘life force’, and beneath the personal unconscious there was a deeper and more important layer that contained the entire psychic heritage of mankind. The existence of this ‘collective unconscious’ had been hinted at by Jung’s childhood dreams and experiences, and confirmed by the delusions and hallucinations of psychotic patients which contained symbols and images that occurred in myths and fairy-tales from all around the world. In his book of 1912, Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, Jung replaced Freud’s concept of libido with a much broader concept of undifferentiated psychic energy, arguing that undifferentiated psychic energy could ‘crystallise’ into the universal symbols contained in dreams and myths, for example, into the hero’s slaying of the dragon, which represents the struggle of the adolescent ego for deliverance from parental dominance. For Jung, the purpose of life was ‘individuation’, which involves pursuing one’s own vision of the truth and, in so doing, realising one’s fullest potential as a human being. If this meant disagreeing with Freud, then so be it. In 1913, on the eve of the First World War, Jung and Freud broke off their relationship.

Once again Jung was alone, and he spent the next few years in a troubled but highly creative state of mind that verged on psychosis and led him to a ‘confrontation with the unconscious’. By then Jung had had five children with his wife Emma Rauschenbach, the daughter of a rich industrialist. Despite being happily married, he felt that he needed a muse as well as a home-maker, observing that ‘the pre-requisite of a good marriage … is the license to be unfaithful’. The marital strife that resulted from his affairs, and particularly from his affair with a former patient called Toni Wolff, contributed to his troubled state of mind, and Emma accepted Toni as much from a concern for Jung’s sanity as from a desire to save her marriage. During his confrontation with the unconscious, Jung gained first-hand experience of psychotic material in which he found a ‘matrix of mythopoeic imagination which has vanished from our rational age’. Like Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Heracles, Orpheus, and Aeneas before him, he travelled deep down into an abyssal underworld where he conversed with Salome, a beautiful young woman who was the archetype of the feminine, and with Philemon, an old man with a white beard and the wings of a kingfisher who was the archetype of the wise old man. Although Salome and Philemon were products of his unconscious, they had a life of their own and said things that he had not previously thought. In Philemon, Jung had at long last found the father-figure that both Freud and his own father had singularly failed to be. More than a father-figure, Philemon was a guru, and the projection of what Jung himself was later to become – the ‘wise old man of Zürich’. At the end of the First World War, Jung re-emerged into sanity, and considered that he had found in his madness ‘the prima materia for a lifetime’s work’.

Freud in a Nutshell

Freud in a Nutshell

People with a high level of anxiety have historically been referred to as ‘neurotic’. The term ‘neurosis’ derives from the Ancient Greek neuron (nerve) and loosely means ‘disease of the nerves’. The core feature of neurosis is anxiety, but neurosis can manifest as a range of other problems such as irritability, depression, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and even personality disorders such as anankastic personality disorder. Although neurosis in some form or other is very common, it can prevent us from enjoying the moment, adapting usefully to our environment, and developing a richer, more complex, and more fulfilling outlook on life. The psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) believed that neurotic people fundamentally had issues with the meaning and purpose of their life. In his autobiography of 1961, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he noted that ‘The majority of my patients consisted not of believers but of those who had lost their faith’. Interestingly, Jung also believed that neurosis could be beneficial to some people despite its debilitating effects.

The most original, influential, and contentious theory of neurosis is that of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Freud attended medical school at the University of Vienna from 1873 to 1881, carrying out research in physiology under the German scientist Ernst von Brűcke and later specialising in neurology. In 1885-86 he spent the best part of a year in Paris, and returned to Vienna inspired by the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot’s use of hypnosis in the treatment of ‘hysteria’, an old-fashioned term referring to the conversion of anxiety into physical and psychological symptoms. Freud opened a private practice for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders but eventually gave up the practice of hypnosis, instead preferring the method of ‘free association’ which involved asking patients to relax on a couch and say whatever came into their minds. In 1895, inspired by the case of a patient called Anna O, he published the seminal Studies on Hysteria with his friend and colleague Josef Breuer. After publishing The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899 and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life in 1901, both public successes, Freud obtained a professorship at the University of Vienna where he began to gather a devoted following. He remained a prolific writer throughout his life, publishing (amongst others) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905, Totem and Taboo in 1913, and Beyond the Pleasure Principle in 1920. After the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, he fled to London, where he died the following year of cancer of the jaw. His daughter, Anna Freud, became a distinguished psychoanalyst who developed the concept of ego defense mechanisms (see other posts on this blog).

In Studies on Hysteria, Freud and Breuer formulated the psychoanalytic theory according to which neuroses have their origins in deeply traumatic and consequently repressed experiences. Treatment requires the patient to recall these repressed experiences into consciousness and to confront them once and for all, leading to a sudden and dramatic outpouring of emotion (catharsis) and the gaining of insight. This can be achieved through the methods of free association and dream interpretation, and a relative lack of direct involvement by the psychoanalyst so as to encourage the patient to project his thoughts and feelings onto him – a process called ‘transference’ (by contrast, in ‘countertransference’ it is the psychoanalyst who projects his thoughts and feelings onto the patient). In the course of analysis, the patient is likely to display ‘resistance’ in the form of changing the topic, blanking out, falling asleep, coming late, or missing an appointment; such behaviour merely suggests that he is close to recalling repressed material but afraid of doing so. Other than dream interpretation and free association, other recognized routes into the unconscious are parapraxes (slips of the tongue) and jokes. For this reason, Freud famously noted that ‘there is no such thing as a joke.’

In The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Freud developed his ‘topographical model’ of the mind, describing the conscious, unconscious, and a layer between the two called the preconscious which, though not conscious, could be readily accessed. Freud later became dissatisfied with the topographical model and replaced it with a so-called ‘structural model’ according to which the mind is divided into the id, ego, and superego (see figure). The id is fully unconscious and contains our drives and repressed feelings and emotions. It is dominated by the ‘pleasure principle’, and so seeks out immediate gratification. The id is opposed by the partly conscious superego, a sort of moral judge arising from the internalisation of parental figures and, by extension, of society itself. In the middle sits the mostly conscious ego. Dominated by the ‘reality principle’, the function of the ego is to reconciliate the id and the superego and thereby enable us to engage with reality. Neurotic anxiety arises when the ego is overwhelmed by the demands made upon it by the id, the superego, and reality. To cope with these demands, the ego employs defense mechanisms to block or distort impulses from the id, thereby making them more acceptable and less threatening. A broad range of ego defence mechanisms have since been recognised.

Freud's structural and topographical models of the mind

For Freud, the drives or instincts that motivate human behaviour (‘life instinct’) are primarily driven by the sex drive or ‘libido’ (Latin, I desire). This life-instinct is counterbalanced by the ‘death instinct’, the unconscious desire to be dead and at peace (the ‘Nirvana principle’). Even in children the libido is the primary motivating force, and children must progress through various stages of psychosexual development before they can reach psychosexual maturity. Each one of these stages of psychosexual development (except the latent stage) is focussed on the erogenous zone – the mouth, the anus, the phallus, or the genitals – that provides the greatest pleasure at that stage. For Freud, neuroses ultimately arise from frustrations encountered during a stage of psychosexual development, and are therefore sexual in nature. Freud’s stages of psychosexual development are summarised in the table below.

The Oedipus/Electra complex is arguably the most controversial of Freud’s theories, and can be interpreted either literally (as Freud intended it to be) or metaphorically. According to Freud, the phallic stage gives rise to the Oedipus complex, Oedipus being a mythological King of Thebes who inadvertently killed his father and married his mother. In the Oedipus complex, a boy sees his mother as a love-object, and feels the need to compete with his father for her attention. His father becomes a threat to him and so he begins to fear for his penis (‘castration anxiety’). As his father is stronger than he is, he has no choice but to displace his feelings for his mother onto other girls and to begin identifying with his father/aggressor – thereby becoming a man like him. Girls do not go through the Oedipus complex but through the Electra complex, Electra being a mythological Princess of Mycenae who wanted her brother Orestes to avenge their father’s death by killing their mother. In the Electra complex, a girl this time sees her father as a love-object, because she feels the need to have a baby as a substitute for the penis that she is lacking. As she discovers that her father is not available to her as a love-object, she displaces her feelings for him onto other boys and begins to identify with her mother – thereby becoming a woman like her. In either case, the main task in the phallic stage is the establishment of sexual identity.

Although much derided in his time and still today, Freud is unquestionably one of the deepest and most original thinkers of the 20th century. He is credited with discovering the unconscious and inventing psychoanalysis, and had a colossal influence not only on his field of psychiatry but also on art, literature, and the humanities. He may have been thinking of himself when he noted that, ‘The voice of intelligence is soft, but does not die until it has made itself heard.’ (‘Die Stimme des Intellekts ist leise, aber sie ruht nicht, ehe sie sich Gehör verschafft hat.’)

Jung in a Nutshell