Carl Gustav Jung is recognized as a major figure in modern Western thought, and his work continues to spark research and to inspire many new paths of exploration. He was foundational in the formation of modern psychology, psychotherapy, and psychiatry, and continues to influence a large international body of analytical psychologists. His writings have also had a vast impact outside professional circles: the ideas of Jung and Freud have been widely disseminated in the arts, the humanities, film, and popular culture.
Ideas that are central to Jung’s approach include the Self, which he defined as both a facet of the psyche and as an inner quality that promotes psychological health and spiritual development, and the unconscious aspect of the mind, which contains unknown psychic material and can therefore ameliorate fixed conscious attitudes. While one’s personal unconscious pertains to personal experiences such as the forgotten, the repressed, or the subliminal, the collective unconscious is broader, relating to humankind’s shared experiences and to timeless, universal matters. The collective unconscious gives rise to archetypes, our instinctual patterns of thought and of symbolic form. According to Jung, one of the main goals of life is to individuate, that is, to overcome the one-sidedness of the conscious attitude and to become more aware of our multifaceted human nature. Jung defined individuation as the coming-to-be of the Self, in which a person eschews ego-centrism and integrates wisdom and ethics to become a well-rounded personality.
Born in Switzerland, C.G. Jung lived from 1875 to 1961. He attained a medical degree, married and had children, and pioneered Analytical Psychology through a private practice that contributed to the development of his ideas and to his many publications. His first intellectual loves were archaeology and nature. Because his family was poor, he made the practical decision to study medicine, knowing it would involve studying the natural sciences. Jung specialized in psychiatry, accepted a position at the renowned Burgholzli hospital in Zurich, and also benefitted from studying with Pierre Janet in Paris. As a student, Jung had been interested to read that diagnosis could relate to the maladjustment of personality; now as a young doctor, he discovered feeling-toned complexes, where patients’ delusions and fantasies might show through in their word associations.
Jung’s friendship with and eventual break from Sigmund Freud has been the subject of much speculation. Jung began a correspondence with Freud in his early thirties, and this developed into a personal friendship, characterized by “long, penetrating conversations.” Jung later said in one breath both that he had liked Freud very much, and that Freud had had a complicated nature. The two psychoanalysts both grounded their work in in-depth explorations of the individual and the unconscious. However, from early on in their friendship, Jung distinguished himself from Freud on the basis of philosophy, saying, “Freud had no philosophical education … I was steeped in it, and that was far from Freud. So there was a discrepancy.” From the beginning, Jung could not agree with a number of Freud’s ideas, but their final parting came with Jung’s publication of The Psychology of the Unconscious. In Jung’s words, at issue was Freud’s “purely personal approach and his disregard for the historical conditions of man,” while, in contrast, Jung believed that people are affected both by their inner experiences and by the dominant ideas of their era.
Jung grew up in a Christian family, and from a young age took an investigative, critical approach to religion, inspired by his own dreams and inner life. Jung’s mother came from a family of clergymen, and his father, whom he characterized as tolerant and understanding, was a country parson. Throughout his life, Jung energetically studied mythology, folklore, anthropology, and the religions of the world, among other topics. Near the end of his life, he stated, “When I was a child, I believed in God. Now, I know.”
Jung remembered having experienced his own consciousness at the age of eleven. A major theme throughout his years of practice was the desire to support individuals in their journeys toward consciousness and meaning. One of Jung’s great achievements is that his struggle to understand humankind took place by grappling with his own psychological experiences, thereby dialoguing between his inner self and the spirit of his times. Through this “confrontation with the unconscious,” he explored the depths of his own psyche in order to discover his personal myth that counterbalanced the influences of the secular modern world. This commitment to a direct, personal approach led him to emphasize the importance of active imagination and dream images that could be amplified with reference to philosophy, religion, and literature, etc. He developed a theory of psychological types, where a person’s consciousness was defined by her dominant attitude and approaches while the opposite qualities were less prominent. Jung explained that if an attitude became fixed, its opposite could be expressed through enantiodromia, which he defined as “the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time … when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life.” His notion of enantiodromia led to his later exploration of Taoism, and to the important Eastern concept of Yin/Yang, through which a phenomenon ceaselessly evolves into its opposite. Jung realized that becoming aware of shadow aspects of the unconscious could shed light on conscious attitudes and promote self-actualization.
Assertions about the beneficial instinct of the individual to seek meaning in life are peppered throughout Jung’s publications and interviews. Three years before his death, an interviewer asked Jung, “As the world becomes more technically efficient, it seems increasingly necessary for people to behave communally and collectively. Do you think it is possible that the highest development of man may be to submerge his own individuality in a kind of collective consciousness?” Jung answered, “There will be a reaction against this communal dissociation. Man doesn’t stand forever his nullification. (…) My patients seek to assure their own existence against that complete atomization into nothingness or meaningless. Man cannot stand a meaningless life.”
C.G. Jung, “Face to Face” Interview with John Freeman, A&B Film Ltd., Zurich, 1959.
C.G. Jung. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Bollingen Foundation, various dates.
The C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles, 2020. (junginla.org)
C.G. Jung. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1933.
C.G. Jung. Analytical Psychology: Its Theory and Practice. Ark Paperbacks, 1990.
C.G. Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz. Man and His Symbols. Doubleday, 1964.
Barbara Hannah. Jung, His Life and Work: a Biographical Memoir. Putnam’s, 1976.
Bio author: Catherine Nutting et alia.