When one imagines a psychologist, they may bring forth images of an old man in a lab coat injecting rats with drugs. Maybe we envision a therapist, listening to your problems and doodling indiscriminately on a clipboard. Perhaps we even recall a certain sex-obsessed founder of psychoanalysis.
However all of these icons of psychology quickly become obscured under the shadow of a psychologist who loved alchemy, listened closely to the ramblings of schizophrenic patients, studied seances and the paranormal, developed dance/movement therapy and, when he began to experience a psychotic breakdown that would last years, used it as an opportunity to study the inner workings of his subconscious.
Carl Jung was born in July 1875 in a small Swiss hamlet by a lake. Jung’s mother was the daughter of an eccentric theologian who had conversations with the dead. His other grandfather was a respected physician. This clash of mysticism with the physical sciences would be a central theme in Jung’s life.
Jung was a unique child. At a young age, Carl kept a small manikin in the attic and, from time to time, would present this figure scrolls filled with a secret language that he had developed. He would also sit atop a stone in his garden and would play a game of projection. At first, he would state “I am sitting on top of this stone and it is underneath”. Secondly, he would state that “I am lying here on this slope and he is sitting on top of me”. Then Jung would ask whether or not he was the stone or Carl. This would later reflect his fascination with alchemy, as alchemists would project the contents of their own psyches into their work.
Jung also regularly fantasized about living in a citadel that would shield him from the world. In this imagined structure, Jung found his two personalities: Number One and Number Two.
Number One was the son of his parents, the student of his school, and the young boy at church. He was the societal Jung. Number Two was less easy to describe.
This second personality was older and lived with animals and nature. It was the entire vision of life itself. Later he would name these two personalities differently, number one being the ego and number two being the Self.
At school Jung would regularly faint so he could avoid going. He had felt quite isolated amongst his peers. However, one day he heard his father speaking of his anxiety over his sons future. Jung quickly cured his fainting and read every piece of literature, philosophy and religious text he could get his hands on. During his student years, where he found himself so ahead of his peers that he was at times falsely accused of plagiarism, Jung had a peculiar dream in which he was walking through a dense fog at night. He held in his hand a glowing light and behind appeared a large dark shadow that was chasing him.
“I realized at once that the figure was my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying. I knew too that this little light was my consciousness, the only light I have. My own understanding is the sole treasure I possess, and the greatest”.
As Jung progressed in his studies, he began to record and attend seances. Jung was compelled by the seemingly real presence of ghosts and how he could speak to them and touch them as if they were anybody else. In these experiences, Jung came to two main ideas in practicing analytical psychology. For one, he concluded that partial personalities reside in the unconscious psyche and can be brought forth through dreams or seances. Secondly, he proposed that the development of personality occurs almost entirely unconsciously.
Jung then chose psychiatry after dabbling in a possible career as an archaeologist. He came under the apprenticeship of Eugen Bleuler, who would later come up with the term schizophrenia.
As Jung rose to prominence, he became acquainted with Freud, who would spend his career predicting the current trend in adult film. Upon their first meeting, Freud and Jung supposedly talked for thirteen hours straight. Freud thought of Jung as his successor and his enthusiasm only furthered this assumption. However, aside from their weird preoccupation with figuring out what’s going on in peoples minds that they’re not even aware of, they did have their differences. Freud believed that human motivation was always pointed towards doing something dirty and that the unconscious was entirely unique and separate between people. Jung believed that human motivation was way more complex and argued that there was a collective unconscious instead, shared across many individuals. Eventually they split, with Jung sending a letter to Freud that quoted Nietzsche’s Zarathustra “one repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil.”
After this breakup, Jung explored the terrifying abyss of his subconscious, starting with a horrifying vision in which all of Europe was consumed in blood and followed by a dream in which he killed Sigfried in an icy hellscape. Jung would hear voices in his head, would find his house to be entirely occupied by the spirits of the dead, and would frolic in his garden like a child. Like any reasonable person, Jung decided not to seek institutional help and instead saw his departure into the abyss as an ample opportunity for research. Hence, from 1913 to 1918, the peak years of what has been called his creative illness, Jung illustrated and wrote The Red Book, capturing his momentous journey into darkness. This book was only recently released in 2009 due to its controversial nature.
It recounts Jung travelling through the land of the dead, conversing with an old man with wings, and finally visiting Liverpool. Despite the seemingly unscientific aspect of such a work, Jung’s experience is similar to the events in the lives of other thinkers, who have taken on a time of intense intellectual activity and then neurosis, such as Nietzsche, Freud and van Gogh. After this creative illness, Jung became obsessed with the transformation and achievement of personality, otherwise called individuation. It is at this point where Jung began to synthesize his complex theory of psychology and philosophy.
One of Jung’s main theories revolves around archetypes. Archetypes are ‘identical physical structures common to all’. When organized together they form the ‘archaic heritage of humanity’. They are innate neuropsychic centres that can influence our behaviour and experiences and give rise to thoughts, feelings and ideas that shape our personality and existence. Jung believes that learning about archetypes can only be achieved through close analysis of universal myths, symbols and images. For example, the trickster is considered to be a universal archetype. It occurs in almost every culture as a motif, as a figure that navigates the dangers of the world through mischief and deceit. Jung points to motifs such as these, that occur across cultures, to show that certain symbols must exist universally as innate pictures in our unconscious.
Hence, Jung believed that the composition of every psyche in the world would result in the collective unconscious: the structures of the unconscious mind shared by members of the same species. For humans, that’s stuff like the aforementioned trickster, the mother figure, the hero and the wise old man.
Here is a diagram of Jung’s model of the psyche: the totality of all psychic processes. On the outside we have the consciousness; the stuff we’re aware of. The ego is situated within here, the centre field of consciousness that gives us a sense of identity. It orbits the psyche like a planet. This is quite similar to the Number One personality of his childhood. Further in we have the personal unconscious, the link between the conscious and collective unconscious.This area has complexes made up of personifications of archetypes, making the collective personal. It develops as the one’s own personal growth coincides with archetypes. The very middle is the Self, the totality of the entire psyche with all potentialities included. The Self contains the ambition to grow and develop, to become itself.
How does one become oneself? Jung saw the actualization of archetypes, most notably the mother figure, to be necessary in such a process That is, as the person grows their environment unlocks the archetypes to become active.
It should be noted, if all of this sounds far-fetched, that ethology, the study of animal behaviour in nature, has somewhat replicated this theory. Animals have a certain set of behaviours that depend on neurological structures developed throughout evolution. These structures are Innate Releasing Machines that become active when they confront a certain environmental property or Sign Stimulus. The organism responds with a certain behavioural pattern to the situation once the Innate Releasing Machine is active.
Hence Jung saw archetypes as an “inherited mode of functioning”. Even though we vary in how we fall in love, mourn and create art, the universality of the acts themselves denote some set of shared structures found across our species.
“Everything comes from experience yet not from actual experience, reiterated by each individual with each generation, but instead from experience accumulated by the entire ancestry of the species in the course of its evolution”
Another important piece of Jung’s thinking is that of the stages of life. Archetypes regulate the life cycle, revolving around the Self. The roles we play in these cycles are crucial to understand, such as the ego, the persona, and the shadow.
As mentioned before the total realization of the Self is the entire goal of psychological life. He calls this process individuation. This, in sum, means integrating the conscious with the unconscious. Unifying them all would be the equivalent of maximizing one’s human potential. But first we have to go through some stages, starting with the ego.
The ego develops in childhood as the centre of consciousness. Although we use the term I to reference the ego it really just plays the role of the Self’s manager.
It’s created by the Self to stay organized and keep things running relatively smoothly by keeping up appearances. This is important early on as the idea that we have a consistent identity keeps us from experiencing psychosis.
These appearances made by the ego are developed through the persona, the mask we put on or the role we play when in social environments. Especially nowadays in the era of social media, the persona strives to display our highlight reel, even to the detriment of our identities.
“One could say…that the persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is”.
Of course, using our persona requires hiding the socially undesirable aspects of our personality. These aspects are expressed in the shadow. Sometimes we ignore it and other times it reminds us of its depraved desires in the depths of our dreams. In dreams, the shadow appears as something hostile, like an enemy. Outside of our dreams, in our real day-to-day environments, the shadow develops through cultural indoctrination, where we see our enemies in other races, nations or creeds (out-groups), or through familial repression, where we are taught to stay away from certain activities or desires.
This process can lead to full-on shadow projection and eventually scapegoating, where all of the things we hate are identified with another group or individual and hence its becomes imperative to destroy them. One of the most crucial and uncomfortable part of Jungian analysis is identifying ones own shadow so we don’t end up launching campaigns against outsiders or developing some deranged paranoia.
After these roles are played out in the first half of life, Jung views the midlife crisis as ample time for individuation. “Individuation is an expression of that biological process-simple or complicated as the ease may be-by which every living thing becomes what it was destined to become from the beginning”. This process involves dream analysis, through remembering, recording and studying ones dreams. It involves making explicit what one implicitly is. Jung saw personality as a unique expression of humanity, a channel by which “the great cosmos becomes conscious of itself.”
Certainly Jung’s ideas are far from grounded in the reductive psychological work of contemporary academics. In fact, his theories take on a far more philosophical tone. Sometimes his ideas do sound far-fetched and just as archaic as Freuds. However, Jung’s archetypes themselves are archaic, left-over pieces of humanity recognizing its place in the universe to the best of their abilities. Jung himself in the Red Book states:
“There is only one way and that is your way. There is only one salvation and that is your salvation. Why are you looking for help. Do you believe help will come from outside? What is to come will be created in you and from you. Hence look into yourself. Do not compare. Do not measure. No other way is like yours. All other ways deceive and tempt you. You must fulfill the way that is in you.”