This blog is a space for musing and writing about current themes in society, culture, and politics with a Jungian lens. Carl Jung was a psychiatrist who lived and worked in the first half of the twentieth century. He was one of the great explorers of the inner world we call the psyche. Nowadays, neurobiology is validating many of the insights that he intuited.
Many of Jung’s ideas have entered mainstream thought, and influence how we think about ourselves today. For example, Jung gave us the concepts of introversion and extraversion. The popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is based on Jung’s theory of typology. He expanded the psychological use of the term complex, and in his exploration of how a complex disrupts consciousness, he pioneered the use of technology that would later become the lie detector. He developed the idea of the archetypes. His exploration of how archetypes or universal patterns appear in myths was fundamental to the work of Joseph Campbell. His method of working with dreams has become the foundation for clinical dreamwork today.
Jung’s insights are applicable to every aspect of human experience. During his lifetime, he applied his understanding of the unconscious to questions that took him far afield from the consulting room and the practice of individual psychotherapy. Jung is considered to have made a signification contribution to the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous by way of his important correspondence with Bill W. He took on the rise of National Socialism and mass psychosis in his essay Wotan. In the 1940’s Jung was recruited by Allen Dulles, chief US intelligence operative in Switzerland. Jung served the Allied war effort as Agent 488, offering insights into the psyches of top Nazi leaders that were shared with senior US military commanders, including Dwight Eisenhower. Through his collaboration with Wolfgang Pauli, Jung developed the concept of synchronicity. He is almost single handedly responsible for a modern resurgence in interest in medieval alchemy, which he saw as an extended metaphor for the process of psychological growth and transformation. In the late 1950’s Jung tackled the phenomenon of increasing awareness of and belief in UFO’s, ascribing them a symbolic significance in his book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies.
Applying Jungian thought to all corners of life continues to yield insights that are unique, fruitful, and fun. Whether one is considering the current political situation, recent cultural trends around race or sex, or the latest blockbuster movie, using a Jungian approach is likely to afford a fresh way of looking at things. Often, I find that a Jungian critique offers a new perspective that allows one to transcend limiting, dichotomous ways of viewing things.
A Bit About Jung’s Theories
The notion of psychological growth and development as a lifelong process is one of Jung’s central idea. While most of Jung’s contemporaries focused on childhood alone as significant for personality development, Jung felt that we continue to change and transform throughout the lifespan. He termed this process of psychological growth individuation. In his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung wrote:
“I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually contained within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop, into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears. For that reason the idea of development was always of the highest importance to me.”
An individual’s lifelong task then, is to grow into the fullest version of themselves possible. He was alone in positing that psychological symptoms were not only the result of an illness or disorder, but could also result when the psyche’s natural growth was for some reason stunted or blocked. “There is no illness,” Jung maintained, “that is not at the same time an unsuccessful attempt at a cure.” He believed that the psychological difficulties we encounter are often unconscious attempts to grow-to work through conflicts and to become more balanced and whole. Confronting the parts of our lives that distress, frighten, or depress us often offers opportunities for development, as these challenges can catalyze necessary-though often frightening-transformations.
In order to successfully achieve these transformations and to remain psychologically balanced, we need to incorporate previously disowned parts of ourselves into our conscious personality. Perceived symbolically, psychological and physical symptoms call us to develop as “more spacious personalities,” to heed a summons from the fuller, deeper self and dare to examine what lies within us, beyond our conscious understanding and control.
Jung believed in and valued the power of the unconscious. Whereas some modern psychological theories such a cognitive behavioral therapy downplay or minimize the contribution of the unconscious to our personality, Jung knew it influenced us a great deal. This is an insight that is being borne out empirically by neurobiology. Freud of course also acknowledged the powerful influence of the unconscious. But where Freud believed that the unconscious was a sort of psychological waste bin where things were dumped when they were forgotten or repressed, Jung recognized that the unconscious was a storehouse of great wealth, and could give rise to new, creative content.