Sabina Spielrein:: Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis, Revised Edition

Comments on the Burghölzli hospital records of Sabina Spielrein by Coline Covington, London

On the basis of accepting the historical accounts of his patients as literal, Freud hypothesized his seduction theory and rooted pathogenic behaviour in the trauma of the past.

Freud’s ‘cathartic method’ of analysis enabled the patient to recover traumatic memories from the unconscious and to restore a cognitive link between the past and the present.

The relation between memory and trauma had become a matter of debate and speculation since 1872 when Charcot’s treatment of hysterics by means of hypnosis at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris first received wide attention within scientific and medical circles.

In 1885 Freud became Charcot’s apprentice.

During this time Janet was also demonstrating how hypnosis could be used to reveal the repressed psychological trauma that underlay hysteria.

By 1888 Janet had published several cases of hysteria.

Four years later Freud finished the translation of Charcot’s lectures and presented his own view of hysteria in a footnote:

The core of a hysterical attack, in whatever form it may appear, is a memory, the hallucinatory reliving of a scene which is significant for the onset of the illness … the content of the memory is as a rule a psychical trauma which is qualified by its intensity to provoke the outbreak of hysteria in the patient or is an event which, owing to its occurrence at a particular moment, has become a trauma. (Freud 1886–1899, p. 137; italics in original)

Three years later, in 1895, Freud wrote, ‘Hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences’.

Taking a step further from the moral and physical traumas that Charcot and Janet had hypothesized as causing hysteria, Freud postulated that hysteria was more specifically linked to the trauma of seduction or sexual assault.

‘Reminiscences’ were expressed in the form of distorted memories.

It was only after 1897, when Freud had to abandon his seduction theory, that the roots of hysteria were further extended and ‘psychologized’ as resting in purely psychic events, i.e., the repressed sexual fantasies of childhood.

From this brief potted history, we can see how the view of the aetiology of hysteria gradually shifted from external factors to internal, psychological ones.

I would like to suggest that this theoretical shift can also be seen in Jung’s treatment of Sabina Spielrein and to explore some of the reasons why this may have occurrd.

Jung evolved his own theory of hysteria that combined personal, historical experience and associations with innate psychological ones (what he initially described as ‘primordial images’ and later defined as archetypal) in his idea of the complex.

Ten years after Freud had written, ‘Hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences’, Jung wrote, ‘… in hysteria a complex is always at work’.

Jung describes hysteria as a morbid condition, congenital or acquired, in which the affects are exceedingly powerful.

Hence the patients are more or less continual victims of their affects.

At the same time, however, hysteria generally determines only the quantity, not the quality, of the affects.

The quality is given by the patient’s character. (Jung 1906a, para. 464 quoted in Minder, p. 44)

Jung does not specifically trace the root of the complex that is ‘always at work’ in hysteria to memory.

However, what Jung describes here is how memory (or the idea represented by the memory and stored in the complex) becomes dissociated from affect when it is traumatic.

This dissociation leads in turn to somatization of the affect.

When Sabina Spielrein was admitted to the Burghölzli and interviewed by Jung on the evening of 17th August 1904, he gave her the diagnosis of a hysteric.

Jung reports in her notes, Pat[ient] laughs and cries in a strangely mixed, compulsive manner. Masses of tics, rotating head, sticks out her tongue, legs twitching. Complains of a terrible headache, saying that she was not mad, only upset, at the hotel, she could not stand people or noise. (Jung 1904, p. 16)

Today, Sabina might well be diagnosed as psychotic.

Furthermore, she was referred to the Burghölzli because she could not be treated at the Heller Institute where she had been previously.

We then see throughout the hospital notes, how difficult Sabina’s behaviour was and how much she tried to create havoc around her to get attention and especially to provoke the doctors and staff of the hospital to punish her.

In her fear of being abused, she became the abuser. Jung notes: ‘At the slightest sign of lack of respect or trust, she immediately retaliates with negativistic behaviour and with a succession of greater or lesser devilish tricks’ (ibid., p. 20).

What is also apparent in the hospital notes is how Sabina’s behaviour was managed and controlled by a consistently firm and non-punitive approach in which it was made clear that she would not receive attention for her misbehaviour.

After the first few days following her admission, during which ‘strict bed-rest’ was prescribed, Jung writes:

Yesterday the medical assistant forbade her to leave her bed. Whereupon patient made a point of getting up and declared energetically she would never obey, that she never wanted to get well, that she would behave badly. On being suitably coaxed by the writer she returned to bed perfectly calm. (ibid., p. 19)

Sabina’s outbursts diminished considerably during her first few weeks at the Burghölzli, while the difficulties she experienced in being left became manifest.

This was first noted on 29th August, when Jung writes:

Absence of senior physician (since 27th August). Yesterday (28th August) headache, getting worse. Tried to demand medication, which was refused. At night in bed, pulse 180, for that reason finally given Morphine … then good night. (ibid., p. 20)

A month later, Sabina’s growing attachment to Jung is noted.

On 29th September, he writes:

Patient has great insight into her condition but not the slightest inclination to improve it. She asks Ref. never to betray the slightest embarrassment about her but only extreme energy and a firm belief in her recovery; that would be the only way for her to get better. Pat. has no attention span when she is reading by herself, but the doctor’s mere personal presence can often enable her to concentrate for hours. (ibid., pp. 21–2)

Sabina’s determination not to improve her condition indicates how frightened she was not only of separation but also that if she got involved with Jung, she would be abused.

The effects of the next separation are reported on the 16th October when Jung had been absent all day.

He writes:

During this time patient was very unsettled. The following day she reports that she constantly and with great longing imagines Ref. squeezing her left hand tightly until it hurts. She desires this painful treatment with all her strength. The next day she has a high grade hyperaesthesia in her left hand. ‘I want this pain’, patient says calmly, ‘I want you to do something really bad to me, to force me to do something that I am opposed to with all my being’. (ibid., p. 24)

Sabina’s transference onto Jung of her ‘painful’ love of her father is clearly evident here.

What is also evident is how she uses her desire to suffer something ‘really bad’ in order to defend herself against being involved in a loving relation with Jung and in this way she tries to repeat her relationship with her abusive father.

The hospital notes give us some indication of how Sabina was managed.

Doctors and care staff were on call at all hours and lived on the premises with their families.

As Graf-Nold points out, Bleuler had successfully established what would be considered today a residential therapeutic community (Graf-Nold 2001, p. 78).

Bleuler’s three ‘tools for treating the psyche’ – ‘patience, calm, and inner goodwill towards the patients’ (ibid., p. 78) – were undoubtedly important ingredients in enabling Sabina to trust that no one would abuse her and in contributing to her impressive progress.

Nevertheless, we are given very little idea of what exactly went on between Sabina and Jung, nor do we learn much about his particular therapeutic approach.

Jung was at Comments on the Burghölzli hospital records of Sabina Spielrein the start of his career and was experimenting for the first time in applying Freud’s concepts to his work.

At the same time, we know that Jung was already familiar with the phenomenon of the transference (Jung 1904, note 11, p. 41) and would most probably have been aware of Sabina’s unfolding erotic transference to him.

In his interview with Sabina’s mother, Jung is informed of Sabina’s previous erotic transferences – some time before she had fallen in love with her uncle, a doctor, and subsequently with another doctor – both had disappointed her (ibid., p. 19).

In both cases it seems clear that Sabina had been repeating her relationship with her father – to the point of rejection.

In contrast, Jung was able to accept Sabina’s erotic transference, while it was more difficult for him to differentiate himself from her transference projections due to his own emerging transference.

The roots of Sabina’s erotic transference to Jung can be seen in her hateful relations with both her parents as described in the hospital records.

Her sadomasochistic relationship with her father seemed to revolve around the shame she experienced with him, her misbehaviour, the excitement and relief she derived from his physical beating of her, and her anxiety about her father’s depression and periodic threats of suicide.

Jung notes: She cannot turn to her father, he does not really understand her, he says hurtful things to her. Because of her strong narcissism she cannot give in to her father, and when her father is sad, she cannot talk to him and she is again deeply hurt. He has hit patient and she has had to kiss his hand in return. (At this point numerous tics, grimaces and gestures of abhorrence.) (ibid., p. 17)

Sabina recounts, with a further display of tics, to Jung how her father had hit her on her bare buttocks up until she was aged 11, at times in front of her siblings.

He later notes:

[Three] years ago it happened that patient said to her father that she could give up parents in favour of the company of other people. Big scene followed, father went wild and threatened suicide. There were often scenes like this, sometimes lasting for days. It also hurts pat. that father insults and tyrannizes other members of the household. It pains her that he is unhappy, always talking about dying, etc. When he is kind to her she regrets that she behaves badly. She is always afraid that one day he will kill himself. (ibid., p. 18)

Sabina’s father is portrayed as a masochistic tyrant, using his depression to manipulate his daughter (and no doubt other members of the family) – when Sabina suggests that she would rather live without him, he threatens suicide.

We can see here the conflict that Sabina faced in her relation with her father – to leave him effectively meant she would be killing him.

She could only either stay with him (and continue in this hateful way of relating) or leave him and suffer intolerable (and pathological) guilt.

There was no separation between father and daughter.

Just as Sabina was searching for a mother in her father, he too was searching for that in her.

We can see how this was later repeated in the transference and countertransference with Jung.

It is not surprising that Sabina would have insisted that the only way for her to get better was for Jung to have ‘extreme energy and a firm belief in her recovery’.

Sabina’s identification with her father is also evident in the records.

She is controlling, provocative, and punitive towards the doctors and the nurses, threatening to commit suicide and forming hysterical symptoms when she is crossed or left.

Sabina’s relationship with her mother seemed to be similarly tumultuous and sadomasochistic.

Jung notes:

Even during this last year mother tried to beat her in front of her brothers and her brothers’ friends. Once when, at thirteen, her mother punished her, she ran away and hid in various places, doused herself with ice-cold water (winter!), and went into the cellar to catch her death of cold. This way she wanted to torment her parents and kill herself. In her 15th year, she tried to starve herself to death in Karlsbad because she had made her mother angry. (ibid., p. 18)

Just as Sabina, like her father, retaliates against her mother by threatening to kill herself, she also punishes herself in this way.

Jung writes:

‘She sees herself as a thoroughly bad and corrupt person, and for that reason she simply assumes that she should not be allowed to be in the company of other people’ (ibid., p. 11).

She is only able to establish relations with others through painful treatment and the manipulation of guilt.

This is evident in her provocative behaviour towards the hospital staff, whom she constantly challenges to punish her and thereby confirm her in her narcissistic guilt.

Sabina’s conviction that she is a ‘bad and corrupt person’ both explains and reinforces the abusive treatment she receives from her parents.

In order to be loved, Sabina conforms to the expectations she imagines her parents have of her – punishment and humiliation, particularly at the hand of the father, then become associated with sexual excitement.

The only other specific information we are given about Sabina’s mother is when Jung records her behaviour during a walk when Sabina showed ‘great disgust at shops, stuck her tongue out at them, etc’ (ibid., p. 26).

Jung discovers,

Her mother has the odd habit of having to buy everything she sees and is persuaded to buy; every time she goes out shopping she brings home masses of things which no one needs but which are very expensive. She never has enough money on her to pay for everything and therefore has to borrow from relatives and then struggle to repay them from her household budget. Above all father must not know about this, so there is constant anxiety that father might find out about these dealings…(ibid., p. 26)

Sabina’s mother is what in today’s jargon would be called a ‘shopaholic’ – her compulsive need to buy everything presumably gave her narcissistic gratification, in playing ‘the great lady with her expensive acquisitions’, as well as trying to extort love from her family through her showering of presents and her constant need for loans.

Sabina, as witness to this, must have felt her mother’s emptiness and her mother’s attack against her father who could not satisfy her.

Sabina’s own disgust ‘with ladies and shops’ (ibid., p. 26) indicates her own identification with her mother’s self-hatred and her homosexual solution in wanting to eschew what is feminine in order to obtain her mother’s love and to try to satisfy her where her father had clearly failed.

From Jung’s account of Sabina, we can see how much she needed to find a mother who would make her feel wanted and a loving father.

The impression we have of Jung’s treatment of Sabina was that he, much like Bleuler, was patient, calm and supportive – he made Sabina feel wanted and accepted.

He did not respond punitively to her ‘devilish tricks’ but was able to provide her with some form of benign superego which she had been unable to experience in her life.

In 1917, Sabina acknowledges what Jung gave her when she wrote to him,

‘In practice what matters is less precise classification than one’s intuitive understanding of the patient, because practical psychotherapy is a healing art.

We agree on that point. We need scientific findings only [as points of reference]’ (quoted in Cifali 1988, p. 132).

Sabina’s view accords with Jung’s understanding and approach to treating hysteria, in which, he writes, ‘a complex is always at work’ (Jung 1905b, para. 754, quoted in Minder, p. 45).

A year later, in 1906, Jung elaborates this idea in his paper, ‘Association, dream and hysterical symptom’.

He writes:

The complex has an abnormal autonomy in hysteria and a tendency to an active separate existence, which reduces and replaces the constellating power of the ego-complex. In this way a new morbid personality is gradually created, the inclinations, judgments, and resolutions of which move only in the direction of the will to be ill. This second personality devours what is left of the normal ego and forces it into the role of a secondary (oppressed) complex. A purposive treatment of hysteria must therefore strengthen what has remained of the normal ego, and this is best achieved by introducing some new complex that liberates the ego from domination by the complex of the illness. (Jung 1906b, paras. 861–2 quoted in Minder, p. 45)

Here Jung’s description of the autonomy of the complex and its threat to the ego can perhaps be seen as a forerunner to Otto Rank’s work on ‘the double’ in 1914 when he postulated that it originates as a form of defence against the destruction of the ego.

Five years later, Freud, in his essay, ‘The “uncanny”’, links the idea of the double with the compulsion to repeat, proceeding from the instinctual impulses and probably inherent in the very nature of the instincts – a compulsion powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle, lending to certain aspects of the mind their daemonic character … (Freud 1919, in Penguin Freud Library 14, pp. 360–1)

Jung’s ‘purposive treatment of hysteria’ specifies that the ego must be strengthened ‘by introducing some new complex that liberates the ego from domination by the complex of the illness’.

In this case Jung’s view of repetition compulsion – or the complex ‘always at work in hysteria’ – is that it served as a defence against an undeveloped or insufficiently strong ego.

Seen from this perspective, the emphasis Jung (and subsequently Janet) placed on the therapeutic relationship makes sense in terms of enabling the patient to experience a different object in the present which can then be internalized so that the ego structure can be strengthened and altered, allowing it to let go of its old defences.

In the importance Jung gives to processes of identification and internalization, we can also see early links to object relations theory and the notion of the corrective emotional experience.

It is the introduction of ‘some new complex’ which Jung cites as the curative factor – this over and above the uncovering and working through of trauma that Freud argued enabled patients to differentiate from their past.

Jung’s early work on word association gave him the means to uncover the complex.

The hospital records suggest that Jung administered the word association test in his treatment of Sabina and indicate that she in turn applied the test to other patients at the Burghölzli.

Jung notes on 29th January 1905:

Since the last abreaction marked improvement. Still strongly emotional and unusually powerful expressions of feeling. At every stimulation of the complex she still reacts with her back, hands, tongue, and mouth, though significantly less so. She is now aware of it and hides her expressions of disgust behind her hands. She recently tried associations with acquaintances and on this occasion it was shown that she could not say her complex trigger word ‘to beat’. So she omitted it during the experiment. (Jung 1904, p. 27)

Through the use of these trigger words, Sabina’s memory of abuse could come out and she could give vent to her rage with the result that her need to somatize her affect and to act out her abusive past in such a compulsive manner was considerably reduced.

Jung, like Freud, recognized the personal historical aetiology of hysteria and demonstrated, in Sabina’s case quite dramatically, the symptom relief that could be achieved through the recovery of repressed memory.

But it was through his work on word associations that Jung later came to view the complex as derived from or as a manifestation of an archetypal constellation, which included not simply personal associations but also archetypal or collective ones.

Although Jung was undoubtedly aware of Sabina’s transference towards him, we do not know to what extent, if any, he interpreted the transference.

He seems to place more emphasis on the importance of establishing a ‘new complex’ in the treatment to liberate ‘the ego from domination by the complex of the illness’.

In this way Jung shifts the locus of treatment away from the recovery of the past in order to separate from it and more towards a purposive or homeostatic view of therapy.

From this viewpoint symptoms are regarded not so much as historical artefacts but as indicating an imbalance in the psyche that needs to be corrected.

This shift would also be consistent with Jung’s apparent discomfort with his patients’ transference and his own counter-transference.

For example, in a report, dated 25 September 1905, addressed to Freud and delivered to Frau Spielrein ‘for use if the occasion arises’ (the report was never sent on to Freud), Jung writes, somewhat defensively, about Sabina’s erotic transference, ‘During treatment the patient had the misfortune to fall in love with me’ (Jung 1904, p. 39).

While Jung was grappling with Sabina’s ‘father complex’ and effectively acting in loco parentis himself in relation to Sabina, we also do not know to what extent, if any, Jung was able to view Sabina’s erotic transference as a repetition of her relation with her father.

In her diary entry of 25 April 1905, following her first day at medical school, Sabina wrote:

… To me, life without science is completely senseless. What else is there for me if there is no science? Get married? But that thought fills me with dread: at times my heart aches for tenderness, love; but that is but a deceptive, passing, external display that hides the most pitiful prose. The price is subjugation of the personality…. No! I do not want such love: I want a good friend to whom I can bare my soul; I want the love of an older man so that he would love me the way parents love and understand their child (spiritual affinity). But my parents – they are not it – If only I were as wise a human being as my Junga! … And how stupid that I am not a man: men have it easier with everything. It is a shame that everything in life goes their way. I do not want to be a slave! (Quoted from Brinkmann & Bose 1986, pp. 215–16 in Lothane 1999, p. 1191)

Sabina reveals her longing for someone who will be a parent for her and not a partner – she still looks for her father’s love in Jung (i.e., she is still attached to a father in her mind who prizes scientific achievement above all else and who makes her feel bad about herself as a woman – she envies men their ease in life and equates marriage with subjugation).

While Bleuler protects Sabina from contact with her father, and we have the impression that he can see how destructive this relationship is for Sabina, there is not this same sense with Jung.

Jung refers to Sabina’s father complex but we are left with the question as to whether Jung was able to help Sabina to separate from her father and the extent to which he could help her to understand her underlying need for a mother.

In an unpublished letter to Freud, written in June 1909, Sabina reveals her own fear of discovering her maternal transference in her eroticized search for a mother in men as she recounts her dream,

‘… A few months ago I had to forego the wish to write to you because in the dream you had female breasts …’ (quoted from Wackenhut & Willke, pp. 200–202 in Lothane 1999, p. 1199).

In writing about Sabina’s drawings of the electrical treatment she had received from Dr Heller, Graf-Nold also questions Jung’s response.

She writes, ‘Jung links Sabina’s drawing to her relationship with her father –however, he does not bring out the father’s sadism and the sexual connotations of his behaviour, nor Sabina’s powerlessness and panic, but only her masochism’ (Graf-Nold 2001, p. 95).

Was Jung unable to talk about Sabina’s father’s sadism – and her sadism –because he could not know about his own father complex and his hatred of his father?

Jung’s failure see the maternal transference underlying Sabina’s erotic transference to the father would also suggest his fear of his feminine self as well as his fear of knowing about his own lack of a mother.

Jung became entangled in Sabina’s erotic projections towards him as a mother – and became a mother to her – because he too was searching for a mother.

In December 1908, in a state of desperation, Jung wrote to Sabina urging her not to seek revenge on him while at the same time revealing his own transference to her as his mother.

He writes:

I am looking for a person who understands how to love, without punishing the other person, imprisoning him or sucking him dry … Give me back now something of the love and patience and unselfishness which I was able to give you at the time of your illness. Now I am ill. (‘The letters of C. G. Jung to Sabina Spielrein’, p. 177)

Towards the end of 1908, Sabina writes from Zürich in an unpublished letter to her mother in Rostov:

… Just recently Junga finished his paper that created such a stir, (‘The significance of the father in the destiny of the individual’), in which he shows that the choice of the future (love) object is determined in the first relations of the child with his parents. That I love him is as firmly determined as that he loves me. He is for me a father and I am a mother for him, or, more precisely, the woman who has acted as the first substitute for the mother (his mother came down with hysteria when he was two years old); and he became so attached to the (substitute) woman that when she was absent he saw her in hallucinations, etc., etc. Why he fell in love with his wife I do not know … Let us say, his wife is ‘not completely’ satisfactory, and now he has fallen in love with me, a hysteric; and I fell in love with a psychopath, and is it necessary to explain why? I have never seen my father as normal. His insane striving ‘to know himself’ is best expressed in Jung for whom his scientific activity is more important than anything in this world … An uneven dynamic character coupled with a highly developed sensibility, a need to suffer and to be compassionate ‘ad magnum’ … If you could only hide in the next room and hear how concerned he is for me and my fate … Then he starts reproaching himself endlessly for his feelings, for example, that I am something sacred for him, that he is ready to beg for forgiveness, etc …Remember how dear daddy was apologizing to you in exactly the same manner! …He suffered through many nights thinking about me … He felt responsible for my fate…(Quoted in Lothane 1999, p. 1196)

Sabina makes it clear here how she has come to understand the link between Jung and her father (or whom Jung represents for her in her transference) and, similarly, whom she represents for Jung (in his transference).

What is also painfully evident is Jung’s own need to make his hysterical mother better and his feeling of responsibility towards her, as he expressed towards Sabina.

For both Jung and Sabina, their erotic transferences served to mask their depression and to protect them from knowing about their respective need for a mother.

From later material and accounts of her life, it seems that Sabina recovered but was not cured.

she was able to find a more benign and loving father in Jung, Sabina’s contempt for her mother and her desire to have father to herself served to defend her against knowing about her need for a mother and to perpetuate her sado-masochistic attachment to her father.

Jung’s ambivalence towards his own father and authority figures may also have been his way of defending himself from knowing about his need for a father who could help him to separate from his mother and who could enable him to know about his need for a loving mother.

Lacking this internal father, Jung was unable ultimately to provide this for Sabina.

Soon after his treatment of Sabina, Jung suffered from what seems to have been a psychotic breakdown.

Following this episode, Jung continued to exhibit compelling erotic transferences to his women patients (to the point of including Toni Wolff in his domestic household) in which he would replicate his childhood relationships – his intense relationship with his nurse and more distant one with his mother and his desire to eliminate his father altogether so as not to have to know about his own need for a father who would love him and his mother.

What perhaps also remained unresolved, for both Sabina and Jung, was their guilt about their hatred towards these depressed parents which made them feel unduly responsible for them and made separation from them unbearable.

We can see how Jung’s developing theoretical approach accommodated this aspect of his own self-denial – in his work with Sabina he repudiated more and more the idea of repetition compulsion and repeating the past.

In its place, he postulated his idea of the complex and its inherited or archetypal features.

In changing the emphasis onto conflicts derived from constitutional deficits, was Jung in fact trying to protect his internal objects from his own hatred?

Viewed in this light, Sabina’s concept of the death instinct (her thesis, ‘Destruction as the cause of coming into being’), which she formulated in discussion with Jung, can be seen to be her way of understanding her aggression and hatred as stemming from an innate drive or impulse as opposed to resulting from her experience of relationship.

For Sabina, love was associated with destructiveness and perhaps this was how she maintained her attachment to her own masochistic father in her mind.

From Freud’s correspondence with Sabina following her marriage to Dr Paul Scheftel in June 1912, it is clear that Sabina had approached him with a view to continuing her analysis.

In his letter to her, dated August 1912, Freud writes:

… So you are a married woman now, and as far as I am concerned that means that you are half cured of your neurotic dependence on Jung. Otherwise you would not have decided to get married. The other half still remains; the question is what is to be done about that. My wish is for you to be cured completely … We had agreed that you would let me know before 1 Oct. whether you still intend to drive out the tyrant by psychoanalysis with me. Today I would like to put in a word or two about that decision. I imagine that the man of whom you say so many nice things has rights as well. These would be badly prejudiced by treatment so soon after your marriage. Let him first try to see how far he can tie you to himself and make you forget the old dreams. Only what remnant he fails to clear up belongs properly to psychoanalysis. Meanwhile, it might happen that someone else will turn up who will have more rights than both the old and the new man put together. At this stage, it is best for analysis to take a back seat. (Carotenuto 1982, pp. 116–17)

While Freud encourages Sabina to enjoy her new married life and the prospects of motherhood, he also recognizes that her analysis has not effected a complete cure – she had not finished her analysis.

At the same time we cannot help but wonder here if Freud, aware of the intensity of Sabina’s transference towards Jung and the ensuing difficulties in that analysis, might not also have been relieved at this course of events.

Although Jung and Sabina were aware of the power of repetition compulsion, they were unable to fully analyze their respective struggles to overcome their past and not to repeat it.

In a letter dated 1st September 1919, Jung writes to Sabina:

The love of S. for J. made the latter aware of something he had previously only vaguely suspected, namely of a power in the unconscious which shapes one’s destiny, a power which later led him to things of the greatest importance. The relationship had to be ‘sublimated’, because otherwise it would have led to delusion and madness (a concretization of the unconscious). Sometimes we must be unworthy to live at all. (‘The letters of C. G. Jung to Sabina Spielrein’, p. 194)

Jung does not link the ‘power in the unconscious which shapes one’s destiny’ to the repetition compulsion.

He is nevertheless clear that ‘the relationship had to be “sublimated”’ and not acted out.

But we are left with the impression that ‘sublimation’ was the only way Jung knew of to try to resolve and overcome the powerful forces that had emerged between Sabina and himself in the transference and counter-transference.

Jung is also clear about how much he benefited from his analysis of Sabina.

What perhaps neither Jung nor Sabina was able to understand and work through was the unconscious neurotic guilt that lay behind their ‘painful love’ and how this was to go on haunting them in different ways throughout their lives. Coline Covington, Comments on the Burghölzli hospital records of Sabina Spielrein, Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2001, 46, 105–116


Carotenuto, A. (1982). A Secret Symmetry: Sabina Spielrein Between Jung and Freud. New York: Random House.

Cifali, M. (1988). ‘Une femme dans la psychanalyse, Sabina Spielrein: un autre portrait’. Le Bloc-Notes de la Psychanalyse, 1988, 9, pp. 253–65)/‘Sabina Spielrein: a woman in psychoanalysis, another picture’. Translated from the French in Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2001, 46, 1. ~ Coline Covington, Comments on the Burghölzli hospital records of Sabina Spielrein, Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2001, 46, 105–116