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The Eros Theory
In the light of this discovery, the question of the trauma was answered in a most unexpected manner; but in its place the investigator was faced with the problem of the erotic conflict,
which, as our example shows, contains a wealth of abnormal elements and cannot at first sight be compared with an ordinary erotic conflict.
What is peculiarly striking and almost incredible is that only the pretense should be conscious, while the patient’s real passion remained hidden from her.
In this case certainly, it is beyond dispute that the real relationship was shrouded in darkness, while the pretended one dominated the field of consciousness.
If we formulate these facts theoretically, we arrive at the following result: there are in a neurosis two tendencies standing in strict opposition to one another, one of which is unconscious.
This proposition is formulated in very general terms on purpose, because I want to stress that although the pathogenic conflict is a personal matter it is also a broadly human conflict manifesting
itself in the individual, for disunity with oneself is the hall-mark of civilized man.
The neurotic is only a special instance of the disunited man who ought to harmonize nature and culture within himself.
The growth of culture consists, as we know, in a progressive subjugation of the animal in man.
It is a process of domestication which cannot be accomplished without rebellion on the part of the animal nature that thirsts for freedom.
From time to time there passes as it were a wave of frenzy through the ranks of men too long constrained within the limitations of their culture.
Antiquity experienced it in the Dionysian orgies that surged over from the East and became an essential and characteristic ingredient of classical culture.
The spirit of these orgies contributed not a little towards the development of the stoic ideal of asceticism in the innumerable sects and philosophical schools of the last century before Christ,
which produced from the polytheistic chaos of that epoch the twin ascetic religions of Mithraism and Christianity.
A second wave of Dionysian licentiousness swept over the West at the Renaissance.
It is difficult to gauge the spirit of one’s own time; but in the succession of revolutionary questions to which the last half century gave birth, there was the “sexual question,” and this has fathered
a whole new species of literature. In this “movement” are rooted the beginnings of psychoanalysis, on whose theories it exerted a very one-sided influence.
After all, nobody can be completely independent of the currents of his age.
Since then the “sexual question” has largely been thrust into the background by political and spiritual problems.
That, however, does nothing to alter the fundamental fact that man’s instinctual nature is always coming up against the checks imposed by civilization.
The names alter, but the facts remain the same.
We also know today that it is by no means the animal nature alone that is at odds with civilized constraints; very often it is new ideas which are thrusting upwards from the unconscious and are
just as much out of harmony with the dominating culture as the instincts.
For instance, we could easily construct a political theory of neurosis, in so far as the man of today is chiefly excited by political passions to which the “sexual question” was only an insignificant prelude.
It may turn out that politics are but the forerunner of a far deeper religious convulsion.
Without being aware of it, the neurotic participates in the dominant currents of his age and reflects them in his own conflict.
Neurosis is intimately bound up with the problem of our time and really represents an unsuccessful attempt on the part of the individual to solve the general problem in his own person.
Neurosis is self-division.
In most people the cause of the division is that the conscious mind wants to hang on to its moral ideal, while the unconscious strives after its—in the contemporary sense—unmoral ideal which the conscious
mind tries to deny.
Men of this type want to be more respectable than they really are.
But the conflict can easily be the other way about: there are men who are to all appearances very disreputable and do not put the least restraint upon themselves.
This is at bottom only a pose of wickedness, for in the background they have their moral side which has fallen into the unconscious just as surely as the immoral side in the case of the moral man.
(Extremes should therefore be avoided as far as possible, because they always arouse suspicion of their opposite.)
This general discussion was necessary in order to clarify the idea of an “erotic conflict.”
Thence we can proceed to discuss firstly the technique of psychoanalysis and secondly the question of therapy.
Obviously the great question for this technique is:
How are we to arrive by the shortest and best path at a knowledge of what is happening in the unconscious of the patient?
The original method was hypnotism: either interrogation in a state of hypnotic concentration or else the spontaneous production of fantasies by the patient while in this state.
This method is still occasionally employed, but compared with the present technique it is primitive and often unsatisfactory.
A second method was evolved by the Psychiatric Clinic, in Zurich, the so-called association method.
It demonstrates very accurately the presence of conflicts in the form of “complexes” of feeling-toned ideas, as they are called, which betray themselves through characteristic disturbances in the course
of the experiment.
But the most important method of getting at the pathogenic conflicts is, as Freud was the first to show, through the analysis of dreams.
Of the dream it can indeed be said that “the stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner.”
It is only in modern times that the dream, this fleeting and insignificant-looking product of the psyche, has met with such profound contempt.
Formerly it was esteemed as a harbinger of fate, a portent and comforter, a messenger of the gods.
Now we see it as the emissary of the unconscious, whose task it is to reveal the secrets that are hidden from the conscious mind, and this it does with astounding completeness.
The “manifest” dream, i.e., the dream as we remember it, is in Freud’s view only a façade which gives us no idea of the interior of the house, but, on the contrary, carefully conceals it with the help
of the “dream censor.”
If, however, while observing certain technical rules, we induce the dreamer to talk about the details of his dream, it soon becomes evident that his associations tend in a particular direction and
group themselves round particular topics.
These are of personal significance and yield a meaning which could never have been conjectured to lie behind the dream, but which, as careful comparison has shown, stands in an extremely delicate
and meticulously exact relationship to the dream facade.
This particular complex of ideas wherein are united all the threads of the dream is the conflict we are looking for, or rather a variation of it conditioned by circumstances.
According to Freud, the painful and incompatible elements in the conflict are in this way so covered up or obliterated that we may speak of a “wish-fulfilment.”
However, it is only very seldom that dreams fulfil obvious wishes, as for instance in the so-called body-stimulus dreams, e.g., the sensation of hunger during sleep, when the desire
for food is satisfied by dreaming about delicious meals.
Likewise the pressing idea that one ought to get up, conflicting with the desire to go on sleeping, leads to the wish-fulfilling dream-idea that one has already got up, etc.
In Freud’s view there are also unconscious wishes whose nature is incompatible with the ideas of the waking mind, painful wishes which one prefers not to admit, and these are precisely the wishes that
Freud regards as the real architects of the dream.
For instance, a daughter loves her mother tenderly, but dreams to her great distress that her mother is dead.
Freud argues that there exists in this daughter, unbeknown to herself, the exceedingly painful wish to see her mother removed from this world with all speed, because she has secret resistances
Even in the most blameless daughter such moods may occur, but they would be met with the most violent denial if one tried to saddle her with them.
To all appearances the manifest dream contains no trace of wish-fulfilment, rather of apprehension or alarm, consequently the direct opposite of the supposed unconscious impulse.
But we know well enough that exaggerated alarm can often and rightly be suspected of the contrary. (Here the critical reader may justifiably ask: When is the alarm in a dream exaggerated?)
Such dreams, in which there is apparently no trace of wish-fulfilment, are innumerable: the conflict worked out in the dream is unconscious, and so is the attempted solution.
Actually, there does exist in our dreamer the tendency to be rid of her mother; expressed in the language of the unconscious, she wants her mother to die.
But the dreamer should certainly not be saddled with this tendency because, strictly speaking, it was not she who fabricated the dream, but the unconscious.
The unconscious has this tendency, most unexpected from the dreamer’s point of view, to get rid of the mother.
The very fact that she can dream such a thing proves that she does not consciously think it.
She has no notion why her mother should be got rid of.
Now we know that a certain layer of the unconscious contains everything that has passed beyond the recall of memory, including all those infantile instinctual impulses which could find no outlet in
We can say that the bulk of what comes out of the unconscious has an infantile character at first, as for instance this wish, which is simplicity itself: “When Mummy dies you will
marry me, won’t you, Daddy?”
This expression of an infantile wish is the substitute for a recent desire to marry, a desire in this case painful to the dreamer, for reasons still to be discovered.
The idea of marriage, or rather the seriousness of the corresponding impulse, is, as they say, “repressed into the unconscious” and from there must necessarily express itself in an infantile fashion,
because the material at the disposal of the unconscious consists largely of infantile reminiscences.
Our dream is apparently concerned with a twinge of infantile jealousy.
The dreamer is more or less in love with her father, and for that reason she wants to get rid of her mother.
But her real conflict lies in the fact that on the one hand she wants to marry, and on the other hand is unable to make up her mind: for one never knows what it will be like, whether he will make a
suitable husband, etc.
Again, it is so nice at home, and what will happen when she has to part from darling Mummy and be all independent and grown up?
She fails to notice that the marriage question is now a serious matter for her and has her in its grip, so that she can no longer creep home to father and mother without bringing the fateful question into
the bosom of the family.
She is no longer the child she once was; she is the woman who wants to get married.
As such she comes back, complete with her wish for a husband.
But in the family the father is the husband and, without her being aware of it, it is on him that the daughter’s desire for a husband falls.
But that is incest!
In this way there arises a secondary incest-intrigue.
Freud assumes that the tendency to incest is primary and the real reason why the dreamer cannot make up her mind to marry.
Compared with that, the other reasons we have cited count for little.
With regard to this view I have long adopted the standpoint that the occasional occurrence of incest is no proof of a universal tendency to incest, any more than the fact of murder proves the
existence of a universal homicidal mania productive of conflict.
I would not go so far as to say that the germs of every kind of criminality are not present in each of us.
But there is a world of difference between the presence of such a germ and an actual conflict with its resulting cleavage of the personality, such as exists in a neurosis.
If we follow the history of a neurosis with attention, we regularly find a critical moment when some problem emerged that was evaded.
This evasion is just as natural and just as common a reaction as the laziness, slackness, cowardice, anxiety, ignorance, and unconsciousness which are at the back of it.
Whenever things are unpleasant, difficult, and dangerous, we mostly hesitate and if possible give them a wide berth.
I regard these reasons as entirely sufficient.
The symptomatology of incest, which is undoubtedly there and which Freud rightly saw, is to my mind a secondary phenomenon, already pathological.
The dream is often occupied with apparently very silly details, thus producing an impression of absurdity, or else it is on the surface so unintelligible as to leave us thoroughly bewildered.
Hence we always have to overcome a certain resistance before we can seriously set about disentangling the intricate web through patient work.
But when at last we penetrate to its real meaning, we find ourselves deep in the dreamer’s secrets and discover with astonishment that an apparently quite senseless dream is in the highest degree
significant, and that in reality it speaks only of important and serious matters.
This discovery compels rather more respect for the so-called superstition that dreams have a meaning, to which the rationalistic temper of our age has hitherto given short shrift.
As Freud says, dream-analysis is the via regia to the unconscious.
It leads straight to the deepest personal secrets, and is, therefore, an invaluable instrument in the hand of the physician and educator of the soul.
The analytical method in general, and not only the specifically Freudian psychoanalysis, consists in the main of numerous dream-analyses.
In the course of treatment, the dreams successively throw up the contents of the unconscious in order to expose them to the disinfecting power of daylight, and in this way much that is valuable and
believed lost is found again.
It is only to be expected that for many people who have false ideas about themselves the treatment is a veritable torture.
For, in accordance with the old mystical saying, “Give up what thou hast, then shalt thou receive!” they are called upon to abandon all their cherished illusions in order that something deeper, fairer, and
more embracing may arise within them.
It is a genuine old wisdom that comes to light again in the treatment, and it is especially curious that this kind of psychic education should prove necessary in the heyday of our culture.
In more than one respect it may be compared with the Socratic method, though it must be said that analysis penetrates to far greater depths.
The Freudian mode of investigation sought to prove that an overwhelming importance attaches to the erotic or sexual factor as regards the origin of the pathogenic conflict.
According to this theory there is a collision between the trend of the conscious mind and the unmoral, incompatible, unconscious wish.
The unconscious wish is infantile, i.e., it is a wish from the childish past that will no longer fit the present, and is therefore repressed on moral grounds.
The neurotic has the soul of a child who bears ill with arbitrary restrictions whose meaning he does not see; he tries to make this morality his own, but falls into disunity with himself: one side of him
wants to suppress, the other longs to be free—and this struggle goes by the name of neurosis.
Were the conflict clearly conscious in all its parts, presumably it would never give rise to neurotic symptoms; these occur only when we cannot see the other side of our nature and the urgency of
Only under these conditions does the symptom appear, and it helps to give expression to the unrecognized side of the psyche.
The symptom is therefore, in Freud’s view, the fulfilment of unrecognized desires which, when conscious, come into violent conflict with our moral convictions.
As already observed, this shadow-side of the psyche, being withdrawn from conscious scrutiny, cannot be dealt with by the patient.
He cannot correct it, cannot come to terms with it, nor yet disregard it; for in reality he does not “possess” the unconscious impulses at all. Thrust out from the hierarchy of the conscious psyche, they
have become autonomous complexes which it is the task of analysis, not without great resistances, to bring under control again.
There are patients who boast that for them the shadow-side does not exist; they assure us that they have no conflict, but they do not see that other things of unknown origin cumber their path
hysterical moods, underhand tricks which they play on themselves and their neighbours, a nervous catarrh of the stomach, pains in various places, irritability for no reason, and a whole
host of nervous symptoms.
Freudian psychoanalysis has been accused of liberating man’s (fortunately) repressed animal instincts and thus causing incalculable harm.
This apprehension shows how little trust we place in the efficacy of our moral principles.
People pretend that only the morality preached from the pulpit holds men back from unbridled license; but a much more effective regulator is necessity, which sets bounds far more real and persuasive than
any moral precepts.
It is true that psychoanalysis makes the animal instincts conscious, though not, as many would have it, with a view to giving them boundless freedom, but rather to incorporating them in a
It is under all circumstances an advantage to be in full possession of one’s personality, otherwise the repressed elements will only crop up as a hindrance elsewhere, not just at some unimportant point,
but at the very spot where we are most sensitive.
If people can be educated to see the shadow-side of their nature clearly, it may be hoped that they will also learn to understand and love their fellow men better.
A little less hypocrisy and a little more self-knowledge can only have good results in respect for our neighbour; for we are all too prone to transfer to our fellows the injustice and violence
we inflict upon our own natures.
The Freudian theory of repression certainly does seem to say that there are, as it were, only hyper-moral people who repress their unmoral, instinctive natures.
Accordingly the unmoral man, who lives a life of unrestrained instinct, should be immune to neurosis.
This is obviously not the case, as experience shows.
Such a man can be just as neurotic as any other.
If we analyse him, we simply find that his morality is repressed.
The neurotic immoralist presents, in Nietzsche’s striking phrase, the picture of the “pale felon” who does not live up to his acts.
We can of course take the view that the repressed remnants of decency are in this case only a traditional hang-over from infancy, which imposes an unnecessary check on instinctual nature
and should therefore be eradicated.
The principle of ecrasez Vinfame would end in a theory of absolute libertinism.
Naturally, that would be quite fantastic and nonsensical.
It should never be forgotten—and of this the Freudian school must be reminded—that morality was not brought down on tables of stone from Sinai and imposed on the people, but is a function of
the human soul, as old as humanity itself.
Morality is not imposed from outside; we have it in ourselves from the start—not the law, but our moral nature without which the collective life of human society would be impossible.
That is why morality is found at all levels of society.
It is the instinctive regulator of action which also governs the collective life of the herd.
But moral laws are valid only within a compact human group.
Beyond that, they cease.
There the old truth runs: Homo homini lupus.
With the growth of civilization we have succeeded in subjecting ever larger human groups to the rule of the same morality, without, however, having yet brought the moral code to prevail beyond
the social frontiers, that is, in the free space between mutually independent societies.
There, as of old, reign lawlessness and license and mad immorality—though of course it is only the enemy who dares to say it out loud.
The Freudian school is so convinced of the fundamental, indeed exclusive, importance of sexuality in neurosis that it has drawn the logical conclusion and valiantly attacked the sexual
morality of our day.
This was beyond a doubt useful and necessary, for in this field there prevailed and still prevail ideas which in view of the extremely complicated state of affairs are too undifferentiated.
Just as in the early Middle Ages finance was held in contempt because there was as yet no differentiated financial morality to suit each case, but only a mass morality, so today
there is only a mass sexual morality.
A girl who has an illegitimate baby is condemned and nobody asks whether she is a decent human being or not.
Any form of love not sanctioned by law is considered immoral, whether between worth-while people or bounders.
We are still so hypnotized by what happens that we forget how and to whom it happens, just as for the Middle Ages finance was nothing but glittering gold, fiercely coveted and
therefore the devil.
Yet things are not quite so simple as that.
Eros is a questionable fellow and will always remain so, whatever the legislation of the future may have to say about it.
He belongs on one side to man’s primordial animal nature which will endure as long as man has an animal body.
On the other side he is related to the highest forms of the spirit.
But he thrives only when spirit and instinct are in right harmony.
If one or the other aspect is lacking to him, the result is injury or at least a lopsidedness that may easily veer towards the pathological.
Too much of the animal distorts the civilized man, too much civilization makes sick animals.
This dilemma reveals the vast uncertainty that Eros holds for man.
For, at bottom, Eros is a superhuman power which, like nature herself, allows itself to be conquered and exploited as though it were impotent.
But triumph over nature is dearly paid for.
Nature requires no explanations of principle, but asks only for tolerance and wise measure.
“Eros is a mighty daemon,” as the wise Diotima said to Socrates.
We shall never get the better of him, or only to our own hurt. He is not the whole of our inward nature, though he is at least one of its essential aspects.
Thus Freud’s sexual theory of neurosis is grounded on a true and factual principle.
But it makes the mistake of being one-sided and exclusive; also it commits the imprudence of trying to lay hold of unconfinable Eros with the crude terminology of sex.
In this respect Freud is a typical representative of the materialistic epoch, whose hope it was to solve the world riddle in a test-tube.
Freud himself, with advancing years, admitted this lack of balance in his theory, and he opposed to Eros, whom he called libido, the destructive or death instinct.
In his posthumous writings he says:
After long hesitancies and vacillations we have decided to assume the existence of only two basic instincts, Eros and the destructive instinct. . . . The aim of the first of these basic instincts is to establish
ever greater unities and to preserve them thus—in short, to bind together; the aim of the second is, on the contrary, to undo connections and so to destroy things. . . . For this reason we also call it the
I must content myself with this passing reference, without entering more closely into the questionable nature of the conception.
It is sufficiently obvious that life, like any other process, has a beginning and an end and that every beginning is also the beginning of the end.
What Freud probably means is the essential fact that every process is a phenomenon of energy, and that all energy can proceed only from the tension of opposites. ~Carl Jung, CW 7,
On Eros Theory, Pages 19-29.