Contact with Jung: Essays on the influence of his work and personality

IT is not an easy task to answer the question of the most significant stimulus that I have derived from C. G. Jung, since he opened the door for me to an entirely new orientation toward my own being and toward the world.

I believe it was H. G. Wells who once said, ‘The rational mind is at the end of its tether’, and it is precisely in answer to this precarious dilemma of our times that Jung has spoken most clearly and courageously. Freud’s discovery that the irrational were primarily responsible for the neurotic suffering and behavior of the individual, and his therapeutic approach of uncovering the unconscious in order to bring it under better control and direction of the rational mind, leave the ultimate solution still dependent on the primacy and superiority of the ego.

But, if the rational mind is really at the end of its tether, it does not seem likely that the ‘way out’ is going to come via reason.

I believe that Freud’s concepts were limited by the metaphysical bias of the scientific tradition of the Age of Reason.

Jung, on the other hand, broke sharply with this metaphysical foundation when he conceptualized the individuation process as a regrouping of the personality around the central symbol of the self.

Thus, in Jung’s system, the superior knowledge of the numinous and divine is once again re-established as central, while man’s ego consciousness and the rational mind are moved to the periphery.

As analytical psychologists, we place our faith and trust primarily in the healing power of the self, and, although we stress the essential importance of the dialectical relationship between ego and unconscious, we believe that through this relationship the birth of a reconciling symbol will eventually occur.

To put it another way, we look for healing to come about through ‘revelation’ rather than through reason.

In this way we depart sharply from the tradition of modern scientific medicine.

I remember my first visit to Jung.

Hardly had I sat down in his study when he said to me, ‘Why doesn’t the medical profession understand me?’

He smiled with a somewhat mischievous twinkle in his eyes and did not wait for an answer.

Then he began to tell me of some of his own life experiences which gradually led him to his deep appreciation of the wisdom of the unconscious.

For two hours he continued to give me rich and vivid illustrations of how the unconscious works toward healing and wholeness.

As far as I could see, Jung was attempting to show me that the aim of psychotherapy was to help the individual to re-establish a connection with his soul.

For him, the genetic factors which may have contributed to the patient’s soul sickness could fit into a number of psychopathological formulations, all of which might yield valid causalistic explanations for the patient’s disturbed ego function.

But, however much these things are of interest from the medical point of view, Jung did not feel that they offered any real hope for redeeming the sick and suffering soul.

As I understand Jung, it was his conviction that modern man’s dilemma is due to his neglect of psychic reality, that his only hope for psychic health is to turn inward and give serious attention and consideration to what his unconscious and his soul have to say, that the unconscious is the true source of life and wisdom.

Is there any wonder that the medical profession has not been able to understand Jung?

We can see further evidence of Jung’s attitude in his approach to dreams.

Although, for him, the dream does present unconscious contents and complexes which must be made conscious, he sees the most valuable function of dreams in the fact that they reveal to consciousness astonishingly specific solutions to conflicts which appear insoluble to the rational mind.

In other words, dreams are not only a way to understanding the unconscious, but they are in themselves potentially and extraordinarily potent healing mechanisms.

From a practical therapeutic point of view, this approach has enabled me to put my trust in the healing powers of the unconscious and the self.

Thus, I see the unconscious as the chief source of strengthening ego consciousness as well as the total personality.

Rather than attempting to strengthen a weak ego by helping it to build up more adequate defenses, I have gradually come to the conviction that any real strengthening of the ego can only come about through re-establishing a connection with psychic reality, not concrete reality.

Or, to put it another way, Jungian psychology has led me to the realization that the modern epidemic of the weak and fragmented ego is not so much due to the ego’s distorted view of outer reality, as to Western man’s utter neglect and devaluation of his soul and inner reality.

This is indeed a difficult position to hold in face of the fact that it can be objectively demonstrated that the ego of the neurotic generally has a distorted or inadequate response to reality-testing.

Jung realized that for the individuation process an adequate and whole ego was essential, since a dialectical relationship between ego and non-ego was fundamental to individuation as he conceived it; therefore, in his earlier writings he often stated the importance of a reductive Freudian type of analysis for individuals in the first half of life or with inadequate ego strength.

I do not know how much Jung may have altered this view in his later years, but I have found an exclusively reductive analysis entirely inadequate for any individual.

Because of my Jungian orientation, I find it increasingly difficult to view even the most severe non-organic psychic disturbances as a psychopathological process going on entirely within the individual.

Rather, I feel my patients suffer primarily from the disease of our times: namely, from a loss of connection with soul and spirit, from the collective over-concretization of the soul and over-rationalization of the spirit.

Certainly, there is psychopathology to be dealt with, but I, at least, have no doubt that an exclusively causalistic medical approach to modern man’s psychic disorders can at best serve only to delay the violent and perhaps catastrophic irruption of the unconscious.

There is indeed a danger in turning to the unconscious to reveal the way toward self-regulation and self-realization, in that a tendency may develop to minimize the importance of the ego body complex.

This type of criticism has often been directed toward analytical psychology.

Assuming that there may be a tendency among some Jungian analysts to devalue the ego, body, sex, etc., I think this is owing to a gross misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Jung rather than to an inherent weakness in his psychotherapeutic formulations.

The ego must react, must take a stand toward the unconscious, for without a reacting ego there is no possibility for revelation.

On the other hand, can we speak of a truly dialectical relationship if the ‘I’ starts out with the presumption that, at best, the ‘Thou’ can only point to the problem, but that the solution must come from the ‘I’?

In a reductive analysis, it is indeed the ego which throws its narrow beam of light into the unconscious in order to explore and differentiate the various contents which it encounters.

In this way the powers of conscious discrimination are increased and the ego is to some extent able to free itself from the domination of disturbing unconscious complexes.

However, there is nothing dialectical in a reductive analysis, since its aim is to strengthen the ego and depotentiate the unconscious.

Practically speaking, I have grave doubts whether an exclusively reductive analysis can even achieve its limited aim, since the ‘ever-changing demon’ will return again and again to pursue and harass the individual.

It cannot be depotentiated, it can only be transformed.

And we know that the ego is incapable of transforming anything, it can only participate in the process.

I have, nevertheless, found the reductive work of analysis an essential instrument in bringing the individual to an awareness of psychic reality, but only if at the same time one realizes that a meaningful life does not come through knowing, but by being known.

To put it another way, human life takes on direction and meaning only when the individual is in touch with that source which knows and recognizes his unique destiny.

Thus, isolated and alienated modern man needs above all to re-establish his connection with those eternal images which the spirit imprints upon the soul.

Only then will he find a kinship connection with all life and feel once again that he is known.

It has been difficult to express my debt to Jung without exceeding the limits of science.

Still, I think it hardly necessary to remind the reader that Jung was far from being anti-scientific.

Rather, he has attempted to introduce the human soul into a rational scientific Weltanschauung which has become sterile and destructive. ~Robert M. Stein, Contact with Jung, Pages 172-175