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Forever Jung, part 1: individuation
June 13, 2011 | By:

Psychologist Carl Jung believed life was a process of ‘individuation’ and took patients on a journey to find their growth, creativity and spirituality. In a two-part article, Jungian analytical psychologist John Stewart explains. First, the background...

Health_Carl Jung_individuationOn a good day, we all know the feeling. Having climbed the hill to 50 and beyond, we are sometimes conscious that we have now reached the sunlit uplands, a plateau of mental and physical maturity. A place where we can take our own journeys, irrespective of others, aware of our own potential and limitations.

When we’re feeling like that, said Carl Jung, we’re in the process or state of “individuation”. But what did he mean, and why? And actually, who was he anyway?

Professor Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was one of the great geniuses of the modern era. This Swiss national was a giant of all time in his understanding of the human mind and behaviour. He trained in medicine, psychiatry and psychology, studied philosophy and gained a vast knowledge of anthropology, theology, mythology, the occult and the paranormal, all supported by a great deal of common sense.

Between 1906 and 1914, inspired by Freud’s masterpiece The Interpretation of Dreams, he worked with the great doctor in a fruitful association; Jung in Switzerland, Freud in Austria. Freud even called the younger man his ‘crown prince’.

Jung wanted to expand Freud’s ideas and broaden his own research, whether in Africa studying dreams or carrying out his famous word association tests. But Freud could never tolerate what he perceived as dissent. The two came into conflict and finally separated. After splitting, they never spoke again, but Jung kept his private, personal information and knowledge about Freud a secret to his grave.

Jung’s ideas were eventually far away from Freud’s. The older man had a reductionist and dogmatic theory of the mind that Jung was at first attracted to, but then criticised intellectually (if never personally). However, Freudians launched a monumentally vicious attack on Jung after he broke away, and the splitting of the Freudians and Jungians still persists nearly a century later.

Jung questioned Freud’s insistence on the central importance of infantile sexuality, and belief that this repressed material was the cause of all neuroses. Freud’s patients were a very small sample of upper-middle-class Viennese women. Jung had a much wider range of experience, gained through his psychiatric training and time at the Burgholzi Hospital in Zurich, where he was exposed to all kinds of mental pathologies.

Both Jung and Freud, and Adler – the third giant at the start of psychotherapy as a profession in the early 20th century – relied on the material that came from repressed and supressed memories in the unconscious part of the mind, and all agreed this material needed to be brought to consciousness for understanding of the self and the relief of neurotic symptoms. But Freud’s prognoses were very gloomy for his patients compared to Jung’s.

To Jung, the answer to life’s problems was the path of “individuation”; that is, the process whereby the experiences of a person’s life and the different aspects and components of the immature psyche become integrated over time into a well-functioning whole. It wasn’t just the removal of symptoms and a marginal improvement in lifestyle, which was broadly Freud’s approach. Jung took his patients on a journey to find their own growth, creativity, spirituality and philosophical reflection. From that position, he said, healthy relationships with the self and others would form.

Freud felt that human instinct was the striving for sexual gratification. If repressed, this would cause neurosis, but if brought to consciousness in analysis, all would be well. Jung, however, thought neurotic people needed to look further into themselves and become less dependent on others. Jung realised that Freud’s personal theory of the unconscious mind, originating only from childhood, was too narrow. He saw, in many experiments and case studies, too many similarities in dreams from different cultures to ignore similarities in symbolism.

Jung’s studies of symbolism revealed unconscious archetypes in our minds – the dream symbols – that appear to be inherent and instinctual, whereas Freud thought instincts started at the individual’s birth. And indeed, recent research into trans-generational trauma and near-death experiences, Jung’s own word association tests and modern day neuroscience in dreaming have all pointed towards a larger unconscious mind than the individual one suggested by Freud. Jung termed this the collective unconscious: our minds go back many generations and we cannot forget this, our ancestry, when understanding ourselves, others and society.

Jung also believed that Freud’s anti-religious and anti-spiritual stance was a mistake, and Jung is on record as saying that alcoholics and addicts are hopeless cases unless they have a religious or spiritual experience –  much as the great psychologist William James had reported in his classic The Varieties of Religious Experience, published in 1902. That statement was to have a huge impact, with the growth of the 12-step fellowships: since the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, the 12-step programmes – all based on abstinence, self-examination and belief in a ‘higher power’ – have proved effective treatments for all kinds of addiction.

Forever Jung, part 2:  dream decoder