Jung and the interpretation of realities

Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung in USA, p...
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‘Too much of the animal distorts the civilized man; too much civilisation makes sick animals’[1]

‘Mystical experience is experience of archetypes.’[2]

‘During those years between 1918 and 1920, I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the self … I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.’[4]

On the Ground

Contrary to common misunderstandings Carl Gustav Jung (b. 26th July 1875 – d. 6th June 1961) is not quite as easily read as one might at first imagine, and nor does his mature psychology unfold or become simply explained by a single overarching theory. One sympathetic reader of Jung’s has even said of his analytical psychology that ‘to make such a simplification seems rather like drawing a map of the world on a sheet of paper: one conveys as little of the true nature of the psychology as of the seas and continents that make our globe.’[5] Notwithstanding the difficulty at hand of locating something approximate to Jung’s comprehensive thesis, much ought to commend his numerous contributions to the language of depth psychology, psychodynamics, and twentieth century thought more generally.

Carl Gustav Jung was to become a psychiatrist with a special interest in the overlap between the wisdom of the dreams and world religions. He was the first gentile to enter Freud’s circle of closest colleagues, he was the prince who would be the heir apparent to the throne in direct succession after Freud’s passing.[6] However, Jung was fall into disfavour with Freud, as others had also, by publicly disagreeing over the centrality of the role of sexual libidinal drive in human development. After what appears to have been for both men a highly traumatic breakdown in their close relationship, Jung went on to found an approach to human psychology which became known as Analytical Psychology. Analytical Psychology was to be the first form of post-Freudian analysis. Jung’s therapeutic approach deviates from Psychoanalysis chiefly by a de-emphasis of the primacy of the role of ego and sexual libidinal drive in favour of an attachment of importance to the human potential of self-hood and self-realisation through a developmental process he called individuation.  Jung’s primary influences suggest themselves as being theology, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology.  The psychodynamic historian Henri Ellenberger writes:

“Jung’s analytic psychology, like Freud’s psychoanalysis, is a late offshoot of romanticism, but psychoanalysis is also the heir of Positivism, Scientism, and Darwinism, whereas analytic psychology rejects that heritage and returns to the unaltered sources of psychiatric Romanticism and philosophy of nature … Second, whereas Freud’s aim is to explore that part of the human mind that was known intuitively by the great writers [that is the unconscious part of psyche], Jung claims to have approached objectively and annexed to science a realm of the human soul intermediate between religion and psychology.” (Ellenberger, H. F. 1970: p. 657)

The Self & Self-psychology

For Jung, the self can be considered the central co-ordinate and access point for his thought – as it is through an understanding of the coextensive dualism between the personal self and the collective Self that his psychopathology can be said to be founded.[7] Simply put, Jung viewed the self as both the centre and the totality of psyche (cf. monad).  Moreover, Jung came to regard the psychology of the self as also the psychology of religious experience:

‘…the spontaneous symbols of the self, or of wholeness, cannot in practice be distinguished from a God-image.’[8]

In this way one can suggest that Jung appears to have positioned the individual as if the hinge between the personal and the collective; that is to say, the individual has been located at an imaginal mid-point of psychic life between the collective consciousness of external reality and the collective unconscious (cf. Colman in Papadopoulos, 2006).  That said, it is apparent that in his work entitled Psychological Types (1921), Jung is formulating a concept of self as an entity quite different to that of the ego.  Here, then, the self can be considered to always exist between a complex opposition of pairs.  Through the process of differentiation between these opposites, for example, between Individual and Collective, a union of opposites may be achieved which bring about transformations toward wholeness and self-realisation (individuation).  It is precisely this process of differentiation of self from the opposites which Jung considered to be the essence of the process he called individuation.  Jung’s own experiences of active imagination, particularly in the period of ‘creative illness’ after his dramatic split from Freud, suggest themselves as informing his notions of self and individuation.  From 1916 into the 1920’s Jung admits openly to painting mandala in an effort to understand his own inner conflict.  It is then, according to his memoirs (1963), Jung writes that in 1927 he had a dream which he came to recognise as a revelation; he called the dream the ‘Pool of Life.’  Here, the dream acted to inform Jung as to the meaning and orientation of self:

‘In the centre of the [city] square was a round pool and in the middle of it a small island.  On it stood a single tree, a magnolia.  It was as though the tree stood in the sunlight and was at the same time the source of light.’[9]

Jung adds the following explanation for his dream:

‘Through this dream I understood that the self is the principle and archetype of orientation and meaning.  Therein lies the healing function … The dream depicted the climax of the whole process of development of consciousness.  It satisfied me completely, for it gave a total picture of my situation.’[10]

This mysterious insight into the phenomenology of self does appear to have informed Jung’s thinking; in the following year (1928) he went on to publish The relations between the ego and the unconscious and also added the section entitled Individuation.[11]

Pattern within Pattern – On the Personal, the Collective and the Archetype

Jung considered the psyche to be dynamic arrangement comprised of an ego-consciousness and a personal unconscious. That said, Jung went on to develop and place greater emphasis on the hypothesis that the unconscious also had a collective symbolic character, and it is this he demarcated the collective unconscious.  The salient characteristics of the collective unconscious are that it uniquely contains universal symbols as its privileged contents which together he designated as primordial images (c. 1912).  It is certainly no coincidence, therefore, to find that at this time in Vienna one finds Freud’s writing closely mirrors Jung’s own of this period with his (Freud’s) ontogenic descriptions of the primal scene, primal horde, and the primal father (cf. Totem and Taboo, 1912-13).[12] In 1917 Jung began to write of dominants which he conceived of as special nodal points around which imagery clustered and constellated whilst coextensively attracting cathected libidinal energy.  Here, in the thesis of dominants, one can begin to discern the overlapping similarity with Jung’s other cluster thesis of complex as that which refers to a constellation or cluster of energetic investment said to exist within the personal unconscious.  By 1919 Jung introduces the term archetype into his writing as a term applied to the consideration of the ways in which the pattern of primordial imagery is transmitted over time and across cultures, and not as some might have us believe, as the ‘content of primordial imagery’ (ectypal objects):[13]

“The first stage in the evolution of archetypal theory arose directly from Jung’s self-analysis and from his work with mainly psychotic patients at the Burghölzli Hospital.  He found that imagery fell into patterns, that these patterns were reminiscent of myth, legend, and fairytale, and that the imaginal material did not originate in perceptions, memory or conscious experience.  The images seemed to Jung to reflect universal human modes of experience and behaviour”.  Samuels, A., (1985), Jung and the post-Jungians, p. 24

Where Freud had believed the ego to emerge from the id and to be the central agency of personality; which, on the one hand, mediated between instinctual drives (as the id), and on the other, the dictates of conscience and reality (as the super-ego), Jung deviates once again from his one time friend and colleague.  For Jung, then, the ego and ego-consciousness are like a mirror for the unconscious.  One also finds a problematic within Jung’s texts in the way in which he uses the terms ‘ego’, ‘ego-consciousness’, and ‘consciousness’ interchangeably for the same notion of the conscious life.  Nevertheless, in the main it can be said that Jung, unlike Freud, always stressed that the ego as an entity of psyche, was at the centre of consciousness.  Hence to Jung, therefore, the ego is responsible for such things as identity, memory, and the individuation of the individual within time and space.  For Jung, the ego is an example par excellence of the ‘complex.’  Though Freud elevated the ego to the station of the highest position in the individual psyche Jung did not follow.  Rather, Jung saw the ego as arising out of, and subordinate to, the self.  Jung’s understanding of the meaning of this self refers to the patterning and balancing of the different parts into an integral whole, and, the content of self as an infinite variety of shapes and images:

“The ego stands to the self as the moved to the mover, or as object to subject, because the determining factors which radiate out from the self surround the ego on all sides and are therefore subordinate to it.  The self, like the unconscious, is an a priori existent out of which the ego evolves”.  Jung, C. G., CW11, para. 391.

By these standards, under the influence of his clinical findings of patterns, and a clear interest in world myths, religions and philosophies, Jung came to believe that the self was also an archetype.  Moreover, due to the mutuality of the relation between ego and self the term ego-self axis came to be used extensively within post-Jungian circles.  The consideration of Jung’s idea of the part played by the self in psychic processes led him to a further consideration of the part played by those processes in the gradual realisation of the self over a lifetime.  This is the process of becoming to which Jung refers using the term individuation.  Here, the essence of individuation can be said to be the realisation of the personal melange comprised of both the collective (as universal and public) and the unique and individually subjective (as individual and private).  Individuation is a process not a state, and, as such, is never completed [except by death] and therefore it remains an ideal concept.  It is also suggestive of becoming oneself, the person that is implied by an acceptance and recognition of both the conscious and unconscious aspects of self.  Jung believed that this integration leads not only to a greater degree of self-realisation (as if the acknowledgement of an entelechy for individuation), but, more importantly, also to the awareness that one actually may possess a self.

The Syzygy: Anima & Animus

The problems with neat divisions of gender and sexuality into safe compartmentalisations are well known to those familiar with the shifting sands of both Gender Theory and Feminist Theory (cf. Verena Kast, Anima/animus (2006: pp. 113-129). However, for Jung the theoretical division of psychological types between masculinity and femininity turns upon the quaternary of archetypes; Logos and Eros, and, Anima and Animus.  Here, for Jung, the opposition of Logos and Eros seeks to find a correspondence between the unflinching patriarchal and authorising words and symbols of Reason [as if prevalent in human males] in opposition to the wordless, emotional, nurturing and above all intuitive symbols of Love [as if prevalent in human females].  In the other vertices, then, we find the opposition of anima [as the archetype for femininity] and animus [as the archetype for masculinity]. It is certainly noteworthy that Jung did not simply believe that the self was comprised, in males for example, exclusively of animus.  The male is animus as the female is anima. Rather, that each individual psyche was comprised of a contra-sexual component of its own opposite. Therefore, within each male self there is said to exist a degree of anima, and correspondingly within each female self there is said to exist a degree of animus. The balance, for Jung at least, holds the key to ascertaining sexual preference and object-choice.


Jung’s notion of pathology as well as his notion for the typology of psychic dynamism can be construed to adhere to a schema called a quaternary.  Jung envisaged a schema which preserved his theory of opposites as that which comprises of two dualities set upon different vertices, namely, vertical and horizontal, which he demarks into four functions of consciousness (sensation, thinking, feeling and intuition) and two attitudes (extraverted or introverted).  Below is a short summary of the significance of each of the terms given:

  • Extraverted [E]: Those turned toward the outer world, of people and objects.  An extravert, or extraverted type, is one whose dominant function is focused in an external direction.  Extraverts are inclined to express themselves, using their primary function, directly.
  • Introverted [I]: Those turned toward the inner world of symbols, ideals and archetypal forms.  An introvert, or introverted type, is one whose dominant function is inwardly focused.  Introverts are inclined to express themselves, using their primary function, indirectly, through inference and nuance.
  • Intuition [N]: Unconscious perceiving; Intuition involves the recognition of patterns, the perception of the abstract; it is a visionary sense.  Extraverted intuition perceives the patterns and possibilities of life. Introverted intuition compares a ‘hunch’ of real-world circumstances with that which is ideal.  In Jung’s typology, intuition is an irrational function.  Intuition’s opposite function is Sensing.
  • Sensing [S]: Physiological perception; perceiving with the five natural senses. Extraverted sensors are attuned to the world of sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes. Introverted sensors are most aware of how those perceptions compare with their ideal internal standards. In Jung’s typology, sensing is an irrational function. Sensing’s opposite is Intuition.
  • Thinking [T]: Making decisions impersonally.  In Jung’s typology, thinking is a rational function. Thinking’s opposite is Feeling.
  • Feeling [F]: Making decisions from a personal perspective.  In Jung’s typology, feeling is a rational function.  Feeling’s opposite is Thinking.

One can see straightaway two glaring points for further research and discussion; on the one hand, that Hans Eysenck’s claims made for introvertion and extraversion personality traits made in the name of clinical psychology were those traits first observed and described by Jung. On the other hand one can see that there is therefore a minimum of eight possible personality types in the classic Jungian typology. Not a noteworthy point at first glance. That said, however, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers (1980) extended Jung’s types by adding a Judging/Perceiving function to the personality classifications thus doubling the number of personality types to sixteen.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test is used widely to help identify personality types.  Perceiving and Judging – For the E (extraverted) types, the letter P means that the dominant function is a Perceiving function (Intuition or Sensing); J means the dominant function is a deciding or Judging function.  For Introverts, it is just the opposite.  P actually means that the extraverted function is a Perceiving (data-collecting, or irrational) function, but since the dominant function is introverted (by definition for Introverts), the “I _ _ P” types’ first functions are Judging (deciding or rational) functions.

The Shadow

The concept of the shadow, exactly like most other, if not all, of Jung’s major contributions to psychology, requires of the reader an appreciation with that which Casement (2006) terms ‘the interrelationship between different psychic phenomena’ (2006: p. 94).  Here, then, this most illusive concept may also be seen to overlap with those of the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious, and the archetypal.  Thus, in the sense attributed to the personal, the shadow makes itself known, mostly through the ‘triggers’ of projection and transference, as the manifest contents of our emotional lives whether positive (e.g. idealisation) or negative (e.g. hatred).  In the sense attributed to the collective, the shadow may be understood through the positive or negative trend of an era known as a zeitgeist (spirit of the age).  A frequently used example of the collective negative shadow might be the scientific racism and the propaganda of hate employed by Nazi party.  An example of the collective positive shadow might be the Summer of Love in 1967.  Lastly, in the sense attributed to the archetypal, the shadow may be understood as the positive or negative aspects of the God-head or deity. An example of the archetypal positive shadow might be accessed through the notion of and for ‘The Good’; personified through such attributes as exhibited by say: Zoroastrian Ahuramazda; Basilides’ First son; Christianity’s Christ; Spinoza’s One Substance; or even Cinderella’s fairy godmother. Counter examples of the archetypal negative shadow might be accessed through the notion of and for ‘Evil’; personified through such attributes as exhibited by say: Egyptian Typhon or Set; Yahweh’s Leviathan;[14] the alchemical Saturn; the Cathar and Bogomil Rex mundi; or even J.R.R Tolkein’s creation the Balrog.

Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle

Where the causality principle asserts that the connection of cause and effect is a necessary one, the synchronicity principle asserts that the terms of a meaningful coincidence are connected by simultaneity and meaning (1952: para. 916). Which is to say, in other words that series or runs of quite ordinary events are usually viewed in combination as meaningless coincidences which do not require a non-causal explanation. Indeed, this assumption ought to remain true for as long as coincidences do not exceed the limits predicted by Probabilistic Causality.  However, should these coincidences exceed the probability of their predicted appearance then it would prove that there are genuinely non-causal combinations of events for which one might be forced to account without recourse to the necessary assumption of causation.  Then, one might account for general events as on the one hand related to each other by causal chains whilst, on the other, by a kind of meaningful cross-connection.  For Jung, the possibility of non-causal events postulated a factor incommensurate with causality (1952: para. 827) which viewed meaningful cross-connection or meaningful coincidence as something more than mere chance.[15] Initially, Jung writes that he had been influenced by Schopenhauer’s (1891/1913) paper Transcendental Speculations on the Apparent Design in the Fate of the Individual where Schopenhauer uses the geographical illustration of cross-connections between different meridians.  However, having found Schopenhauer’s armchair ‘transcendental speculations’ far from empirical, and in fact quite unreliable, logically speaking, Jung turned his growing interest in acausal events toward those contemporary investigations using ‘scientific method’ employed in experimental parapsychological research.[16] It is Jung that first ascribes to the hypothetical principle of synchronicity an archetypal quality that is equal to that which can be found in the principle of causal explanations, thus: ‘synchronicity as a psychically conditioned relativity of space and time’ (1952: para. 840).


It is clearly open to debate as to whether the theories of the often quoted Carl Jung contain much recognisable to the contemporary undergraduate study of human psychology.  Nevertheless, what is less open to debate might be: how Jung’s theoretical and clinical collaboration with Freud and the psychoanalytic movement (1906-) changed the course of twentieth century psychotherapies; his foundational contributions to abnormal psychology (word association, the archetype, the collective unconscious, counter-transference, the persona, and not least, self-psychology) having become lasting features of most if not all creative therapies; and that his peculiar humanity and often astonishing writings continue to challenge theorists and clinicians alike with their symbolic and collective anthropological significance. Furthermore, the symbology and semiotic elements obtaining from both Jungian and post-Jungian texts offer much to the interdisciplinary student of philosophy of language and contemporary cognitive linguistics alike.[17] As has been said by several commentators, analytical psychology may be seen to act to aid in the approach to, for example, Noam Chomsky’s notion of and for deep structures.[18] Which is to say that these so-named deep structures are notionally considered to act as a universal grammar of competence which can be said to mediate between the difference of self and other, subject and object, individual and collective patterning; simply put, Chomsky situates language as a phylogenetic predisposition (a phenotype) of our species. Notwithstanding, there has been a significant renewal of interest in Jung (not least since the publishing of the ‘Red Book’) and his analytical psychology (viewed in interdisciplinary terms drawn from the study of linguistics, aesthetics and the post-modern – see also Hauke, C., 2000). Perhaps one can still make out the definite outline of a far more positive therapeutic technique than the analytical foundation proposed by Freud. Jung’s theory and technique is an account for our overcoming of ourselves as humans and sets this as lifelong process of learning about the self (individuation). Moreover, it can also be added in conclusion that for Jung the individuation of the self within the context of others is the human ‘becoming’ – rather than merely a human ‘being’ – and, as such; always set within that context of others, one might come to avail oneself of the means toward an unblocking of creativity and the inherent potential within through active imagination. And so it seems that Jung – though not a perfect character by any stretch of the imagination – predates the humanistic movement in psychiatry and psychology by many years.

[1] Jung, C. G., (1917/1926/1943), CW7, para. 32

[2] Jung, C. G., (1935/1976), CW18, p. 98

[3] (Sanskrit. Mandala, Eng. a symbol of the self, a magical circle)  Mandala refers to a geometric figure with regular divisions of four or multiples thereof.  The use of the mandala in analytical psychology has been considered close to that which some humanistic psychologists (e.g. Abraham Maslow) call ‘peak experiences.’  Cf. Samuels, A., (Jung and the post-Jungians, 1985)

[4] Jung, C. G., (1963), Memories, Dreams, Reflections, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, p. 222

[5] Frieda Fordham (1966)

[6] Cf. Jones, E., The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1961), also cf. Ellenberger, H., The Discovery of the Unconscious; The History of Dynamic Psychiatry (1970).

[7] Rycroft, C., (1995), 2nd edn., Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, London: Penguin, p. 89

[8] Jung, C. G., (1951), CW9ii, para. 73

[9] Jung, C. G., (1963), p. 224

[10] Ibid

[11] Cf. Jung, C. G., (1928), CW7

[12] Exogamy – Customs or law requiring that marriage be with someone outside the tribe or totem group.  Here, the anthropological term totem refers to any object (animal or plant) which is venerated by a particular group (tribe or other community) as a symbol of itself or of its protecting and authorising function (cf. Rycroft, 1995).

[13] ‘In Platonic philosophy the term archetypal is applied to the Idea or Form as present in the divine mind prior to creation, and still cognizable by intellect, independently of the ectypal object.’ The Shorter OED, (trans. Onions, T., 1973), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[14] Leviathan, the great beast of the abyss created on the fifth day only later bestowed the attributes of death and the fallen elder son, Satan. (see the Book of Genesis)

[15] Jung, C. G., (trans. Hull, R. F.C, 1952/1969), 2nd edn., ‘Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle’, CW8, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, London: Routledge / Princeton University Press, p. 417ff

[16] Jung cites examples drawn from the empirical study of parapsychology: Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP) and Psychokinetics (Telekinesis), specifically those well documented psychology experiments conducted by J. B. Rhine and his colleagues (1934), and by G. N. M. Tyrrell (1947).  Also cf. Cardeña, E., Lynn, S. J., & Krippner, S., (eds. 2000)

[17] ‘It is possible to suppose that these linguistic categories and structures are more or less straightforward mappings from a pre-existing conceptual space programmed into our biological nature. Humans invent words that label their concepts.’ Li and Gleitman (2002: 266) cited in Evans, V., & Green, M., (2006), ‘Universals and Variation’, Cognitive Linguistics: An Introduction, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 60-62

[18] In ‘Generative Grammar’ an underlying linguistic competence ought to be distinguished from linguistic performance.  Noam Chomsky’s (Syntactic Structures (1957) and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965)) famous work on the nature of transformational grammar suggests a nativist hypothesis that universal grammar was generated by a non-absolute, relative structure of latent substantive objects stemming like branches of a tree from a limited number of formal grammatical structures and a lexicon.  Later (1965), Chomsky introduces the terms principles and parameters to account for universals and variation of syntactic structure, respectively.  Cf.  Evans, V., & Green, M., (Cognitive Linguistics, 2006) and also cf. Audi, R., (1999), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd edn., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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