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The Life and Ideas of Carl Jung

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Carl Jung was a psychologist who gained notoriety in the early twentieth century. As a student of Freud, Jung built his own views of personality and the unconscious. Like his mentor, his name is easily recognized and associated with of the field of psychology. Such recognition contributed to his selection by this researcher, as did his association with dreams. Jung is a historical figure whose career provided psychology with tools to understand the human mind, and yet contained shadows.

Carl Jung lived from 1875 to 1961 in Switzerland (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). Jung’s early life does not appear to have been pleasant. His parents, Paul and Emilie Jung, were dissatisfied with the paths their lives had taken. They experienced a dysfunctional marriage together and in turn created a dysfunctional home for Jung and his sister (Colon, 2016). His parents were both emotionally unpredictable and unavailable, damaging Jung’s ability to form a healthy bond with them (Colon, 2016; Schultz & Schultz, 2016). This dysfunction may have inevitably impacted Jung’s own marriage and relationship with his children. Jung was consistently unfaithful to his wife and often denied his children affection (Schultz & Schultz, 2016).

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As a child Jung floundered in school, finding his studies loathsome. As the years passed he improved, ultimately studying at the University of Basel and earning both a medical degree and licensure (Colon, 2016; Schultz & Schultz, 2016). According to Colon (2016), Jung was “an internationally respected research scientist at one of the most prestigious psychiatric hospitals in Europe” (p. 46) before the age of forty. He met famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in 1907, who took Jung under his wing. Although they parted ways almost a decade into their friendship, Jung’s career was strongly impacted by his mentor. Indeed, Freud seems to have initially wanted Jung to be the man to carry on his legacy (Schultz & Schultz, 2016).

At the time of Jung’s beginnings in psychology, renowned figures such as Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Wundt were already well established. Influenced by the work of Francis Galton and later, Wundt, Jung and a colleague conducted a series of experiments on word associations. They tracked participants’ responses, response times, and emotions in relationship to a given term (Colon, 2016). Jung and his colleague “concluded that these heightened emotional responses were due to unconscious, feeling-toned ‘complexes’ that affected subjects’ responses” (Colon, 2016, p. 40). According to Schultz & Schultz (2016), these word association experiments are still of great use to psychologists today.

Carl Jung is known for the creation of his analytical psychology, which Schultz & Schultz (2016) described as his “theory of personality” (p. 327). Although Jung was influenced by Freud for several years, his emerging theory differed from his mentor’s. Libido no longer referred to sexual energy but rather an overall life force which impacted the personalities of introverts and extroverts (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). He saw the unconscious mind as being split between the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The personal unconscious acts almost as the mental hall of records for all of an individual’s experiences. Complexes which Jung pondered as a result of his word association experiments are formed in the personal unconscious (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). The collective unconscious is comprised of the life records of all who came before the individual, familial or otherwise (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). Although Jung did conduct experiments with word associations, it seems that much of his work surrounding his analytical psychology came from “clinical observation and interpretation” (Schultz & Schultz, 2016, p. 333).

Like his mentor before him, Jung also relied upon dreams as a source of information from the unconscious. Interestingly, Colon (2016) notes that while on a trip together, Freud and Jung experienced a joint dream. An explanation for the incident eluded Jung and drove him to seek out answers in ancient myths (Colon, 2016). As a result of his research, Jung included the concept of archetypes in his personality theory and the distinction of a collective unconscious. Defined by Schultz & Schultz (2016), archetypes are “inherited tendencies within the collective unconscious that dispose a person to behave similarly to ancestors who confronted similar situations” (p. 331). Jung’s archetypes provide subscribers to his analytic theory an explanation for an individual’s public persona, characteristics, undesirable drives, and a method to achieve self-actualization (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). Some modern researchers have taken the concepts of the collective unconscious and archetypes and applied them to how we experience digital life with the Internet (Houssain, 2012).

Running parallel to Jung’s medical and psychological interests was his lifelong curiosity about the occult. Schultz & Schultz (2016) describe Jung’s mother and her family of origin as frequently experiencing emotional disturbances. Gyimesi (2009) shares that they claimed to have visions and premonitions. Intriguingly, “several years before meeting Freud, he [Jung] wrote his dissertation, On the Psychology and Pathology of Occult Phenomena, in which he examined a young medium… who was in reality his first cousin” (Gyimesi, 2009, p. 461). Even in 1978, seventeen years after Jung’s death, an article was published in the New York Times which presented Jung’s own analysis of the UFO phenomenon (Jung, 1978).

It should be noted that Carl Jung was likely misogynistic. As previously mentioned, Jung was unfaithful to his wife throughout their marriage. Both Masson (1997) and Schultz & Schulz (2016) claim Jung’s extramarital trysts were with not just his female followers, but his patients. When once confronted by the parents of a mistress, Jung promised he’d end the affair in exchange for a sum of money (Masson, 1997).

There is also evidence to suggest that Jung was anti-Semitic. Although this researcher was unable to obtain Frank McLynn’s 1997 biography ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, a review of the book by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson was found. In his review, Masson states that Jung was the president of the Society For Psychotherapy in the 1930s. The Society’s journal, Zentralblatt, published anti-Semitic articles and Jung allowed it (Masson, 1997). McLynn explains “since he could not claim ignorance, as these articles were edited in Switzerland, he tried after World War II, to shift the blame…” (as cited in Masson, 1997, para. 7). Masson highlights Jung’s feelings towards World War II Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who Jung “admired greatly, insisting he was an archetypal religious figure” (Masson, 1997, para. 9). Schultz & Schultz (2016) also note that members of Freud’s International Psychoanalytic Association were concerned about Jung’s anti-Semitism as early as 1911.

Initially, this researcher’s basic and slightly informed impression of Carl Jung was quite good. Although aware that his work was largely not grounded in experimental methods, the collective unconscious, archetypes, and dream analysis were still of interest. Prior knowledge gleaned from other courses in psychology included that Jung went on to influence psychologist Abraham Maslow, as corroborated by Schultz & Schultz (2016). This researcher was also previously somewhat aware of Carl Jung’s interest in the occult.

However, that initial good impression soured as an investigation of Jung went on. Schultz & Schultz (2016) describe how Jung turned away a patient who had shown up for their appointment. This short passage was appalling and enraging – a patient came to him for help and Jung decided he just didn’t feel like conducting therapy. It strikes this researcher as unethical, irresponsible, and likely to his patient. The rubric for this paper suggests contemplating three questions one might ask of their chosen historical figure. Alternatively, this researcher finds herself contemplating three tasks they’d assign Carl Jung, the first being his attendance of a long, intensive course in ethics and ethical behavior in clinical psychology. Secondly, an equally long, intensive course in sensitivity training, as Jung’s anti-Semitism and misogyny are unacceptable. Thirdly, this researcher would challenge Jung to test his theories of archetypes and the unconscious in a lab. Although fascinating, one wonders how they would hold up in the face of experimental data.

In closing, this researcher does see the value in studying Jung and his work. Freud is arguably the first historical figure the general population thinks of when discussing psychology in passing. It is important to see how one psychologist’s work flows and morphs into that of another, like Freud’s did with Jung’s. Although disturbed by Jung’s personal views, the components and presence of the unconscious mind and dreams themselves are still of interest to this researcher.

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