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Beginner's Guide to Jungian Psychology

Beginner's Guide to Jungian Psychology

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by Robin Robertson

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Ibis Press/Nicolas Hays
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Beginner's Guide to JUNGIAN PSYCHOLOGY

By Robin Robertson


Copyright © 1992 Robin Robertson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-89254-603-9


Jung and the Unconscious

Every advance in culture is, psychologically, an extension of consciousness, a coming to consciousness that can take place only through discrimination.

—Carl jung

This book is about the psychology discovered by Carl Gustav Jung in the first half of the 20th century and its relevance for all of us as we pass into the new world of the 21st century. Jung was a truly original thinker whose ideas are still largely unknown or misunderstood. He wasn't always right; pioneers never are. His view of reality was so different from the prevailing world view that it has often been difficult for fellow psychologists and scientists to grasp what he actually meant.

This wasn't helped by a writing style that was both too literary for his academic colleagues and too scholarly for his literary admirers. Artists and writers have fought their way through to an understanding of the essence of Jung better than the academicians, but they have often generalized too quickly, unable to cope with the breadth and depth of Jung's mind.

In this book, I will try to present a unified picture of Jung's thought, perhaps more unified than is found in his collected writings, but one which I think is a fair presentation of his ideas. My emphasis will be on the practical utility of his ideas, since he has so often been dismissed as impractical and unrealistic. But first, I want to present some idea of the kind of man Jung was, how and why he came to develop the most original world view of the 20th century.


Like Sigmund Freud, his still more famous mentor, Jung was a medical doctor who became one of the early pioneers in the new field of psychoanalysis. Though a clinical psychologist, Jung also did pioneering work in experimental psychology that later led to the lie detector (whose misuse Jung would have abhorred). However, Jung first attracted the attention of Sigmund Freud with his early concept of a complex (i.e., feelings, images and memories so clustered about a single concept, such as "the mother," that they form a whole in the mind). Complexes will be discussed at some length in chapter 2. Freud was nineteen years older than Jung and had already done some of his greatest work. Psychoanalysis was as yet nearly unknown and Freud was either dismissed or reviled by both the medical and academic communities.

You couldn't describe a more perfect situation for Jung to hero-worship Freud, nor for Freud to "adopt" a chosen disciple. In 1906, Jung met Freud and soon after became first Freud's favorite colleague, then his appointed successor. Unfortunately for Freud's plans, Jung was not cut out to be anyone's disciple. Freud and Jung were very different types of men who saw the world in very different ways (as we will see when we discuss Jung's theory of psychological types in chapter 4).

Freud was 50 and felt he had already discovered the essential ideas that described the structure and dynamics of the human psyche. (Psyche is the word that Jung used to describe the totality of all our psychological processes. It seems a better choice than either brain or mind, since it doesn't limit itself to, or separate itself from, the physical.) Freud wanted followers who would take his ideas and develop their consequences. While Jung admired Freud, and thought many of his ideas were useful, he believed the human psyche was far more complex than Freud proposed. While Freud's theories hardened into dogma, Jung pursued his own work with his patients wherever it took him. And it took him places that didn't fit into Freud's theory.


For example, Freud's concept of the Oedipus complex deeply impressed Jung, but Jung saw something different than Freud intended. In brief, Freud argued that the taboo against incest lies deep inside each of us. Because it is ubiquitous, it invariably had to find expression in our myths and literature; Freud felt that it had found its perfect expression in the myth of Oedipus, who unwittingly killed his father Laius and married his mother Jocasta. When Oedipus and Jocasta finally discovered the truth, Jocasta committed suicide and Oedipus blinded himself. Freud argues that this conflict is primal, that it is repeated over and over in all of our lives, especially in the lives of boys between the ages of 4 and 5. At that age (according to Freud), they love their mothers intensely and hate their fathers.

Freud made the Oedipal complex the cornerstone of his theory; it was the single most significant psychic element that underlay masculine development. Jung saw something much more exciting in Freud's discovery: the idea that all the ancient myths still lived inside each of us. In the story of Oedipus, while Freud found a description for all psychic development, Jung saw a single example of a multitude of psychic invariants inside each of us.

Fabled Greek mathematician Archimedes was that rarest of men: a theoretician who could turn his theories to practical use. He used mathematical relationships to develop ingenious combinations of pulleys and levers, which he used to move enormous objects. There is an apocryphal story that, flushed with his success, Archimedes cried, "Give me a place to stand on and I will move the earth!"

Like Archimedes, Jung realized that Freud had discovered a single example of how psychology could escape from personal history by turning to the history of the race as it was recorded in mythology. This historical approach provided both a place to stand on that was outside the patient and a lever to move the patient's psyche. Jung immediately began to pursue this exciting new direction in psychology.

In 1912, Jung published the first fruits of his research as Transformations and Symbols of the Libido (later extensively rewritten and published as Symbols of Transformation in 1952). This book proposed the heretical notion that libido was not merely sexual energy, but psychic energy, and that an image in a dream was much more than a simple rebus that could be decoded to reveal a forbidden sexual desire. In a dazzling display of scholarly detective work, Jung turned to the whole field of mythology for amplification of the fantasies of a single woman in the incipient stages of schizophrenia. (The woman, referred to as "Miss Frank Miller," was a patient of Theodore Flournoy, who had published her fantasies in 1906.)

Where Freud "reduced" fantasy and dream images to a single mythological reference (the Oedipus complex), Jung "amplified" the images in her fantasies by showing parallels throughout the varied mythologies of many cultures and ages. As the fantasies unfolded, he was able to show a pattern emerging that led ineluctably toward a split of the psyche—schizophrenia.

How could the images in a modern woman's fantasies repeat themes from myths thousands of years old, myths which the woman had never read? Our modern world view sees each of us as a blank slate, upon which experience writes its stories. Perhaps it was all in Jung's imagination. Perhaps his analysis was a clever fiction. Was Jung correct in relating her fantasies to mythological patterns which he could interpret as the various stages leading to schizophrenia?

Well, yes he was correct. When, sometime later, Jung discussed his conclusions with Flournoy, Flournoy confirmed that the course of the woman's illness closely matched the pattern Jung described. It's hard to explain how this could occur unless there is a collective underpinning to the psyche, which supplies the images of myths, dreams, and fantasies.

This was too much for Freud, and he soon broke off relations with Jung. Freudians have usually taken Freud's side in presenting this break, Jungians take Jung's side. But it was probably inevitable they would have to split, for they saw the world through different lenses. Like many another father and son (for so Freud and Jung were in essence), Freud felt betrayed by Jung, Jung felt abandoned by Freud. There is some validity to both their views. With his insistence on a total independence from convention, Jung would have been a difficult son for any father to tolerate. With his strong (and sometimes rigid) views about the nature of the psyche, Freud was an impossible father for any son to tolerate. (Virtually all of his psychoanalytic "sons" left him one after another, beginning with Adler.)

But understandable or not, it was a bitter pill for Jung to swallow. For the rest of his life, Jung was forced to follow a solitary path in his exploration of this collective bedrock that underlies individual consciousness. The book you are about to read is about Carl Jung's discovery and exploration of the "unconscious as an objective and collective psyche," which he was later to refer to simply as the "collective unconscious." He called it "collective" because it consists of images and behavioral patterns not acquired by an individual in his or her lifetime, yet accessible to all individuals in all times; "unconscious" because it can't be reached through conscious awareness.


Scientists and academics have always scoffed at the concept of a collective unconscious. They "know" that it is impossible for people to have any memories that weren't acquired in this lifetime. It seems a very odd notion for those of us raised in these supposedly rational times. At a time when we thrash about in a vain search for absent spiritual values, we pretend that the spirit can be reduced to the mind. At a time when we live increasingly in our minds, cut off from the natural world around us, we pretend that the mind can in turn be reduced to the brain. We are positive that there is a material explanation for everything. Any other description of reality is dismissed as primitive superstition.

Yet because of this materialism, we live isolated and alienated from one another. Loneliness and despair have become the normal condition in our advanced Western civilization. Locked within ourselves, we desperately yearn for some sense of relatedness—to our jobs, to our religion, to another person, to the world around us, to ourselves.

Jung's psychology offers a way out of this cul-de-sac. It's not a total answer, but it presents a possibility for a new way of viewing the world. In contrast to the cold, impersonal mechanistic world of materialism, Jung describes a warm, personal, organic world in which each person is connected to each and every other person, where each is connected to every aspect of the universe. Yet each person is also a unique individual with a unique destiny which he calls individuation (i.e., the developmental path that each of us takes during his or her lifetime).

Like any such total view, Jung's picture of reality leaves a number of unanswered questions. The concept of a collective unconscious opens many doors that had previously been closed to Western thought. Traditionally, psychology (along with 20th-century philosophy and science) has dealt with such troublesome questions by limiting itself to those questions that it can answer. Any other questions, especially metaphysical questions, are regarded as nonsense (literally "non" sense, not relatable to sensory description). Unfortunately (or fortunately, in my view) the world is more complex than our systems of thought. Jung's psychology honors all the complexity that each of us experiences in the world. If he is not able to answer all the questions, at least he doesn't deny that the questions exist.

Jung's concept of the collective unconscious is neither a philosophic construct nor a religious dogma; it is an attempt, albeit sometimes a rather primitive attempt, to present an accurate description of the inner world of the psyche and its relationship with the outer material world. He found this world by carefully exploring the dreams of his patients, then relating them to similar themes he found in the fairy tales, mythology, art, and culture of the entire world.

This wasn't an academic exercise; he turned to mythology because it helped him understand and cure patients with real problems. For example, he might find a symbol in a patient's dream that puzzled him. He looked in mythology and found a myth where the symbol had occurred before. Since myths tell stories about human conflicts, Jung could understand the conflict that the patient was experiencing, a conflict that the patient had kept hidden from himself and from Jung. If dreams are meaningless, it should have just been chance that the dream repeated an image from mythology. The conflict reflected in the myth should have had little if anything to do with the patient's actual problem. But it did. Time and again, it did (and still does).

We don't need faith to accept Jung's view of reality; all we need is the courage to honestly explore our own inner world as Jung himself did. This exploration is made easier because Jung has already explored it himself and provided a map of the territory. We don't have to accept his map on faith. He always asked that we approach the psyche as if we know nothing about it. Yet, if we carefully observe what we encounter in our inner life, we will find that our observations fit closely into Jung's model. That's because there actually is a collective unconscious; it's not just a theory.

When we peel away everything that is personal in the psyche, something still remains, something common to all men and women in all times and cultures. Because it is literally unconscious, we can't experience it directly. Like particle physicists observing the tracks left by subatomic particles in a bubble chamber, we have to observe the unconscious through the tracks it leaves in our dreams and fantasies. But we can construct models based on those observations, models that describe (note that they describe, not explain) both its structure and its dynamic relationship with consciousness.

Before embarking on that journey, we need to know something about this remarkable man—C. G. Jung—so that we can better understand how he was able to make his unique discoveries.


Carl Jung was born in Kesswil, a rural region of Switzerland, in 1875. His father was a minister who moved the family to a new parish when Carl was 6 months old and again when he was 4 years old. Both parishes were in rural settings (though the latter parish was near the city of Basel). Jung was a lonely child with no siblings or playmates until he began school (a younger sister was born when he was 9). Cut off from the companionship of other children, he was forced both inward upon his own resources and outward toward the beauty of the natural world around him. Though his later life was filled with deep and significant loves and friendships, he was always to remain a loner who believed strongly that knowledge should ultimately be rooted in direct observation.

In Jung's time, the rural Swiss still lived in a world of mountains and lakes, forests and fields, that hadn't changed significantly in hundreds of years. The Swiss have had a policy of political neutrality since 1515, desiring only peace and stability (though that balance was upset during Napoleon's reign). As a people they have a stolid, earthy quality, rooted in the natural abundance that surrounds them. It's important to recognize this earthy Swiss quality in Jung, since so many have dismissed his description of the psyche as fantasy.

Nature was to provide a source of comfort and nourishment for the rest of Jung's life. As an adult, soon after his marriage in 1903, he built the home he would live in the rest of his life, in Kussnacht, on the shore of Lake Zurich. In 1923, after the death of his mother, he also built a stone tower nearby in Bollingen. From then until his death in 1961, he was to divide his time between living with his family in Kussnacht and living in primitive isolation in his tower in Bollingen. He made additions to the tower in 1927, 1931, 1935, and a final addition shortly after his wife's death in 1955. He learned how to quarry and carve stone in order to do much of the building work on the tower himself. Jung movingly describes his relationship to the tower and to nature in his spiritual autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

At Bollingen I am in the midst of my true life, I am most deeply myself.... At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the season. There is nothing in the Tower that has not grown into its own form over the decades, nothing with which I am not linked. Here everything has its history, and mine; here is space for the spaceless kingdom of the world's and the psyche's hinterland.

Excerpted from Beginner's Guide to JUNGIAN PSYCHOLOGY by Robin Robertson. Copyright © 1992 Robin Robertson. Excerpted by permission of NICOLAS-HAYS, INC..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Beginner's Guide to Jungian Psychology 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Limited_Infinity More than 1 year ago
This book offers a good overview of a complex and often esoteric psychological theory. The author did an excellent job extracting key concepts from Jung's voluminous works and creating a very readable book characterized by a friendly writing style with clear explanations and helpful analogies. He begins by defining the structure of the psyche, personality types and archetypes. This provides a firm foundation for presenting Jung's more abstract concepts about the psychic processes that interact as one struggles along the road to self actualization. The strengths of this book more than make up for brief intervals when the author drifts off topic into sociological interpretations that appear to be based upon personal bias.