Freud and Jung worlds apart
by Francis O’Neill1
Were Freud and Jung worlds apart? If they were what was it that drove these two giants of psychiatry to become overnight firm friends, and later to be no longer on speaking terms? And how does the dialogue that took place between them resonate with our own times?
In 1906 the founding father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, began a correspondence with the then thirty year old psychiatrist Carl Jung.
According to Jung this was brought about by Freud taking interest in his publication, The Psychology of Dementia Praecox (schizophrenia) in which Jung drew on Freud’s work.
A meeting of minds – of sort
They met in person in 1907 in Vienna. They became firm friends literally overnight – Jung wrote, ‘We met at one o’clock in the afternoon and talked virtually without a pause for thirteen hours.‘ Jung later described his initial impressions of Freud as ‘extremely intelligent, shrewd, and altogether remarkable.’
But then added, ‘And yet my first impressions of him remained somewhat tangled. I could not make him out.‘
What Jung became most puzzled about was Freud’s sexual theory – the driver behind the make-up of the psyche – that is the id, ego, superego, and Oedipus complex – was penis power or the lack of it.
Well it was not so much the theory but Freud’s insistence upon it being effectively the holy grail of psychology. On the one hand Jung was very impressed with this theory. On the other Freud was obsessive about it and allowed no tolerance for any alternative interpretation or viewpoint. Jung writes that Freud went so far as to denounce art and culture as being the result of ‘repressed sexuality‘. [Freud and Jung worlds apart ]
Jung was junior in the relationship
Being the junior in the relationship Jung gave way to the senior view of Freud. He writes, ‘I tried to advance these reservations of mine on several occasions, but each time he would attribute them to my lack of experience … I could see that his sexual theory was enormously important to him both personally and philosophically.’
As things developed they corresponded extensively with each other over the next seven years. Freud viewed Jung as most innovative and original and saw him as his protégé and heir to his psychoanalysis approach.
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.
But Freud’s plan didn’t work out. Freud, it soon became apparent, had made the wrong assumptions about Jung and his direction of interest.
The official break-up came when Jung resigned from the International Psychoanalytic Congress, a terminal step, but by then the hostility growing between them was becoming well established. [Freud and Jung worlds apart ]
Where it went sour
Where it went wrong for Jung was not only that he didn’t entirely buy into Freud’s dogmatic approach but that he had his own innovative take on the psyche.
This amounted to them holding opposing views on mapping the psyche, and how it works. And if it hadn’t been apparent before, then their close interaction really firmed this difference up for Jung.
Differing models of the psyche
To keep this simple, consider that Freud envisioned the psyche as being like an iceberg floating on the ocean of the unconscious – the bigger part submerged in the currents of the unconscious. [ Freud and Jung worlds apart ]
Freud’s view has the psyche ‘all at sea‘ disconnected and at the mercy of primal forces – which then need to be controlled. [Freud and Jung worlds apart ]
Jung on the other hand with his Collective Unconscious theory has the psyche as an island jutting out of a seabed. Beneath the waves each of us, as islands, eventually meet, become joined together in a collective.
Jung’s model allows for connection to the past, to ancient knowledge, ancient motifs, archetypes to rise to the surface in the psyche beyond or outside of personal experience – all largely through the process of dreams or irrational behaviour. [ Freud and Jung worlds apart ]
So… If one stands back from it, it is clear that, Freud and Jung worlds apart is a fair assessment in their mapping of the psyche, and how it then works.
It soon becomes clear, from this, that Freud leans towards a more mechanistic and non-spiritual understanding of life. Jung, on the other hand, leans more towards the arts, the historical and spiritual.
Occultism and the ‘black tide of mud’
Evidently Freud saw anything to do with ‘occultism’ – religion, spirituality, the paranormal – as a threat. Jung wrote how he could still recall vividly how Freud had said to him, ‘My dear Jung, promise me never to abandon the sexual theory. That is the most essential thing of all. You see we must make a dogma of it, an unshakable bulwark…‘
In some astonishment Jung asked him, ‘A bulwark – against what?‘ To which Freud replied, ‘Against the black tide of mud…‘ Jung continues, ‘and here he hesitated for a moment‘, then Freud added – ‘of occultism.’ [Freud and Jung worlds apart ]
It was the words ‘bulwark’ and ‘dogma’ that alarmed Jung the most in this exchange. He saw that Freud’s theory, ‘no longer has anything to do with scientific judgement; only with a personal power drive.’
This struck at the heart of their friendship particularly as what Freud ‘seemed to mean by “occultism” was virtually everything to do with philosophy and religion, including what the rising science of parapsychology had learned about the psyche.’ And so after a series of forthright letters they went their separate ways, in May of 1913. [Freud and Jung worlds apart ]
A dialogue of our times
One of the reasons I find this relationship so interesting is because to me it reflects a dialogue of our times. In our increasingly secular world it is the dialogue that is moving us on from discussing the pros and cons of orthodox religion, rubbing up against science, to the debate of whether we humans be a quirky outcome of nature, of the forces of nature driving it and us, or whether we are all linked to something bigger, more collective, magical and meaningful – that has consciousness as the hidden driver.
Truth is, both the secular and the ‘meaningful’ views have value, but we’ve yet to fully explore the magical and meaningful fairly in an atmosphere of open enquiry. In this we could do a lot worse than pursue Jung’s map of the psyche and see where it leads. [Freud and Jung worlds apart ]
Let me add a personal comment on this too. I was having just such a dialogue with myself many years back. This was at its height at the time when I came to read Freud’s books – such as Totem and Taboo.2 I had become more ‘anti’ towards my Christian upbringing and indeed increasingly more accepting of, shall we say, the orthodox religion of science – the reasoned atheist and existentialist approach to life.
But yet there was a part of me ever under-nourished by this direction. At the time I was near-devouring books on philosophy and psychology looking for answers – particularly in this search the insights of David Hume and Emmanuel Kant had a lot to answer for, regarding my taking a cautious approach.
I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud. Carl Jung
And so I came to hear of Jung. At first I scoffed at all his wacky stuff about mandalas, archetypes and alchemy. However I decided to read his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections3 (from which all above quotes are drawn) just to satisfy my curiosity and decide his ideas were not for me.
On the contrary though this transpired to be a ‘road to Damascus’ moment in my life. [Freud and Jung worlds apart ]
Here was someone whose insight, humility and wisdom was helping to quench this inner need, this inner thirst in me. Although not fully aware of it at the time it was to become the catalyst I needed to start me on a completely new and exciting quest, towards a more holistic and spiritual understanding of life. [ Freud and Jung worlds apart ]
And in so doing I began to see this period in my life for what it was too: Freud and others had played a necessary part in the undoing of my religious upbringing, while Jung in effect, gave me permission to open doors and look seriously at all matters deemed ‘fringe’ or seemingly potty, and to judge for myself rather than being led by armchair opinion or indoctrination…
And so I’d say to you, if you are in need of spiritual nourishment – and need to balance the books in yourself – I can heartily recommend you take a look at Jung’s inspiring works – and indeed his Memories, Dreams, Reflections may be a great place to start for you, as it was for me.
1 The writer has a BA Hons (1st Class) in Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology and is in the process of completing a book touching on matters raised here.
2 Sigmund Freud (1918) Totem and Taboo. Moffat Yard and Company
3 C G Jung (1972) Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Collins.
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