Jung and the single woman

Carl Gustav Jung
October 18, 1996

Departing from Freud, Jung rightly thought that repressed infantile wishes were not the sole or even main causes of neurosis. Frank McLynn does not share this belief, for he writes: "[Jung's] later polygamous tendencies can be attributed to a childhood that taught him never to put his trust in a single woman" (the ambiguity of the word "single" is presumably unintentional - a Jungian slip perhaps?). Jung's second major disagreement with Freud was to extend the concept of the unconscious to include motives not based on the libido, but he substituted a vague and implausible theory: Jung's "unconscious" contained inherited ideas (archetypes), such as the animus and anima (the male and female principles), the Madonna, the evil witch, and the shadow. Mental illness is caused by conflicts between the unconscious (particularly the archetypes) and the conscious mind. Therapy consists of bringing to light the archetypes and resolving these conflicts. McLynn's lengthy attempts to expound Jung's ideas are often unintelligible, but then, as he admits, Jung's own writing was largely unintelligible.

Jung's ideas came from several sources, but mainly from his sessions with patients. He did not realise (nor does McLynn) that all that can be learned from clinical experience is that nothing can be learned from clinical experience, particularly in psychiatry. Jungian analysts took delight in analysing one another - a dangerous practice that often led to quarrels - and Jung did not hesitate to make use of the results of such analyses. He also, like Freud, raided ancient myths for material, and in old age he even tried to explain the behaviour of nations (such as the advent of the second world war) in terms of the mass unconscious.

Jung believed in the supernatural. He even thought alchemy represented the stages of life. But he could never decide whether ghosts and ectoplasm were in the external world or were simply outpourings from the unconscious of those who observed them. He invented the principle of "synchronicity", which merely means that certain important coincidences such as those occurring in telepathy and clairvoyance are not due to chance. Unfortunately, McLynn fails to see that naming something does not explain it.

Like so many who seek to do good on a grand scale, Jung was nasty to almost everyone he encountered personally. He tyrannised and neglected his children, upset his wife by his flagrant womanising, made love to his women patients, deserted his mistresses when they were no longer useful, was jealous of Freud, and presented himself as an overbearing, bombastic, dogmatic bully. At one point, he toyed with Nazism and he was consistently anti-Semitic, though he did help Freud to escape from Austria at the time of the German invasion.

The 400 existing schools of psychotherapy cannot all be right, but they might all be wrong. One of the oddest features of McLynn's book is that he rarely appraises Jung's ideas. Even odder is that at no point does he consider the influence of Jung on the subsequent development of psychotherapy. In fact, when all Jung's nonsense is stripped away, three of his ideas were highly influential. He concentrated on the patient's present not the past; he broadened the scope of the unconscious; and his concept of "individuation" foreshadowed later therapists' belief in actualisation (the optimal deployment of one's talents). According to Jung, individuation begins at 35: the conscious and the unconscious are harmonised and the person becomes reconciled to the world's "totality".

Carl Gustav Jung tells you all you need to know about Jung and a great deal more. True, the book is scholarly but it is scholarship gone mad. The public would be better off reading Anthony Storr's crisp and clear account of Jung in the Fontana Modern Masters series, but Jungian scholars will need to read McLynn.

Stuart Sutherland is emeritus professor of experimental psychology, University of Sussex.

Carl Gustav Jung: A Biography

Author - Frank McLynn
ISBN - 0 593 03391 4
Publisher - Bantam
Price - £25.00
Pages - 624

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