Carl Gustav Jung was one of the pioneering figures of the 20th Century. He was a radical and inspirational psychologist and thinker who developed a characteristic and unique way of understanding the human psyche and its functioning.
Certain of Jung’s concepts and terms have entered into everyday language, such as introversion and extroversion, complex and archetype. More significantly, he founded a system of thought which has directly helped very many people and indirectly influenced countless more, as well as having entered and influenced mainstream culture itself.
The core of his system was the belief that the whole of the individual’s experience should be respected and included, rather than aspects being pathologized or disavowed; this included the individual’s unwanted ‘shadow’ aspects – such as, for example, their aggressive, envious, destructive qualities, as well as their spiritual longings and experiences. Jung’s was a vision that embraced the heights and depths of human experience.
He is perhaps best known in wider culture for this recognition of the psychological value of spiritual experience, particularly in an era where traditional religious belief was waning and church attendance across Europe was declining. Jung recognised that these spiritual longings, beliefs and experiences stemmed from the psyche’s intrinsic striving toward wholeness, which required that the individual move beyond, and expand, their everyday view of themselves, opening themselves up to the functioning of the deeper psyche and the functioning of what he called ‘the self’.
Jung argued that we each need to be attendant to this self (to listen to it and take heed of it), which is experienced as beyond the individual themselves. Jung believed that in following the lead of the self in this way we are put in touch with, and can integrate, further parts of the personality. He called this process individuation.
Jung's interest in spiritual experience has sometimes led to a charge of Jung’s vision being essentially a mystical one. Whilst Jung’s understanding would certainly embrace mystical experience (as he would want to be inclusive of all human experience), he was essentially interested in describing a practical psychology which properly addressed the range of experiences and difficulties of the people he met, both inside and outside his consulting room.
Jung called this practical psychology, analytical psychology, and it is sometimes also known as Jungian psychotherapy (or analysis). Other pages on this website give both an outline of analytical psychology, and a detailed exploration of various of his concepts, amongst which are: the self, the shadow, the personal and the collective unconscious, complex, archetype, individuation, the transcendent function, the theory of opposites, the self-regulating purposive psyche, the theory of types, introversion and extroversion, and the compensatory function of dreams.
He also had significant insights in regard to the working of the analytic relationship, drawing on mediaeval alchemical texts as a metaphor, and discussing the way in which analyst and analysand (the person in analysis) mutually influence the other. He coined the term the coniunctio, amongst others, to describe elements of this process. Jung also made other contributions to the study of religion, to philosophy and to theoretical physics, amongst other fields.
Jung was born in 1875, near Lake Constance in Switzerland. His father was a village pastor, something that gave Jung a unique insight into Christianity. He married in 1903 and had five children. Jung trained as a psychiatrist and worked at the Burghölzli hospital in Zürich, where he came across Sigmund Freud’s work, in which he was immediately interested. After a period of correspondence, Jung became an uneasy pupil of Freud’s, and they collaborated in setting up and popularising Freud’s psychoanalysis in its difficult early years, when this radical new understanding of the mind was meeting much opposition.
Jung was openly acknowledged as the heir apparent to Freud’s legacy for a while, until the differences in their theoretical positions and personalities became manifest and they split irreconcilably in 1913. This split capitulated Jung into a personal but ultimately creative crisis, and he emerged from this period of self-exploration and discovery having developed the concepts that were to become the cornerstones of analytical psychology.
Jung was a complex and controversial character, probably best known through his ‘autobiography’ Memories, Dreams and Reflections (actually it was dictated to his assistant Aniela Jaffé, who had a significant influence on the form and content of the book, omitting what she felt inappropriate). Jung had his own shadow side, and his relationships with women and his alleged anti-Semitism in the war years have been discussed extensively (see, for example, chapter 7 in Jung – A Very Short Introduction by Anthony Stevens). His personality is explored further in Jung the Man.
He died in Küsnacht, Switzerland in 1961.