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Jung - The Golden Flower.

Gender and Psychoanalysis
Jung - The Golden Flower

Early in his career, Carl Gustav Jung worked with Freud. His work captured the public interest, because he drew attention to the Tao religion's conceptualisation of the Yin and the Yang, which have become confused with the Western dichotomy between male and female.

He was born in Switzerland in 1875, and he saw, as central to his early experience, the contrast, and conflict, between his parents. From the account by Fordham, (1) his mother was extraverted and earthy, his father introverted, a pious clergyman. Throughout his childhood, although his parents maintained the outward appearance of their marriage, privately, there was continual conflict. However, his father was gentle and caring, especially during a period of hospitalisation for his mother, when he was four. Although the conflict between his parents distressed him deeply, he gained a deep and lasting bond with his father. Conversely, the effect on his young mind was to create doubts as to the reliability of women.

His school life was not particularly happy or distinguished, mainly due to the poor quality of the teaching, but he spent many hours in his father's small library. He studied medicine at Basle University, but found it unsatisfying, since his interest was more focused on the psyche. Discovering the work of Krafft-Ebing, he decided to transfer to a career in psychiatry, much against the advice of his friends. At the Burghölzli Mental Hospital he found a lively and enquiring intellectual atmosphere. In his work with psychotic patients, he became interested in the origins of their fantasies. Scoring a number of therapeutic successes, he wrote a book The Psychology of Dementia Praecox, which attracted the interest of Freud. Invited to join him, Jung moved to Vienna, and worked there for seven years. From the start, both men differed in their ideas, though they set their differences aside. In time, though, Freud's attention moved more and more toward neurosis and infantile sexuality, while Jung's interest was psychosis. In the end, to Freud's considerable distress, Jung decided to go his own way.

Central to Jung's proposals was the idea of the ideal state of consciousness as an integrated whole. Since the mind was seen as separate from consciousness, he invariably used the term psyche to indicate the union and interaction of the conscious and unconscious. He saw the latter as in dynamic equilibrium with the former, but rooted in memory, not only personal experience, but in cultural memories and symbols, the collective unconscious.

There is a fundamental difference between a symbol and a sign. Signs are representations of meaning - similes. Symbols are one and the same as whatever they represent - they are metaphors. Language, for instance is system of signs which, when internalised, become symbolic structures. For later cognitive psychologists, the significance of the age of two is the beginning of symbolic manipulation, from which comes the beginning of language use to express the form of those symbols.

Jung visualised the individual's psychic system as a the union of the individual's personal experience and his, or her, cultural substrate, at once dynamic, but regulated, flowing back and forth between polar opposites. The greater the tension between the poles, the greater the energy, or libido. Movement towards adaptation to the environment and satisfaction of the conscious is progression, movement towards adaptation to one's inner needs is regression. The word regression carries negative connotations, but in Jung's usage, it was a healthy complement to progression. Repression occurs from any impediment to the free movement of the libido, which, if blocked, can lead to material building up in the unconscious. In seeking an outlet, it may be expressed by some outburst, by neurosis, or in the worst case, in psychosis. The need is for the human individual to adapt to both the inner and outer worlds, the two in harmony.

The collective unconscious is the unknown material from which our personal conscious is derived. What are sometimes called instincts come from it, but it also shapes our conscious experience. Jung did not suggest that historical experience was inherited, but that the past history of mankind and the evolution of cultural structures had shaped the mental configuration of the mind .

The tendency of the collective unconscious to shape the present is called archetypal, from the thousands of years of history when humans were emerging from their animal past. It presents itself in the form of collections of images, both simple, geometric figures, emotions (particularly at crucial situations, such as birth and death) but also in more complex forms, real or fantastic animals, and figures, such as dwarfs, giants and so on.

Like Freud, he saw dreams as extremely significant, having their own language based on symbols and analogies. Such symbols become apparent in all cultures, through art, folk-lore and religion. Archetypes have unlimited variety, but Jung claimed that there were at least some principle motifs: the persona, the shadow, the anima and animus, the old wise man and the earth mother, and the self.

In the process of adaptation to the real world, called development, we emphasise what we feel are our best features, but we also conform to what society requires of us. The compromise - the image we show to the world - Jung called the persona. That part of us that we suppress becomes a part of our personal conscious, which together with the collective conscious is the shadow. The word 'persona' derives from the masks that actors used to wear. Clearly, we wear masks at various times for various eventualities. Through these we portray ourselves. We lead people to believe we are what they would like us to be. Clearly, the best way to get someone to believe you is to believe it yourself, but we may come to believe too rigidly.

The shadow is often that part of ourselves that we do not like to acknowledge. We are at once confronted with Jung's bipolar opposites. No one can be complete without their shadow, and Jung pointed out that it is as useless to deny the shadow as repress it. Immediately we sense the necessary dynamic between opposites. Trying to portray ourselves as nobler or better people than we are inevitably leads to immense strain and eventually disillusionment. For many people, of course, it takes great courage to acknowledge their shadow.

Behind the shadow is the collective unconscious, and the archetypes. Among these are the anima and animus. The man's persona carries with it the shadow of the man inside, and also the anima which is the complementary female element. Similarly, the woman's shadow is another woman, with elements of the man within it, the animus.

It should be emphasised that there not discrete elements labelled 'masculine' and 'feminine' The two principles are the extreme ends of a continuum, no more real than is the number 'infinity'.

The acquired image of women in a man's consciousness helps him gain some understanding of women. But it is only a generalisation, a composite of significant figures from pagan goddesses through to the Virgin Mary. In the modern age there will be aspects of cult figures from Madonna to Marilyn Monroe. The anima appears in myth and legend down the ages from the sirens luring sailors to their deaths, to Sleeping Beauty, innocent and virginal. Though often young, she will have depths of experience, arcane knowledge and sophistication.

The image only becomes real as the man experiences real women, initially his mother then, perhaps, his sisters. Later the image is projected on to the various women he meets in his lifetime. Many men have little experience of real women, and the image projected is of this composite, leading to misunderstandings and difficulty.

Transvestites are often the men they feel they 'ought' to be. In some crisis, the repressed anima bursts forth in such a way that the woman the man would like to be is mixed up with the stereotypical images from the archetype.

For a woman, the animus is similarly a composite of the men in her life - father and brothers - and the cultural archetypes. These latter may be images ranging from the Viking marauders, raping and pillaging, to the gentle but gallant Knight in Shining Armour. Unlike the anima, which usually appears in the form of individual figures, the animus is often an assemblage of men - priests or other dignitaries.

The masculine principle in women has, perhaps, found wider expression in the last thirty years, yet some women feel that they should reject their anima, their female archetype. They, in their turn, may project their unconscious on to men, sometimes in unreasonable expectations. As before, a woman may take for granted that her partner is as she expects him to be. If he no longer conforms to the assumptions she makes about him, relationship problems follow. Other women may react with hostility to all men, possibly from the effect of oppressive and patronising behaviour by their father and brothers. This may be a significant, but retrograde, influence in the present-day feminist movement.

Two further archetypes are likely to be important to a person - the old wise man and the earth mother, to the extent that they work through him, or her. To relate to them too deeply can be dangerous. The man who comes to believe that archetype expresses his own power is in danger of becoming a megalomaniac, or that he is the sole fount of all wisdom. A woman may become the all nurturing Lady Bountiful, the all-nurturing nurse, who expects all those who come within her influence to be forever dependent on her.

Jung defines the self much as many Eastern religions do - as the coming together in a unity of being. In the Tao religion, the aim is to achieve the Immortal Spirit Body, the Golden Flower, achieved by a balance of opposites, specifically the light forces, yang, and the dark forces, yin. In Indian religion, too, true selfhood is achieved by a harmonious balance of the highest and the lowest.

Each person finds his, or her, own place on the continua; shifting from day to day, moment to moment, accommodating the ever-changing demands of their lives. It is this dynamic that has given Western interpretation so many problems. Western philosophy, in its tough-minded pragmatism, and its emphasis on opposites, finds this state of being high and low, man and woman, dark and light, all at the same time, intolerable. Yet, so often, Westerners, try to adopt this Eastern sense of being, without any fundamental internalisation of its real meaning, and what they achieve is merely imitation. To Jung, the id and the ego became generalised into the interaction of spirit and matter. His emphasis is not conflict, but harmony.

Writers in the tradition of Desmond Morris have taken an interest in Jung, seeing in his work a record of how humans through the ages have coped with the environments of the time. Successful evolution involves ability to change environments and humans have moved more in this way, perhaps, than other species.

They suggest (2) that Jung ". . . had absorbed from Sigmund Freud the idea that the forces of recovery often lay within the patient . . . Jung went further, and decided that patients had often become mentally ill because ancient and powerful forces within them were actually trying to correct basically unsound and unhealthy adaptations made to artificial and unhealthy circumstances."

Bibliography and good reading.

  1. Fordham. F, (1966) An Introduction to Jung's Psychology,London: Penguin Books.
  2. Dixon, T., Lucas., (1982) The Human Race, (page 198) London: Thames Television/Methuen
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Bland. J. (1998) Jung - The Golden Flower.
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Web page copyright Derby TV/TS Group. Text copyright Jed Bland.
28.04.98 Amended 29.12.98