Carl Jung: on the realm of the unconscious, the subjectivity of psychology, and the causes of neurosis

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytic psychology, a divergence from Freud’s psychoanalysis. Jung’s psychology is centered on the idea of a universal unconscious which contains symbols and intuitions that are common to all of man. His psychology was largely based on the individual: he believed that as the doctor, it was essential to become acquainted with one’s inner self first, and to then abandon all psychological truisms when faced with an individual patient. He also emphasized the importance of dream life, equating the psychological significance of dreams with the psychological significance of actual life events:

One thing we ought never to forget: almost the half of our lives is passed in a more or less unconscious state. The dream is specifically the utterance of the unconscious. We may call consciousness the daylight realm of the human psyche, and contrast it with the nocturnal realm of unconscious psychic activity which we apprehend as a dreamlike fantasy. It is highly probable that the unconscious psyche contains a wealth of contents and living forms equal or even greater than does consciousness.

He goes on to explain..

The dream-content is to be taken in all seriousness as something that has actually happened to us; it should be treated as a contributory factor in framing our conscious outlook.

I would never dare to undermine or question Carl Jung’s views on dreams. But while dream analysis was a core component of his contribution to psychology, I think his other theories hold more salt given how the field has evolved, and given what we know now.

On the causes of neurosis

On the homeostatic nature of the psyche…

The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains itself in equilibrium as the body does. Every process that goes too far immediately and inevitably calls forth a compensatory activity.

On determining the driving psychological need of the patient…

As a consequence there are many people who become neurotic because they are only normal, as there are people who are neurotic because they cannot become normal. For the former the very thought that you want to educate them to normality is a nightmare; their deepest need is really yo be able to lead “abnormal” lives.

On the differences in the etiology of neuroses between the young and old…

As a rule, the life of a young person is characterized by a general unfolding and a striving toward concrete ends; his neurosis, if he develops one, can be traced to his hesitation or his shrinking back from this necessity. But the life of an older person is marked by a contraction of forces, by the affirmation of what has been achieved, and the curtailment of future growth. His neurosis comes mainly from his clinging to a youthful attitude which is now out of season. Just as the youthful neurotic is afraid of life, so the older one shrinks back from death.

On the subjectivity and precariousness of psychological theories

The very number of present-day “psychologies” amounts to a confession of perplexity. The difficulty of gaining access to the mind is gradually borne in upon us, and the mind itself is seen to be, to use Nietzsche’s expression, a “horned” problem.

It is a terrible misfortune that practical psychology can offer no generally valid recipes and normes. There are only individual cases whose needs and demands are totally different. This does not mean that he should throw all his assumptions overboard, but that he should regard them in any given case as hypothetical.

We are still far from having anything like a thorough knowledge of the human psyche, that most challenging field of scientific enquiry.


Jung, C. G. (2014). Modern man in search of a soul. Routledge.

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