Carl Jung - Psychotherapy - The Canon

Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World - Andrea Bonior 2016

Carl Jung
The Canon


BORN 1875, Thurgau, Switzerland


DIED 1961, Zurich, Switzerland


Educated at the University of Basel



Carl Jung (pronounced Yoong) is best known for taking some of Freud’s ideas and giving them a softer, more positive, even spiritual spin, and for developing his own theories on the nature of personality. Jung was a unique figure in many ways, not the least of which was his simultaneous interest in mysticism and hard science. He did word-association studies that supported Freud’s notion of repression and the unconscious, even as Freud’s work was starting to lose a bit of credence in academic circles. But Jung’s support was stalwart and meaningful, and Freud looked forward to the idea that Jung would take over the psychoanalytic movement, with Jung looking up to Freud as something of a father figure. Eventually their relationship frayed, however, and many attribute the break to their fundamental conflict over how much emphasis Freud put on infantile sexuality, and to Jung’s new spin on the unconscious.

Jung broadened the notion of the unconscious, applying it in a more anthropological manner. His concept of the collective unconscious incorporates some of his mystical beliefs; he defined it as the psychological basis of everyone. To Jung, it was a universal concept, a treasure trove of our ancestors’ hopes, urges, and fears that have been passed down to us. Jung would say we can see the collective unconscious reflected in the myths, folklore, and art that continuously reemerge across times and cultures. Religion has a place in this as well. Jung defined an archetype as a version of ourselves that lies within the collective unconscious, serving as the psychological counterpart to instinct, and directing our desires and behavior in ways that are outside our immediate awareness.

Jung defined the persona as the role that someone assumes in society—the outward manifestation of identity. The shadow is their unconscious, which may contain his or her animal nature. The self, for Jung, is the archetype that integrates everything, and its ultimate goal is to individuate itself and become fully realized.

Jung was much more interested in developing theories about mental energy than developing theories about sexual drives. He wanted to redefine the term libido away from the energies of the id— sex and survival urges—and toward the notion of what fulfills us mentally. As a result, Jung gave us the concepts of introversion and extraversion, which have to do with how we are driven, in the effort to feel most fulfilled and energized, either to seek out other people or to be alone.

Though the common misconception is that introverts are the nervous wallflowers at a party while extraverts are the ones laughing and shimmying on a table, the real definitions of the terms introversion and extraversion don’t really correspond to the spectrum of shyness or social anxiety. Instead, Jung defined these terms as having to do with whether you are more oriented toward your internal world or toward the external world. Where do you get your energy? Does being around others revitalize you or drain you? If you had a day to spend however you wanted, would you fill it up with people or be on your own with your thoughts and a good book? Introverts relish the internal mechanisms of thoughts and ideas and are introspective and self-sufficient. Extraverts, on the other hand, need people around and are more externally focused. For most of us, extraversion or introversion is dominant, though in modern times a growing movement recognizes just how many of us are in the middle, or ambiverts.

Jung also identified four of what he called psychological functions: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. We perceive the world through sensation and intuition, and then we use thinking and feeling in the decision-making process.

The theme of the relationship of opposites can be seen throughout Jung’s work. The anima is what Jung calls the woman in the man, and the animus is the man in the woman. These ideas represent an opposing personality force, a piece within us that offers a dissenting view and helps shape us into who we are. Jung also introduced the Eastern artistic patterns of the mandala into Western culture, and he would even have his patients draw mandalas as an exercise in representing themselves. Jung felt that the mandala represents the whole self, and that it can bring forth opposing universal parts of the psyche and the collective unconscious. He found the concept soothing—the tension relief of restoring order over chaos. He was drawn to the concept of a central part within a circle from which everything radiates, and which also connects all parts to the whole.


And, finally, synchronicity is a Jungian concept that has to do with the sometimes mysterious realm of coincidence. Jung believed that things are not random and that there is an order beyond the chaos. For Jung, moments that express synchronicity are the universe’s way of giving us glimpses of everything being related. We can’t see the causality behind the coincidence, but it is there, somewhere—a force outside our awareness.


Jung’s thinking has influenced not just psychology but also art theory, literature, and filmmaking. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality test derived from Jung’s ideas and is used to this day. Jung’s ideas have found their way into certain psychotherapeutic schools of thought and are used by practitioners who call themselves Jungians, as well as by those in the broader field of depth psychology. Jung’s focus on the importance of spiritual experience is even said to have influenced Bill Wilson, who cofounded Alcoholics Anonymous.


You have quite possibly taken a variety of personality assessments on social media, from “What’s Your Biggest Flaw?” to “Which Game of Thrones Character Are You?” But even more likely is that you have taken some variation of the MBTI, whether the legitimate version for a workplace organizational consultant or perhaps in the form of an oversimplified Facebook quiz. This is the assessment that gives you a four-letter personality type, one of 16 with names like ENFP or ISTJ. The MBTI was derived directly from Jung’s ideas, and the letters indicating the 16 types correspond to his theories of extraversion versus introversion, intuiting versus sensing, feeling versus thinking, and perceiving versus judging. According to the MBTI’s developers, someone’s personality is defined by where it falls on each of these four spectrums. Intuiters rely on their “sixth sense,” whereas sensers rely on more tangible stimuli; feelers are emotionally driven in their decision making, whereas thinkers like to look at pros and cons on a spreadsheet. It’s rather amusing to imagine what Jung would say if he saw blazer-wearing consultants clicking open their briefcases and handing out computer-generated printouts derived from some of his major concepts.

The introversion/extraversion distinction may actually be worth a closer look within your own life. It’s easy to assume that extraverts are socially confident and that introverts are shy and ill at ease around others. But this is not always the case. As mentioned, the extraversion/introversion dichotomy does not exactly correlate with social anxiety. There are introverts who are socially charming, very comfortable around others, and perhaps even born performers. But they are introverts because they need their space mentally—they easily tire of the company of others, and they live predominantly in their own heads. Similarly, there are plenty of shy extraverts—they very much want and need to be around others most of the time and often dislike being on their own, but they are somewhat nervous and anxious when actually interacting.

Perhaps you have noticed how certain stories are repeated across cultures. The universal themes of the hero, the scapegoat, the outsider, the wanderer, the devil, the fool, the trickster, the star-crossed lovers—from movie pitches to campfire stories, these archetypes are continually rehashed. You see them in stories big and small, for kids and for adults, and in cultures vastly different from one another. Might we all be related, across generations and oceans, deep within our most psychic cores? The tingle we feel when we visit ancient ruins or look at a centuries-old painting can make us suspect that Jung was onto something. Perhaps it’s a glimmer of the collective unconscious—that it’s not just our immediate life experiences but also our subjective emotional realities and deeper humanity that bind us to other people.