There is no coming to consciousness without pain. - CG Jung

Carl Gustav Jung was born in 1875 in the canton of Thurgau to Paul Jung, a poor rural pastor in the Swiss reformed Church, and to Emilie Preiswerk, a melancholic woman who claimed to be visited by spirits at night. His paternal grandfather Carl Gustav Jung, after whom he was named, was a physician who was rumoured to be the illegitimate son of Goethe, and who rose to become Rector of Basel University and Grand Master of the Swiss Lodge of Freemasons. His maternal grandfather Samuel Preiswerk was an eccentric theologian who had visions, conversed with the dead, and devoted his life to learning Hebrew in the belief that it was the language spoken in heaven. He used to make his daughter Emilie (Jung’s mother) sit behind him while he composed his sermons, so as to prevent the devil from peering over his shoulder. When Jung was three years old, his mother had a nervous breakdown for which she needed to spend several months in hospital. In his autobiography of 1961, Memory, Dreams, Reflections, he wrote ‘From then on I always felt mistrustful when the word ‘love’ was spoken. The feeling I associated with ‘woman’ was for a long time that of innate unreliability.’ Jung’s father was kind but weak-willed, and all too accepting of the religious dogma in which he had long lost all faith.

Jung was a solitary and introverted child who imagined that he had two personalities, that of a typical schoolboy of his time (Personality No 1), and that of a dignified, authoritative, and influential man from the past (Personality No 2). He once carved a tiny mannequin into the end of a wooden ruler, which he kept together with a painted stone in a pencil case in his attic. He periodically returned to the mannequin, bringing to it scrolls inscribed in a secret language of his invention. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was not popular at school. At the age of 12, he received a blow to the head and for a moment was unconscious. He lay on the ground for much longer than necessary and thought, ‘Now you won’t have to go to school anymore’. For the next six months, he avoided school by fainting each time he was made to go, an experience which gave him an early insight into hysteria.

Inspired by a dream, Jung entered the University of Basel in 1895 to study natural science and medicine. His father’s premature death one year later prompted his mother to comment, rather eerily, ‘He died in time for you’. During his early years at the University of Basel, Jung had a dream in which he was making painful headway through dense fog, with a tiny light in the cup of his hands and a gigantic black figure chasing after him. When he awoke he realised that the black figure was his own shadow, brought into being by the light that he was carrying: ‘…this light was my consciousness, the only light that I have. My own understanding is the sole treasure I possess, and the greatest.’ After presenting a paper on The Limits of the Exact Sciences, he spent two years attending and recording the séances of a young medium, his cousin, Hélène Preiswerk. He submitted his observations in the form of a doctoral thesis entitled On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena.

Towards the end of his studies, a reading of Krafft-Ebing’s textbook of psychiatry led Jung to choose psychiatry as a career. The Preface alone had such a profound effect on him that he had to stand up to catch his breath: ‘Here alone the two currents of my interest could flow together and in a united stream dig their own bed. Here was the empirical field common to biological and spiritual facts, which I had everywhere sought and nowhere found.’ Jung was taken on at the renowned Burghölzli Psychiatric Hospital in Zürich as an assistant to Eugen Bleuler, who went down in history as the man who coined the term ‘schizophrenia’. Bleuler set Jung to work on Galton’s word-association test, and in 1906 he published ‘Studies in Word Association’, which he thought provided hard evidence for the existence of unconscious complexes. He sent a copy to Freud, and on their first meeting in Vienna the two men conversed without interruption for thirteen hours.

Jung needed a father as much as Freud needed a son, and Freud formally anointed Jung his ‘son and heir’. However, as time passed, it became increasingly clear that Jung was unable to accept Freud’s assumptions that human motivation is exclusively sexual, or that the unconscious mind is entirely personal. For Jung, sexuality was but one aspect or mode of expression of a broader ‘life force’, and beneath the personal unconscious there was a deeper and more important layer that contained the entire psychic heritage of mankind. The existence of this ‘collective unconscious’ had been hinted at by Jung’s childhood dreams and experiences, and confirmed by the delusions and hallucinations of psychotic patients which contained symbols and images that occurred in myths and fairy-tales from all around the world. In his book of 1912, Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, Jung replaced Freud’s concept of libido with a much broader concept of undifferentiated psychic energy, arguing that undifferentiated psychic energy could ‘crystallise’ into the universal symbols contained in dreams and myths, for example, into the hero’s slaying of the dragon, which represents the struggle of the adolescent ego for deliverance from parental dominance. For Jung, the purpose of life was ‘individuation’, which involves pursuing one’s own vision of the truth and, in so doing, realising one’s fullest potential as a human being. If this meant disagreeing with Freud, then so be it. In 1913, on the eve of the First World War, Jung and Freud broke off their relationship.

Once again Jung was alone, and he spent the next few years in a troubled but highly creative state of mind that verged on psychosis and led him to a ‘confrontation with the unconscious’. By then Jung had had five children with his wife Emma Rauschenbach, the daughter of a rich industrialist. Despite being happily married, he felt that he needed a muse as well as a home-maker, observing that ‘the pre-requisite of a good marriage … is the license to be unfaithful’. The marital strife that resulted from his affairs, and particularly from his affair with a former patient called Toni Wolff, contributed to his troubled state of mind, and Emma accepted Toni as much from a concern for Jung’s sanity as from a desire to save her marriage. During his confrontation with the unconscious, Jung gained first-hand experience of psychotic material in which he found a ‘matrix of mythopoeic imagination which has vanished from our rational age’. Like Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Heracles, Orpheus, and Aeneas before him, he travelled deep down into an abyssal underworld where he conversed with Salome, a beautiful young woman who was the archetype of the feminine, and with Philemon, an old man with a white beard and the wings of a kingfisher who was the archetype of the wise old man. Although Salome and Philemon were products of his unconscious, they had a life of their own and said things that he had not previously thought. In Philemon, Jung had at long last found the father-figure that both Freud and his own father had singularly failed to be. More than a father-figure, Philemon was a guru, and the projection of what Jung himself was later to become – the ‘wise old man of Zürich’. At the end of the First World War, Jung re-emerged into sanity, and considered that he had found in his madness ‘the prima materia for a lifetime’s work’.

Freud in a Nutshell

How mightily, sometimes, we make us comforts of our losses!
And how mightily, some other times, we drown our gain in tears! (…)
The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together:
Our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not; and
Our crimes would despair if they were not cherished by our virtues.

Displacement, the redirection of uncomfortable feelings towards someone or something less threatening, and somatisation, the conversion of uncomfortable feelings into more tolerable physical symptoms (see previous posts), are both important means of transforming uncomfortable feelings into something that is more manageable. Another such mean is reaction formation, which can be defined as the superficial adoption and exaggeration of ideas and impulses that are diametrically opposed to one’s own. For instance a man who finds himself attracted to someone of the same sex may cope with the unacceptability of this attraction by over-acting heterosexual: going out for several pints with the lads, speaking in a gruff voice, banging his fists on the counter, whistling at pretty girls (or whatever people do these days), conspicuously engaging in a string of baseless heterosexual relationships, and so on. A possible high-profile case of reaction formation is that of the Florida Congressman Mark Foley who, as chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, introduced legislation to protect children from exploitation by adults over the Internet. Foley resigned when it later emerged that he had exchanged sexually explicit electronic messages with a teenage boy. Other, classic, examples of reaction formation are the alcoholic who extolls the virtues of abstinence, the rich kid who organises anti-capitalist rallies, the absent father who occasionally returns with grands gestes to spoil and smother his children, and the angry person who behaves with exaggerated calm and courtesy. In some cases, this last can result in passive-aggressive behaviour, that is, unconscious resistance to meeting the reasonable expectations of others by such means as creating doubt and confusion; being late on a regular but unpredictable basis; forgetting or omitting significant items or details; withdrawing usual behaviours such as making a cup of tea, cooking, cleaning, or having sex; and shifting responsibility or blame. As the name suggests, passive-aggressive behaviour is a means of expressing aggression covertly and so without incurring the interpersonal and social costs of more overt aggression. It does, however, prevent the underlying problems from being identified and resolved, and can lead to a great deal of upset and resentment in the person or people on the receiving end. An especially interesting example of reaction formation is that of two people who matter deeply to each other, but who argue all the time to suppress their mutual desire. Typically, A accepts that B is really important to him, but B does not accept this of A; thus, B initiates arguments so as to help deny those feelings, and A initiates (or participates in) arguments so as to help cope with that denial, that is, to safeguard his ego, vent his anger, and temper his feelings. Another, rather special, example of reaction formation is the person who hates the group but not the individual members of the group with whom he is personally acquainted; this helps to explain such phenomena as the misogynist who is devoted to his wife or the racist who marries a coloured person.

Behaviour that results from reaction formation can be recognised – or as least suspected – as such on the basis that it tends to have something of a manic edge, that is, it tends to be exaggerated, compulsive, and inflexible. More importantly, perhaps, is that the person’s behaviour does not seem to ‘add up’ in the context of his bigger picture, and may therefore appear to be groundless, irrational, or idiosyncratic. In many cases, the behaviour is also dystonic, that is, out of keeping with the person’s ideal self-image, and therefore damaging to his deep-seated goals and ambitions and ultimately to his sense of worth. If the person is challenged about his behaviour, he usually appears either confused and silent or irritated and evasive. But careful: whereas pointing out a person’s ego defences and observing his reaction might lead you to a better understanding of that person, it is almost bound to cause him significant distress; in terms of helping him, it is likely to be either futile or counterproductive, serving merely to anger or alienate him and to further entrench his ego defences. This is mostly because an ego defence such as reaction formation does not exist in some sort of splendid isolation, but as a symptom or manifestation of some even more profound and pervasive problem – and it is this primary problem, if any at all, that first needs to be addressed.

Reaction formation may at least partially underlie the apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon that the criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot named ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ after the events that took place during a robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalamstorg, Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. Jan Erik Olsson, a prisoner on leave, entered the bank with the intention of robbing it. When police followed in, he opened fire and injured one policeman. A hostage situation ensued: for six days, from August 23 to August 28, Olsson held four bank employees at gunpoint in the bank’s main vault. Olsson demanded, among others, that his friend and old cellmate Clark Olofsson join his operation; once within the bank, Olofsson established a communication link with police negotiators who, despite hearing death threats and screams, refused to let the comperes escape with the hostages. Eventually, the police drilled a hole into the vault from the apartment above and launched a gas attack. Soon after, Olsson and Olofsson surrendered without any of the hostages being seriously injured. But the strange thing is this. After some time in the vault, the hostages began to form an emotional attachment with their captors. They reported fearing the police more than their captors, and, after their release, they refused to testify against Olsson and Olofsson and set up a fund to cover their legal defense fees. Olofsson claimed that he had not been aiding Olsson but merely trying to contain the situation and safeguard the hostages, and so had his convictions quashed by the court of appeal. He became friendly with one of the hostages, Kristin Ehnemark; they met occasionally and even their families became friends. Another notorious case of Stockholm Syndrome is that of millionaire heiress Patty Hearst, who on February 4, 1974, at the age of 19, was kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California by a left-wing urban guerrilla group calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). On April 3 Hearst announced on an audiotape that she had joined the SLA under the pseudonym of ‘Tania’, and on April 15 she was photographed wielding an M1 carbine while robbing a bank in San Francisco. When she was eventually arrested, she listed her occupation as ‘urban guerilla’ and asked her attorney to ‘tell everybody that I’m smiling, that I feel free and strong and I send my greetings and love to all the sisters and brothers out there’. After almost two years in prison, Hirst had her sentence commuted by President Jimmy Carter; on January 20, 2001, President Bill Clinton granted her a full Presidential Pardon in his last official act before leaving office. Most of human history has been played out in hunter-gatherer societies in which abductions, particularly of women and their dependent children, must have been a very common occurrence. Thus, it is possible to envisage that the capture-bonding psychological response exhibited by Kristin Ehnemark, Patty Hearst, and countless others is not just an ego defense, but also an adaptive trait that promotes survival in times of war and strife. In fact, an inverse of Stockholm Syndrome called ‘Lima Syndrome’ has been proposed, in which abductors develop sympathy for their hostages. On December 17, 1996 members of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement took hostage hundreds of people attending a party to celebrate the birthday of Emperor Akihito at the official residence of the Japanese ambassador to Peru. But within a few hours the captors had released most of the hostages, including even the most valuable ones. If the capture-bonding response is indeed deeply ingrained in the human psyche, then its activation or partial activation could help to explain not only the counterintuitive behaviour of some hostages, but also that of people who engage and persist in, among others, religious cults, abusive relationships, and sadomasochistic sexual practices.

Adapted from Hide and Seek: The Psychology of Self-Deception.

[The mystical physician to the King of Thrace] said the soul was treated with certain charms, my dear Charmides, and that these charms were beautiful words.

Somatisation involves the transformation or conversion of psychological distress into more tolerable physical symptoms. This might involve a loss of motor function in a particular group of muscles, resulting, for example, in the weakness or paralysis of a limb or a side of the body. This loss of motor function might be accompanied by a corresponding sensory loss. In some cases, sensory loss might be the presenting problem, particularly if it is independent of a motor loss or if it involves one of the special senses such as sight or smell. In other cases, the psychic material is converted into an unusual pattern of motor activity such as a tic or even a seizure (sometimes called a ‘pseudoseizure’ to differentiate it from seizures that have a physical or organic basis, for example, epilepsy or a brain tumour). Pseudoseizures can be very difficult to distinguish from organic seizures. One method is to take a blood sample 10-20 minutes after the event and to measure the serum level of the hormone prolactin, which tends to be raised by an organic seizure but unaffected by a pseudoseizure. More invasive but more reliable is video telemetry, which involves continuous monitoring over a period of several days with both a video camera and an electroencephalograph to record the electrical activity along the skull.

Given that all these different types of somatised symptoms are psychological in origin, are they any less ‘real’? It is quite common for the person with somatised symptoms to deny the impact of any traumatic event and even to display a striking lack of concern for his disability (a phenomenon referred to in the psychiatric jargon as la belle indifference), thereby reinforcing any impression that the somatised symptoms are not quite kosher. Ego defences are by definition subconscious, such that the somatising person is not conscious or, at least, not entirely conscious, of the psychological origins of his physical symptoms. To him, the symptoms are entirely real, and they are also entirely real in the sense that they do in fact exist, that is, the limb cannot move, the eye cannot see, and so on. In fact, some authorities advocate replacing older terms such as ‘pseudoseizures’ or ‘hysterical seizures’ with more neutral terms such as ‘psychogenic non-epileptic seizures’ that do not imply that the somatised symptoms are in some sense false or fraudulent. The reader may recall from the discussion on depression that many people from traditional societies with what may be construed as depression present not with psychological complaints but with physical complaints such as headache or chest pain; like many ego defences, this tendency to somatise or physicalize psychic pain is deeply ingrained in our human nature, and should not be mistaken or misunderstood for a factitious disorder or malingering.

A factitious disorder is defined by physical and psychological symptoms that are manufactured or exaggerated for the purpose of benefitting from the rights associated with what the American psychologist Talcott Parsons called ‘the sick role’ (1951), in particular, to attract attention and sympathy, to be exempted from normal social roles, and, at the same time, to be absolved from any blame for the sickness. A factitious disorder with mostly physical symptoms is sometimes called Münchausen Syndrome, after the 18th century Prussian cavalry officer Baron Münchausen who was one the greatest liars in recorded history. One of his many ‘hair-raising’ claims was to have pulled himself up from a swamp by the hair on his head, or, in an alternative version, by the straps of his boots. Whereas a factitious disorder is defined by symptoms that are manufactured or exaggerated for the purpose of benefitting from the privileges of the sick role, malingering is defined by symptoms that are manufactured or exaggerated for a purpose other than benefitting from the privileges of the sick role. This purpose is usually much more concrete than the secondary gain deriving from the sick role, for instance, evading the police, claiming some form of compensation, or obtaining a bed for the night. It should be absolutely clear that such patterns of behaviour are very different from somatisation – even though, it has to be said, I have often observed cases of overlap.

In recent decades, it has become increasingly clear that psychological stressors can lead to physical symptoms not only by the psychological defence of somatisation but also by physical processes involving the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Since Robert Ader’s initial experiments on lab rats in the 1970s, the field of psychoneuroimmunology has taken off spectacularly. The large and ever increasing body of evidence that it has uncovered has led to the mainstream recognition not only of the adverse effects of psychological stress on health, recovery, and ageing, but also of the beneficial effects of positive emotions such as happiness, motivation, and a sense of purpose. Here again, modern science has only just caught up with the wisdom of the Ancients, who were well aware of the link between psychological wellbeing and good health.

In one of Plato’s early dialogues, the Charmides, Socrates tells the young Charmides, who has been suffering from headaches, about a charm for headaches that he had recently learned from one of the mystical physicians to the king of Thrace. According to this physician, however, it is best to cure the soul before curing the body, since health and happiness ultimately depend on the state of the soul. ‘He said the soul was treated with certain charms, my dear Charmides, and that these charms were beautiful words.’ As the virtue of temperance (sophrosyne) is the marker of the health of the soul, Socrates asks Charmides whether he thinks that he is sufficiently temperate. The Charmides takes place in 432 BC, the year of Socrate’s return to Athens from service at the battle of Potidaea, and its subject, as it turns out, is no less than the nature of sophrosyne, a philosophical term loosely translated as ‘temperance’ but with the etymological meaning ‘healthy mindedness’. As is typical with Plato, the dialogue ends in a state of aporia (a state of inconclusive non-knowledge), with Socrates accusing himself of being a worthless inquirer and a ‘babbler’. Charmides concludes that he can hardly be expected to know whether he is sufficiently temperate if not even Socrates is able to define temperance for him.

Whereas Plato associates health with the virtues and in particular with temperance (‘healthy mindedness’), Aristotle associates health with the Supreme Good for man. This Supreme Good, he says, is eudaimonia, a philosophical term that is often translated as ‘happiness’ but is perhaps best translated as ‘human flourishing’. In short, Aristotle argues that to understand the essence of a thing, it is necessary to understand its distinctive function. For example, one cannot understand what it is to be a gardener unless one can understand that the distinctive function of a gardener is ‘to tend to a garden with a certain degree of skill’. Whereas human beings need nourishment like plants and have sentience like animals, their distinctive function, says Aristotle, is their unique capacity to reason. Thus, the Supreme Good, or Happiness, for human beings is to lead a life that enables them to exercise and to develop their reason, and that is in accordance with rational principles. Part of living life according to rational principles is to seek out the right sorts of pleasure, underplaying those brutish pleasures such as food and sex that are only pleasurable incidentally in that they act as restoratives, and privileging those higher pleasures such as contemplation and friendship that are pleasurable by nature and therefore cannot admit of either pain or excess. To pursue the higher pleasures is ‘to stimulate the action of the healthy nature’ (NE, Book VII), and to be healthy is not only to be free from pain and disease, but also and most importantly to flourish according to our essential nature as human beings. So, although Plato associates health with ‘healthy mindedness’ and Aristotle with the Supreme Good, once the Supreme Good is unpacked it becomes very clear that this is merely a difference of emphasis, and that Plato and Aristotle are not in any fundamental disagreement on this issue.

Adapted from Hide and Seek: The Psychology of Self-Deception.