Jung’s early solitude

The juxtaposition of Freud and Jung is famous, and their break was both of substance and personality. Among the differences of substance was diagnosis of ills. While Freud believed that one’s childhood revealed the source of neuroses, and developed the analyst’s couch to allow the patient to explore a forgotten or repressed world, Jung concentrated psychological healing in the here and now, on the innate potentials of the self, consciousness, and the unconscious.

Jung’s childhood solitude (described in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections) is the source of his imaginative and flexible professional methods. He was not interested in the scientific character of psychology or psychiatric methodology. He was even less interested in a scientific criteria for his personal beliefs. Solitude suggests the formation of Jung’s personality but also his rejection of a mechanical or material foundation for his work. A person growing from an intuitive and imaginative childhood often has little interest in what more “normal” upbringing affirms as reality.

One factor in Jung’s childhood was the prolonged absence of his mother (prolonged hospitalization due to mental illness) beginning when Carl was three. It did not leave him insecure so much as profoundly distrustful of others and skeptical of the concept of love. Here is the root of a break from Freud, for whom eros played a central part. Jung concluded that the central role of love and interpersonal relations in general was negative or insufficient to account for growth and potential. The self is necessarily autonomous. It develops its protective devices through introversion. By introversion Jung did not mean mere reticence in the social sense but the defining of self by an inner world, versus extroversion which defines the self from external stimuli. The ongoing depressive invalidism of his mother left his experience of nurturing not suspended so much as displaced from an external object to an inner world, and this ability Jung carried on successfully through his life.

While bullied in school by classmates as much as by schoolmasters (who distrusted his intelligence as plagiarism), Jung intensified his imagination and intuition. The masterfulness of Jung’s personal responses at this time is that he did not wallow in bitterness or resentment, did not fight back with anger and aggression, and did not succumb to depression. Rather, one could say that in his solitude, he successfully transcended his vicissitudes.

There were necessary devices. Once he was struck on the head by a companion and fell in a faint, but a little too long, reflecting that this incident would get him out of school for a while. He deliberately avoided other children, preferring to play alone in his home, or stroll through the woods — a wonderful setting for the imagination. At home, for example, he hid a favorite manikin in the attic, where he would steal away to converse with it, bringing secret documents in strange languages to the manikin. In the woods he would hold dialog with a great stone upon which he liked to sit. Observers have traced the attic to his adult study, where he pored over arcane subjects and ideas in his library. The dialog with the stone reflects a notion of nature that goes beyond mere interest — we might say “Gaia” if it was popular in his day, but certainly a simple alchemy.

Perhaps the most obvious childhood memory was that of dreaming or imagining a castle on an island in a lake, a grand castle with a hidden keep and tall watchtower — later a clear symbol of the unconscious inner citadel of self. Such a dichotomy has been called schizoid; indeed, Jung described his outer self, child of his parents, as “number one” and his true self, remote from the world and human society, as “number two.” But this dichotomy exists in everyone, if less articulated. Jung’s research and writing often explores the interplay of opposites between ego and self, between self and culture.

While Jung’s mother was absent, his father was a poor influence. Though a vicar, Jung’s father had lost his faith. Because of the comfortable income — and lack of any other skill or means — his father kept his position, living a dichotomous, if not hypocritical existence, with a social face of believer and pastor, and a domestic face of shame and contradiction. Jung’s mother did not respect her husband for it, and neither did his son Carl. Naturally, Carl came not to accept dogma or religious belief, and his solitude made him self-reliant, seeing the mature self as a prototype of God, guiding him through dreams, insights, and personal vision. Jung’s disdain for his father increased after being forced into confirmation in adolescence.

Jung’s father died when Carl prepared to go to the University of Basel. His mother remarked, coldly,”He died just in time for you.” Jung seemed thereafter to blossom, reading widely in literature, philosophy, and religion, though he was to study science and medicine as a career. (His favorites authors were Heraclitus, Meister Eckhard, and Goethe.)

Jung presents the image of solitude resolving its negative sense of isolation and alienation with a positive sense of personality, imagination and intuition. Though withdrawn and self-occupied, there is no evidence that he succumbed to dysfunction. For example, aural hallucination (hearing voices) he took in stride as evidence of a psychological need for thoughtful input, and so he dedicated himself to consciously working at his own inner problems. Jung turned a mid-life crisis into constructive insights into the workings of the mind. In contrast to Freud’s dogmatism and his proverbial reluctance to accommodate others or revise challenged ideas, Jung’s curiosity and catholic interests shine forth in all his work, which remains fresh today. Even in youth, Jung responded to the challenges of his parents’ personalities with efforts to improve himself, developing traits that were the opposite of his father’s lack of courage and intellectual curiosity, and his mother’s neurasthenia.

How Jung overcame youthful vicissitudes and transformed a potential crushing childhood and adolescence into a positive and constructive use of solitude is a model of psychological well-being.