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Who Was Carl Jung?

By Katharine Swan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher born in 1875. He started out as a medical student around the turn of the century, eventually turning to psychiatry. Jung had a brief friendship with Sigmund Freud; however, as their theories diverged, the friendship ended. He died in 1961.

Considered the founder of analytic psychology, Carl Jung used elements of human identity and society — dreams, art, religion, and mythology — to interpret human nature. Many of his psychological theories contain references to religion and myth, and he is often central to any study of mythology.

Like Freud, Jung had a theory of the unconscious mind — a vast portion of the mind that was virtually undetectable by the conscious mind. He disagreed with Freud’s focus on repressed memories in the unconscious, however. Freud believed that the unconscious was a harmful thing to mental wellness, spawning hysteria and other psychological conditions. Jung, on the other hand, saw the unconscious as a creative potential.

The Swiss psychiatrist also took the notion of the unconscious and pushed it forward, developing the notion of the collective unconscious. He believed that there was an collection of ideas that are a part of the mind shared between all mankind. His justification for this theory was based on the vast similarities between different religions: flood myths, female figures such as the virgin and the crone, and other distinct similarities. He called these features of mythology “archetypes,” attesting that they were repeated in one form or another throughout all the world’s religions because they were basically pre-programmed into the collective unconscious, a part of the mind that every human being shared without exception.

Carl Jung expanded on Freud’s ideas in other areas, too. Whereas Freud had a rather rigid view of gender identity and how it developed, Jung believed that all men had an unconscious feminine side to their minds, and vice versa. He called the feminine component in the male mind anima, and the masculine part of the female mind animus. In this manner, he was one of the first theorists of the era to touch on concepts of androgyny.

The last major concept in Jung’s theories is that of the shadow. He viewed the shadow not as a negative influence on a person but as a part of the unconscious that was the exact opposite of the person’s normal personality. The best analogy would be the surprising incident of a usually gentle, meek individual shouting at someone or becoming violent.

Unfortunately, Jung’s theories are not often studied in psychology, as they are now viewed as more philosophical in nature, thanks to his extensive analysis of mythology. Regardless, the man and his theories had a great deal of influence on psychology.

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Discussion Comments
By Renegade — On Dec 23, 2010

@Leonidas226

Jung also recognized common patterns throughout various cultures which had absolutely no contact with each other. These patterns very strongly suggest a spiritual realm of thought which influences us in our sleep and when we are not consciously aware that we are being influenced. I find the Freudian explanation of many of these phenomena to be quite lacking.

By GigaGold — On Dec 23, 2010

@Leonidas226

I think this is where Freud and Jung had their bitter conflict. Jung saw the unconscious as something beautiful which should be explored and cherished, whereas Freud saw it as the source of many disorders. The establishment of taboos and people's inner angst made up the issues of Freuds psychology, whereas Jung saw the unconscious as quite the opposite: a collective spiritual and cross-cultural conscious which binded all people together. He didn't see it as a "bottling up," but as something which was hard to access in the conscious but not because of angst.

By Leonidas226 — On Dec 20, 2010

@GigaGold

Why would religious and spiritual ideals be bottled up in the subconscious or unconscious if they are socially acceptable? I find the idea of a realm beyond the conscious to be hard to swallow, and highly doubt that such a dimension would be limited by our myopic "spiritual" ideals.

By BioNerd — On Dec 17, 2010

The film "Inception" seems to have drawn heavily from Jungian psychology, as do many of Christopher Nolan films. The different layers of the subconscious and the unconscious are represented by different dream states.

By GigaGold — On Dec 16, 2010

Jung seems to have "known" that things which occur in the unconscious are more real than those things which occur in the conscious. His endeavors into this spiritual unconscious became the foundation of the New Age movement.

By BostonIrish — On Dec 14, 2010

Jung went through some difficult times in his day. Shortly after he had his first falling-out with Freud, he retreated to his home and went through some deep depression. In this time he formulated a lot of his life-defining theories. He observed his own artwork, dreams, and thought patterns in this depressed time and made a good connection with his own unconscious. This enabled him to have the strong spiritual center which defined his theories and his strong belief in God.

By Proxy414 — On Dec 13, 2010

I find this concept of a personality shadow quite interesting. If it is legitimate, then we can consider each person to have two sides. I can think of some people I know who are normally quite bitter and awful to be around. Perhaps it is their shadow, then, when they have rare moments of depression and show a surprisingly kind and vivacious nature. Or maybe their grouchy shadow has just become their normal personality, and their true self only shows every once in a while. Who knows?

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