01.08.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction

Today’s soundtrack is Johnny Cash: American V, an introspective, heavy album. Its glimmers of hope sparkle in the midst of the darkness like the morning’s light reflected by dewdrops on the little flowers beside the cemetery’s path.

This evening, I’ll be reading The Essential Jung. Today’s reading is the first section, “Psychoanalysis and Neurosis,” of Part 2, “Jung’s Involvement with Freud and His Divergence from Freud’s Theories.”

Jung, though “closely associated with [Sigmund] Freud, and deeply influenced by him” (p. 45, from Storr’s introduction to the chapter), did not wholly agree with Freud’s assertions about the “enormous role which sexuality plays in the psyche” (p. 45). Freud believed that neurosis and hysteria were caused by some kind of “sexual shock in early youth” (p. 47), and he theorized that the best way to treat a patient suffering from a mental disorder was to determine at which point the patient’s mental development had seized due to trauma. Jung wondered, though, why not every person who had suffered trauma would go on to develop a neurotic disorder, and why not all people who had mental disorders had a trauma that the disorder could be traced back to.

Freud’s theory was that neurosis is caused by the “‘nuclear complex'” (p. 48), which asserted that men wish to sleep with their mothers and women wish to sleep with their fathers – the Oedipus and Electra complexes, respectively. Jung points out a fact to blow the whole thing open. He says that neurosis is triggered not at random, but at “the moment when a new psychological adjustment […] is demanded” (p. 49). So if Freud believed all men and women to suffer from the nuclear complex, and believed that that same complex was the cause of neurosis, then why didn’t all men and women suffer from neurosis? Jung believed that rather than people with neurosis reverting to infantile behaviour because of childhood trauma or a nuclear complex, the reversion could be attributed to an adult mind “exaggerating [the] importance” of his past, trying to find meaning in his earliest memories, where often there would be no actual meaning at all. So Jung proposed rethinking psychoanalysis in this way: instead of looking for sexual triggers where there weren’t any to be found, psychologists should look into the energy or desire of a person.

Jung believed that a people’s desires would push them to seek greater and more difficult goals throughout their lives, but if they faced repeated failures, their desires would regress to something attainable, and in the process, they might encounter the “psychological adjustment” (p. 49) mentioned above, as they transitioned from a mature mentality to a “more primitive mode of adaptation” (p. 51). Yes, a person undergoing mental strain and neurosis may revert to childlike behaviour, but this does not mean that the cause of the neurosis originated in childhood; rather, childhood is merely a convenient stopping-place for a mind in turmoil. In fact, says Jung, neurosis is “an act of [psychological] adaptation that has failed” (p. 53); thus, psychoanalysts must recognize their position of carrying out “a highly moral task” (p. 54): helping their patients to realize their abilities to adapt psychologically to their surroundings so that they can continue on the road to self-actualization.