The Seven Dangers of Becoming Interested in Jung’s Ideas by Daryl Sharp

From a talk by Daryl Sharp, publisher of Inner City Books

Jung’s ideas are apparently alive and kicking, so let me describe some of the dangers of becoming interested in them:

Danger # 1: First and foremost, there is the danger of intellectual appreciation that does nothing to enhance consciousness. The pursuit of information becomes more important than understanding your own experience. No one’s life can be explained by a theory, and no one has ever become conscious simply by believing in one.

Danger # 2: Second, there is the danger of applying Jung’s ideas to others and ignoring their relevance to oneself. For instance, it is relatively easy to see complexes at work in other people; it’s a life’s work to understand how and when they become active in oneself.

Danger # 3: Third, there is the constant danger of inflation. Reading Jung can be a heady experience. At last we see the light! Now we have the answers! Alas, the next time we fall in love or have a fight with our boss, we see that we are still prisoners of our own psychology.

Danger # 4: A fourth danger in getting hooked on Jung is to assume that what is true or right for oneself must also be healing and life-enhancing for everyone else. This is simple a particular manifestation of projection and the messiah complex. Jungian psychology saved my life but I do realize that others may find their truth in other ways. I like the poet Rilke’s comment:  “Basically, it’s none of our business how somebody else manages to grow, if only we’re on the trail of the law of our own growth.”

Danger # 5: A fifth danger is not discriminating between Jung’s work and how it used or interpreted by others. For instance, Jung’s model of typology is the basis for several popular type tests that are widely used in ways Jung specifically warned against.

Danger # 6: A sixth danger is to imagine that Jungian psychology is only about neurosis, personal conflicts and relationship problems. There is also a spiritual dimension, the aspect that has been called soul-making. Soul happens when you ponder alone in the still of the night. Soul is what you are, as opposed to what you seem to be. Analytical psychology is not a religion, but the human longing for consciousness, together with the search for meaning, is essentially a religious activity.

Danger # 7: The seventh and final point on my list is the danger of lumping Jungian psychology in with the so-called New Age Movement. New Age is a convenient label invented by the media. It encompasses a potpourri of individual disciplines involved in the development of mind, spirit, and body. For the most part, New Age pursuits are about self-improvement – by which is meant becoming a better person – or esoteric techniques that promise deliverance from the woes of this world. To this end the New Age journals tout the use of pendulums, crystals, flower therapy and special kinds of food. Such concerns have nothing to do with psychology. The New Age Movement has also spawned a huge market for group experience. In the sixties and seventies there were Encounter Groups and not much else. Now there are groups for just about everything. I don’t doubt that the value in people sharing their traumatic experiences with others who have suffered in similar ways. That’s catharsis, and it has a place. But it’s not depth psychology. If there is any common denominator among those involved in New Age activities, it seems to be the search for a transformative experience. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, people tend to mistake temporarily heightened awareness for rebirth, when they are merely inflated with an overdose of previously unconscious material. I don’t think I’m against the development of mind, spirit or body – I just take issue with some of the means to that end. I do acknowledge that what is written in New Age journals may lead some people to depth psychology in general, and to Jung in particular. However, in my experience this is more likely to happen in reaction to what they read, not because of it, especially if they are looking for more than facile answers to their problems.

THE ANTIDOTE to most of these dangers lies in the experience of personal analysis. You can appreciate the scope of Jung’s work, you can read everything he ever wrote, but the real opportunity offered by analytical psychology today only becomes manifest when you’re in analysis. That’s when Jung’s potentially healing message stops being merely an interesting idea and becomes an experiential reality.
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7 thoughts on “The Seven Dangers of Becoming Interested in Jung’s Ideas by Daryl Sharp”

  1. Love the list! Astute, on the mark, with his usual wry observations. Daryl Sharp is a hero.

  2. Just a passer-byer noticing the similarities your good list molds on into other areas of thought and practice. I study Buddhism and much of the same list could be said for my evolving relationship to this practice.

    I am beginning to see that depth and shadow work can work as an ideology/practice (not in a bad way) and that this work can inform other areas not necessarily associated with psychology. For instance, I think the New Age movement could really improve a lot of people's lives if that work is grounded in self-awareness and (psychic) analysis.

  3. A few years back, I got really into Jungian Psychology and spent an entire year reading everything that I could about it. Then, I ended up with the effect that you mentioned in your post about getting too much into the head while everything else still stayed the same. It became like an intellectual thing, where it wasn't really addressing my concerns. Eventually, I found my way to other spiritual teachers and realized that knowing about something intellectually isn't the same thing as actual healing. That said, know now what I do about the psyche, it is much easier for me to understand psychological and spiritual changes that are occurring in my as I progress on the path

  4. I agree with all what you say here, Daryl. However, it's a pity that even Jungians fall in these traps. For example intellectualising. In the Preface of my new book Holy Wedding that will be published by Pari Publishing, Italy (in English) in Sept 2016, I write the following:

    "By 1972, Marie-Louise von Franz was already lamenting, in official circles, the latest developments in Analytical Psychology. In her C.G. Jung biography she quotes a statement of the great depth psychologist as follows :

    If one attempts to deal with terms like ''Great Mother," "Totem Animal," "Tree of Life," etc. in a purely theoretical way, without having experienced their numinosity, then one does not actually know what one is talking about. These terms "gain life and meaning only when you try to take into account their numinosity i.e., their relation to the living individual.”

    And she adds:

    A good part of current research into mythology suffers from the fact that this relation is missing, even that research which accepts the Jungian idea of the archetypes. In other words it is impossible to apply the Jungian theory or to carry on effective research in this field if it is separated from its basis in practical psychological experience.

    In quoting the depth psychologist with the following words, Marie-Louise von Franz finds the diagnosis and the reason for such failure:

    Those who do not realize the special feeling-tone of the archetype … end with nothing more than a jumble of mythological concepts, which can be strung together to show that everything means anythingor nothing at all.

    Also earlier C.G. Jung anticipated such degeneration of his depth psychology. In a letter from 1958 the 83-year-old depth psychologist and founder of Analytical Psychology writes that he sees

    What awaits me once I have become posthumous. Then everything that was once fire and wind will be bottled in spirit and reduced to dead nostrums. Thus are the gods interred in gold and marble and ordinary mortals like me in paper."

    An I continue with the hope: "With my book the readers hold in their hands a rejoinder to Jung’s above-mentioned regression into a mere intellectualization."

    Remo Roth

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