Jungian Psychology: Content and Context

There are two very different ways to be a Jungian, that is, someone seriously engaged in Jung’s psychology. In the first it is a matter of content. We set out to understand what Jung said, and more importantly, to personally experience the contents and dynamics of the unconscious that he attempted to articulate. This is a fascinating and extremely valuable adventure in which Jung and other Jungian analysts and scholars can serve as teachers and guides. The emphasis here is on content. We want to understand the interactions between the ego and the unconscious, and Jung and the Jungians can help us do this.

In the second way of being a Jungian it is a matter of context. We not only immerse ourselves in Jung’s writings and the workings of the unconscious underlying them, but consciously or unconsciously we take up his attitudes about other areas, as well. For Jung his psychology functioned as his primary way to understand himself and the world around him. It was the highest and most universal viewpoint he could adopt, so much so that he viewed philosophy and religion from the perspective of his psychology. To follow Jung in this matter of context is to accept his attitude that his psychology is the ultimate norm of judging things. In practice this can have detrimental effects. If we do not have distinct religious or philosophical beliefs, then we will tend to accept this Jungian outlook as supreme, and be unable to examine things from another perspective, and even be unable to imagine that the philosophical and religious viewpoints of other people could be valid ways of knowing. Then religious belief, for example, is reduced to the adherence to a creed, which creed is seen as a secondhand condensation of the experience of the unconscious, and thus believers become those who cling to a creed because their egos are too weak to experience the unconscious directly.

This kind of Jungianism in context expresses itself in other ways, as well. Since Jung’s psychology is seen as the highest science, as it were, and Jung as its expounder without equal, then it becomes difficult to be a Jungian and at the same time critical of Jung’s behavior. Take the case, for example, of the relationship between Jung and Toni Wolff, a former patient who became Jung’s longtime mistress. Jung appears to have forced this relationship upon his wife and children to the point of bringing her to Sunday dinner, but any number of Jung’s followers felt compelled to defend his behavior with lofty talk about the different aspects of the anima embodied in his wife and in Toni Wolff, and so forth. But wouldn’t it be better to seriously contemplate the possibility that Jung was simply wrong, and acted like someone with an inferior feeling function who needed to integrate his anima instead of acting out in this destructive way. What prevents this kind of evaluation is a certain false Jungianism that has difficulty in distinguishing the man and his limitations and his work, and has no other ground to stand on when it comes to judging his behavior.

Therefore, it is entirely possible that two people can share Jung’s psychology by way of content, that is, agree about what Jung said and how the unconscious functions, but they could still be worlds away when it comes to being Jungian in context. A genuine Jungian-Christian dialogue, for example, needs the participants on both sides to be Jungian in content, but it can’t expect that the Christians must be Jungian in context, that is, interpreting Christianity in Jungian categories. If this distinction were formally and consciously made, such a dialogue would be on firmer ground.