"Psychology of the Unconscious, The"

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An article by Thédore Flournoy on the poems, reveries, and visions of an American student named Miss Miller inspired Jung to compare these products of the imagination with mythology and the history of religions. It was an opportunity for him to differentiate himself from Freud by laying the foundations for his theoretical constructions. Several powerful ideas were developed: the libido is not uniquely sexual; some unconscious content is a condensation of the collective history of psychic evolution; certain fantasies are recurrences of ancient beliefsthey cannot enable us to understand mythology but by finding the source of myths we can gain access to the psyche; and incest is first of all a psychic reality before it begins to concern the real mother. The article "The Psychology of the Unconscious" contains the seeds of all the Jungian concepts before he actually formulated them explicitly. It cost him his friendship with Freud and was followed by a long period of internal crisis.

In 1950 he reworked and updated the article in the light of his research over the intervening decades, though he did not deny any of its original contents. It was published under the title Symbole der Wandlung (Symbols of transformation).

In the first part Jung analyzes the religious sentiment and the difficulty of differentiating between human love and love of God or the divinity. By studying the interplay of the archetypes in the collective unconscious he reveals the psyche's capacity to rediscover in the present, and in relatively new forms, experiences and ideas that marked the history of humanity. The second part introduces his concept of the libido, which he bases on his work on schizophrenia and which appears radically different from Freud's concept. Jung then goes on to describe his concept of incest, which is one of the pivotal points of his theory. Symbolically, incest signifies an ebbing of the libido (Jung speaks of regression) toward ancient layers of the unconscious located well beyond the genetic mother. For Jung the unconscious is a place of becoming, the locus of encounter with the "Great Mother." This return to origins is symbolized by the hero's combat with the monster. In his quest the hero aspires to being reborn but he must nonetheless renounce this incestuous attraction in order to be liberated from the maternal, otherwise he risks being engulfed by it. Jung thus develops the question of sacrifice. In the process of individuation, the organizing influence of the Self underlies this movement and actualizes itself through the Self's confrontation with ancient unconscious content.

Viviane Thibaudier

See also: Jung, Carl Gustav; Libido; Mythology and psychoanalysis; Projection and "participation mystique" (analytical psychology).

Source Citation

Jung, Carl Gustav. (1911-1912). Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido. Beiträge zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des Denkens. Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologische Forschungen, III (1), 120-227; Psychology of the unconscious: A study of the transformations and symbolisms of the libido: A contribution to the history of the evolution of thought. Coll. Works (Vol. 5). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Flournoy, Théodore. (1906). Miss Frank Miller, Quelques faits d'imagination créatrice subconsciente. Archives de psychologie, 5, 36-51.

Freud, Sigmund, and Jung, Carl G. (1974a [1906-13]). The Freud/Jung letters: The correspondence between Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung (William McGuire, Ed. Ralph Manheim and R.F.C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Guy-Gillet, Geneviève. (1984). Inceste et sacrifice. In Cahier de L'Herne, 46, Jung (pp. 64-80). Paris: Herne.

Kacirek, Suzanne. (1980). Le concept de libido selon C. G. Jung: Des "Métamorphoses et symboles de la libido"à "L'énergétique psychique." Cahiers jungiens de psychanalyse, 26, 1-20.

Shamdasani, Sonu. (1990). A woman called Frank. Spring, 50.

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