Gay people have not always felt well served by the pioneering psychology of Carl Gustav Jung ( 1875- 1961 ) who came to take a radically different path to the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, which embraced the wider realm of faith and religion, alchemy and mysticism. He viewed the goal of life with the insights of his system of analytical psychology as a process of individuation towards wholeness.
From a Jungian perspective, it is essential to have the courage to fully accept ourselves as gay individuals, so coming out properly is a most important step towards wholeness. Jung’s approach to homosexuality was one of social acceptance and tolerance: being gay did not in any way devalue anyone as a member of society, and he was against any laws being passed against it. He also recognised that homoseuality was a part of all times and cultures worldwide.
In 1979. as a gay man absorbed in understanding my sexuality and place in the world, I was conducting research at the London School of Economics into the dreams recorded by an eighteenth century ancestor of mine, John Nelson, who under John Wesley founded Methodism in the north of England, dreams that were published in a famous Journal during his lifetime. I flew to Switzerland to visit the Jung Institute at Kusnacht, the lakeside centre which Jung had established before he died, to consult experts there on the dream material. It was a quest, however, as I discovered, very much about myself.
What I found in Kusnacht, combined with reading the more recent work of Jungian analysts on homosexuality, has enabled me to see the positive implications for gay people today which tend to have been lost in the mass of his writings.
During the time I spent at the Jung Institute, I was able to have a meeting and discussion with Barbara Hannah, who was born in Brighton and had gone to become one of Jung’s earliest followers in the 1920s. By then an old lady, she shared a house with another famous analyst and member of Jung’s inner circle, Marie-Louise von France.
Seated beneath an informal photograph of Jung in his garden, Hannah was fascinated to learn of my ancestor’s dreams, saying his Journal was “a goldmine” of psychological and historical interest. Jung increasingly as his own life progressed saw the Self, the goal of the individual’s efforts to integrate various aspects of the psyche, as eqivalent to God, the ultimate mystery. As a gay man brought up in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, I told Hannah I was seeking to know God myself. “If you have a great virtue, you will have a great vice”, she commented, her training drawing on the theory of the opposites.
I knew at once that my “great vice” was my homosexuality, though only in a narrow cultural sense. Now I would substitute the word “challenge”, a great challenge to my uncloseted personality, but closeted as I was when we met, that was something I couldn’t articulate and feel until much later. When our ( uncharged) hour was up, Marie Louise knocked furiously on the wall in the adjoining room, but before I left Hannah presented me with one of her books, and wrote an inscription inside. It was a memorable contact.
Jung’s writings can be complex, but reward careful study. He was always open-minded when looking at the dreams and problems encountered by homosexual analysands, though that work has been extended by later followers. Feminism and gay liberation movements, sociological and anthropological studies, all assisted in removing homoseuality out of psychopathology, though it took till the17th May, 1990, for it to be taken out of the World Health Organisation’s list of mental disorders. That date is now marked on the gay calendar as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Jung’s work on the collective unconscious and powerful archetypes that inhabit the human psyche are viewed through recorded dreams and artistic endeavours, as also in the interpretation of literature, myths, and story-telling. I was able to see the paintings of analysands at the Institute, and attend lectures. while based in Zurich and travelling to other parts of the country.
If our coming out is subject to social interference or family condemnation, and so delayed the living out of the romantic problems of teenage years in maturer relationships can create havoc, and Jungians were always concerned with the detrimental aspects of performing tasks natural to the first half of life in the second half.
Jung saw that being gay had a special meaning for each individual, and becoming aware of that meaning is vital for our psychological well-being. The powerful archetypes appearing in the dreams and fantasies of his patiients , which correctly interpreted could assist in this process, he saw as arising from the reservoir of the deeper and universal collective unconscious, as opposed to the personal unconscious.
The Archetype of Masculinity can be seen in the world of sadomasochism, and gay magazines and publications offer a rich resource of stories and material relevant to this archetype in the search for hyper-masculinity. Jung himself also saw as a positive the association of homosexuality with the Archetype of the Original Man. Seeking another man for wholeness relates to Plato’s Symposium, in which men and women are sliced in half in some fabled, far-off time, and thereafter crave the other lost part of their original selves.
I’m not advocating we all go off and find our own Jungian analyst, but I’d recommend Robert H. Hopcke’s book Jung, Jungians Homosexuality (Shambhala, 1989) for further study.
By John Hartley
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