Monday, October 11, 2010

Essays - Why Go Into Analysis?

Why Go Into Analysis?

“The analytical procedure, especially when it includes a systematic dream-analysis, is a ‘process of quickened maturation,’ as Stanley Hall once aptly remarked.”[1]

Jung, 1945

“…psychoanalysis… gives the patient a working philosophy of life based on empirical insights, which, besides affording him a knowledge of his own nature, also make it possible for him to fit into this scheme of things.”[2]

Jung, 1912

Some topics for the essays on this blog come from my dreams. Others, like this one, arise from students’ questions. Recently a student asked me why I am so enthusiastic about analysis. This essay responds to this question, doing so in two parts. First I will consider Jung’s thoughts on the benefits of analysis; then I will draw upon my own life experience and how I have benefited from my years of analysis.

Jung’s Thoughts

The quotes above from Jung give some of the benefits he saw in analysis. Jung clearly appreciated Stanley Hall’s idea that analysis quickens the maturation process because he quoted Hall more than once in his writings.[3] Analysis helps us mature by supporting the process whereby we achieve “… a hard-won separation from the childhood’s psyche.”[4] Analysis makes it easier for us to discriminate our “stuff” from our family’s “stuff,” our own true way of being from all the “scripts and schemas”[5] that our parents, teachers and other authority figures inculcated in us as we were growing up. This is one way analysis fosters individuation.[6]

Another way it helps us toward authentic living is by giving us “a knowledge of our own nature,”[7] as Jung said. Most people don’t really know who they are; they don’t recognize the depth and richness of their inner life, or even that they have an inner life! Jung knew that analysis can provide us with a wealth of discoveries about ourselves, the variety of characters that live in our “inner city”[8] and how they can hinder, even sabotage our life when we are unaware of them.

Analysis can give us information and good advice—the “empirical insights”[9] Jung spoke about above. Such insights help us identify where we belong, how we “fit into the scheme of things,”[10] as Jung put it. Life can be a lot easier when we are on the path that is right for us. Analysis can help us identify that path.

Another practical benefit of analysis is the way it will bring up “…some hitherto unconscious but essential psychic content whose realization gives a new impetus to one’s life and activity;…”[11] We find we have more energy, more vitality, more zest for living as we expend less energy repressing our “stuff.”

Repression is common in neurotics, and the pain of neurosis is often what leads people to go into analysis. Over time, as we wise up to our “stuff,” work with our inner characters (especially the shadow and animus/anima) and encounter the Self, the “painful neurotic symptoms”[12] disappear.

Besides the practical and mental health benefits of analysis, there are positive spiritual consequences too. Jung saw a spiritual malaise in most of the older patients he worked with:

Among all my patients in the second half of life—that is to say, over thirty-five—there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook. This of course has nothing whatever to do with a particular creed or membership of a church.[13]

Besides giving us a “religious outlook on life” or a “working philosophy of life”[14] analysis provides a safe, secure setting in which we can unburden our hearts and minds—what Jung called making “a satisfactory confession”[15]—so as to find our way toward a connection with something larger than ourselves. In this spiritual aspect, analysis offers a vital antidote to the materialism of Western culture.[16]

My Experience with Analysis

I was 39 years old (i.e. going through the classic “mid-life crisis”) when I began analysis in July 1985. Since 1985 I have worked with one female analyst continuously and with 3 male analysts at various times for intervals ranging from several months to two years. When I began, I was very neurotic and my life was falling apart. As is usually the case, I “presented” with what I thought was my problem—the shock of a divorce and incomprehension about why it happened, even more why the marriage itself had happened—and came to discover there was so much more to explore. Typical of the Introvert’s way, as the “stuff” came up in the initial months and the vast vista of my inner life spread before me, I felt more and more overwhelmed, despairing, and depressed.[17] That is, I did not feel better immediately. When I shared my despair with my analyst one of the most comforting concepts she shared with me was archetypes: My experience was not unique to me. Many others had “been there, done that,” and they had survived. I was on the hero’s journey, and although for each person it takes a unique form, there are certain basic patterns, and she recognized what these patterns were, and could see where I fit into this larger scheme. So I was not lost, there was a road map, and my analyst recognized the terrain. Knowing that my analyst knew what was going on, and that I was not going crazy, gave me tremendous relief. I came to feel that the analysis was my toehold on reality and this feeling lasted for several years.

So I wasn’t crazy, but I sure had some major neuroses! Negative parental complexes, low self-esteem, almost complete lack of connection to my anima (no typo: most women come into the work needing to integrate the animus,[18] but I had way too much animus—my colleagues at College of the Atlantic felt I ate people for breakfast! I needed to get in touch with my feeling nature, and develop my capacity for what Jung called “Eros”).[19] I was profoundly one-sided in my identity as a logical, rational Cartesian Ivy-League intellectual! This one-sidedness became obvious very early in the work, when my analyst would ask me how I was feeling. Feeling? I had no idea how I was feeling, except “bad.” I was almost completely cut off from my feelings! Slowly, over time (several years) I was able to recognize and discriminate my feelings, and the “headiness” gave way to greater balance.

In time this redemption of my feeling side allowed me to retrieve my true type. My analyst was certain that my MBTI results as an ISTJ were not accurate. She felt I had had to “turn type” to survive the assaults of my childhood. As I got more in touch with my feelings and began to feel safer in the world I was able to access and live out my INFJ nature. This meant I could live more authentically.

Besides discovering my feelings, I discovered many of the characters in my “inner city:” “Little Anima Girl”—so scared, so small, so deprived for so many years, yet the source of my fun, freedom and creativity; the negative animus—so cruel in its demands, criticisms and “Voice of Judgment;” the problematic parental imagoes that stole so much of my energy; the “white shadow”[20] that needed to be integrated so I might recognize my true worth and value. Encountering these inner energies helped me come to understand the dynamics of my family and my personal history. And recognizing the archetypes here really helped me set the whole process in a larger context.[21]

One of the most important archetypes I encountered was the Self. The ego doesn’t like this, of course. In the early years of analysis I rebelled repeatedly when the Self appeared (usually via the very strange “voice-over” dreams that are unique to my spiritual journey). At one point when I was particularly rebellious—not wanting at all to do what my dreams were telling me to do, my life began to go to hell, and my analyst suggested that I might consider trying to be “a bit more open to the unconscious.” I needed to adopt a better attitude. I didn’t like this one bit, but slowly I learned that I could admit my displeasure but set the intention to be open, and I could ask for help—help to change, help to be more adaptable, help to grow up to what was being asked of me. And I discovered that the Self would respond; help would come; whatever I needed would appear. So slowly a track record of being able to trust my inner guidance was established. As Jung said, every experience of the Self is felt by the ego as a “defeat.”[22] But with each “defeat” I came away appreciating how much wiser, more reliable, and more trustworthy the Self is than the ego, and eventually the ego ceded control of my life to the Self.

All this work in analysis led, in time, to an enlargement of my personality.[23] I was able to play the “game of life” with a more complete deck. Life started to work better. I felt better. I had more energy. Following the Hermetic Law of Correspondence (“As within, so without.”),[24] as I worked inwardly, it showed up in positive ways in outer life. I had questioned this in the beginning. Very early in my analysis, with great skepticism in my voice, I asked my analyst if any of this was going to “pay off” in “real life.” (In the depths of my despair back then, it seemed as if my life would never be right again!). She assured me that, if I stuck with the process, things would improve. I was particularly interested in “improving” what drove me to inner work initially: marriage. Would I ever be able to have a good relationship? Would there ever be a really nice guy for me? That would be the sign that all this work had paid off. Well, it took 9 years (yes, 9!—an indication of just how one-sided, out of balance and neurotic I had been!) but “Mr. Right” did show up.

A wonderful relationship was just one of the benefits. There were so many more—greater empathy and compassion for others, thanks to my integrating shadow material; greater effectiveness as a person and a teacher, thanks to my retrieving my true type and being able to live authentically; greater feelings of security and safety, thanks to ceding control of my life to the Self; greater pleasure in life, thanks to the enlargement of my personality; greater creativity, thanks to reclaiming of Little Anima Girl; greater sense of fulfillment, as I was able to move fully into my vocation, with my work at the Jungian Center.

But note well: none of this came cheap. The benefits I gleaned from analysis took years of disciplined, diligent, conscientious effort—recording my dreams every night, working up my dreams in preparation for my weekly session every Sunday morning, meeting weekly with my analyst (and, in those intervals when I also worked with one of the male analysts, meeting twice a week), “holding the tension of opposites”[25] for what often seemed like an unendurable interval.[26]

At times the process taxed my patience to the limit, especially in the seemingly interminable years spent in the “cloud of unknowing,”[27] when I wondered and wandered,[28] fretting about the “when” and “how” I would take up the work I knew the Self wanted me to do. The almost-constant frustration of my ego mind was so difficult to endure! Given my over-developed intellect I kept trying to “figure it out,” in a realm of life where the logical, rational left brain is way out of its depth.

Most people in Western society live trying to figure things out. As I noted in an earlier essay,[29] we are addicted to logic and rationality. As I worked to develop my intuitive, non-rational side, I became more and more an oddity in our society. The work of analysis, I came to realize, requires a certain independence of mind,[30] to be able to hold firm in the face of friends and family wondering why I was bothering with ephemera like dreams, why I was getting involved with “shrinks” and “having my head examined.” Some in my family even seemed to feel affronted, as if my analysis implied there might be something amiss with our family (little did they know!!).

Jung recognized this reality, when he noted how people tend to depreciate “… the whole process of psychic development,…” denigrating it as “running away from life” or “…’auto-eroticism’—and other equally unpleasant epithets.”[31] Although it was not pleasant to feel like the odd man out, I found this lack of comprehension from the masses provided another benefit: I came to discover who my true friends were. My real friends stuck with me. They didn’t always understand what was going on, but they hung in and supported me through the years.

Why Go Into Analysis?

The reasons why people venture into analysis are as varied as the people themselves. Some do it because, like me, they are suffering. They get to mid-life and face a crisis. Others get motivated by the failure of a relationship, or the loss of a loved one. Still others are driven to it out of a desperate search for meaning, in the absence of a satisfying religious connection. Many start because they lack a sense of purpose or direction in life, or life has come to feel “dry” or “flat.”[32]

As I noted above, drawing on both Jung and my own experience, analysis can restore balance and energy. It can bring a sense of meaning and purpose. It can help you see the direction in which your life energy is meant to flow. It can help you “get your act together.” It can help you understand why and how your family was so creepy or dysfunctional, and the residual legacy that early history left within you. Insights, energy, enthusiasm, meaning and direction, information and a more objective stance on your personal experiences—all these are some of the benefits analysis can provide and these are why I am so enthusiastic about analysis.

To be sure, these benefits come at a cost, and it is but a “leading minority”[33] who are willing to pay the price. The qualities required in the “chosen few”[34] who are so willing is the subject of next month’s essay.


Anonymous (1961), The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works, trans. Clifton Wolters. New York: Penguin Books.

Goleman, Daniel (1985), Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Jung, Carl (1956) “Symbols of Transformation,” Collected Works, 5, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Rokeach, Milton (1960), The Open and Closed Mind. New York: Basic Books.

Three Initiates (1912), The Kybalion: A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece. Chicago: The Yogi Publication Society.

[1] Collected Works, 8 ¶552. As has been the convention in these blog essays, Collected Works hereafter will be abbreviated CW.

[2] CW 7, ¶440.

[3] Cf. CW 8, ¶552 and CW 18, ¶399.

[4] CW 12, ¶3.

[5] For in-depth discussions of scripts and schemas, see Goleman (1985) and Rokeach (1960).

[6] Jung regarded individuation as “the goal the psyche intends,” although he understood that some people would end their analysis before reaching this goal; CW 12, ¶3.

[7] CW 7, ¶440.

[8] Jung used the term “inner world” (CW 7, ¶317 & 326-7). Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp, who set up a publishing house for Jungian analysts, uses the term “inner city.” For specific titles and other information about Inner City Press, see its Web site,

[9] CW 7, ¶440.


[11] CW 12, ¶3.

[12] Ibid.

[13] CW 11, ¶509.

[14] CW 7, ¶440; cf. CW 12, ¶3.

[15] CW 12, ¶3.

[16] For a detailed examination of Western materialism, its features and impact on Jung, see the essay “The Psyche is Real: Materialism, Scientism and Jung’s Empiricism,” previously posted to this blog site.

[17] CW 7, ¶223. Extraverts tend to want to go out and enlighten the world with their new insights, i.e. the two types have very different reactions to the initial stage of analysis.

[18]This is “orthodox” Jungian theory; see CW 7, ¶336, but it didn’t fit my reality. My analyst, being a true analyst in Jung’s own mold, did not try to fit the patient to the theory, but took the patient as she was. Jung was always empirical and had little use for theory; see CW 17, “Foreword to the 3rd Edition,” p. 7, where he refers to theories as “the very devil.”

[19] CW 9ii, ¶29.

[20] “White” because so many positive qualities were in my unconscious.

[21] I should add that, as a Feeling type, I was not at first all that keen about the archetypal level of dream work: it seemed impersonal and therefore cold. It took me quite a few years (and lots of readings in mythology, legends and fairy tales) before I came to feel more comfortable working with it.

[22] CW 14, ¶778.

[23] CW 7, ¶218.

[24] See Three Initiates (1912), 28-30,113-135, for more on this spiritual principle.

[25] The “tension of opposites” is a key principle in Jung’s thought; cf. CW 5, ¶460,581; CW 6, ¶330,347,370; CW 7, ¶34,78,115,119; CW 9i, ¶ 196,426,446,483; CW 9ii, ¶59,390 & note 79; CW 10, ¶779,784; CW 11, ¶180,291; CW 13, ¶147,290; CW 16, ¶400; and CW 17, ¶249.

[26] “Unendurable” because it is the experience of the alchemical fixatio, or crucifixion—something no one wants to endure for even one second!

[27] This term is not Jungian but comes from the writings of mystics; see Anonymous (1961). I was reading this book at one point in my analysis and the image seemed so apt for what I was experiencing.

[28] I moved 9 times between 1985 and 2004, all at the behest of my voice-over dreams.

[29] “The Psyche is Real: Materialism, Scientism and Jung’s Empiricism,” posted previously to this blog site.

[30] CW 17, ¶298-300.

[31] CW 12, ¶5.

[32] This was true for me in the years preceding my mid-life crisis. I realize this was, in part, because I was cut off from my anima.

[33] CW 18, ¶1393.

[34] CW 17, ¶298.

- Sue Mehrtens

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