Analysis as the Hero’s Journey
“To develop one’s own personality is indeed an unpopular undertaking, a deviation that is highly uncongenial to the herd, an eccentricity smelling of the cenobite, as it seems to the outsider. Small wonder, then, that from earliest times only the chosen few have embarked upon this strange adventure.”
In the previous blog essay I described some of the many benefits that accrue to those who undergo a Jungian analysis, and I noted that the process is not without its costs. This essay will describe some of those costs--the challenges and demands of the work that make it truly a process that calls up the hero within us.
Challenges in the Analytical Process
Mental Challenges. There are many challenges. Let’s start with the mental challenges, since Western culture lives so much in the head. First, while analysis has some intellectual components, it is not primarily something accomplished via the left-brain linear logic so beloved in our modern world. In other words, it’s not something one can “figure out.” It is more experiential—a series of lived experiences, “for which reason is no substitute.” For Thinking types or those (like me) who start analysis with a well-developed intellect, this challenge gives rise to no end of frustration.
So we can’t think our way through analysis. Indeed, in many cases, attitudes and thoughts will pose problems. Analysis asks us to get rid of the prejudices, beliefs, habits of thinking and ways of interpreting reality that block our growth, and to “attain an attitude which offers the least resistance to the decisive experience.” This is not easy, in part because so many of our attitudes are unconscious, and it is impossible to give up what you don’t know you have. So, to clear out mental “stuff” we have first to work on becoming conscious of the unconscious. The “how” of doing this is not obvious and we have to look to the analyst for support.
Another mental challenge involves re-perception. Jung asks us, for example, to rethink our attitude around difficulties. Most of us, when given the choice, would take a pass. Let’s go for what’s easy. Why bother with hardships? But Jung reminds us that “Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health.” We have to stop playing the “blame game,” buck up and regard hurdles as goads to our growth.
A third mental challenge comes from the nature of the material dealt with in analysis: fairy tales, legends, myths, folklore, the psychology of the primitive mind, alchemy, cabala, Gnosticism, astrology, numerology—Jung drew on all these and more in developing his psychology, recognizing that these ancient wisdom systems are reflected in the dreams of modern men and women. But who studies this sort of thing these days? So the analysand starting off in analysis quickly finds him/herself floundering in very strange waters. Dependence on the knowledge and skill of the analyst is essential, but trust is not developed over night and so it can be a hard slog in the beginning, especially for those who are used to being in intellectually familiar terrain.
Dream work also poses many mental challenges. Aside from drawing on all the strange stuff mentioned above, handling dreams requires a “special knack, an intuitive understanding … and a considerable knowledge of the history of symbols…” Again, the analysand can assume the analyst has these mental attributes but, from my own experience, I know how frustrating it can be to be told this or that, yet not be able to understand it for myself. So much to learn! So many skills to acquire!
Moral Challenges. Then there are the moral challenges. Analysis asks us to “give up a large slice of [our] infantilism,” something that Jung acknowledges we are never normally asked to do. We also must be willing to sacrifice our privacy, to lay ourselves open to another person, and to do this voluntarily (no torture, water-boarding or duress here!). We must summon up the moral courage to overcome our “considerable resistances” and allow the psyche to have its way with us, all while we are pretty much clueless about what that means exactly (or even vaguely). The process involves our stripping away “all human pretences,” with the result that, as Jung says, both analyst and analysand get under each other’s skin.
Then there are the moral challenges that relate to the virtues required for the work. Every day we will face the banal and it will make banal demands on our patience from which we must not flinch. We must fulfill these demands with a humility that is hard to summon. We have to find within ourselves the adaptability to stay open to change not just once or twice but repeatedly, as we move through various stages of transformation. We need empathy, for ourselves, for those our lives impact, for the world as a whole. We need to summon the courage to stand against the mainstream and its materialistic denigration of intangibles like the psyche. We have to be willing to risk being regarded as crazy or odd for our interest in the inner life. We have to have sound morals, a good measure of intelligence, knowledge of the world and a “canniness” about humanity as we confront the “most questionable and painful aspects of [our own] character.” No wonder Jung warns that someone contemplating analysis better be strongly motivated!
Spiritual Challenges. Going one’s own way—standing up to the mainstream culture and, in spite of it, doing your own thing—gives rise to guilt. Society expects us to adapt to others. Jungian analysis calls on us instead to individuate—to develop an “exclusive adaptation to our inner reality…” and align our lives with what the Self asks of us, rather than with what society might expect. The guilt that arises from doing this must be expiated. How? By “bringing forth new values” that serve our society.
Jung felt that people who went into analysis had this task of service to the whole as part of their life’s destiny. They were “chosen” for this work, challenged to “conquer themselves completely”—something that is seldom or never demanded of the average person. But analysis is not for the “average” person. It is the work of heroes.
Jung’s Concept of the Hero
Mention the word “hero” to a typical 21st century American and he or she will think of Indiana Jones or the brave local fireman who rescues the baby from the burning building or the men who dig people out of the rubble of an earthquake—all of these heroics on the physical level. Jung defined “hero” differently, referring more to the inner qualities and psychic courage required to “develop one’s own personality” rather than the external forms involved in braving snake pits, fires or earthquakes.
The Jungian hero is one “delivered from convention.” He goes his own way and rises out of the unconscious identity with the mass that is the reality for most people. The hero suffers, because his/her path is “trod only from inner necessity and it is sharp as a razor’s edge.” In other words, Jung felt nobody would blithely undertake an analysis for the fun of it. There isn’t all that much fun in it.
In fact, it is at times extraordinarily painful. It is lonely work, demanding our very life’s blood to stick with it. Few people in mainstream society understand what it is about or the demands it makes, so most analysands find themselves reorienting their social life to link up with like-minded people in and around Jung Institutes,
Heroes have a “vocation,” a calling for the work of analysis. The Latin root of “vocation” means “calling.” The hero has been “called” to “emancipate himself from the herd and from its well-worn paths.” Jung felt a vocation acted like a “law of God from which there is no escape,” and the person with a vocation had to obey the “voice of the inner man.” He could do nothing else.
Jung himself was called. He knew whereof he wrote. From personal experience he knew how hard it is to have a vocation, to be an enigma to most and an affront to many. Few others know what is really going on in the life of the hero, called to his/her task. Our society is especially dense about this, given its materialism and scientism.
Hero that he was, Jung knew just how much the hero’s life is “oriented by fateful decisions,” and how clearly such a person can sense his/her direction. Hero that he was, Jung was able to put his soul in place of conscience and act on the dictates of the Self. Such a life is only for the “chosen few.”
“Many are called; few are chosen.” We all have a vocation—some calling or inner claim our soul has on our life. Part of “following your bliss” entails discovering this vocation. It is noble work and analysis may be a part of it. But maybe not. As the above indicates, analysis is not for everyone. I am very enthusiastic about it, in part because it saved my sanity, while also giving me both the content and direction for the rest of my life. But I also recognize I was destined for it.
Given the pain, the myriad challenges, the extraordinary demands of the process, I cannot imagine how anyone would venture into analysis unless they had to do so. It is not for the faint of heart, nor for the dabbler interested in finding out more about Jung and his thought. If you are such a dabbler, the various Jung Societies and Centers can provide you with a multitude of lectures, workshops and courses that will satisfy your intellectual interest. To undertake analysis requires more than a cursory interest in Jung and his ideas. If your life isn’t a mess, if you don’t live daily at the edge of desperation, if the banality and emptiness of our materialistic society is not eating up your innards, you might not have the necessary motivation for the work. Usually we need some major motivator (like extreme psychic agony) to get up the gumption to go for it.
At this point you might be asking yourself if individuation is possible without an analysis? It depends—on you and your circumstances. Jung felt an individual undertaking such an ambitious task would have to be “… an earnest and conscientious person with a trained mind and a scientific education…” able to “acquire sufficient knowledge through a careful study of the existing literature to apply the method to himself to a certain extent.” But because individuation cannot happen in isolation (being a dialectical process), the person would “… not be able to progress beyond a certain point without the help of an experienced teacher.”
The old adage assures us “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” If you are committed to your individuation, the knowledge, the literature, the insights, and the teacher will appear. Each of us can find the hero that lives within. Trust your inner guidance and the way will be revealed to you.
Campbell, Joseph with Bill Moyers (1988), The Power of Myth.
Jung, Carl (1961), “Freud and Psychoanalysis,” Collected Works, 4. Princeton:
________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton:
________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton:
________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton:
________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton:
________ (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17. Princeton:
________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton:
Loy, R., “Foreword to Some Crucial Points in Psychoanalysis,” CW 4, pp. 252-3.
- Sue Mehrtens
 Collected Works, 17, ¶298. As has been the convention in these blog essays, Collected Works hereafter will be abbreviated CW.
 “Why Go Into Analysis?,” posted to this blog site last month.
 CW 4, ¶446.
 CW 11, ¶904.
 CW 8, ¶143.
 CW 8, ¶553.
I was fortunate that I began analysis having spent years as a scholar of medievalia, familiar with Latin, Greek, paleography, mythology, legends etc.
 CW 17, ¶198.
 CW 4, ¶445.
 “Foreword” by Dr. R. Loy; CW 4, p. 253.
 CW 7, ¶224.
 CW 12, ¶5.
 CW 7, ¶72.
 CW 8, ¶143.
 CW 17, ¶300. For more on our culture’s denigration of intangibles, see the essay “The Psyche is Real: Materialism, Scientism and Jung’s Empiricism,” on this blog site.
 CW 18, ¶1392.
 CW 8, ¶543.
 CW 18, ¶1392.
 CW 18, ¶1094.
 CW 18, ¶1095.
 Ibid. For what some of these values might be, see the essay “The Apocatastasis of Our Global Civilization,” posted on this blog site.
 CW 4, ¶443.
 CW 17, ¶298.
 CW 17, ¶299.
 CW 7, ¶401.
 This theme of linking up with others on the path of individuation was considered in the essay “The Social Implications of Individuation,” previously posted on this blog site.
 CW 17, ¶300.
 Voco-are = “to call.”
 CW 17, ¶300.
 CW 17, ¶302.
 CW 7, ¶72.
 This ability was one mark of the hero, according to Jung; CW 7, ¶401.
 CW 17, ¶298. If my description makes analysis sound hard, that’s because it is hard, but if it is what you really want to do, you will find the strength in yourself. You can rise to the challenge if you are destined for it.
 Matthew 22:14.
 This phrase will be forever associated with the work of Joseph Campbell; see
 CW 18, ¶1391.