Carl Jung on Acceptance as Healing
A psyche at war with itself is only at peace when darkness comes to light.
When we think of the archetype of the healer, images arise of diligent physicians and priests of impeccable morals, wise shamans in the forest, or selfless and devoted nurses. But to help others, it’s necessary to help ourselves first. To paraphrase an old saying, a blind man can’t guide another blind man. For psychological guidance, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung had much to share.
During a lecture before an audience of Swiss priests, Jung spoke of the importance of doctors and priests – as well as of psychologists and psychoanalysts – in not judging their subjects nor allowing themselves to be invaded by moral prejudice. Those who seek support already feel themselves judged. For Jung, this non-judgement could only be achieved if a doctor accepts his or her own “dark side.” It’s not a question of a doctor’s encouragement of the fantasies of his patients, but of “feeling through the patient’s mind,” without judging it, and through something Jung called “unprejudiced objectivity.”
The term may sound abstract, even with a slightly intellectual air. But for Jung, it’s a condition that even men and women of faith must shelter and cultivate within themselves, knowing that “God has brought all sorts of strange and inconceivable things to pass and seeks in the most curious ways to enter a man’s heart.” Unprejudiced objectivity will allow us to sense “in all the unseen presence of the divine will.” Even the demonic, the archetype of the devil could be interpreted alchemically as a metaphor for the conversion of mortal matter into gold.
For Jung “we cannot change anything unless we accept it,” and that includes all kinds of illness and moral abjection, as well as the distorted images that seduce or terrify us in our dreams. It’s no use judging patients for their lifestyles or choices if we want to help them. But even if we are not psychologists or religious, we might think it’s not much to judge ourselves harshly. In Jung’s words, “Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow-sufferer.”
It might seem simple to task ourselves with not judging ourselves or others, but is it possible to sustain the idea over the long run? What do we do when moral judgment falls upon our own actions? Upon those in the past, when we weren’t led by repentance or doubts about the future? Jung might say that the very idea of accepting ourselves with all of our envy, our evil, our desire for recognition, our little vices, “the very thought can make us sweat with fear.”
For Jung, many people choose not to observe or accept themselves. They embark on an escape from the path of self-knowledge only to fall into what Jung calls “the morbus sacer of neurosis,” when the personality seems to be in an internal war with itself. Jung wrote:
Neurosis is an inner cleavage — the state of being at war with oneself. Everything that accentuates this cleavage makes the patient worse, and everything that mitigates it tends to heal him. What drives people to war with themselves is the suspicion or the knowledge that they consist of two persons in opposition to one another. The conflict may be between the sensual and the spiritual man, or between the ego and the shadow. It is what Faust means when he says: “Two souls, alas, dwell in my breast apart.” A neurosis is a splitting of personality.
How then do we help others to accept their own shadows? Their own “dark sides”? And perhaps more importantly, how do we accept that we too carry this division, an internal divide that threatens to wage war upon us? The only option seems to be that if we decide not to enter into our own dark sides:
The complicated course of remaining in ignorance about ourselves while busying ourselves with other people and their troubles and sins. This activity lends us a perceptible air of virtue, by means of which we benevolently deceive ourselves and others. God be praised, we have escaped from ourselves at last!
So we can’t observe our faults, our inconsistencies, our “sins” and our many imperfections with but a benevolent gaze. They’re not really our genuine inventions, and probably not even as reprehensible as we think. It’s possible to find something in common with all of humanity when we accept what Jung calls the “shadows” of ourselves, our dark sides, and all those negated parts. “Only he who has accepted himself completely,” concludes Jung, “possesses ‘unprejudiced objectivity,’” that ingredient without which he will be unable to help others nor even himself.
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