home page

Maggie Hyde Online

Miscellaneous articles


The friendship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung lasted for just six years after their first meeting in 1907, a brief chapter in the lives of these two octogenarians. Yet during this short period, psychoanalysis underwent an intense and formative crisis. The play opens in 1904, three years before their meeting, and by the time it closes in 1913, the split with Freud had brought Jung to the brink of profound inner turmoil. It was out of this breakdown that he was to draw together the materials for analytical psychology, his own vast project to rival Freud's.

In 1904 Jung was working as a psychiatrist at the Burgholzli asylum, attached to the university in Zurich, using word association experiments to develop his study of complexes. He was in daily contact with individuals who had lost contact with reality, schizophrenics who smeared themselves with excrement, and a young catatonic who 'drank up half the chamber pot of a fellow sufferer, with obvious relish'. In his search for a cure, Jung was eager to test out Freud's new theories. By contrast Freud, already in his fifties, was ensconced in private practice in Vienna, treating well-to-do hysterics.

Into their disparate worlds stepped Sabina Spielrein, a young Russian Jewess, sent to Jung for treatment when she was nineteen, suffering from severe hysteria with schizoid features. Her affair with Jung plays like a leitmotif throughout the whole period. The Freud-Jung relationship is interwoven both intellectually and erotically around the figure of Sabina. Later, when she herself was an analyst, she sought to bridge the divide between the two men, but initially, as a woman between two men, a sexual dimension was central to this triangle. All three main players are captured by sexual drives and their repression, with a fourth, the promiscuous Otto Gross, counter-pointing their struggle.


This struggle embodies the conflicting interpretation of libido , and the theoretical differences in turn reflect ethical and philosophical conflicts, rooted in how individuals live their lives and treat their fellow human beings. Freud defined libido as sexual energy , which was continually sublimated or repressed for the benefit of society. His Talking Cure method had demonstrated to him that neurotic symptoms were traceable to forgotten memories which were invariably sexual in origin. This did not mean, however, that the cure for neurosis is an anything goes liberation. In The Talking Cure , Gross's addictive sexuality - 'whenever you see an oasis, you must always remember to drink'- fails to see the drastic consequences of a refusal to accept restraints.

Jung acknowledges the sexual component in libido, but he sought a wider definition, and in his later work, he dropped the term libido altogether, in favour of psychic energy . He agreed with Freud that hysteria and obsessional neurosis showed abnormal displacements of 'quite definitely sexual libido', but he thought that neither psychosis in general, nor schizophrenia in particular, matched Freud's theory about the sexual nature of libido. This was because schizophrenic individuals suffer a complete loss of reality , and since the loss of reality was so extreme, this loss leads us to infer the displacement of other forces even more potent than the sexual instinct, since 'no one is likely to maintain that reality is a function of sex' .

If Jung's understanding of libido was right, it was important to him to demonstrate a convincing prognosis of psychosis, in the same way that Freud had done with neurosis. By doing so, he would establish his own authority, independent of Freud. In pursuit of this goal, Jung plunged into mythology, astrology and other occult studies, seeking imagery that might bring into the light the operation of these potent formations of psychic energy. If he could successfully diagnose psychological states from these mythological images, then he could force a redefinition of libido, and ultimately a revision of psychoanalysis itself.

This project precipitated a redefinition of Freud's work on the Oedipal complex and the incest taboo. The arguments on this theme ran between them throughout their friendship, building up eventually to Jung's publication, Symbols of Transformation (1911-12), in which he rejected the exclusively sexual basis of libido and advocated his theory of 'archaic residues' and a teleological, rather than reductive, understanding of the unconscious. Jung's thesis is that libido - psychic energy - must separate from the mother in order to allow psychic growth and development, and that this separation is like a spiritual rebirth. He disagreed with Freud's understanding of the incest taboo and took the incest motif, not as a literal desire for the mother, but as the carrier of a spiritual desire to be reborn. To Jung, it was important that the individual should not remain fixed in the incestuous bond but should 'redeem those dynamic forces which lie bound up in incest in order to fulfil himself'. As libido struggled to separate from that bond, images arose which were not exclusively personal. The imagery reflected themes common to the whole of humanity - archaic residues - and these found expression in the mythology of all times and places.

Or so the theory goes. But in 1907, whichever way Jung and Freud cut the libido cake seems to have mattered very little in the face of the transference love of a young woman patient. Drinking at Sabina's oasis led Jung not to a psychic rebirth, or to the free, unrepressed state advocated by Gross, but to a very Freudian illustration of libido. He concealed his sexual guilt from Freud, the one person who could really call him out.

This furtive sexuality erupts with all the damaging effects which psychoanalysts have come to expect from the 'return of the repressed'. When Jung arrived in Vienna to see Freud in 1909, he was in a spent condition after an exhausting year of overwork at Burgholzli. His break with Sabina had just occurred, with the threat of scandal bringing pressure to resign, so his ability to argue with Freud about the non-sexual nature of libido was seriously compromised. And now, here was Freud, attacking his interest in psychical research and occult phenomenon, dismissing his mystical leanings as repressed sexuality, and at the same time, anointing him Crown Prince of the psychoanalytic movement. In such unspeakable circumstances, Jung's red-hot diaphragm could not resist rocking Freud's book case, even if he couldn't quite manage to topple the whole edifice of Freudian theory.

Death & Sex

So we return to the counter-point of Otto Gross, with his admission of the 'help' he gave to a suicidal woman, and to Sabina's own uncanny premonition as she lies in Jung's embrace, and we arrive at what was to become her most important contribution to analytic thinking, the link between the sexual instinct and the death instinct. She wondered why, if the sexual drive arises from the pleasure principle, it should so readily get repressed. She suggested that this was because of the destructive component in sexuality, the loss of oneself to the other, leading the ego to repress sexuality in self-defence. Jung recognised that this allowed the possibility of other unconscious psychic forces, capable of over-riding both the ego and the sexual impulse, forces linked to his work on archaic residues, and ultimately, to the collective unconscious.

Finally, as Bruno Bettelheim observes [1], the German name 'Spielrein' comes from two words spiel meaning to play and rein meaning clean . In his shabby treatment of Sabina, who presented with a history of both defecating on herself and trying to stop herself defecate, Jung neither played clean, nor did he come clean. Yet in this dangerous game, the talking cure of Sabina Spielrein played out both the uniting and the dividing of the analytic project. She understood something that neither of the founding fathers could easily acknowledge when she told Freud that he and Jung had "not the faintest idea that you belong together far more than you might suspect".

[1]. A Secret Symmetry, Aldo Carotenuto (RKP 1984). Commentary by Bruno Bettelheim, p.xxiii).

Back to the list of articles



© 2010 Maggie Hyde