Jung’s Neurosis

In these days of rampant neuroses, neurotic beliefs and identities, and neurotic organisations and governments, this wonderful autobiographical story by C.G. Jung has lost none of its topicality. He sketches in colourful, crystal-clear and highly reflective images an important event of his own childhood, in 1887. A beautifully authentic story from Jung’s 1961 autobiography, ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’.

How Carl Jung learned from his own experience what neurosis is:  The concrete trigger through which it arises. Then the disconnection between that trigger and the driving inner purpose and maintenance of the neurosis in the service of the ego. And finally, it’s healing if one is willing to engage with reality.

‘My twelfth year was decisive for my fate. Once in the early summer of 1887, I was standing on Münsterplatz after school, at twelve o’clock, waiting for a school friend who had to go the same way. Suddenly a boy gave me a push, I fell with my head on the kerb, and the shock made me faint. For half an hour, I was still somewhat dazed. The moment I landed on the pavement the thought passed through me in a flash: Now you don’t have to go to school! – I was only partially unconscious and also stayed down a bit longer than necessary – mainly out of a sense of revenge against my vicious attacker. Then people lifted me up and took me to the nearby house of two unmarried old aunts. From then on, I fainted as soon as I had to go back to school, and whenever my parents wanted me to do homework. For more than six months, I stayed away from school, which was exactly what I had wanted. I was free now, I could dream for hours, wandering along the water or through the woods, or I could draw. I painted savage battle scenes, or old castles under attack or in flames, and I made pages full of caricatures. (Even now I sometimes see such caricatures just before falling asleep – grinning, departed faces that keep changing. Sometimes these were faces of people I knew, who then died shortly afterwards.) But most of all, I could now fully immerse myself in the world of the uncanny. That included trees, water, swamp, stones, animals and my father’s library. All that was beautiful and wondrous. But I removed myself more and more from the ordinary world, and in the background, my conscience protested. I used to waste my time wandering around, reading, playing, and collecting all sorts of things. Yet in doing so, I did not feel happy; I was vaguely aware that I was on the run from myself.

I completely forgot how I had ended up in this situation, but was concerned about the concerns of my parents, who consulted several doctors. My parents were distraught with concern and sent me to relatives in Winterthur to recover. There was a train station there that took me into infinite delight. But when I returned home, everything was as before. A doctor diagnosed epilepsy. I knew by then what epileptic seizures were, and had to laugh internally at such nonsense. My parents, on the other hand, were even more worried than before. Then, one day, a friend of my father’s came to visit. They were sitting together talking in the garden, and I was sitting in the dense bushes behind them because I was insatiably curious. I heard the visitor ask my father, ‘And how is your son doing now?’ To which father replied, ‘Ah, that’s a miserable story. The doctors don’t know what’s wrong with him. They think it might be epilepsy. It would be terrible if he was incurably ill. I have lost what little possessions I had and what is to become of him if he can’t earn a living?’

I was struck as if by lightning. This was the collision with reality – ‘Aha, now you have to work,’ it shot through me. From then on, I became a serious child. I gently snuck away, to my father’s study, grabbed my Latin grammar and began to cram intently. After ten minutes, I appeared to faint. I nearly fell off my chair but felt better after a few minutes and continued working. I said to myself: “Damn it, you don’t faint!” and kept going. It took 15 minutes until the second attack came. It passed, just like the first time. ‘And now you’re going to work really well!’ – I persevered, and after another half-hour, the third attack came. But I didn’t give in to it, and worked for another hour until I felt, the attacks had been overcome. I suddenly felt much better than I had felt in months. Indeed, the attacks no longer repeated themselves, and from now on I worked on grammar and other subjects every day. After a few weeks, I went back to school, and even there I had no more attacks. The spell had been broken. – From this, I learned what a neurosis is.’