Saturday, March 24, 2012

Marcus West on Jung's Perspectives on the Ego

Abstract: "This paper explores some aspects of the narrowness of Jung's usage of the term ego and the consequences which are understood to follow there from. Jung is understood to see the ego as a surface phenomenon and, essentially, as the focal point of consciousness, not recognizing its potential to function more broadly, deeply, and unconsciously. Furthermore, although he does recognize the ego as ‘the total conscious personality’ his use of the term frequently does not reflect that definition. Whilst Jung's analysis of the narrowly functioning ego is enlightening and groundbreaking, he treats this narrow functioning as if it is characteristic of the ego itself, ascribing any ‘broad functioning’ primarily to the Self. This narrow use of the term ego, and the corresponding use of the term Self, are understood to have significant consequences for clinical practice, including leading the analyst into an over-identification with the patient and a loss of the analyst's sense of self. It is also understood to lead to difficulties dealing with more disturbed individuals, to stuck and broken down analyses, to wear and tear on the analyst and, potentially, splits between the different schools of analytical psychology. These concerns all represent difficulties with working in the transference, and Jung's own experience of this is briefly explored."

Introduction: "The ego has something of a bad name within analytical psychology as, whilst Jung was adamant about its necessity (e.g., Jung 1916, paras. 181-188), even arguing for it as a requisite element of spiritual experience (e.g., Jung 1929, para. 506; Jung 1954c, para. 774 & Jung 1934/1954, para. 520), he also described it, variously, as ‘small’ and ‘feeble’ (Jung 1937, para. 145), ‘futile and ridiculous’ (Jung 1955, para. 284), and saw ‘mere ego-life’ as ‘inadequate and unsatisfactory’ (Jung 1926, para. 645), and ‘petty and oversensitive’ (Jung 1928, para. 275). This paper aims to demonstrate that Jung works from a very narrow and superficial model of the ego, often not even consistent with his own definition of it as the conscious personality (Jung 1951a, paras. 1 & 7), and that he wrongly takes this narrow definition as characteristic of the ego itself. The paper will further suggest that the ego can be seen to function more broadly, deeply and unconsciously than Jung supposes. This broadly functioning ego encompasses and reflects all elements of the personality, including coming to know that the ‘I’ is attendant upon an autonomous, unconsciously functioning core self experienced as other and ‘not-I'; in other words, ‘the "not-I" is also who I am'.

The second part of the paper suggests certain ramifications for the practice of analytical psychology which are understood to follow, potentially, from such a narrow definition; for example, clinical difficulties relating to an over-identification with the patient and a loss of sense of self (as my original title had it: ‘There you are, but where did I go?'); difficulties dealing with more disturbed individuals; stuck, broken down, and sometimes abusive analyses, and to wear and tear on the analyst. I will also be looking at the difficulties Jung experienced with certain of his patients in this light. I will suggest, speculatively, that this under-emphasis on the ego can be seen to be responsible for some of the splits in analytical psychology, for example between those who follow Jung's practice of seeing patients less frequently and those who work more intensively with patients.

All these are serious concerns, with serious consequences for both patient and analyst. This paper was first given at the IAAP Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, in August 2007. At that Congress there was a panel discussion exploring ‘Reactions to Jung’, where Rod Anderson reported the results of a questionnaire he had sent out to his fellow South African health professionals. The questionnaire revealed that people saw Jung as (amongst other things) turning too quickly to the unconscious, not sufficiently recognizing the ego as a developmental achievement, and that these issues led to clinical difficulties.

These criticisms closely echo my own experience and concerns. I feel that it is vitally important to address these shadow aspects of analytical psychology, of which even those relatively unstudied in the field are aware (it may be argued, of course, that their criticisms come precisely because they have not studied Jung in depth, but I do not think this is necessarily the case).

My reason for making this critique is not only to address these shadow aspects of analytical psychology, however, but also to better utilize and value Jung's crucial insights which are at the heart of his work, for example, specifically, his critique of the (narrowly functioning) ego, his understanding of the autonomy of the unconscious, and his valuing and ‘locating’ of spiritual experience. I suggest that the understanding of a broadly functioning ego can offer a potential resolution of some of these difficulties
." (pp. 367-368)

Marcus West (2008). The Narrow use of the Term Ego in Analytical Psychology: The ‘Not-I’ is Also who I am. J. Anal. Psychol., 53:367-388

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