To Kindle a Light in the Darkness

UPDATED: May 24, 2011
PUBLISHED: May 24, 2011

Carl Jung was a solitary and thoughtful child, though he always had a vivid imagination and was intrigued by the behavior of those around him. The son of a country pastor in the Swiss Reformed Church in Kesswil, Switzerland, he grew up surrounded by intellectuals in the 1870s and ’80s, with several clergymen on both sides of his family. But Jung became disillusioned with the clerical profession, in part from watching his father’s declining faith. He did not, however, give up on the importance of a spiritual life. In fact, his idea that the human psyche was basically religious in nature became a defining characteristic of his later psychological theories, which defined the subconscious origins of motivation as well as the personality types that determine how people approach the world.

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

Thanks to his father’s dedication to education, Jung was studying Latin by the time he was 6. As a result, Jung developed a lifelong interest in languages, literature and mythology. This, combined with Jung’s early captivation with his dreams and thought life, inclined him to introversion. Besides being literate in most of Europe’s modern languages by the time he was a young man, he could also read Sanskrit. Jung began to study ancient literature and religion on a scale that would later influence his thinking as a psychologist and his idea that all people share what he termed a “collective unconscious.”

Jung studied at both the University of Basel and the University of Zurich, where he obtained his doctorate in psychiatry in 1902. His studies in word association actually provided the basis for the development of the modern lie detector test. But more importantly perhaps for the development of modern psychology was

Jung’s belief that psychotherapists needed to be familiar with ancient and world literature in order to understand the development of the unconscious and, particularly, its need for spiritual meaning. Jung became a pioneer in the treatment of the middle-aged and elderly who believed that with age their lives had lost significance. Many had lost their religious beliefs, and Jung helped them better understand their significance in the world and their place in history.

“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.”

In 1907, Jung met the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in Vienna. Despite a generation’s difference in their ages, the two men hit it off, and legend has it they talked together for 13 hours on first meeting. Freud was so impressed with Jung that he viewed him as his successor in the newly developed field of psychoanalysis. The two men began a five-year collaboration.

However, as Jung expanded his own ideas, he started to dispute many of Freud’s theories, including the latter’s insistence that neurosis was the result of sexual repression. When Jung published The Psychology of the Unconscious in 1912, it was clear his theories were highly divergent from those of his mentor, and the relationship between the two psychologists cooled. While both believed the unconscious influenced a person’s thinking and actions, Jung was more scientific in his approach, calling his new field “analytical psychology” and working from observation to create a diagnosis.

“A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them.”

Jung had benefited from the association with Freud; it won him respect in his field as well as the presidency of the International Psychoanalytic Society, from which he resigned in 1914 to help form the new Association of Analytical Psychology. The result of this study was his theory that all people share certain associations in our minds, archetypes he defined as ranging from “the mother” to “the hero.”

His ideas about the collective unconscious and the resulting archetypes explained for Jung why religions shared so many common characteristics and why people identify with religion so strongly. Jung’s theories also helped uncover instinctive patterns of behavior that all humans seem to share, including a quest for meaning. He felt all religions share an essential desire for the union of the self and the divine, thus leading him to conclude that spiritual experience was necessary to human contentment.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Though many people don’t realize it, Jung developed the differentiation of extraverts and introverts. Later, he developed the four different functions of the mind that provided the basis for the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test.

Jung also had a great influence on writer J.R.R. Tolkien, mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell, and even the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. And modern psychology has a strong basis in Jungian theory, particularly when one brings his often complex theories into simple terms. It was Jung who taught his patients the importance of accepting themselves and the reality of their lives. One of his patients once wrote to him: “I intend to play the game of life, being receptive to whatever comes to me, good and bad, sun and shadow that are forever alternating, and in this way, also accepting my own nature with its negative and positive sides. Thus everything becomes more alive to me. What a fool I was! How I tried to force everything to go according to the way I thought it ought to.” Jung felt this kind of attitude and introspection, which he tried to help his patients find, was a higher level of consciousness and “religious in the highest sense.”

“We have to risk life to get into life, then it takes on color, otherwise we might as well read a book.”

Prior to the outbreak of World War I, Jung traveled extensively throughout Europe and the United States sharing his ideas. Then, in 1925, he journeyed to East Africa, where he studied primitive psychology among some of the region’s geographically isolated tribes. He also traveled to India and studied Hinduism, which he credited with helping him understand the role of symbolism in religion as well as in the unconscious mind. His study of Hinduism also led him to understand how all individuals seem to share a basic connection to one another and that everyone holds within himself a piece of the divine.

In 1933, he became professor of psychology at the Federal Polytechnical University in Zurich, a position he would hold for eight years. He moved on to become professor of medical psychology at the University of Basel in 1943.

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”

Widely respected in his field by this time, Jung, a Swiss national, watched the rise of Nazi power in Europe with a certain scientific fascination. The result was that he was perceived by some as a Nazi sympathizer, though Jung made public statements to the opposite effect and actually resigned from his position with the German-based Society for Psychotherapy in 1939 when Nazi influence in the organization became too great.

By the time of his death in 1961, Jung had written more than a dozen books on his theories and treatment methods, and he deepened the world’s understanding of the influence of the unconscious on human motivation and behavior. He believed that by studying the unconscious and making people aware of its influence, he could heal not just the mind but also the soul.

Deborah Huso is a Virginia-based freelance writer specializing in business, lifestyle, and travel subjects. She is also a regular book reviewer for SUCCESS. Her publication credits include FamilyFun, Military Officer, Appraiser News Online, Women's Health,, USA Today magazines, Alaska Airlines Magazine, WellBella, and The Progressive Farmer, where she serves as contributing editor. Huso also publishes a popular blog on love, motherhood, and work called "I Only Love You Because I Have To" at Visit Huso online at, or follow her on Twitter @writewellmedia.