My history hero: Carl Jung (1875–1961)

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist. He enjoyed a close personal friendship with Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist and 'father' of psychoanalysis, until the two fell out, in part over Freud's emphasis on sexuality. Jung went on to develop some of the best-known psychological concepts, such as the collective unconscious, the psychological complex, extraversion and introversion...

Swiss psychiatrist Dr Carl Jung in his library at home. (Photo by Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Here, Ruby Wax tells York Membery why Jung is her history hero…

When did you first hear about Carl Jung?

It was in my late twenties, when a shrink I was seeing told me about him. I was immediately interested in finding out more and was intrigued to learn that, unlike Freud, he didn’t think everything was sexual. Jung believed that we had to know ourselves better, and understand the ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’. And his teachings have had a profound influence on me. He invented a whole new way of thinking and I try to live it.

What kind of person was he?

Obviously a genius – after all, he invented a way of doing therapy that had never been done before. I think he was also a lot more tolerant of human beings than Freud. He was more mystical too – he got a lot of his ideas from Buddhism – although personally I’m not such a fan of his mystical side; I’m more of a practical person. That said, he was the real deal: he believed in digging into the unconscious and facing up to the bad.

What made him a hero for you?

Doing therapy with a psychiatrist who practised what Jung preached changed my life. We’re all ashamed of our darker side that we try to keep buried. But Jung pointed out that having a dark side – those dark primeval thoughts we have when we want to kill somebody who’s crossed us, even if it’s only momentarily – was all part of human nature. Indeed, it’s the tension between the two that fuels much of our creativity. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel so alone. I felt: “Oh good, everybody’s got a shadow side.” It made me feel so much better.

What was Jung’s finest hour?

In a way, challenging Sigmund Freud’s beliefs and coming up with his own individual theories that were at odds with, and helped tidy up, much of the older man’s teachings. There was a near 20-year age gap between the two, and Freud arguably saw him as something of a surrogate son, so for Jung to strike out on his own – in short, to make a break with Freud – took a lot of guts, especially as Freud took real umbrage at his actions, and, in effect, tried to run him out of town.

Is there anything you don’t particularly admire about Jung?

I don’t agree with everything that Jung said. For instance, he thought there were introverts and extroverts, but I don’t – I think we’re a combination of everything. I didn’t like the way he labelled people like that, but we have to remember that Jung came up with his theories a hundred or so years ago.

Can you see any parallels between Jung’s life and your own?

Well, we’ve both written books on psychoanalysis. But there’s one little difference: I suspect that people are never going to talk about my book in the same breath as his!

What do you think he would have made of you if you were a patient on his psychiatrist’s couch?

I think he would have found me an interesting subject for analysis because I’m pretty open. I reckon I’d have got on with him too and would at least have been able to make him laugh. He may have even given me a discount!

If you could meet Jung, what would you ask him?

I’d like to ask him if he understood his unconscious.

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Ruby Wax is an actor, mental health campaigner and author. Her book, A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, is out now in paperback (Penguin Life). For details of the Frazzled tour, visit rubywax.net/tour