A Jungian Perspective on the Dissociability of the Self

In a paper presented in a public lecture at the C.G. Jung Education Center in Pittsburg, PA, Brian Skea discusses trauma, transference and transformation in relationship to the dissociated complex that can cause neurotic conflict or more serious disorders, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or even psychosis.


Trauma, Transference and Transformation:
A Study of Jung's Treatment of His Cousin, Helene

A Jungian Perspective on the Dissociability of the Self
and on the Psychotherapy of the Dissociative Disorders

A paper presented in a public lecture at the C.G. Jung Education Center in Pittsburgh, PA, on February 3, 1995.


Along with Freud and Janet, Jung was one of the pioneers of the psychoanalytic movement. In the early years, at the start of the twentieth century, trauma, especially childhood sexual abuse, was implicated in the development of hysteria and conversion disorders in adults. Jung's early contribution was his complex theory, in which he showed how trauma promotes the formation of autonomous complexes in the psyche. In binding traumatic memories, images and affects, the dissociated complex protects the ego from being overwhelmed. However, the complex can be subsequently triggered and can compete with the ego for dominance of the conscious personality, causing neurotic conflict, or more serious disorders, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, the dissociative disorders, or even psychosis.

Jung's contribution to the fields of dissociation and post- traumatic stress has however been ignored in historical reviews by experts such as Putnam and Kluft (1993), or Herman (1992). Likewise Jungian psychologists have not published on trauma, abuse and the dissociative disorders. Exceptions are Emmett Early, his book, The Raven's Return, The Influence of Psychological Trauma on Individuals and Culture (1993) and Richard Noll, his 1989 article in the JAP, "Multiple Personality, Dissociation, and C.G. Jung's Complex Theory," though he has since strangely rejected his earlier paper (1993).

In actual fact, Jung, early in his work, minimised the impact of exogenous trauma on complex formation, emphasising more the endogenous trauma caused by conflictual fantasy. He also focussed on the capacity of the psyche to split into different personalities or systems of consciousness as an aspect of normal, that is, supposedly non-trauma-related complex formation. He postulated that these complexes originated in the archetypal depths of the psyche, deep structures, patterns and ways of living that represent an inherited memory of the history of human culture. Jung proposed that this dissociative capacity of the normal psyche promotes the expansion of the personality through greater differentiation of function. He said that dissociation "allows certain parts of the psychic structure to be singled out so that, by concentration of the will, they can be trained and brought to their maximum development....This produces an unbalanced state similar to that caused by a dominant complex -a change of personality" (Jung (1960), p122).

Erich Neuman developed this further in The Great Mother (1955): "Thus to the differentiation of consciousness corresponds a more differentiated manifestation of the unconscious, its archetypes and symbols." The fragmentation of primordial undifferentiated archetypes, for example, the Great Mother, leads to the emergence of individual archetypes, such as the witch, the whore, the young goddess, the wise woman etc. This parallels the discriminatory powers of ego consciousness to embrace such diverse archetypal images, in this case, of the Feminine, without being possessed and overwhelmed by them.

Cultural change is hinted at here, brought about by creative, heroic individuals who dare to bring socially useful archetypal ideas or innovations into consciousness. This benign Jungian view can be wedded to a pathological view of dissociation, say arising from trauma, via acknowledging that early trauma can stimulate the creation of adult heroes, prophets, artists, and healers, for example, Moses, Frida Kahlo, Mozart, or Jung himself, exceptional individual cases who were able to creatively transform their traumatic experiences. Not many of us reach this level, but Jung believed that his form of therapy could restore pathological forms of dissociation to health via some of the methods that creative individuals have discovered spontaneously. These always involve some form of conscious expression of the emergence of healing images and symbols from the unconscious, via dreams, art work, dance, active imagination, sandtray, etc. This relates to Jung's concept of the individuation process, which implies the development of wholeness of the personality. In actual fact, most creative individuals are not well-rounded, but are one-sided and "unbalanced" in the direction of their area of genius. The area where they seem so often immature, if not pathological is in the area of relationships. This was true of Jung, artists such as Frida Kahlo (1983), and traumatised dissociative clients that I have worked with, however talented and creative.

Because of his view of dissociation as a normal aspect of the psyche, Jung never took the trauma theory or the seduction theory of causation of neurosis as seriously as did Freud. This can be seen from his early papers on his work with early patients at the Burgholzi, notably Sabina Spielrein, his research on complexes via the word association test, and his doctoral dissertation, which we will be looking at in this paper.

I will explore Jung's description of multiple personality or multiple complex formation, firstly, in his young cousin, Helene, found in his first published work, his doctoral dissertation, On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena (1902) and, secondly, in himself, found in his last published work, his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961). I will explore the role of trauma in both of their lives, which seems to me to have played a larger part in the development of their conflicted fantasy life and to obvious dissociative symptoms in childhood and adolescence, than Jung has acknowledged. Jung appeared to have healed his own inner splits by innovative self- healing methods, involving written inner dialogues, fantasy journeys, playing with water, sand and rock that he made into a miniature town, and painting his dreams. He also described the apparent resolution of his cousin's dissociated state following her participation in a series of seances that Jung attended. That Helene was Jung's first patient has been suggested by William Goodheart (1984), who has also investigated the transference- countertransference aspects of the case, raising troubling questions which we will explore further. As with many dissociative individuals, intimate relationships were clearly problematic for both Jung and his young cousin, before, during and after their relationship. The transference- countertransference field of a therapeutic relationship is a place where dissociative and traumatic interpersonal scenarios from past relationships can be reenacted and possibly resolved as long as the therapist is conscious of projective identification phenomena constellated between himself and his client (see Davies & Frawley, 1994). This was clearly not so for the young Jung, and likewise even in some of his later therapy relationships, despite his theoretical consciousness of these phenomena in his writings, eg The Psychology of the Transference (1954). In fact both Goodheart and psychohistorian, John Kerr, in his book, A Most Dangerous Method, (1993) suggest that Helene's relationship with Jung was ultimately traumatising to her rather than therapeutic.


In his doctoral dissertation, after a brief introduction, Jung turned to the case of S.W., actually his teenage cousin, Helene (Helly) Preiswerk. She exhibited habitual visions or hallucinations at seances which Jung attended, along with his mother and other family members. In the dissertation Jung stated that the seances took place between 1899 and 1900, when Helene was 15. Goodheart (1984) has discovered, from studying a contemporary account written by one of Helene's relatives, that Jung helped organise these sessions as early as 1895, when he was a 19-year old first year medical student, with his 13-year old cousin as medium. His purpose was "to pursue his profound curiosity about occult and spiritualistic matters." Apparently, during earlier table-turning experiments within her family circle, it had been discovered that she was an excellent medium. This was a common fad both in the US and Europe in the late 1800's.

Jung described S.W. as reserved, prone to sitting around day- dreaming, but with the sudden capacity to become joyful and exaltant. She and her 14 siblings "suffered a great deal from the inconsequent, vulgar, and often brutal treatment they received from their mother." Her father (Jung's mother's brother), a remote and preoccupied businessman, had died a few years earlier. This is Jung's only reference to trauma in Helene's life, abuse from the mother, abandonment by the father.

In somnambulistic trances S.W. spoke in the voices of dead relatives, rarely as herself, whom she spoke of in the third person. She had only partial recollection of what had been said during the seances. Sometimes her "spirits" would take her over in the middle of conversations, in shops, on the street, and S.W. would later recollect visions, where she was led away from her body by the spirits on distant journeys. The visions were generally pleasant, but were occasionally demonic and terrifying. Severe headaches usually followed the visions. Today these would represent evidence of a dissociative disorder.

S.W. was convinced that the visions were real. Jung adds: "She absolutely would not listen to the idea that the manifestations were a kind of illness. Doubts about her health or about the reality of her dream-world distressed her deeply; she felt so hurt by my remarks that she closed up in my presence and for a long time refused to experiment if I was there." Here Jung reveals his confusion both about his role (doctor or scientist) and the nature of the material, the manifestation of illness or a "phenomenon of normal psychology, and even with the psychology of the supranormal, that of genius." It also reveals the common reaction of dissociative clients when their therapists dismiss their reports of abuse, however bizarre, as fantasy, hallucination or "illness".

Goodheart (1984) adds that Jung omitted to say that he actively participated in the seances, questioning the various "spirits". He also took her pulse, and attended to her like a doctor, when she was in prolonged trances. In addition to the group seances, Jung met with her alone in a darkened room, initiating her trance states by tapping on the table between them, with Helene tapping back in response to his suggestion. He also gave her a book, The Clairvoyante of Prevorst, the story of the dramatic seances and sub- personality possessions of a famous medium, which influenced the content of Helene's subsequent trance states, though Jung did not admit this in his thesis.

Jung described S.W. as "leading a real "double life" with two personalities existing side by side or in succession, each continually striving for mastery." One was a brittle nervous teenager, the other, her "somnambulist ego", Ivenes, an older, serious, even sorrowful person, who had a clear memory of the visions. In the early seances the control medium was commonly S.W.'s paternal grandfather (also Jung's maternal grandfather) Samuel Preiswerk, who had "protected her from childhood up and knew all her thoughts." Apparently he had first appeared to her in a vision she had at five or six. This tender, pious, protective grandfather figure reappeared in different versions, gradually deteriorating into a superficial gossip figure, called Ulrich von Gerbenstein.

Kerr (1993) reports that Samuel Preiswerk was a distinguished theologian and Hebraist at Basel University. His first wife had died, but his second wife, Augusta "had to do regular battle with the returning ghost of the first wife." In addition, Jung's mother, Emilie, the youngest child, "had been required as a child to sit behind her father while he composed his sermons - to keep the devil from insinuating himself into the text of the next day's address to the faithful." This is a different picture of Helene's grandfather from that painted by Jung in his thesis, that he was an eccentric spiritualist, which probably influenced his daughter's (Jung's mother), his granddaughter's (Helene), and his grandson's (Jung) spiritualistic and dissociative tendencies.

In a section called "The Romances", Jung described the activities of her main female spirit, Ivenes, who had lived through many reincarnations where she had been married to various noblemen, including actually being the clairvoyante of Prevorst. In one fantasy she had been Jung's mother, and was then burnt as a witch, whereupon Jung had retired to a monastery. In another fantasy one of Jung's women friends, disliked by S.W., was portrayed as a notorious poisoner, who killed her husband and various lovers, one of whom was her own brother. There was additional material which Jung omitted from the thesis, involving premature and deformed births, miscarriages and stillbirths (Goodheart, 1984). Today we might see these as transference statements, as comment about the therapy - a miscarriage indeed.

After a while Jung reported in his thesis that the material produced by S.W. became less interesting, increasingly stale in content. He withdrew from the seances, and later learned that S.W. had been caught cheating, hiding small objects, which she threw in the air during the dark seances, for dramatic effect. From this time on she stopped participating in the seances, and became an employee in a large business. Kerr reports the story differently. Jung had invited some of his Basel University classmates to watch Helene perform, and they, less enamoured than Jung, quickly caught her cheating. Humiliated, Jung quit attending the seances. In his autobiography (1961, p107) Jung reflected on S.W.: "She was one of these precociously matured personalities, and she died of tuberculosis at the age of 26. I saw her once again, when she was 24, and received a lasting impression of the independence and maturity of her personality." Kerr states "Helene moved to Paris to pursue her trade as a dressmaker." When Jung was visiting Paris on sabbatical to meet and study with Janet and Binet, he visited with his cousin and spent several evenings with her at the theater. Kerr continues: "It is said that Jung's dissertation, with its invocation of a hereditary trait (not to mention the fraudulent aspect), had wrecked her chances of marrying. Not only had her identity been readily discernible in the small world of Basel, but the code name Jung used for her, "S.W" was itself a final act of spite. Jung had lifted the name from a contemporary textbook on insanity, specifically from the case of another S.W., a seamstress who suffered from an "intensified feeling of self-importance, which found its expression in affected speech and grand airs, now and then attended with evidence of eroticism and coquetry."


In Jung's discussion of the case, he described Helene's character as hysterical, based on her distractability and dreamy nature. Regarding the buildup of her unconscious personalities, Jung did implicate the suggestive questions from the audience, but in relation to striking an "answering chord in the medium's own disposition." This disposition could be explained by what Jung described as "the disaggregation of psychic complexes", or, quoting Binet, "disaggregated phenomena existing there apart from the normal consciousness of the subject."

Jung compared S.W.'s relationship to her main second personality, Ivenes, with that found in other double personalities described in the literature, notably by James, Prince, Janet and Flournoy. Jung connected the Ivenes fantasies to the conscious S.W. via his emerging concept of the complex, a feeling-toned idea incompatible with the conscious ego, and hence `forgotten' by hysterical dissociation. It is not clear why the ideal and virtuous Ivenes would need to be repressed and dissociated; she certainly compensated for the promiscous, poisonous yet proliferative female personality that appeared in S.W.'s later romantic fantasies. Jung saw this latter figure as arising from S.W.'s budding sexuality, and her amorous adventures as "nothing but a dream of sexual wish-fulfilment."

Jung wrote this in 1902. He had read Breuer and Freud's work (1895) on the role of childhood sexual trauma in the origin of hysteria. Freud was not to repudiate the seduction trauma theory until 1905, relocating the origin of hysteria as sexual fantasy within the imagination of the child. Here Jung predated Freud's change of focus by not exploring the role of Helene's childhood trauma in predisposing her to dissociation. Jung chose instead to explain Helene's behavior by focussing on the autonomous capacity of the psyche to create dissociated ego states or complexes, which in certain predisposed individuals can give rise to sub- personalities, which in turn can generate myth-like visions. In his later work Jung might have stressed more the archetypal nature of her fantasies, mythologically paralleled by the stories involving ancient fertility goddesses, as she attempted to explore her femininity. Ivenes and the clairvoyante of Prevorst character could be considered Self or Shadow figures, with the promiscuous poisoner more clearly a Shadow figure. Her kind grandfather was a protective father- or Self- figure, degenerating into an Animus figure, Ulrich von Gerbenstein. Jung himself was a combination Animus-father-Self figure.

Jung summarized S.W.'s sub-personalities into opposing pairs, the serio- religious grandfather and the gay-hilarious Ulrich von Gerbenstein, or the pious Ivenes and the promiscuous poisoner. However he believed that beneath these surface hysterical splits of consciousness was the "firmly knit basis of the ego-complex", the personality of the patient, "in the deepest sense one and indivisible." Jung hypothesised that the adolescent S.W. was attempting through her fantasies to seek a middle way between the two extremes of an ideal spiritual type versus an earthy sensual type of female ego.

Jung concluded his thesis with a discussion on the origin of heightened performance found in hysterical sub-personalities, in his case study, S.W's knowledge of high German and customs from earlier times, despite her limited education, and facts about long- dead ancestors. Jung discussed cryptomnesia as one explanation, something having been earlier experienced subliminally, but only secondarily recollected in what seems to be a spontaneously created image. However Jung was open to the possibility of a highly developed intellectual activity of the unconscious, superior to ego consciousness. In his later writings he was to define this as the Self. He also could only allude to the wealth of parallels in S.W.'s fantasies to be found in the gnostic literature of earlier centuries, quite inaccessible to the patient. His concept of the archetype was to address this issue.

It is notable that Jung did not refer to S.W.'s traumatic childhood, the brutal treatment by her mother, and the absence and death of her father, as factors in predisposing her to hysterical dissociation. The two types of subpersonality could relate to idealised versus real versions of her mother and father (or grandfather). We do not know the details of her brutal treatment in childhood. There is only one fantasy that seems to relate to sexual trauma. Jung's thesis reports that in the 7th seance S.W. bent forward as if speaking to someone kneeling before her, and said "You have sinned grievously, have fallen far." She stood up, turned to the right and, pointing to the kneeling spot, said "Will you forgive her? Do not forgive men, but their spirits. Not she, but her human body has sinned." Jung made no attempt to analyse this fantasy. Nowhere in his thesis did he explore the role of trauma in forming S.W.'s hysterical symptoms.

It is possible that the 7th seance refers to possible sexual abuse of S.W. By dissociating the spirit from the body, forgiveness of men or her (self or mother) was possible, with the sin assigned to the body. Not surprisingly her subpersonalities involved spiritual versus sensual types, as she tried to both dissociate and reconcile spirituality and sexuality. This also happens to be a dominant split in the Western culture of our time, and was very real for Jung himself. In attending his cousin's seances with his mother, and recording them for his so-called scientific thesis, Jung blinded himself to the boundary violations he was committing. It is likely that his attendance was erotically and incestuously stimulating to his young cousin, causing an erotic transference and leading to iatrogenic fantasy creation. Ellenberger (1970) states: "It seems that only much later did Jung realise that his young cousin had been in love with him and multiplied her mediumistic revelations in order to please him." It appears that by this method she drew his attention away from her older sisters. During an early seance S.W. came up with the image of her grandfather (Jung's maternal grandfather), arm-in-arm with Jung's paternal grandfather. In his thesis Jung conceded the possibility of transference association to himself, because S.W. had entertained the "liveliest expectations" of Jung and his mother attending the first seance. However he did not analyse the transference implications of the ongoing presence of a young male medical student on a suggestible adolescent young girl's romantic fantasies, and the decline in her "attacks" following his withdrawal from the seances.

Regarding possible countertransference issues, Jung could be considered both voyeuristic and opportunistic. Once he had enough material and once the material had become stale, he lost interest and withdrew from his cousin. As a medical student Jung was playing doctor or healer, although his cousin had never sought `treatment' as a patient. As `doctor' or `scientist' Jung was `treating' his cousin as a patient-with-symptoms or observing her as an object of study rather than admit he was involved in an intense interpersonal relationship with a vibrant, however wounded, adolescent girl. As he split off the reality of her emotional attraction to him, so he also split off his own adolescent erotic strivings towards her. In actual fact, during this period he met his wife-to-be, Emma, the teenage daughter of a rich businessman, resolving consciously to marry her in future. Both Jung and his cousin Helene knew that their relationship would end here, that Jung's destiny was to aspire to higher social class, wealth and professional success, while Helly would be forgotten.

As I will describe below, Jung showed many of the characteristics of his young cousin, except that he kept his dissociated fantasies a secret, while she exhibited hers in public seances. Through identification with Helene, however disguised as objective observation, he was attempting to come to terms with the meaning of his own dissociated hysterical fantasies, as neurotic, or as products of a normal, or even an exceptional psyche. While, as I will show, he was aware of the traumatic origins of his own neurosis, he preferred to stress the autonomous and archetypal nature of his fantasies as arising from the normal dissociative capacity of his psyche. Not surprisingly, then, he did not stress the traumatic origins of his cousin's dissociative phenomena. Jung preferred to speak of the introverted intrapsychic life of the psyche, the relations between the archetypes as parts of the Self, rather than as intersubjective part-objects, introjected into the psyche from important parental figures, then functioning as self- objects (see Feldman, 1992), bridging the inner archetypal and the outer object world.


In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961), hereafter referred to as MDR, Jung revealed his own experience of dissociative phenomena, both from the point of view of his psychology as `normal' and as neurotic. As regards the origins of his childhood neurosis, he implicated both actual trauma and a conflicted fantasy life.

At the age of 3 Jung was separated from his mother, who was hospitalised for a depressive illness "that had something to do with the difficulty in the marriage." Despite being cared for by an aunt, a young maid, and by his pastor father, Jung was "deeply troubled" by his mother's absence, suffering from general eczema, accident proneness, and night fears, involving fantasies about dead bodies being buried, and the role of priests, and even Christ, in causing death. His "first conscious trauma" involved his terrified response to seeing a Catholic priest for the first time, dressed in robes which seemed to Jung a disguise as a woman. He also at this time had the earliest dream he could remember, of an underground naked phallus on a throne, with his mother's voice saying "that is the man-eater", causing him to wake up in terror.

At 6 Jung began school, was outwardly successful by day, but at night was inwardly preoccupied with conflicted religious fantasy. His parents now slept apart, with Jung sleeping in his father's room. He had repetitive visions of a luminous figure coming out of his mother's room, with a detachable head. At 7 he suffered choking fits and anxiety dreams, and had to be held by his father.

During these latency years he began to sense a splitting of himself, and feared it. He defended against this by positive fantasies related to actually building a 'sacred' fire in a cave, or feeling a sense of security sitting on a favorite rock. He carved a little manikin which he kept as a secret fetish, and which he would take out and dialogue with or write secret notes to, following incidents that hurt or depressed him. This secret activity both protected Jung from dissociation, but also gave him a vehicle to explore ritualistically his obsessive curiosity about God and religion.

Despite his parents' sleeping apart, a sister was born when Jung was 9, which "intensified his mistrust of his mother" (not mentioning his father's role!), and stimulated obsession on the origin of babies. He struggled with feelings of superiority with respect to his parents, yet inferiority with respect to rich relatives. He became phobic about mathematics, and developed fainting spells, which enabled him to avoid going to school. This developed into a school phobia, which allowed Jung to play alone and ruminate in his secret fantasy world for months. Only when there was talk of his being epileptic did he begin to consciously battle the fainting feelings. He overcame them, returning to school and improving his performance. Jung concluded: "That was when I learned what a neurosis is."

In a letter to Freud in 1907 (McGuire, 1974), Jung remarked that as a boy he had been the victim of a sexual assault by a man he had once worshipped, apparently a friend of his father's. He did not mention this in MDR, but apparently he had had a "religious" crush on this man, with undeniable erotic undertones. These were feelings that were to be rearoused in his relationship with Freud, causing him shame and disgust.

In those early adolescent years he still struggled with two conflicting views of himself; "the schoolboy who could not grasp algebra and was far from sure of himself; the other was important, a high authority, a man not to be trifled with... This "other" was an old man who lived in the 18th century."

At that time Jung had a daydream, which for months he would not allow himself to remember, out of shame for having such a sinful thought - that God defecated on a cathedral breaking its roof in. Jung felt relief at this view of the terrible aspect of God, but could not share this secret with anyone, especially not his father, whose unquestioning and conformist religious belief in the goodness of the Christian god sounded stale and hollow to Jung.

As an adolescent Jung tormented himself with guilt about both actual and potential faults, or from the true or false accusations of others. He found himself "being guilty, but at the same time wishing to be innocent. Somewhere deep in the background I always knew that I was two persons." Personality No.1 was the insecure schoolboy, No.2 was the remote, old being, close to nature, and above all "close to the night, to dreams, and to whatever "God" worked directly in him."

However, Jung here (MDR, p45) differentiated this lifelong split from "dissociation in the medical sense. On the contrary, it is played out in every individual." Jung was here talking about an unconscious self that not every ego is receptive to, or even willing to make room for. Here Jung normalised, even made exceptional, his own psychology, rather than dwell on the obvious childhood pathology he had just described.

Jung felt that only his mother might have understood his two personalities, because she herself had two divergent personalities, one innocuous and human, the other uncanny and frightening, with an archaic mind, ruthless yet intuitively perceptive. We can only imagine what her childhood was like living with her father, Samuel Preiswerk. Jung saw his father in contrast as stuck with a sterile orthodox ego-bound faith, closed to living, yet unconscious, and contradictory images of God. His father aroused only Jung's pity.

In late adolescence, Jung tried to focus on his No.1 personality, which became identical with his ego, the depressive states of mind associated with No.2 receding into the background. He spent hours reading philosophy, especially Schopenauer and Kant. Yet he still continued to daydream on his way to and from school. He fantasised he lived in a tower, within a castle, set in a medieval town, and even constructed an actual model of the castle. He met a young Catholic girl on a walk in the mountains but felt tongue-tied and awkward; at that time his only experience of girls had been his cousins, Helene and her older sisters. On the one hand he wondered if it was his destiny to marry this girl; on the other hand he knew he could never discuss Schopenauer, or Goethe's Faust and his relation to the Devil, with this innocent soul.

As regards his plans for college, he knew only that he would not study theology, to his father's great relief. Personality No.1 was attracted to science, No.2 to comparative religion and philosophy. His father had never developed his intellectual talents beyond his student days; he had married his theology professor's youngest daughter and had hoped to become a Hebraist himself, but, for financial reasons, had instead become a country pastor. His married life consisted of angry quarrels or mutual alienation. In Jung's adolescence, his father became increasingly irritable, with Jung's mother trying to avoid provoking his outbursts of rage. Jung tried to converse with him, to discuss what was tormenting him, his loss of faith. However, their theological discussions ended in Jung's frustration and his father's irritation. Jung decided to study medicine, beginning in 1895 at his hometown University of Basel. That same year his father became increasingly depressed and hypochrondriacal, became terminally ill, and died in 1896. Jung's mother said "he died in time for you" in her No.2 personality voice, meaning that his father would have hindered his development. Jung moved into his father's room, and took on his responsibilities as head of the household.

Jung decided to study psychiatry in 1898, on the basis of his interest in spiritualism, exhibited in his study of his cousin's seances since 1895, and two synchronistic poltergeist-like phenomena, the spontaneous splitting of the dining room table, and the shattering of a breadknife in the sideboard. Ross (1992) has studied paranormal experiences both in relation to normal subjects and to those suffering from trauma-related dissociative disorders. Previous workers (Heber et al., 1989) have shown that there are psychic individuals who have not been abused as children and who are free of overt psychopathology. Ross found that paranormal/extrasensory experiences were common in the general population, and conceptualised this as an aspect of normal dissociation. However he found that paranormal experiences were more common in individuals who had experienced trauma, especially childhood physical or sexual abuse, and who were diagnosed as suffering from a dissociative disorder. He explored poltergeist phenomena (such as Jung's description of the splitting table and knife) as an exteriorization or acting out of dissociative psychopathology.


It is not surprising that as a child Jung retreated some from the extraverted world of interpersonal relationships with mother, father, other adults such as pastors and teachers, and peers, because of a profound sense of anger and disappointment, in reaction to his experiences of abandonment and betrayal. Instead he turned to an introverted and narcissistic inner world that he could to some extent control, despite the spontaneous eruption of sometimes disturbing dissociated states and fantasies (Feldman 1992).

Both parents as individuals reveal splits in their personalities. His mother exhibited her normal day No.1 and nighttime No.2 personality, the latter which alternately fascinated and terrified Jung. Identification with these two parts of his mother at least personalised his terror, and helped him defend against the memories of her abandonment of him at 3. His father was a tragic figure, ambitious and intellectual as a young student, gaining his PhD in philology, then languishing as a pastor who struggled to defend against doubts about his faith. Both parents suffered the anguish of tolerating the alternating quarreling and alienation within their bad marriage. Jung suffered the depriving consequences of witnessing such a relationship.

Bitterly Jung said in MDR, "I have trusted men friends and been disappointed by them, and I have mistrusted women and was not disappointed." In the 1907 letter to Freud mentioned earlier (McGuire, 1974) he said that "every intimate relationship turns out after a while to be sentimental and banal or exhibitionistic." Jung even experienced relationships with colleagues who had a strong transference to him as "downright disgusting". He said this in the context of being disgusted at his "religious" crush on Freud at that time, reciprocated by Freud's warm fatherly transference towards him. Their relationship was however doomed to later mutual disappointment, feelings of betrayal and abandonment, and the termination of their relationship.

The loss of Freud's allegience plunged Jung into an almost psychotic state in his late 30's, which he resolved by self-healing methods used first in childhood. He conducted inner dialogues with inner figures of archetypal dimensions, drew pictures of his inner visions, and even built miniature towns out of mud and stones, just as he had as a young adolescent. In Freud Jung sought a father figure he could respect, in compensation for his disappointment in his own father, only to suffer similar feelings when he saw the rigid dogmatism of Freud's almost religious belief in the sexual origin of neurotic conflict. In contrast, Jung's focus on the spiritual longings of the self for meaning seemed to Freud a denial of sexual conflict. It is remarkable that it was only to Freud that Jung confessed his having been sexually abused by a revered older man in boyhood. Neither man discussed this sharing in subsequent letters.

In Jung's relationships with women, he seemed to marry a woman with his mother's No.1 personality, but be attracted to and have intimate relationships with women, including some patients, that related to his mother's No.2 personality, forming the basis of his Anima theory. Jung's cousin Helene was an early version of his anima woman, whom he experienced voyeuristically through her erotic fantasies.

What I am describing here is the splitting and repetition compulsion in interpersonal relationships seen commonly in patients suffering from Multiple Personality, Borderline Personality, or other dissociative or post-traumatic stress disorders. Jung has been described by others as narcissistic (Homans, 1979), even as a childhood schizophrenic (Winnicott, 1964), but some form of dissociative disorder seems more appropriate to the data described above. Clearly Jung had a strong enough ego-complex to sustain his active dialogue with the archetypal forces that erupted from his unconscious in personified form, both in childhood and in adulthood, following his rupture with Freud. This has been described more fully by Satinover (1985, 1986), who believes that Jung's theory of intrapsychic archetypes as dissociated aspects of a Self that seeks unification is in part a defensive, though creative, reaction to abandonment and disappointment by significant outer figures in his life.


If Helene Preiswerk suffered from a dissociative disorder for four years in early adolescence, then it would appear that from Jung's report, she was free of dissociative symptoms after the age of 16, and lived a stable and independent life for the next 10 years until her death from tuberculosis at 26. Her involvement with Jung over those four years can be considered 'treatment', however unofficial and unorthodox.

Jung himself has been considered here to suffer from a dissociative condition in childhood and adolescence, suffering a relapse in his late 30's following the termination of his relationship with Freud. It appears that he achieved a considerable measure of improvement in terms of personality integration by various self-healing methods mentioned in his autobiography. In neither of these cases was a one-to-one talking psychotherapy employed, nor were the details of the childhood trauma explored, let alone worked through.

There is a current focus on childhood trauma as leading to some of the major psychiatric disorders treated today. Individuals, notably women, suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder and the other dissociative disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, and to a lesser proportion, the eating disorders, Bulimia and Anorexia, and even Schizophrenia, score high on tests measuring dissociation, the DES (Bernstein & Putnam, 1986) and the DDIS ( Ross et al., 1989), and report having been sexually abused as children. The psychiatric community has been criticised for neglecting the role of childhood sexual abuse in the aetiology of the above disorders. There is a tendency in the literature to blame this neglect on Freud's rejection of the childhood seduction trauma theory of aetiology of neurosis. Notable is the work of Masson (1984) and Herman (1992).

Lloyd deMause (1982) has studied the history of child abuse, and has concluded that only relatively recently has there been any kind of question raised about the right of parents to do whatever they pleased with their children, from enforced labor to sexual abuse and even infanticide. If child abuse has been the status quo of past eras it is not surprising that it appears in the myths and fairy tales that have been handed down, to help children come to terms with what has happened to them. Child abuse could be considered as archetypal. There is considerable evidence that there are unconscious patterns of behavior that lead to abuse. The methods used in prison camps to break down the will of prisoners, and indoctrinate in them patterns of passivity and compliance, turn out to be the same methods adopted unconsciously by abusive husbands in their intimidation of their wives, leading to their toleration of all kinds of abuse. Perhaps what is archetypal is the set of behaviors associated with the abuse of power within a diadic perpetrator-victim relationship, whether husband-wife, parent-child, or guard- prisoner. If this archetypal behavior is inherited, presumably it has or had some sort of survival value. In a previous paper I described how this kind of behavior both reflected and promoted a patriarchal culture and a patriarchal system of consciousness (Skea, 1992).

Not surprisingly, it is the Womens' Movement that has aroused awareness of the prevalence and purpose of the abuse of women, children and also men, in the maintenance of a hierarchical patriarchal culture based on male dominance. Drawing on the archetypal myths of the goddess, that supported pre-patriarchal cultures and system of consciousness, feminists, including many Jungians, have advocated the revitalisation of a matriarchal or feminine system of consciousness, to balance the one-sidedness of patriarchal consciousness (for example, Perera, 1981). There is a belief, possibly naive, that pre- patriarchal, or matriarchal cultures treated their plant and animal environment with respect, and likewise their fellow man, woman and child, abhoring war, slavery, and other abuses. Certainly, the systematic and consciously contrived abuse, torture and massacre of dominated peoples seems a product of the patriarchal imagination.

DeMause (1982), however, suggests that primitive cultures are not in fact empathic towards children, often showing indifference towards their suffering, or even inflicting pain under the auspices of group puberty rites, for example. He suggests that it in only recently that the detached and scientific patriarchal ego in the West has progressively evolved to the point of being able to vicariously empathise with the feelings of the other, and to take a moral stance against the abuse of women and children. In the psychoanalytic community, over the past century, this can be seen in comparing the work of, for example, Kohut or Winnicott, with that of Freud or Jung, themselves ahead of their peers. Female analysts such as Karen Horney or Melanie Klein have also influential (Sayers, 1991). Today there is more stress on therapeutic `holding', based on the mothering role, rather than on the more paternal analysing or interpreting (Seinfeld, 1993). This would confirm a move towards a more `feminine' consciousness, but without losing the positive aspects of a detached reflective `masculine' rational ego consciousness.

At the intrapsychic level these current societal trends involve a revaluing of alternate states of consciousness, coinciding with disillusionment with the monotheistic patriarchal ego (Ross, 1991). Dominance of the patriarchal ego involves a splitting off and repression of alternate ego perspectives. Harsh discipline or abuse of men, women or children promotes this process, creating either compliant servants of the patriarchy, or their willing henchmen. Split-off alternate ego-styles reappear in distorted form as symptoms, hysteria, borderline states, or other dissociative conditions, such as multiple personality disorder.

Jung's work clearly speaks to the normal, or what I have called the pre- patriarchal, capacity of the psyche to dissociate into multiple systems of consciousness. The evolution of patriarchal consciousness, based on the emerging dominance of the rational ego is in many ways a cultural achievement, as revealed by the benefits of civilisation we cherish today. Unfortunately the shadow side of that achievement, the repression of intuitive, spiritual, emotional, embodied and interpersonal modes of consciousness, has caused a one-sided rigid and repressive, and ultimately an unfulfilled ego life. Jung promoted the reconnecting of the rational ego with these alternate systems of consciousness, which he called the archetypes and complexes. However, he was himself partly blind to the role of early trauma in promoting a rigid repressive ego consciousness, because he himself was a victim of early trauma, but also reaped the rewards of being a narcissistic patriarchal, but successful male of his time.

Jung's 'treatment' of his cousin on the one hand was callous and opportunistic, yet, on the other hand, there is evidence, from his report, that she led a more integrated life afterwards. Is this wishful thinking on his part? She was employed but never married, had no children, and died prematurely of tuberculosis at 26. It is likely that the sustained interest that Jung the medical student took in his insecure, deprived and abused teenage cousin for those 4 years fostered the growth of self-esteem in some measure, although she knew his interest was not in her as a whole person, but in her psychic productions, in her 'doing' rather than her 'being'. Her erotic crush on Jung was a transference that could have led to healing the loss of her father, as well as give her the hope that she could meet a lover of her own some day. Jung's avoidance of discussing these transference feelings, and his abrupt withdrawal from her when her productions became stale and contrived surely precipitated a depressive loss, repeating the loss of her father. In addition he never discussed with her, as far as we know, his thoughts and writings about her visions, and so she was never given the opportunity to integrate their meaning into her personal life. This is surprising, since this was what Jung worked on so diligently with his own archetypal fantasies, and with those of his subsequent official patients.

Regarding Jung's treatment of himself, it is clear that the methods of active imagination (dialogue with personified complexes) journal keeping, drawing the complexes, and building models in mud and stone, were effective and original techniques for both allowing the alternate systems of consciousness to be expressed, as well as strengthening and consolidating his ego complex. He and his successors were to use and refine these as psychotherapeutic techniques. In addition he creatively used his own material, and that of his cousin, and later patients, to develop his own model of psychic structure and process, which appeals especially to creative and spiritual individuals, who find Freud's model narrow and reductionistic. In this paper I have attempted to show how Jung's theories are helpful in understanding the dissociative disorders. Likewise his techniques are already being used in the their treatment, usually without acknowledging his contribution.

However there is evidence that Jung was in adulthood by no means free of dissociative symptoms. He continued to react to loss of important relationships by experiencing vivid dreams and visions, which almost led to psychotic breakdown following his break with Freud. In addition, information has emerged to suggest that he acted out sexually with some of his female patients, for example, Sabina Spielrein (Carotenudo, 1982). Without going into detail here, I would suggest that these transference violations occurred while he was in a dissociated state.

Jung has written sensitively about the need to be consciously reflective of both transference and countertransference problems (Jung, 1954). Without going into detail here, I would suggest that Jung found this easier to preach than to practice, which is echoed by therapists today who struggle with these issues with their dissociative clients. Therapy should involve relationship behaviors which invoke the healer-patient archetype, drawing at times on the overlapping mother- or father-child archetypal constellation, without invoking the perpetrator-victim constellation. Unfortunately, the past history of abusive relationships in the dissociative patient, and possibly also in the therapist, may unconsciously reconstellate the perpetrator-victim diad in a here-and-now repetition compulsion.

I would like to end by addressing two current treatment issues. Firstly, is integration the goal of psychotherapy of MPD patients? Secondly, to what extent should the fantasy versus the reality aspect of reported chilhood sexual abuse be pursued?

Jung advocated living consciously with one's complexes, implying that the goal of the alters cooperating with each other, with the ego in a chairman role, is preferable to the undesirable danger of creating a monolithic `integrated' ego structure. Integration is too often the therapist's goal, to manage the confusion of dealing with too many tongues, or to fulfil the therapist's model of a healthy personality. Integration does not, of course, have to imply the destruction of alter ego perspectives, but unfortunately MPD clients may fear this implication, and react with multiple defensiveness.

Regarding the second issue, Jung saw all unconscious material as psychically real. However I have shown here that he moved too quickly to the archetypal and symbolic meaning of say a memory of abuse, rather than focus empathically on the psychic damage that trauma must have caused an emerging personality. There is no such thing as a literal memory; all memories are contaminated with the here-and-now psychic disposition of the subject. That is not to say that patients should not seek to confirm the validity of memories by consulting witnesses and seeking other material confirmation. Jung however felt that the here-and-now situation of the patient should be the focus, rather than the past. In addition it is likely that the remembered incidents of abuse are the culmination rather than the cause of the fragmentation of their psyches. Not everyone who has been abused as a child ends up with a dissociative disorder. It is likely that treatment of the child before the incident of abuse was either equally abusive or was neglectful in providing the good-enough parental environment to allow for integrated ego development to occur (see Alexander, 1992). This implies trying to assess the psychological context of the child before, during, and after the so-called incident of abuse, as well as the psychological context of significant parental others at that time. In addition, the here-and-now psychological context of the client remembering the trauma must be addressed. Finally, the therapist-client relationship must also be reflected on, in terms of the possible transference- countertransference meanings being symbolically communicated within the sharing of a 'trauma memory'.

There is a current trend involving therapists actively encouraging their dissociative clients to uncover `repressed' memories of childhood sexual abuse, and promoting the pursuit and punishment of their childhood perpetrators within the criminal justice system. This would appear to be a compensation for the years in which therapists believed that allegations of childhood abuse were "only fantasies". In turn, we now experience the backlash of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which claims evidence that some of the allegations are confabulations, created, often under hypnosis, within the ongoing therapist-client relationship. It is simplistic to believe that recovering a memory of childhood abuse, and seeking punishment for the perpetrator, will resolve the here-and-now suffering of the dissociative client.

Certainly, attempting to help a client stop current ongoing abuse by perpetrators is a moral responsibility of therapists. However, therapy treatment of perpetrators has revealed that many of them have been abused as children. In addition, some abused clients reveal in therapy that they have engaged in perpetration.

I believe it is difficult to make amends for past victimisation, although some clients will actively pursue this, whether seeking conviction of perpetrators or confessing to victims. As a therapist I try to remain neutral in this process. I believe it is more my role to support the cessation of acting out the cycle of abuse, and to encourage the working through of the fear, pain, grief, rage, shame and guilt, whether in relation to being a victim or being a perpetrator, within the therapy relationship


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© 1995 Brian Skea. All rights reserved.

Brian Skea is a Jungian analyst and a psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh. Send e-mail to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.