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Who Are We Really? : C.G. Jung's "Split Personality"

Does everyone have a "split personality"?

I was pleasantly surprised to see fellow PT bloggist Gretchen Rubin's (The Happiness Project) recent posting on C.G. Jung's autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963), in which she refers to Jung's "two personalities." I'd like to respond to and amplify her discussion regarding identity with a few of my own reflections on what Jung writes in MDR about his peculiar personality development.

Just a little more than a decade ago, Jung's personality took a beating in biographies by Richard Noll (The Jung Cult, 1997) and the Aryan Christ (1997), and only somewhat less so in Frank McLynn's Carl Gustav Jung (1997). In that same year, a far more sympathetic and insightful little biography, The Wounded Jung: Effects of Jung's Relationships on His Life and Work, written by philosopher and historian Robert C. Smith, quietly appeared as if to compensate for these other rather one-sided assaults on Jung's character. In his book, Smith, who had actually at one time personally corresponded with Jung, emphasizes the profound effects of Jung's intimate interpersonal relationships, starting with his parents, on the great psychiatrists's life and work. He argues that it was mainly Jung's ambivalent feelings toward his mother--not his relationship with his father as most Jung biographers assume-- that exerted the most powerful influence on Jung's stormy yet extraordinary psychological development.

Without going into the details and dynamics of those problematical parental relationships here, suffice it to say that, as with all children, they powerfully impacted Jung's burgeoning sense of identity. As both Alfred Adler and Rollo May noted, we each develop a "guiding fiction" or "myth" of ourselves by as early as two-years of age, one which we carry with us into adulthood and unconsciously influences our decisions, sense of self, and behavior. This myth of who we are determines how we perceive ourselves, the world, and our relationship to that world. In the language of Beck's much later cognitive therapy, this commonly distorted myth of ourself is manifested in and connected to our core schemata: skewed, distorted cognitions regarding how we define ourselves, life and others. In psychotherapy, unless we unearth, become conscious of, and correct our inaccurate guiding fiction, myth or schema, no fundamental and lasting change can occur.

Desiring neither to be like his long-suffering, dispirited, hen-pecked father (a Swiss parson) nor his sometimes psychotic, emotionally unstable (possibly borderline) mother, Jung, already innately introverted, was forced farther inward to seek and create his own personality. Or, as Jung himself puts it, his two personalities. The first personality was the ordinary, mundane, dependent, as yet undeveloped and immature boy, with his banal, bourgeois, conventional, rational outer reality and intense inferiority feelings. But the second personality was precisely the polar opposite: mature, powerful, wise, superior, autonomous, instinctual, spiritual, mystical, and deeply rooted and embedded in nature and the irrational. In hindsight, the grown Jung seems to have recognized that the second personality was clearly compensatory to the first, what we today refer to as a "grandiose self" designed to offset painful feelings of inferiority, anxiety and insecurity. Jung, however, felt strongly that this phenomenon is not intrinsically pathological, but rather, archetypal, indeed something "played out in every individual." (p. 45)

Citing psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott's well-known review of Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1964), Smith sees this divided state as abnormal, concluding that personality No. 1 was Jung's extraverted "False Self," while No. 2 was his submerged "True Self." However, perhaps because he is not a psychologist or psychiatrist, Smith has no conception of how commonplace such psychic "splitting" really is: therapists every day encounter it as a consequence of primal, narcissistic wounding and other traumatic experiences. And since we have all been the victim of narcissistic disappointment by imperfect parenting, we each struggle in some measure to reintegrate those repressed parts of our personality we were forced to defensively dissociate in order to prevent further psychological damage. Today, we call cases of the most severe and chronic compartmentalization of the personality Dissociative Identity Disorder, a more ostensibly scientific, though far less descriptive diagnostic term than the former Multiple Personality Disorder. In DID, one of sometimes several unconscious splinter personalities temporarily takes total possession of the personality.

Did Jung suffer from "multiple personality disorder" ? "Split personality"? Dissociative Identity Disorder? Or was he a compensated childhood schizophrenic, as Winnicott suggested? I think neither. (Actually, these are two distinctly different disorders that should not be confused.) I tend to share Jung's characterization of this splitting or, better, polarization of selves, as fundamentally archetypal or existential. An essentially normal if extraordinary example of a tension of opposites--albeit one which certainly can turn pathological when no conscious integration occurs. As most resourceful children might have done under similar circumstances, and indeed, do every day, Jung repudiated in himself those "negative" qualities he disliked in his parents--helplessness, doubt, anxiety, ambivalence, vulnerability, dependency, instability, weakness, discouragement--counterbalancing them by consciously creating and cultivating a secondary compensatory personality, one which friend Laurens van der Post (1977) describes later as "an old man of unchallenged authority and power." This so-called No. 2 personality was Jung's original experience and conceptualization of the "other," his soul, his essential, innate, true self. This transpersonal, archetypal and congenital daimon, that inner representative of his "higher self," became his "guardian angel, inner sage, "good (or god) father," and his undeniable, indomitable "genius," and had a great deal to do with Jung's later discoveries and descriptions of the "shadow," "anima/animus" and the "Self." As Jung himself explains, "I have had much trouble getting along with my ideas. There was a daimon in me, and in the end its presence proved decisive. It overpowered me, and if I was at times ruthless it was because I was in the grip of the daimon.. . . A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon." (pp. 356-357)

Which was Jung's true self? And which is ours? Who are we really? This is the fundamental question many wrestle with in psychotherapy. And also in spiritual practices such as Buddhism. For Jung, both personalities were real, but represented different, split-off aspects of himself which needed to be integrated. Jung's conception of persona, a sort of mask we create and wear in society, is highly relevant here. The persona can be understood as the personality we choose over the personality with which we are born. The persona is an expression not necessarily of our true selves, but of our egos: how we wish to see ourselves and for others to see us, as opposed to who we truly and wholly are. As Jung pointed out, to have a persona is not the problem. We all need a persona, as we all need an ego. But the trouble begins when we become overidentified with the persona or ego, believing that these artificial creations totally define our identity. Such overidentification with the persona, frequently the catalyst for what Jung called "mid-life crisis," can become constrictive, one-sided and suffocating as we grow, mature and develop psychologically. (This is in my view what happened to Jung himself, a prolonged, tumultuous, cataclysmic personal crisis out of which he developed both himself and his Analytical Psychology.) The persona, like the ego, is in actuality merely one component of our personality. Behind the persona lurks what Jung referred to as the shadow: the repressed parts of us society and we deem unacceptable or evil, and therefore try to hide from ourselves and others by rendering them unconscious. Since we each possess a persona and a conflicting unconscious shadow, we all suffer in a sense from "split personality." In psychotherapy, especially Jungian analysis and depth psychology, the task is to heal this split as much as possible, reconciling these opposed personalities with each other, so as to recreate a more realistic, congruent, functional, authentic persona and balanced, unified Self.

This posting is derived in part from my article titled "Jung's Angry Genius," originally published in The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1999, pp. 5-18.

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