Why Freud and Jung Broke Up: Part II

Still More on Why Freud and Jung Broke Up

Posted May 21, 2009

Fellow blogger Dr. Stephen A. Diamond objects (here) to my recent post titled "Why Freud and Jung Broke Up," calling it "an overly simplistic and fundamentally flawed Freudian interpretation" revolving around "repressed" homosexuality. That's a pretty thorough indictment, to say the least! I think my relative terseness at the time made what I said sound a bit too strident. Let me elaborate some, but with the following proviso: walls of books have been written on this topic, so it is impossible in the space and time allowed to do any more than identify a few of the most important threads of what is a massively complex and overdetermined discussion.

What I wrote was this: that Freud and Jung "broke up" because of homosexual feelings that destabilized their relationship in ways they could not deal with effectively. Freud was crystal clear on this. He proclaimed it openly in a letter, as I already described. Jung is quite a bit more dilatory in his self-analysis, but no less explicit. Here are the relevant portions. "I confess this to you with a struggle," writes Jung. "I have a boundless admiration for you both as a man and a researcher, and I bear you no conscious grudge" (the qualifier "conscious" is more than a little interesting)..., [but] my veneration for you has something of the character of a ‘religious' crush. Though it does not really bother me, I still feel it is disgusting and ridiculous because of its undeniable erotic undertone. This abominable feeling comes from the fact that as a boy I was the victim of a sexual assault by a man I once worshipped [as Jung now worshiped Freud]... This feeling hampers me considerably. Another manifestation of it is that I find psychological insight makes relations with colleagues who have a strong transference towards me [as Freud had towards Jung] downright disgusting. I therefore fear your confidence. I also fear the same reaction from you when I speak of my intimate affairs." Freud's response? First he says that "transference on a religious basis would be most disastrous." Then he says, I think wisely: "I shall do my best to show you that I am unfit to be an object of worship."

Later the topic comes up again, though less directly. A colleague describes to Jung a patient who dreamed that he and Jung were swimming in the Zurichsee and that Jung somehow helped him. This patient was a homosexual; the colleague asked Jung if he would consent to see the man. "I don't want to," Jung replied. Once more he refers to having been the victim of a sexual advance by an older family friend. Then he adds: "You see, that's the reason why I was afraid of Freud's approaches.... No, no, no, [I thought at the time], I don't want to belong to anybody."

Now, given statements like those above, I have to say I find it uncontroversial to assert--just as Jung and Freud did themselves--that homosexual feelings played a role in derailing their collaboration. I'm not so much offering a "Freudian" interpretation as I am reporting facts. Am I saying that the homosexual element was the only factor? No. As Diamond does a very effective job of pointing out, innumerable factors were at work, many purely intellectual, some more emotional. Yet I do contend--and this seems to be where Diamond and I respectfully disagree--that these "unruly" homosexual feelings, as Freud put it, were at the core of the conflict. They were the preeminent factor. Here I feel as if I am on pretty solid ground, since Freud and Jung said the same, more or less.

Diamond also asserts that I'm inferring "repressed" homosexual feelings. Not exactly. Freud and Jung directly expressed them; they therefore were not technically repressed, but avowed openly. No doubt the feelings ran pretty deep in both men, especially Jung, given what he says about his "sexual assault" and its aftereffects. Freud and Jung knew the feelings were there; but they did not work them through adequately at the time, or even later perhaps.

One thing I find compelling and even sort of poignant about this whole episode is the way in which Freud and Jung tried--unsuccessfully, it seems, but no less courageously--to share, talk over, and understand feelings that many, especially in the very early 1900s, would do almost anything to avoid. In other words, they "walked the walk." They were willing to confront painful truths that put each of them in a vulnerable position. I find that fact cheering.