Perhaps second only to Sigmund Freud—though he may have been reticent to admit it—Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a renowned Swiss psychologist who pioneered the idea of exploring a person’s interior life to better understand their behaviors. If you’ve ever been labeled an extrovert or introvert, you can thank Jung for that. Have a look at our analysis of this fascinating thinker.
1. HE WAS A LONER AS A CHILD.
Born to Paul and Emilie Jung on July 26, 1875 in Kesswil, Switzerland, Jung was said to have been a child who largely kept to himself. He had no siblings and his mother was an unreliable presence in the house; she suffered from a mental disorder and was institutionalized briefly when Jung was just 3 years old. Jung tended to internalize his emotions, turning to books on philosophy instead of following in his father’s footsteps by joining the clergy. He graduated from the University of Basel in 1900 and, later, the University of Zurich, earning both his M.D. and Ph.D.
2. HE PIONEERED THE “COMPLEX” THEORY OF PSYCHOLOGY.
While at the University of Zurich, Jung joined the staff at Burghölzli Asylum, where he first noticed patients who expressed different reactions when hearing certain words. Those reactions drove Jung to explore the idea of a “complex,” a condition experienced by people who could be profiled according to their subconscious fears of insecurity, inferiority, or superiority, among others. Jung believed he had both a "father complex" and a "mother complex," harboring feelings of resentment for both his father's passive personality and his mother's unpredictable behavior.
3. HE WAS INTERESTED IN THE OCCULT.
At the turn of the 20th century, Jung was drawn to unusual subjects for a psychologist. Jung looked to witchcraft, alchemy, folklore, and then-exotic yoga to explore his principles. Followers of Sigmund Freud criticized Jung for such activities, believing them to be outside the purview of science. Jung argued that so many people had devoted so much time to thinking about such things that it must make up a portion of the collective conscious and was worth studying.
4. FREUD HELPED BLACKBALL HIM.
Jung and Freud shared a fascination with the unconscious mind, an interest that led to a fruitful five-year working relationship between 1907 and 1912. But Jung raised Freud’s ire when he published a book, Psychology of the Unconscious, that contradicted some of Freud’s theories. (Freud was adamant that psychological issues stemmed from childhood sexual development; Jung agreed but argued humankind had a religious instinct that was just as influential.) The volume so offended Freud that he cut off contact with Jung and encouraged the rest of the psychoanalytic community to do the same. Undaunted, Jung continued to pursue his work.
5. HE WAS A CHRONIC WOMANIZER.
Jung was hardly one to respect the limits of the doctor-patient relationship. Despite his marriage to Emma Rauschenbach, whom he married in 1903 and had five children with, Jung was a notorious womanizer. He carried on with mistresses as well as patients—some during, and some after, their treatment. When Jung had an affair with medical student Sabina Spielrein, Emma told Spielrein's parents of the dalliance. Rather than feel shamed, Jung wrote to them and bluntly offered to stop seeing her if they paid him more for her counseling.
6. HE WROTE A DIARY THAT WAS KEPT HIDDEN FOR DECADES.
Jung’s fascination with peering inside the crevices of the mind led to a personal crisis of his own—one that some Jung scholars believe was flirting with insanity. In 1913, Jung began hearing voices and having visions. Jung later wrote that he would sometimes grip a table for fear he might be coming apart at the seams and even compared it to a drug trip. Instead of fighting it, Jung embraced it, trying to induce hallucinations to acknowledge whatever his unconscious mind might be trying to tell him. He charted his experiences in what he called the Red Book, an unkempt diary of thoughts, illustrations, and theories. The work was so personal that when Jung died in 1961, his family declined to allow anyone to see it. It was finally published in 2009.
7. HE HELPED INSPIRE ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS.
Though Jung has no direct involvement with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, the landmark support group for people struggling with substance abuse, he is widely credited with helping launch the idea of self-improvement through affirmations. In the early 1930s, a man named Rowland H. asked Jung for help with his excessive drinking. Jung believed a spiritual rather than behavioral transformation would be helpful in Rowland’s case, and he recommended he seek out the Oxford Group, then a popular religious movement in America. The Oxford Group practiced self-evaluation through acknowledging and correcting wrongs. Rowland then recommended the method to Bill W., a friend who had tried to treat his alcoholism via medicine. Through this baton-passing, Bill W. went on to found AA.
8. HE WROTE A BOOK ABOUT UFOS.
There is no aspect of the mind that failed to fascinate Jung. While his contemporaries were busy with dry volumes of psychoanalytic theory, Jung published a book titled Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, in 1958. The book was neither a chronicle of Jung’s own sightings (he didn’t have any) nor an investigation into the credibility of such eyewitness testimony. Instead, Jung explored what might drive the psyche to entertain the idea of alien visitations and what those beliefs revealed about the subconscious mind. An editor for the New Republic hoped to quote Jung in advance of publication, but he declined, claiming that “being rather old, I have to economize my energies.” Jung died at the age of 85 in 1961.