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C.G. Jung : The archdemon of egoism

Extract from :

C. G. Jung

Psychotherapists or the clergy

Pastoral Psychology, 1956



It seems to me that, side by side with the decline of religious life, the neuroses grow noticeably more frequent. There are as yet no statistics with actual figures to prove this increase. But of one thing I am sure, that everywhere the mental state of European man shows an alarming lack of balance. We are living undeniably in a period of the greatest restlessness, nervous tension, confusion, and disorientation of outlook.

Among my patients from many countries, all of them educated persons, there is a considerable number who came to see me not because they were suffering from a neurosis but because they could find no meaning in their lives, or were torturing themselves with questions which neither our philosophy nor our religion could answer. Some of them perhaps thought I knew of a magic formula, but I soon had to tell them that I didn’t know the answer either. And this brings us to practical considerations.

Let us take for example that most ordinary and frequent of questions : What is the meaning of my life, or of life in general ? Today people believe that they know only too well what the clergyman will — or rather must — say to this. They smile at the very thought of the philosopher's answer, and in general do not expect much of the physician. But from the psychotherapist who analyses the unconscious — from him one might at last learn something. Perhaps he has dug up from the abstruse depths of his mind, among other things, some meaning which could even be bought for a fee! It must be a relief to every serious-minded person to hear that the psychotherapist also does not know what to say. Such a confession is often the beginning of the patient’s confidence in him.

I have found that modern man has an ineradicable aversion for traditional opinions and inherited truths. He is a Bolshevist for whom all the spiritual Standards and forms of the past have somehow lost their validity, and who therefore wants to experiment with his mind as the Bolshevist experiments with economics. Confronted with this attitude, every ecclesiastical system finds itself in an awkward situation, be it Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, or Confucianist.

Among these moderns there are of course some of those negative, destructive, and perverse natures — degenerates and unbalanced eccentrics — who are never satisfied anywhere, and who therefore flock to every new banner, much to the hurt of these movements and undertakings, in the hope of finding something for once which will compensate at low cost for their own ineptitude. It goes without saying that,

in my professional work, I have come to know a great many modern men and women, including of course their pathological hangers-on. But these I prefer to leave aside.

Those I am thinking of are by no means sickly eccentrics, but are very often exceptionally able, courageous, and upright persons who have repudiated traditional truths for honest and decent reasons, and not from wickedness of heart. Every one of them has the feeling that our religious truths have somehow become hollow. Either they cannot reconcile the scientific and the religious outlook, or the Christian tenets have lost their authority and their psychological justification. People no longer feel redeemed by the death of Christ; they cannot believe — for although it is a lucky man who can believe, it is not possible to compel belief. Sin has become something quite relative: what is evil for one man is good for another. After all, why should not the Buddha be right too ?


The modern man does not want to know in what way he can imitate Christ, but in what way he can live his own individual life, however meagre and uninteresting it may be. It is because every form of imitation seems to him deadening and sterile that he rebels against the force of tradition that would hold him to well-trodden ways. All such roads, for him, lead in the wrong direction. He may not know it, but he behaves as if his own individual life were God’s special will which must be fulfilled at all costs. This is the source of his egoism, which is one of the most tangible evils of the neurotic state. But the person who tells him he is too egoistic has already lost his confidence, and rightly so, for that person has driven him still further into his neurosis.

If I wish to effect a cure for my patients I am forced to acknowledge the deep significance of their egoism. I should be blind, indeed, if I did not recognize it as a true will of God. I must even help the patient to prevail in his egoism; if he succeeds in this, he estranges himself from other people. He drives them away, and they come to themselves — as they should, for they were seeking to rob him of his “ sacred” egoism. This must be left to him, for it is his strongest and healthiest power; it is, as I have said, a true will of God, which sometimes drives him into complete isolation. However wretched this state may be, it also stands him in good stead, for in this way alone can he get to know himself and learn what an invaluable treasure is the love of his fellow beings. It is, moreover, only in the state of complete abandonment and loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own natures.

When one has several times seen this development at work one can no longer deny that what was evil has turned to good, and that what seemed good has kept alive the forces of evil. The archdemon of egoism leads us along the royal road to that ingathering which religious experience demands. What we observe here is a fundamental law of life — enantiodromia or conversion into the opposite; and it is this that makes possible the reunion of the warring halves of the personality and thereby brings the civil war to an end.


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