Carl Gustav Jung, born Karl Gustav II Jung, is regarded as the founder of analytical psychology. He was born in Kesswil, Switzerland, the son of a poor Protestant clergyman and philologist who taught him Latin at an early age. Although at first pressured to become a minister like many in his family, Jung eventually decided to become a psychiatrist, receiving his M.D. degree from the University of Zurich in 1902. Despite his focus on scientific topics, Jung integrated many religious, philosophical, and archeological works into his studies. Working with asylum patients under Eugen Bleuler, a pioneer in mental illness research, Jung studied patients’ responses to stimulus words, and termed the group of associations they avoided a “complex.” Between 1907 and 1912, Jung collaborated closely with Sigmund Freud, whose theories were supported by Jung’s results and who for a while regarded Jung as his outstanding disciple; however, the pair split in disagreement over the role of sexuality in neurosis and the development of children. Jung’s subsequent publications, Psychology of the Unconscious (1912) and Psychological Types (1921), ran counter to Freud’s arguments and established Jung’s unique views in psychology. In the 1930s and early 1940s, Jung served as professor of psychology at the Federal Polytechnic University in Zurich. He was appointed professor of medical psychology at the University of Basel in 1943, but was forced to resign almost immediately because of his poor health. He continued to write prolifically until well into his 80s.
Among the many concepts that Jung originated were those of “extroverted” and “introverted” personalities (into which two classes he divided most men), the “collective unconscious,” and the theory of “archetypes.” Jung’s ideas have influenced not only psychiatry, but also the fields of religion, literature, and parapsychology. Jung interpreted Christianity as an essential step in the historical development of consciousness and argued that heretical movements were archetypal constituents of religion not fully contained in Christianity. Jung pioneered therapy for older patients who had lost their faith in life. Individuation, or the ingrained capacity to reconcile complementary oppositions in one’s personality, including one’s basic bisexuality, and thus undergo the process of full human development, is at the core of Jung’s teachings. Neuroses are merely impulses to broaden one’s consciousness toward self-realization and totality. Jung conceived of therapy as an active and analytic process, steering away from Freud’s free associations into a form of directed associations. Various societies around the world serve as centers for the development of Jung’s teachings and provide training for new Jungian analysts.
In these selections from Jung’s collected Letters—some originally in English, some in German—Jung communicates with acquaintances who are dealing with suicide. Jung frequently used letters as a way of communicating his views to the outside world (he sent copies to people whose judgment he trusted) and correcting misinterpretations of and expanding on his views. In the three letters addressed to people who have evidently written to him because of his fame, he appears to argue that suicide is a denial of full self-realization, as is clearly evident in the letter of July 10, 1946, addressed to an elderly resident of Germany and the letters of October 13, 1951, and November 10, 1955, to two different “Mrs. N”s. In the more reflective letter of July 25, 1946, addressed to his acquaintance Dr. Eleanor Bertine, however, he appears to adopt an almost fatalistic attitude toward suicide—“I’m convinced that if anybody has it in himself to commit suicide, then practically the whole of his being is going that way”—and arguing against interference or prevention.
Carl Gustav Jung, Letters, eds. Gerhard Adler with Aniela Jaffé, tr. R. F. C. Hull. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1953, 1975), Vol. 1, pp. 434-37, Vol. 2, pp. 25-26, 278-279.
Dear Sir, 10 July 1946
By parental power is usually understood the influence exerted by any person in authority. If this influence occurs in childhood and in an unjustified way, as happened in your case, it is apt to take root in the unconscious. Even if the influence is discontinued outwardly, it still goes on working in the unconscious and then one treats oneself as badly as one was treated earlier. If your work now gives you some joy and satisfaction you must cultivate it, just as you should cultivate everything that gives you some joy in being alive. The idea of suicide, understandable as it is, does not seem commendable to me. We live in order to attain the greatest possible amount of spiritual development and self-awareness. As long as life is possible, even if only in a minimal degree, you should hang on to it, in order to scoop it up for the purpose of conscious development. To interrupt life before its time is to bring to a standstill an experiment which we have not set up. We have found ourselves in the midst of it and must carry it through to the end. That it is extraordinarily difficult for you, with your blood pressure at 80, is quite understandable, but I believe you will not regret it if you cling on even to such a life to the very last. If, aside from your work, you read a good book, as one reads the Bible, it can become a bridge for you leading inwards, along which good things may flow to you such as you perhaps cannot now imagine.
You have no need to worry about the question of a fee. With best wishes,
Yours sincerely, C. G. JUNG
Dear Dr. Eleanor Bertine, 25 July 1946
I’m just spending a most agreeable time of rest in my tower and enjoy sailing as the only sport which is still available to me. I have just finished two lectures for the Eranos meeting of this summer. It is about the general problem of the psychology of the unconscious and its philosophical implications.
And now I have finally rest and peace enough to be able to read your former letters and to answer them. I should have thanked you for your careful reports about Kristine Mann’s illness and death long ago,[i] but I never found time enough to do so. There have been so many urgent things to be done that all my time was eaten up and I cannot work so quickly any longer as I used to do.
It is really a question whether a person affected by such a terrible illness should or may end her life. It is my attitude in such cases not to interfere. I would let things happen if they were so, because I’m convinced that if anybody has it in himself to commit suicide, then practically the whole of his being is going that way. I have seen cases where it would have been something short of criminal to hinder the people because according to all rules it was in accordance with the tendency of their unconscious and thus the basic thing. So I think nothing is really gained by interfering with such an issue. It is presumably to be left to the free choice of the individual. Anything that seems to be wrong to us can be right under certain circumstances over which we have no control and the end of which we do not understand. If Kristine Mann had committed suicide under the stress of unbearable pain, I should have thought that this was the right thing. As it was not the case, I think it was in her stars to undergo such a cruel agony for reasons that escape our understanding. Our life is not made entirely by ourselves. The main bulk of it is brought into existence out of sources that are hidden to us. Even complexes can start a century or more before a man is born. There is something like karma.
Kristine’s experience you mention is truly of a transcendent nature. If it were the effect of morphine it would occur regularly, but it doesn’t. On the other hand it bears all the characteristics of an ekstasis. Such a thing is possible only when there is a detachment of the soul from the body. When that takes place and the patient lives on, one can almost with certainty expect a certain deterioration of the character inasmuch as the superior and most essential part of the soul has already left. Such an experience denotes a partial death. It is of course a most aggravating experience for the environment, as a person whose personality is so well known seems to lose it so completely and shows nothing more than demoralization or the disagreeable symptoms of a drug addict. But it is the lower man that keeps on living with the body and who is nothing else but the life of the body. With old people or persons seriously ill, it often happens that they have peculiar states of withdrawal or absent-mindedness, which they themselves cannot explain, but which are presumably conditions in which the detachment takes place. It is sometimes a process that lasts very long. What is happening in such conditions one rarely has a chance to explore, but it seems to me that it is as if such conditions had an inner consciousness which is so remote from our matter-of-fact consciousness that it is almost impossible to retranslate its contents into the terms of our actual consciousness. I must say that I have had some experiences along that line. They have given me a very different idea about what death means.
I hope you will forgive me that I’m so late in answering your previous letters. As I said, there has been so much in between that I needed a peaceful time when I could risk entering into the contents of your letter.
My best wishes!
Yours sincerely, C. G. JUNG
Dear Mrs. N., 13 October 1951
It isn’t easy or simple to answer your question, because much depends upon your faculty of understanding. Your understanding on the other hand depends upon the development and maturity of your personal character.
It isn’t possible to kill part of your “self” unless you kill yourself first. If you ruin your conscious personality, the so-called ego-personality, you deprive the self of its real goal, namely to become real itself. The goal of life is the realization of the self. If you kill yourself you abolish that will of the self that guides you through life to that eventual goal. An attempt at suicide doesn’t affect the intention of the self to become real, but it may arrest your personal development inasmuch as it is not explained. You ought to realize that suicide is murder, since after suicide there remains a corpse exactly as with any ordinary murder. Only it is yourself that has been killed. That is the reason why the Common Law punishes a man that tries to commit suicide, and it is psychologically true too. Therefore suicide certainly is not the proper answer.
As long as you don’t realize the nature of this very dangerous impulse you block the way to further development, just as a man who intends to commit a theft, without knowing what he is intending and without realizing the ethical implication of such a deed, cannot develop any further unless he takes into account that he has a criminal tendency. Such tendencies are very frequent, only they don’t always succeed and there is hardly anybody who must not realize in this or any other way that he has a dark shadow following him. That is the human lot. If it were not so, we might get perfect one day which might be pretty awful too. We shouldn’t be naïve about ourselves and in order not to be we have to climb down to a more modest level of self-appreciation.
Hoping I have answered your question, I remain,
Yours sincerely, C. G. JUNG
Thank you for the fee.
Nothing more is needed.
Dear Mrs. N., 19 November 1955
I am glad that you do understand the difficulty of your request. How can anybody be expected to be competent enough to give such advice? I feel utterly incompetent—yet I cannot deny the justification of your wish and I have no heart to refuse it. If your case were my own, I don’t know what could happen to me, but I am rather certain that I would not plan a suicide ahead. I should rather hang on as long as I can stand my fate or until sheer despair forces my hand. The reason for such an “unreasonable” attitude with me is that I am not at all sure what will happen to me after death. I have good reasons to assume that things are not finished with death. Life seems to be an interlude in a long story. It has been long before I was, and it will most probably continue after the conscious interval in a three-dimensional existence. I shall therefore hang on as long as it is humanly possible and I try to avoid all forgone conclusions, considering seriously the hints I got as to the post mortem events.
Therefore I cannot advise you to commit suicide for so-called reasonable considerations. It is murder and a corpse is left behind, no matter who has killed whom. Rightly the English Common Law punishes the perpetrator of the deed. Be sure first, whether it is really the will of God to kill yourself or merely your reason. The latter is positively not good enough. If it should be the act of sheer despair, it will not count against you, but a willfully planned act might weigh heavily against you.
This is my incompetent opinion. I have learned caution with the “perverse.” I do not underestimate your truly terrible ordeal. In deepest sympathy,
Yours cordially, C. G. JUNG
[i] Kristine Mann had died on 12 Nov. 45. About 3 or 4 months before her death, while in hospital with a good deal of pain, depressed and unhappy, Dr. Mann saw one morning an ineffable light glowing in her room. It lasted for about an hour and a half and left her with a deep sense of peace and joy. The recollection of it remained indelible, although after that experience her state of health worsened steadily and her mind deteriorated. Jung felt that at the time of the experience her spirit had left her body.