Thank God I’m a Jungian: Reflections for Thanksgiving

By Jason E. Smith

Carl Jung was ambivalent about the idea of training institutes being established in his name. This ambivalence is amply reflected in a statement he is reported to have made in reference to this development. “Thank God I am Jung and not a Jungian,” he declared.

This is not a very comforting sentiment for someone like me who identifies as a Jungian, who trained at just such an institute, and who has dedicated most of his adult life to the study and practice of Jungian Analysis. 

How can I reconcile having taken on the title of Jungian Analyst when the great man himself was so disparaging of the idea?

In his attempt to cast some light on the phenomena of the psyche, Jung knew that he was investigating a great mystery, which he called “the densest darkness it is possible to imagine.” Presumably, his comment about the relative merits of being Jung vs. a Jungian point to his concern that his followers would become slavish imitators, forgoing the mystery and concretizing his concepts, effectively turning them into a kind of dogma.

Jung, it should be said, was also distrustful of groups and preferred to emphasize the importance of the individual. However, this distrust has the effect of thrusting all groups, including the family and the community, into the collective shadow. Jung’s statement also creates the possibility that the experience of being a Jungian becomes colored by a sense of inferiority.

Certainly, the danger of imitation is very real. When I started training as an analyst, I had a cherished image of Jung – one that, in many ways, I sought to emulate by trying to read what Jung read and seek out similar visionary experiences to those that Jung experienced. I even considered starting to smoke a pipe and wear tweed jackets with patches on the elbows, just like Jung. And I was certainly not the first, nor the only, person to succumb to this temptation.

In light of this danger, it seems to me, the real problem would not so much be in wanting to become a Jungian, but in wanting to be Jung. In light of this, I suggest a moratorium on this particular saying. For, while the statement may have been right for Jung to make for himself, for the rest of us it would be more correct to reverse it and to say: “Thank God I am a Jungian, and not Jung.” 

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