Controversy Between Freud and Jung

If the character of Sigmund Freud is important to understand the origin of psychoanalysis, the figure of Carl Gustav Jung is no less.


If the character of Sigmund Freud is important to understand the origin of psychoanalysis, the figure of Carl Gustav Jung is no less. Swiss psychiatrist born in 1875, was one of the most important psychoanalysts in the birth and constitution of the psychoanalytic orientation.

Thus, Jung became interested in Freud’s work. However, at some point their theoretical positions took different paths. In fact, Carl Jung was expelled from the International Psychoanalytic Society of that time. Thus, the controversy between Freud and Jung is of great importance. Especially for researchers of psychoanalysis and other intellectual historians.

The controversy between Freud and Jung is a concrete event in the constellation of actions that have shaped the psychoanalysis we know today. Within this sky, the rhetorical and legitimizing strategies carried out by Freud and the psychoanalytic movement with the aim of instituting, perpetuating and controlling psychoanalytic practice have special importance. In addition, in this, the segregation and expulsion of dissidents was a central issue.

How does the controversy between Freud and Jung begin?

The most solid hypothesis about Freud’s tolerance of Jung’s clear and early dissidence highlights the strategic role of the Swiss psychiatrist in the consolidation and diffusion of the incipient psychoanalytic movement.

Apparently, the strategic importance of Jung and the Swiss for the survival of psychoanalysis had already been declared by Freud years before. Thus, in May 1908, Sigmund Freud confessed to Karl Abraham that it was “only because of Jung’s appearance on the scene that psychoanalysis escaped the danger of becoming a Jewish national issue.”

It is said that the most complex period of the private relationship between Freud and Jung was around 1912. Freud tried to refute Jung’s theories in some way, just as he did with Adler’s. This was a clear beginning of the controversy between Freud and Jung. By not agreeing with his theories, Freud pointed to Jung’s contributions as unnecessary. There is a clear controversy between Freud and Jung that affects notably psychoanalysis.

Freud’s reaction to Jung’s studies

In the first letter in which Jung systematically exposes his views on the symbolic character of the incest taboo, Freud responds that he considers innovation as regressive and excessively Adlerian. Given this, Jung responds indignantly that he has sadly verified “what intense emotional motives contrary to my proposals rise in you” (McGuire & Sauerländer, 2012).

In this same reply, dated June 8, 1912, Jung mentions his future conferences for America. When Freud responds, he remarks to Jung that his interpretations regarding the works on the incest taboo and on the libido are erroneous.

Given this, Jung replied on July 18 in a negative tone. He tells Freud that the success or failure of his negative judgment on innovation in the subject of libido and incest would be resolved in the “success or failure of my own work”.

Freud interprets the latter as “a formal renunciation of our hitherto friendly relations. I’m sorry, not so much for personal reasons, but for the future of the Verein (association) and the cause of psychoanalysis “.

Four years later, in 1916, Jung published his work composed of studies on symbolism and libido. This work was not well received by Freud and his colleagues, as expected.

Conferences in America

Another event that marked the differences between Jung and Freud were the conferences in America. These occurred during September 1912. Jung gives a series of lectures at Fordham University that will be subject to Freud’s objection.

“I have also exposed, of course, my points of view, in divergent parts with respect to the opinions held so far; I refer especially to the theory of libido. I have observed that my conception of psychoanalysis gained many friends, who were hesitant until now about the problem of sexuality in neurosis.”

-Freud, November 11, 1912-

However, Jung is quick to claim that he is hopeful that Freud will progressively accept his innovations. Being that they represent intellectual efforts that require an objective judgment.

Jung maintains that he does not identify Freud with a dogma. As I would have mentioned in the conferences in 1912 in North America, the Swiss considered that his reformulations did not imply a division in the psychoanalytic movement, since “such systems can only exist in the matter of faith. But psychoanalysis is devoted to knowledge and its ever-changing formulations”.

Thus, both Freud and his colleagues in psychoanalysis such as Ferenczi begin to speak something bad about Jung. They consider him as an “incomprehensible mystic, an occultist and a theologian”.

Faced with this and subsequent devaluations of Jung’s work, it manifests itself:

“A large part of psychoanalysts makes bad use of psychoanalysis in order to devalue others and their progress through the usual hints of complexes.”

-Jung, December 1912-

The political proposal of Freud to Jung

In formal terms, Freud offers Jung a position as a collaborator in the new magazine he intends to create. On December 3, 1912, Jung responds to this offer: he asks Freud for his fixation on neurosis. Faced with this, Freud tells him to “deal more zealously with his own neurosis than his neighbors”.

Jung’s discontent with the Freudian attitude towards his innovations and those of other psychoanalysts is condensed in a phrase that he addresses in a letter on December 18, 1912:

“When you yourself have completely freed yourself from complexes and no longer play fatherhood with your children, whose weaknesses you constantly point to, and you ever pay attention to yourself, then I will accept to extirpate my sinful lack of unity with me same in front of you once and for all.”

-Jung, December 18, 1912-

The end of the private relationship

The correspondence between the two professionals begins to diminish as of this moment. The controversy between Freud and Jung becomes clearer. Thus, in 1913 the IV International Psychoanalysis Congress takes place in Munich, in which both psychiatrists agree.

Psychoanalytic historiography, with Freud in its foundations, has generally supported the inappropriate and erratic behavior of Jung in this congress. However, other sources describe the conference providing a different perspective.

Between October 1913 and April 1914 various psychoanalytic critiques of Jung’s work come to light. It is these criticisms and their violence that cause the resignation of the president of the IPA (International Psychoanalytic Association) so far, Carl Jung.

The relations between Freud and Jung, as well as between both and the psychoanalytic movement, were problematic. The personal and professional relationship began as a formal relationship, evolving towards a paternalistic tutelage on the part of Freud. Towards the end, Jung’s distancing is evident.

Freud’s disillusionment with Jung was soon tinged with intense emotions, which can be seen clearly in the correspondence they maintained, thus creating the controversy between Freud and Jung of which we speak. However, it can be said that the relationship that these two psychiatrists maintained was a great contribution to history.