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Jung's mother

Jung’s suspiciousness of Salome in relation to his own authority feelings compelled him to hold her with such disregard. His mistrust of maternal feminine containment stems from his early attachment issues with his mother, who figured large in Jung’s early life with her depression and dissociative tendencies. Jung (1965) describes his mother as a “kindly fat old woman” who had two distinct personalities: he found the second to be far more compelling. He shares several ways he experienced her dissociation.

She held all the conventional opinions a person was obliged to have, but then her unconscious personality would suddenly put in an appearance. That personality was unexpectedly powerful; a somber imposing figure possessed of unassailable authority - and no bones about it. I was sure she consisted of two personalities, one innocuous and human, the other uncanny. This other emerged only now and then, but each time it was unexpected and frightening. She would then speak as if talking to herself, but what she said was aimed at me and usually struck to the core of my being, so that I was stunned into silence.

(p. 48)

All sorts of things were happening at night, things incomprehensible and alarming. My parents were sleeping apart. I slept in my father’s room. From my door to my mother’s room came frightening influences. At night Mother’s room was strange and mysterious.

(p. 18)

There was an enormous difference between my mother’s two personalities. That is why as a child I often had anxiety dreams about her. By day she was a loving mother, but at night she seemed uncanny. Then she was like one of those seers who at the same time is a strange animal, like a priestess in a bear’s cave. Archaic and ruthless; ruthless as truth and nature. At such moments, she was the embodiment of what I have called the “natural mind.”

(p. 50)

The natural mind was one that “is the sort of mind which springs from natural sources, and not from opinions taken from books; it wells up from the earth like a natural spring, and brings with it the peculiar wisdom of nature” (Jung, 1965: 50). From what Jung relates of his maternal memories of personality number two, it is easy to understand his literary analog for the anima, She Who Must Be Obeyed (the main character in H. Rider Haggard’s She) and an image for his shame (Ayers, 2003: 158-160).

Part of mother’s “welling up” appeared to include confiding her troubles to her son. Jung would take her seriously and overreact to her concerns, so he decided to divide everything his mother said by two. “My confidence in her was strictly limited.” His world came to be full of “vague and incomprehensible perils.” “Therefore, I always wanted to know at the start to what and to whom I was entrusting myself’ (1965: 30).

Jung’s mother was hospitalized for a severe depression when he was just three years old. It was thought that her depression stemmed from difficulties in the marriage, and she went away for several months. During this time Jung was unable to identify with his mother’s soothing and containing function, evidenced by his development of severe eczema. He describes his experience of his mother’s absence: “I was deeply troubled by my mother’s being away. From then on I always felt mistrustful when the word ‘love’ was spoken. The feeling I associated with ‘woman’ was for a long time that of innate unreliability” (Jung, 1965: 8). The sudden appearance of his sister nine years later left him with the same sense of distrust.

Jung shares the first dream he remembers from when he was three or four, his “first great secret” that he thought critically important in his development (1965: 27). Feldman argues, however, that because the dream is highly complex and structured, Jung probably had this dream in the Oedipal stage at the age of five or six (Feldman, 1992: 265). He is in a meadow and discovers a stone hole in the ground which he descends into an ornate, underground chamber. He discovers

a magnificent throne, a real king’s throne in a fairy tale. Something was standing on it which I thought at first was a tree trunk twelve to fifteen feet high and about one and a half to two feet thick. It was a huge thing, reaching almost to the ceiling. But it was of a curious composition: it was made of skin and naked flesh, and on top there was something like a rounded head with no face and no hair. On the very top of the head was a single eye, gazing motionlessly upward.

It was fairly light in the room, although there were no windows and no apparent source of light. Above the head, however, was an aura of brightness. The thing did not move, yet I have the feeling that it might at any moment drawl off the throne like a worm and creep toward me. I was paralyzed with terror. At that moment I heard from outside and above me my mother’s voice. She called out “Yes, just look at him. That is the man-eater.”

(pp. 11-12)

Jung identifies the enthroned glowing phallus with the eye on top as a subterranean God “not to be named.” He says of it “that is the handicap I started off with” (Jung, 1965: 8). Jung amplified the dream later as a descent into the earth, the realm of the dark mother, and an initiation into its secrets - the place described in Part II of Symbols entitled “The Sacrifice” and the place he got lost - and the same place he tried to find himself when he took the matter up again in his descent into the unconscious.

So what is a disembodied penis with the single eye on top doing deep in the bowels of the mother’s realm? Perhaps the eye on top connects the maternal dimension of the succubus to the chthonic phallus, the negative and destructive elements as opposed to its solar ones. This image could connect the phallus to matriarchal times, a time when the man’s powerful male member belonged to the mother. According to Melanie Klein, the mother’s body holds all that is desirable, including the father’s penis. Lacan, in his essay on psychoses, put it this way: “As to the child, there’s not a shadow of doubt - whether male or female, it locates the phallus very early on and, we’re told, generously grants it to the mother” (Lacan/ Griggs, 1993: 319). The mother proves to be a powerful castrator, just as she is in Freud’s theory of the Oedipus Complex, combining Oedipal and infantile, narcissistic shame. His fear of potential castration by the father’s penis inside the mother could have made it difficult for him to relate in a productive way to his own childhood sexuality, and this may provide an explanation for his early renunciation of Freud’s theory of childhood sexuality (Feldman, 1992: 266). Jung’s encounter with the penis as Medusa is similar to Freud’s Medusa and castration anxieties, the vagina dentata, in the form of his mother’s voice saying “that is the man- eater.” Of father, Jung could only say, “ ‘father, on the other hand, meant reliability and - powerlessness.”

Jung was aware of suffering shame and a strong sense of inferiority all the while growing up. By Jung’s own account, he suffered difficulties in the interpersonal realm. One reason was that his mother had a bad habit of calling out to him on the street, humiliating him while he was feeling the dignity of his purpose and public appearance. She would yell belittling things after him, like “have you washed your hands?”

And so on. It struck me as definitely unfair that the inferiority feelings which accompanies my self-importance should thus be exposed to the world when I had taken every care, out of amour-propre and vanity, to present as irreproachable an appearance as possible . . . I felt important and dignified . . . The picture changed radically, however, as soon as I came in sight of the house I was visiting. Then a sense of the grandeur and power of those people overcame me. I was afraid of them, and in my smallness wished I might sink fathoms deep into the ground . . . I felt as timid and craven as a stray dog. It was ever so much worse if mother had prepared me properly beforehand.

(Jung, 1965: 26)

Jung’s absolute shame is the smallness which made him wish he would sink “fathoms deep into the ground.” He felt it in all areas of his early life, and he refers to it frequently in his autobiography.

But my fear of failure and my sense of smallness in face of the vast world around me created in me not only a dislike but a kind of silent despair which completely ruined school for me.

(p. 29)

The neurosis became another of my secrets, but it was a shameful secret. A defeat.

(p. 32)

I had a certain physical timidity which I was not able to overcome until much later on. This timidity was in turn linked with a distrust of the world and its potentialities.

(p. 29)

When my mother once said to me, “You have always been a good boy,” I simply could not grasp it. I a good boy? This was quite new to me. I often thought of myself as a corrupt and inferior person.

(p. 41)

And last, Jung once had an image of God befouling a cathedral by dropping a feces on the roof that he resisted thinking for days. This image became one of his closest held secrets: “at last I had something tangible that was part of the great secret . . . My entire youth can be understood in terms of this secret. It induced in me an almost unbearable loneliness” (p. 41).

To cope with his deep shame, Jung utilized autistic and encapsulating defenses which point to very early wounding. Behind Jung’s focus on the inner, archetypal realm and the world of nature is his attempts to get the soothing, holding and containment that mother could not give him due to her severe depression. He could cling to his isolated, sensory world of nature and the awesome power of the archetypes for security in the face of psychotic anxieties. Mythology provides a marvelous place for dissociation, but this contact could not humanly soothe, nourish and provide the real tenderness he needed.

A threat to the hero is the risk of giving into his secret thoughts and wishes, to give into his instinctual, feminine nature and seek solace with the mother. Jung’s shame, therefore, is repressed through lots of hiding places, and in his autobiography he makes consistent references to secrets. Jung states that he did not discuss his early childhood material with anyone until he was 65 years old (except with Spielrein, but then he couldn’t mention her). He reserved these memories to contain his developing self, and felt they provided him with a “secret truth.”

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