Carl Jung On Why We Must Learn To Accept Ourselves First Before We Can Help Others
Carl Jung exhibited the sort of serene wisdom that is usually reserved for the reclusive-hermit-sage. Yet, he arrived at his personal “wholeness” not through the traditional route of Christian grace or Buddhist meditation, but through scientific and psychological means. Delving into his own troubled mind and reflecting on the neuroses of his patients, he arrived at an unsettling insight.
We must learn to accept our own darkness if we want to overcome our own neurosis.
Without this self-acceptance, our attempts to help others will be futile, both on an individual and global level.
Alan Watts said that Jung intimately embraced his own dark side and:
He would not condemn the things in others and would therefore not be lead into those thoughts, feelings, and acts of violence towards others which are always characteristic of the people who project the devil in themselves upon the outside—upon somebody else—upon the scapegoat. Whenever we refuse to accept our feelings and thoughts, however disturbing they might be, we experience psychological dissonance. Dissonance happens when our behavior does not match our self-image, or the image we think others might have of us. When we project our shadow onto others, we refuse ownership of ourselves, distancing ourselves from ourselves, losing ourselves in the process. This, according to Jung, is how neurosis finds a way to take over the psyche.
In a lecture delivered to Swiss clergymen, Carl Jung shared some of his deepest insights on this topic.
Alan Watts believes this was the greatest thing Carl Jung ever wrote:
People forget that even doctors have moral scruples, and that certain patient’s confessions are hard even for a doctor to swallow. Yet the patient does not feel himself accepted unless the very worst in him is accepted too.
No one can bring this about by mere words; it comes only through reflection and through the doctor’s attitude towards himself and his own dark side. If the doctor wants to guide another, or even accompany him a step of the way, he must feel with that person’s psyche. He never feels it when he passes judgment. Whether he puts his judgments into words or keeps them to himself makes not the slightest difference.
To take the opposite position and to agree with the patient offhand is also of no use but estranges him as much as condemnation. Feeling comes only through unprejudiced objectivity. This sounds almost like a scientific precept, and it could be confused with a purely intellectual, abstract attitude of mind. But what I mean is something quite different.
It is a human quality, a kind of deep respect for the facts, for the man who suffers from them, and for the riddle of such a man’s life. The truly religious person has this attitude. He knows that God has brought all sorts of strange and inconceivable things to pass and seeks in the most curious ways to enter a man’s heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the divine will.
This is what I mean by “unprejudiced objectivity.” It is a moral achievement on the part of the doctor, who ought not to let himself be repelled by sickness and corruption. We cannot change anything unless we accept it.
Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow-sufferer. I do not in the least mean to say that we must never pass judgment when we desire to help and improve. But if the doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is.
Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life.
That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ, all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least o’ my brethren, that I do unto Christ.
But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yeah, the very fiend himself, that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved. What then?
Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed: there is then no more talk of love and long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world, we deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves, and had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed.
Anyone who uses modern psychology to look behind the scene not only of his patients’ lives, but more especially of his own life—and the modern psychotherapist must do this if he is not to be merely an unconscious fraud—will admit that to accept himself in all his wretchedness is the hardest of tasks, and one which it is almost impossible to fulfill.
The very thought can make us sweat with fear. We are therefore only too delighted to choose, without a moment’s hesitation, the complicated course of remaining in ignorance about ourselves while busying ourselves with other people and their troubles and sins. This activity lends us a perceptible air of virtue, by means of which we benevolently deceive ourselves and others. God be praised, we have escaped from ourselves at last!
There are countless people who can do this with impunity, but not everyone can, and these few break down on the road to their Damascus and succumb to a neurosis. How can I help these people if I myself am a fugitive, and perhaps also suffer from the morbus sacer of a neurosis? Only he who has fully accepted himself has “unprejudiced objectivity.”
It is only when you have seen and accepted your own capacity for fear, shame, and judgment that you can truly see the other for what she or he is. Without this acceptance we avoid parts of the other, simply because we are reminded of these in ourselves. And thus, no true connection, nor genuine compassion, can arise.
Jung understood this deeply, and this is why Alan Watts said:
[Jung] was the sort of man who could feel anxious and afraid and guilty without being ashamed of feeling this way. In other words, he understood that an integrated person is not a person who has simply eliminated the sense of guilt or the sense of anxiety from his life—who is fearless and wooden and kind of sage of stone. He is a person who feels all these things, but has no recriminations against himself for feeling them. What happens in the psyche when we act as if some parts of us aren’t really ours? When we search for external reasons why we behave the way we do? When we want to hide certain parts from all the eyes of the world, including our own?
According to Jung, we end up with a personality that is split, or a more fitting term, “unwhole.”
Neurosis is an inner cleavage—the state of being at war with oneself. Everything that accentuates this cleavage makes the patient worse, and everything that mitigates it tends to heal him. What drives people to war with themselves is the suspicion or the knowledge that they consist of two persons in opposition to one another. The conflict may be between the sensual and the spiritual man, or between the ego and the shadow. It is what Faust means when he says: “Two souls, alas, dwell in my breast apart.” A neurosis is a splitting of personality. To heal a split in self, a person needs to work with their shadow and learn uncomfortable truths about themselves in the process. Our inner war is softened when we allow ourselves to be seen. Not just the side of ourselves that matches our intersubjective ideal—that is easy. We show those feathers prominently. No, we need to accept our failures and shortcomings too.
No doubt this also sounds very simple. In reality, however, the acceptance of the shadow-side of human nature verges on the impossible. Consider for a moment what it means to grant the right of existence to what is unreasonable, senseless, and evil!