Notes taken from Jung’s “Freud & Psychoanalysis: Chapter 7: The Aetiology Of Neurosis”
The Aetiology Of Neurosis
361] The farewell party presented a dangerous opportunity. The patient knew that her friend and rival was going off the same evening, and that Mr. A would be alone in the house. Of course she did not think this out logically and clearly, for some women have a remarkable capacity for thinking purely with their feelings, and not with their intellects, so that it seems to them as if they had never thought certain things at all. At any rate she had a very queer feeling all the evening. She felt extraordinarily nervous, and when Mrs. A had been accompanied to the station and had gone, the hysterical twilight state came over her on the way back. I asked her what she had been thinking or feeling at the actual moment when she heard the horses coming along behind her. Her answer was that she had only a feeling of panic, the feeling that something dreadful was approaching which she could no longer escape. The consequence was, as you know, that she was brought back exhausted to the house of her host, Mr. A.
362] To the simple mind this dénouement seems perfectly obvious. Every layman will say, “Well, that is clear enough, she only intended to return by one way or another to Mr. A’s house.” But the psychologist would reproach the layman for his incorrect way of expressing himself, and would tell him that the patient was not conscious of the motives of her behaviour, and that we cannot therefore speak of her intention to return to Mr. A’s house. There are, of course, learned psychologists who could find any number of theoretical reasons for disputing the purposiveness of her action — reasons based on the dogma of the identity of consciousness and psyche.
But the psychology inaugurated by Freud recognized long ago that the purposive significance of psychological acts cannot be judged by conscious motives but only by the objective criterion of their psychological result.
Today it can no longer be contested that there are unconscious tendencies which have a great influence on a person’s reactions and on the effect he has on others.
 What happened at Mr. A’s house bears out this observation. Our patient made a sentimental scene, and Mr. A felt obliged to react to it with a declaration of love. Looked at in the light of these concluding events, the whole previous history seems to be very ingeniously directed towards precisely this end, though consciously the patient was struggling against it all the time.
THE REGRESSION OF LIBIDO
367] The process of regression is beautifully illustrated in an image used by Freud. The libido can be compared with a river which, when it meets with an obstruction, gets dammed up and causes an inundation. If this river has previously, in its upper reaches, dug out other channels, these channels will be filled up again by reason of the damming below. They appear to be real river-beds, filled with water as before, but at the same time they have only a provisional existence. The river has not permanently flowed back into the old channels, but only for as long as the obstruction lasts in the main stream. The subsidiary streams carry the water not because they were independent streams from the beginning, but because they were once stages or stations in the development of the main river-bed, passing possibilities, traces of which still exist and can therefore be used again in times of flood.
368] This image can be applied directly to the development of the uses of libido. The final direction, the main river-bed, has not yet been found at the time of the infantile development of sexuality. Instead, the libido branches out into all sorts of subsidiary streams, and only gradually does the final form appear. But when the river has dug out its main bed, all the subsidiary streams dry up and lose their importance, leaving only traces of their former activity. Similarly, the importance of the child’s preliminary exercises at sexuality disappears almost completely as a rule, except for a few traces. If later an obstruction occurs, so that the damming up of libido reactivates the old channels, this state is properly speaking a new and at the same time an abnormal one. The earlier, infantile state represents a normal application of libido, whereas the reversion of libido to infantile ways is something abnormal. I am therefore of the opinion that Freud is not justified in calling the infantile sexual manifestations “perverse,” since a normal manifestation should not be designated by a pathological term. This incorrect usage has had pernicious consequences in confusing the scientific public. Such a terminology is a misapplication to normal people of insights gained from neurotic psychology, on the assumption that the abnormal by-path taken by the libido in neurotics is still the same phenomenon as in children.
THE AETIOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ACTUAL PRESENT
373] The more deeply we penetrate into the heart of the infantile development, the more we get the impression that as little of aetiological significance can be found there as in the infantile trauma. Even with the acutest ferreting into their respective histories we shall never discover why people living on German soil had just such a fate, and why the Gauls another. The further we get away, in analytical investigations, from the epoch of the manifest neurosis, the less can we expect to find the real causa efficiens, since the dynamics of the maladjustment grow fainter and fainter the further we go back into the past. In constructing a theory which derives the neurosis from causes in the distant past, we are first and foremost following the tendency of our patients to lure us as far away as possible from the critical present. For the cause of the pathogenic conflict lies mainly in the present moment. It is just as if a nation were to blame its miserable political conditions on the past; as if the Germany of the nineteenth century had attributed her political dismemberment and incapacity to her oppression by the Romans, instead of seeking the causes of her difficulties in the actual present. It is mainly in the present that the effective causes lie, and here alone are the possibilities of removing them.
374] The greater part of the psychoanalytic school is still under the spell of the conception that infantile sexuality is the sine qua non of neurosis. It is not only the theorist, delving into childhood simply from scientific interest, but the practising analyst also, who believes that he has to turn the history of infancy inside out in order to find the fantasies conditioning the neurosis. A fruitless enterprise! In the meantime the most important factor escapes him, namely, the conflict and its demands in the present. In the case we have been describing, we should not understand any of the motives which produced the hysterical attacks if we looked for them in earliest childhood. Those reminiscences determine only the form, but the dynamic element springs from the present, and insight into the significance of the actual moment alone gives real understanding.
376] From what has been said it should be clear that we gain insight into the history of a neurosis only when we understand that each separate element in it serves a purpose. We can now understand why that particular element in the previous history of our case was pathogenic, and we also understand why it was chosen as a symbol. Through the concept of regression, the theory is freed from the narrow formula of the importance of childhood experiences, and the actual conflict acquires the significance which, on the empirical evidence, implicitly belongs to it. Freud himself introduced the concept of regression, as I have said, in his Three Essays, rightly acknowledging that experience does not permit us to seek the cause of a neurosis exclusively in the past. If it is true, then, that reminiscences become effective again chiefly because of regressive activation, we have to consider whether the apparently determining effects of the reminiscences can be traced back solely to the regression of libido.
FAILURE OF ADAPTATION
 This brings us to the question: why does the libido become regressive? In order to answer this, we must examine more closely the conditions under which a regression arises. In discussing this problem with my patients I generally give the following example: A mountain-climber, attempting the ascent of a certain peak, happens to meet with an insurmountable obstacle, for instance a precipitous rock-face whose ascent is a sheer impossibility. After vainly seeking another route, he will turn back and regretfully abandon the idea of climbing that peak. He will say to himself: “It is not in my power to get over this difficulty, so I will climb an easier mountain.”
 Here we see a normal utilization of libido: the man turns back when he meets an insurmountable difficulty, and uses his libido, which could not attain its original goal, for the ascent of another mountain.
 Now let us imagine that the rock-face was not really un-climbable so far as the man’s physical abilities were concerned, but that he shrank back from this difficult undertaking from sheer funk. In this case two possibilities are open:
1. The man will be annoyed by his own cowardice and will set out to prove himself less timid on another occasion, or perhaps he will admit that with his timidity he ought never to undertake such daring ascents. At any rate, he will acknowledge that his moral capacity is not sufficient to overcome the difficulties. He therefore uses the libido which did not attain its original aim for the useful purpose of self-criticism, and for evolving a plan by which he may yet be able, with due regard to his moral capacity, to realize his wish to climb a mountain.
2. The second possibility is that the man does not admit his cowardice, and flatly asserts that the rock face is physically un-climbable, although he can very well see that, with sufficient courage, the obstacle could be overcome. But he prefers to deceive himself. This creates the psychological situation which is of significance for our problem.
381] At bottom the man knows perfectly well that it would be physically possible to overcome the difficulty, and that he is simply morally incapable of doing so. But he pushes this thought aside because of its disagreeable character. He is so conceited that he cannot admit his cowardice. He brags about his courage and prefers to declare that things are impossible rather than that his own courage is inadequate. In this way he falls into contradiction with himself: on the one hand he has a correct appreciation of the situation, on the other he hides this knowledge from himself, behind the illusion of his bravery. He represses his correct insight and tries to force his subjective illusions on reality. The result of this contradiction is that his libido is split and the two halves fight one another. He pits his wish to climb the mountain against the opinion, invented by himself and supported by artificial arguments, that the mountain is un-climbable. He draws back not because of any real impossibility but because of an artificial barrier invented by himself. He has fallen into disunion with himself. From this moment on he suffers from an internal conflict. Now the realization of his cowardice gains the upper hand, now defiance and pride. In either case his libido is engaged in a useless civil war, and the man becomes incapable of any new enterprise. He will never realize his wish to climb a mountain, because he has gone thoroughly astray in the estimation of his moral qualities. His efficiency is reduced, he is not fully adapted, he has become — in a word — neurotic. The libido that retreated in face of the difficulty has led neither to honest self-criticism nor to a desperate struggle to overcome the difficulty at any price; it has been used merely to maintain the cheap pretence that the ascent was absolutely impossible and that even heroic courage would have availed nothing.
REVERSION TO THE INFANTILE LEVEL
382] This kind of reaction is called infantile. It is characteristic of children, and of naïve minds generally, not to find the mistake in themselves but in things outside them, and forcibly to impose on things their own subjective judgment.
383] This man, therefore, solves the problem in an infantile way; he substitutes for the adapted attitude of the first climber a mode of adaptation characteristic of the child’s mind. That is what we mean by regression. His libido retreats before the obstacle it cannot surmount and substitutes a childish illusion for real action.
IS SENSITIVENESS PRIMARY?
396] It might be said — and the psychoanalytic school inclines to this view — that the critical sensitiveness arose from a special psychological history which made this outcome a foregone conclusion. We know that in psychogenic neuroses sensitiveness is always a symptom of disunion with oneself, a symptom of the struggle between two divergent tendencies. Each of these tendencies has its psychological prehistory, and in our case it can clearly be shown that the peculiar resistance at the bottom of the patient’s critical sensitiveness was in fact bound up historically with certain infantile sexual activities, and also with that so-called traumatic experience — things which may very well cast a shadow on sexuality. This would be plausible enough, were it not that the patient’s sister had experienced pretty much the same things — including the exhibitionist — without suffering the same consequences, and without becoming neurotic.
400] As the trauma theory shows, we are too much inclined, knowing of such cases, to attribute the emotional development of a person wholly, or at least very largely, to accidents. The old trauma theory went too far in this respect. We must never forget that the world is, in the first place, a subjective phenomenon. The impressions we receive from these accidental happenings are also our own doing. It is not true that the impressions are forced on us unconditionally; our own predisposition conditions the impression. A man whose libido is blocked will have, as a rule, quite different and very much more vivid impressions than one whose libido is organized in a wealth of activities. A person who is sensitive in one way or another will receive a deep impression from an event which would leave a less sensitive person cold.
402] The truth, as always, lies in the middle. The previous history certainly has a determining value, and this is intensified by regression. Sometimes the traumatic significance of the previous history comes more to the forefront, sometimes only its regressive meaning. These considerations naturally have to be applied to infantile sexual experiences as well. Obviously there are cases where brutal sexual experiences justify the shadow thrown on sexuality and make the later resistance to sex thoroughly comprehensible. (I would mention, by the way, that frightful impressions other than sexual can leave behind a permanent feeling of insecurity which may give the individual a hesitating attitude to reality.) Where real events of undoubted traumatic potency are absent — as is the case in most neuroses — the mechanism of regression predominates.
403] It might be objected that we have no criterion by which to judge the potential effect of a trauma, since this is an extremely relative concept. That is not altogether true; we have such a criterion in the average normal person. Something that is likely to make a strong and abiding impression on a normal person must be considered as having a determining influence for neurotics also. But we cannot attribute determining importance, in neurosis either, to impressions which normally would disappear and be forgotten. In most cases where some event has had an unexpected traumatic effect, we shall in all probability find a regression, that is to say, a secondary fantastic dramatization. The earlier in childhood an impression is said to have arisen, the more suspect is its reality. Primitive people and animals have nothing like that capacity for reviving memories of unique impressions which we find among civilized people. Very young children are not nearly as impressionable as older children. The higher development of the mental faculties is an indispensable prerequisite for impressionability. We can therefore safely assume that the earlier a patient places some impressive experience in his childhood, the more likely it is to be a fantastic and regressive one. Deeper impressions are to be expected only from experiences in late childhood. At any rate, we generally have to attribute only regressive significance to the events of early infancy, that is, from the fifth year back. In later years, too, regression can sometimes play an overwhelming role, but even so one must not attribute too little importance to accidental events. In the later course of a neurosis, accidental events and regression together form a vicious circle: retreat from life leads to regression, and regression heightens resistance to life.
THE TELEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF REGRESSION
 If we agree with Freud that neurosis is an unsuccessful attempt at self-cure, we must allow the fantasies, too, a double character: on one hand a pathological tendency to resist, on the other a helpful and preparatory tendency. With a normal person the libido, when it is blocked by an obstacle, forces him into a state of introversion and makes him reflect. So, too, with a neurotic under the same conditions: an introversion ensues, with increased fantasy activity. But he gets stuck there, because he prefers the infantile mode of adaptation as being the easier one. He does not see that he is exchanging his momentary advantage for a permanent disadvantage and has thus done himself a bad turn. In the same way, it is much easier and more convenient for the civic authorities to neglect all those troublesome sanitary precautions, but when an epidemic comes the sin of omission takes bitter revenge. If, therefore, the neurotic claims all manner of infantile alleviations, he must also accept the consequences. And if he is not willing to do so, then the consequences will overtake him.
 It would, in general, be a great mistake to deny any teleological value to the apparently pathological fantasies of a neurotic. They are, as a matter of fact, the first beginnings of spiritualization, the first groping attempts to find new ways of adapting. His retreat to the infantile level does not mean only regression and stagnation, but also the possibility of discovering a new life-plan. Regression is thus in very truth the basic condition for the act of creation. Once again I must refer you to my oft-cited book Symbols of Transformation.)
For my other notes see: