Jung’s Take on Depression

Depression should therefore be regarded as an unconscious compensation whose content must be made conscious if it is to be fully effective. This can only be done by consciously regressing along with the depressive tendency and integrating the memories so activated into the conscious mind—which was what the depression was aiming at in the first place.

—C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation,
CW vol 5, par 625.

I’ve been trying to understand Jung’s words for quite a while now in order to make some sense of my own depression. I get how depression is “an unconscious enforcement of introversion” 1 — I don’t even want to leave the house most days let alone interact with anyone. But my depression is characterized by such an incredible lethargy that even something as trivial sounding as “consciously regressing” seems too onerous to attempt.

Depression is an “unconscious compensation,” presumably, for a one-sided conscious attitude. That is, after all, what the unconscious does via dreams, creative expression, &c. It compensates for the conscious attitude. It tries to nudge us in a different direction. It attempts to initiate a course correction.

Unfortunately, my experience has been more in the arena of “loss of soul“:

“… a retrograde movement of the libido, a regression which threatens to reproduce the earlier, instinctual, and unconscious state. The danger lies in those well-known “perils of the soul”—a splitting of the personality (“loss of soul“) and reduction of consciousness, both of which automatically increase the power of the unconscious.

—C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation,
CW vol 5, par 248.

That’s what I experience. An “increase [of] the power of the unconscious” as I sleep till 3pm or watch TV all day or try to write and can’t focus enough to get down a single sentence.

What I need to do is make the content of the unconscious compensation conscious. Then the depression is “effective.” That’s a very interesting turn of phrase. An effective depression. A depression that has a goal, a purpose. Perhaps things are beginning to change, but depression has not, in general, been seen as something purposeful. Something teleological. Rather it’s been seen as something to alleviate.

And I’ve tried medications to get me going, to kick-start the process, so to speak. And they seem to work. For a while. I get more focus, more energy. For a while. But I don’t seem to accomplish anything with that added energy. I’m still trying to cope rather than making the content conscious.

Maybe that’s because I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to be making conscious!

Edinger includes the loss of a loved one in Jung’s definition and says the “enforced introversion” is the psyche’s requiring “the individual to withdraw the projection that the lost loved one carried … because … if the dead loved one is really carrying a large portion of your soul the deceased can suck you right down into the grave with them.” 2 So, maybe this provides a clue. Projections are, by definition, unconscious. So, withdrawing a projection is akin to “integrating … into the conscious mind.” However, at the moment I don’t see much correlation. When caught in a projection, a tell-tale sign is usually an over-reaction. My depression is, at best, a continual under-reaction. So it seems difficult to determine to what I am underreacting and, henceforth, what I need to integrate into my consciousness.

In part 2 of this post, I’ll try to formulate the ideas that came to me from the field of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) while reading The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.


  1. Edward F. Edinger, Transformation of Libido: A Seminar on C. G. Jung’s Symbols of Transformation, p. 74
  2. Ibid.

3 responses to “Jung’s Take on Depression

  1. Pingback: Got cud? (Jung's take on depression, part 2) | The Psychology of Me

  2. Pingback: Mental Burning: Tibetan Buddhism and Jungian Psychology | The Psychology of Me

  3. The hardest part is not having the language to express my feelings. Feelings are not words. I can describe my actions but there is this gulf I cannot explain and it’s so frustrating especially when faced with a so called therapist.

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