Let’s Talk About Libido

Jungian and Freudian psychology, at first glance, may seem similar in nature. This is due to the fact that both Jung and Freud considered repressed libido as the sole cause of a neurosis (mental disease) in an individual.

But, like I said, this is only at first glance. Like most things, the devils in the details, and that particular detail that separates Jungian and Freudian causation for a neurosis was the way they defined libido.

But what is libido? Libido, in modern definitions, is understood in the same way Freud defined it as: sexual energy or desire.

But this is too narrow-minded. Jung took a much more general approach to the term. He considered libido simply as, psychic energy or desire. Of course, this energy could be, and very often is, used in the pursuit of sexual desires, though not always.

Think of it this way. Say you’re a guy, and you’re at the bar and you see a cute girl. You want to talk to her, and you feel a sensation, a drive, a burst of energy to act on that desire. The act of approaching her and engaging in conversation is somewhat of an obstacle at this point. You need to overcome this in order to achieve your goal, and every ounce of energy is now focused on acting on the task at hand. You can feel the sensation storing up the longer and longer you delay acting, and, it’s not until you act does the stored energy actually get put into use in overcoming this obstacle.

But say you don’t go, you don’t talk to her. Your fear and anxiety overtakes you; you chicken out.

What happens? You feel defeated, you feel the energy inside of you disappear. But Jung believes that the law of conservation of energy still applies to psychic energy as well. That law is energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only transferred.

So if that’s the case, where does the energy go? In the case I laid out above, the guy who failed to approach the girl, suddenly, thoughts from his childhood or a previous experience might emerge. He’ll say, it was because I was a shy kid, or, Girls never talked to me when I was little, or even, I had a traumatic experience when I was little causing me to be shy. Either way, these “repressed” thoughts suddenly rise to the surface as if new life, new energy had been given to them. That’s what, in Jung’s belief, where the stored energy, the stored libido goes. It goes to these “repressed” experiences allowing them to rise up.

He states that it is not the actual repressed thoughts and experiences that are being fixated on that is the sole cause for the inability to act, in this case, talking to the girl. But, it’s the actual fixation on these repressions itself that is the problem. And that’s where he goes to ask, what’s the cause of this fixation?

Jung suggests that it is the present, rather than the past, that is causing this fixation, and that the main cause of neurosis is not because some repressed traumatic infantile sexual experience, as Freud would put it, but rather, a present obstacle, a moment when a new psychological adjustment, that is, a new adaptation, is demanded. It is the failure to adapt to this new change that is causing the neurosis, and, like Jung says, the stored libido that was tasked at attempting to overcome this obstacle begins to regress to more primitive and earlier experiences that, prior to the insurmountable obstacle, had no impact on the individual in that particular moment.

Now, he doesn’t just stop there, because he leaves us with a problem. It’s not to say that these earlier, possibly traumatic, experiences don’t have any value. It’s not that at all. In fact, he suggests the opposite in that they hold tremendous value.

This is because the lost libido that was once under the conscious control of the individual is now attached to these repressed thoughts. You need to allow your repressed fantasies play out and come to the surface. This is what he does in his psychoanalytic practice: he guides his patients through their repressed fantasies and experiences not so that he can attach a sole causation for the neurosis in them, but because the energy that has been attached to these thoughts are needed by the patient for his health, that is, for the adaptation he failed to overcome.

Again, through his psychoanalysis, he is able to bring the lost libido under the conscious control of the will of the patient, and in this way, the split-off energy can now be used once again to accomplish the necessary tasks of life and adaptations.

All this really is, is a psychological breakdown of the hero’s journey, or facing one’s shadow, a term Jung later develops. He’s taking the thoughts from deep down, the ones many of us are afraid to confront, and reclaiming the energy and useful knowledge attached to them so that he may use it to face his metaphorical dragon and overcome his obstacle, even if it is simply talking to a girl at a bar.

This is why I like the Jungian view of libido much more than the Freudian view. Jung states that purely attributing the causation of all mental illnesses to that of a sexual repression is too narrow-minded. He states that it isn’t because he has any prejudice against sexuality and the problems within it, but it cannot justify the cause for every neurosis, especially if there was no prior suggestion that they were, indeed, causing a neurosis. He says, once you remove the obstacle, then these repressed infantile sexual thoughts once again become inactive and ineffective, as if they were not truly the causation for the original mental breakdown. It was a present obstacle that was the trigger of the mental neurosis.

So then that leads to the question, what is the obstacle in your life you cannot face?

thanks for reading,