Scapegoating as Path to Individuation

CG Jung is credited with resuscitating the journey of the wounded healer in modern western psychology.⁠1 While a psychiatrist at the Burghölzli psychiatric hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, Jung identified mythological themes in some of his patients’ hallucinations. This suggested to him that the imaginal was somehow connected with symbolism of the ancient past. Yet it would be his own overwhelming imagery, if not psychosis, that led Jung to formalize the process of individuation as a psychological journey into the spiritual aspects of the unconscious.

Like all great shamans, Jung endured multiple traumas along his journey to becoming a wounded healer. When he was three years old, Jung’s mother entered an asylum for depression — likely a reaction to her marriage to Jung’s religiously dogmatic father. According to Jungian analyst Ursula Wirtz, “Jung reacted to his mother’s abandonment of him with severe eczema, accident proneness, nightmares, and self-destructive fantasies and behavior.”⁠2 Jung’s early experience of maternal loss also contributed to his tendency to rely on his imaginal life to self-soothe.

An odd, introverted, yet brilliant child, Jung found himself the object of bullying at school. Jungian analyst Donald Kalsched wrote, “His ‘unusualness’ and inward preoccupations often alienated him from his school chums. His friends gave him a nickname, ‘Father Abraham,’ which hurt and humiliated him. They thought of him as a poseur and a know-it-all.”⁠3 To make matters worse, Jung was accused of plagiarism and threatened with expulsion by a teacher who doubted Jung was capable of the quality of work demonstrated in a paper he wrote. According to Jung, “I was thought to be relatively stupid and superficial. That did not annoy me really. But what made me furious was that they should think me capable of cheating, and thus morally destroy me.”⁠4 This was a powerful introduction to scapegoating. But his victimization wouldn’t end there. As a teen Jung was sexually assaulted by an admired member of his church, perhaps deepening his sense of betrayal, if not also alienation.

These experiences would plant the seeds for Jung’s later initiation into the journey of the wounded healer. He might never have stumbled upon the archetypal shamanic way had he not experienced early abandonment, scapegoating, and sexual trauma. Yet not until midlife would feelings of shame, humiliation, and rage threaten to break through and destroy him. 

Much like his early experiences of bullying and scapegoating, Jung would find himself ostracized by his mentor and collaborator, Sigmund Freud, and his peers in the psychoanalytic movement. After enjoying several years of camaraderie and professional success, Jung found himself mocked for his views on the spiritual aspects of psyche. Freud could not tolerate dissenters from his psychoanalytic perspective. Jung eventually was cast out of the psychoanalytic movement and treated as a pariah.⁠5

Long before their falling out, Jung wrote in an intimate letter to Freud, “… as a boy I was the victim of a sexual assault by a man I once worshipped.”⁠6 Jung also wrote of his infatuation with Freud: “… my veneration for you has something of the character of a ‘religious’ crush.”⁠7 No doubt Jung’s feelings for Freud complicated their relationship. Their dynamics may have felt similar to the relationship he once had with the man who assaulted him. Perhaps with Freud, Jung was unconsciously attempting to correct his earlier experience with being sexually abused by someone he had trusted. We’ll never know. Yet Freud’s betrayal forced Jung to face how he navigated a deep split within himself in ways that denied parts of who he was. 

Following his scapegoating by Freud and members of the psychoanalytic movement, Jung found himself profoundly uncertain. He began to experience apocalyptic images that led him to wonder if he was suffering from psychosis. Jung wrote, “As a psychiatrist I became worried, wondering if I was not on the way to ‘doing a schizophrenia,’ as we said in the language those days….”⁠8 He isolated himself professionally, resigning from the presidency of the International Psychoanalytic Association and his position as medical faculty at the University of Zurich. He limited his professional activities to consulting with clients in his home office and meeting bimonthly with a local psychoanalytic society. 

In The Red Book, Jung chronicled in story and pictures his journey of recovery, which centered on the imaginal aspects of his psyche. He came to understand the process, which he called individuation, as reclaiming his lost soul by connecting with “the spirit of the depths” — what in his scholarly writings he referred to as the collective unconscious. In The Red Book, Jung described his contact with imaginal characters that became his guides, showing him the way out of madness rather than being consumed by it. It was during this period he discovered “to the extent that I managed to translate the emotions into images — that is to say, to find the images which were concealed in the emotions — I was inwardly calmed and reassured. Had I left those images hidden in the emotions, I might have been torn to pieces by them.”⁠9

Before Jung could begin the quest for his lost soul, he had to jettison beliefs and behaviors that supported the western, logocentric worldview, which not only denied the existence of soul, but also interfered with seeing the value of the imaginal for psychological healing. Logos, which is the Greek word for logic, emphasizes the use of rational principles and analytical reasoning in the formulation of truth claims. Historically, the idea of logos has been associated with the masculine. The masculine has also been identified with social laws, including awareness of the significance of status, rank, and affiliation.⁠10 

The notion of eros, in contrast, is commonly aligned with the feminine and the truth found in emotional persuasion. Eros also symbolizes love and relatedness. Emotions, the body, and the imaginal keep us connected to eros.

The western preference for logos seems to alter the usual steps of the journey of the wounded healer (separation, initiation, and return) with the added first step of disavowal. In the beginning of The Red Book, Jung wrote of the necessity of rejecting living as an “example” of the conventional life if one is to find one’s soul.

“Woe betide those who live by way of example! Life is not with them. If you live according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself? So live yourselves.”⁠11 

For traditional shamans, such disavowal of ordinary reality isn’t necessary. As noted by anthropologist Michael Harner, cultures dependent upon shamanism acknowledge two states of consciousness, Ordinary State of Consciousness (OSC) and a Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC). These two states govern two ‘realities’ — the ‘real’ world (OSC) and the imaginal, spirit-filled world (SSC) — that are distinct, but nevertheless complimentary. According to Harner, “The shaman has the advantage of being able to move between states of consciousness at will. He can enter the OSC of the nonshaman and honestly agree with him about the nature of reality from that perspective. Then the shaman can return to the SSC and obtain firsthand confirmation of the testimony of others who have reported on their experiences in that state.”⁠12  

Because of the western devaluation of the imaginal, Jung would first have to overcome the tendency to deny the importance of the unconscious for self-wisdom. For him, this meant letting go of logos, and learning to trust the wisdom of eros.  

“The knowledge of the heart is in no book and is not found in the mouth of any teacher, but grows out of you like the green seed from the dark earth.”⁠13

As Jung’s journey progressed, he discovered living without the wisdom of eros and the unconscious was also a sort of madness:

“If you do not know what divine madness is, suspend judgment and wait for the fruits. But know that there is a divine madness which is nothing other than the overpowering of the spirit of the depths. Speak then of sick delusion when the spirit of the depths can no longer stay down and forces a man to speak in tongues instead of in human speech, and makes him believe that he himself is the spirit of the depths. But also speak of sick delusion when the spirit of this time does not leave a man and forces him to see only the surface, to deny the spirit of the depths and to take himself for the spirit of the times.”⁠14

It’s easy to become caught in ambivalence when the spirit of the depths and the spirit of the times seem to oppose one another. At such moments, it’s difficult to know whether to trust ‘reality’ or the imaginal contents of psyche. As witnessed in Jung’s journey, the uncertainty can lead to pulling away from one’s conventional life to make space for what is arising within. Often this is a point of crisis, one that is not easy to discern from the unhealthy self-isolation that occurs in response to scapegoating. It can feel as if there is no wisdom, collective or personal, that can end the threat of inner annihilation. These are the conditions of madness, but also of deep transformation. Jung knew this was not a journey he could take alone. He also needed support in the real world. 

“Particularly at this time, when I was working on the fantasies, I needed a point of support in ‘this world,’ and I may say that my family and my professional work were that to me. It was most essential for me to have a normal life in the real world as a counterpoise to that strange inner world. My family and my profession remained the base to which I could always return, assuring me that I was an actually exiting, ordinary person.”⁠15

As his journey progressed, Jung imagined his soul, which he called Solomé, directing him to trust madness while turning his back on rational defenses:

“Words, words, do not make too many words. Be silent and listen: have you recognized your madness and do you admit it? Have you noticed that all your foundations are completely mired in madness? Do you not want to recognize your madness and welcome it in a friendly manner? You wanted to accept everything. So accept madness too. Let the light of your madness shine, and it will suddenly dawn on you. Madness is not to be despised and not to be feared, but instead you should give it life.”⁠16

Such an injunction is typically avoided in the mental health field. Today, most people who appear to be overwhelmed by the imaginal contents of psyche are seen as suffering from psychosis, just as Jung first believed was true of himself. (Hallucinations can also result from bullying and sexual abuse, and schizophrenia has been associated with histories of early life sexual abuse.) Yet Jung’s meaningful engagement with the imaginal contents of his psyche, while remaining grounded in ‘reality’, led him to find his way out of madness. His efforts became the foundation for a highly productive and creative life. However, the process took time and commitment, and required the support of an intimate community. 

One of the surprising outcomes of Jung’s individuation journey was the replacement of distinctions between good and evil with a focus on growth measured according to the wisdom of the unconscious (eros) rather than social norms (logos):

“But if you return to primal chaos … you will notice that you can no longer separate good and evil conclusively, neither through feeling nor through knowledge, but that you can discern the direction of growth only from below to above. You thus forget the distinction between good and evil, and you no longer know it as long as your tree grows from below to above. But as soon as growth stops, what was united in growth falls apart and once more you recognize good and evil.”⁠17

This may seem bewildering, as if listening to the depths of psyche contributes to an immoral or antisocial life. Yet there is a lesson here that applies to women who have been sexually abused: often we must first transcend conventional beliefs in order to grow. 

For centuries, women and girls have been marginalized and stereotyped according to tropes like the Madonna and the Whore through which women are defined in terms of their relationship to men and the family — one serving within the boundaries of society, one cast to its margins, serving sexual needs and acting as reminders of the limits placed on social acceptance. 

Following sexual trauma, many find themselves thrown into these tropes or resisting them: the whore, the seductress, the slut — slurs used to devalue women as contaminated by their assault. Even if no one was ever told about the trauma, the activation of the archetype of the scapegoat can lead to struggles with self-perceptions derived from centuries-old distinctions between purity and defilement.

Regularly, sexually violated girls and women feel irrevocably corrupted by the abuse, just as studies have shown many view those with histories of sexual trauma as both culpable in their own victimization and tainted by it. Letting go of such distinctions, which align with notions of good and evil, are necessary for recovery and continued growth. We too must learn to trust eros — along with our bodies, emotions, and imaginal lives — in our efforts to continually become our authentic selves. 


As a result of his quest to recover his lost soul, Jung would come to describe the pursuit of psychological wholeness as a lifelong process of overcoming the dualistic split between the ego and the unconscious. He also recognized the West’s need to end its overreliance on a logocentric worldview.

In Answer to Job, Jung’s exegesis of the story of Job found in the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament, can be understood in part as a critique of logocentrism. Jung portrayed the trials of Job as the result of Yahweh’s amnesia for Sophia, his original companion. Sophia was the first to speak the words of God to humankind, and thus initially wisdom was associated with the feminine. The term philosophy — philo•sophia — is derived from her name. Sophia also symbolized Eros. Sophia was also the mother of Israel, the first metropolis, as well as a mother-goddess of nature. 

Jung challenged the idea of the Hebrew Yahweh as perfect and good. He wanted to show the goal of perfection, witnessed in Yahweh’s desire for perfect faith from Job, not only lacked eros, but was cruel.

“The lack of Eros, or relationship to values, is painfully apparent in the Book of Job….Yahweh has no Eros, no relationship to man, but only a purpose man must help him fulfill…. The faithfulness of his people becomes more important to him the more he forgets Wisdom [Sophia]…. Against his own convictions Yahweh agrees without any hesitation to inflict the worst tortures on him [Job]. One misses Sophia’s “love of mankind” more than ever. Even Job longs for the Wisdom which is nowhere to be found.”⁠18

Answer to Job has been described as one Jung’s most controversial books, and I would add one of his most autobiographic writings. His arguments are illuminating, not only for the sociological implications of the Hebrew Bible, but also for seeing how Jung perceived those who abused power. At one point Jung concluded “the paragon of all creation is not a man but a monster!”⁠19 I cannot help but wonder how his experiences with Freud led to such an interpretation of Yahweh. Jung seemed to be describing Freud’s megalomania and complete inability to have anyone challenge his theories or create competing explanations. Like Yahweh, Freud expected perfect faith from his followers.

When Jung found himself scapegoated by the psychoanalytic movement, he was forced to grapple with the consequences for both his social standing and his state of mind. It was at this point that he began to seek the feminine aspects of himself, and perhaps unconsciously identified with all women who have suffered degradation and subjugation because of a masculine, logocentric worldview. With his acceptance of eroslogos not only lost its primacy, but its potential for destruction became more apparent.

Jung’s telling of the story of Job paralleled his journey of resisting Freud and later befriending Solomé, the feminine within himself:

“With the Job drama, however, the situation undergoes a radical change. Here Yahweh [Freud] comes up against a man [Jung] who stands firm, who clings to his rights until he is compelled to give way to brute force.… 

“Taking a highly personified form that is clear proof of her [Solomé] autonomy, Wisdom reveals herself to men as a friendly helper and advocate against Yahweh, and shows them the bright side, the kind, just, and amiable aspect of their God.”⁠20

Following his break with Freud, Jung retreated to him home in Küsnacht, much how he retreated after being bullied at school, or as a child he would withdraw to the attic where he kept a physical representation of a hidden aspect of himself, which he called personality number 2. But as an adult in the suburbs of Zurich, Jung had the strength and social support needed for the journey into the “spirit of the depths.” This time, he not only reclaimed his lost soul, but also left an intellectual legacy that continues to inspire others to take their own individuation journeys. 

Questions to ponder: Do you see any similarities between your recovery and Jung’s? Is there anything you might learn from Jung’s journey of the wounded healer? How has sexual trauma impacted your attitudes towards society? Spirituality? Men?


1 See Smith, C. Michael. (2007). Jung and shamanism: In dialogue. New York, NY: Paulist Press.

2 Wirtz, Ursula. (2014). Trauma and beyond: The mystery of transformation. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal, Inc., p. 244.

3 Kalsched, Donald. (2013). Trauma and the soul: A psycho-spiritual approach to human development and its interruption. New York: Routledge, p. 248.

4 Jung, Carl. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections (R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.). New York Vintage Books, p. 65.

5 Kalshed, 2013.

6 Kerr, John. (1994). A most dangerous method: The story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. New York: Vintage Books.

7 Ibid.

8 Sonu Shamdasani in Jung, Carl G. (2009). The red book: Liber novus. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., p. 201.

9 Jung, 1989, p. 177.

10 See Campbell, Joseph. (2013). Goddesses: Mysteries of the feminine divine (S. Rossi Ed.). Novato, CA: New World Library.

11 Jung, Carl G. (2009). The red book: Liber novus. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

12 Harner, Michael. (2011/1990). The way of the shaman. New York, NY: HarperCollines e-books, Kindle Location 146.

13 Jung, 2009.

14 Ibid.

15 Jung, 1989, p. 189.

16 Jung, 2009.

17 Ibid.

18 Jung, Carl G. (1958/2011  ). Answer to Job. (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 34.

19 Ibid., p. 33.

20 Ibid., p. 34.

© 2018 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography).