Dynamics of the Self

“Jung has established the idea of man as part of the cosmic pattern. And man, as part of the cosmic pattern, has been given back his dignity as an individual.”

Gerhard Adler, Ph.D.


Gerhard Adler was born in 1904 and raised in Berlin. He took a doctorate from the University of Freiburg in 1927. And, at the young age of 26, he began analysis with Jung. Later, he decided to become an analyst himself.

Shortly after Hitler came to power, he moved to London where he became a leading Jungian analyst and a co-founder, along with Michael Fordham, of the original Jungian training society there. He was chosen by Jung, along with Michael Fordham & R. F. C. Hull, to translate and edit the Collected Works and was also translator and co-editor with Aniela Jaffe of Jung’s Letters, Vol I & II. His publications are few, and today not that well known, but they are extremely significant. The main ones are The Living Symbol, Studies in Analytical Psychology, and the one under review today, Dynamics of the Self – a collection of seminal essays that together distinguishes this book as a classic in the field of Analytical Psychology.

There has been some criticism of late, mostly from Sonu Shamdasani, editor of the Red Book, as to the veracity of the translations of the Collected Works. As a consequence, and an outcome of the publication of the Red Book in 2009, a new translation is now in progress. However, I would not take Shamdasani’s criticism as disqualifying of either Adler’s own work or his understanding of Jung’s model as a whole. Of course, comparisons between the two translations will be inevitable.

The first essay in Dynamics of the Self is as fine an introduction to Analytical Psychology as has ever been written. It reflects uniquely the close and lifelong connection Adler had with Jung, as well as his decades of clinical work.

The second essay, from which the book derives its title, is full of insights into the nature of the archetypal Self and its role in Analytical Psychology. Throughout life’s various crises, Adler insists that the Self is “the decisive force behind the psychic process.” He adds, “it is just the situation of need and despair, of a seemingly hopeless crisis, of one’s own deepest humiliation, which so often forces an unexpected and individual answer on us…it is in this and out of this darkness that the lapis, the Self-germ, is so often born.

Movingly, Adler later invokes the archetype of the wounded healer (Chiron): “To be wounded means also to have the healing power activated in us, or we might say that without being wounded one would never meet just this healing power. Might we even go so far as to say that the very purpose of being wounded is to be shown the healing power in us?” This is more than a rhetorical question asked in passing!

And, finally, Adler concludes this essay with this critically important comment: “When a positive relationship with the Self is established, the psychic process tends towards progression, that is acceptance and realization; when a negative relationship with the Self exists, the psychic process tends toward regression, rejection, and stagnation.”
This last admonition might strike some as “unfair,” insofar as one does not want to take responsibility for one’s attitude toward the Self. But, it can also be interpreted as liberating, as one’s attitude toward the Self matters that much, and determines to a large extent how one will be experiencing the individuation process as a whole.

The third essay, “The Logos of the Unconscious,” continues Adler’s phenomenology of the archetypal Self. Using a patient’s dreams, he takes the reader into the psyche’s depths, and displays consummate skill in showing how there exists a “Logos” of (and in) the Unconscious. By “Logos,” Adler means that there is an order, meaning, and purpose in which the archetypal Self is revealed to the dreamer, often using symptoms and “disorder” to catch the patient’s attention.

In this essay, Adler is additionally able to work in fruitful discussions of the scintilla, the alchemical sparks of light illuminating the darkness, as well as the meaning and purpose of the Divine Child in the individuation process, a critically important archetype and often misunderstood feature in Jung’s psychology. Interestingly, Adler tells us that the appearance of the Divine Child in dreams is the evidence of the ongoing process of the archetypal Self giving birth to itself. This is the true meaning of Self-realization, in the Jungian sense, not the more common notion of ego-aggrandizement, but rather the Self acting to move consciousness more and more into relationship with a greater perspective, ultimately connecting with the anima mundi, the world soul…yet another image for the archetypal Self, and hence a move toward greater and greater wholeness.

In the fourth essay, Adler takes on a particular kind of problem: ego integration from the feminine aspect. Again, he takes mainly one “case study” with a series of related dreams analyzed in session over a long period of time to illustrate the unfolding pattern of the coniunctio, the union of contrasexual opposites, in its manifold forms.

This case study reveals, in Adler’s words, “the faultiness of the maternal temenos in early childhood, which lays the child too wide open to the invasion of unassimilable contents from the unconscious as well as a feeling of being threatened by the outer world.” It is an impossible situation for the child. He goes on: “The mother was an immature and self-centered woman who could not relate to her child in a natural way. Analysis brought to the surface how abandoned and isolated the infant had felt.” With this sense of abandonment now exposed, Adler reports a compensatory transference that takes place in session in which he himself became over time “the good enough mother” as well as “the good enough father.” The transference relationship then evolves from a mother fantasy (temenos) to a father fantasy (marriage), anticipating the coniunctio, the union of opposites, characterized by masculine and feminine archetypes.

At the beginning of the analysis, the feminine ego is still in need of strengthening and development, in effect, being reparented, hence the transference. This situation reflects in Adler’s words, “the constant ambivalence of the purposes of the ego and the Self: the ego is still frightened of, and may be not yet fully prepared for, the purpose of the Self,” i.e. the constellation of the conuictio. The feminine ego in this case must develop further in order to experience the coniunctio as another powerful expression of the Self.

The fifth essay, placed at the center of the book, is so full of wisdom and insight that it might stand as the centerpiece of Analytical Psychology itself. Here Adler is providing a plethora of reflections garnered after 40 years of experience working with patients, and writing about the principles of Jungian psychology as they illuminate his clinical work. In my opinion, this essay, “On the Question of Meaning in Psychotherapy,” should be required reading for all therapists, certainly in any Jungian oriented training program. It situates the therapist’s work space where the individual/personal, collective/transpersonal and interpersonal all join together for consciousness building and in service to the individuation process.

Ultimately, Adler sees analytical work as providing the temenos and motive to turn in, to deal with the destructive forces of the psyche set off by a hypertrophy of rational ego-consciousness and the loss of living, organic rituals that connect the individual with the community. This is the modern condition, hence the disconnect to the sacred, the cosmos, i.e. meaningful living. For Adler, humanity as a whole must in effect regenerate itself from within, each individual doing his or her own particular work, connecting to the archetypal energy that is the true source of meaning and purpose for time immemorial. Only then can there exist “a genuine relationship of man to man, rooted in his own psyche, which is itself rooted in unfathomable depths.”

In the sixth essay, we are treated to Adler’s personal reflections on his encounters with Jung and his work. He is struck by Jung’s ability to enter into the depths of common humanity and to be able in turn to address individuals both at the personal and transpersonal levels. This was the source of Jung’s “charisma,” affecting the individual simultaneously at the personal and archetypal levels of his being, thus creating “meaningful” encounters whenever and wherever he addressed you.

How did Jung do this? Adler replies that it came from Jung suffering the psyche himself, that is, by fully exposing himself to the archetypal world himself, with all the dangers and promise that such exposure implies. Jung, by “living in immediate relations to the sources of life (i.e. the archetypes), became for many the carrier of the archetypal Self.” Speaking from his center, one knew when Jung addressed you that there was always more happening with the psyche than meets the eye.

Paradoxically, Adler also confesses being moved by the “immense loneliness” manifesting in “continuous misunderstandings…and attacks” that Jung experienced throughout his life. In an unpublished letter quoted by Adler, Jung writes: “I am practically alone. There are a few who see this and that, but almost nobody sees the whole…I have failed in my foremost task: to open people’s eyes to the fact that man has a soul, that there is a buried treasure in the field, and that our religion and philosophy are in a lamentable state…”

In terms of Jung’s legacy, Adler focuses in this essay on three main areas: the reality of the psyche, the creative role of Eros, and the individual as the creative center of cultural development. Adler believes that this legacy gives “human life its dignity and meaning.” This is especially significant given the AI revolution currently in progress. I can only refer the reader to Adler’s exceptional treatment of these three areas, timely to say the least.

The penultimate chapter is entitled “Depth Psychology and the Principle of Complementarity.” In this essay, Adler analyzes the different metapsychological principles of the Freudian and Jungian approaches to the psyche and ultimately finds them incompatible. He makes this claim because he feels, along with the physicists Neils Bohr and Werner Heinsenberg, that the observer affects the observed, meaning that if you approach the psyche with a Freudian attitude, you will find a predominance of “Freudian” material, and likewise, if you approach the psyche with a Jungian attitude, you will find a preponderance of “Jungian” material. This is so much so that on the level of clinical practice, when Jung was asked why do some Jews go to Freud and some to Jung, Jung responded, “The Talmudists go to Freud and the Cabbalists come to me.”

For Adler, “Jung’s fundamentally religious and teleological point of view, aiming at understanding the significance of life through the individual’s relationship to supra-personal images and forces, represents an immensely important step away from Freud…In Freud’s system there was simply no place for such a point of view.”

Eventually, Adler’s point of view led him away from Michael Fordham’s camp in London, who wanted to blend Freudian/Kleinian principles with Jungian principles. Adler concludes this essay saying, “I realize of course how much my own approach is bound to be coloured and limited by my own ‘personal equation.’” The implication however is that while other approaches might not necessarily be “wrong,” they too are colored by “the person of the analyst who carries his subjective experiences, his faith, his aims, his inner truth” into the consulting space. He wants here the Fordham school to admit its own biases and limitations.

The last essay is Adler’s most original piece, entitled “Remembering and Forgetting.” He views remembering and forgetting as a polarity of the psyche, “the systole and diastole, neither of which must be missed.” “Forgetting,” a la Freud, has to do with a key idea of his psychology, specifically, repression: “the function of rejecting and keeping something out of consciousness,” in other words a forgetting that was unconsciously motivated.

“Remembering,” according to Adler, is “the crowning point of Jung’s inquiry into the nature of memory, (namely) his momentous discovery of the timeless memory contained in the archetypal images of the collective unconscious.” Re-membering is the “link between past and present…Without this re-cognition no relationship could exist, no love or hate, no hope or fear; no value or substance would be recognizable…To re-collect, to collect what one once knew, to collect together into a new whole – this is what memory is about.”

Adler “reminds” us that the ancient Greeks were clearly aware of the overriding importance and power of remembering. He comments, “It was not for nothing that Mnemosyne was the mother of the muses.” And he adds, “The power of memory which the bards and tellers of stories possessed is almost unbelievable and certainly non-existant for us.” So true!

To the ancients, Adler adds, memory was equally a source of wonder. The “art of memory,” made famous by Francis Yates’ study of the same name, speaks to the high regard and high level of memory that the ancients achieved. To Cicero, “the soul’s remarkable power of remembering things and words was a sign of its divinity.”

Adler additionally comments,”Is not every artist a true ‘rememberer,’ trying to rediscover what Kandinsky called the “Greater Reality,” or Franz Marc the “inner mystical construction”?

This essay is formidable, the longest by far of the eight, and having extensive amplifications to flesh out Adler’s main theme, which is that our humanity, in the past, present, and future, relies on conscious remembering such that we all come to acknowledge our source in something beyond the ego’s reckoning and without which the ego itself would be lonely, adrift, and wholly lacking in meaning. To fail to “remember” in this sense would be to lack depth, and in effect, to give up on life.

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