Jung on Falling into the Hole Backwards

Jung on “Falling Into the Hole Backwards”


Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on the Jungian Center site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members. Honesty, as well as professional courtesy require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.


“… anyone accepting the task of individuation… is destined to descend into a deep pit [and] had better set about it with all the necessary precautions rather than risk filling into the hole backwards.”

Jung (1951)[1]



Having been through the process himself, Jung understood that taking up the task of individuation implies “falling in holes,” i.e. having intervals of misery, depression, grieving, maybe even a form of psychic paralysis. Not every day is a good day on the spiritual journey!

Having experienced multiple “holes” myself in the last 30+ years, I know what Jung meant, and I crafted a workshop for our students here to take up Jung’s advice—to take precautions, anticipating those times when the slog gets really hard. “Here” is our Center in Waterbury, Vermont, and in the on-site workshop I give the students the opportunity to sample all sorts of items that they might find useful, e.g. packets of scented Epsom salts, herbs and oils that can provide relaxation, homeopathic remedies, and sheets listing local spas and practitioners of massage, energy work, Jungian analysis etc. I also do a meditation with the group, and hand out sheets with questions for the students to reflect upon, toward clarifying just what preparations would work for them, when times get hard.

This essay is one of the more practical essays on this blog site, as it conveys the essence of the workshop, minus the salts, herbs etc. Just reading this essay won’t do much to help you make concrete preparations: You need to spend time reflecting on the questions, and then more time gathering together in a “kitbag” the items you identified in your reflections.


Personality Type in Relation to Handling Falling in the Hole


I begin the workshop by asking the students their personality type, drawing on Jung’s work on typology that was extended by Isabelle Briggs and Katherine Myers, Horace Gray, Jane and Joseph Wheelwright, and later, by June Singer and Mary Ann Loomis.[2] If students are not familiar with their type I give out a short test I drew up myself.

Knowing your type is important, in relation to falling in the hole, because we tend, in times of stress, to revert to our superior function. So people who are intuitive often become more so, which can show up as ungroundedness and impracticality. Sensates under stress can get more focused on their senses, and this can become compulsive (especially if they have a lot of Earth or a highly aspected Pluto). Thinking types would get more fixated on figuring things out, which can lead to analysis paralysis. And Feeling types can get hypersensitive to their emotional environment, which can result in their merging with others to the point of losing an awareness of their own needs. People who are strongly Perceptive, finding decision-making difficult, can start to dither when stressed, driving their Judging friends and family to distraction, while Judgers might get more focused on wrapping things up, leading to impatience that can irritate others.

It is also useful to know your orientation—Extravert or Introvert—as this also tends to be accentuated in times of stress. In difficult times Extraverts usually want people around, as they are energized by others and by external stimulation. The key to whether this will help or hinder is the quality and the capabilities of the people the Extravert chooses as companions. So one of the questions the Extravert needs to consider is: “When I fall in the hole which of my family/friends are going to be suitable to me to turn to?” Generally speaking, people who “resonate” with you (i.e. understand you on the feeling level) and people capable of engaging with the inner life would be helpful. Those without a connection to their inner reality and those who cannot resonate to where you are will do little more than cover over or divert you from the task your soul is asking you to do.

While the Extravert wants people around, the Introvert usually gets energized by solitude, so in times of stress the Introvert might want to be alone. The key here is what the Introvert does with that time alone. If it is spent brooding or falling more deeply into depression, it might be better spent reaching out to someone able to put some perspective on the situation (e.g. an analyst or therapist). An old adage is relevant here: “You have to do it yourself, but you don’t have to do it alone.”

Part of the process of individuation involves developing one’s inferior function. If you are making a conscious effort to do this, as part of your work toward individuation, and along the way you “fall in the hole,” that is not the time when you want to work with your inferior function. As noted above, stressful times call up our superior function—that innately natural way of living and working—and you will have quite enough on your plate, being in the hole, that you won’t need to add more by taking on the ineptitude of the inferior function.

A final point about type: People whose type is opposite yours are likely to carry shadow for you. For example, if you are an INFP (Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving type) the ESTJ (Extravert Sensate Thinking Judging) type is likely to carry shadow energy for you. In times of stress it might be easier for you to associate with types similar to your own; shadow types are not as likely to be good “resonators” for you as are people of your own type.


Insights from Astrology


I mentioned Earth and Pluto above. It can be helpful to have a chart reading when preparing for those “holes” that life will present. A chart analysis (in the Jungian style, which provides many insights into the myths, archetypes and type you are working on) can give useful tips on how best to cope with hard times. Strong Earth types or those with a prominent Pluto can get compulsive (but knowing this about yourself can lessen or prevent this). The sign, placement and aspects to Neptune can alert you to possible tendencies toward substance abuse, and the planet Mars can provide clues as to how you might best get out of a funk.

Specifically, if your Mars is in the first house, it might be helpful for you to assert yourself, stand up for what you need, state your desires and act to get them fulfilled. If your Mars is in the second house, go shopping, or check your portfolio, or balance your checkbook. With a third-house Mars, take up a new study, write letters, or take a weekend getaway. A fourth-house Mars might handle stress by doing some Do-It-Yourself home improvement project: rearrange the furniture, build a bookcase, clean out the refrigerator, reorganize the garage. With Mars in the fifth house, you might handle stress by allowing your inner puer out to play (see the essay “Senex Play and Puer Play” archived on this Web site for the different ways that the senex and puer play). When Mars is in the sixth house of a chart, the best way to handle stress might be to work out, i.e. to engage the body in some sort of physical activity. This can be a team sport (appealing to the Extravert), or an individual activity like yoga (apt to be more appealing to the Introvert). A seventh-house Mars might do well to connect with a partner or a close friend, or be more assertive with a partner. With Mars in the eighth house, times of stress call for getting anger up and out. We can express, repress or confess anger. Expressing anger can land us in trouble with the law, or at least with friends and family. Repressing anger takes a toll on body and mind, as Jung knew well. The best way to get anger up and out is to confess it: write it in a journal, tell it to a therapist or an understanding friend. A ninth-house Mars can respond to stress well by standing up for its beliefs: join some crusade or group whose values and goals match your own. For a tenth-house Mars, planning a career advance or thinking of some way to assert yourself in your work is a good way to relieve stress. With Mars in the eleventh house, join friends for some fun activity, or get into a group or organization, or (for the Introvert) identify a goal in life and reflect on how you might work toward it. A twelfth-house Mars delves into the unconscious, so working with dreams, or doing an active imagination, spontaneous drawing or painting—activities that call up contents of the unconscious—might be helpful.


The Value of Meditation


In our on-site workshop I lead participants through a meditation. A regular meditation practice is a very helpful activity for living in general. For those times when we fall in the hole, it can serve in good stead in helping us cope. But not everyone is a regular meditator, so I tell my students that it is useful to have some meditation tapes, or musical selections that can foster relaxation and de-stressing. There are a range of tapes available from sources like Sounds True that support meditation and relaxation. It also is important to understand that meditation does not have to mean sitting: Walking, bread-making, house cleaning—any activity that does not require attention (unlike driving) can become a way into mindfulness and focused concentration.


Questions for Reflection


Another part of our “Kitbag Workshop” is a series of questionnaires. Below are the three forms with all the questions I pose for each. As I noted above, just reading this essay will not prepare you for the times when you fall in the hole: You must reflect on and then take action in response to your answers to these questions.

Questionnaire #1: “Techniques for Coping with Hard Times”

Do you have a “resonator” in your life (i.e. a person with whom you have a strong feeling connection who “resonates” to your feelings and shares your “vibes” and leaves you feeling “heard” and understood?) If so, who is this?

If not, can you identify a person in your life who might play this role, if you asked him/her?

Are you aware of your inner Voice of Judgment? If so, how do you turn it off? (It is very helpful, in times of stress, to be able to do this)

What sorts of activities help you feel better when you are stressed out?

Which of the following items do you now have on hand to cope with difficult times? (circle those you have)


inspiring books/tapes/CDs/DVDs

box of tissues

aromatherapy candles/creams/sachets

Rescue Remedy cream/liquid


When you are going through hard times do you prefer to have people around or to have solitude?


Questionnaire #2: Ways I Comfort Myself

What are my comfort clothes—clothes that make me feel most comfortable, relaxed, “at home” in my body and life?

What are my comfort foods—foods that I can eat to feel nourished and cared for?

What things or activities help me to relax?

What are my hobbies?

When I am feeling agitated, what is the most effective way I release that energy?


Questionnaire #3: Identifying Local Resources

Who are the massage therapists in this area and where are they located?

Who are the energy workers in this area and where are they located?

Where are the spas in this area and what are their hours and fees?

Where are the gyms in this area and what are their hours and fees?

Where are the health food stores/natural food stores in this area and what are their hours?

Who are the Jungian analysts/therapists in this area?

What other resources might I find useful when I fall in the hole?

Who are these people, or where are these places?


I hand out the first two questionnaires in class. The third I have created for the north/central area of Vermont. If you are reading this essay in some other part of the United States, or another country, you will have to fill out Questionnaire #3 for your own part of the world.

Having fallen in the hole periodically on my spiritual journey, I can testify that it is a whole lot easier to get through these hard intervals having a “kitbag” in hand. I keep the items that help me—Epsom salts, Rescue Remedy cream and liquid, a variety of CDs and tapes, the phone numbers of key people—close at hand, so I am always ready, just in case. I know Jung was right in suggesting we make prior preparations for those times when we find ourselves in the “hole.” I wish you every success in doing so too.

[1] Collected Works 9ii, ¶125.

[2] Briggs and Myers created what has come to be known as the “Myers-Briggs Type Instrument,” or MBTI, which is widely used in corporations and other settings to create dynamic teams of complementary personality types. Gray and the Wheelwrights created the “Gray Wheelwright” test of type that has been used in the San Francisco Jung Institute. Singer and Loomis, both Perceptive types, disliked the “forced choice” nature of the MBTI and so created the SLIP—Singer-Loomis Inventory of Personality, which they made available to their fellow Jungian analysts. We have an MBTI expert on our faculty, Mark Hunziker, who is ready to assist anyone interested in knowing more about type. See our Web site, under Faculty, for his contact information.

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