Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this 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.
Jung on One-Sidedness
I have nothing against one-sidedness as such….Without one-sidedness the spirit of man could not unfold in all its diversity. But I do not think there is any harm in trying to understand both sides.
“One-sidedness is an unavoidable and necessary characteristic of the directed process, for direction implies one-sidedness. It is an advantage and a drawback at the same time. Even when not outwardly visible drawback seems to be present, there is always an equally pronounced counter-position in the unconscious… The counter-position in the unconscious is not dangerous so long as it does not possess any high energy-value. But if the tension increases as a result of too great one-sidedness, the counter-tendency breaks through into consciousness, usually just at the moment when it is most important to maintain the conscious direction….”
“The more compulsive the one-sidedness, and the more untamed the libido which streams off to one side, the more daemonic it becomes….”
“Western civilization is scarcely a thousand years old and must first of all free itself from its barbarous one-sidedness. This means, above all, deeper insight into the nature of man.
the life of the “ultra-civilized man” is characterized by “one-sidedness and unnaturalness…”
One concept that runs all through Jung’s work is his idea of “one-sidedness.” He wrote of this referring to both individuals and our collective situation, to ideologies and approaches in science, education and religion, and he offered suggestions for how we might deal with it. As the quotes above suggest, Jung was not of one mind about one-sidedness: In certain passages in his Collected Works Jung was quite blunt about the dangers in one-sidedness, while in other places he saw it as something inevitable. In this essay we will explore the concept, beginning with how Jung defined it and some examples he gave of it. Then we’ll consider some of the causes of one-sidedness, how we might remedy it and why it is important for us to be mindful of it.
Definition of One-Sidedness
Jung’s definition of one-sidedness rests on his image of the structure of the psyche. Drawing on Heraclitus’ idea of the enantiodromia, Jung envisioned the psyche as existing in an equilibrium between two poles. “Psychic processes … behave like a scale along which consciousness ‘slides.’ At one moment it finds itself in the vicinity of instinct,…; at another, it slides along to the other end where spirit predominates…” and
“… everything rests on an inner polarity,… a pre-existing polarity, without which there could be no energy…”. By “energy” Jung means “libido,” including all forms of psychic energy, rather than just the sexual energy of Freud. As we go through life, Jung felt, this energy ideally is moving between the poles in a fluid, dynamic way. I say “ideally,” because many situations in life, as well as our personal preferences, innate qualities of temperament and our life history will influence the energetic flow, often causing it to get unbalanced or one-sided.
Jung used a variety of terms for one-sidedness, calling it a “defect,” a “lack of moderation—bad measure in general,” the result of repression, a “mark of barbarism.” But Jung also recognized that one-sidedness is “an unavoidable and necessary characteristic… an advantage and a drawback at the same time,” and an “inevitable” feature of our conscious life, because consciousness “… is continually being corrected and compensated by the universal human being in us, whose goal is the ultimate integration of conscious and unconscious, or better, the assimilation of the ego to a wider personality.”
So one-sidedness is something we all manifest as we go through life. It takes on negative coloration when it is carried too far, “… so far that the complementary opposite is lost sight of, and the blackness of the white, the evil of the good, the depth of the heights, and so on, is no longer seen, …”. When we cling to persona stuff, or focus exclusively on sweetness and light, repressing all forms of shadow, we create a condition in which the inner dynamic flow gets stuck, and the equilibrium of libido is lost. In extreme cases, the result is a compulsion, which causes the libido to become “untamed” as it “streams off to one side,” becoming more daemonic the more the situation remains unbalanced.
Examples of One-Sidedness
Clinging to our persona—our socially acceptable “mask,” denying or repressing our “blackness” or “evil”—is just one example of how we live in one-sided ways. Other examples on the personal level arise from:
- our innate attitude preference: Extraverts tend to emphasize outer reality and the objects in it, while Introverts prefer solitude and inner impressions. If either preference gets exaggerated, there can be “harmful consequences” due to the suppression of the opposite attitude.
- the over-development of one of the functions: Thinking types tend to ignore Feeling, Sensates, Intuition, and vice versa. “Each of these types represents a different kind of one-sidedness,…” Jung tells us, and each can be carried to an unhealthy extreme. Thinkers need to work on developing their Feeling side, Sensates, their Intuition, while Intuitives need to get grounded, and Feelers need to develop their Thinking function.
- an “extremely one-sided development of a single instinct,…” By “instinct” Jung means things like an avidity for knowledge (science), for creativity (art), for making money (materialism). Each of these, if over-done, can cause a one-sidedness.
- a poor early history, causing one-sided development that “… left important items of character and personality behind,…” the result often being a “dominating one-sidedness that leads to disaster….” in the form of a neurosis. Jung notes that “One-sidedness and restriction of horizon are well-known neurotic peculiarities.”
- a rigid attachment to a theory, e.g. Freud’s and Adler’s versions of psychology, too one-sided in their focus on sexuality and power, respectively.
Other forms of one-sidedness are collective, rooted in our culture, e.g.
- our cultural (i.e. Christian) view of evil, as something unreal, a privatio boni—simply the absence of good. Jung recognized that, not only was this view wrong, it led to a pernicious and destructive one-sidedness that fosters projection of the shadow.
- our educational system which “suffers from a one-sided approach to the child who is to be educated, and from an equally one-sided lack of emphasis on the uneducatedness of the educator…” Jung recognized that our schools fail to teach to the whole child (ignoring his/her psyche and its growth), as well as failing to require psychological development of teachers.
- our society’s emphasis on reason, rationality, objectivity, and the development of directed will, as our approved way of determining truth and creating knowledge. In this over-emphasis on logic and left-brained approaches, Jung felt we have become “barbarian” in our one-sidedness.
All these different forms of one-sidedness have different causes. Let’s examine some of them.
Causes for One-Sidedness
On the Personal Level. In individual lives, one-sidedness can be caused by several factors. As noted above, a person may grow up in an unfortunate situation, with poor or absent parenting, deprivation, a family matrix that requires the child to forfeit the chance for a carefree early life, or a family dynamic that led to scapegoating or forms of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. In such circumstances Jung felt certain the result would be a neurosis, with a concomitant one-sidedness: “The neurosis is as a rule a pathological, one-sided development of the personality, the imperceptible beginnings of which can be traced back almost indefinitely into the earliest years of childhood….” “His [the patient’s] development was one-sided; it left important items of character and personality behind, and thus it ended in failure….”, i.e. in a neurosis, which the person had to deal with later in life.
When a child has to grow up too fast, the taking on of adult responsibilities too early in life can foster an over-development of the senex side of the personality. The senex and the puer are two of the many polarities in the psyche—our inner “old person” (senex) and our inner child (puer)—and ideally they should operate in a fluid balance, the senex functioning when we need to balance the checkbook, show up at work, tend to our responsibilities as parent, voter, and mature citizen, our inner child coming out when we recreate, play, kick back and have fun. An arduous or destructive childhood can result in the diminishment of the puer and exaggeration of the senex pole.
The opposite is also possible:The puer can become dominant, often in situations where a mother holds on to her son too much, reluctant to let him grow up, or, as the “smother mother,” too concerned about his well-being. The result is the 35-year-old playboy, Don Juan “committophobe,” living a reckless, spendthrift life, unable to access the senex pole of the continuum.
Sometimes, in an effort to escape the residue of an unfortunate early life, a person tries to leave his/her past totally behind by cutting him/herself from his/her roots. Jung felt this can be dangerous, leading to catastrophic one-sidedness because we must live with our past just as much as we must live with our present and future. Rather than cutting off our roots, we need to come to terms with them and learn the life lessons our soul intended us to learn from our early life circumstances. There are no coincidences, and so the particulars of our birth—our parents, our heritage, our nationality, our family’s economic, ethnic, racial and religious identities—all are “grist for the mill” of our soul development. The solution to feeling mired in a negative past is not to cut it off but to work through it to find the “gold” it holds for our psychological transformation.
Another personal cause for one-sidedness can arise in mid-life, that time generally between the ages of 36 and 42 when we experience a “crisis.” Through his work with many people at this vulnerable stage in life, Jung came to understand how
The transition from morning to afternoon means a revaluation of the earlier values. There comes the urgent need to appreciate the value of the opposite of our former ideals, to perceive the error in our former convictions, to recognize the untruth in our former truth,… Not a few of those who are drawn into the conflict of opposites jettison everything that had previously seemed to them good and worth striving for; they try to live in complete opposition to their former ego. Changes of profession, divorces, religious convulsions, apostasies of every description, are the symptoms of this swing over to the opposite. The snag about a radical conversion into one’s opposite is that one’s former life suffers repression and thus produces just as unbalanced a state as existed before,…
Jung regarded the first c. third of life (up to c. age 35) as the “morning” of life, and the next third as the “afternoon,” when life properly should reflect a certain reorientation. But this should not be a wholesale jettisoning of everything! As Jung says, doing so just causes another one-sidedness.
On the Collective Level. In addition to personal causes for one-sidedness our living in society causes a variety of forms of one-sidedness. Jung was clear that civilization itself—the “civilized life” with all its strictures, expectations, demands and pressures—makes one-sidedness inevitable. For example, in our concern to be socially presentable and esteemed we suppress our shadow side and develop a persona that often is one-sidedness in its denial or rejection of the “blackness” and “evil” that lives within. We also tend to repress our contrasexual side—the anima or animus—thanks to our acculturation as men or women, respectively, and this unconscious activity leads to one-sidedness. Likewise, we put stress on being in control, having an effective ego and getting ahead in our sophisticated world. Such concern denies the “animal nature” that lives within us. We go through life ignoring the body, focused on the head, on reason, logic and the mind—all of this fostering one-sidedness.
Jung was adamant that
“…We should never identify ourselves with reason, for man is not and never will be a creature of reason alone, a fact to be noted by all pedantic culture-mongers. The irrational cannot and must not be extirpated….” but we often try to do just that in our over-emphasis on rationality.
Jung also decried the one-sidedness that arises from the “ill-supported prohibitions of present-day morality, which would curb too much the creative spirit rising up from the depths of the animal darkness….” When life is circumscribed with too many “Thou shalt nots” we tend to lose contact with our revivifying inner energies and commit “transgressions against [our] instincts.”
Then there is the one-sidedness that comes from our society’s expectations of us as adults to be socially useful, gainfully employed, and focused on getting ahead. This leads to “a one-sided will” and “directed processes” that are always one-sided (since “direction implies one-sidedness.”) Jung recognizes the merits in taking up adult responsibilities: We have to work, and want to be successful, in societal terms, but Jung warns that “Even when no outwardly visible drawback seems to be present, there is always an equally pronounced counter-position in the unconscious…” that can become dangerous if it becomes too extreme, i.e. if we live too much in our logical mind, or put too much stress on “directed functioning.”
Another cause of one-sidedness is elevating anything “into a principle or virtue, whether from inclination or because of its usefulness….” The one-sidedness here fosters a “compulsion… which excludes all other possibilities…” It is good to have ideals and principles, but they must not be so consuming that other values get squeezed out of our lives.
Finally there is the one-sidedness causes by “specialism.” Given the high level of technological and scientific sophistication in contemporary Western culture, we are expected to specialize in something. All our career paths come with choices that limit how we live, work and think. In our specializations we risk becoming “helpless victims to worldliness…” cut off from “that unconscious wholeness which primitive man enjoys….” in a society that forces
a new one-sidedness, the overvaluation of ‘scientifically’ attested views. These each and all relate to knowledge of the external object and in a chronically one-sided way, so that nowadays the backwardness of psychic development in general and of self-knowledge in particular has become one of the most pressing contemporary problems. As a result of the prevailing one-sidedness, and in spite of the terrifying optical demonstration of an unconscious that has become alienated from the conscious, there are still vast numbers of people who are the blind and helpless victims of these conflicts, and who apply their scientific scrupulosity only to external objects, never to their own psychic condition. Yet the psychic facts are as much in need of objective scrutiny and acknowledgement….
as are the “external objects” in our material reality.
What to do? How might we remedy our one-sidedness? Jung offers some suggestions.
First, recognize it. Our society (especially American society, with its strong ESTJ preferences) exerts considerable pressure on us to be logical, linear in our thinking, focused on outer reality, and unaware of the opposites—feeling, intuition, the inner life. This recognition is an essential first step.
The second remedy follows from the first: “… acknowledge the paradoxicality and polarity of all life.” Jung felt that in a “high culture” (like the old Chinese society before the Communist revolution) “the opposites always balanced one another,” (e.g. in the famous yin/yang concept) while one-sidedness “is a mark of barbarism.” Jung was blunt that our current Western culture is barbaric.
Recognizing paradox and the polarity of all life implies a third remedy: holding
the tension of opposites, i.e. allow feeling its place, give attention to intuitive guidance, dialog with inner characters so as to become more familiar with “the ‘other” in us [that] is indeed ‘another,’ a real man, who actually thinks, does, feels, and desires all the things that are despicable and odious…” The ego shrinks from the prospect of assimilating the shadow, preferring to think well of itself, but Jung reminds us that we gain “no insight … by repressing and controlling the unconscious,…”
In this task of facing the shadow, we have an ally in our inner child. It can “compensate or correct… the extravagances of the conscious mind….” and help us lighten up and laugh at our foibles and frailities. Much as our mature senex side wants to live in the head, in reason and order, our inner puer can help to balance life and keep us connected to “the laws and roots of [our] being.”
Our inner child can also help us rediscover our bodies. Jung felt Western culture has been unbalanced not only in its emphasis on reason and thinking, but also on the emphasis of the spirit at the expense of the body. But Jung saw a positive change happening in the 20th century:
… the flesh is getting its own back… the spirit is the life of the body seen from within, and the body the outward manifestation of the life of the spirit—the two being really one—then we can understand why the striving to transcend the present level of consciousness through acceptance of the unconscious must give the body its due, and why recognition of the body cannot tolerate a philosophy that denies it in the name of the spirit….
Jung would be pleased to see the “emptying of the pews” of organized religions that privilege the spirit over the flesh. Overcoming this form of one-sidedness will likely help to protect the physical environment too.
Why It is Important for Us to Be Aware of One-Sidedness
Environmental protection and the prospect of better health are only two of many reasons why it is important for us to be aware of the phenomenon of one-sidedness. If we could strike a better balance between ego and shadow, we would likely have better chances for world peace, and more harmonious interpersonal relationships. If we could give as much value to feelings and intuition as we do to rationality and material reality, we would likely have a much more accurate knowledge base for our culture—not the “scientism” we have now, which is so misguided in its materialism, rationalism, objectivism, reductionism and mechanistic emphasis. If we could hold a balance between persona and our animal instincts, we likely would be able to achieve authenticity more easily and fully. If we were to develop a close relationship with our inner partner, balancing the energies of animus and anima, we would have better marriages and partnerships. And if we were to put equal value on the puer as we do on the senex, we would likely see much more creativity in both our personal lives and collective society.
Most of all, Jung would urge us to this task of getting wise to one-sidedness so as to make our long-term survival as a race more likely. We need to overcome the “barbarism” that marks contemporary culture (now no longer just Western, as globalization has spread Western values and perspectives all over the planet). Jung reminds us that our barbaric one-sidedness could sweep us “uncritically to catastrophe…. Viable progress only comes from the co-operation of both [conscious and unconscious].”
Dias, Elizabeth (2014), “Let There Be Night,” Time (April 28, 2014), 37-41.
Harman, Willis (1988), Global Mind Change. Indianapolis: Knowledge Systems.
Hillman, James ed. (1979), Puer Papers. Dallas TX: Spring Publications.
Jung, C.G. (1961), “Freud and Psychoanalysis,” Collected Works, 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press
________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Keirsey, David & Marilyn Bates (1984), Please Understand Me. Del Mar CA: Prometheus Nemesis Books.
Lammers, Ann C. & Adrian Cunningham eds. (2007), The Jung-White Letters. New York: Routledge.
Mehrtens, Susan ed. (1996), Revisioning Science: Essays Toward a New Knowledge Base for Our Culture. Waterbury VT: Potlatch Press.
Sharp, Daryl (1980), The Secret Raven. Toronto: Inner City Books.
Tart, Charles (2009), The End of Materialism. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications.
von Franz, Marie-Louise (2000), The Problem of the Puer Aeternus. Toronto: Inner City Books
 Collected Works 11, ¶786. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.
 CW 8, ¶138.
 CW 6, ¶347.
 CW 11, ¶876.
 CW 13, ¶327.
 E.g. Freud’s and Adler’s ideas; CW 7, ¶56, and CW 17, ¶156.
 CW 8, ¶731, and CW 4, ¶241.
 CW 17, ¶284, and CW 10, ¶326.
 CW 6, ¶346, and CW 9i, ¶567.
CW 6, ¶347, and CW 7, ¶115.
CW 8, ¶s 138 & 557.
 Literally, in Greek, “a running to the opposite.” For more on this concept, see the three-part essay “Jung on the Enantiodromia,” archived on this blog site.
 Ibid., ¶408.
 CW 7, ¶115.
 CW 4, ¶282.
 CW 7, ¶483.
 CW 6, ¶118.
 CW 18, ¶1418.
 CW 13, ¶7.
 CW 8, ¶138.
 Ibid., ¶557.
 CW 14, ¶470.
 CW 6, ¶347.
 Ibid., ¶902.
 CW 8, ¶731.
 CW 16, ¶59.
 CW 18, ¶5.
 CW 17, ¶156, and CW 4, ¶241.
 Privatio boni is the Latin phrase in Augustine and other church fathers representing the Christian idea of evil as simply the absence of good. Jung recognized the reality of evil and how it formed a polarity with goodness. Jung had a lengthy correspondence with the Roman Catholic priest Victor White on this issue; cf. Jung, Letters I, 381-387, 412-414, 419-420, 448-450, 452-453, 457-458, 479-482, 490-493, 501-503, 506-507, 514, 516-517, 539-541, 555, 566-568; II, 24-25, 50-53, 58-61, 71-74, 79, 133-138, 163-174, 212-214, 238-243, 251, 518, 544-546, 554-555; and Lammers & Cunningham (2007).
 CW 9ii, ¶s 97-98.
 CW 17, ¶284.
 CW 8, ¶159.
 CW 11, ¶876.
 CW 16, ¶257.
 Ibid., ¶59.
 For more on this pair of archetypes, see Hillman (1979), von Franz (2000) and Sharp (1980), and the essays “Senex Play and Puer Play” and “Senex, Puer and Jung’s System of Typology,” archived on this blog site.
 von Franz (2000), 9-10.
 Sharp offers a vivid picture of this situation in his psychological biography of Franz Kafka; Sharp (1980), 82-83.
 CW 9i, ¶277.
 This is the theme of the alchemist’s work; CW 13, ¶203.
 CW 7, ¶115.
 Jung wrote about the stages of life in CW 8, ¶s 749-795.
 CW 7, ¶483 and CW 8, ¶159.
 CW 13, ¶455.
 CW 7, ¶40.
 CW 10, ¶195.
CW 7, ¶111.
 Ibid., ¶438.
 CW 9i, ¶276.
 CW 8, ¶159.
 CW 8, ¶138.
 CW 8, ¶258.
 CW 10, ¶657.
 CW 8, ¶426.
 Seventy-five percent of Americans type as Extraverts, and 50% prefer Sensation (S), Thinking (T) and Judging (J); Keirsey & Bates (1984), 25.
 CW 13, ¶7.
 CW 7, ¶43.
 CW 11, ¶876.
 CW 9i, ¶276.
 CW 10, ¶195. Jung would not approve how we Americans drive and force our bodies in all sorts of extreme exercises.
 Dias (2014), 40.
 CW 10, ¶195.
 For a detailed examination of the knowledge base of our culture, see Harman (1988) and Mehrtens (1996).
 Scientism is the degenerate form of science that is the current paradigm under which most scientific research is conducted; Tart (2009), 24-25.
 CW 9i, ¶277.