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Supplemental Essay: Centroversion

This supplemental essay contains quotes and expanded explanations as background for the material in the main essay. You can skip this supplemental essay if you're not interested in the details.

In his book The Origins and History of Consciousness, Erich Neumann says that centroversion counters the dangers of extremes of extraversion and introversion: "It gives rise to a standpoint, indeed a rallying point, from which to combat the dangerous fascination of the world and the unconscious--a fascination that lowers the level of consciousness and disintegrates the personality. Both attitude types, introversion as well as extraversion, can easily succumb to this danger. Centroversion, by building up the conscious ego and by strengthening the personality, tries to protect them and to counteract the danger of disintegration."[1]


Carl Jung himself described centroversion or "the middle way" as follows: "If the unconscious can be recognized as a co-determining factor along with consciousness, and if we can live in such a way that conscious and unconscious demands are taken into account as far as possible, then the centre of gravity of the total personality shifts its position. It is then no longer in the ego, which is merely the center of consciousness, but in the hypothetical point between conscious and unconscious. This new center might be called the Self."[2]


In The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious, Carl Jung describes how centroversion can help achieve a cure for neurosis. A patient describes a dream to Jung; Jung says that the fantasy expressed by the dream allows for the conscious to recognize a part of what's going on in the unconscious: "Because he gave his mood a chance to express itself in an image, he succeeded in converting at least a small sum of libido, of unconscious creative energy in eidetic form, into a conscious content and thus withdrawing it from the sphere of the unconscious." Thus the patient's consciousness acknowledges and accepts to some extent the contents of the unconscious: "In this way he would have won a victory over his one-sided intellectualism and, indirectly, would have asserted the validity of the irrational standpoint of the unconscious."[3]

Jung says that when we are one-sided, we only have half the truth of the world available to us. The half buried in our unconscious is just as valid or real as the half that our conscious sees. The problem is that fear of the unknown and aversion to fantasy keeps that part from us.


Jung says that if the patient engages with his unconscious--either directly in his dreams or by encouraging fantasies--then the conscious is transformed. Jung calls this "the transcendent function," which is another way of referring to centroversion. Jung talks about how "the transcendent function" manifests itself in alchemy: "The secret of alchemy was in fact the transcendent function, the transformation of personality through the blending and fusion of the noble with the base components, of the differentiated with the inferior functions, of the conscious with the unconscious."[4]


Jung then talks about how this means achieving a point midway between ego and unconscious: "It may not be immediately apparent what is meant by a 'mid-point of the personality.' I will therefore try to outline this problem in a few words. If we picture the conscious mind, with the ego as its centre, as being opposed to the unconscious, and if we now add to our mental picture the process of assimilating the unconscious, we can think of this assimilation as a kind of approximation of conscious and unconscious, where the centre of the total personality no longer coincides with the ego, but with a point midway between the conscious and the unconscious. This would be the point of new equilibrium, a new centering of the total personality, a virtual centre which, on account of its focal position between conscious and unconscious, ensures for the personality a new and more solid foundation." Jung compares this to the "Middle Way" of the Tao between yin and yang.[5]

So how does one find that "middle way"? As I said in the main essay: Centroversion means building a bridge between conscious and unconscious and sharing mental energy (libido) between both sides together.


Jung says that there are ways to draw unconscious material up to the surface and make it conscious: Fantasy, symbol-making, revelation, creativity, etc. For example, Jung talks about how simple meditation (clearing one's mind) can bring up symbolic imagery as an aid in the creative process. This kind of meditative process can be peaceful and enjoyable. 


What does centroversion look like in the Extraversion-versus-Introversion dichotomy? It is going to be represented by activities that embrace both sides together: Activities that involve aspects of both extraversion and introversion simultaneously. These are typically creative or cultural activities.


For example, so-called "cultural canon" (popular books, movies, tv shows, etc.) represents society's idea of positive cultural influence, thus, an extraverted influence that you take in from the outside world. But at the same time, you as an individual are free to choose which books, movies, and shows you enjoy best based on your personal (introverted) preferences. So the experience of watching a good movie or reading a good book is a type of centroversion: You're indulging an introverted pleasure within a extraverted framework. In that process, your individual pleasures are sanctioned and supported by society, giving you a feeling of enjoying something larger than just yourself and your inner world.


The same thing occurs when you enjoy a party with close friends or are successful in a supportive working environment. You're in a social (extraverted) setting, but you are also being celebrated for your personal (introverted) skills and accomplishments.


Another example: Religious ceremonies can bring on a feeling of centroversion. To the extent that religious ceremonies and observances are social, religion generally occurs in an extraverted setting. But you are more than just an observer; you are also curator and groomer of your own eternal soul. Modern religions are a dialog between you as an individual charting your own course between temptation and redemption, on one side, and your deity as a social construct (basically serving as another version of "cultural canon") on the other. As such, there is a sense of being a self-determining individual (based on introverted impulse) but at the same time being part of something cultural or social (immersion in an extraverted setting).

And so on. You can imagine lots of situations where you are part of an immersive experience in an extraverted setting (a gang, a sports team, a military unit, your workplace, etc.) but also operating (and even celebrated) as an individual contributor within that collective environment.


Also, Jung described the creative experience as a centroverted experience. As above, you are drawing from the "cultural canon" (the world of art) for inspiration as a collective experience, but you are also expressing your introverted world and your own experience in your art. Basically you are occupying a middle ground between indulgence of an introverted impulse while also responding to the demands of society as an extraverted setting. The result is the creative act, which embraces both self-indulgence (introversion) and self-discipline (extraversion) in order to produce a polished work of art.


Elsewhere, however, Jung cautioned that delving into the unconscious and seeking out the repressed materials contained there has its dangers. Since the "middle way" is composed half of conscious material and half of unconscious material, it may not be recognized as a positive thing at first. People may seek out the unconscious component of the "middle way," encounter it in the form of the "daemonic," recoil from it, and try to repress it.


If you go out in the desert, wear a hair shirt, and torment yourself with deprivation for weeks and months, you may find yourself facing down a vision of your daemonic side. Jung says that this is the origin of those old stories of hermits debating and wrestling with demons in some barren wasteland. In fact, finding the "middle way" can be a rather bloody business: Religion and myth are full of stories of executions, sacrifices, cannibalism, and blood offerings as part of redemption ceremonies. You get your redemption, but it comes at a price. Sometimes the result is tragedy. Sometimes the old has to be swept out of the way to make room for the new.

Link: Return to Intuition (N)

~Posted January 12, 2024


[1] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness, trans. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XLII (Princeton University Press, 1954, First Princeton Classics edition, 2014), pp. 220-221.

[2] Anthony Storr, Solitude: A Return to the Self (Free Press, 1988), p. 194; excerpted from C.G. Jung, 'Commentary on "The Secret of the Golden Flower"', in Alchemical Studies: Collected Works, XIII (London, 1967), p. 46.

[3] C.G. Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 7), trans. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XX (Bollingen Foundation Inc., 1953), p. 216, pars. 349-350.

[4] Ibid., p. 220, par. 360

[5] Ibid., p. 221, par. 365

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