Dr Kaye Gersch PhD.  
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Couples therapist
Clinical Supervisor

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Freedom and Duty: how do you live between them?

Opposites: How are you shaped by the apparent contradictions of Freedom and Duty? How do you live between them?


Opposites are everywhere. The particular pair of opposites that I am taking up here is “Freedom and duty”. Freedom and duty is a topical question, which clients often bring to their analytic work with me. Does duty feel onerous to you? Do you chafe under the constraints brought by duty? And in what ways do you savour the delicious taste of freedom? How do these apparently opposing values weave through your character and your calling?  Does the notion of duty extend to duty to yourself, especially in the imperative to Individuate?


In this article I examine the notions of freedom and the obligations which family, society and Self "impose" upon us. I discuss how this works itself out in Individuation. This leads us into a brief discussion of complexes, as both constraints against, and movements towards freedom.  Complexes are instruments in the achieving of freedom- another demonstration of opposing values.


Duality and pairs of opposites.

Jungian psychology centres on an understanding of pairs of opposites, and the tension between these two opposites or opposing values.


Obvious examples are day and night, right and wrong, youth and age.

There is a contradiction and opposition in these pairs, yet at the same time they are a continuum. The partners in a couple can also be seen as a pair of opposites. When the tension or conflict is approached with insight and attention, both partners learn much .


The Yin/Yang symbol also informs us of opposing values, as the seed of each is contained in the other. This intimates that wholeness is in fact made up of contradictory opposing values. We can think of duty and freedom as opposites; duty is what we are compelled to do, and freedom is what we want to do - or imagine that we want.


Yet consider the story of the Baba Yaga, where opposing values are approached quite differently. The Baba Yaga is a fierce feminine figure appearing in Russian fairy tales. Robert Bly and Marion Woodman  take up this story in their book and DVD series, the Maiden Tzar. When we have failed to take up the tasks of incorporating the positive feminine into our nature, largely because of our education, we have an appointment arranged for us with the Baba Yoga. She is a fearsome figure, and the first question she asks of us (and of Ivan, in the story) is:


The Baba Yaga asks, “Do you come by free will, or by compulsion?”

Just a moment ago we defined duty and compulsion on one side of a pair of opposing values, and freedom and free will on the other. Yet, the Baba Yaga is asking us to choose. Or is she? In fact, the story tells us that it is fatal to choose: we will die if we choose, so we have to answer “both” to the Baba Yaga. By no longer prevaricating or battling with or against either freedom or compulsion, we can get down to work. 


This necessity of saying “both” is the most important aspect of the work I do with couples; the tension is created by validating each person equally. Whenever we are required to do this, we know we are in special territory, sacred territory; ordinary dualistic consciousness would take sides. An expanded view that says both enables us to grow, indeed enforces growth.


Who begins therapy or analysis, especially Jungian analysis, entirely by freewill? Or are we compelled to? I’d have to say that it was both, for me, and I wavered between the two poles. So, how do we move past dualistic consciousness in the particular pair of opposing values constituted by freedom and duty? How do we keep both? Freud had a theory, which adds some insight to this question of freedom and duty. His book, “Beyond the Pleasure principal”, published in 1919, moved beyond sexual gratification as the only desire, or call to action, of humankind. He introduced the idea of Thanatos, or the death drive, as an important motivator. In previous writing, Freud had argued that the id, the largest part of a human mind, compels the human being to seek pleasure at all costs and avoid any form of pain. This theory did not adequately explain the behaviour of many people, however. People do things that thwart the pleasure drive, for a delayed or more complex benefit.


Beyond the pleasure principal. Is our desire of wholeness greater than our desire for pleasure?

Specifically, Freud cites G.T. Fechner’s stability principle of psychic organization that "the psyche will tend towards unity even more strongly than it will tend toward pleasure".  We can therefore propose that our desire for wholeness is greater than our desire for pleasure or the immediate gratification of the senses that we seek in freedom. There is a tension between the gratification of the senses, and the pull towards unity or wholeness, representing opposing values. Unity with others, in a couple, a group or a family, means that we put aside some of our personal desires for pleasure. On the other hand,  this desire for unity and cohesion that would call us to the duty of serving the needs of others, could well impede our sense of freedom.  Nevertheless,  we might still choose the duty freely.


Autonomy and duty as archetypes.

"In a very Jungian way, we can see autonomy/freedom as one archetype, and duty/constraint as another archetype. That is, both freedom and duty are drives deep in the human psyche that are lived and developed (or not) according to the individual and the culture. Furthermore, both freedom and duty might be expressed concurrently, even though different archetypes might appear to be representing opposing values. Some individuals feel that they must refuse obligation and duty, in the service of autonomy. They are privileging one side of the polarity, or one archetype.  The journey towards autonomy does not necessarily go well, however. 


What is the purpose of Autonomy?


The purpose of autonomy is to ensure the development of the unique individual through the process of individuation, and in so doing respond to the calling of the Self. However, if the environment has impacted autonomy negatively, a defensive autonomy may develop which actually prohibits the full development of the individual and all of his or her capabilities, including the capacity for relationship, spirituality, and mastery. Defensive autonomy may also lead to more dangerous conditions such as anorexia, obesity, and substance abuse. (Gary Trosclair, C.G. Jung Institute of New York.)


What do duty and autonomy have to do with desire? “When I have to do something, I no longer want to do it”. My patients say this often enough for me to conclude that powerful archetypal dynamics are at work in the background. I observe a universal tendency to maintain ego-autonomy in response to demands from outside the ego. Yet simultaneously, complying with social norms and maintaining social cohesion pulls in the other direction and constitutes another pair of opposing values.


Freedom for freedom's sake?

But autonomy is only a means to the end of individuation. Psyche calls for more from us than freedom for freedom’s sake, and this results in inner conflicts. Jung states that an archetype is “an inherited mode of functioning”.  Therefore the universal tendency to strive to function independently of external influence, that is, to be autonomous, is certainly an archetype.


This archetype has its own inescapable intent: if the natural inclination to develop mature autonomy is frustrated by the individual or his or her environment, psychological problems will almost inevitably ensue. One such problem is the development of a defensive autonomy, one that rigidly places self-determination above all other inclinations, leading to a very limited repertoire of behavior, and little hope for individuation. No alchemist worth their salt would restrict themselves to the separatio. In using the term separatio I am alluding to Jung’s use of alchemical terms to describe psychological processes. A defensive autonomy, where separateness is the only factor that matters, stifles growth - and relatedness. Defensive autonomy lives only one side of the opposing values.


Lets discuss further the duty we have to ourselves to gain autonomy. Jung stressed the central role of autonomy in the individuation process. Any serious check to individuality, therefore, is an artificial stunting. "It is obvious that a social group consisting of stunted individuals cannot be a healthy and viable institution. Only a society that can preserve its internal cohesions and collective values, while at the same time granting the individual the greatest possible freedom, has any prospect of enduring vitality”, he advises.


Individuation does not shut one out from the world, but gathers the world to oneself.

Jung goes on, “As the individual is not just a single separate being, but, by his very existence, presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationship, not to isolation.”(1921, para.758) Elsewhere he writes, “Individuation does not shut one out from the world, but gathers the world to oneself” (1947/1954, para 432).


The solution to the apparent conundrum of autonomy and collective values is to be an individual in the collective, to maintain one’s autonomy while in relationship. Thus duty to self and others, and freedom to be one's self, are experienced as as complements rather than opposing values.


The Hero's Journey as archetype of individuation


Joseph Campbell, author of the Hero of a Thousand Faces, (1949,77) approaches autonomy and moves towards freedom from the point of view of the hero, who needs to remain free from the collective.  Yet the hero is submissive to a greater calling.


Campbell describes one step of the hero’s journey as the crossing of the first threshold into the desert, forest or other uninhabited place, respectfully challenging the boundaries of the known world, and breaking with conformity. As Campbell points out, when the Knights of the Round Table rode off in search of the Holy Grail, each knight was required to make his own path. This implies the importance of self-direction in the path of individuation. The individuating hero needs to remain autonomous in regard to the collective, but at the same time open to the dictates of the Self, the sum total of our potential being. Thus the hero’s journey requires subtle differentiation within the archetype of autonomy. And initially his duty is towards himself.  A movie was made about the archetypal nature of the hero's journey, in Finding Joe, the documentary..


Why do we need to do what we don't want to do?

Jung wrote, "Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health. (Jung [1916]/1957 para. 143)".

Let us now examine how resistance to the duty of work can hinder our individuation process. Resistance vividly demonstrates how something that is intrinsically desirable becomes anathema largely because of its association with obligation and duty. As James Hillman (1983 p. 169) has written: “We don’t want to work. It’s like not wanting to eat or to make love. It’s an instinctual laming. And this is psychology’s fault: it doesn’t attend to the work instinct.”  


He goes on to stress the intrinsic pleasure to be had from work, and the damage that the work ethic has caused it:

Many patients have said in one way or another, “If I have to work, it couldn’t possibly be desirable or playful, and my autonomy would be compromised. Therefore I will either refuse to do it, or I will resent doing it.” What would the Baba Yaga say to that!?


Defensive autonomy.


Defensive autonomy is natural and effective for a young child in adverse circumstances. However, when an adult uses autonomy defensively, it becomes very limiting. Jungian analyst Donald Kalsched describes self-care systems in The Inner World of Trauma (1996, p. 3). Some individuals feel that they can best protect their integrity (in Kalsched’s terms, the personal spirit) by refusing to do what is required of them, that is, refusing to do “their duty”.


How much autonomy a person believes they have significantly determines their attitude toward work and ultimately the analytic process. An autonomy complex (that is, autonomy as the only guiding principal) makes it more likely that people will imagine that they must resist growth. They have lost the sense of pleasure they might naturally have through achievement. Thus they refuse or resist the demands of psychological growth.  If they have difficulty experiencing a healthy, satisfying sense of achievement, they will be less likely to take on the challenges of the opus.


How can autonomy be defensive, rather than leading to individuation?

Finding the teleology, (the aim that the psyche is taking), embedded in the resistance can break the cycle of defensive autonomy, and and soften this pair of opposing values. Jung (1911-12/1954) proposed a way of understanding resistance, which neither avoided or reduced it. By following its original purpose and applying that to the overall individuation of the individual, we can work with the energy rather than against it. Consider the possibility of a teleological thrust; the individual is attempting to bring a unique personality into being, and so far believes that they can only do so by going on strike, protesting what they feel to be restrictions on his or her individuation process.


Some people resist the demands of the collective by refusing to join in, refusing to “toe the line.”  They might not pay taxes, get a regular job, get married, have children, or bother with paperwork, even if these might be rewarding. Anyone who wants something from them becomes suspect. Some patients may feel that their particular lot in life is unfair due to circumstances. Their freedom feels compromised by their social or financial standing, so they feel justified in their evasion. Life becomes a heroic avoidance. But, while their “beef” may be justifiable, their reaction is self-destructive. Both poles of the opposing values must be lived.


Revolt against overwhelming power.


Marie-Louise von Franz (1970, p. 26-27) wrote that there was something genuine and justifiable in a revolt against the overwhelming power of the state, and that this sort of revolt draws its energy from a nearly universal complex striving for freedom. She goes on to say, though, that some people who resist mature identity and responsibility, over-react to the obligations of society. The cure for them, she claims, is to join the collective and work, forgo the fantasy of being so special, and accept the seemingly low kind of adaptations to which most people submit. (1970, p.40)


The solution of the problem of resistance to duty, according to Freud, is to accept the suffering that comes with limitations. His conclusion is that, “to be able to work with joy and satisfaction means accepting the position that one must give up freedoms.” (in Czander 1993, p. 15) (Freud, 1930/1961)


Is absolute free will actually possible?

Continuing his exploration of the notion of freedom, Jung wrote: “The question will certainly be asked whether for some people their own free will may not be the ruling principle, so that every attitude is intentionally chosen by themselves. I do not believe that anyone reaches or has ever reached this godlike state, but I know that there are many who strive after this ideal because they are possessed by the heroic idea of absolute freedom. In one way or another all men are dependent; all are in some way limited since none are gods” (1926, para. 636).


Ideally we fight for the freedom to be who we are called to be, to be free to answer to a higher authority, not just to be who our ego wants us to be. If we are to grow toward wholeness, we need to see beyond what we would like our tasks to be, to that which our personal individuation requires of us. In a word to embrace the contradictions of opposing values of what we would like to do and what is required of us.


Vocation and individuation

Jung (1934, CW 17 par 299-300) saw this issue as a psychological fact, a psychic law that describes how the human psyche works: “What is it, in the end, that induces a man to go his own way and to rise out of unconscious identity with the mass as out of a swathing mist?…It is commonly called vocation: an irrational factor that destines a man to emancipate himself from the herd and from its well-worn paths. True personality is always a vocation and puts its trust in it as in God, despite it being, as the ordinary man would say, only a personal feeling. But vocation acts like a law of God."


But what if one’s conscious autonomy—the autonomy of the ego—comes into conflict with direction from the Self? What its the oppositional values come from within one's self? Joseph Campbell calls this the Refusal of the Call, the would-be-hero’s resistance to his required tasks. (1949, p. 60) Individuals who develop defensive autonomy rather than healthy autonomy are psychologically disposed to refuse the call, for they experience the call from the Self as a threat to their existence. They may be unable to distinguish between the demands of the Self and demands of the collective.


Duty and neurosis.

Jung has quite a bit to say about neurosis and duty. He said (CW 4: 419) that in order to be “well” we must be aware of, and fulfil duties to, ourselves. Not egocentric ones, but those duties that incorporate us into relationships and the social fabric. When we are neurotic, our “libido turns away from the tasks imposed upon by reality.” Here the ego resists anything difficult especially outer practical difficulties, and the energy is used in wishful thinking and fantasy. Fantasy could take the form of daydreams, sexual fantasies, disappearing into novels, movies or games, and, of course, the taking of drugs. So the duty to one’s-self gets sidetracked.


Jung says it is a mistake for the therapist to follow these fantasies, but rather to insist that the practicalities of life be engaged with. Marie Louise von Franz had a young patient, a girl in late adolescence, who had a lot of trouble with her father; she had a “father complex”. Von Franz refused to engage with her on this issue, but instead insisted that the girl get a job. Which she did, and cured herself.


Jung saw youth and old age as duties.

What social worker hasn't despaired that what their clients need is a meaningful job and a good portion of their problems would disappear! Freud too said that the aim of a successful therapy was that the patient could love and work. We are not talking about work as a moral value, but rather as a need for the libido, for life-energy to function in the world on one’s own behalf.


Jung even cautioned that if a patient were more interested in his dreams than in his day job, it would be wise to cease dream-work for a time. Jung did not want to nourish the neurosis, which would be a kind of sleep. The discovery of one’s own life tasks is the cure. (para 425)  Having one’s libidinal energy disappear or dissipate is not freedom but a kind of bondage. Likewise, we have a duty to our own development, not as a moral value, but as the purpose of life. Jung considers that youth and age are biological duties that we should embrace. (ibid para 664).


Jung says, for instance that an old person who fantasizes about remaining young and maintaining the same values he or she had as a young person, is not taking up the biological duty appropriate to one’s age, both for one’s self and for the community. Likewise, Jung says that if a person in the first half of life is excessively focussed on developing wisdom, they should be redirected to living life in the body and engaging in the outer world, lest they be “evading the duty of youth.


Jung defined “biological duty” as partly cultural/environmental, and partly determined by personality and individual inclination. He also  gives an example of unhappily married women who see the cause of their unhappiness in their husbands and who attribute the restrictions of their lives to being married. Jung proposed that the real cause of their neurosis was that they have not realized the cultural task awaiting them; they have not yet found an adequate form for their finest aspirations. (668) They are thus, according to Jung, failing their biological duty.


Are love and duty opposites?

In commenting on the so-called conflict between love and duty, Jung says these are not opposing values, but  require understanding of the nature of libido and credo, belief and life energy.

Belief often constellates around credo, and what we think we must do, and libido is more often what we want to do, our desire. He placed the conflict “between ideal conviction and concrete possibility.” He likened cultivating ideals  to idle dreams. According to Jung, even people who are immensely talented, and have a duty to develop this talent - a biological duty - also have to take up whatever employment they can find in order to support themselves - another kind of duty.


Be pragmatic before looking for an inner answer!

Along these lines, Jung cautioned against looking for an inner answer, when pragmatics and external solutions are ready at hand. In this way, looking inward can be an evading of the outer duty! The reverse applies of course!


Further on the idea of conflicts of duty, Jung (CW 9ii 48 and 79) discusses the idea of a higher authority, whether this is the courts of the land, Nature or “God”, as settling questions of conflict of duty without loss of face for the participants. Whether they agree or not, their duty is no longer a conflict for them because “it has been decided”. They did not have to participate in that decision, and therefore do not have to suffer the moral consequences for not behaving in the way that their better selves knew they should. For example, in divorce, custody and property settlement cases, the higher authority decides what is one’s duty. Where there are insolvable conflicts of duty, the ego must bow out: “This means, in other words, the ego is a suffering bystander who decides nothing but must submit to a decision and surrender unconditionally.”


Duty and Individuation.

In CW 7 (113) Jung says that our primary duty is to Life: that we take our part in it wholeheartedly, before imagining that we should take up psychological work and analysis. “We should take our place so as to be in every respect a viable member of the community. All that we neglect in this respect falls into the unconscious and reinforces its position, and we pay a high price for it".

In CW 7 (267) Jung brings the notion of duty into the achievement of individuation in this way. Fulfilling the peculiarities of our nature is our “duty”, that is, individuation.  A better social performance is achieved when individual peculiarities are adequately considered.  Social performance is likely to be inadequate or stilted when the peculiarity is neglected or supressed. This kind of social performance is not to be mistaken for the self-alienation of adhering to a social ideal. Quite the opposite.


What is the difference between ethical and moral choice?

Jung goes into a long analysis of the difference between moral and ethical choice. (CW 10, 677-856) For him, fulfilling one’s duty to the collective and to our neighbour requires a moral choice that is more or less already prescribed by the mores of the culture.   A moral choice does not involve a lot of conflict, because it  is essentially an act of obedience to what is already known. There is no opposing value.


Ethical choice, for Jung, involves an acute awareness of one’s own individual capacity to fully understand the situation at hand in a greater and greater depth. This includes the unconscious and the shadow, and then we can exercise the freedom to come up with an individual decision. Sometimes the decision one comes up with might agree with the moral code, but sometimes it is totally contrary to the collective morality. The conflict is essentially between one’s conscience and the moral code. “If a person is endowed with an ethical sense and is convinced of the sanctity of ethical values, he is on the surest road to a conflict of duty.” (CW 18, 1417) So ethical choice often, if not always, requires weighing up of opposing values.


For Jung, conscience does not mean matching one’s thought or behaviour against the moral code and seeing how we shape up. Rather, every time we face a conflict we engage an ethical sense which is an interior process of self-knowledge and self-inquiry. This is Individuation.


Copyright © Kaye Gersch 2018

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