In 2012, Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of child sexual abuse. On July 17 of this year Oprah Winfrey broadcast an interview with Matthew Sandusky, Jerry’s abused son.
Oprah’s manner was impeccable, and Matthew’s was heartbreaking. For me the broadcast resonated with a bit of history I’ve been researching about Carl Jung. Yes, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung was a perpetrator—not in a child sexual abuse story but in the sexual abuse of a patient.
It began in 1904. Jung was second in command at Europe’s most prestigious mental institution, the Burghölzli in Zurich. That August, 19-year-old Sabina Spielrein was brought to his emergency room by medical police. She would eventually become his victim, though at the outset he did her a world of good.
Perhaps this is why, when she arrived in Zurich with her parents to enroll in medical school, Sabina was overwhelmed by urges she didn’t understand. In a tantrum she destroyed her hotel room—and that’s how she ended up in Jung’s ER, no longer able to speak, and quietly, steadily masturbating.
Using Sigmund Freud’s new psychoanalytic techniques, Jung returned Sabina to health. As soon as she was discharged from the hospital she enrolled in medical school and continued psychoanalysis as Jung’s outpatient. One day she told him that she’d dreamed she and he were twins separated at birth and that, by mating, they would produce a messiah. Quite competently she also explained that the dream was a symbol of her desire to become a psychiatrist and, with him, make the world a better place.
Oh, no, he told her. Sometimes dreams are real.
And so it was that Carl Jung seduced Sabina Spielrein—except that he couldn’t consummate the relationship. It probably wasn’t that he had scruples. He had a wife he didn’t want to lose, one of the wealthiest women in Switzerland, and he had no fortune of his own. Jung knew that he would need to use condoms with Sabina, and that doing that would destroy her illusion that what he was doing with her was savior-making.
Eventually, though, they did consummate. Enraptured, Sabina wrote her mother—who quickly wrote Jung a note something along the lines of “I will have your neck.”
And so Carl Jung slipped into Sabina Speilrein’s medical school mailbox a message that said that he couldn’t be her doctor anymore. It was the early 20thcentury equivalent of breaking up by text.