BIPOLAR DISORDER: A Jungian Perspective

Jan 19, 2023

A naked man is dancing while being struck by lightning, illustrating the mania and suffering associated with bipolar disorder.
Photo Credit: Joseph Lee 2023

Imprisoned by the sea with his son Icarus, mythological craftsman Daedalus constructed wings to escape. Beeswax held feathers in place, so Daedalus told Icarus not to fly too high or too low: the sun’s heat would melt the wax and sea spray would weigh the wings down. Elated, Icarus flew too high–and fell. Like Icarus, the moods of people with bipolar disorder swing from soaring into mania to sinking into depression.

This disorder affects at least 2% of the population worldwide, with genetics by far the major contributor. BP is a major cause of disability and can also be a factor in creativity; it often brings with it anxiety, substance abuse, migraines, and more. Treatment includes medication, attention to lifestyle, and psychotherapy that includes relating to archetypal polarities.

Jung says, “It is not a matter of indifference whether one calls something a ‘mania’ or a ‘god.’ To serve a mania is detestable and undignified, but to serve a god is full of meaning and promise.”  Bipolar individuals soar between opposing archetypes leaving them exhausted and confused. Myths help ground the ego in a larger perspective.

Here’s the dream we analyze:

“I am in a restaurant busy with people standing and moving around. I too am standing and have been given a seafood dish in an opaque glass (at first like a fancy stemmed glass for cocktail shrimp) and I slurp some of it down. Looking into the vessel I realize I’ve been eating raw seahorses. I continue to eat, one and then another, not wanting to be rude. They are slimy, room-temp, and gray. I look again into the vessel, which now is narrow at the top and wide at the bottom as if the seahorses, barely submerged in a grey liquid, are in a dark pit that I have to peer into, and I do realize that some of them are still moving, puckering their lips trying to breathe. I decide I cannot keep eating them. I go to where murky puddles have formed in the cement by the melting ice and crab parts of the kitchen’s seafood prep. I assume the puddles to be brackish, or at least can provide a more bearable end of life for the seahorses, so I throw them in by flicking the glass. There are still more seahorses stuck to the bottom of the glass, my flicking hindered by its strange shape. People are standing and talking around the puddles now, so it’s discreetly that I quickly flick the rest of the seahorses out, not wanting to be seen doing it and not wanting the seahorses to be seen in the puddles.” 


Buzz Aldrin. Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon. https://a.co/d/j1IQZID

Jason Thompson. A Jungian Approach to Bipolar Disorder: Rejoining the Split Archetype. https://a.co/d/fZS821Y

Kay Redfield Jamison (multiple books): An Unquiet Mind; Manic-Depressive Illness; Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament; Exuberance: The Passion for Life. 

S-town podcast. https://stownpodcast.org/

Werner Herzog (film). Grizzly Man. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grizzly_Man


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  1. Simcha

    Thank you for this episode which raised a question, which I hope is not redundant, nor too complicated.

    My question comes from Joseph’s closing remarks about the Jungian contribution to bipolar disorder (including his nod to Deb’s earlier reference to the transcendental function, at about 40:00).

    How do you know if you are getting closer to the Self or to an Archetype? To individuation or to archetype possession?

    • Simcha

      Ok so maybe this question has been answered in earlier podcasts?

  2. Yvette

    I plan to read
    the contents and seriously consider it all.

  3. Alison Hayes

    Dear Deborah, Lisa and Joseph,
    Thank you for putting a lens on bipolar disorder and sharing your wisdom. I am finding your sharing deeply nourishing.
    I work in the UK in the National Health Service with adults who have this diagnosis and am currently undergoing psychoanalytic training in Birmingham and am in the process of writing an essay on this condition.
    I am particularly interested Joseph where you highlight the significant of how we relate to the condition- as a mania or as a God; the idea that personification enables transformation. You quoted/referenced a paragraph ‘Collected works 13, para.55’ which really speaks to me and I would like to use this nugget of gold in my essay. As I am struggling to identify a source for this quote I am getting in touch to ask for your help. Many thanks for any help you may be able to go give.
    Please keep the podcasts coming! I shall be tuning in 🙂

    • Joseph Lee

      Hi Alison,
      As I located the quote I realized the Kindle addition, which I use, seems to number the paragraphs in a way that makes it difficult to find. Here’s the location and the full paragraph. ~ Joseph

      CW Volume 13 Alchemical Studies

      I Commentary on “The Secret of the Golden Flower”
      Chapter 4. Phenomena of the way
      Section A The disintegration of Consciousness
      Para 55

      “So it is better for Western man if he does not know too much about the secret insights of the Oriental sages to begin with, for, as I have said, it would be a case of the “right means in the hands of the wrong man.” Instead of allowing himself to be convinced once more that the daemon is an illusion, he ought to experience once more the reality of this illusion. He should learn to acknowledge these psychic forces anew, and not wait until his moods, nervous states, and delusions make it clear in the most painful way that he is not the only master in his house. His dissociative tendencies are actual psychic personalities possessing a differential reality. They are “real” when they are not recognized as real and consequently projected; they are relatively real when they are brought into relationship with consciousness (in religious terms, when a cult exists); but they are unreal to the extent that consciousness detaches itself from its contents. This last stage, however, is reached only when life has been lived so exhaustively and with such devotion that no obligations remain unfulfilled, when no desires that cannot safely be sacrificed stand in the way of inner detachment from the world. It is futile to lie to ourselves about this. Wherever we are still attached, we are still possessed; and when we are possessed, there is one stronger than us who possesses us. (“ Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.”) It is not a matter of indifference whether one calls something a “mania” or a “god.” To serve a mania is detestable and undignified, but to serve a god is full of meaning and promise because it is an act of submission to a higher, invisible, and spiritual being. The personification enables us to see the relative reality of the autonomous system, and not only makes its assimilation possible but also depotentiates the daemonic forces of life. When the god is not acknowledged, egomania develops, and out of this mania comes sickness.

      Jung, C. G.. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Complete Digital Edition (Kindle Locations 177238-177242). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

      • Alison

        Thank you so much Joseph. I really appreciate your help identifying the source for this important quote that I am quoting in my essay in my analytic training in Birmingham, UK 🇬🇧


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