The Disturbing Life Theory Carl Jung Wanted Everyone to Understand

Pearls of wisdom from one of the most influential psychologists

Thomas Oppong
5 min readApr 10, 2024
Photo by Marco Testi on Unsplash

If you pay attention enough, you will notice that sometimes, the more you resist something, the bigger it becomes. Maybe it’s a bad habit, a negative thought pattern, waves of thoughts, emotions, past experiences, or a looming deadline.

Whatever it is, you push against it, trying to force it away, pretend it doesn’t exist or even ignore it, but it never goes away.

What you resist builds power.

At some point, it will threaten to knock you over.

It’s also called the white elephant” effect”. The harder you try to forget a white elephant, the more you think about it. Resistance works similarly, keeping unwanted behaviours at the forefront of your mind.

Carl Jung, the influential psychologist who wrote a great deal about the power of the unconscious mind, said:

“What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.”

In short, what you resist, persists. You get more of what you resist.

The life-changing philosophy behind Jung’s words is this: Resistance creates tension. It keeps your focus locked on the very thing you want to avoid. The constant focus amplifies unwanted thoughts, feelings, or experiences. It becomes like a spotlight, drawing all your attention and making it seem bigger and more powerful than it truly is.

The mind is like an iceberg.

It has two functioning parts. Above the surface (conscious mind); below the surface (unconscious mind). The conscious mind is where you make choices and control your thoughts. But beneath the surface is the vast unconscious, a swirling of emotions, memories, and primal urges.

It’s in this unconscious realm that resistance takes root. When you resist something — a fear, a thought, a bad habit — you push it down into the unconscious.

But here’s the bitter truth: the unconscious doesn’t understand denial. It doesn’t distinguish between resistance and focus. When you constantly resist something, you’re actually giving it power in your unconscious mind.

It’s almost like a child throwing a tantrum.

The more attention you give them, even negative attention, the more they escalate their behaviour. Similarly, resisting something in your conscious mind fuels its presence in your unconscious. It becomes a mental tug-of-war, draining your energy and hindering your growth.

The hidden engine of life

You are not just your conscious mind. The internal battle between your conscious and unconscious mind is the hidden engine of your life. It shapes your decisions, colors your emotions, and can even sabotage whole existence.

“We know that the wildest and most moving dramas are played not in the theatre but in the hearts of ordinary men and women who pass by without exciting attention, and who betray to the world nothing of the conflicts that rage within them except possibly by a nervous breakdown. What is so difficult for the layman to grasp is the fact that in most cases the patients themselves have no suspicion whatever of the internecine war raging in their unconscious. If we remember that there are many people who understand nothing at all about themselves, we shall be less surprised at the realization that there are also people who are utterly unaware of their actual conflicts.” — “New Paths in Psychology” (1912). In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. P.425 (source).

So, what’s the alternative?

Jung proposes acceptance.

Acknowledge the feeling, the thought, experience, habit, the urge without judgment. Don’t fight it. Let it roll in, observe it calmly, and then let it recede. Not because you want it to stay, but because denying its existence only strengthens it. Acceptance prepares you to detach your emotional energy from it.

Now, with the resistance acknowledged, you have a choice. You can observe it, understand why it’s there, and then choose to move on. The resistance might still be there, but it’s no longer the driver. You are.

Resistance is a losing battle.

See it for what it is. Only then can you address it. Ignoring my emotional distress or anxiety only makes it worse. It lingers and grows until I’m forced to confront it.

Suppressing what you need or have to say leads to a buildup of tension that eventually explodes in a way you won’t like. Make time for that difficult conversation.

Speak your truth.

Maybe the relationship heals, or maybe it ends. But the resistance only prolongs the inevitable.

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate,” Jung said.

Accept the darkness below the surface to explore it, understand its source, and eventually transform it.

If you ignore anger, it simmers beneath the surface, threatening to boil over at any moment. Find a constructive way to talk about it. Resolve the issue before it becomes a problem.

Holding onto anger, resentment, or fear only weighs you down. Forgive, learn, and move on. When you stop resisting, you free up mental space for things that truly matter. You become proactive instead of reactive.

“My friends, it is wise to nourish the soul, otherwise you will breed dragons and devils in your heart.” — Carl Jung

When you shine a light on the dark corners of your unconscious, you bring it to light and work through it. Maybe that negative emotion stems from a childhood experience.

With that awareness, you have the power to choose. You can choose to let it go to develop healthier coping mechanisms. Maybe that fear can be reframed as a healthy caution. Perhaps that bad habit stems from a deeper emotional need.

There’s freedom in letting go of resistance. It allows you to see things for what they are, not what you fear them to be. It empowers you to choose action over avoidance. It opens you up to possibilities you couldn’t see when you were too busy fighting shadows.

When you feel that urge to resist, ask yourself: “Is this helping or hindering?” or “What can I do about this?” Choose to move with the flow, not against it. You might just surprise yourself with how much smoother the ride becomes.

According to Jung, “people will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.”

But you are not your shadows.

In Jung’s words, “I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.” You are defined by how you respond to your unconscious mind.

Turn inward to transform your reality.

Choose freedom.

More from Carl Jung:

My Top 10 Posts

10 stories

Join my email list with 60K+ curious people who receive my best essays and free curated tools for better living.

--

--

Thomas Oppong

Making the wisdom of great thinkers instantly accessible. As seen on Forbes, Inc. and Business Insider. For my popular essays, go here: https://thomasoppong.com