Concept of Sublimation in Psychology of Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung

“Psychological research has not drawn aside all the many veils from the human psyche; it remains as unapproachable and obscure as all the deep secrets of life”  [C.G.Jung, CW 8, par 688]

Sublimation is the process by which solids are transformed directly to the vapor state without passing through the liquid phase. Latin sublime means “high”, sublimare, sublimat means “to elevate” (from sublimis, “uplifted”).  The term was introduced to German terminology by Goethe (1749-1832). The psychological connotation of term was assigned by Nietzsche (1844-1900), and later developed by Wilhelm Fleiss (1852-1928), an influential figure on Freud’s theory. In psychoanalytic theory the sublimation is the diversion of libido into noninstinctual channels. Freud held that the energy invested in sexual impulses can be shifted to the pursuit of more acceptable and socially valuable achievements of cultural endeavors, therefore sublimation is a key concept in his teaching connecting sexual theory and theory of culture (“conspicuous feature of cultural development”). (Van Haute, 2004) Freud: “The task in sublimation is that of shifting the instinctual aims in such a way that they cannot come up against frustration from the external world. In this, sublimation of the instincts lends its assistance. One gains the most if one can sufficiently heighten the yield of pleasure from the sources of intellectual work” (…) “A satisfaction of this kind, such as an artist’s joy in creating, in giving his fantasies body, or a scientist’s in solving problems or discovering truths, has a special quality. But their intensity is mild as compared with that derived from the sating of crude and primary instinctual impulses”. (Freud, 1960) “Every person, as he comes into a community, has to take part in this process by which civilized life has been built and by which alone it is maintained. He must repeat the sacrifice of his instinctive pleasures for the common good”. (Barlett, 1928, emphasis mine) Transformation is the most important concept in Jungian psychology and is used to describe the variety of processes. (Stein, 1985) Jung said: “Sublimation is not a voluntary and the forcible channeling of instinct into a spurious field of application” (…) “Sublimatio is a great mystery. Freud has appropriated this concept and usurped it for the sphere of the will, and the bourgeois, rationalistic theos”. (Adler, 1961) Sublimatio is an alchemical process in which an ascending action results in change to a higher form. The alchemyst liberates the anima mundi imprisoned in matter. He saught the liberation of the world soul from the darkness of matter; i.e. the unconsciouss. (Stern, 1991) Ego is thus freed from the absolute dictatorship of archetypal powers and instead of the compulsive following of its fate, it maintains creative communication with them. The birth of the Self results not in displacement of previous psychological center but in complete alteration of one’s attitude towrds life accompanied by psychological freedom. (Jacobi, 1942) The entire personality is “irreversibly renewed”. (Franz, 1980) That, not by elucidating of what was suppressed, but by re-connecting ego with its fully autonomous, vital and par excellence transformative source, which unconsciousness – as Jung has shown us - is. In this sense terms metanoia, matamorphosis, transubstantiation, rebirth and transformation through which individuation proceeds are synonymous. Transformation is the goal of therapy. (Jung, CW 17, par. 904) Whereas Freud used the term to describe a voluntary act of will, Jung states that sublimation can only “happen” to us as a sort of grace. (Jung, 1912) For Freud libido was strictly sexual energy, for Jung it was a‘life-force’ itself. The practical outcomes of their theories differs accordingly. Freud’s therapy technique is reductio in primam figuram (Jung, CW 8, par. 40), while Jung’s restitutio ad integrum. (Jacobi, 1959) For Freud the notion is based on materiallistic belife while Jung recognizes the transcendent potentials of human psyche. In that respect Jungian analysis does not reduce causally one psychic product to another, but connects them dynamically with an attempt to produce symbol. Symbol, in a form of transcendent function has the ability to induce psychic transformation (Wandlung). Connection of unconscious and concsiousness takes place through the transcendent function: “new content that governs the whole attitude, putting an end to the division and forcing the energy of the oppostites into a common channel. The standstill is overcome and life can flow on with renewed power towards new goals”. (Jung, 1921) Healing comes from connecting with nature’s potential to do so through the growth of the new: “The neurotic is ill not because he has lost his old faith but because he has not yet found a new form for his finest aspirations”. (Jung, 1914) Even though we can speak about transformation as reorganization of libido, extention of consciousness, birth of the Self, creation of ego-Self axis etc., the phenomenology and the process and the nature of transformation will have to remain a mystery and as such has to be in therapy treated: with humility and respect.




  • Adler, G., “C.G. Jung, Letters, 1906-1950”, Princeton University Press, 1961, I:171
  • Bartlett F. C., “The psychological process of sublimation”, Scientia : rivista internazionale di sintesi scientifica, 1928, p. 17n
  • Franz, M.L.V., “Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psychology”, 1978, Open Court, p. 161
  • Freud S., “The Ego and the Id”, James Strachey ed., New York: Norton, 1960, p. 51
  • Hagman, G., “Aesthetic Experience. Beauty, Creativity, and the Search for the Ideal”, Amsterdam/New York, NY, 2005, p. 18-39
  • Jolande J., “Complex/Archetype/Symbol: in the Psychology of C.G. Jung”, Princeton University Press, 1959, p. 186
  • Jolande J., Psychologie C. G. Junga , Psychoanalytické nakladatelství, 1997, p. 34
    • Jung C., G., “Concerning Rebirth”, in “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious”, CW 9i, Princeton University Press, 1973
    • Jung, C. G., “Freud and Psychoanalysis”, Collected works, vol. 4, Princeton University Press, 1961
    • Jung, C. G., “The development of Personality”, CW 4, Princeton University Press, 1954
    • Jung, C. G., “Psychological Types, Princeton University Press, 1971. (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol.6), pars. 827-829.
    • Jung, C., G., CW 4, “Some Crutial Points in Psychoanalysis”, in CW 4, Princeton University Press, 1914, p. 252f
    • Jung, C., G., “The Practice of Psychotherapy”, in Collected Works vol. 13, Princeton University Press, 1966, p. 69f
    • Jung, C.G., “Symbols of Transformation”,     CW 5, Princeton University Press, 1912
      • Sedgwick, D., “Introduction to Jungian Psychotherapy, The Therapeutic Relationship”, Brunner-Routlege, 2001, p. 37, 66 &121
      • Stern, M., Gibson, K., Lathrop, “Carl Jung and Soul Psychology”, Harrington Park, 1991, p.112
      • Van Haute, P., “The primacy of sexuality in Freud, Ferenczi, and Laplanche”, New York: Other Press, 2004
      • Volney, P., G., “Freud on Sublimation”, State University of New York Press, 1992

·         Stein, M., Jung's Treatment of Christianity, The Psychotherapy of a Religious Tradition (Wilmette: Chiron Publications, 1985), p.64-5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 comments on “Concept of Sublimation in Psychology of Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung”

© Copyright 2023. All rights reserved Róbert Blažek - Web Development & Design