Jungian Psychology Series: Psychological Inflation

In the story of King Midas, everything the king touches turns to gold. At first this seems like a boon, for this power would make him the richest man in the country. But turning everything he touched to gold would eventually make the king the most spiritually and emotionally poor man there can be. How do you eat food turned into metal, find fragrance in a gold flower, or receive love from a statue? More importantly, how do you follow God if your heart is full of greed?

This myth is about the dangers of psychological inflation. Psychological inflation occurs when an individual’s conscious identity (ego and the persona) becomes merged with an archetype of the unconscious. That archetype could be the Self, or God, as was the case with King Midas, or any of a number of other “positive” archetypes such as the hero, sage, savior, healer, divine child, etc. People may also fall prey to an equally harmful negative archetype, such as the scapegoat, loser, failure, victim, or pariah. These latter give rise to what is called a negative inflation. The following example will help to illustrate.

John had recently taken a management position at the advertising firm where he worked. Although he had no previous management experience, the owner of the firm had taken a liking to him and felt he had a promising future. John was excited by the opportunity which would allow him a greater say in department decisions, a nice salary increase, and other perks. Upon starting at his new position, however, John’s personality began to change in subtle but significant ways. For example, he developed an air of superiority towards his peers. He became dismissive of their viewpoints, especially if they contradicted his own. His friends noticed him to be less playful and friendly. His sense of humor declined, particularly his ability to laugh at himself. John also began to exhibit a sense of entitlement. He gave himself permission to ignore some of the company rules, such as where employees could park, that he had always obeyed in the past.

As the months passed, John became more arrogant. He started thinking that he knew better than his far-more-experienced boss. His relationships with people became superficial and shallow. He did and said the right things, but seemed almost robotic as he did so. Every once in a while he had the unpleasant sense that he was behaving in a phony and manipulative way towards others. He pushed these uncomfortable feelings aside by staying busy, drinking alcohol, and rationalizing to himself that he was really doing good and that other people were just jealous of him.

John was in the ever-tightening grip of a “positive” ego inflation. Yet, because he worked in a company whose management mistook arrogance and competitiveness for competence, he progressed up the company ladder. The higher he climbed, however, the more the quality of his relationships and overall well-being plummeted. His alcohol use became more intense and compulsive. His marriage was on the brink of divorce. His true friends stopped coming by and his new friends weren’t really friends but drinking buddies. His dreams reflected his egocentricity through themes of being chased or of being in high places such as hot air balloons and skyscrapers.

As his life became more hollow and his drinking got out of hand, John sank into a depression marked by moodiness and self-pity. The pendulum of his inflation had swung in the opposite direction. Instead of arrogance and an inflated view of his own abilities, he now imagined himself to be the worst husband and person alive. He indulged in a negative and overly critical self-appraisal. But his self-reproach and self-condemnation were as extreme in their negativity as his exaggerated self-esteem had been in its positivity. His pity-party was made even more pathetic–and dangerous–by his alcohol abuse. “I’m an awful husband. I don’t deserve my wife. Hell, I don’t deserve my life.” These are some of the things he was now saying to himself and others. Efforts to help him look at himself with greater objectivity were met with stubborn resistance. It seemed that if he couldn’t be beyond reproach, he would swim in a pool of self-reproach.

Two years after his promotion John had to choose a rehab center, and entered an alcohol addiction treatment program. The therapists there noted that although he appeared and thought himself miserable, there was an undercurrent of anger to his mood. They quickly noted that he resented looking at his arrogance and egocentricity. His self-criticism was so extreme even he didn’t really believe it. In reality, his self-reproach had become a strategy of deception. It mimicked humility while actually serving to avoid an honest and direct look at his real attitudes of arrogance and phoniness.

Fortunately, the therapists and other patients at the rehab center saw through John’s games. They called John on his grandiosity and crashed his pity-party. Through direct and on-target confrontation John’s egocentric defenses and strategies were dismantled. His power drive and controllingness were deconstructed, gradually returning him to a more grounded and authentic relationship to the world and other people. Humbled at depth, he began to feel more real and like himself again.

John’s story illustrates many of the dynamics of psychological inflation. A positive inflation often results when the ego has been appointed a task that exceeds its current abilities or sense of self. Instead of receiving the task with objective humility, it employs a defense of inflated grandiosity. In other words, rather than feel unworthy or overwhelmed, it assumes an attitude of arrogance and over-confidence. It becomes controlling as a way to avoid feeling impotent, vulnerable, or insecure. When this happens the personality is increasingly ruled by the power drive of the ego. Then, when life events poke holes in the ego’s inflated sense of self, deflated self-esteem frequently swings to the opposite pole of negative inflation. This is the “I’m worthless,” or “I can’t do anything right” standpoint. This orientation is not too different from a temper tantrum. Called on its arrogance, the ego tries to hide behind a false humility, or false contrition.

Both positive and negative inflations are postures adopted by the ego to deflect a humbling truth or forestall an imperative for change. In alchemical terms, inflation is a defense against coagulatio, the process of coming down to earth and experiencing life’s constraints and your own limitations. Ultimately, positive inflation is a denial of your humanness in favor of an exaggerated superiority. Negative inflation, on the other hand, is a false or phony humility. In both cases the ego is exalting itself, latching onto extremes in order to avoid and defend against a far more real and painful truth. That truth is that you are human, incomplete, and fallible. You have missed the mark, and it is time to make certain changes in your life.

Like Midas with his golden touch, this extreme form of egocentricity turns everything around you into an inanimate object. This is because you are seeking to control rather than to relate. You become increasingly manipulative, a persona cut-off from your soul. There is no genuine caring or love because an ego wedded to its persona loves only itself. It does not know, and cannot know, authentic human relationship.

Copyright © Andy Drymalski, Ed.D.
Excerpts may be used provided full and clear credit is given author with link to original article.

22 thoughts on “Jungian Psychology Series: Psychological Inflation

  1. Thank for this website. I am in grad school at ETSU: MSW Program. I’m currently writing a paper on a child that is allowed to do as he pleases, this page is will be of considerable assistance as a reference.
    Thank you,

  2. I’m very pleased that i found this website,as i am interested in Jungian psychology. Could you please upload some Information about Archetypes (i could not find it between the other terms) i understand the definition but maybe you can recommend something to understan them better.Thanks

    • Hi Mariam,

      A short explanation is that an archetype, much like an instinct, is an inborn pattern for perceiving and responding to life in a certain way. Archetypes are like sub-personalities within the psyche that bring their own perspective and innate response to a given situation. The archetype of the Self, for example, is the central, organizing and healing archetype within the personality. In your dreams it may be symbolized by gold, a diamond, a mandala, or a historical figure such as Jesus, each of which conveys something of great value, harmony, integrity, or everlasting wisdom, for this is the nature of the Self. The fool/trickster, the wise old man or woman, the child, the warrior, the mother, the hero, the devil, etc., are all archetypes within the human personality and may come to your aid, or detriment–as in the case of the devil–at different times of your life. For instance, the mother archetype may be activated when a young woman has a child. She may instinctively know what to do in certain situations because of the energy and wisdom of the mother archetype within herself. There is an archetypal structure inherent in and shared by all people and which, through the central archetype of the Self, guides the psychological development of every individual.

      I hope this helps. Thank you for your question.


  3. Thank you. I was very interested in a Jungian perspective on the King Midas myth. The clinical example was also very helpful, especially the explanation of the swing from the positive to the negative inflation and the example of how John didn’t even believe his own extreme self-criticism. So true how other people are turned into inanimate objects. Also the capacity for true love or compassion for others or one’s self is not at all possible during an inflation of either kind. Thanks again.

  4. Thank you for the article on psychological inflation. It seems to me this is precisely what President Trump is grotesquely and unabashedly manifesting virtually all the time. It is certainly the face he shows the world. However it doesn’t seem likely that he will experience the transition to negative inflation any time soon. Perhaps he won’t ever in his lifetime at least that the public would ever hear of. I think his apparent inflation, self-obsession, profound avoidance of reality, and willfull headlong recklessness is some of what makes him so dangerous as president. Pardon my “being political, ” but it’s why I was looking up the topic to begin with. Thank you

  5. Thank You for this article!

    I think I was positively inflated with the Sage archetype and my pendulum of inflation has swung in the opposite direction. I used to be able to comprehend new information very quickly as well as feel elated with awe and passion whilst doing so and now it’s hard to understand things at all. In addition, writing coherent essay’s does not come naturally and I I feel a lot of low-self esteem regarding intellect and what I actually know, especially when a topic I’m learning isn’t making much sense.

    Is this typical of sage inflation? What does the typical negative end of the inflation swing look like for the sage archetype? How do I get my Yoda powers back?


    • Hi Michael,

      I’m not sure that what you are describing is necessarily an inflation, positive or negative. It could be that you just have more of a natural interest in some subjects and very little interest in others. But assuming you are experiencing reversals of an inflated standpoint re: your own prowess or knowledge, then, yes, it might look similar to what you’ve described.

      The solution isn’t a return to a positive inflation–although the ego would often prefer that. The solution is a more grounded and objective standpoint marked by honest and accurate self-appraisals of your abilities and liabilities. It is a more human and realistic perspective regarding oneself. Then writing can be informed more by heart and lived experience and less by bluster or, conversely, crippling self-condemnation.

      Thanks for writing.


  6. Thank you for the example. I”ve recently become quite interested in Jungian psychology, yet it seems complex. In fact, as I was reading, I noticed that Jung made a distinction between the inflation of the self and self aggrandizement. What he clarified was that the former had to do with the Self assimilating the ego, and therefore augmenting “the blind spot in the sight of the eye”, and the latter was regarded as one overvaluing one’s importance. However, the distinction is not clear to me. Probably, I’m misunderstanding something there. Could you help me find the difference?

    • Hi Jose,

      I am not familiar with that use of the term “inflation.” I haven’t heard inflation of the self being equated with the Self assimilating the ego, as you put it. Certainly self aggrandizement implies an over-valuing of one’s importance, or seeking out adulation, compliments or “fame.” But the concept of the Self assimilating the ego doesn’t quite make sense to me. It could certainly be a lacuna on my part. Can you possibly refer me to a passage where the concept is discussed in that way. I may be able to make more sense of it then and offer some explanation to you.

      Thank you.


  7. taking time out for some introspection,though my critical voice says its an indulgence, I will indulge then for I am seeking constructive feed-back none the less. I am socia-phobic to some degree, I avoid social situations otyher than close family and even then there is some apprehension untill I have switched on the coping mechanism of a persona. That is so good at its job people are endeared towards me. But its not so much as a mask as the genuine me. But I hide it from folks because they often latch on wanting more , and I dont want close friends they consume me. I dont thik I am overly low in self esteem and certainly not over confident either. I have avoided employment for 40 years avoiding this initial approach to people. I am an observer and I watch from the back seats ,or even further back if I can find a hide. I love people ,and dislike them as well of course such is the paradox of existence. My life is occupied by caring for one of my sons who had meningitus at the age of one ,he recovered but was profoundly deaf, all was fine until events that led to severe shock triggered schizophrenia, after ten years sort of managing symptoms he ended all medication as the side-effects were too much, since then for the last 5 years he has been in a cognitively compromised situation , similar to dementia , he does not talk anymore [sign language} and is unable to form any continuous narrative so is mostly Blank much like the initial state of his neuroleptic medication in the early stages. So I care for him and take him out and about everyday , but now we are both socialy isolated and life is stranger than it’s ever been. I don’t know what I am looking for here , maybe some wise words, maybe a hint at how I can better our situation Am I inflated or deflated How do I get the courage to find other avenues that would deliver better outcomes for my son and hence myself . Sorry if this is indulgent or irrelevent but I take a risk posting it anyway Thankyou regards John.

    • Hi John,

      I don’t think your introspection is self-indulgent and certainly not irrelevant. How else are we to really know ourselves and hear the guidance of our deeper self without self-reflection and introspection.
      I am sorry to hear about your son. What a heavy burden both of you carry. Quite heart-breaking, I can only imagine.
      Nonetheless, I believe that the Universe, or God, must believe you can handle it somehow, that your mutual suffering is not all for naught, that some good can still come from it all. I’m not trying to just color over reality with a rosy picture. My psychological observations have been that even the greatest suffering or tragedy, when genuinely lived and felt, can also carry seeds of greater consciousness and redemption.
      What you have written does not come across to me as positively or negatively inflated. I can’t really say much more about that as I don’t know you.
      As far as finding other avenues for better outcomes, I would suggest talking to a therapist who you feel comfortable with, who can help you sort things out and amplify the voice of your own inner guide and healer.

      Thank you for writing and keep being a great father to your son. Your love and sacrifices make a difference to the world.


  8. Hello Andy, this is a great article. Very helpful. I am amazed to see how far our ego will go to avoid confrontation and being subservient. I feel that we keep priming it to help us survive the jungle even after knowing that co-existence is best for us.
    You mention that the ego & persona merge with an archetype (unconscious pattern) to cause psychological inflation. May I know how one identifies these archetypes (in dreams or otherwise), when they are in play & to what end they serve? I hope its not outrageous of me to ask.
    Thank you

    • Hi Ashish,

      The merging of the ego or our persona with an archetype is the same thing as possession, that is, to be possessed. When we are possessed by an archetype we have become unconsciously identified with the archetype, such as the king, or the sage, or the martyr, or the savior, or the victim, etc. We stop being real people in a way and instead become a characterization of the archetype. An extreme example would be a psychotic person who believes he/she is Jesus Christ or some famous historical figure. A more common example might be someone who becomes possessed by the persona of the martyr. They take on the pathos, drama and stilted speech and behavior of a tragic, self-renouncing, sacrificing figure. But it’s all ego. They’re playing a role, but they don’t realize it. They’re fake and others can see it and find it nauseating. But some fall for it and take on the role of adoring followers. Now life may call some people to be a martyr, but some people take it on as a false self. They have become possessed by the archetype and do not really come by it naturally. For them it is a false identity/persona. They are possessed and all possessions are a form of inflation for the individual has equated him or herself with a transpersonal power. We are human beings, not gods. Archetypes are another word for gods.

      In dreams, as in life, this may be reflected by the behavior of the dream figure and the role they are playing. As to the function that is served by the merging (or possession) of the ego with an archetype, I don’t know. One thing I do know is that possession by an archetype can be a high. It is called inflation for a reason. The ego is puffed up because it is acting like a god. It is filled with a sense of transpersonal power characteristic of the specific archetype that it has channeled. But it is ultimately an exaggerated and phony characterization. One that does harm to both the possessed and those he/she interacts with. It does harm because it is false, a false self, a false personality.

      I hope this helps. Thank you for writing.


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