The collective unconscious

Carl Jung believed our psyche included 3 parts – the conscious, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious.

He illustrated this by asking us to imagine our minds like tropical islands. The small part above the water is our conscious. Consciousness is the experience of the here and now. It is the smallest part of our psyche.

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Jung considered the ego to be the centre of the field of consciousness and the ego is only concerned with conscious experience.

The part of the island below the water is described as the personal unconscious. The personal unconscious contains both the pre conscious and unconscious.

All that was once conscious to the person is stored in the subjective personal unconscious. Unlike Freud, Jung believed the personal unconscious did not include instincts. However, he did believe it contained suppressed material. Jung saw the unconscious as a reservoir of both repressed material and creativity

The Collective Unconscious is symbolised by the sea bed linking all the islands together. It is the unconscious part of our mind we inherit from our ancestors. It has also been described as our psychic inheritance. Within the collective unconscious lies the shared journey, a search for meaning and a reservoir of knowledge we are all born with. It influences all or our experiences and behaviour, especially our emotional ones.

Examples of experiences that show the effects of the Collective Unconscious are

Love at first Sight
De Ja Vu
Immediate recognition of certain myths

Jung’s archetypes are described as the contents of the collective unconscious mind. They act as an organising principle on the things we do or see. Archetypes are not biological drives as in Freud’s theories but are more spiritual demands.

Examples of Archetypes

Mother Archetype – We come into this world ready to want a mother. The Mother Archetype is our in-built ability to recognise a certain relationship – that of mothering. Even when an archetype doesn’t have a particular real person available, we tend to personify the archetype, that is, turn it into a mythological “story-book” character. This character symbolizes the archetype.

The Shadow

Sex & Life instincts are stored in the Shadow which comes from our pre human past. It is the dark side of our ego, and the evil we are capable of is stored in the shadow. The shadow is amoral, it is neither nor bad. It is like an animal it just does what it does in order to survive. It is the animal in us, one moment an animal can be nurturing to its litter, the next it is ferocious and savage in order to survive. Humans see the animal world as being brutal and savage, therefore, the shadow becomes something of a garbage can for the parts of ourselves we cannot admit to.


The persona is described as the mask you put on before you face the outside world.

At its worst, it can be mistaken, even by ourselves, for our true nature. Sometimes we believe we really are what we pretend to be!

Anima and Animus is the part of our personal that play the role of male or female

The anima is the female aspect present in the collective unconscious of men and animus is the male aspect present in the collective unconscious of women..

According to Jung there are no fixed numbers of archetypes and many seem to overlap.

The self is the most important archetype of all. It is the unity of the personality.

The Dynamics of the Psyche

Jung gives us 3 principles of the psyche

Principle of Opposites – Every wish always immediately has an opposite. If I have a good thought then I cannot help but have a bad thought. In order to know good, you must know bad. According to Jung it is the opposition that creates the power in the psyche.

Principle of Equivalence – The energy created by the opposites is given to both sides equally (i.e. both thoughts good and bad). If you face your other choice, or wish then the energy that was in this choice will go towards self improvement. However, if you deny the other choice existed the energy will go towards creating a complex.

A Complex is a suppressed thought or feeling that clusters around some theme provided by an archetype. If you deny ever having a bad thought, you might put that thought in form offered by the Shadow. If you pretend all your life you are only good then all the times you do good that other side goes into complex around the Shadow. The complex will then develop a life of its own and it will haunt you.

Principle of Entropy – This is the tendency for opposites to come together or the even distribution of energy.

When we are young, the opposites will tend to be extreme, and so we tend to have lots of energy. For example, adolescents tend to exaggerate male-female differences, with boys trying hard to be macho and girls trying equally hard to be feminine. And so their sexual activity is invested with great amounts of energy! Plus, adolescents often swing from one extreme to another, being wild and crazy one minute and finding religion the next.

As we get older, most of us come to be more comfortable with our different facets. We are a bit less naively idealistic and recognize that we are all mixtures of good and bad. We are less threatened by the opposite sex within us and become more androgynous. Even physically, in old age, men and women become more alike. This process of rising above our opposites, of seeing both sides of who we are, is called transcendence.

The Self – the goal of life is to realize the self. The self is an archetype that represent the transcendence of all opposites. It is a more balanced position for the psyche

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