Among Jung’s most important work was his in-depth analysis of the psyche, which he explained as follows: “By psyche I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious,” separating the concept from conventional concept of the mind, which is generally limited to the processes of the conscious brain alone.
Jung believed that the psyche is a self-regulating system, rather like the body, one that seeks to maintain a balance between opposing qualities while constantly striving for growth, a process Jung called “individuation”.
Jung saw the psyche as something that could be divided into component parts with complexes and archetypal contents personified, in a metaphorical sense, and functioning rather like secondary selves that contribute to the whole. His concept of the psyche is broken down as follows:
To Jung, the ego was the center of the field of consciousness, the part of the psyche where our conscious awareness resides, our sense of identity and existence. This part can be seen as a kind of “command HQ”, organizing our thoughts, feelings, senses, and intuition, and regulating access to memory. It is the part that links the inner and outer worlds together, forming how we relate to that which is external to us.
How a person relates to the external world is, according to Jung, determined by their levels of extroversion or introversion and how they make use of the functions of thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. Some people have developed more of one or two of these facets than the others, which shapes how they perceive the world around them.
The origin of the ego lies in the self archetype, where it forms over the course of early development as the brain attempts to add meaning and value to its various experiences.
The ego is just one small portion of the self, however; Jung believed that consciousness is selective, and the ego is the part of the self that selects the most relevant information from the environment and chooses a direction to take based on it, while the rest of the information sinks into the unconscious. It may, therefore, show up later in the form of dreams or visions, thus entering into the conscious mind.
The personal unconscious arises from the interaction between the collective unconscious and one’s personal growth, and was defined by Jung as follows:
“Everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do; all the future things which are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness; all this is the content of the unconscious… Besides these we must include all more or less intentional repressions of painful thought and feelings. I call the sum of these contents the ‘personal unconscious’.”
Unlike Freud, Jung saw repression as just one element of the unconscious, rather than the whole of it. Jung also saw the unconscious as the house of potential future development, the place where as yet undeveloped elements coalesced into conscious form.
Complexes, in the Jungian sense, are themed organizations in the unconscious mind centering around patterns of memories, emotions, perceptions, and wishes, patterns that are formed by experience and by an individual’s reactions to that experience. Unlike Freud, Jung believed complexes could be very diverse, rather than individuals simply having a core sexual complex.
Complexes often behave in a rather automatic manner, which can lead to a person feeling like the behaviour that arises from them is out of his or her control. People who are mentally ill or mislabeled as “possessed” often have complexes that take over regularly and markedly.
Complexes are strongly influenced by the collective unconscious, and as such, tend to have archetypal elements. In a healthy individual, complexes are seldom a problem, and indeed are likely key to balancing the rather one-sided views of the ego so that development can occur. If the person is mentally unwell, however, and unable to regulate his or herself (as seen in those experiencing dissociation between these states), complexes may become overt and more of an issue. In these cases, the ego is damaged, and is therefore not strong enough to make use of the complexes via sound reflection, granting them a full and unruly life of their own.
To treat such people, Jung looked more toward future development than simply dealing with their pasts; he tried to find what the symptoms meant and hoped to achieve, and work with them from that angle.
The theory of the collective unconscious is one of Jung’s more unique theories; Jung believed, unlike many of his contemporaries, that all the elements of an individual’s nature are present from birth, and that the environment of the person brings them out (rather than the environment creating them). Jung felt that people are born with a “blueprint” already in them that will determine the course of their lives, something which, while controversial at the time, is fairly widely supported to today owing to the amount of evidence there is in the animal kingdom for various species being born with a repertoire of behaviours uniquely adapted to their environments. It has been observed that these behaviours in animals are activated by environmental stimuli in the same manner that Jung felt human behaviours are brought to the fore. According to Jung, “the term archetype is not meant to denote an inherited idea, but rather an inherited mode of functioning, corresponding to the inborn way in which the chick emerges from the egg, the bird builds its nest, a certain kind of wasp stings the motor ganglion of the caterpillar, and eels find their way to the Bermudas. In other words, it is a ‘pattern of behaviour’. This aspect of the archetype, the purely biological one, is the proper concern of scientific psychology.”
Jung believed that these blueprints are influenced strongly by various archetypes in our lives, such as our parents and other relatives, major events (births, deaths, etc.), and archetypes originating in nature and in our cultures (common symbols and elements like the moon, the sun, water, fire, etc.). All of these things come together to find expression in the psyche, and are frequently reflected in our stories and myths.
Jung did not rule out the spiritual, despite the biological basis he described the personality as having; he also felt there was an opposing spiritual polarity which greatly impacts the psyche.
The Self, according to Jung, was the sum total of the psyche, with all its potential included. This is the part of the psyche that looks forward, that contains the drive toward fulfillment and wholeness. In this, the Self was said to drive the process of individuation, the quest of the individual to reach his or her fullest potential.
In this area Jung once again is seen to differ from Freud; in Freudian theory, the ego is responsible for the above process and forms the axis on which a person’s individual psychology spins, whereas in Jungian theory, the ego is just one part which rises out of the (infinitely more complex) self.
Jung said that the Persona is an element of the personality which arises “for reasons of adaptation or personal convenience.” If you have certain “masks” you put on in various situations (such as the side of yourself you present at work, or to family), that is a persona. The Persona can be seen as the “public relations” part of the ego, the part that allows us to interact socially in a variety of situations with relative ease.
Those who identify too strongly with their personas, however, can run into problems—think of the celebrity who becomes too involved with his or herself as the “star”, the person who cannot leave work at work, or the academic who seems condescending to everyone. Doing the aforementioned can stunt someone’s personal growth a great deal, as other aspects of the self then cannot properly develop, crippling overall growth.
The persona usually grows from the parts of people that wished once to please teachers, parents, and other authority figures, and as such it leans heavily toward embodying only one’s best qualities, leaving those negative traits which contradict the Persona to form the “Shadow”.
Those traits that we dislike, or would rather ignore, come together to form what Jung called the Shadow. This part of the psyche, which is also influenced heavily by the collective unconscious, is a form of complex, and is generally the complex most accessible by the conscious mind.
Jung did not believe the Shadow to be without purpose or merit; he felt that “where there is light, there must also be shadow”—which is to say that the Shadow has an important role to play in balancing the overall psyche. Without a well-developed shadow side, a person can easily become shallow and extremely preoccupied with the opinions of others, a walking Persona. Just as conflict is necessary to advancing the plot of any good novel, light and dark are necessary to our personal growth.
Jung believed that, not wanting to look at their Shadows directly, many people project them onto others, meaning that the qualities we often cannot stand in others, we have in ourselves and wish to not see. To truly grow as a person, one must cease such willful blindness to one’s Shadow and attempt to balance it with the Persona.
According to Jung, the anima and animus are the contra-sexual archetypes of the psyche, with the anima being in a man and animus in a woman. These are built from feminine and masculine archetypes the individual experiences, as well as experience with members of the opposite sex (beginning with a parent), and seek to balance out one’s otherwise possible one-sided experience of gender. Like the Shadow, these archetypes tend to wind up being projected, only in a more idealized form; one looks for the reflection of one’s anima or animus in a potential mate, accounting for the phenomenon of love at first sight.
Jung did see either masculinity or femininity as the “superior” side of the gender coin (unlike many of his peers, who favoured masculinity), but merely as two halves of a whole, such as light and shadow, halves which ought to serve to balance one another out.
Individuation, to Jung, was the quest for wholeness that the human psyche invariably undertakes, the journey to become conscious of his or herself as a unique human being, but unique only in the same sense that we all are, not more or less so than others.
Jung did not try to run from the importance of conflict to human psychology; he saw it as inherent and necessary for growth. In dealing with the challenges of the outside world and one’s own many internal opposites, one slowly becomes more conscious, enlightened, and creative. The product of overcoming these clashes was a “symbol” which Jung felt would contribute to a new direction where justice was done to all sides of a conflict. This symbol was seen as a product of the unconscious rather than of rational thought, and carried with it aspects of both the conscious and unconscious worlds in its work as a transformative agent. The development that springs from this transmutation, which is so essential to Jungian psychology, is the process of individuation.