Carl Jung – The Importance of the Unconscious

Introduction

In a previous article we have discussed the more negative effects arising from the existence of the unconscious. As observed by Carl Jung in his book Aion, Unconscious forces can have such a powerful influence on our conscious mind, that it is possible to argue that we do not posses ‘free will’. This is the case because the conscious part of our Self, the Ego, is under great influence from these unconscious forces, forces which, from the perspective of our conscious mind (The Ego), come from the outside.

              These unconscious forces, however, do not necessarily have to be negative forces. In fact, these unconscious forces, can be extremely important for our balance and well-being, according to Carl Jung. In this article we will discuss the importance of these unconscious forces.

Integrating the Unconscious

Although we are often unaware of these unconscious forces, Carl Jung believed that it is possible to integrate these unconsciousness forces, thereby making them conscious and therefore internalizing them: “the more numerous and the more significant the unconscious contents which are assimilated to the ego, the closer the approximation of the ego to the self even though this approximation must be a never-ending process.” (Aion p.23)

               This would have the benefit that we are more ‘integrated’ in our actions and can therefore ‘increase’ our level of free will. However, according to Carl Jung, there is another, perhaps even more important benefit to our unconscious and to us paying attention to our unconscious.

The Importance of our Unconscious – Chaos and Order

It can be argued that our conscious mind represents order, and our unconscious mind chaos. If we ignore our unconscious mind, thereby ignoring chaos, we can become to ‘one-sided’, according to Carl Jung: “It is, in fact, one of the most important tasks of psychic hygiene to pay continual attention to the symptomatology of unconscious contents and processes, for the good reason that the conscious mind is always in danger of becoming one-sided, of keeping to well-worn paths and getting stuck in blind alleys.” (Aion, p.20)

              In The Red Book Carl Jung argued that chaos is just as important as order, and both are necessary in order to find true meaning: “You open the gates of the soul to let the dark flood of chaos flow into your order and meaning. If you marry the ordered to the chaos you produce the divine child, the supreme meaning beyond meaning and meaninglessness.” (The Red Book, p.139)

              Moreover, Jung argued that all the unconscious forces that are suppressed for too long will only grow in strength and will still come to the surface eventually: “The will can control them only in part. It may be able to suppress them, but it cannot alter their nature, and what is suppressed comes up again in another place in altered form, but this time loaded with a resentment that makes the otherwise harmless natural impulse our enemy.”  (Aion, p.27)

The ever-increasing Importance of the Unconscious

In this sense, Carl Jung argued that the unconscious has an important ‘compensating function’. The more the unconscious forces are suppressed, the less they can succeed in playing this compensatory role. Jung observed that the more complicated our lives become, the less we pay attention to our unconscious, however, it is precisely at these moments that our unconscious grows in importance: “The more civilized, the more unconscious and complicated a man is, the less he is able to follow his instincts. His complicated living conditions and the influence of his environment are so strong that they drown the quiet voice of nature.” (Aion, p.21)

               I believe that our societies play an important role in quieting this ‘voice of nature’ and thereby neglecting the importance of our unconscious. Henry David Thoreau in his book Walden, for example, argued that we attach too much value to our possessions and our roles in society i.e., our conscious behaviour: “But Lo! Men have become the tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked his fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.” (Walden, p.33)

               Carl Jung also observed that, instead of the ‘quiet voice of nature’ being ever present in our lives, it is drowned by our society with an over-emphasize on conscious thoughts and beliefs: “Opinions, beliefs, theories, and collective tendencies appear in its stead and back up all the aberrations of the conscious mind.” (Aion, p.21) As our societies continue to develop, these tendencies appear to become stronger as well, making the role of the unconscious as a compensating factor increasingly more important as well.

Accepting the Reality of Evil

Carl Jung moreover believed that we should not merely accept the positive notions of the unconscious, but also the more negative aspects of the unconscious. This is important, according to Carl Jung, because, by paying attention to them, we can also negate the evil forces lurking within the unconscious. This is the case, because, as mentioned previously, the less we leave our unconscious in the dark, the less it will be able to control us: “Today as never before it is important that human beings should not overlook the danger of the evil lurking within them. It is unfortunately only too real, which is why psychology must insist on the reality of evil and must reject any definition that regards it as insignificant or actually non-existent.” (Aion, p.53)

               According to Jung, the unconscious does not differentiate between good and evil and is not even able to make such a differentiation. It does not know what is good and what is evil in the conscious world: “Inside the psychological realm one honestly does not know which of them predominates in the world. We hope, merely, that good does – i.e., what seems suitable to us. (p.53) This is the case because good and evil are, as Friedrich Nietzsche argued as well, socially constructed: “No one could possibly say what the general good might be.” (Aion, p.53)

               As a result, it is up to the conscious mind to decide what is good and evil. If it has integrated the unconscious forces to a considerable degree, it will be able to make a conscious decision as to which of these unconscious forces are good, and which are evil. It is, according to Carl Jung, paramount to pay attention to both.

Joseph Campbell and the Importance of the Unconscious

In a previous post I have at length discussed the importance Joseph Campbell attached to the exploration of the soul. According to Joseph Campbell, in our modern age, we lack myths and mysteries that used to play an important role in providing meaning, significance and a sense of heroism.

               Joseph Campbell argued in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces that an exploration of the unconscious is extremely important: “The hero-deed to be wrought is not today what it was in the century of Galileo. Where then there was darkness, now there is light; but also, where light was, there now is darkness. The modern hero deed must be that of questing to bring to light again the lost Atlantis of the co-ordinated soul.” (p.334)

The Importance of the Unconscious for the World

Joseph Campbell thereby attached an importance to an individual’s exploration of the unconscious that transcends the individual. Carl Jung implied this as well by arguing that the conflicts arising within an individual, through an unconscious mind that is not brought to light, will be projected upon the world, and therefore impact the world in its entirety, and not just the individual: “The psychological rule says that when and inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.” (Aion, p.71)

               Carl Jung even argued that, if a group of individuals or an entire society, or perhaps even the entire world loses touch with the unconscious world, mass hysteria can be the outcome. This is the case, according to Jung, because ,in the past, symbols such as myths and mysteries functioned as an important link between the conscious and unconscious world. As Joseph Campbell observed as well, these symbols are slowly eroding.

               As a result of this lack of a connection between the conscious and the unconscious, mass hysteria becomes possible, according to Carl Jung, because these symbols no longer protect the mind against dangerous ideas:

“The ever-widening split between [the] conscious and unconscious increases the danger of psychic infection and mass psychosis. With the loss of symbolic ideas the bridge to the unconscious is broken down. Instinct no longer affords protection against unsound ideas and empty slogans. Rationality without tradition and without a basis in instinct is proof against no absurdity.” (Aion, p.248)

               An ever-increasing breakdown of traditions plays a role in this development as well, according to Carl Jung: “Loss of roots and lack of tradition neuroticize the masses and prepared them for collective hysteria.” (Aion, p.181) Jung believed that materialism only further fuels this development and that, in response to this mass hysteria, liberties are slowly abolished: “Collective hysteria calls for collective therapy, which consists in abolition of liberty and terrorization. Where rationalistic materialism holds sway, states tend to develop less into prisons than into lunatic asylums.” (Aion, p.181)

Conclusions

Our unconscious is a double edged sword. On the one hand, if it is not integrated, it wil have an overwhelming power over the ego and thereby limit our ‘free will’. On the other hand, if our unconscious is successfully integrated, it is a powerful ‘compensating force’.

               Carl Jung argued that every individual can make his or her own choice in accepting the need of becoming aware of one’s unconscious mind: “If he voluntarily takes the burden of completeness on himself, he need not find it “happening” to him against his will in a negative form.” (Aion, p.70) According to Carl Jung, if an individual does not recognize the importance of the unconscious, this can have some serious negative consequences, not only for the individual, but for the entire world.

              How we can integrate these unconscious forces, according to Carl Jung, will be the topic of a future article. In case you do not want to miss it, please subscribe to my newsletter Here. Thank you for reading!

Liked it? Take a second to support Walden43200 on Patreon!
Coursera Plus banner featuring three learners and university partner logos

Leave a Reply