Table of Contents
In this series of three articles several of Carl Jung’s most important concepts in relation to the contents of the Psyche are defined and discussed. In this first part, the psyche itself, as well as the parts of the psyche which see the most direct interaction with the outside world are examined, namely, the ego, the self, and the persona. These parts of the psyche together also from the more conscious parts of an individual’s psyche. In article two some of the more unconscious parts of the psyche are explored; the unconscious itself, the archetypes, and the soul. In article three the more ‘dangerous’ and hidden aspects of the psyche are addressed: the shadow, the anima, and the animus. It is the purpose of this series of articles to make these concepts more relatable, therefore a business is used as a metaphor for these concepts.
Parts of the content of these articles is based on the content of my book: Carl Jung and the Rebirth of the Soul. In case you want to explore these concepts further then this book might interest you as well.
Essentially, all of the concepts discussed in this series together form the psyche. Many definitions exist of the psyche, some consider the psyche to be similar to ‘spirit’, ‘life-force’, or ‘personality’. Carl Jung, however, considered the psyche to comprise of all the processes occurring consciously or unconsciously within and individual’s mind: “By psyche I [Carl Jung] understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious.” (Carl Jung, CW 6, par.79)
Jung dedicated almost his entire life to the study of the psyche. Jung studied the psyche of numerous individuals as a psychiatrist, however, Jung also studied his own psyche to an almost unprecedented degree. To those of you who have been following this blog for a while, this lesser-known fact, that Jung developed his most important ideas as a consequence of the study of his own psyche, might be known already. Jung documented the journey of the discovery of his own psyche throughout the posthumously published Red Book and Black Books. It was through this journey that Jung became an expert on the topic, since it provided Jung with a first-hand experience of many of the aspects of the psyche.
Although the psyche belongs to a single individual, Jung believed that, just as an individual’s body, the psyche has a long history and the psyche, like the body, carries the marks of this history: “Just as the human body is a museum, so to speak, of its phylogenetic history, so too is the psyche. We have no reason to suppose that the specific structure of the psyche is the only thing in the world that has no history outside its individual manifestations.” (The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, p.287) Although the psyche of an individual only exists for a relatively short moment, the psyche itself has a long history and historic events are still entrenched deep within the psyche according to Jung: “It [the psyche] moulds the human species and is just as much a part of it as the human body, which, though ephemeral in the individual, is collectively of immense age.” (Ibid) Jung observed that this might also be the reason why people are often inclined to believe in reincarnation and might sometimes be convinced to have certain memories of previously lived lives.
This is also why, after delving deep into his own psyche, Jung concluded that there existed certain figures within his psyche, figures which were not created by Jung himself. Philemon, a figure ‘residing’ within Jung’s psyche with whom Jung has his first important interactions, provided Jung with this realization: “Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life.” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.219) Philemon indicated to Jung that even Jung’s own thoughts often came from the ‘outside’, and that Jung did not have any influence over these thoughts produced by the psyche: “He [Philemon] said I treated thoughts as if I generated them myself, but in his view thoughts were like animals in the forest, or people in a room, […] you would not think that you had made those people, or that you were responsible for them.” (Ibid) This could perhaps also explain the origin of certain dreams or the sudden emergence of a profound thought or idea.
Using the metaphor of a business, which I believe can help making these concepts more relatable, the psyche can be compared to the entirety of the business, including its CEO, its employees, and its work culture. Some of the aspects of the business are created consciously, while some emerge unconsciously. At the same time, the business builds upon the history of all other businesses that existed before. Although the business is therefore unique on its own, it is a part of a longer collective history, reaching far into the past, but also into the future.
The first part of the psyche discussed is ‘the ego.’ This is the easiest concept to start with because the ego is the part of the psyche with which we, and those around us, are most familiar, it is also the most conscious part of the psyche. The ego is fundamentally the personality which an individual shows to the world and the personality of which he or she is consciously aware. The ego is developed through an individual’s interaction with the external world. If we use a business as a metaphor, then the ego can be compared to the CEO. Similar to the CEO, the ego likes to be in control and often also naively assumes to be in full control of everything that happens within the psyche. At the same time, the CEO with his business, similar to the ego with its own identity, wants to show to the world that it is acting as a cohesive unit. Jung, however, believed that the ego does not encompass the entirety of an individual’s personality. Instead, the ego consists only of the conscious part of an individual’s personality: “This would never amount to more than a picture of the conscious personality; all those features which are unknown or unconscious to the subject would be missing.” (Aion, p.5)
In fact, Jung proposed that these unconscious features might even be more important than the conscious features. Meanwhile, the ego is most often not even aware of the existence of these unconscious contents within the psyche. As a result, these unconscious characteristics can only be revealed to the ego after carefully studying these characteristics. Hereby it is easier for other people to identify the contents of these characteristics of another individual because they are revealed by interacting with this individual: “This unconscious portion, as experience has abundantly shown, is by no means unimportant. On the contrary, the most decisive qualities in a person are often unconscious and can be perceived only by others or have to be laboriously discovered with outside help.” (Aion, p.5)
Although most individuals might assume that their ego is the most important part of their identity, it is not extremely surprising that Jung pointed to the relative unimportance of the ego. It can even be argued that the ego has not been in existence for a long time. As Neumann wrote in The Origins and History of Consciousness, for instance, the ego, as an independent part of our identity, has only a surprisingly brief history since, prior to its development as a separate part of the self, it was included within the unconscious:
“The mythological stages in the evolution of consciousness begin with the stage when the ego is contained in the unconscious, and lead up to a situation in which the ego not only becomes aware of its own position and defends it heroically, but also becomes capable of broadening and relativizing its experiences through the changes effected by its own activity.” (Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness, p.5)
We can compare this to a business as well, although the CEO likes to pretend that he or she is in control of the business, its employees play a vital role as well. Combined, the CEO and the employees, can be compared to the self, where the employees represent the unconscious part of the self; they are operating in the background but still play an extremely significant role, often more important than the CEO. Similar to the ego, in case the CEO (the ego) does not listen to the employees of the business (the unconscious), then this can result in some serious problems and the business will not function properly.
As such, Jung called the entirety of an individual’s personality, the combination of the conscious personality (the ego) and the unconscious personality (Discussed in detail in part 2), the self. As a result, Jung argued that it is almost impossible for an individual to be completely aware of all the aspects of the self. Moreover, Jung argued that the ego is inferior to the self and observed that the unconscious elements of the self, often unbeknownst to the ego, seriously impact the behaviour of the ego, which can have an impact on our understanding of free will as well: “The ego is, by definition, subordinate to the self and is related to it like a part to the whole.” (Aion, p.5)
However, luckily not all is lost for the ego. According to Jung, it is possible for an individual to make some of the unconscious elements of the self conscious. Fundamentally this is also what Jung himself was doing while he was writing the Black Books and the Red Book. Essentially, through the process of making unconscious elements conscious, one attempts to align the content of the self to the contents of the ego. Jung would later call this process ‘individuation’. This process is discussed in detail in this article: Integrating the Unconscious – The Process of Individuation.
We can once again use the business metaphor as an example. By talking to his or her employees, the CEO can become aware of what is happening within the company, thereby aligning the different actors within the business, and forming a more cohesive unit. This increased awareness will result in the capability to make better decisions.
The persona is the personality which an individual shows to the world. Although the persona can be compared to the ego in various ways, it is not the same; the ego encompasses the entire conscious self, whereas the persona is only a part of the ego. Moreover, as opposed to the ego, an individual often has more than one persona. The persona exists because an individual must adapt in order to fit into the varying environments in which he or she has to integrate. Jung defined the persona as follows: “The individual’s system of adaptation to, or the manner he assumes in dealing with, the world.” (The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, p.122) As a result, an individual can have various personas for the various ways in which he or she has to interact with the world. An individual can, for example, have one persona for work, one for friends, and one for family.
Jung used public personalities as an example in order to illustrate the significance of the persona. Jung indicated that a specific kind of behaviour is expected of these personalities by the world. As a consequence, the individual will then make sure that he or she fulfils these expectations in order to be successful in this role. This can be dangerous, however, according to Jung, because the individual might identify too much with the persona and become him or herself convinced that this is his or her true identity, even though it is, essentially, only an act: “The danger is that they become identical with their personas – the professor with his text-book, the tenor with his voice. Then the damage is done; henceforth he lives exclusively against the background of his own biography.” (The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, p.123) As a result, Jung concluded that, through the persona, the individual’s behaviour is influenced in a certain way, a way which is often not in line with the individual’s true self. At the same time, however, the individual, and those who come into contact with the individual, will believe that this is the individual’s true identity: “One could say, with a little exaggeration, that the persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is.” (The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, p.123)
It can be rewarding for the individual to be something which one is not because it can, for instance, lead to promotions at work, or new friendships. However, despite the persona hiding one’s own true identity, Jung believed that, after some serious examination, the individual can still discover what the persona is hiding:
“Whoever looks into the mirror of the water will see first of all his own face. Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself. The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face.” (The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, p.20)
As a result, even though the persona can be useful in order to fit into and adapt to varying environments, the persona can also be dangerous, because an individual might, in a way, forget his or her true self. Murray Stein, in his book Jung’s Map of the Soul, questioned why the persona remains ‘stuck’ to people to such a degree. According to Stein, this is partly the case because the individual him or herself has become familiar with his or her own persona. However, at the same time, Stein observed that shame plays a key role as well. As Stein indicated, the persona can be used to prevent a feeling of shame, a feeling which might emerge because one is ashamed of who one really. As a result, an individual can use a persona to hide one’s true self in order to prevent feeling ashamed of one’s own true identity. Stein argued that the prevention of feeling ashamed is the main reason why the persona exists in the first place, and, according to Stein, this is also the reason why the persona remains ‘stuck’ to the individual: “Shame is also a fundamental motivator. The persona protects one from shame, and the avoidance of shame is probably the strongest motive for developing and holding on to a persona.” (Murray Stein, Jung’s Map of the Soul, p.121)
A business can illustrate the meaning of the persona as well. For example, the CEO of an oil company might decide to convey a message to the world that the company is doing whatever it takes to become an environmentally friendly ‘green’ company. By doing so, the company will be able to fit into the larger trends occurring within the world, where it becomes increasingly more important to show that one’s company is not negatively impacting the environment. By adopting this persona, the company might receive numerous benefits, such as new business opportunities, a better perception from the outside world, but also, quite possibly, a better opinion about itself. At the same time, if the company would not adopt this persona and show its true face; a company which harms the environment, then the company might be shamed. However, as Jung observed, the true face will eventually reveal itself. In the example of the oil company this might be an oil spill in nature, resulting in public outrage and shame for the company if this were to be discovered. As a result, the company will do whatever it takes to appear to the outside as something which it is not. As a consequence, if environmental damage occurs as a result of the company’s actions, then attempts are likely made to hide this from the public as much as possible.
Conclusions to Part 1
So far I have discussed the more conscious parts of the psyche; the ego, the self, and the persona, whereby parts of the self and the persona are already, depending on the individual, unconscious to a certain degree. In the following parts I will discuss the more unconscious parts of the psyche. In case you do not want to miss the next parts, you can subscribe to my newsletter or youtube channel.