Jung's Model of the Psyche - Part One Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Jung's Model of the Psyche - Part One

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All of Carl Gustav Jung's theories, contained within the 18 volumes of his collected works1, are attempts to illuminate the workings of the human psyche, of which a small portion is conscious and the rest unconscious. His empirical data were drawn from many sources, but especially the unconscious materials, such as dreams and fantasies, of his patients.

Ego-Consciousness and Psychological Types

The ego is the focal point of consciousness, what we refer to when using the words 'I' or 'me'. The ego carries our conscious awareness of existing, together with a continuing sense of personal identity. It is the conscious organiser of our thoughts and intuitions, our feelings and sensations, and it has access to those memories which are unrepressed and readily accessible.

The ego is also the bearer of personality, and, placed on the outer layer of the psyche, it mediates between subjective and objective realms of experience; it stands at the junction between inner and outer worlds. People differ as to which of these two realms is more important to them, and this determines their attitude type: for extraverts the outer, objective world has greater significance, while introverts are orientated primarily to their inner, subjective experiences.

Jung describes the extravert as 'an outgoing, candid and accommodating nature that adapts easily to a given situation, quickly forms attachments and will often venture forth with careless confidence into unknown situations.' The introvert, on the other hand, is 'a hesitant, reflective, retiring nature that keeps itself to itself, shrinks from objects, is always slightly on the defensive and prefers to hide behind mistrustful scrutiny2.'

Jung recognised this division to be a very general distinction and that great differences will be shown by individuals belonging to the same group. Also, everyone possesses, to a greater or lesser extent, both mechanisms as expression of one's natural life-rhythm. In order to determine more specific differences between individuals belonging to a definite group, further steps are required.

Jung observed that people differ with regard to the conscious use they make of each of four primary functions: thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation. Jung defines these functions as follows: sensation tells you that something exists; thinking tells you what it is; feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not; and intuition tells you where it comes from and where it is going3. In any individual one of these functions becomes superior, which means that it is more highly developed than the other functions, since greater use is made of it. This determines the functional aspect of the psychological type.

Jung considered feeling and thinking to be rational functions, having more to do with evaluating the significance of objects and events. Sensation and intuition were conceived of as non-rational functions since they proceeded beyond the confines of rationality.

In Jung's view, therefore, an individual's psychological type is determined by which of the two conscious attitudes and which of the four conscious functions the ego habitually employs. Out of the two attitude and four functional types there emerge, theoretically, eight possible psychological types: introverted thinking types, extraverted thinking types, introverted feeling types, extraverted feeling types and so on.

While recognising that all typological possibilities are inherently available in the Self, Jung observed that in the course of growing up an individual tends to rely on one rational and one non-rational function in addition to the introverted or extraverted attitude, while the other two functions remain relatively unconscious. Thus an extraverted thinking-intuitive would have an introverted feeling-sensation shadow and visa versa. In dreams, for instance, a human figure with an opposite temperament from the dreamer, and usually of the same sex, may represent the dreamer's inferior attitude or function.

Getting to know one's psychological type is not to put oneself into a straightjacket, but to become aware of where there is scope for personal development. Given such development a person's type can change over the course of a person's life.

It is the case that differences in attitude and function types can often lead to conflicting opinions and misunderstandings. However, there are commonalities in the psychic structure of all, and each personality is composed of some consciousness - ego and the contents readily accessible to it - and much that is unconscious, chiefly the Persona, the Shadow, and the Animus or Anima. Each of these contents may be personified in dreams, being capable of endless variations and forms.

Structures of the Personal Unconscious

The personal unconscious is that portion which has been forgotten or repressed. The functional units making up the personal unconscious are complexes, and those of which the collective unconscious are composed are archetypes. These functional 'components' can be conceived as dynamic 'systems' in a constant process of interaction and change. A complex is a group of associated ideas bound together by a shared emotional charge4; it exerts a dynamic effect on conscious experience and behaviour. Conversely, an archetype is an innate 'centre' or 'dominant', common to both the brain and the psyche, having the capacity to initiate, influence, and mediate the behavioural characteristics and typical experiences of all humans, irrespective of race, culture, historical epoch or geographical location. A close functional relationship exists between complexes and archetypes, in that complexes are 'personifications' of archetypes: complexes are the means through which archetypes manifest themselves in the personal psyche.

In making a complex conscious, the effect is one of reducing and often eliminating the effect of the complex in one's everyday life. This is primarily because a complex is like a split-off part of the psyche that has a tendency to behave like a partial, but separate, personality, often diametrically opposed to one's conscious wish, thereby manipulating us into disagreeable situations and disturbing one's normal conscious behaviour. Some complexes remain deeply unconscious, and the less conscious a complex is, the more complete its autonomy. We may believe we can master our complexes, but all too easily we become their slaves. Examples of major complexes include the mother, father and child complex, and also the more widely known guilt and power complexes.

The Persona was the name for the mask worn by actors in antiquity. It is the term Jung applied to those aspects of the personality by which one adapts to the outer world, the role we characteristically play, the face we put on, when relating to others. It is the 'packaging' of the ego: the ego's PR man or woman, responsible for advertising to people how one wants to be seen and reacted to. It simplifies relationships, oils the wheels of social intercourse and avoids the need for lengthy explanations and introductions.

The best kind of persona to possess is one that adapts flexibly to different social situations while simultaneously being a good reflection of the ego qualities that stand behind it. Difficulties arise when:

  • One tries to assume a persona that does not fit or to keep up some kind of posture which one does not possess the personal wherewithal to sustain.

  • One identifies with the persona, for this means sacrificing the rest of the personality and imposes a harmful degree of constraint on the realisation of one's undeveloped potential.

The Shadow complex possesses qualities opposite to those manifested in the persona. It is the inferior part of the personality consisting of the qualities and traits of character one prefers to hide, those that are unadapted and awkward. Consequently, these two aspects of the personality complement and counterbalance each other; the shadow compensating for the pretensions of the persona, the persona compensating for the anti-social propensities of the shadow. However, the shadow is not always negative and it is simplistic to assume that it is simply bad. Positive traits, too, can be rejected and repressed because they are unacceptable within a social or family milieu.

The shadow can manifest itself in dreams and, more commonly, in the outside world by the mechanism of projection; that is, we put onto others, usually of the same sex, the unconscious, unacceptable shadow traits of ourselves. This is done not as a conscious act of will but unconsciously as an act of ego-preservation. By denying the existence of our shadow we deny our own 'badness' and project it onto others, whom we hold responsible for it. This explains the practice of 'scapegoating', where through shadow projections we turn our enemies into 'devils' and convince ourselves of our own unassailable 'righteousness'. Repetitive conflict situations and constantly blaming others tells us that our shadow is speaking. Other places where shadow figures turn up are in fairy tales (the fact that we have relegated fairy tales to the realm and province of children reflects our collective rejection of the irrational aspects of ourselves and that tendency to regard the unconscious and its manifestations as infantile or belonging to children) and literature. An example of the latter can be seen in the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The novel's vast popularity is due to the co-existence of two deeply contrasting personalities in the same subject, this being an endless source of fascination in modern life. Jung felt intuitively that the term 'shadow' was appropriate for this dissociated subpersonality because, denied the light of consciousness, it was relegated to the twilight zone in the personal unconscious.

When, from time to time, shadow contents impinge on awareness, they are often accompanied by strong emotion, perhaps engendering feelings of shame, guilt or anger, or bringing fears that one will be rejected should they be discovered or exposed. Integrating one's shadow can therefore be a painful and disturbing experience, but necessary if one is to achieve a better level of adaptation to society. As the shadow is a real, substantial part of ourselves, psychological work commences in the recognition, confrontation and withdrawal of shadow projections, until finally accepting the dark, unconscious side of our personalities.

The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Jung's 'experiments with the unconscious' - his work on 'occult phenomena' and 'complexes' that function like subpersonalities, and the delusional material of his schizophrenic patients - and his anthropological studies led him to conclude that the unconscious mind exists in its own right and functions autonomously from the conscious mind. He found dream images that paralleled mythological motifs which the dreamer could not have learned, and hypothesised that these common motifs arise out of a common mental substratum.

The contents making up the collective unconscious come from the heritage of humanity, which Jung described as archetypal. An archetype is not an idea acquired by humanity but rather a 'possibility of representation' - ie an innate predisposition to an image, a common psychic structure that parallels the common human physical structure. Its existence is analogous to the axial system of a crystal, which preforms the crystalline structure in the mother liquid, although having no material existence of its own. Thus, the archetype itself cannot be experienced; all we can know of it is its effects on dreams, other mental contents, emotions, and actions.

There are as many archetypes as there are typical situations in life, such as birth, death, separation from parents and relationships to the opposite sex. The major archetypal images described by Jung are the persona, the shadow, the anima and animus, wise old man, 'Magna Mater' or great mother, the eternal child, the hero/saviour and the Self. In addition to the archetypal images in personified form, there also exist a host of archetypal objects, most notably the Mandala; others are trees, snakes, the sun and moon, fish, birds, the sea, ships, the mountains, etc. Each is rich and belongs to a mythological context.

Self and the Individuation Process

Jungian psychology can be read as an attempt to reconcile the opposites within us and the psychic energy that springs from its source in the tension between these opposites. Throughout his life, Jung was preoccupied with the reconciliation of the opposites - from his youthful struggle between his awkward Number One and his wise, old and learned Number Two personality, and later between his subjective and objective Self. The process of differentiating and bringing into awareness the contents of the unconscious mind is called Individuation, and the agent and the goal of this process is termed Self.

Jung's psychological theory centres around his concept of Individuation, the process of psychological development by which a person becomes a whole or integrated, as well as unique, personality. The Self, as the organising genius behind the total personality, is responsible for implementing the blueprint through each stage of life and bringing about the best adaptation that individual circumstances will allow. According to Marie-Louise von Franz, the experience of Self, brings a feeling of standing on solid ground inside oneself, on a patch of eternity, which even physical death cannot touch5.

In Jung's view the individuation process starts in earnest in the second half of life, often triggered by a 'mid-life crisis' - where the conscious aspects of the personality (ie, one's superior function) has diverged too far from the unconscious, causing a split. By confronting opposite tendencies (and 'inferior' functions) in one's psyche, one realises and progressively integrates unconscious contents, such as the shadow and the anima or animus. For Jung, the favourite image of the Self was the Mandala, it being an age-old symbol of wholeness and totality, with its centre emphasised and usually containing some reference to a deity. Other symbols of unity and the emergence of Self are the tree, the jewel, the flower and the chalice (eg, the Holy Grail).

1The first English publication of the complete works of CG Jung was undertaken by the Bollingen Foundation in the United States and by Routledge and Kegan Paul in England. Sir Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, Gerhard Adler, and William McGuire composed the editorial team, and the translator was RFC Hull (except for volume two). For a full list of Jung's collected works see CG Jung: His Life and Work.2See Jung's Psychological Typology, Collected Works 6.3See Jung's The Symbolic Life, CW 18, para 503.4According to Jung, complexes are 'psychic fragments which have split off owing to traumatic influences or certain incompatible tendencies. Complexes interfere with the intentions of the will and disturb the conscious performance. They produce disturbances of memory and blockages in the flow of association (the linking of ideas, perceptions, etc, according to similarities), they appear and disappear according to their own laws, and they can temporarily obsess consciousness, or influence speech and action in an unconscious way. In a word, complexes behave like independent beings.' See Jung's The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW8, para 121.5See M-L von Franz (1998) CG Jung: His Myth in Our Time, Inner City Books, Toronto, Canada.

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