Posted by: Edward | September 10, 2008

Brief Introduction to Jungian Psychology

Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychoanalyst. Though he was an early associate of Freud he split off to form his own school of thought, is largely responsible for starting what is now known as depth psychology and brought us such concepts as introversion and synchronicity. The following is a brief introduction to some of the macro level concepts of his thought. I’ll be writing more about Jungian Psychological concepts in later articles and I’ve already touched on synchronicity.

Psyche and Self

Jungian psychology is a holistic approach to the mind of man. He calls the total field of mental phenomenon the psyche and avers that we can never know its totality. This psyche is the metaphoric space that other psychic phenomena inhabit. The central organizing principle of the psyche is called the Self. This is the higher self of many mystical traditions, the holy guardian angel of the golden dawn or the true will of Thelema.

Conscious and Unconscious

The space of the psyche is divided into the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious is that part of the mind that we generally have conscious access to and includes rational thought and sense awareness. The central organizing principle of the conscious is the Ego. The Ego is your day to day sense of self, your personality and personal history as you are consciously aware of it. The unconscious is that portion of the psyche that operates outside of conscious awareness. The central organizing principle of the unconscious is called the shadow. The shadow is those aspects of self that are outside of our awareness or actively repressed. The shadow is the Mr. Hyde to the ego’s Dr. Jekyll. In order to approach the wholeness of the self we must engage in a transformative process of integrating the ego and the shadow.


The shadow, as it exists in the unconscious, is not something we can see directly but something we can follow like an animal in the bushes, by watching for its tracks. The primary places where we can see sign of the shadow are in unintentional slips, aspects of ourselves that others see and we do not, negative aspects of others that we overreact to, in our humour and in our dreams. The most interesting place to look is in our overreactions to others. They are sign of what Jungians refer to as projection. When we react out of measure to a fault in others it can be a sign of an aspect of ourselves that we have repressed, an aspect of our shadows, that we have projected onto others. Our slips are things that we do that we can’t accept as from us so we experience them as accidents rather than as purposeful actions.

Personal and Collective

Jung further divides the psychic field into the personal and the collective. On the conscious side, the personal is the memories and thoughts available to simple introspection, while the collective is the social relations and is governed by the persona. On the unconscious side the personal is the personal history and desires that have been forgotten or repressed into an unconscious state while the collective unconscious is a deeper matter of the psychic drives and factors that are common to all mankind. It is out of the collective unconscious that the archetypes arise.


These archetypes are personifications and symbols of the basic drives, needs and fundamental issues of mankind. While they are common to us all they are uniquely expressed by each culture and indeed by each individual. Because of these archetypes, the collective unconscious takes on a mythic aspect and indeed many of the world’s myths, some would say all of them, are narrative expressions of archetypal conflicts from the collective unconscious.


Dreams are a major focal point for Jungian psychology. They are a place where we can most easily learn to see aspects of the unconscious. Dreams operate using a kind of symbol language, remixing them with experiences from our waking lives to solve problems and rehearse skills to aid learning. If we can learn to remember and interpret our dreams we have a window into the unconscious operating of our mind and can use the dreams to create a kind of communication with our unconscious. When we start changing our actions in response to dream information we will establish a feedback loop which will increase the informational value of the dream material. It is by integrating the unconscious material into our conscious awareness that we move closer to Self from our limited perspective of conscious ego. Dreams, due to their role in the unconscious processing of our ongoing existences, will reveal material from our personal unconscious, such as how we really feel about someone, and collective unconscious themes of archetypal meaning.


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