Copyright © 2007-2018 Russ Dewey
Jung's theory, like Freud's, is a depth psychology. It assumes the important factors influencing personality are in the unconscious. However, Jung did not use Freud's concepts of id and super-ego.
Like Freud, Jung called the mind as a whole the psyche. The psyche is the whole psychic universe of the individual, including both conscious and unconscious processes.
What was the psyche? What was Jung's special interest?
Jung was fascinated with the unconscious. If the sexual theory was Freud's special interest, unconscious mental contents were Jung's special interest.
Jung was interested in any sort of myth, art, dream, legend, or religious belief. He regarded all of them as expressions of deep, largely unconscious psychological forces.
Jung distinguished between two types of unconscious process. One he called the personal unconscious, the other he called the collective unconscious.
The personal unconscious was the accumulation of experiences from a person's lifetime that could not be consciously recalled. The collective unconscious was a universal inheritance of human beings, a species memory passed on to each of us.
What were two types of unconscious mind, to Jung?
Jung believed the personal unconscious was dominated by complexes. Complexes, in Jung's system, are emotion-laden themes from a person's life.
For example, if you had a leg amputated when you were a child, this might influence your life in profound ways, even if you were wonderfully successful in overcoming the handicap. You might have many thoughts and emotions tied up with this fact: memories, feelings of inferiority, triumphs, bitterness, determination, all centered on that one aspect of your life.
If these thoughts troubled you, Jung would say you had a complex about the leg. Jungian therapy would involve examining the complex from many angles and using art or dream imagery to explore related feelings.
To Jung, a complex was a grouping of parts around some central emotional theme. Complexes were due to a person's life experiences, so they were individual and unique.
A complex might turn up in dreams or fantasies. It might provoke an unusual reaction to a word, or to events in the outside world that related to the complex.
What were complexes, in Jung's theory?
The personal unconscious was generated during a person's lifetime. The collective unconscious was a repository of innate tendencies from deep time: responses to significant patterns from the human ancestral environment.
Archetypes were patterns from the collective unconscious. They were innate responses to stimuli found in all human societies for thousands of years, such as babies, old people, heros, and maidens.
Jung was struck by the similarity between images from dreams, reported to him by patients, and images in the journals of medieval alchemists. Alchemists were a pre-scientific version of chemists.
Alchemists were most famous for trying to turn substances like lead and antimony into gold, but they conducted many impressive demonstrations as well. They could make liquids change color or foam or explode or change into solids, if ingredients were mixed or heated in just the right way. All that seemed magical in the Middle Ages.
Some alchemists kept dream diaries, illustrating their journals with flamboyant, mysterious drawings of supernatural creatures and mystical symbols. Jung received an alchemist's journal on loan from a library the same week he had a vivid dream about a book full of obscure symbols.
The book arrived on loan, Jung opened it, and were pages filled with fantastic symbols, just like in his dream. From that point on Jung was hooked on alchemy. He explored ancient alchemists' books for clues about obscure symbolism and occult practices.
Why was Jung interested in alchemy?
Jung did not believe gold could be created from lead...literally. Jung saw the whole enterprise of alchemy as symbolic, a spiritual exercise.
Alchemy symbolized the potential human transformation from base, lower existence (lead) to higher spiritual awareness (gold). To Jung, the symbolism occurring in the journals of alchemists, like the symbolism in the dreams of his therapy clients, and the myths of ancient cultures, all were manifestations of the same human effort to struggle toward spiritual wholeness, to find the "gold" in existence.
Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious
Jung described the collective unconscious as "unconscious images of instincts themselves." This is one of Jung's most original contributions to psychology.
Underneath the modern surface of the mind, he said, lurks the original primitive mentality of our ancestors, in the form of stories and symbols with natural appeal to us. We draw on these instinctive themes in assembling imaginary stories and scenes, and they appear unbidden in our dreams and fantasies.
The collective unconscious showed itself in patterns called archetypes. Archetypes are patterns that would have occurred reliably in the ancestral environment of humans (the so-called EEA or environment of evolutionary adaptedness, as psychologists long after Jung called it).
Such constants (patterns always present) are grist for the mill of evolution. Heroes, maidens, babies, old people, scary wild men: these would have been in every human society down through evolutionary history.
It is plausible that humans evolved adaptive responses to these patterns. The underlying process would be the same as for animals developing instinctive sensitivity to significant stimuli in their environments.
Jung wrote that archetypes were projection-making factors in the brain. To project is to see something in the outside world when its actual source is within.
Jung believed that archetypes were instinctive sensitivities to significant patterns, handed down in our genes. When we respond to a significant pattern (such as babyishness) is is because of our inborn circuitry. We are like male sticklebacks charging at the color red during mating season; we cannot help but react.
When we see a brave successful warrior, even on the field of sports combat instead of the field of battle, we have an inborn tendency to find that person heroic. When we see a young, attractive maiden, we cannot help but respond to her beauty. The song may say "The girl can't help it" but actually the response comes from within us, due to evolution.
How is projection involved in the experience of archetypes?
Below is a partial list of archetypes. Each is a pattern that existed in primitive times and can be found (in some recognizable variation) in the history, literature, or myth of every human culture.
A Sampling of Jungian Archetypes
- Mother: The nurturant, loving mother
- Father: The demanding and rewarding father
- Baby: The helpless infant
- Man: The strong, aggressive, rational male
- Maiden: The fair, unspoiled, intuitive female
- God: The Almighty, the guiding light
- Devil: The embodiment of evil
- Wild Man: The untamed primitive, hairy and dangerous
- Trickster: A mischievous figure who plays pranks
- Boogie Man: A monster preying on reckless children
- Anima: The female which lurks within every male
- Animus: The male which lurks within every female
- Shadow: The evil, repressed parts of our own personalities
- Mandala: A circular symbol of self and consciousness, usually with something holy in the middle
- Hero: A strong, capable person [Jung said "man"] who saves and protects
- Hag: An old, deformed woman who casts spells or makes poisons
- Wise Man: A wise sage, usually with a long white beard
What are some Jungian archetypes?
Notice that Jung included mythical themes like the trickster and spiritual symbols such as the mandela, God, and the Devil. This is distinctively Jungian: he treated psychological events as objectively real.
After all, Philemon, a figure from his own unconscious, taught him figures from the unconscious should be given the same respect we accord to birds of the air or fish of the sea. They were real and had an independent influence on the psyche.
Jung took this insight seriously. (And who better to impart this wisdom than a figure from his own imagination.)
When asked if he believed in God, Jung replied that he did not "believe" in God, he knew God was real. This was despite Jung being not at all religious in a conventional sense.
When one of his clients spoke of visiting the moon, a colleague of Jung's talked about the woman's fantasies. "No," Jung corrected her, "She really was on the moon." It might not have happened in the objectively real world, but it happened in her psyche.
Many psychologists find Jung's idea of archetypes no more convincing than Freud's sexual theory. However, as noted above, Jung's ideas are not so distant from the familiar concepts of ethology, where instinctive influences are not controversial.
Humans are animals, too. We are the most social animals of all, in the famous words of Elliot Aronson (1972). It is not weird or implausible that we have instinctive reactions to significant social patterns, including many Jung did not list.
Jung loved to speculate, in any event. He was a wide-ranging thinker. He wrote a remarkable essay about UFOs in the 1950s (Jung, 1958). He said he did not believe they actually existed, although he would be convinced by physical evidence.
Then as now, physical evidence of UFO visits was strangely lacking, given the frequency with which they were "seen." Jung concluded that UFO sightings were modern versions of a phenomenon known to humans for centuries: visions expressing a deep spiritual yearning.
How did Jung explain flying saucers?
Jung pointed out that flying saucers were a perfect spiritual symbol for the modern age. They were circular, like the mandala, and therefore served as a metaphor for the self or reflective self-consciousness. They were seen in the skies, just like religious visions of antiquity.
They were morally ambiguous, like the ancient gods. Nobody knew if they were here to save the earth or to destroy us.
UFOs were relevant to modern civilizations, Jung noted, being technologically advanced, but they also held the power and mystery of old religions. For self-consciously modern, technologically-oriented people who might no longer find inspiration in old belief systems, flying saucers were a natural substitute.
Aronson, Elliot (1972) The Social Animal. New York: Worth.
Jung, C. (1958/1970) Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. (Translation by R. C. F. Hull.) Princeton, NJ: MJP Books.
Write to Dr. Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org.