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The Conscious and Unconscious a’la Jung

The Conscious and Unconscious a’la Jung

Freud viewed the unconscious as a production of consciousness, created to become the dustbin of repressed material. Jung took a completely opposite view and suggested consciousness was derived from the unconscious, and that it was a reservoir of creativity and purpose as well as a storehouse of repressed material. He observed consciousness as being narrow, limiting and fleeting. He valued the PROGRESSIVE elements of consciousness, but also recognised its boundaries. He did not accept consciousness as being the source of creativity and enlightenment, but rather part of experience that was more substantially unconscious.  He claimed that resources within the unconscious had untold depths, whilst consciousness was momentarily focused.  Jung might say that we can only experience the momentary 60th minute of an hour in relation to the other 59 minutes that had gone before. He argued that a balanced personality drew from both conscious and unconscious resources, and argued that when we have exhausted all our conscious resources we are forced to turn to the unconscious for resolution.

To understand Jung’s view of conscious and unconscious processes it is useful to picture a scene of volcanic islands, sitting visibly in the ocean. Above the surface lies conscious-ness. Below the surface, to the sea bed, lies the personal unconscious. The sea bed and all that lies beneath is the collective unconscious that connects all the islands at a deeper level. We can then imagine the volcanic channel starting below the sea bed and reaching to the top of the volcanic island. This analogy enables us to understand that Jung’s view of the relationship between conscious and unconscious processes is free flowing, that conscious-ness filters down into the unconscious and that even the deepest depth of the collective  unconscious affects  consciousness.

Consciousness (the visible island)

According to Jung, consciousness is the experience of the here and now, but it is momentary. He argued that consciousness is so momentary that it is grossly overvalued in relation to the unconscious.  Jung’s view is that consciousness is only a small part of the experience of the psyche and that the substantial aspects of the psyche lie in the unconscious. He considered the ego to be the

centre of the field of consciousness and that the ego is only concerned with conscious experience. Consequently, over association with conscious experience can create an imbalance in personality that leads to “ego-inflation”. In Jung’s terms, the psyche is the totality of our conscious and unconscious experience, and the ego only a part of conscious experience.

The Personal Unconscious (the island below the water-line)

Jung viewed the personal unconscious as containing Freud’s preconscious and un-conscious. Jung suggested that all that was once conscious to the individual is stored in a subjective personal unconscious. The personal unconscious is unique to each individual.  A great deal of material is forgotten or repressed. Unlike Freud, he saw the personal unconscious as a reservoir of both repressed material and creativity. It is not just a storehouse of destructive or disabling material, but a well of enlightenment and creativity.

The Collective Unconscious (the connecting sea bed and below)

This  is perhaps the most important and controversial of Jung’s contributions.  The collective unconscious is at the heart of Jung’s theory and central to understanding his theoretical position.

It is the deposit of ancestral experiences from untold millions of years, the echo of prehistoric world events to which each century adds an infinitesimally small amount of variation and differentiation.

Jung (1928) p162

Jung talks of the collective unconscious as a flexible mould or a blueprint underpinning the individual personality. It is a predisposition that we carry culturally into our subjective experience. It is a substream of being that is part of our physical and genetic make-up. Jung argues that we have both biological and psychological predispositions. He claims that it is not located in the brain, but is part of our whole mental and physical functioning. Within the collective unconscious lies the shared journey and the search for meaning. It is detached from anything personal, and common to all human beings. Jung suggests the common features can be found in myths, legends, fairytales and literature from time immemorial.  He talks of ARCHETYPES as inherited predispositions to respond to primordial images that are formless. The predisposition to respond to aspects of experience on life’s journey has its roots in the collective unconscious.  Archetypes are formless until brought into consciousness. Jung provides many examples of archetypal experiences that affect each generation: life; death; love; hate; light; dark; mother; father; hero; villain; etc. Consistent with Jung’s theory is the notion of archetypal opposites.


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