Becoming Your True Self - The Psychology of Carl Jung

We feel as though we are in the driver’s seat of our mind, driving according to our conscious will; but upon only a little introspection, we realize, at least in many cases, we are merely following a built-in navigation system that exceeds our knowledge and understanding; we perceive but the display screen atop an entire complex software run on even more complex hardware.

If we do not attempt to familiarize ourselves with this navigation system, how it works, where it’s trying to go, and how to override it when it sends us the wrong direction, we risk aimlessly traveling the world, ending up somewhere uninteresting at best and disastrous at worse. 

20th-century Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, is perhaps one of the greatest and most capable minds that has ever attempted to do this—to explore itself from the inside and conceptualize a complete understanding of this sort of internal navigation system from the top-down. 

Jung was born in 1875 in Kesswil, Switzerland to a relatively impoverished rural pastor, Paul Jung, and a depressed, eccentric, spirit-seeing mother, Emilie Jung. 

Jung was a very introverted and isolated child who spent much of his time alone, engaging in activities of make-believe, projection, dissociation, and analyzing the adults in his life. 

During early childhood, he strongly disliked and underperformed in school to the point of almost neurosis, regularly fainting to get out of it. 

However, as age and maturity would have it, and after his father expressed stern concern over his potential incompetence, Jung somewhat dramatically shifted to engaging more intensely in his education, reading actively on his own, especially that of philosophy and religious texts. 

Following secondary school, after determining that he did not want to follow the family’s path of a religious vocation, Jung would end up pursuing medicine at the University of Basel. 

After getting his completed medical degree from the University of Zurich in 1902, he would work at a psychiatric hospital under the prominent and well-connected psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler. Several years later, he would leave the hospital and begin his own private practice. 

As Jung became more successful and well-known in his field, he would soon become acquainted with the extremely popular, ground-breaking, and controversial psychologist of the time, who still holds this title today, Sigmund Freud. 

The two would meet for the first time in 1907, upon which they would talk for around thirteen hours straight. This would quickly develop into a strong friendship and professional association. 

They traveled the world and lectured together, analyzed each other’s dreams, and discussed various aspects of their psychological studies and theories. 

However, Freud being of a much greater professional stature at the time, as well as being substantially older than Jung, created a dynamic in the friendship that was much more like a father-son- or teacher-pupil-relationship. 

This would, unfortunately, pose problems as Jung’s career advanced and began to encroach on Freud’s. The two would soon find themselves in disagreements over fundamental aspects of each other’s theories. 

Ultimately, these disagreements, Jung’s tendency toward a somewhat mystical consideration of the human mind as opposed to Freud’s more scientific reductionist approach, the nature of their father-son-relationship, and Jung’s desire for professional independence, all caused the two to split their friendship off in 1913. 

Following and as a consequence of this breakup, from around 1913 to 1918, Jung experienced a sort of mid-life psychological breakdown. 

During this, he spent much of his time introspecting and writing about psychological experiments he conducted on himself, exploring the recesses of his unconscious. 

This period of transition, independence, and psychological turbulence would ultimately concretize his views of the mind and his career as an independent theorist of psychology. 

Put simply, the primary objective of Jung’s career was to understand the nature of the psyche and then develop theories and methods to aid in the integration of all its components to create a singular, unified state of wholeness. 

In this context, the psyche here simply refers to the complete personality of the individual, including feelings, thoughts, and behaviors—the combination of the unconscious and conscious mind. 

The continuous striving toward integrating the psyche through the process of self-realization and becoming a maximized, authentic individual, for Jung, was the fundamental goal of life and psychological understanding.

“…Man’s task,” he wrote, “is…to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious…As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” 

For Jung, there is a constant interplay between the unconscious and conscious realms of the psyche, which combine to create our complete personality. 

Most of this, however, develops and exists in the unconscious realm, beneath our immediate awareness and control. 

Thus, a significant portion of who we really are, what we really like and are capable of, and the reasons we do the things we do, persist within a realm we don’t actively understand or have access to. 

And so, to come into a more authentic and complete state of being, the individual must attempt to make this portion of the psyche conscious by tapping into it and integrating it into the whole of their awareness. 

Jung would call this process Individuation. To better understand this, it is important to understand Jung’s model of the psyche, which he divided, starting with the broader dimensions, into consciousness, personal unconsciousness, and collective unconsciousness. 

Breaking each of these three realms down, consciousness is, as one would typically think of it, the realm of personal awareness where one identifies explicitly and knowingly with themselves. At the core of this is another structure Jung identified, the ego. 

The ego sits at the center of consciousness and provides a sense of personal distinction, creating the story one tells themselves about themselves to maintain continuity in their identity. 

The ego is expressed in the conscious realm by what Jung called the Persona, which is the outward efforts of appearance, which the individual actively displays to the world. 

This persona, however, is often disjointed from the individual’s true self as it displays the character that one thinks or wants to be according to what the ego deems is appropriate to a particular society and role, and not what is true to who the individual actually is. 

To execute and maintain this suitable appearance and self-esteem, the ego filters various components of personal experience and selfhood either into or away from the conscious dimension. 

What it filters away and restricts, it represses and sends down into the unconscious realm. One of Jung’s most unique and profound insights that differentiate him most notably from other psychologists is how, from here, he separated the unconscious into two distinct structures: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. 

The personal unconscious fits similarly into the ideas already understood and proposed by Freud and others of the time. In which, after the ego represses and disregards undesirable aspects of experience and selfhood, these aspects are stored and concealed here, just beneath normal awareness. 

They still, however, continue to actively affect and interact back and forth with consciousness. The collective unconscious, however, differentiates from the personal unconscious and other prior conceptions of the psyche in that, according to Jung, it contains and facilitates universal elements that are inherited through the sum total of human history—similar in some sense to how biological evolution works. 

"Man has developed consciousness slowly and laboriously, in a process that took untold ages to reach the civilized state …And this evolution is far from complete, for large areas of the human mind are still shrouded in darkness." wrote Jung. 

As a result of each generation of human offspring essentially imitating the behaviors of the previous generation, (to at least some degree) an unbroken chain of psychological imitation is formed, going all the way back to the beginning of human history. 

Thus, a sort of reservoir of psychological predispositions, structures, and memories that have been formed by this chain is automatically inherited by each human being. 

Jung found this to be empirically demonstrable in both his own professional psychiatric practice, finding recurring similarities in the unconscious of a vast number of his patients, as well as his historical and mythological research, in which he noticed that similar motifs, symbols, and themes that appeared in his patient’s unconscious, also were prevalent and consistent across art, myths, and literature within different cultures of different times, even though these cultures often never even encountered one another. 

In Jung’s view, these shared motifs, symbols, and themes were expressions of the various psychic structures consistent across humanity, which he called archetypes. 

These archetypes, in Jung’s model of the psyche, essentially form the basis of the individual’s personality by predisposing specific cognitive tendencies. 

Within the combined unconscious, Jung would refer to all the repressed, denied, and unknown content, which the ego does not want to identify with, like the Shadow. Lastly, sort of nested within the Shadow is what Jung broke down into the animus and anima, which specifically refer to the suppressed feminine qualities in a male (anima) and the suppressed masculine qualities in a female (animus). 

According to Jung, all the aforementioned structures of the psyche work together in active circulation to ultimately form what lies at the center—the Self—the combined, authentic totality of the unconscious and conscious. 

This Self is who the individual actually is, what they actually desire, what they actually like, what they actually are capable of, and so on. 

Simply put, getting the ego and a high degree of the persona as close to this as possible is the goal of individuation, and ultimately, a fulfilled life. 

Whether it’s through methods like therapy, introspection, personal development toward authenticity, or some combination, ultimately, for Jung, it is the task of the individual to determine and strive toward this. 

In all cases, this sort of self-realization requires an effort of radical self-acceptance; and radical self-acceptance requires an effort of radical self-honesty. 

To actively move deeper into the psyche, each opportunity one takes to examine a personal feeling, thought, or action, they must attempt to do so by accepting the complete and often undesirable potentiality of what it truly indicates about themselves—that they are not always who they think or hope they are. 

Each of these capitalized opportunities, personal or professional, is like a small step down the stairwell into the unconscious. 

As one goes further down, however, as they confront these deeper and darker elements of their being hidden in the basement, they must, in Jungian terms, work to integrate their Shadow—the breadth of their potential faults and wickedness—as opposed to rush back up the stairs in denial. 

One’s shadow does not disappear by looking away from it. In the same way, one cannot literally evade the light-casted shadow of their body by outrunning it, there is no move or evasive tactic that separates the individual from their psychological shadow. 

The danger, rather, is in the attempt to do so, the ignorance and denial of it. “Good does not become better by being exaggerated, but worse, and a small evil becomes a big one through being disregarded and repressed. 

The Shadow is very much a part of human nature, and it is only at night that no shadows exist.” wrote Jung. Awareness of one’s dark side allows one to more appropriately manage and recognize it when it sneaks up the stairs uninvited. 

One must know of a problem to be able to fix it, and it is an act of healing to admit that one is sick. 

Although self-acceptance and authenticity are perhaps simple and obvious enough sounding, the act of actually working toward radical self-acceptance and individuation is, of course, far from simple and obvious. 

In the absolute sense, it is almost certainly impossible. In the above-average sense, it is still perhaps life’s greatest and most difficult endeavor. 

To truly and honestly accept your downfalls, weaknesses, potential evils, and shameful or unpopular interests and qualities, to admit what you see, fear, or hate in others is and could be inside of you, to admit to yourself that is not and will never be completely who you think and want to be, that you are not as good as you had hoped, and to confront what your mind has worked a lifetime to keep from itself, is a task that literally shakes the very core of the psyche.

However, it is perhaps proportionally essential for a fulfilled and complete life. Ultimately, Jung’s work provides insights, theories, and methods to help the individual move through this process toward not only potentially gaining access to fixing the bugs in their navigation system, but also, in some sense, access to the controls, where now they can better input the destination coordinates according to where they actually can and want to go.

Author: Robert Pantano, owner- Pursuit of Wonder.

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