What Is The Psyche?

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Carl Jung & The Psyche

The psyche is all of the human mind. It is both everything conscious and unconscious. Carl Jung defines the psyche by the following three ingredients, each yielding more depth and complexity than the last.

  • Conscious
  • Personal Unconscious
  • Collective Unconscious

Something which people tend to misunderstand about Jung’s analysis of the psyche is that Jung considered the world within (the unconscious) to be just as real as the world without (consciousness). Much like our bodies evolve to exist within nature, Jung makes evident his belief that a process not so dissimilar happens to our psyche as well. Our psyche also evolves.

In other words, Jung believed that unconsciousness is equally the consequence of evolution as is our physicality. This is a fundamental observation which must be driven home early in order to contextualise Jung’s collective unconscious theory.

If the body has evolved, then why not the psyche? For Jung it was obvious.

“What most people overlook or seem unable to understand is the fact I regard the psyche as real”

Carl Jung
The psyche carl jung


Consciousness is one’s field of awareness. This is awareness of both oneself and the world around them. Central to that awareness is the ego.

The ego acts upon consciousness as a sort of gatekeeper. There is a near-infinite amount of input constantly streaming through your conscious experience. The ego behaves to filter between that which can be consciously recalled. The rest is relegated to the unconscious.

The persona is the conscious projection of your ‘personality’ that you pass onto the world.

Personal Unconscious

The personal unconscious consists of all the forgotten events and experiences you have lived which were filtered away into the depths by the ego.

These events while seemingly forgotten are never in fact lost. They do as well manage to wield influence over our personality. Moods and behaviours are not always conscious decisions. Complexes populate the personal unconscious and can have consistent influence over your thoughts and behaviour.

“When we say a person has a complex we mean he is strongly preoccupied with something that he can barely think about anything else. A ‘hang up’. A strong complex is easily noticed by others but not always by the individual”

Carl Jung

Take a commonly held complex, the inferiority complex. As one experiences their upbringing and the throws of socialisation, it is common for an individual to feel a sense of inferiority being placed upon them as a child. Whether it be the comparison to a sibling, the disappointment of your father, or never being recognised as special, these experiences can fuel a sense of inferiority within the personal subconscious.

These complexes then, given the power of their experience, can exert will over your behaviour. Filtered away from consciousness by the ego, your personal subconscious is a messy field of influence subject to interfere with your well-intentioned persona at any given time. The only way to tidy up the personal subconscious and become psychologically mature is through the equally difficult but nonetheless necessary processes of individuation and integration of the shadow.

More On The Personal Unconscious

Psychological trauma and conditions such as PTSD are all manifest at the level of the personal unconscious.

Much of the trauma we as individuals experience throughout life rarely gets past the filter of the ego and therefore, slips away into the unkempt field of your mind.

The mood your father held when he would return home from work barely registers as useful information when it happens every day. But when it happens every day and those memories accumulate in your personal unconscious. The lessons and behaviours you learn as a consequence build in the unconscious just to come back around one day as an unwilling manifestation of your conscious behaviour.

Complexes and the breadth of experience that exists within our personal unconscious make acknowledgment of intensely difficult. It takes vulnerability to admit that we are not fully in control of our conscious behaviour.

Collective Unconscious

This is in my opinion the most interesting, and in the opinion of ‘academics’ the most audacious of Carl Jung’s theories. Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious is absurdly fascinating. It is an ambitious and trench-like deep attempt at explaining the interconnectedness of human experience. It teeters in the cross-hairs of spirituality, destiny and a higher meaning.

As the name suggests, the collective unconscious is our shared realm of unconscious and hereditary human experience. These are themes and impulses dug so deep into our psyche that Jung could only discover this theory by observing the uncanny similarities of dreams between his patients. The universal coincidental occurrence of certain motifs, as well as the universal similarities in comparative mythology.

Jung suggests that rather than all complexes arising due to personal trauma he believed that in addition to the personal unconscious, there resides complexes further downwards into the psyche. This is where the archetypes come in to influence Jung’s ideas.

Archetypes are psychic structures common to all humans. They are predispositions that humans are born with to think, feel, perceive and act in different ways. This is best known in the culture with the hero myth.

Discovery of the collective unconscious is absolutely necessary should you desire to become psychologically mature. Jung suggests that only through the analysis of dreams and comparative mythology can we come to learn how the collective unconscious yields will over the conscious.

“Dreams are the impartial, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche outside of the control of will”

Carl Jung

This is, of course, all effort made in vain of purpose for an individual might reach individuation, which Jung regarded as the highest ideal for a man to strive.

“Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation”

Carl Jung
collective unconscious carl jung

Gaining insights through reading and traveling

Traveling is one of the best ways to learn about the world. By experiencing different cultures, meeting new people and discovering new places we gain a much greater appreciation for our planet and what it has to offer.

An easy way to experience the world without actually traveling is to listen to travel podcasts and read books written by travel writers. Both types of media will allow you to dive deep into topics like culture, natural wonders, cuisine, environmental causes and more. Travel podcasts are often filled with engaging stories from around the world. These are told through interviews with locals or travelers who have immersed themselves in a specific place or culture while on their journeys. Reading travel books can also be incredibly informative as you get an in-depth look at what life is like in certain areas, learn about the history that may have been previously unknown and gain insight into global issues. Not only will these audio/visual resources provide a better understanding of remote cultures but they can also be great sources for future travel plans! Learn how to travel like a local and experience the world.

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Cheers for reading through to the end you legend!

Every month I write a short, popular email which highlights the biggest insights I’ve distilled through all the noise of the previous month. This includes extremely cool ideas, exceptional companies, massive stories that weren’t given attention. But also the music and podcasts that defined that month plus of course the best-written content I came across.


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