Jung and His Contributions: Part Three

The Collective Unconscious

My previous post considered the influence of Jung’s concepts of psychological types, animus and anima, and archetypes. Underpinning each of these concepts, particularly archetypes, is his concept of the collective unconscious. This is how Jung explains the distinction between the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious in “Four Archetypes” (1973):

“A more or less superficial layer of the unconscious is undoubtedly personal. I call it the ‘personal unconscious’. But this personal unconscious rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition but is inborn. This deeper layer I call the ‘collective unconscious’. I have chosen the term ‘collective’ because this part of the conscious is not individual but universal; in contrast to the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals.” (pg.3) “The contents of the personal unconscious are chiefly the feeling-toned complexes, as they are called; they constitute the personal and private side of psychic life. The contents of the collective unconscious, on the other hand, are known as archetypes.”(p.4)

Jolande Jacobi, in “The Way of Individuation” (1967) explains Jung’s notions of personal and collective unconscious: “He distinguishes the ‘personal unconscious’, whose contents are ontogenetically acquired, and the ‘collective unconscious’, whose contents are derived from phylogenesis. These latter are specifically human, typical modes of action and reaction, irrepresentable propensities which he terms ‘archetypes’. They become perceptible to consciousness under definite constellations in the form of archetypal images, symbols, or processes. On the one hand they are ‘reflections’ of the instincts, on the other they express ideations. Hence Jung distinguishes between the non-perceptible archetype per se and the perceptible archetypal image. The ego is conditioned not only by the unconscious psyche but also very largely by the ‘collective consciousness’. By this term Jung means the sum total of traditions, conventions, customs, prejudices, rules, and norms of the environment in which the individual lives, and the spirit of the age by which he is influenced.” (p.150)

My own take on Jung’s and Jacobi’s descriptions is that we are aware of the existence and contents of our personal unconscious but if there is such a thing as a “collective unconscious”, it is an “irrepresentable propensity” – an “archetype”, and it is “non-perceptible”. What we may experience of the collective unconscious or archetypes are tracings or symbolic representations (ideas, images). We then extrapolate or interpret these tracings as signs indicating that they do indeed come from a universal source. This notion links Jung’s research into alchemy to his ideas about transformation and individuation. While Toni Wolff warned Jung not to move deeply into alchemy, he obviously ignored her warning. She believed he was leaving science and becoming more occultist. This was, of course, what Freud had warned of. I suspect that some of the attraction to Jung’s ideas has to do with the “spiritual” flavor of his investigation into alchemy and the collective unconscious, though Jung himself did not claim a particular creation designer. Jung was an indefatigable investigator of the unknown. He was willing to risk his reputation as a scientist to dive deeply into the occult.

In my research about the human journey process, I identified representations of individual journeys through mythology, literature, films, memoirs, spiritual quests, travel journals, anthropological ethnographies, and these representations followed a definite pattern – one which elaborated the basic departure-initiation-return pattern identified in Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces”. This pattern could be a “non-perceptible archetype”. Only the tracings or representations are perceptible. The relationship Jung saw between the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious, I saw in the individual journey pattern and the “universal” journey pattern. The individual is the synchronic and the universal is the diachronic. The individual “hero’s journey” plays out the universal pattern , but with individual and particular style.


I believe Jung’s ideas about the individuation process may be among his most significant contributions. A complete explanation of what Jung intended with his conception of the individuation process would likely include some explanation of many of his other concepts, such as archetypes, the personal and collective unconscious, anima and animus, the function of the shadow. Jolande Jacobi (1967) explains the core of what Jung intended with his development of the individuation process:

“When Jung speaks of an individuation process that characterizes a possibility of development immanent in everyone and that culminates in rounding out the individual into a psychic whole, his conception, though following the same line as other philosophical definitions, is both broader and deeper, since it takes account not only of the conscious but also the unconscious components of the psyche in their delicately balanced and creative interaction with the conscious mind.”(p.13.) In her chapter on “The Two Kinds of Individuation”, Jacobi says: “Fundamentally, individuation is a natural process immanent in every living organism. The individuation process can either take place unconsciously, or it can be made conscious in various ways and brought to a high degree of differentiation. It goes without saying that there are any number of intermediate stages. Two main forms may be distinguished:

  1. The natural process, occurring more or less autonomously and without the participation of consciousness, and
  2. The ‘artificial’ process, aided for instance by analysis, developed by definite methods, and consciously experienced.

In both forms the same power is at work, striving for maturation and self-realization from the seed to the fruit, to the invisible goal immanent within them. But the two forms are as different as, say, a wild fruit and a highly cultivated one. In the first case everything is left to the natural process; in the second, this is assisted, intensified, and consciously realized by the application of a special technique”. (p.15)

Two main phases of the individuation process:

Both the “natural” and the “artificial” variants are divided into two main phases, essentially the first half and second half of each person’s life. While this is to some extent arbitrary, Jacobi (1967) states, “their duration, the kind of task that has to be solved in them, and the depth and intensity of the experience vary with each individual.”(p.21) While most developmental psychology theories focus on the first half of life, Jung was particularly interested in the transition from the first phase to the second and how one can shape the second half of their lives.

Possible stages in the individuation process:

While there are a number of sources which refer to “stages” in the individuation process, it is not clear to me that Jung mapped specific stages and even though Jacobi titles a chapter, “Stages” in her book (1967), I was hard pressed to notice any clearly delineated stages. Jacobi refers to “four functions of consciousness” These are the ones I mentioned in my post on psychological types: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. She refers to the two attitudes , also mentioned in my previous post: introversion and extroversion. She argues that the development of the relationship between the attitudes and the functions is part of a natural process and acts as criteria for “the successful course of the individuation process.”(P.37) A possible first stage would then be the shaping of “persona”. “By ‘persona’ Jung means that segment of the ego which is connected with relations to the surrounding world.” (p.37) Jacobi says, “An elastic persona that ‘fits well’ belongs to the psychic wardrobe of the adult man, and its lack or its rigidity is an indication of psychic maldevelopment.” (p.37) She warns about a danger in over identifying with one’s persona, such as a professor with his textbooks or a general with his rank. In relating the functions, attitudes and persona, Jacobi says, “The development and differentiation of the predominant ‘attitude’ and main ‘function’ as well as the persona generally go hand in hand with experiences and conflicts which are indispensable for the maturation of the psyche.”(p.37)

A possible second “stage” could be the “shadow”. Jacobi says, “The shadow is the sum of all the qualities conforming to our sex that were neglected or rejected while the ego was being built up. The growth of the shadow, like that of the persona, keeps pace with that of the ego; it is, as it were, the ego’s mirror-image, and is compounded partly or repressed, partly of unlived psychic features which, for moral, social, educational, or other reasons, were from the outset excluded from consciousness and from active participation in life and were therefore repressed or split off. Accordingly the shadow can be marked by both positive and negative qualities.”(p.38) According to Jung there is a personal shadow and a collective shadow. Working through shadow content in mythology and dreams is part of the individuating process. Jacobi says: “Conscious realization of the shadow, the disclosure of its qualities, and the integration of its contents always have a therapeutic effect because this is a step on the way towards man’s wholeness.” (p.40)

Along with working with shadow material a possible third “stage” in the individuation process may be encountering and working with one’s anima or animus. Jacobi says: “one of the main tasks of the second phase of the individuation process is a confrontation with the unconscious feminine features of the man, which Jung calls the ‘anima’, or with the unconscious features of the woman, the ‘animus’. Both are archetypal powers and besides personal elements also contain collective ones. Being so constituted they form the natural bridge to the deepest layers of the psyche.” (p.44) The figures of anima and animus are projected on persons, such as mothers and fathers, and also in dreams and fantasies. Jacobi says: “In the first half of life it is natural and logical that these intrapsychic figures should appear in projection and that we are thus attracted to the men and women who are their carriers, and fall in love with them. It is the task of the second half of life to withdraw the projections. It belongs to the second phase of the individuation process, when a man must learn to stand by himself, to discover the contrasexual element in himself and to fecundate it, thus rounding out his personality without impairing for relationship as such..”(p.45)

If there is a fourth “stage”, it is likely when the ego has been strengthened sufficiently through the previous “stages” to be able to confront the “Self”. The term “self” or “Self” is, of course, loaded with every psychologist’s, philosopher’s, and religious theorist’s interpretation. I may delve deeply into this in a future post, but for now, Jung’s notion of “Self” is seen as the objective of the individuation journey. Jacobi says, “The confrontation with the shadow and its integration must always be achieved first in the individuation process in order to strengthen the ego for further laps in the journey and for the crucial encounter with the Self.” (p.47) Further, “The aim of the individuation process is a synthesis of all partial aspects of the conscious and unconscious psyche. It seems to point to an ultimately unknowable, transcendent ‘centre’ of the personality, which – paradoxically – is at the same time its periphery – and is of the’ highest intensity’, possessing an extraordinary power of irradiation. The centre and periphery Jung calls the ‘Self’, and he terms it the origin and fulfillment of the ego.” (p.49) “The Self is always there, it is the central, archetypal, structural element of the psyche, operating in us from the beginning as the organizer and director of the psychic processes. It’s ‘a priori’ teleological character, it’s striving to realize an aim, exist even without the participation of consciousness.”(p.50)

In addition to Jacobi’s explanations and interpretations of what Jung intended by the individuation process, I found Elie Humbert’s explanations in his “C.G.Jung” (1984) to be the clearest of all I surveyed. He says, “Individuation can then be seen as an unconscious process that underlies the flow of life and is transformed when it becomes conscious, that is , in Jung’s view, when the ego experiences the collective unconscious. The ego experiences the collective unconscious when it encounters the shadow or when the anima and the animus are differentiated from the external images upon which they were originally projected. Individuation always takes the form of a conflict by which the subject is transformed. Individuation presupposes that the ego has recognized and come to terms with the unconscious center of the personality. Jung was referring to that center when he used the phrase ‘being whole’. Wholeness results from the coordination of the ego with the Self, whatever may be the subject’s wounds and lacks.”(p.117). Humbert continues, “The individuating psyche is indivisible -that is, integrated – because it holds opposites together. the psyche becomes more itself by becoming more centered, but it does so without isolating itself from others. The differentiation of the individual from the collective, in the sense that the differentiation was defined by Jung, connects human beings to their environment rather than severing them from it. Individuation is the opposite of individualism.” (p.118)

There are obvious parallels between explanations of the individuation process and the journey process, as depicted in my own research. Jacobi says, “not for nothing is the individuation process said to be an analogy of the ‘quest of the hero’, or the dangers which he must overcome before he can gain the king’s throne.” (p.47) The hero journeyer in mythology sets out to discover new territory or accomplish some challenging objective, such as defeating an enemy or finding a cosmic egg. A successful journey will likely result in a personal transformation, and include a boon or reward which can be shared with his community upon his return. The boon, be it a cosmic egg or holy grail, is analogous to wisdom or knowledge.

According to Jung, Jacobi, and Humbert, a successful individuation process will include a “departure” from one’s ordinary existence by beginning to grapple with one’s persona, anima or animus, shadow material, and whatever one’s unconscious offers up. This long struggle phase might be considered the “initiation”. Once the ego has “recognized and come to terms with the unconscious center of the personality” the “subject is transformed”, and becomes whole, and the “return” phase is accomplished. The individuation process can occur “naturally” (and unconsciously) or “artificially” (via analysis and consciously). The questing journey can also occur unconsciously and unintentionally or with obvious conscious intention. Jung himself has characterized his own individuation process as something like a hero’s journey, which included his diving deeply into his own unconscious and dream material and involving an emotional breakdown as part of his “initiation” and his arrival-return as the maturing of his ego and Self encounter.