While most of us think that we are cohesive and conscious beings, this is actually the opposite. Can you remember a time where you’ve done something or acted in a way, where upon reflecting on it, you realize it didn’t make sense? If you answered yes, thats completely normal. In fact, there’s a lot of neuroscience research that backs this up!
When you split the band of nerve fibers that connects the two hemispheres of the brain, scientists say that the person essentially splits into two. Each of our two hemispheres has separate functions, perceptions and desires. While the left hemisphere is responsible for the right side of the body and language, the right hemisphere is responsible for the left side of the body, as well as logic.
Patients with severed connections to the two hemispheres actually report feeling normal even though their brains are basically behaving as two separate people.
This raises the question: how many different people, with different desires, functions and perceptions, are truly living in our brains?
Even if we do have multiple personas in our brain, is anything stopping us from allowing them to work together to form the cohesive experience we have today?
This conclusion and question was actually originally discovered by Carl Jung, a 20th Century psychologist who proposed the idea of having various conscious and unconscious parts which collectively influenced our behaviour in different ways. Interestingly, Jung was also the student of another cognitive psychologist, Sigmund Freud.
Both agreed that a person’s past and childhood experience determines future behaviour, but Jung also believed that we are shaped by our future aspirations too (Jung also disagreed with the strange Freudian belief of the Oedipus complex, but that’s a whole another story).
The Structure Of The Psych
Jung came up with a framework for understanding the structure of the psyche, and he believed it was composed of the following:
In every interaction with others, we tend to present an exaggerated version of ourselves, in the hopes of making an impression. For example, the character we display at work or school is probably not the same at home.
While we are alone, we have no need to make an impression, but in public, we wear a mask, or a persona, to impose a desirable image of ourselves to others.
Jung believed that the direct purpose of this persona is to subdue any primitive urges, impulses, and emotions that are not considered socially acceptable. Our personas are what allow for society to continue on as normal. The difficulty with the persona arises only when one becomes so closely identified with his role that he loses all sense of self.
At this point, Jung believed one will be entirely unaware of any distinction between himself and the world in which he lives. The result of an inflated persona, Jung warned, is a ‘shallow, brittle, conformist kind of personality which is ‘all persona’, with its excessive concern for ‘what people think.’
While the persona is essentially the idea of obedience to expectations, the shadow is everything that we have denied in ourselves and cast into oblivion. It’s everything that the ego has refused to associate with itself, but that we can notice in other people — such things might include our sexuality, spontaneity, aggression, instincts, cowardice, carelessness, passion, enthusiasm, love of material possessions. It embraces all those sins, dark thoughts, and moods for which we felt guilt and shame.
A lot of these thoughts form the unconscious, but Jung believed that if we could observe our resentment towards others and ourself, we can bring the shadow to the conscious.
The anima is essentially the female component of the male psyche, and the animus is the male component of the female psyche.
It’s not uncommon for us to repress our Anima/Animus, but learning to accept this part of ourselves is crucial for developing as a person.
However, one might argue that the ideas of feminine and masculine are based on arbitrary stereotypes. But Jung presented the concepts of the anima and animus as the ancient archetypes of Eros and Logos. Eros (the female) is associated with receptivity, creativity, relationships, and wholeness.. Logos (the male) is identified with power, thought, and action.
If a man chooses to reject the tendencies of the anima, such as being sensitive and empathetic, then Jung believed it became deformed. Feelings and emotions are replaced by moodiness and sentimentality, imagination becomes fantasizing. The same applies to if a woman rejected the tendencies of the animus.
Jung believed that if one manages to overcome the persona and integrate one’s shadow and the aspects of the anima/animus they possess, they can now enter into the highest reaches of the psyche. The archetype of wholeness, which Jung refers to as the self, is considered the most significant of all archetypes.
The self is believed to be true origin of our impulse towards achieving self-realization (the central of many beliefs and religions across the world like Buddhism and Hinduism). Through development of the self, Jung believed we could bring forth the process of individuation. This is the process one undergoes throughout their life from childhood towards a journey of self-discovery, where we gradually start to integrate both our conscious and unconscious features of one’s personality into the whole.
Jung believed it was the end purpose of human life to experience this formation of the whole, to make conscious everything that was hidden in the shadow. This end is almost akin to the fullest expression of one’s character, and can allow us to develop our individuality and ability to be able to hold firm against the collective mass unconscious.
I think the main takeaway from Jung’s beliefs is that, while this might not be the central playbook to achieving individuality and self-realization, it can help us in understanding a new representation of how our mind’s work. By making a more conscious effort towards realizing our unconscious tendencies, such as the shadow (and its anima/animus), maybe we can get one step closer to achieving true individuality.
Thanks for taking the time to read through my thoughts on Carl Jung and the psyche. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to chat with me on Twitter. Or if you would like to learn about any new content I put out, subscribe to my monthly newsletter to see new projects, conferences I go to, and articles I put out!