Structure of the Psyche
Human beings, especially we Westerns, have the illusion that our psyche is our Ego. The Ego is only a small part of our mind, comprising its conscious portion.
We keep, inside our psyche, a larger part, the collective unconscious. One could say that the collective unconscious is merely a mirage because unconscious, but it is as real as the tangible world.
Jung divides the human psyche into three parts:
- Consciousness (Ego);
- Personal unconscious;
- Collective unconscious (also known as objective psyche).
We think that we – our ego – direct our lives. We think that we have free will. But, when subject to a strong emotion, the ego loses control, and a complex takes over. We will be talking about complexes bellow.
We are not a mineral like a stone; we are not a plant, like a tree; we know that we are an animal, but we think we are a rational animal. We only forget that we are rational only during part of our waking life. When subjected to an emotion, our rationality may vanish. The ego loses his command of our life, and a complex takes over. Have you heard of a petty transit accident turning out of control, sometimes with dire consequences?
The conscious part – the ego – is what many people consider to be the totality of the psyche, the total personality. Be aware that his is far from the truth.
The psyche has an unconscious layer, not under the control of the ego. The personal unconscious stores all the information that the individual received but that he did not keep in his consciousness. The personal unconscious stores all the parts we rejected since our birth. Some say that the personal unconscious keeps information received since our conception in the womb of the mother. In summary, things that happened to us but we did not register in the conscious mind, are not lost. They are stored in our personal unconscious.
Jung also calls attention to the existence of a portion of the human psyche, which he called the collective unconscious, also named the objective psyche. The collective unconscious stores the information inherited from all human beings since the first humans appeared on earth. The instincts and the archetypes are parts of the collective unconscious.
This collective unconscious was the main motive of the parting of ways with Freud, who never accepted its existence.
At the beginning of his professional life, Jung worked in the Burghölzli Hospital, where he treated psychotics. One of them called Jung`s attention to a tube that he saw coming out of the sun, what he called the sun’s penis. Some years later, Jung found that this was a motive appearing in the ancient Mithraic religion, but the patient, an uneducated man, could not know of it.
Jung also noticed that many myths and popular tales around the world have similar motives. These motifs frequently appeared in dreams of normal people. From these evidence, he concluded the existence of a collective part of the psyche, the collective unconscious. The same way that our body carries traces of the past – the coccyx in the place of a tail, for instance – the mind also carries the collective unconscious.
Jung stressed that human beings should try to gain higher levels of consciousness. In other words, try to absorb, to bring to consciousness, to the Ego, parts that are hidden in the unconscious. He added; each increase on the level of consciousness of any human being adds to the consciousness of humanity in general.
Why is consciousness so important? Think about this question. A poor fisherman had a wife and five children. The catching of that week was meager, and they were starving. Buried under his shack was a treasure, placed there by his great-grandfather, but the fisherman was not conscious of it. Was he rich or poor?
Without being conscious of the treasure, he was poor. Being unconscious of what you have inside your psyche, you are poor.