Psychology in Writing: The Collective Unconscious – Introduction

Introduction

Carl Gustav Jung painted portrait P1050156

Carl Gustav Jung painted portrait P1050156 (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)

In last week’s blog we covered the individual unconscious, which are the unseen aspects of self that can affect behavior.  Carl Jung proposed that in addition to their own unconscious mind all individuals share a collective unconscious.  While the individual unconscious is unique to each individual, the collective unconscious is a shared system that all humans use to organize their personal experiences in a similar way.

The common organizing of ideas in the unconscious leads to universal themes and concepts that occur in distant and unrelated cultures.  Jung postulated that the collective unconscious was not developed across the lifespan by an individual but was inherited.  The common themes of the collective unconscious are referred to as archetypes; like the unconscious mind, individuals do not have ready conscious access to the archetypes, but they are revealed through events and experiences in individuals’ lives.  When an archetype is experience individuals unconsciously recognize it as what it represents and it appears as “mental forms whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual’s own life and which seem to be aboriginal, innate, and inherited shapes of the human mind” (Jung, 1978).

Some of the common archetypes include:

  • The Hero
  • The Mentor
  • The Fool
  • The Seductress
  • The Devil

Expanded writing on archetypal characters, plots, and themes, can be found here, here, and here. (Or you can just do a Google search)

There is some question on whether Jung was speaking biologically or spiritually about the collective unconscious.  Some interpret the collective unconscious as something inherited through a species like a common arm.  This would mean that just as all humans share a similar bone, muscle, skin structure forming an arm, they also share similar unconscious structures in common.  Others interpret the collective unconscious as a tapping into the divine.  That there is a “universal truth” (e.g., the presence of a divine) that all humans are part of and can access through our common truths.  Either way, the collective unconscious has the potential to establish common ground when communicate within and across cultures.

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