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Collective unconscious: what it is and how it was defined by Carl Jung

Collective unconscious: what it is and how it was defined by Carl Jung

June 20, 2024

The concept of collective unconscious was proposed by Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology, in the mid-nineteenth century. Broadly speaking, it refers to a dimension that is beyond consciousness and that is common to the experience of all human beings.

Although the term collective unconscious has been the subject of much criticism, it has also been positioned as a theory that offers important elements to understand many phenomena of the human. In this article we will see what the Collective Unconscious is and how it has impacted psychodynamic psychology .

  • Related article: "Carl Gustav Jung: biography and work of a spiritual psychologist"

Brief history of the unconscious

The history of psychology has been marked by different theories that address the relationship between the dimension of consciousness and its opposite or complementary dimension. Many are the proposals that have emerged to resolve this issue.

Among these is the concept of the unconscious from the psychodynamic perspective, emerged at the end of the 19th century within Freudian psychoanalysis , but retaken and reformulated later, both by his followers and by his deserters.

One of the most popular is Carl Jung, who after having collaborated with Sigmund Freud very closely, decided to form his own tradition outside of psychoanalysis, which we know as "analytical psychology" . Among the main concepts that are part of this tradition is the collective unconscious.

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What is the collective unconscious?

Within traditional psychology it is understood that the complementary to the "individual" is "the social". However, for analytical psychology, the complementary to the individual, is not precisely the social, but the collective, which not only refers to the set of people that make up a society, but also emphasizes what these people have in common.

According to Jung, just as the individual has a psychic dimension that is beyond consciousness (the unconscious); The collective, insofar as it belongs to a suprapersonal dimension, also has its own unconscious. Unlike the individual unconscious, which is acquired through lived experiences, the collective unconscious is a common platform, composed of archetypes that shape our individuality.

In other words, according to Jung, there is a series of psychic, imaginary experiences and symbols, whose existence is not given by the acquired learning, but rather it is experiences that all human beings share, independently of our individual life histories.

It is about experiences that obey another order, for that reason, Jung defines the collective unconscious as a second psychic system whose nature is universal and impersonal .

Just as the physical characteristics of an individual are more or less common to those of all individuals belonging to the human species, so the psyche also has common characteristics that exist independently of the culture and history of societies. It is an instance that transcends age, life and even death; It is an experience that has accompanied humanity since its existence.

First definitions from Carl Jung

In his early work, Jung described the Collective Unconscious as that substratum that makes it possible to understand why people who belong to apparently so different cultures share some psychic characteristics.

The latter could be seen, for example, in repetitive dreams, in art, in myths and religions, in children's stories, in psychic symptomatology, among other areas. For this reason, the collective unconscious served jung to offer explanations about the common meanings of symbols and myths that are apparently different between cultures .

Formally the concept of collective unconscious emerged in the year 1936, after a conference that Jung dictated in London, precisely with the title of The concept of collective unconscious.

  • Related article: "History of Psychology: authors and main theories"

The archetypes

The collective unconscious is composed mainly of archetypes, which are pre-existing and universal forms (ideas, images, symbols) that shape a large part of the psychic contents.

According to Jung, just as humans have patterns of instinctive behavior mediated by biological activity, we have patterns of instinctive behavior mediated by psychic activity , that drinks from the mythical aspect through which the experiences are mapped and narrated.

In this sense, the archetypes and the collective unconscious are transmitted by the very condition of being human, and their effects are visible in the conformation of the individual psyche. And it's like that because, for Jung, the unconscious also has purposes, intuitions, thoughts, feelings , etc., just as it happens with the conscious mind.

To develop the concept of archetype, Jung took as a reference different anthropological and philosophical works, especially from authors such as Mauss, Lévy Bruhl and A. Bastian. Some of the archetypes that he developed in an important way and that have been taken up by different authors are the anima, the shadow or the great mother.

Impact on psychology and related areas

Among other things, the concept of collective unconscious has served to formulate explanations about different human experiences that the more traditional and rational science can not explore. For example, on specific issues about mystical experiences, artistic experiences or some therapeutic experiences .

In addition, the concept of collective unconscious has impacted much of the specialized language in areas that are not properly psychology, because it serves to talk about what we know we share, regardless of culture, although we do not know what it is. For the same reason, it has been a concept that is often problematic, ambiguous and subject to various criticisms, without ever being present even in the most everyday language.

Bibliographic references:

  • Quiroga, M.P. (2010). Art and Analytical Psychology. An archetypal interpretation of art. Art, Individual and Society, 22 (2): 49-62.

Introduction to Carl Jung - The Psyche, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (June 2024).

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