II: Carl Jung’s analytical psychology and post Jungian research
Fundamental concepts of analytical psychology
It is curious that we tend to base our decisions, reality checks and actions in important aspects of life upon our conscious reasoning while actually we are mostly unconscious. Neuroscience informs us that we are only aware of a very small percentage of our cognition, while in fact our ways of being are overwhelmingly dependent upon the brain activity rooted in the unconscious. US News and World Report state:
According to cognitive neuroscientists, we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive activity, so most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behaviour depend on the 95 percent of brain activity that goes beyond our conscious awareness.
A century ago, working with psychiatric patients and exploring his own inner challenges, Carl Gustav Jung came to a similar realisation, acknowledging not only the existence of something much larger and more powerful than consciousness but also the intrinsic laws governing human life. This set him on a journey of profound scientific and personal discover)' of the unconscious. As such, he was mapping a whole new world for humanity. Like Beethoven whose music, delivered from the unknown, mapped the new paths of the music up until the present day, Jung chose to dive deeply and alone into the unknown, armed only with an open mind and faith in guidance by the mystery of his soul. His discoveries, made over a lifetime, still unfold in new forms of ground-breaking scientific research. These are not limited to psychology and some are still awaiting examination through future scientific lenses.
It would be a daunting task to select and categorise the main discoveries in Jung’s work. Each carries singular importance and they are interconnected. Each has multifaceted relevance to vast areas of life. Our choice of key concepts below is based on their essential importance over several decades of helping our clients meet the practical challenges of corporate life. It is thus offered as a contextual reference.
The principle of opposites
The essential framework for understanding Jung’s analytical psychology is the principle of opposites. ‘The opposites are the ineradicable and indispensable preconditions of all life’ (CW 14, para. 206). Jung conceptualised life as a flow of psychic energy between the opposite poles, using the framework of the laws of thermodynamics. Applying this energy view, the conscious and the unconscious are seen as a pair of opposites and their relationship is a key factor of human development, growth and transformation. The intrinsic development of personality which Jung terms individuation is a lifelong and natural journey occurring in every individual, and it is governed by natural laws. Its geography, directions, intensity and highs and lows, among others, are modelled by the relationship of the opposites primarily between the conscious and the unconscious. It applies to all landmarks of the life opus, and uniquely to ‘Homo Sapiens’. What do these terms actually mean and why are they so pivotal for our existence?
We could imagine the individual conscious self as a small island in the ocean and that all our experiences, perspectives and conscious knowledge come from the perspectives of that island. We could imagine the unconscious as the ocean, the sky and all other visible and invisible entities that are not the island. When we remember a dream or have a special experience of an irrational nature, when we register a specific mood or a strong bodily reaction, we interact with the tokens from the unconscious. We receive the coded information and knowledge from different dimensions of the unconscious, compensating the naturally limited and one-sided perspective of consciousness. The ego, or centre of consciousness, has registered an impact of a force from the unconscious. These inputs are unknown to consciousness because their source is beyond conscious radius and appears in unknown forms to it. And yet, there is something peculiar, almost familiar about them, as if carrying the distant echo of a siren call to dive into the depths and explore. Alas, the very nature of the unconscious is evasive. Its messages sometimes reach the shores of the island. A dream might be remembered. But in most cases, it washes away quickly leaving only faint traces on the sands of memory. Therefore, making the unconscious conscious seems to be an opus contra naturam. It is as if the unconscious wants to be seen and engaged with but then disappears. However, opposites reside together in the unconscious. Thus, paradoxical reasoning finds its home in the discourse of analytical psychology.
The central actors in this relationship between the conscious and unconscious pair of opposites are the ego and the Self.
The ego and the Self
Jung considers ego as the centre of consciousness (CW 9ii, para. 1) and he attributes it with analytical powers, cognition, reality checking, personal identity and the vital ability to mediate between the conscious and unconscious. Ego consciousness is related to the unconscious in the sense that that ‘the greater the degree of ego-consciousness, the greater the possibility of sensing what is not known’ (Samuels, Shorter & Plant 1986, p. 51). Ego thus has the ability to engage with the superior forces of the personality which, to the greatest degree, are the Self, the central ordering and unifying principle of the entire personality. The Self is attributed with the central authority of the psyche; a human being’s fullest potential. It presents the utmost goal and meaning of life. Furthermore, ‘the Self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality’ (CW12, para. 44). It is as if the ego is created to realise, to the extent of its capacity, the potential of the Self. The Self needs the ego in order to realise itself in the realm of consciousness. The Self resides in the unfathomable depths of the unconscious, but is also the whole system comprising conscious and unconscious. The relationship between the ego and the Self is a lifelong one, demanding from the ego continuous enlargement and fulfilment of the potential of the relationship. Over the course of a lifetime, when in each developmental cycle birth is given to new consciousness, the realm of consciousness is thereby enlarged. In other words, the unconscious is made more conscious. According to Jung, this changes the overall ratio between conscious and unconscious and thus affects the big picture in and of the world. Every' such act of illumination (making the unconscious conscious) is a creative act par excellence. These dynamics are found in universal narratives of the fight between light and darkness evoking the eternal topic of good and evil (Evans 1964, pp. 47-49). The process of the Self realising its potential through an individual ego is unique to each person and could be experienced as a life task or mission. Jung called this lifelong journey individuation and it is the central reference of his work. The realisation of human potential calls for ‘talent management’ to be informed by and aligned with individuation.