Influential Past Teachers

The Meaning of Individualism – Carl Young

by Carl Jung: I will try to explain the term “individuation” as simply as possible. By it I mean the psychological process that makes of a human being an “individual”-a unique, indivisible unit or “whole man.”


In the past, it has been generally assumed that consciousness-or the sum total of representations, ideas, emotions, perceptions, and other mental contents which the ego acknowledges-is equal to the psychological “whole” of an individual. But nowadays the rapidly increasing knowledge of phenomena that can be explained only on the hypothesis of unconscious mental processes has made us doubt whether the ego and its contents are really identical with the “whole.” If unconscious processes exist at all, they must surely belong to the totality of the individual, even though they form no part of the conscious ego. If they were a part of the ego, they would be conscious, because anything directly connected with the ego is conscious; consciousness is by definition the relationship between the ego and the various mental contents. So-called unconscious phenomena are those that have no connection with the ego. For this reason the ego usually denies their existence, and yet they reveal themselves in an individual’s behaviour.

A careful observer can easily see evidence of them, although the individual himself is blissfully unaware of the fact that he is exhibiting his most secret thoughts, or even something he has never consciously thought. Only prejudice could lead anyone to suppose that, because he has never entertained a certain thought, it cannot be a content of his psyche. This might be the case if, as I said before, the psychic totality were identical with consciousness. But there is plenty of evidence to show that consciousness is far from covering the whole of the psyche. Many things happen semi-consciously, and an incalculable number of occurrences may even be entirely unconscious. The careful investigation of dual-or multiple-personality, of dissociation in nervous and mental diseases, and of approximately similar phenomena in normal people has yielded a wealth of data. I cannot imagine how one would set about explaining such phenomena without the hypothesis of the unconscious, a concept which acknowledges the fact that things live and function in the psyche just as if they were conscious and while the ego is unaware of their existence. For further information on this point the reader may wish to consult the works of Pierre Janet, Theodore Flournoy, Sigmund Freud, Morton Prince, and others.

At all events, medical psychology has been profoundly impressed with the number and importance of the unconscious processes that give rise to functional symptoms and even organic disturbances. These facts have undermined the view that the ego expresses the psychic totality. It has become obvious that the “whole” must needs include, besides consciousness, the field of unconscious events, and must constitute a sum total embracing both. The ego, once the monarch of this totality, is dethroned. It remains merely the centre of consciousness.

We may well ask whether the unconscious part of the psyche itself has a centre or not. I should hardly dare to assume that there is such a thing in the unconscious as a ruling principle analogous to the ego. Actually, everything points to the contrary. If there were such a centre, we should expect almost regular signs of its existence-for instance, intentional and purposeful opposition. Cases of dual personality would be frequent occurrences, and not rare curiosities.

Unconscious phenomena usually appear chaotic and unsystematic. For instance, reams-one of the most frequent manifestations of the unconscious-show no apparent order, nor any tendency to systematization such as might be expected from a personal entity endowed with consciousness of itself.

Neither the philosophers nor the more modern explorers of the unconscious have ventured to assume the existence of an unconscious equivalent to the conscious ego. On the contrary, such philosophers as C. G. Carus and Eduard von Hartmann treat the unconscious as a cosmic principle, something like a universal mind without any trace of personality or of ego-consciousness. Modern scientists regard the unconscious as a psychic function below the threshold of consciousness, too feeble and too dim to be perceived. In opposition to the philosophers, they are inclined to derive all subliminal phenomena from consciousness and its contents. Janet speaks of consciousness as occasionally being too feeble to maintain the connection between certain processes and the ego. Freud, on the other hand, rather prefers the idea that there exist conscious factors that repress certain tendencies on account of their painful, or otherwise incompatible, character. There is much to be said in favour of both theories, for there are plenty of cases where a debility of consciousness causes distinct functions or contents to drop below the threshold and become subliminal; or where disagreeable contents are obviously repressed or forgotten; or where debility and repression together account for losses to the personality.

It is obvious that such careful observers as Janet and Freud would not have formed theories in which the unconscious is mainly derived from conscious sources had they discovered a trace of independent personality or autonomous volition. According to both theories, the unconscious is little else than psychic material that happens to lack the quality of consciousness, though it need not do so, and that differs in no other way from conscious contents.

If it were true that the unconscious consists of nothing but contents incidentally deprived of consciousness, then it would be preposterous-or at least unnecessarily meticulous -to worry about the question of whether the ego represents the whole of the Psychical individual, or not. A normal ego Could, and would, adequately embody the “whole,” since its losses through unconsciousness would be trifles, and of significance only in cases of neuroses.

The situation, however, is not so simple. Both theories are based chiefly upon experience with cases of neurosis. Neither of the authors had any psychiatric experience.’ If they had, they would certainly have been impressed with the fact that the unconscious displays certain contents that are utterly different from those of consciousness; such strange ones, indeed, that nobody can understand them, neither the patient himself nor his doctors. The doctors agree that he is crazy, and he agrees too, if his consciousness be still capable of realizing the uncanny incomprehensibility of the phenomena that invade his mind. He is clearly engulfed by a flood of thoughts and experiences that have never before been in his mind, nor in those of his doctors, nor in any other normal mind. That is why we call him crazy: we cannot understand his ideas. We understand something only when we already possess the necessary premises. But the premises of the patient’s ideas are just as remote from our consciousness as from the patient’s mind before he became crazy.

As a matter of fact, there are certain insane ideas which cannot be derived from the contents of any conscious mind. Certainly they are not normal Contents incidentally deprived of consciousness, like something forgotten, repressed, or habitually neglected. They are quite obviously the products of an autonomous, independent mental functioning never before known or experienced. They are thoroughly different from the products of a neurotic mind, which no responsible observer would judge to be crazy. The neurotic complex is always within the reach of consciousness and is, therefore, capable of reintegration into consciousness. Except in the case of a neurosis that is an indirect expression of a latent psychosis, the revelation of the unconscious neurotic contents will never produce a psychosis, simply because they. are humanly understandable. The unconscious material of a psychosis is not understandable.

No matter what the causality (aetiology) of a psychosis, its very existence implies a condition in which certain mental activities appear spontaneously out of the unconscious. They cannot be derived from consciousness) for consciousness offers no premises that can explain or assimilate the utterly strange and abnormal ideas. Neurotic contents can be integrated with no fatal injury to the ego. Insane ideas, on the contrary, cannot be assimilated. They remain inaccessible and more or less overgrow the ego-consciousness. They even show a marked tendency to draw the ego into their own “system,” thus treating the ego as the latter is supposed to treat the unconscious.

The existence of such cases is not infrequent, and proves irrefutably that, under certain conditions, the unconscious is capable of taking over the role of the ego. The result of this exchange is chaos and destruction because the unconscious is not a second personality with an organised and centralized functioning, but on the contrary an apparently irrational and paradoxical coexistence of mental processes. So, while the psychosis demonstrates the possible existence of an autonomous unconscious mind, one should not be satisfied with the verdict that any form of unconscious autonomy is nothing but insanity.

We have known for a long time that the mentality of the neurotic is basically normal, though marred on the surface by exaggeration and disproportion. In other words, a neurotic is normal apart from certain anomalies. Normal psychology has gleaned a wealth of information from the study and analysis of neuroses, for they exhibit certain normal traits in such exaggeration that one cannot fail to notice them.

In spite of the utter strangeness of mental behaviour in psychoses, we may venture the same assertion as to the study of the insane. ‘Nothing produced by the human mind is completely outside our psychic range. Even the craziest idea must derive from something within the human mind, from some hidden root or premise. Without definitive evidence to the contrary, we cannot suppose certain minds to contain elements that other minds do not contain at all. We cannot assume that the unconscious has the faculty of becoming autonomous only in certain minds predestined later to become insane. It is very much more likely that the autonomy peculiar to the unconscious is a more or less general possibility. Insanity is merely the manifestation of a hidden, yet generally existent, condition.

Of course, the lunatic is an individual completely overcome by the unconscious. The same condition may exist to a less degree in the case of a person whom we cannot characterize as lunatic. ‘We then have to deal with a man who is only partially overcome by his unconscious. He is not entirely “beside himself,” but only partially or metaphorically.

Or, the condition may be temporary. Such a case can be a matter of ordinary panic or some other emotional upset. In such a state of violent emotion one says or does things out of proportion, things one regrets afterward when reason is restored. Even the most normal individual is not proof against this danger.

Under suitable conditions he will “jump out of his skin” and temporarily imitate the insane, with more or less success. Not much is needed; love, hatred, joy, or sadness is often strong enough to reverse the relation between the ego and the unconscious.

On such occasions, strange ideas may seize upon otherwise sound individuals. Groups and societies, even whole peoples, may have seizures of a similar kind; these are mental epidemics. In such a case only malevolent critics speak of a psychosis, while others speak of an “ism.” The ordinary lunatic is generally a harmless, isolated case; since everyone sees that something is wrong with him, he is quickly taken care of. But the unconscious infections of groups of so-called normal people are more subtle and far more dangerous, although they derive from the autonomy of unconscious processes just as much as does insanity.

Ordinary common sense always imagines itself to be anywhere but in the immediate vicinity of the lunatic asylum-Yet common sense consists of the minds of average People, who have no idea that their consciousness may easily be invaded, in parts at least, by a strange and dangerous unconscious activity. It is one of the most ridiculous illusions of civilized man that the “perils of the soul” have entirely disappeared along with primitive superstitions. Even the superstitions have not disappeared from any civilized nation as a whole. They have only changed their names, and often not even that. The clan of uprooted intellectual highbrows Usually goes on believing in permanent and universal enlightenment. That technical progress and social improvements do not mean psychological differentiation or a higher level of consciousness is a lesson that we are unwilling to learn. The enormous increase of technical facilities only serves to occupy the mind with all sorts of sensations and impressions that lure the attention and interest from the inner world. The relentless flood of newspapers, radio programs, and movies may widen or fill the external mind, while at the same time, and in the same measure, consciousness of the inner world becomes darkened and may eventually disappear altogether. But “forgetting” is not identical with “getting rid of.” On the contrary, the situation has become worse: instead of facing the enemy, we risk being attacked from the rear, where we are unaware and defenseless.

“Normal insanity” begins when the emotions are aroused. In these days we have ample opportunity to observe this process on a grand scale. We can see every form o . f mental contagion, from the crudest sentimentalism to the most subtle, secret poisoning of reason, and this among the so-called normal people-the average individuals who largely make up a nation or a state. Their amazing defenselessness against suggestions, even against the wildest social and political ideas and ideals, is not exactly a proof of the strength of consciousness and reason. But since there must be strength somewhere, it is presumably in that which overcomes reason -in the irrational and emotional factors.

Emotions are instinctive, involuntary reactions that upset the rational order of consciousness by their elementary outbursts. Emotions are not “made,” or willfully produced, in and by consciousness. Instead, they appear suddenly, leaping up from an unconscious region. As long as the unconscious is in a dormant condition, it is just as if there were nothing at all in that hidden region. We are really and most thoroughly unconscious of the existence of the unconscious. We are therefore always surprised afresh to discover that something can jump upon our back or fall upon our bead out of mere nothingness, radically altering the pattern of our individual or social lives.

Afterward the historian, or the psychologist, steps in and shows us convincingly that things happened as they did because for such and such reasons it had to be so. But who could have told us this before? The public mind was long ago ‘ in possession of the main pieces of evidence for the subsequent trial in the court of historical reason. But nobody was conscious of it at the time. When John Huss and Wycliffe preached, the age of the Reformation had begun-but nobody knew it. It was there in Potentia, but no one could see it was it with the eyes or touch it with the hands, and thus ‘ not in consciousness. But it existed below the threshold of awareness. It was still unconscious, like a sun below the horizon, of which a savage might say, “There is no sun.” We are like those primitives who believe that every evening the sun dies and vanishes, and that if anything rises next morning, it is a new sun. We are always surprised by the fact that something comes out of what we call “nothing.”

That is our attitude toward the unconscious. We call it nothing, and yet it is a whole reality in Potentia: the sun that rises tomorrow, the thought we are going to think, the deed we are going to do, even the fate we are going to lament-tomorrow. Since we now know that, from the beginning, it has always been the same sun that sets in the evening and rises in the morning, we could, or should, afford to be less surprised at the sempiternal nature of the unconscious. But, whereas we think in terms of years, the unconscious thinks and behaves in terms of thousands of years. When something happens which we call an unheard-of innovation, it is really a very old story. Like little children, we still forget what we were yesterday. We still live in a miraculously new world, in which man imagines himself to be astonishingly new, or “modern.”

Such a state of affairs is an unmistakable symptom of the youth of human consciousness, which is still unaware of its origins.

Source:  AWAKEN


Leave a Reply