What is the Collective Unconscious?

The Collective Unconscious is About Instincts

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The collective unconscious, originally defined by Carl Jung and sometimes called the objective psyche, refers to a segment of the deepest unconscious mind not shaped by personal experience. It's genetically inherited and common to all human beings. Sexual instincts are a good example.

Personal Unconsciousness

It may be easier to understand collective unconsciousness if you first understand some basics of personal consciousness.

This concept is akin to Freud's concept of the Id and it's contents are the repressed or forgotten experiences that were at one time in your conscious mind.

In a therapeutic setting, a clinician might use psychoanalysis at part of her treatment plan to uncover a repressed memory of a past traumatic event that currently affects your life. This is not generally not necessary to successfully treat some psychological disorders, including specific phobia, that stem from a past memory.

Instincts and the Collective Unconcious

Instincts highly influence human behavior and are separate from the conscious mind's rational motivations. A core tenant of evolutionary psychology, these impersonal, universally distributed and hereditary factors are so unconscious a therapist has to help the client to become aware of them and how they affect behavior.

The content of your collective unconsciousness consists of archetypes, which are basic and fundamental pre-existing images, or forms.

Archetypes are indispensable in explaining this concept. You can only become aware of them through conscious learning. These images include an innocent child, an old wise person, femininity, and masculinity. A good example of a nature archetype is fire.

Phobia of Snakes and the Collective Unconcious

Genetic memory may explain specific phobias, a fear of a specific object or situation.

A phobia of snakes (ophidiophobia) manifests in children even when there is no apparent traumatic origin for their fear.

For example, a study found one-third of British children age 6 are afraid of snakes even though it's rare to encounter a snake in the British Isles. The children had never come in contact with a snake in a traumatic situation, but snakes still generated an anxious response.

Who is Carl Jung?

Carl Jung was born in Switzerland in 1875 and founded the school of analytical psychology. He is responsible for proposing and developing the psychological concepts of collective unconscious and archetypes, along with introverted and extroverted personality.

His family expected him to follow in the footsteps of many family members and join the clergy, but instead he pursued medicine and studies many subjects including, biology, zoology and archaeology, as well as philosophy, early Christian literature and mythology.

Jung worked with Freud. In the beginning, Jung's work affirmed many of Freud's ideas.

In the end, the two split, Jung contested Freud's principles of psychoanalysis, and their relationship terminated when Jung published "Psychology and Unconscious" in 1912.

Examples: Deep-seated beliefs regarding spirituality and religion may be partially due to the collective unconscious.


Bryn Mawr College: Dragons in our Genes - An Examination of the Collective Unconscious

The College of New Rochelle: The Jungian Approach to Symbolic Interpretation

Muskingum University: Carl Jung Sonoma State University: Handout on Carl Gustav Jung

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