Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious

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(Before reading this section please see Concept of the Human Mind.)

Carl Jung, after his irreparable break-off with Sigmund Freud, following professional and personal differences, went to develop his own psychoanalytic theory.

Like Freud, Jung too deemed that the human psyche has three layers, with a major difference. Jung proposed that two layers of the three are parts of the unconscious mind.

The three layers are:

– The Ego or the Conscious Mind

– The Personal Unconscious

– The Collective Unconscious


The Ego or the Conscious Mind, is similar to that of Freud’s conscious mind. According to Jung this part of the mind can also be called the Ego as it is not only responsible for our voluntary actions, such as, thinking, feeling, decision making, and analysing, but is also largely responsible for our separate identities as individuals. The Ego is the conscious, and rationalizing self. In Jung’s own words, “So far as we know, consciousness is always Ego-consciousness. In order to be conscious of myself, I must be able to distinguish myself from others. Relationship can only take place where this distinction exists.”


The Personal Unconscious, the first layer of the unconscious mind, which Jung considered to be “more or less superficial layer of the unconscious”, is almost the same as Freud’s Preconscious Mind. Carl Jung, however, added what he termed as ‘feeling-toned complexes’ to the Personal Unconscious Mind. Carl Jung also emphasized upon the fact that not only negative memories and socially unacceptable urges of an individual is stored in this layer, but also positive, empowering feelings and memories are stored here.
Interestingly, even unacceptable positive ideas are stored here as well.
For instance, any form of hero worship is but a projection of an individual’s own suppressed greatness onto another person.

Many a time we disbelieve, even belittle ourselves, and look for a hero on the outside. As if a hero outside of us can fulfill us, complete us and save us in some way. When we find somebody to idolize we put him on a pedestal in our minds. It is like admiring the reflection on the outside while remaining completely unaware of the source, which is already present inside – in every one of us.


The Collective Unconscious, which is the second layer of the Unconscious Mind, is Jung’s most original theory and the most debated contribution to psychology. This is the level of the mind, which knows no boundaries and is shared by the entire human race as one whole entity.

The collective unconscious is distinct and separate from the personal unconscious mind. It influences both our personal unconscious mind and our conscious mind.

This influence is a two-way process for the conscious mind and personal unconscious mind too in turn influence the collective unconscious.

In Jung’s own words, “The collective unconscious is part of the psyche which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious by the fact that it does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience and consequently is not a personal acquisition.
While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity. Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes… This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited… It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes…”

The Collective Unconscious Mind is like a library, containing information and all the experiences from the beginning of time. It is a repository of the sum-total of all human experiences, a reservoir of timeless wisdom. Therefore, this is also the source of creativity.

It is much like an inheritance received from our ancestral past, (both prehuman and animalistic) which we carry forward as a species. Thus, the Collective Unconscious Mind of the human species stores information of our evolution and primitive ancestry. We are not aware of this information consciously. It is largely stored in the language of symbols, or what Jung calls the Archetypes.

The mythological stories and legends, the characters in them and the symbols such as floods, water, sun, trees, egg, apple, different animals, etc., are all archetypes. An archetypein a way is the language of the unconscious mind.

The collective unconscious stores the imprints of all who have participated in an archetype through the ages. These archetypes live in the collective unconscious through which all souls are connected. And since through the collective unconscious all the souls of the world are connected, the archetypal imprints of all the characters and symbols influences our behaviours, our emotional reactions and thought processes, and finally the events and situations around us.

Please see these related topics, Concept of the Human Mind, Jung’s Archetypes and Influence of the Collective Unconscious.

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