Study Guide

Carl Jung Buzzwords

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Collective Unconscious

So you're seated in a theater with your 3-D glasses on, watching the first big blockbuster of the summer and you get that feeling—I've seen this story before. Then you go to another big movie the next weekend and the same thing happens. This is the same story. And you know what? That déjà vu you're feeling may not be the result of today's filmmakers' lack of creativity. I'm here to tell you that these dudes and dudettes can't help but tell the same story over and over again… because all humans share a collective unconscious that contains the same prototypical stories, heroes, and villains.

Somewhere out there, or all around us, or in our DNA—there's a lot of debate on where the collective unconscious lives, so you can muse on that on your own time—there is one giant consciousness that all of us tap into when we dream and when we create our mythologies, our religions, and all our crappy, cookie-cutter, big-budget summer movies.


I want you to relax and let your mind drift a bit. Tell me about any person or figure that appears to you in your dreams. Before you tell me, I could probably give you a list that would match the one you're about to give me. A wise old man, a dark primitive figure, a woman, a hero, and various monsters, animals, people in weird cloaks… and then there are those strange sexual situations you're always finding yourself in. Listen, the whole world shares a collective unconscious and in that space are these shared archetypes, or character types. Luckily, these archetypes can help you fix your mental issues because they give you the power to author your own personal mythology.

Get to know your archetypes in your dreams. Take the mother archetype to brunch, follow the primitive dark-skinned guy into a cave, jump off a couple of cliffs because the wise old man told you to, and then you and your archetypes will become the characters in an epic and fulfilling life story you've written yourself. These archetypes can also help you analyze the stories of other people and other people's cultures, wherein you will be happy to uncover a shared humanity. Any questions, just let me know. I got every archetype's profile handy and I can set up a dream date while you sleep. Or you can check out my latest book, How to Befriend Your Archetypes.


You know the character I'm talking about already, right? He's the cool, crazy dude in the frat-boy movie who jumps into the pool wearing a suit. She's the girl who scores the winning goal in the Women's World Cup, then whips her shirt off in celebration. These kinda people, whether in literature or in real life, are usually really fun and really obnoxious. I've treated a lot of these types, and often they neglect a lot of their quieter inner desires. They have a hard time talking to their more peaceful archetypes.

The extroverted character thinks its inner life is boring and it would rather go to the pub or start a war or work seventy hours a week or go to the moon or just be generally awesome and well-liked. You can spot these characters in movies and literature a mile away. Usually because they're singing in very loud rock bands or flying fighter jets or leading a crowd of 50,000 people to revolt against an oppressive regime. You know an extrovert when you see one.


So this would be any person or character who does not do the things listed above. I happen to be an introvert (self-diagnosed since I invented the term). Though I have travelled quite a bit, I like staying put. I lived in the same house for 52 years. I like to paint and dream and build small castles and treat clients who come to my house. I went to Africa and the Arctic with Sigmund, but that was really not my thing. Actually, it really stressed me out.

I like reading and music and art and folklore and story telling. I am the textbook introvert. However, we introverts can neglect the world outside ourselves. Our relationship with our archetypes gets to be a little clingy. Introverts need to get out and chill with people who aren't themselves. I saw the importance of that while treating Otto Gross, an epic individual who inspired me to create these two categories of personality.


I figure it's like this: a good mythic story is like an awesome stand-up comedy routine. The comic is the main character's personal unconscious and the audience (usually out in the dark) is the collective unconscious, full of the character's archetypes. Both need to have a good time in order for the show to be successful. This is the process of individuation—the quest for the main character to "find herself," also called a hero's journey.

Think of Luke Skywalker on Degobah. Yoda knows Princess Leia is Luke's sister, but he also knows Luke's young personality would flip out if he were to reveal this juicy tidbit. Yoda is an individual because he knows himself and he knows his audience. This little green guy knows how to work a room.

On Degobah (yes, I became a bit of a Star Wars nerd after my death), young Luke Skywalker is still socially awkward. At the Degobah amateur comedy night he just tells the jokes that he thinks Yoda wants to hear. He's got no new material. He's not yet an individual, not yet a hero, because he doesn't understand that Yoda wants to hear material that is unique to Luke's personality.


No, this isn't the landmark album from The Police (though I've heard it's a classic). Stay with me now. Have you ever been talking about your ex-best friend, and then, magically, she happens to walk into the very restaurant you're seated in with your current clique? And you're like, dude, how is this possible? She doesn't even live in this town. Well, that's synchronicity for ya.

It's not that your talk about her made her come into that restaurant at that exact moment. Or that her impending arrival made you gossip about her. I don't think that our unconscious can predict the future; I just believe there are many physical events that, somehow, people can feel resonating in their unconscious. There is no necessary causal relationship between the internal feeling of what's happening, or what's about to happen, and the external event(s). I simply believe that you can experience what's going on out there in your very own heads/hearts, at nearly the same time.

In my 1952 book, Synchronicity, I described one such synchronistic event:

A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream, I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle [...] I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since.

It was my work with my buddy Wolfgang Pauli, who was a quantum physicist, that made me think about just how much consciousness and matter can be intertwined. So, trust me: when you get that weird sinking feeling that something isn't right, check out the news. There might be things going on in the world that are getting into your head. Or things in your head that are getting out into the world.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...