Monday, 15 February 2010

The subconscious, unconscious or shadow...whatever

Please forgive me, I find this fascinating and need to extrovert it!

I love the work of Carl Jung. O.K. there are places where he becomes a little abstract and consequently different descriptions of his work seem not entirely to be in agreement with each other (particularly around archetypes and complexes) but there's some great and simple learning to be had in his basic description of the Self.

Unlike Freud, who was completely sex obsessed and linked every single human complex or motivation to sex, Jung saw a bigger picture. The part that I find particularly fascinating, is his teachings about the unconscious.

Those that continue to keep their conscious and unconscious separate for the duration of their lives describe feeling flat and listless and feel a sense of dissatisfaction. This is because they, in effect, remain significantly less than the full person that they really are. To 'receive' Jung's teachings does take a mindset in the first place that I suspect many won't want/have - which is fine - we are all on our own journeys after all.

The unconscious in a goes.

When we are a child we start to develop a persona. Our persona is what we present to the outside world. In order to be accepted by our parents, our friends and eventually society, our behaviour and our attitudes have to be palatable to those around us. Every society (and also every parent) has unwritten rules about what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and therefore what will be received with approval and that which will receive disapproval. What happens, therefore is that we (our ego - the 'inner manager' of the SELF - does all this sorting for us) tend to push acceptable behaviours into our persona ('those for show') and the unacceptable ones become hidden or repressed and therefore end up in the personal unconscious. i.e. they are still in there, just squashed in where we are not aware of them.

The fact our unconscious (filled to the brim with unacceptable-to-us stuff) still exists, means it is still very much a part of us. The unconscious exists like a shadow in our lives. Furthermore, because we usually shoved the stuff into our unconscious because of feelings of shame, fear of rejection, disapproval, guilt and/or feelings of unworthiness, there is a strong force keeping its contents there. So we are usually in absolute denial of this part of us - so much so that our ego goes to great lengths to prevent us from seeing it. We really don't want to be aware the 'badness' in ourselves and all the shame that put it there.

This is why projection happens. Projection is where we accuse others of traits we have pushed into our own unconscious and therefore traits we refuse see in ourselves. That's why we are generally a species blaming others for any inadequacies. This is all done unconsciously of course and therefore prevails as 'just how it goes.'

Paranoia, for example, comes about by projecting the unconscious. In feeling paranoid a person can disown their own persecutory and hostile feelings (towards others) and project it onto others and then feel like they are being persecuted.

Hitler 'cashed in' on mass projection - getting a country to project its shadow onto the Jewish population. That's an example of how dangerous the unconscious can be. You don't have to look far to find other examples.

This is not to say that every observation we make about a person's behaviour is projection but if there is a strong repulsion, irritation (or even attraction) chances are there's some projection going on. (We do also make conscious decisions to accept and reject key messages from our upbringing - but they are different simply because we are aware if them of course!) The kind of things I have heard people say that I have suspected of being projection are:
•S/he's a terrible flirt
•S/he takes everything so seriously
•S/he hogs the conversation
•S/he is very competitive
•S/he can never think independently
•S/he is not a team player
•S/he is really negative about others
•S/he never sees things through to the end
•S/he is a control freak
•S/he is self-obsessed
•S/he is so over-the-top
•S/he needs to stay within her comfort zone and s/he doesn't like change
•S/he is tight with money
•I am not at all like her/him

But we don't just project. Our ego has many ways of keeping the unconscious in its place and keeping us unaware of its existence while at the same time making its presence known to those around us. Our ego really does not want us to be aware of the 'unacceptable' within us but that 'unacceptable' regularly turns up throughout our lives without us being conscious of it. Could I paraphrase this any more?!?! Sorry.

Some of the other interesting 'caused by the unconscious' behaviours are:

Fantasy - things our subconscious is hungry for but we have no intention of carrying out. These can prevent us getting on with 'real life' and can therefore become self limiting.

Acting out - impulsive behaviour that comes from a raw emotion inside us that we cannot handle - that can be destructive.

Passive aggression - avoiding direct conflict but somehow still managing to put a spanner in the works (being late, moaning)

Hypochondria - using illness as a get out clause because we cannot face up to the aggression or demands we would like to show to others.

Intellectualisation - over analysing and objectifying everything rather than facing up to the emotion.

Displacement - we redirect our unacceptable feelings at someone or an object that is less frightening than whatever aroused the original feeling.

....there are more, some more 'mature' than others...(these are from the Rough Guide to Happiness by Nick Bayliss)

I also find it interesting how every individual will have pushed their own unique set of behaviours and attitudes into their personal unconscious - based on the approval and disapproval they received. What we perceive as acceptable will have come from our upbringing and will indeed look quite different for everyone. One parent's idea of unacceptable will be acceptable to another. But Jung was one of the few psychologist that acknowledged development beyond childhood - so there's hope for us all! Jung also acknowledges that good stuff gets squashed into the unconscious as well as bad stuff - so that could be released too!

And clues to what's in our subconscious? Our nearest and dearest will know things about us that we are unaware of. Ask them. Jung also said the unconscious usually turns up in dreams as the same gender as us but with other noticeably different characteristics. Look out for her/him!

I could go on and on but I suspect few of you have even read this far!!!!!


  1. very good blog, congratulations
    regard from Reus Catalonia
    thank you

  2. Could you do me a 59 seconds version of that please?!! Actually, I did read it!

    On a layman's level (rather than a Jung level!), I love the feeling when I can tune into my subconsious - or it just rises up out of the blue - and gives me lots of creative flowy ideary stuff which I can't usually access. Usually happens when I'm half asleep or very stimulated by something else entirely. As you say, it's not all bad down there xxx

  3. I've got to admit that I seem unable these days to read a lot of informative posts and retain the argument throughout. I do speed read though and I really need to slow down, concentrate and then I might do a better job of fully taking in what I am reading.

    I do think it is possible to modify one's behaviour though - I have been told I do behave in a passive-aggressive way sometimes and it has made me think more before doing or saying something. We all have the power to change.

  4. You triggered me...just remembered in the shower that I did Jung (and Freud) at uni (2 years of psychology!! Scottish system!!!! Pilot scheme. Didn't engage me then either! I am such a simpleton-just-tell-me-what-I-can-d0-different type of person. No knowledge for knowledge's sake in my brain - I filter all that out! I like to keep it ship shape in there! Tidy mind, appears stupid...

  5. Molly Ihave read all of what you say three times actually & quite simply my response is that

    Our biggest challenge in life is: to know our unique self.

  6. It is my understanding that you won't get SP*M when you write ESS EE EX because you have word verification on your comments. AND it always takes ME at least 3 times of clicking on Post Comment before that actually happens. (The things I do for you!) I think Spammers are automated so they cannot word verify.
    and now,
    onto Jung.
    I dream about HIM a lot.

  7. You've changed your wild in teh woods picture, it looks more Id-like I reckon.

  8. I've got that picture of her in a tiny frame in my tiny house, but sepia-ed.

  9. Té la mà Maria - Reus – Hmmm. Thank you?

    Claire – it would help you with your MLC. I have my best ideas when I wake up. I have to have a pen and paper by the bed to write stuff down. When I was having to come up with creative (potty) ideas for my books, because my head was totally into making-things-up mode I would often wake up with an absolutely brilliant idea. Problem is, then you don’t feel like it’s really yours!!!

    FF – Yep we do all have the power to change. I think self awareness is pretty key to happiness, successful relationships, resilience etc etc. I’ve come a long way!!!! Further to go. On a skateboard.

    Claire – I don’t like Freud much (don’t tell him). I wouldn’t have been interested in Jung in my twenties either – too much thrashing about to do back then.

    Heron – a challenge and a pleasure. When people become freer from their patterns and buttons it all gets really exciting. Am I sounding like a freak again?

    Clippy Mat (1) Why are you called Clippy May 2) Oh 3) In that case sex sex sex sex sex sex sex.
    4) Thank you for trying so hard...I love comments...

    Typester – very observant of you. That is the photo of my unconscious projecting out for all to see...scowling, tired, muddy and quite rude.

    Claire – sepia-ed???? Really??? Do I look like my persona?

  10. A freak! You ? No most definitely not. An ardent self awareness raiser, would be my description of you :)
    Keep up the good work Molly x

  11. Yes, sepia-ed so you look sort of Victorian.

    Yea, but you've got to be interested in it to read all that stuff. I can only get interested if it's presented all snippet like and practical. Like Coles Notes type thing. I'm a simpleton, believe me xxx

  12. Heronster - thank you. I might be Ok being a freak now I think about it.

    Claire -Victorian? Cool.
    You don't have to feed your dark side.

  13. i read this far haha,
    and i love jungs views on the archetypes, the anima & the light/dark balance within us all etc etc ,
    and equally find freud a bit off,
    perhaps he was talking about himself haha
    nice post molls


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