Through a Jungian Lens

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On The Nature Of The Self – Part One

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I have a few presentations to make while we are in Mexico this coming winter, presentations about Jungian psychology. Naturally, I have been wondering just what I could do given three opportunities to present. I finally have decided on the three topics.

  1. On the nature of the self
  2. On the nature of relationship
  3. The journey we call individuation

Obviously there are many other topics that could be brought to the attention of those interested in learning a bit more about Jungian psychology. However with the decision finally made, it is now for me to prepare, slowly, for these presentations. Part of that preparation will be done here as I sort through more than too much material and threads of thought to build the presentations. Perhaps for you, my steadfast readers, this might be an experience of “you’ve already said that a million times.” Yet, I hope that as I re-approach the idea of self you will find something worth hearing again. With that said, it’s time to begin gathering my thoughts and the thoughts of others who have much to say.


The best way to begin is to deal with the word itself – self. And, it would be most appropriate to start with the definition that most likely is held by most people, a definition found in the Oxford English Dictionary: “One’s particular nature or personality; the qualities that make one individual or unique“. It seems simple enough. We each see ourselves as separate from other people. We see others outside of own heads, or so we think, and in turn get a sense of who we are because of that contrast, that separation. This notion of separation seems straight-forward enough, however it doesn’t seem to answer all of our questions about who we are as individuals. And the problem only gets worse as we get older.

Jo-Hari Window depicting the "self".

Jo-Hari Window depicting the “self”.

As we get older, we discover the fact that we really don’t know ourselves all that well. It is with interaction with others that allows us to become aware, bit by bit, of aspects of our personality for which we had been blind as this diagram illustrates. people in our “orbit” get to “know” things about us of which we are unconscious. If all works well, these others clue us in to those unknown habits and traits. Yet in spite of our efforts and the efforts of those around us, there is so much of who we are that remains a mystery. In Jungian psychology, this is called the unconscious self.

At this point, I want to turn to how Jung describes the self: 

[The self] expresses the unity of the personality as a whole. But in so far as the total personality, on account of its unconscious component, can be only in part conscious, the concept of self is, in part, only potentially empirical . . .” [Jung CW 6, par 789]

In other words, we can only know just a part of the whole of who we are. Jung goes on to say:

“the self as psychic totality also has a conscious as well as an unconscious aspect. Empirically, the self appears in dreams, myths, and fairytales . . . the self appears as a play of light and shadow although conceived as a totality and unity in which the opposites are united . . . ” [ibid]

Unconscious and conscious aspects, dark and light aspects, and this elusive self shows up in our dreams and our stories. No matter how hard I look at this idea, this word, this essence of who I am, I can’t find anything solid to wrap my thoughts around. This is going to be a bigger task than I thought it was going to be.


Written by Robert G. Longpré

July 24, 2014 at 5:28 pm

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