In this article, we will talk about Carl Gustav Jung and his key ideas that every intellectual should know. Some of his ideas formed the basis of metacognitive programming. You have probably heard about the concept of archetypes many times, but only within the Jungian framework of the collective unconscious is it possible to appreciate the true depth of this concept. However, you almost certainly don’t know anything about Jung’s individuation theory, which is worth exploring, along with his other ideas.
Though Freud is interesting, Jung is admirable. While many points of Freud’s theory have been refuted, Jung’s key ideas have retained their relevance. Jung was decades ahead of his time. He didn’t view science and mysticism as contradictions and could easily combine them, using the same scientific criteria his fellow physicists and chemists used, only to study mystery. He recognized both the importance of rational analysis as well as intuitive knowledge.
Jung was born in a religious family in a village in Switzerland. He was a great student, spoke 5 languages, and could observe any living thing for hours. He graduated with honors from the Medical faculty in Basel, eventually becoming a psychiatrist and obtaining a Ph.D. Jung has always been interested in the subtle functionalities of the human brain, the associations it makes, and the symbols it draws.
In 1907, Carl Jung met Sigmund Freud. During this time, Freud was trying to popularize his idea that people repress thoughts and emotions that they do not want to feel outside their consciousness. Even though the abstractness of this idea was risky, Jung supported it. This idea still carries serious weight even in modern psychology, and therefore we can say that Jung knowingly put his reputation on the line by supporting Freud’s innovative ideas. However, after a little over four years, they concluded their partnership because their values and views no longer aligned. Freud’s psychosexual theory is his most criticized work, and Jung was his first critic. It is claimed that, at this time, Jung entered a state of deep depression that kept him in vice for many years. He psychoanalyzed himself to deal with his darkness. It is said that there was no thought that he would not analyze and no symbol he would not associate with. His work on himself led him to the theories we still use today.
Personal and collective unconscious
Jung’s first idea is that the unconscious (thoughts, images, and emotions were unaware of) has two parts: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. If the personal unconscious contains stories from one’s life that have been repressed for various reasons, then the collective unconscious is a brilliant idea a hundred years ahead of its time, and here’s why.
There are three types of memory. The first type of memory lies inside our brains. It is a kind of recording device for all our life events. The second type is the memory of our ancestors, which was passed down to us through DNA. Our DNA acts as a recording device for thousands of generations. The third type of memory is cultural memory, which passes on the stories of previous generations to us. The last two types of memory are difficult to comprehend and belong to the collective unconscious. Jung believed that we inherit the collective unconscious and that it reflects itself in our behavior through our predispositions to think, feel and react in particular ways.
The theory of the collective unconscious led Jung to another phenomenal assumption at the time. He said that children who experience phobias, such as fear of insects, snakes, or the dark, have inherited this reaction, and not acquired it as a result of some childhood trauma. Today, this explanation is accepted by the scientific community as a valid one.
While archetypes reflected behavioral patterns that could be characteristic of anyone, Jung also defined different human characters. One of the most popular personality tests, the Myers-Briggs test, relies entirely on Jung’s personality types. The great theorist believed that the collective unconscious causes people’s appearances, and he wasn’t mistaken. Today, we can claim that human temperament is mostly hereditary, although, of course, the environment will influence the level of gene expression. If you’ve heard the terms introvert, extrovert, intuitive decision-making, or sensitive person, now you know where these ideas came from.
Jung's individuation theory
Our description of key Jungian ideas would be incomplete without mentioning the individuation theory.
Today, individuation could be replaced with the word awareness. It is the theory of changing one’s own thinking and behavior. In simple terms, Jung proposed a way of integrating immature parts of himself into his conscious understanding using various techniques.
Humans tend to wear social masks designed to protect our ego, when in fact, they hide the main thing: a loving and warm attitude towards people, sensitivity, etc. Individuation focuses on the causes of such behavior, awareness of these causes, and the results to which they can lead. Once we understand the cause and its consequences, we can decide to return to our present selves and stop wearing a mask because there is often no objective need for them.
Value and application of Jung's ideas for metacognitive programming
Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life and you will call it destiny.” That is true, and we see it every day in coaching: if a client doesn’t understand why they’re behaving the way they are, they are likely a machine programmed by someone else to produce automatic responses. Our task as coaches is to “deprogram” this rigid automation that interferes with them living their life.
Another Jung quote is about the practical importance of forming a non-judgemental position: “Knowing your own darkness is the best way to deal with the darkness of another”. If you tend to judge others in life, it is because you do not understand your darkness well. When you cannot accept it in yourself, you do not accept it in others. A complete person will not judge, because the path to completeness is always a path through the darkness.
The next thought of the great theoretician is truly fundamental: “Where love rules, there is no desire to rule, and where power reigns, there is no love. Love is the shadow of power.”
At the end of this article, we want to mention another quote from Carl Jung:
“Every happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word “happiness” would forever lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
Happiness, like sadness, is an emotion that brings people together. Sadness will open up the heart just as happiness will. And this is a reminder for all of us that life is heterogeneous, and behind the dark stripe comes a bright one. This is what ultimately makes us alive.