The human psyche is one hell of a tricky concept. Though you would think that as the totality of the human mind, we might try and understand it a little better – after all, it helps us navigate our lives. So, while the interior structure is of course as complicated as you might expect, I have recently taken it upon myself to try and comprehend the inner workings. Personally, this was more to gain a better understanding of myself and my own mind’s structure as the more thorough elements are quite individualised. Everyone’s mind works differently and due to this topic’s meticulous intensity, I praise anyone who takes this as a subject of academic study or as a career prospect. However, for a beginner like myself who’s simply striving for self-improvement, you might wonder where to even begin?
For an introduction, I was recommended Dr. Murray Stein’s analysis of a long-standing psychoanalytical theory created by Carl Jung. As an expert in Jungian theory, Stein wrote the book “Jung’s Map of the Soul” that provides a straightforward coherency and empirical underpinning of Jung’s work with the self. Stein condenses 18 volumes of collected works into an accessible read for beginners in psychology and while there are many other psychoanalysts on this subject, Jung’s work is consistent yet adaptable. It doesn’t trap you into a specific understanding and is open to any interpretation. It’s possibly the best place to start in my opinion, especially through Stein’s comprehension.
The following understandings are all accredited to Carl Jung and Murray Stein, this is just a very simple briefing of their work in “Map of the Soul”.
Overall, the most fundamental feature of Jung’s thinking was the Self. It’s the dynamic individuation of his research that separates his work from that of other psychoanalysts. He thought of the self as a cosmic entity that needs a human to recognise and understand it so that it may successfully reincarnate into a three-dimensional world. He believed that we are here to give a soul its temporary home and while this conclusion may seem airy to some, I found it quite comforting to believe in a purpose like this. Jung firmly believed that we all have a role to play in this universe, and he explains such through astrology, alchemy, theology, and other systems that do make this rather difficult to follow at times. Instead, Stein explains this in a way that avoids all the complicated branches and using Jung’s own concept to describe his understanding of who we are, he explains how we might fulfill our potential to become all that we can be.
Furthermore, despite what you make think of Jung’s concept of the self, Stein uses Jung’s concrete research and evidence in breaking down the inner workings of our mind and explains them in a way that is consistent and comprehendible to those just starting out. While I would love to attempt painting the full picture of the map Jung created, I’ll instead brief you on just three parts that make up the solar system in our minds.
As the primary center of the consciousness, the ego arranges everything in order of priority. It manipulates how you see the world for the purpose of survival and gives you the mental and physical energy required to do something. Essentially, it can be identified as your free will. Although Jung and Stein like to debate just how much free will we actually have when facing the instincts that lie buried in our unconscious minds.
Nevertheless, the ego develops through ‘collisions’ which are emotional and physical happenings. Our egos are a constellation of complexes formed by our trauma and experiences but are adjusted by the exposure to the wider culture, almost like a frozen memory. However, it lacks control when a complex is triggered. For example, when someone metaphorically pushes your buttons, this is a literal happening in the mind and depending on how strong your ego is, you are overcome with an instant reaction that you may find incontrollable. This kind of research makes you wonder is there really such a thing as the ‘rational being’ or are some of us just better at controlling the external self?
Then the persona is at the front of our consciousness, our ‘public person’. It helps us adapt to the demands of life and manage stable relations with the surrounding social world that is projected at the front of our consciousness. For a lot a people this aspect is functional to which they can turn on or off depending on the situation – those at work may not be the same at home. The two sources of content come from the expectations and demands of society that are then combined with the aspirations of the individual. The persona is who we become as a consequence of having to adapt to both physical and social environments. It’s how we let people see ourselves. Contextually, the term derives from the Latin word for “actors mask”, and its job is to conceal the individual thoughts and feelings we have that might not fit societal standards. It’s employed to make casual interaction much easier. According to Stein, a lot of actresses and actors are deeply introverted but enjoy playing the extrovert in their persona.
However, while the ego welcomes the persona, it rejects the shadow. When one is born, a person’s personality begins a simple unity but as one grows these parts split and our personality makes up a cluster of subpersonalities. Our human nature instinctively rebels against societal standards, and we are constantly in a great moral conflict as we continue to hide the parts of ourselves that we believe people won’t accept. Those rejected personalities fall into the shadow: the image of ourselves that we keep in the dark. Often this part of the human psyche goes against society’s beliefs and contains the more immoral thoughts. However, in pressing times the ego may utilise the shadow to carry out the unsavoury operations that it cannot perform because of the moral conflict. It’s a part of the unconscious that is not directly experienced by the ego but when a person is tremendously irritated by something or someone, their reaction is usually a signal of the shadow.
Furthermore, this unconscious structure is a complementary opposite to the persona. Though Jung solely believes that if we were to integrate the shadow and persona, we may find self-acceptance. It’s a counter-persona but a person must open up to both sides of the psyche in order to fulfill the sense of wholeness that every human instinct desires. If a person completely shuns the shadow, life would be proper but terribly incomplete. Opening the shadow attains a greater degree of wholeness. If anyone truly is perfect then scientifically speaking, there is no way they are entirely happy being so. Therefore, if there was one thing that I took away from this book, it’s Jung’s belief that the self-ties all these factors together and creates the balance among the various other factors and ties them together into a functioning unity.
However, this is just the bare minimum in Jung’s work and I’ve only covered a small snippet of Stein’s complete understandings. Additionally, not all events of our lives can be covered by theory and the human psyche is made up of so many parts and structures with multiple perspectives. That being said, I believe “Map of the Soul” is the perfect entry to the sector. It made me realise that we take far too much credit for the genius and beauty of the mind and that we too often jump to conclusions that someone is the way they are solely because of childhood trauma. While that may in fact be probable, it does not cover the full scope of possible causes. Nonetheless, “Map of the Soul” was completely out of my reading depth and yet I took away a lot more than I ever thought I would.