The term “Collective” refers to psychic contents that belong not to one individual but society in general. Consequently, “collective subconscious” refers to that part of the subconscious mind that is common to all human beings. It was originated by Carl Jung and became the idea that separated Jung from the theories and friendship of Sigmund Freud. We can understand the collective subconscious as the key concept in analytical psychology or the totality of human experience.

Collective subconscious defined

The collective subconscious is the term by psychiatrist Carl Jung. It represents a form of the subconscious that everyone is born with and originates in the inherited structure of the brain. It is different from the personal subconscious, which is unique to each human being.

The idea of the collective subconscious is arguably Carl Jung’s most original and controversial contribution to psychology. Jung derived his theory of the collective subconscious from the ubiquity of psychological phenomena.

According to Jung, there are two layers making up the subconscious. The top layer is essentially the same as Freud’s version of the subconscious, which is the personal subconscious. It has been made subconsciously artificially; that is, it consists of elements of one’s personal experiences. This layer represents a repository for all of an individual’s feelings, memories, knowledge, and thoughts that are not conscious at a given moment in time.

Underneath this layer is the collective subconscious: an absolute subconscious that has nothing to do with personal experiences. Jung proposed that the collective subconscious is a layer of the subconscious mind we come into this world containing, that connects each one to the history of thoughts and behaviors of all of mankind. The collective subconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual.

What does collective subconscious contain?

Jung’s interest in the subconscious was not just theoretical; it was born of his own experience of vivid dreams and visions. Jung’s life work was to make sense of the subconscious and its habit of revealing itself in symbolic form through archetypes of the collective subconscious. He believed that it was only possible to live the fullest life when one is in harmony with these archetypal symbols.

Dream analysis

Freud was a pioneer in the use of dreams to explore the subconscious. However, while Freud believed that dreams consist of repressed desires, Jung found in dreams a source of myths and symbols that would be a key in his own and his patients’ self-understanding and journey to wholeness.

Archetypes

These are universal concepts we seem to instinctively know, or what Jung described as “identical psychic structures common to all”.

They mean that we can have the same thoughts and ideas as other people we have never met. Even though they come from an entirely different background and culture.

A typical example is a mother-child relationship. Nobody tells us what a mother is, but we react in a certain way to a mothering figure, regardless of where we were born in the world or what our culture, religion, or race is.

How useful is it?

Jung felt we can directly access the collective subconscious via our dreams. We can remember our dreams, look for the archetypes, then interpret the wisdom the archetype offers. For example, if we dream of an old man talking to us, we can decide it is a sign we are on the right track in life and approaching our personal inner wisdom.

The collective subconscious is also a way to feel connected, instead of separated, from others in the world. We might come from different places and viewpoints. But we all long for a mother, feel fear when we think of death, and seek out heroes. And we all dream in archetypes at night.

In conclusion, the collective subconscious guides us to self-fulfillment, thus one should strive to bring themselves into harmony with it.

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12 thoughts on “What is the collective subconscious and why should you care about it?

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