The Self in Jungian theory is one of the archetypes. It signifies the coherent whole, unified consciousness and unconscious of a person - 'the totality of the psyche'.[1] The Self, according to Jung, is realised as the product of individuation, which in Jungian view is the process of integrating one's personality. For Jung, the Self is symbolised by the circle (especially when divided in four quadrants), the square, or the mandala.

What distinguishes Jungian psychology is the idea that there are two centers of the personality. The ego is the center of consciousness, whereas the Self is the center of the total personality, which includes consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego. The Self is both the whole and the center. While the ego is a self-contained little circle off the center contained within the whole, the Self can be understood as the greater circle.[2]

Emergence from the Self

Jung considered that 'each human being has originally a feeling of wholeness, a powerful and complete sense of the Self'.[3] Out of that sense of Self, 'the individualized ego-consciousness emerges as the individual grows up...differentiation of the psyche'.[4] This process of ego-differentiation provides the task of the first half of life. 'And the ego must continually return to re-establish its relation to the Self in order to maintain a condition of psychic health',[5] something facilitated by the use of myths, initiation ceremonies, and rites of passage.

Return to the Self: individuation

Once ego-differentiation had been successfully achieved, and the individual securely anchored in the external world, Jung considered that a new task then arose for the second half of life - a return to, and conscious rediscovery of, the Self: individuation. 'The actual processes of individuation - the conscious coming-to-term with one's own inner center (psychic nucleus) or Self - generally begins with a wounding of the personality'.[6] The ego reaches an impasse of one sort or another; and has to turn for help to 'a sort of hidden regulating or directing tendency...[or] organizing center' in the personality: 'Jung called this center the "Self" and described it as the totality of the whole psyche, in order to distinguish it from the "ego", which constitutes only a small part of the psyche'.[7]

Under its guidance, 'a certain "order of sequence" of the archetypes'[8] would then emerge, bringing their fragmentary aspects of the Self increasingly closer to its totality. The first to appear, and the closest to the ego, would be the shadow or personal unconscious: 'the shadow is the first representative of the totality'.[9] 'Sometimes the shadow is powerful because the urge of the Self is pointing in the same direction, and so one does not know whether it is the Self or the shadow that is behind the inner pressure'.[10]

Next to appear would be the anima and animus, the soul-image - the danger here being that of 'a kind of psychological short-circuit, to identify the animus at least provisionally with wholeness...[with] the Self'.[11] Where that is averted, the animus or anima 'takes on the role of guide, or mediator, to the world within and to the Self...a mediator between the ego and the Self'.[12]

'After the confrontation with the soul-image the appearance of the archetype of the OLD WISE MAN, the personification of the spiritual principle, can be distinguished as the next milestone of inner development'.[13] Jung sometimes referred to such archetypal figures as "Mana" personalities, supraordinate personalities, and treated them as equivalents to the Self: 'the mother ("Primordial Mother" and "Earth Mother") as a supraordinate personality...the supraordinate personality as the "self"'.[14] At other times, he saw them as representatives of the collective unconscious - as bridging-posts to the totality.

Thereafter comes the archetype of 'the Self. It marks the last station on the way to individuation, which Jung calls self-realization'.[15] For Jung, 'the Self...embraces ego-consciousness, shadow, anima, and collective unconscious in indeterminable extension. As a totality, the self is a coincidental oppositorum; it is therefore bright and dark and yet neither'.[16] Alternatively, he stated that 'the Self is the total, timeless man...who stands for the mutual integration of conscious and unconscious'.[17]

The perils of the Self

Jungians recognised that 'every personification of the unconscious - the shadow, the anima, the animus, and the Self - has both a light and a dark aspect'.[18] For von Franz, 'the dark side of the Self is the most dangerous thing of all, precisely because the Self is the greatest power in the psyche'.[19] In everyday life, 'the Self is commonly projected onto figures or institutions perceived as possessing pre-eminent power...suprapersonal entities such as the State, God, the sun, Nature or the universe'.[20] When such projections are withdrawn, there can be an inflation of the personality, whereby one 'thinks with mounting excitement that he has grasped the great cosmic riddles; he therefore loses all touch with human reality'.[21] One potential counterbalance to this is 'the collective (or, we could even say, social) aspect of the Self'.[22]

Criticism of the Jungian concept of Self

Fritz Perls may have had the Jungians in mind when he objected that 'many psychologists like to write the self with a capital S, as if the self would be something precious, something extraordinarily valuable. They go at the discovery of the self like a treasure-digging. The self means nothing but this thing as it is defined by otherness'.[23]

A more sympathetic, constructivist approach points out that, conflated together 'in Jung's work, self can refer to the notion of inherent subjective individuality, the idea of an abstract center or central ordering principle, and the account of a process developing over time'.[24]


  1. Josepf L. Henderson, "Ancient Myths and Modern Man" in C. G. Jung ed., Man and his Symbols (London 1978) p. 120
  2. Zweig, Connie (1991). Meeting the Shadow. Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher. ISBN 087477618X.  p. 24.
  3. Henderson, "Myths" p. 120
  4. Henderson, "Myths" p. 120
  5. Henderson, "Myths" p. 120
  6. M-L von Franz, "The Process of Individuation" in Jung ed., Symbols p. 169
  7. von Franz, "Process" p. 161-2
  8. Jolandi Jacobi, The Psychology of C. G. Jung (London 1968) p. 40
  9. Barbara Hannah, Striving towards Wholeness (Boston 1988) p. 25
  10. von Franz "Process" p. 182-3
  11. C. G. Jung, Alchemical Studies (London 1978) p. 268
  12. von Franz "Process" p. 193 and p. 195
  13. J. Jacobi, The Psychology of C. G. Jung (London 1946) p. 115
  14. C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (London 1996) p. 183 and p. 187
  15. Jacobi (1946) p. 118
  16. C. G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis (London 1963) p. 108n
  17. C. G .Jung, "Psychology of the Transference", Collective Works Vol. 16 (London 1954) p. 311
  18. von Franz, "Process" p. 234
  19. von Franz, "Process" p.234
  20. Anthony Stevens, On Jung (London 1990) p. 41
  21. von Franz, "Process" p. 234
  22. von Franz, "Process" p. 238
  23. Fritz Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (Bantam) p. 8
  24. Polly Young-Eisendrath/James Albert Hall, Jung's Self-Psychology (1991) p. 5
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Self in Jungian psychology. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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