Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who made significant contributions to our understanding of the human psyche. He was a former student and colleague of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, but they eventually parted ways due to major disagreements in their theories.
Carl Jung devoted his life to studying the human mind, seeking to understand the factors that influence human behavior and personality.
Jung’s Understanding of our Mind
Carl Jung’s model of the human psyche can be imagined as an iceberg.
The tiny tip above the water represents the conscious mind, the portion underwater that is still visible symbolises the personal unconscious, and the vast, unseen expanse beneath the surface embodies the collective unconscious.
- Conscious Mind: The conscious mind consists of everything we’re actively aware of. It involves our current thoughts, perceptions, and actions. It’s the part of the mind where reasoning, decision-making, and voluntary actions occur.
- Personal Unconscious: The personal unconscious contains memories, thoughts, and experiences that were once conscious but have been forgotten or suppressed. It includes personal experiences and knowledge that are not currently conscious but can be brought back to consciousness. This is also where our complexes reside, which are patterns of emotions, memories, and perceptions tied together by a common theme.
- Collective Unconscious: The collective unconscious, unlike the personal unconscious, does not develop from personal experiences. Instead, it’s a shared reservoir of experiences of our species, a kind of universal, impersonal form of memory inherited from our ancestors. It contains archetypes, which are basic universal symbols, themes, and motifs that are common across different cultures and epochs. The collective unconscious impacts our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, often in ways we aren’t aware of. It can influence our dreams and our conscious thoughts. Symbols from the collective unconscious often appear in our dreams, fantasies, or in ‘slips of the tongue’, and can even influence our personal beliefs and values.
The collective unconscious, personal unconscious, and conscious mind are all interconnected and each play an important role in how we experience life.
The Collective Unconscious: A Shared Ancestral Species Memory
The collective unconscious, also known as the objective psyche, refers to structures of the unconscious mind shared among beings of the same species. It is a repository of ancestral experiences.
According to Jung, the collective unconscious contains archetypes, which are universal, archaic patterns or images that derive from the collective repeated experiences of our ancestors. These archetypes are innate and inherited, not acquired from personal experiences. They include themes such as birth, death, power, parenthood, and childhood, which are reflected in our myths, religions, dreams, and fantasies.
The collective unconscious profoundly influences our behavior, attitudes, dreams, and emotions, though we are often unaware of its impact. It’s the reason certain symbols, myths, and motifs are prevalent across different cultures and historical periods.
Understanding Jungian Archetypes
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung proposed the idea of archetypes as universal, inborn models of people, behaviours, or personalities. They serve as the foundation for our understanding and experience of the world. The four primary Jungian archetypes are the Self, the Shadow, the Anima/Animus, and the Persona.
Primary Jungian Archetypes
- The Self represents the unification of the conscious and unconscious within an individual. It’s the archetype that connects our spiritual and earthly facets, symbolising our striving for unity and wholeness. In leadership, this wholeness translates into self-awareness, a quality that enables leaders to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and core values.
- The Shadow encompasses the parts of ourselves that we choose to repress or deny – our fears, insecurities, and perceived weaknesses. It’s the “dark side” of our personality that we often choose to overlook. However, by recognising and integrating our shadow, we can achieve personal growth and become more empathetic leaders, able to understand and accept the imperfections in ourselves and others.
- The Anima/Animus. The Anima (in men) and Animus (in women) represent the feminine and masculine aspects within us, respectively. They symbolise the “true self” versus societal expectations about gender roles.
- The Persona is the mask we present to the world – it’s how we choose to be seen. It embodies our social role and mediates between our true self and the environment. In leadership, the Persona can sometimes be misleading, as leaders may feel compelled to project an image that’s in line with societal expectations rather than their true nature.
Jungian Character Archetypes
While the primary archetypes represent internal aspects of the self, the 12 character archetypes reflect diverse ways these basic aspects may manifest in our behaviours and attitudes. We each have an innate sense of the type of story we seek to live. If we can understand and accept our nature, we can create a life that is deeply meaningful for ourselves.
- The Ruler: This archetype craves control and will seek leadership, believing stability and power are the ways to ensure safety. The Ruler fears chaos and being overthrown. As leaders, they can bring about prosperity and success but may also become authoritarian.
- The Creator/Artist: This archetype is imaginative and values authenticity. They desire to create something meaningful and enduring. Their fear lies in mediocrity or creating something insignificant. In leadership, they can foster innovation and creativity.
- The Sage: The Sage seeks truth and understanding. They are wise, thoughtful, and introspective, driven by knowledge and wisdom. They fear deception and ignorance. As leaders, they are valued for their insight and analytical abilities.
- The Innocent: The Innocent aims to be happy and strives to do things right. Their optimism and hope can be infectious. They fear doing something wrong or punishable. Leaders who embody this archetype often encourage a positive, morale-boosting environment.
- The Explorer: This archetype is characterised by a deep love of exploration and the desire for freedom. They fear being trapped or conforming. As leaders, they encourage discovery, innovation, and growth.
- The Rebel: The Rebel seeks radical change and revolution, standing against the status quo. They fear no change or being powerless. In leadership, they challenge old systems and norms, fostering innovation and change.
- The Hero: The Hero archetype is characterised by courage, strength, and competence. They are driven by their desire to prove their worth through courageous acts. Their fear lies in weakness or vulnerability. As leaders, they can inspire others to action.
- The Wizard: The Wizard seeks to understand the underlying rules of the universe and make dreams come true. They fear unintended negative consequences. As leaders, they encourage learning, understanding, and growth, aiming to turn ideas into reality.
- The Jester: The Jester is driven by a desire to live in the moment and make the most of it. They fear being bored or boring others. They can foster a fun and positive work environment, inspiring creativity and a different perspective.
- The Everyman: The Everyman seeks connection and belonging, valuing humility and being down-to-earth. They fear standing out or being left out. In leadership, they often foster team cohesion and egalitarianism.
- The Lover: The Lover seeks intimacy and to be in a relationship with the people, work, and surroundings they love. They fear being alone or unloved. As leaders, they encourage harmony and work to build deep relationships.
- The Caregiver: The Caregiver desires to help and protect others. They fear selfishness and ingratitude. As leaders, they often provide support, nurturing the growth and development of their team.
How to Understand Humans: Ourselves, and Others
Jungian archetypes provide a mirror to our inner selves, allowing us to deepen self-understanding, lead others and communicate authentically.
- Self-awareness: Understanding these archetypes can provide insights into our motivations, fears, and desires, improving our decision-making abilities and empathetic understanding.
- Authenticity: By integrating our personality aspects, leaders can foster authenticity, leading to trust and stronger connections within their teams.
- Influential communication: Understanding archetypes can improve our understanding of others’ perspectives and behaviours, enhancing communication skills and fostering meaningful relationships.
Exploring your own Archetypal Structure
If you haven’t already done these tests, I’d suggest that they are best place to start to gain an understanding of your own personal character orientation.
The Enneagram, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DISC, and the Big Five (OCEAN) are all tools that seek to understand and categorise our personality traits.
- Enneagram: The Enneagram consists of nine distinct personality types. Each type, or number, represents a worldview and archetype that resonates with how people think, feel, and act in relation to the world, others, and themselves. Though not a direct translation, the underlying motives, fears, and desires of each Enneagram type can be compared to the motivations, fears, and desires found in the 12 Jungian archetypes. Learn about the Enneagram.
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): The MBTI is heavily influenced by Jung’s theory of psychological types. It divides personality into four dichotomies, with 16 possible combinations. These combinations form the basis for Myers-Briggs’ personality types. The MBTI focuses more on the process of personality (how individuals perceive the world and make decisions), while the Jungian archetypes focus more on the content of personality (innate tendencies and behaviours). Learn about MBTI.
- DISC: DISC focuses on four different personality traits: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. Each of these traits represents a way that individuals typically behave or communicate. The Jungian archetypes could represent the motivation or underlying forces that drive these behaviours. Learn about DISC.
- Big Five (OCEAN): This theory measures personality across five dimensions: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These traits are seen as continuous spectrums rather than distinct types or categories. Jungian archetypes could be seen as expressing different combinations of these traits, with certain archetypes leaning towards specific ends of the spectrum. Learn about OCEAN (video by me).