The self, then, does not stem from individual experience but rather from what has been called "early psychosomatic unity" (Urban 2008). Individual personality traits are thus a product of the collective unconscious, our own understanding of how those factors exist within us, and our personal life experiences.
The existence of these many archetypes -- the shadow, the anima/animus, the mother, etc. -- in all people is evidence for Jung's concept of the collective unconscious. These universal archetypes do not come from individual experiences or conscious awareness. Instead, they are entirely unconscious and present in all people, regardless of background, culture, or life experience. It is the unification of these archetypes in our own awareness that allows us to develop a sense of self.
Jung's theories about personality types have found their way into a popular and widely used personality "test": the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This assessment was crafted based on Jung's personality theories. It begins with the assumption that "much seemingly random variation in behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment." (Myers & Briggs). As described above, these ideas stem directly from Jung. Following the publication of his book Psychological Types, two American women sought to integrate Jung's complex psychological ideas into everyday life. They felt that his contributions were too powerful to remain limited to the narrow academic community.
Today, the Myers-Briggs Personality Test is used in corporate and group settings around the world. It offers a test whereby people can identify themselves along four matrices: extroverted -- introverted, thinking -- feeling, sensing -- intuiting, and judging -- perceiving. Through a series of questions, individuals are able to express their preferences in how they perceive the world, take in information, make decisions, and take action. Each person who completes the Myers-Briggs test will come away with their own "personality type," a summary code of four letters that condenses Jung's complex psychological theories into a useable format. Many report that having this information helps them be more aware of their own personality as well as the personality of friends and family members. It is used as a team-building tool and may effectively reduce conflict by increasing inter-personal understanding and acceptance.
Summary: Jung's Theory & Personality
Jung's work explains personality, and later thinkers, including Myers and Briggs, have made those links even more accessible. Rather than being solely the product of our life's experiences, or even our own family's genes, our personality is strongly influenced by timeless archetypal patterns that are similar across cultures. Four functions are common to all people in the way they interact with the world: sensing, thinking, intuiting, and feeling. Each of these factors is present in all people, but we also have what Jung called a "superior" function that is better developed for us and therefore becomes our primary mode of interaction (Boeree).
It is, then, the interaction of these archetypes -- the animus / anima and the shadow, for example -- with our own personal experiences that form our unique personalities. We may have innate tendencies to experience the world in particular ways or to learn and express ourselves in certain ways. These tendencies must be understood to be the product of the collective unconscious as interpreted through our own experiences with individuation. This process may give "specific meaning to a person's identity" (Roesler). The more a person invests in learning about his or her own archetypal unconscious -- through ...
Thus, the idea of the multiple choice format again becomes useful. Individuals have natural preferences and strengths and may find themselves pulled to one set of archetypal identities over others. But those tendencies are subject to change, and through individuation people may experience transformative personality adjustments.
Jung's theories on psychoanalysis have had a lasting impact on the field. Many psychologists practice Jungian analysis, and the terms "archetype" and "collective unconscious" have become mainstream. Such diverse disciplines as business, political science, and sociology continue to rely on Jung's insights to guide their own inquiry. However, there are two fundamental problems with the application of Jung's theories to an understanding of personality formation.
First, his theories themselves are circular. He argues that the collective unconscious is comprised of archetypes and then, later, that the existence of these archetypes is evidence for the collective unconscious. This is like citing himself as proof of the validity of his work. In other words, his theories lack concrete evidence. How can we "prove" that the collective unconscious exists? How can we be sure that spending years probing it through analysis and seeking to individuate will be any more effective than other forms of counseling, or even none at all? His theories, then, may lack evidence and may not be applicable to life.
Secondly, even if we accept the validity of his theories for psychoanalysis, they are too spiritual and faith-based for my taste. His approach to understanding personality does not appear to be based in science; rather, it pulls from such "mushy" disciplines as astrology and spirituality. Many scientists are not convinced that these disciplines provide a sound basis for understanding something as medically complex as the human brain and the formation of personality.
Despite this critique and the well-known short-comings of Jung's theoretical approach to psychology, his insights are invaluable for understanding personality formation. We emerge from his work with a sense that our personalities have both static and dynamic elements. When young, for example, we may tend toward introversion and feeling modes of learning. We may connect with the archetype of the mother. But as we age and experience individuation, our personality may also shift. We may become more confident and extroverted. We may learn how to think analytically and critically, and therefore rely less on our feeling skills for learning. And we may break away from the comfort of the mother archetype and find ourselves more in touch with our own shadow. This Jungian roadmap through personality development is powerful and, like the collective unconscious, timeless.
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Northwestern University Press: Evanston, Ill.
Jung, C.G. (1953). The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol 8 Part I). Pantheon Books.
Jungian Analytic Praxis, Inc. (2010). Individuation: The Process of a Lifetime. Available at: http://www.jungiananalyticpraxis.com/individuation_lecture.htm
Roesler, Christian. (2006). A Narratological Methodology for Identifying Archetypal
Story Patterns in Autobiographical Narratives. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 51: 574-586.
Schueler, Gerald. (1997). Individuation. Available at:
The Myers-Briggs Foundation. Available at: http://www.myersbriggs.org/
Urban, Elizabeth. (2008). The 'Self' in Analytical Psychology: The Function of the 'Central Archetype' Within Fordham's Model. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 53: 329-350.
Individual personality traits are thus a product of the collective unconscious, our own understanding of how those factors exist within us, and our personal life experiences.
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