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Carl Jung’s writing on dreams is not interested in thelegendarymagic that many associate with the significance of human dreams. Jung is concerned neither with the spiritual mysteries nor the religious aspects that some have linked to our unconscious minds; the writings are rather an exploration of Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious. When I first heard the expression “collective unconscious,” I wondered what it could have precisely meant. For a long time, I imagined that humans possessed onlya single-layered and uncomplicated unconsciousmind — I was deeply mistaken. Carl Jung never asserted that humanity experiencesa common unconscious. According to Jung’s theories, there is no such thing as an overall “human unconscious”, as I had initially thought. What Carl Jung contends is that the unconscious mind is not composed only of our personal experiences — those that are calcifiedinto our own identities as time passes — but also that a collective human culture is deeply rooted in the unconscious mind. Carl Jung, a father of the field of psychoanalysis, explains his theory of the collective unconscious in The Personal and the Collective Unconscious through narrating a story to make the ideas more accessible. Jung notices that in addition to the personal unconscious, that each individual possesses a common collective unconscious. Jung’s collective unconscious is defined as a deeply ingrained understanding of the generic archetypes that are inherited through cultural means.
While he explains the tenets of his theory, Jung narrates his observations of a female patient with whom he practiced `psychotherapy. Through observing parallels in this patient’s dreams, Jung found evidence to believe that these dreams had their origins in an deeply engrained part of unconscious thought, which he later defined to be hisconception of the collective unconscious.In the beginning, as a disciple of Freud, Carl Jung initially assumed that all aspects of unconscious thought were unique to the individual. Jung, through the Freudian paradigm, explains that the personal unconscious mind has repressive or hidden content: “the materials contained in this layer are of a personal nature in so far as they [are] acquisitions of the individual’s life. They are the integral components of the personality; they belong to its inventory” (498). My personal unconscious is easily identifiable because I am willing to recognize memories that need to be hidden in this form of personal storage. However, on many occasions I have dreamt about young and old people whom I never met, long corridors, hospitals, or beautiful and spooky places that I have never visited. Carl Jung refers to these dreams as manifestations of the collective unconscious and explains that these images and archetypes are inherited and solidified through generations. The collective unconscious does not represent what we have personally lived, but is the result of cultural repetition of that which those around us have experienced (500).
One can compare the collective unconscious to a conducting wire of deep memories that extends beyond the limits of time, space, culture, language, and race. Carl Jung noticed that various individuals from different continents and cultures sharesimilar archetypical images in the manifestations of their collective unconscious (491).This component of the unconscious mind is a common element of humanity in which we can all dream with the same ancient symbols; the interpretations that we attribute to these symbols may, however, vary according to the respective culture. For example, I once had an African American friend and coworker who seemed to portrayan irrational fear of our Caucasian boss. This coworker revealed that she had recurring dreams of being the maid of a callous white woman who treated her “like Cinderella”, as she described it. We laughed it off at the time, but now, in retrospect, I see that I can draw a strong parallel between her personal manifestations of this imagery and the collective unconscious. Perhaps the archetypes that she associated with our unfairly strict boss was inherited and sculpted from previous generations and reinforced in African American culture. In the same manner, whenever we tell others of a dream that we had, we often find the presence of “inherited categories archetypes” (Jung 499). Nevertheless, these archetypes are collective elements that belong to the human experiences. The collective unconscious can be metaphorically expressed as an iceberg adrift in the ocean: the iceberg’s tip is all we can initially see. However, the majority of this iceberg is submerged in the water. It exists, yet nobody can readily see it without extra help. The iceberg represents a large group of categories, archetypes, and ideas that compose the collective unconscious.
The universal origin of the collective unconscious can explainhow we unknowlingly incorporate archetypes into our dreams. An example of this phenomenon is a father of Jung’s patients, whose image would often manifest as ahero in her dreams. This representation of the patient’s father can be interpreted to symbolize protection and her dependence on him (Jung 491). Throughout her life, this fatherly figure would teach his daughter through her dreams, guiding her through her nocturnal battles against imaginary foes. As illustrated here, archetypes may take certain formsthat can be helpful in addressing a person’s everyday psychological needs. Other times, the invisible aspects of the unconscious mind may become visible through the effects of emotional diseases, such as hysteria, in which the sufferer would need professional support in order to overcome the particular battles that they face in their lives (Jung 495).Archetypes can be defined as a framework of general, unspecific situations that are derived from common cultural tropes. These archetypes can often be associated with instincts and ideas. The collective unconscious, the base of the iceberg, manifests with similar imagery regardless of an individual’s geographic origin, whichsuggests a universality that belongs to the collective unconscious as the holistic cultural memories of humanity stored in these often reiterated figures and images.
The collective unconscious is the fundamentalcontent of an individual’s cultural identity.It contains common elements of the collective human experiences despite the fact that is “invisible,” meaning not readily seen by the conscious mind.This ancient repertoire of images consists primarily of archetypes, basic thematic structures and figures that are sculpted into the unconscious mind through constant reiteration of their respective themes.One of the most important revelations from the collective unconscious is that this universal collection of figures, ideas, and structures reveals that we are all part of a singular humanity with a common cultural origin.The collective unconscious can be considered intangible and not a physical component of the brain. It is a socially constructed facet of our capacity for intuition, insight, and creativity; in other words, our array emotions can find its roots in this common unconscious mental structure that we all share. The collective unconsciousmanifests in every human being across the world. This humanity is built into us, with its values, stories, and legends.
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