Brownie Bites: Understanding Jung’s Theory of the Psyche

carl jung

Carl Jung. Image retrieved from

Jung writes: ‘By psyche I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious’, (CW6 para 797) so we use the term ‘psyche’ rather than ‘mind’, since mind is used in common parlance to refer to the aspects of mental functioning which are conscious. Jung maintained that the psyche is a self-regulating system (like the body). For Jung, the psyche is inherently separable into component parts with complexes and archetypal contents personified and functioning autonomously as complete secondary selves, not just as drives and processes (Hopwood).

For writers interested in creating deep story and complex characters, having a basic understanding of Jung’s theory of the psyche is invaluable. For those writers who wish to work with myths and fairy tales, no matter what your writing genre, having a basic understanding of Jung’s psyche is absolutely necessary.  So here it is.


The archetypes were, for Jung, “typical modes of expression” arising from this collective [unconscious] layer. The archetypes are neither images nor ideas but, rather, fundamental psychic patterns common to all humans into which personal experiences are organized (Geist).

Personal Consciousness and the Collective Unconscious

Jung postulates that the psyche is divided into two “parts”: consciousness and the unconscious. Let’s use the proverbial ice burg as our metaphor. The conscious  mind is the part that sticks out above the water. It is the part which is “known”.  It also is the smallest part of the ice burg, hence Hemmingway’s “tip of the ice burg”. So, the unconscious is the rest of the ice burg, under the surface. And, it is pretty darn big, right? It is what is not known.

To make things even more interesting, each part is made up of two kinds of content: personal and collective.  Personal content is what we learn or experience as individuals. Collective content is what is “universal” to being a human being.  And so we have a personal consciousness and collective consciousness, and a personal unconscious and collective unconscious.

The personal unconscious arises from the interaction between the collective unconscious and one’s personal growth…[the collective unconscious] is all the elements of an individual’s nature present from birth, and the environment of the person brings them out (rather than the environment creating them). Jung felt that people are born with a “blueprint” already in them that will determine the course of their lives (“The Jungian Model”).

This collective unconscious is of particular value in studying and understanding myths and fairy tales. This theory explains why the same kind of stories are told over and over again in different cultures all over the world. This is, however, an incredibly deductive explanation, as the collective unconscious,  universal archetypal patterns, and symbols are incredibly complex.

The Major Archetypes of the Psyche

Jung’s psyche is more than just understanding each archetype: it means understanding how they work. These things “live and breathe” within us whether we want them there or not.  They interact with each other and “us”.  They manifest in our dreams, and, of course in universal folk tales and myths. And, they have everything to do with how we interact “out there” in the world and with other humans.

For ease, we will start from the most superficial and work our way in. While the psyche seems to have a kind of structure, it is interconnected and doesn’t necessarily line up in a nice and neat order of linear hierarchy.  These archetypes are interacting and communicating all the time.

The Personae- This is the outer most layer of the sphere of our personal consciousness. It is what we present to the world. It is a mix of what is expected of us from our families and particular culture, but also includes other content such as how we identify our selves personally, such as being male or female.


Masks. Retrieved from

The personae is a part of the personality which comes into existence ‘for reasons of adaptation or personal convenience’. The origin of the term comes from the mask worn by Greek actors in antiquity and denotes the part of the personality which we show to the world. The persona has been called ‘the packaging of the ego’ or the ego’s public relations person, and is a necessary part of our everyday functioning (Hopwood).

The Ego- This is the “control center” of the personal consciousness. It is the conscious discriminating force that processes information and establishes a kind of order in the psyche. It is within the ego that we find the personality – introverted, extroverted, etc. It is often confused with the Self, or rather confuses itself with the Self.


The Pentagon. Image retrieved from

The ego arises out of the Self during the course of early development. It has an executive function, it perceives meaning and assesses value, so that it not only promotes survival but makes life worth living. It is an expression of the Self, though by no means identical with it, and the Self is much greater than it (Hopwood).

The Self- The self sits in the middle of our psyche. Like the rising or setting sun, it lies astride the “between” of night and day: the personal consciousness and the unconscious. It is the place where all things come to integration in the totality of the psyche. It is the transcendent and transpersonal function.


Image retrieved from

The self is the organizing genius behind the personality, and is responsible for bringing about the best adjustment in each stage of life that circumstances can allow. Crucially, it has a teleological function: it is forward looking, seeking fulfillment. The goal of the Self is wholeness, and Jung called this search for wholeness the process of individuation, the purpose being to develop the organism’s fullest potential (Hopwood).

The Shadow- Freud said it was where all repressed and undesirable stuff goes.  But, as the Shadow makes up most of the unconscious, there is a lot of stuff in it, and not all bad. It is the place of complexes, but it also holds all of our unrealized potentialities and it hooks into the universal information within the collective unconscious.


“The Valley of the Shadow of Death” by George Inness. Image retrieved from

The shadow is an archetypal system in the personal unconscious with its roots in the collective unconscious and is the complex most easily accessible to the conscious mind. It often possesses qualities which are opposite from those in the persona, and therefore opposite from those of which we are conscious. Here is the Jungian idea of one aspect of the personality compensating for another: where there is light, there must also be shadow. If the compensatory relationship breaks down, it can result in a shallow personality with little depth and with excessive concern for what other people think about him or her. So while it can be troublesome, and may remain largely unconscious, the shadow is an important aspect of our psyche and part of what gives depth to our personalities (Hopwood).

The Anima/Animus- This is the most complicated archetype(s) to understand. It is convoluted and non-conformative because it has to do with sexual and gender identity of the individual. It compliments/opposes the personae as well as being intimately connected to the Shadow and the Self.


Animus/Anima. Image retrieved from

The Anima/Animus relates to our inner or soul life. Not soul as understood in metaphysical terms as something which lives on beyond our physical existence but rather soul as in the inner force that animates us. The psyche is such that it contains and embraces both the feminine and masculine. It is inherently an androgynous entity regardless of what the gender of the physical person is.

Women take on a feminine role and persona.

Men take on a masculine role and persona.

The psyche compensates for this by birthing a contra sexuality in the inner life of the person. So:

Women have a contra sexuality which is masculine in nature and this is called the Animus.

Men have a contra sexuality which is feminine in nature and this is called the Anima.

An amplification of these archetypal characters is that the Animus is the woman’s rational function and the Anima is the man’s irrational function.

***In using Jung’s definitions in this way, today, we may injure certain gender sensitivities. And beyond that let me say I agree that these strict and traditional classifications are not universally applicable (Farah).

And if you are not as exhausted reading this as I was writing it, well, than good for you! I plan on exploring each psychic archetype in future blogs and relate it with specific myths and fairy tales to show how this stuff works. I hope to include some writing exercises as well as adding in illustrative narratives from my own experiences.

Thanks for reading.


Farah, Stephen. “The Archetypes of the Anima and Animus.” Center of Applied Jungian Studies. 04 Feb, 2018.

Geist, Marilyn. “A Brief Introduction to C.G. Jung and Analytical Psychology.” The Jung Page, 27 Oct. 2013,

Hopwood, Ann. “Jung’s Model of the Psyche.” The Society of Analytical Psychology. n.d.

“The Jungian Model of the Psyche.” Tag Archives: Personal Unconscious and Collective Unconscious. Journal Psyche,


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