The Self

Psychologically the self is a union of conscious (masculine) and unconscious (feminine).  It stands for the psychic totality.  So formulated, it is a psychological concept.  Empirically, however, the self appears spontaneously in the shape of specific symbols, and its totality is discernible above all in the mandala and its countless variants.  Historically, these symbols are authenticated as God-images

... we can lay it down that the unconscious processes stand in a compensatory relation to the conscious mind.  I expressly use the word "compensatory" and not the word "contrary" because conscious and unconscious are not necessarily in opposition to one another, but complement one another to form a totality, which is the self.

I call this centre the "self," which should be understood as the totality of the psyche.  The self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness.

Therefore not after difference, as ye think it, must ye strive; but after YOUR OWN BEING”

                                                                                        -- C.G. Jung


The difference between the Soul and the Self is that the "Self" includes the collective unconscious - and when one transcends (dissolves) the personal barriers that keep the soul (Atma) separate from the universe (great-soul Parm-atma) - then the Self is realized. 

For Jung, the self encompasses all of the possibilities of your life, the energies, the potentialities – everything that you are capable of becoming.  The total self is what your life would be if it were entirely fulfilled. 

The Self is the quintessential archetype and encompasses all other Archetypes. 

Self is the 1) organizing, 2) guiding, and 3) uniting principle which gives the personality direction and meaning in life. 

The goal of life is to KNOW THY SELF, and the most important archetype is; the Self.  The Self (as an archetype) represents the transcendence of opposites.  Self is the ultimate unity of the personality and is symbolized by balanced images such as the circle or mandalas.

  Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is:  “Formation, Transformation, Eternal Mind’s eternal recreation.”  And that is the self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious, but which cannot tolerate self-deceptions.  

… During those years, between 1918 and 1920, I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the self.  There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self.  

The ego is the centre of consciousness, but the Self is the centre of the total personality.[1]

Jung describes the self as a circle, its center unknown to you.  That center, which is deep in the unconscious mind, is pushing you, your capacities, and your instincts.  It gradually wakes during the first part of your life and gradually goes to sleep again in later stages.  This is going on in you, and you have no control over it.

Now, this self opens out into nature and the universe because it is simply a part of nature. 

This dream brought with it a sense of finality.  I saw that here the goal had been revealed.  One could not go beyond the center The center is the goal, and everything is directed toward that center.  …Through this dream I understood that the self is the principle and archetype of orientation and meaning.  Therein lies its healing function.

The Self is a product of the integration of Individuation (of one’s personality), and not surprisingly, the self-realized person is less selfish. 

The Self:  is the regulating centre of the psyche and is the facilitator of Individuation.

For Jung, the self is not just ‘me’, but is also God.  It is the unification of the different ‘selves’ within us that are brought together as ‘one’. 

“The ego stands to the self as the moved to the mover, or as object to subject, because the determining factors which radiate out from the self surround the EGO on all sides and are therefore SUPRAORDINATE to it.  The self, like the unconscious, is an (a priori) existent out of which the ego evolves.”

... the self is a quantity that is supraordinate to the conscious ego.  It embraces not only the conscious but also the unconscious psyche, and is therefore, so to speak, a personality which we also are.

The SELF is often confused with the ego, but whereas the ego is a temporal structure that gives us identity in this life, the Self is space-and-timeless.

`Jung, after six-years of `Isolation` battling his unconscious discovered the Collective Unconscious, and developed the concepts of Archetype and the Self.  That work gradually unfolded in his Alchemical phase of work.  `The Secret of the Golden Flower` 

A person who is "empty of self" seldom has occasion even to use these pronouns.

“The process of individuation, consciously pursued, leads to the realization of the self as a psychic reality greater than the ego.  Thus individuation is essentially different from the process of simply coming conscious.”  Lexicon

“The self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness.”  Lexicon

Hence in its scientific usage the term "self" refers neither to Christ nor to the Buddha but to the totality of the figures that are its equivalent, and each of these figures is a symbol of the self.

The possibilities of development discussed in the preceding chapters were, at bottom, alienations of the self, ways of divesting the self of its reality in favour of an external role or in favour of an imagined meaning.  In the former case the self retires into the background and gives place to social recognition; in the latter, to the auto-suggestive meaning of a primordial image.  (PERSONA AND ARCHETYPES)  In both cases the collective has the upper hand.  Self-alienation in favour of the collective corresponds to a social ideal; it even passes for social duty and virtue, although it can be misused for egotistical purposes.  Egoists are called "selfish," but this, naturally, has nothing to do with the concept of "self" as I am using it here.  On the other hand, self-realization seems to stand in opposition to self-alienation. 

“When the Buddhists say that progressive perfection through meditation awakens memories of former incarnations, they are no doubt referring to the same psychological reality, the only difference being that they ascribe the historical factor not to the soul but to the Self (Atman).”

Psychologically the term “Self” denotes the psychic totality of the human being which transcends consciousness and underlies the process of individuation and which gradually becomes conscious in the course of this process.  The psychic totality which comprises the conscious and unconscious parts of the personality is naturally present, as an entelechy of the individual, from the very beginning.  In the course of the process of maturation, however, the various aspects of totality enter the field of consciousness, thus leading to a widening of the continually changing horizon of awareness.  Beyond this there is often a numinous experience of this inner psychic wholeness.  This experience is usually accompanied by a profound emotion which the ego senses as an epiphany of the divine.  For this reason it is practically impossible to differentiate between an experience of God and an experience of the Self.  The manifestations of the Self, arising from the unconscious, coincide with the god-image of most religions and, when not personified, are distinguished by circular and square forms and very often (statistically considered) by quaternary formations.  Jung, making use of an Eastern term, has called these structures mandalas.  TGL 99

(For a further enrichment of the symbol of the Self) the individual human being serves as a vessel, for only when the opposites are reconciled in the single individual can they be united.  The individual therefore becomes a receptacle for the transformation of the problem of the opposites in the image of God.  TGL 112


To know others is wisdom;

To know yourself is enlightenment

To master others requires force;

To master yourself requires true strength.  

TTC ch 33

   Christ as a symbol of Self

In the world of Christian ideas Christ undoubtedly represents the self. As the apotheosis of individuality, the self has the attributes of uniqueness and of occurring once only in time.  But since the psychological self is a transcendent concept, expressing the totality of conscious and unconscious contents, it can only be described in antinomial terms (just as the transcendent nature of light can only be expressed through the image of waves and particles); that is, the above attributes must be supplemented by their opposites if the transcendental situation is to be characterized correctly. We can do this most simply in the form of a quaternion of opposites:

L-R Unique/universal U-D Unitemporal Eternal +

This formula expresses not only the psychological self but also the dogmatic figure of Christ. As an historical personage Christ is unitemporal and unique; as God, universal and eternal. Likewise the self: as the essence of individuality it is unitemporal and unique; as an archetypal symbol it is a God-image and therefore universal and eternal.

Hence individuation is a “mysterium coniunctionis,” the self being experienced as a nuptial union of opposite halves and depicted as a composite whole in mandalas that are drawn spontaneously by patients.

Like all archetypes, the self has a paradoxical, antinomial character. It is male and female, old man and child, powerful and helpless, large and small. The self is a true “complexio oppositorum,” though this does not mean that it is anything like as contradictory in itself. It is quite possible that the seeming paradox is nothing but a reflection of the enantiodromian changes of the conscious attitude which can have a favourable or an unfavourable effect on the whole. The same is true of the unconscious in general, for its frightening figures may be called forth by the fear which the conscious mind has of the unconscious.

Darth Vader"The dark side of the Self is the most dangerous thing of all, precisely because the Self is the greatest power in the psyche. It can cause people to "spin" megalomanic or other delusory fantasies that catch them up and "possess" them. A person in this state thinks with mounting excitement that he has grasped and solved the great cosmic riddles; he therefore loses all touch with human reality. A reliable symptom of this condition is the loss of one's sense of humor and of human contacts."

Although the figure of Christ, the Son of Man, can be regarded as one such representation of the Self, it lacks certain features which form part of the empirically known symbolism of the Self.  (Aion, pars 115/116).

As Jung explains in Aion, a group of archetypal images (i.e. fish, lamb, cross) have crystallized themselves around the figure of the historical Jesus, which in itself is scarcely discernible.  This has the effect of turning Christ into a true symbol of the Self.  TGL 111

Solomon had already become in those days an archetypally magnified figure of the Wise Old Man; he was united with the ghostly Queen of Sheba and he guarded vast hoards of riches.  His throne and ring are obvious symbols of the “treasure hard to attain,” meaning the Self, and he therefore naturally appears as a figure of authority in the literature of alchemy.  TGL 152


If an individual has wrestled seriously enough and long enough with the anima (or animus) problem so that he or she, is no longer partially identified with it, the unconscious again changes its dominant character and appears in a new symbolic form, representing the Self, the innermost nucleus of the psyche.  M&HS 208

(Cont’d … side bar?)  In the dreams of a woman this centre is usually personified as a superior female figure – a priestess, sorceress, earth mother, or goddess of nature or love.  In the case of a man, it manifest itself as a masculine initiator and guardian (an Indian guru), a wise old man, a spirit of nature, and so forth. 

If a man devotes himself to the instructions of his own unconscious, it can bestow this gift (a creative élan vital, and a new spiritual orientation by means of which everything becomes full of life and enterprise), so that suddenly life, which has been stale and dull, turns into a rich, unending inner adventure, full of creative possibilities.  In a woman’s psychology, this same youthful personification of the Self can appear as a supernaturally gifted girl.  M&HS 209

Just as the Self is not entirely contained in our conscious experience of time (in our space-time dimension), it is also simultaneously omnipresent.  Moreover, it appears frequently in a form that hints at a special omnipresence; that is, it manifests itself as a gigantic, symbolic human being who embraces and contains the whole cosmos.  When this image turns up in the dreams of an individual, we may hope for a creative solution to this conflict, because now the vital psychic centre is activated (i.e. the whole being is condensed into oneness) in order to overcome the difficulty.  M&HS 211

(side bar)   It is no wonder that this figure of the Cosmic Man appears in many myths and religious teachings.  Generally he is described as something helpful and positive.  He appears as Adam, as the Persian Gayomart, or as the Hindu Purusha.  M&HS 211

   … (This remark) confirms the supposition that the slain man represents the complete Anthropos, the Saviour, whose coming at the end of time is also prophesied in the Apocalypse of John.  In other words, he is a complete symbol of the Self, as is the philosopher’s stone in alchemy.  TGL 249


[1] Ego, conscious, and unconscious