Here comes a short definition of the collective unconscious, by Roberto Assagioli. (see also unconscious)
“Human beings are not isolated, they are not “monads without windows” as Leibnitz thought. They may at times feel subjectively isolated, but the extreme existentialists conception is not true, either psychologically or spiritually.
The outer line of the oval of the diagram should be regarded as “delimiting” but not as “dividing.” It should he regarded as analogous to the membrane delimiting a cell, which permits a constant and active interchange with the whole body to which the cell belongs. Processes of “psychological osmosis” are going on all the time, both with other human beings and with the general psychic environment. The latter corresponds to what Jung has called the “collective unconscious”; but he has not clearly defined this term, in which he includes elements of different, even opposite natures, namely primitive archaic structures and higher, forward-directed activities of a superconscious character. (See C. G. Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, London, 1928, pp. ‘ll 8-9).” Psychosynthesis, 1965, p. 19
“Human beings are not isolated, they are not “windowless monads,” as Leibnitz believed. At certain times humans may feel inwardly isolated, but the extreme existentialist position is not true, neither psychologically nor spiritually.
The outer line of the oval is dashed to indicate that it is considered analogous to the membrane that surrounds a cell, which is semi-permeable, so as to allow a continuous active exchange of vital fluids with the rest of the organism to which the cell belongs. Similarly, processes of psychological and spiritual “osmosis” take place continuously between the psyche of one human being and those of others, and also between it and the general psychic environment. This corresponds to what Jung called the “collective unconscious;” but he did not clearly define this designation, in which he actually included elements of a different, even opposite nature: that is, primitive and archaic structures and “archetypes” on the one hand, and also higher, creative and integrative activities of a superconscious nature on the other. In our view, the distinctions of function and value found at the various levels of psychospiritual reality in the individual also exist outside of him.
It is good to realize how general and widespread this “interpsychism” is. We are continually flooded by influences, both desirable and undesirable, wanted or unwanted. Whether we realize it, want it or not, we in turn continually exert influences on others and on the psychic environment. Indeed, it could be said that such an environment is not something derivative, or secondary; it is in fact the original psychic state. Before the self-conscious individual, aware of its own separation from others, was formed, a collective psyche existed; this is demonstrated in the animal kingdom by a number of facts. Studies on termites and other animal colonies have shown that there is a collective psyche of the termite mound, hive, etc.
It is well known that among primitive humans an interpsychism, or psyche of the tribe, predominates; the individuality and self-awareness of individuals are only rudimentary. Well then, there are two kinds of interpsychism: normal interpsychism, through the five senses, and extra-sensory interpsychism; that is, what might be called a continuous telepathic relationship between individuals and the collective. From this results the existence of a parapsychological interpsychism of the elemental kind, the existence of which has been demonstrated in the life of termite mounds, in long-distance communications among primitive peoples, etc.
(From Parapsychological Faculties and Nervous Disorders, Assagioli Archive Florence)
“The study of national entities as psychological beings brings to light another interesting fact. The greatest part of a nation’s psychological life corresponds to that in the individual which takes place at unconscious levels. This life is mainly instinctive, irrational, emotional, imaginative and suggestible, often dominated by elements of the collective unconscious, e.g. ancestral images (such as tradition and myths). It is easy to recognise these characteristics of psychological life in crowds and, to a large extent, in the public at large.” (From the Couple to Community)
“… in his [C.G. Jung] conception of the individual and collective unconscious, Jung does not clearly distinguish the different psycho-spiritual levels. In his theory of archetypes, for example, he considers them to be both of archaic, collective origin, and prototypes related to Platonic “ideas.” It therefore seems justified to apply the term “height psychology” (as others have already done) to the field of investigation constituted by the higher levels of the psyche, its upper “stories”; thus contributing to the formation of an integral psychology that is truly three-dimensional.” (The New Dimensions of Psychology: The Third, Fourth and Fifth Forces)
“Jung’s most important contribution to the psychology of the unconscious is represented by his extensive studies of the collective unconscious. Before him, psychoanalysis had concerned itself almost exclusively with the study of the personal unconscious. Jung then showed the great extent of collective psychic elements and forces, which exercise a powerful effect on the human personality. In my diagram* of the constitution of the psyche, the collective unconscious is represented as lying outside the individual psyche. The demarcation line is dotted, to suggest the continuous exchanges going on between the collective and the personal unconscious. The unconscious exists at all levels, in both the personality and the collective psyche.
The collective unconscious is a vast world stretching from the biological to the spiritual level, in which therefore distinctions of origin, nature, quality and value must be made. It should be noted that Jung often disregards these distinctions: he speaks of the collective unconscious en bloc and is inclined to confuse what he terms “archaic”, that is, what originates in the ancient collective human experience, with what is higher (we would say superconscious) and in the spiritual sphere. Thus Jung speaks or “archetypes” as “images”; but at times he describes them as archaic, racial images, charged with a strong emotional tone accumulated during the centuries, and on other occasions he treats them as principles, as “ideas”; and he himself suggests their affinity with the Platonic ideas. In reality, there exists not only a difference but an actual antagonism between these two conceptions of “archetypes”, and from this confusion between them arise various debatable consequences, debatable at the theoretical level and liable to be harmful in therapy, as I shall have occasion to mention in speaking of Jungian therapy. In my opinion, it can be said without disrespect that Jung himself has been dominated by the potent fascination of the collective unconscious, against which he puts his patients on guard.
Jung rightly attaches great importance to symbols and symbolism, to which he devoted much study. He recognized the plurality of meanings associated with one and the same symbol, in contrast to the all too frequent tendency to interpret a symbol in only one way and on the basis of the preconceived theories of whoever interprets it. Jung showed that the same symbol can have different meanings, not only in various individual cases, but also in the same person. He showed, furthermore, that there are regressive and progressive symbols, symbols that relate to the archaic symbolism of the collective unconscious and symbols that indicate the attempts, the efforts to resolve certain problems, to bring about certain developments. Jung says that some symbols are messages from the unconscious (we would say of the superconscious) to the conscious personality, and he frequently utilizes these progressive symbols in his method of treatment.” (C. G. Jung and Psychosynthesis)
“The entry, not infrequently a veritable irruption, of unconscious elements and tendencies, in particular of the collective unconscious, may produce troubles and sometimes be dangerous, as Jung clearly recognized. Therefore in the practice of psychosynthesis—parallel with the evocation of the “daemons” of the unconscious, and at times even before—active methods are employed to reinforce self-consciousness, the consciousness of the “I” or Ego, and to develop its power of dominating the elements already present and active in the conscious personality. This so important part of psychotherapy is generally neglected. The discovery of the unconscious, the interest in investigation have often deflected therapists from the consideration, of first importance, of the conscious personality and its center, the “I” or Ego.” (C. G. Jung and Psychosynthesis)
“The consciousness can also be invaded by influences from sources outside the individual unconscious, Using a general expression, we can say that they come from the collective unconscious; this term may include general psychic currents, general symbols and forms (called by Jung “archetypes”), and specific group centers of influence. This field is extensive and as yet relatively little known and we cannot enter here into further discussion of the subject. It is enough for our present purpose to point out the reality of the danger.” (Meditation: What is Meditation and How To Meditate)
“Sometimes a veritable dialogue occurs between the personal “I” and the Self. The mind, recollected in meditation, refers questions and receives inner replies, rapid and clear. When attempting such a dialogue, however, much prudence and discrimination must be exercised. Not infrequently “voices” are experienced and “messages” are received which come from or are transmitted by the personal or collective unconscious, and whose contents do not tally with truth. They can deceive and are apt to dominate and obsess.” (Meditation: What is Meditation and How To Meditate)
“We might regard this as a kind of vertical telepathy – telepathy because there is a marked distance between the conscious ‘I’ and the Self.
These influxes take the form of intuition, inspiration, creative genius, and the impulses leading to humanitarian or heroic action. There are also specifically para-psychological phenomena leading us to assume that the field of consciousness is penetrated on all three levels of the unconscious by influences and impulses having their origin outside the individual.” (Transpersonal Development, 2007, p. 29)
“The second direction in which the consciousness tends to expand – what we might call sideways – is in its participation and identification with others, with nature and with things. It is the impulse to flee individual consciousness and to immerse oneself in the collective consciousness. We should remember that the collective
consciousness preceded individual self-awareness. We see this in primitive people, in children and, to a lesser extent, in various other groups: the social, military and professional classes with which an individual readily identifies.” (Transpersonal Development, 2007, p. 39)
“…the superconscious and the spiritual Self are in contact with what is called the collective unconscious and its higher spheres, that is, with mystery, and therefore nothing is detected in scientific psychosynthesis as mentioned, but this is not its field. Everything is possible: the flows that come from Mystery can act on the Superconscious and from this on the body …”
Assagioli in Debate with students
The Collective Unconscious, from Kenneth Sørensens, article: The Psychosynthesis Model of the Personality.
The Collective Unconscious (4), which is ranging from the Lower Unconscious to the Superconscious, represents our surrounding psychological environment within. We are in constant telepathic contact with the world outside ourselves and are influenced by everything humanity has experienced and is experiencing. Through psychotherapeutic work or in meditation, we may discover that what we believed to be energies of our personal consciousness, were in fact collective energies. For example, we can identify certain behaviour and personality traits that have been in our family for generations. We may also find that thoughts and feelings in our social environment impact us from afar. Love, hate, fear and trust are impersonal energies flowing among us, yet in many ways we give them a personal flavour when we identify with them. Read more here: https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/the-psychosynthesis-model-of-the-personality/« Back to Glossary Index