Ego, Self, Body, The Unconscious

“Jung called this center the Self. ‘As the ego is only the centre of my field of consciousness, it is not identical with the totality of my psyche. . . . I therefore distinguish between the ego and the self, since the ego is only the subject of my consciousness, while the self is the subject of my total psyche, which also includes the unconscious’ (M.L von Franz, The Process of Individuation in Jung ed., Symbols p. 169).

People often view the unconscious as a sometimes lesser developed, often clever, even savant-like cousin of the conscious mind – and they believe they can bend it to the will and the ends of the ego and the conscious mind. This can work to a point, but usually everyone around that person is aware of the part of the person that remains unconscious and unacknowledged to them.

We sometimes believe we can put the unconscious in service of the agenda of the ego. But our defenses and our examined internalized images of what we should be end up driving this agenda. And we might believe that becoming whole is just “more of” what we are.

But wholeness is its own thing, and living in the small part (a self-image, a Jungian dominant function) can see or be the whole. This is a familiar refrain on this site. You can’t become whole by putting the unconscious in service of the conscious. Wholeness will be an appropriate dynamic balance that includes the conscious and unconscious!

The conscious ego must be able to tolerate, hold, and integrate the seeming “otherness” of parts of the Self. In this, our center of gravity shifts. To grow, we must find a container (e.g., a larger Self, the crucible of the therapy room, our whole organism) that can hold the surprises and, yes, discomforts/revelations from the unconscious – thoughts, feelings, impulses, experiences that come from outside one’s conscious, willful, rational mindset. The ego must learn that it does not own or control everything – all parts of the psyche/soma/spirit. As the ego (stage manager) does its job and steps back from trying to do everything, the orchestra and conductor can do their work as well.

The body is often seen as the “other” that needs to be tamed – an instrument of the will (and unconscious defenses that perhaps served us at one time, but no more). The body however is not separate from our psyche. The body is a part of the whole of us. The body isn’t synonymous with the unconscious, but it certainly reflects our unconscious. The body, too, can be a powerful container/crucible for the great work we do of becoming whole.

Since the body reflects the unconscious – and we are often alienated from our bodies as well – working with the body (and thus a part of the psyche) can not only be a fast route to learning about our defenses and our barriers to authenticity, but the body can also be a route to re-integrating lost parts of ourselves and thus to becoming whole.