C.G. Jung and the Breakthrough of the Self

back to home pdf share

In almost all myths, the development of the human being is described as a hero's journey in which the hero, unaware of his royal lineage, finally wins the princess after all kinds of trials and acquires kingship. These myths can only be understood if we consider the human being as a soul being that is always evolving, with the help of birth and death. The psychoanalyst C.G. Jung (1875-1961) speaks of man's path to his self.

In a way, we are already what we are yet to become! We already are, but we are not aware of it. So our life is about unfolding consciousness in which we experience ourselves as part of a greater wholeness that has always been from the beginning. Here on earth, visible to everyone, we are not only soul, but the result of three forces that work together in a mysterious way.

Body - Soul - Spirit

The theological and philosophical question of the connection between body - soul - spirit changes in C.G. Jung's psychological perspective to I - psyche - self. He understands the psyche or soul as a link between the limited radius of the I-consciousness and the indeterminable level of the self. Jung writes about the relationship between body/ego, soul/psyche and spirit:

Spirit is the finest and uppermost, soul as the ligamentum spiritus et corporis [the bond between spirit and body] is coarser than spirit, but has 'the eagle's wings' to lift the heavy up to higher regions. ...

And: just as the man Jesus became conscious only thanks to the light that went out from the upper Christ and separated the natures in him, so by the light that radiates from Jesus the germ in the unconscious man is awakened and prompted to a similar discernment of opposites.[1]


Jung sees the ego as the centre of a field of consciousness to which all contents of consciousness are presented. Only that which is seen and accepted by the ego remains in consciousness. Contents that it rejects are pushed into the subconscious, the personal unconscious as Jung called it.

The I-consciousness is biologically strongly connected to the material body and expresses itself in it and through it in thinking, feeling and acting.

I and body form a unity through identification, an "I-am". Jung also speaks of "my self", since identity and "my-ness" are essential characteristics of the ego. However, the human being thereby experiences himself as separate from nature and from his fellow creatures.

Although the ego corresponds to the centre of the field of consciousness, it is equally influenced by the totality of all unconscious contents that connect to the field of consciousness in the periphery.


The soul or psyche surrounds the ego. It has an individual nature and works through the ego. It is the life principle that supplies the ego with life energy (Jung speaks of libido in a different meaning than Freud) and makes consciousness and the power to act possible and also gives it direction. It is everything that moves the ego, i.e. the totality of all conscious and unconscious processes in the human being, including all repressed inner parts, which Jung calls the "shadow" of the human soul.

Thus, the psyche often prompts the ego to act rashly or impulsively, but also to act creatively and with compassion. Jung's concern in his psycho-therapeutic approach is to bring these conflicting poles back into balance through recognition, acceptance and integration, because:

conscious and unconscious do not make a whole when one is suppressed and damaged by the other. Both are aspects of life.[2]

By not negating any side and by allowing everything that arises in thoughts and feelings to be and to be observed in mindful awareness, a purification and pacification of the soul occurs, which can increasingly turn to its actual task as a link between ego-consciousness and self. For Jung, this is an essential step of individuation on the path to the Self. For, to the extent that the psyche redeems parts of the shadow, the true essence of the soul emerges more strongly. It is then increasingly able to recognise the essence and unity in all things. This makes it freer to strive for perfection in the self.

Jung quotes Augustine on this: Our end must be our completion, but our completion is Christ." And adds: His bride is the human soul.[3]


For Jung, Christ is the symbol for the self, the divine or the spirit principle in man. He thus breaks away from the historical figure of theology and explicitly emphasises the transcendent aspect, which can only be recognised in a purified soul at his work.

The self is always there, it is that central, archetypal structural element of the psyche [i.e. the soul] that works in us as the arranger and director of psychic events from the very beginning," Jung says.

The spirit, the self, is not fathomable for the ego and also for the psyche in its deepest essence. But it may happen that it seizes the soul, penetrates it and in this union itself becomes the guiding and self-knowing principle. This would be the completion of individuation in the symbolic chymic marriage, as Jung describes it from his study of alchemy.

In his investigations into the self, Jung refers a great deal to the writings of the early Gnostics such as Basilides (ca. 85-145 AD) or Valentinus (ca. 100-160 AD) as well as to the understanding and imagery of medieval alchemy, in particular that of the alchemist Gerardus Dorneus (ca. 1530-1584).

In order to be able to approach the concept of self and the meaning of the Christ event in Jung's work much more deeply, a more comprehensive understanding of what he calls "archetype" is required.

The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

In the dreams of his clients, Jung repeatedly came across symbols and motifs that could be found across cultures in all religions and also in the myths of all peoples. As a rule, they exist as complementary pairs of opposites such as hero and magician, king and queen, heaven and hell, Christ and Satanael, but also as good and evil, yin and yang, eternity and transience, and so on.

While the personal unconscious comprises the shadow parts of the individual human psyche, he assumed here a collective unconscious of the whole of humanity, which expresses itself in inner images and sensations that rise spontaneously and involuntarily in consciousness. Jung calls these motifs "archetypes".

Archetypes are projections of a higher reality into the limited human cognitive faculty and, as symbols, point to an underlying truth. This truth is beyond the direct grasp of the rational mind and can, therefore, only reveal itself to it as a paradox. Jung says about this:

... for only the paradoxical is capable of approximately grasping the fullness of life, but the unambiguous and the contradictionless are one-sided and therefore unsuitable for expressing the incomprehensible.[4]

Opposites always create tension as soon as there is identification with one side and negation of the other (either-or). A resolution is only possible when both sides can be recognised and accepted at the same time (as well as). This can lead to the energy bound up in them being released and the consciousness suddenly being lifted above both initial poles. There is a leap of consciousness to a level of a completely different kind, which has become a "neither-nor" in relation to the original opposition. In it, all duality is abolished and the unity of the original beginning is reached again.

Jung speaks of the mysterium coniunctionis, which emerges from the coniunctio oppositorum, the union of opposites, and reconnects the soul with the unus mundus, the still potentially existing original unity of creation.

... individuation is a "mysterium coniunctionis" in that the self is experienced [...] as a nuptial union of the opposing halves.[5]

But this [the coniunctio] constitutes an unconditional precondition of wholeness.[6]

For Jung, Christ is the archetype of the self that enables the mature human soul to penetrate the boundary of duality and thus return to unity.

The archetype thus has a dual nature with two views or perspectives. The lower is the perspective of the psyche, which is still caught up in the separation and experience of duality. The upper is the perspective of the self, the divine reality, which the psyche is still denied to live.

The archetype is, so to speak, a point of intersection between appearance and "pure being", between form and idea. Man must, therefore, burst his boundaries of consciousness and leave them behind if he wishes to approach the self. If this leap of consciousness is not made, the old opposites continue to exist as separate from each other. And so good and evil also remain in the world.

Jung writes very clearly about the collective unconscious of humanity and the nature and origin of the archetypes:

[It] ... turns out that all archetypes in the first place develop by themselves favourable and unfavourable, light and dark, good and evil effects. [...] One must not disregard the fact that the opposites only attain their moral culmination in the field of human will and action [...] In the end we do not know what good and evil are in themselves. It is therefore to be assumed that they arise from a human necessity of consciousness and therefore lose their validity beyond the human being.[7]

Humanity still remains unconsciously in the sphere of influence of the archetypes without having consciously recognised and passed through them. Archetypes are thus the guards at the gate to the realisation of the self.

The Breakthrough of the Self

The self cannot become a reality in our conventional world view. For this to happen, an inner self-revolution is required that hurls the human being completely beyond his or her own limitations into another reality that we call "divine" or "wholeness".

We have to mobilise the energy for this ourselves by not avoiding opposites in one-sided identification, but by accepting them and bringing them into consciousness and balance. There they can be integrated so that they no longer bind psychic energy.

But with this alone, the leap into the dimension of the self is not possible as long as a concept or intention of the mind is still connected with it. With the unification of opposites as preparation, a mystery goes along, the mystery coniunctionis, in which a third, the latent self, is added. By penetrating ego-consciousness and psyche, it can seize and transform them as soon as both no longer stand in the way of this seizure. I-consciousness and psyche then lose themselves in the self that has descended from the sphere of wholeness.

As human beings, we are co-participants and co-knowers in this process, which far exceeds our capacity to imagine. We can only entrust ourselves to it in order to become completely absorbed in it. Then there are no more boundaries – then we are immersed again as a wave and connected with the great ocean.


[1] C.G. Jung, Aion, Beiträge zur Symbolik des Selbst, Walter Verlag, Olten und Freiburg im Breisgau, 8th edition 1992, p. 77

[2] T. Wischmann, Der Individuationsprozess in der analytischen Psychologie C.G. Jungs – eine Einführung, Heidelberg, 2nd edition 2006, p. 22 (

[3] Op. cit., p. 49

[4] Op. cit., p. 18

[5] C.G. Jung, Aion, op. cit., p. 72 f.

[6] Op. cit., p. 40

[7] Op. cit., p. 282

back to home pdf share