The term “self” keeps recurring in our habitual use of language. We are used to talking about self-awareness, self-esteem and self-confidence. Yet it isn’t absolutely clear what we are supposed to understand by the ‘self’ and how it is delineated from the ego.
The term “self” is often taken as a synonym for the “ego”, and self-awareness is equated with ego-consciousness. Or one has the idea that the self comprises more than the ego, i.e. that the self contains the ego.
The id, ego and super-ego
Indeed, the psychologist Heinz Kohut and the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott understand by self an instance which goes beyond the scope of the ego. The interaction of the baby and the toddler with their primary caregiver, and later with the social environment, and the experience gathered thereof, lead to the formation of the self-image, or self-representation, as both scientists claim. By means of a loving and emphatic relation of the child with its parents, according to Kohut, a healthy narcissism develops within the child, which is synonymous with a healthy self-love and self-esteem, while Winnicott states that a ‘true self’ develops instead of a ‘false self’.
For both, the self comprises the id, ego and super-ego, according to the structural model of Freud, and thus the whole subconscious of man. Opposite to this, the ego is the instance which perceives consciously all feelings, desires, thoughts and wishes as well as the outer reality. The self is rather vaguely defined by Kohut, who says that “the self … is, like all reality … unrecognizable in its essence”.
Man protruding into timelessness
Likewise, the psychoanalyst C.G. Jung describes the self as the soul of man, though connecting the term “self” with spiritual aspects and transpersonal experiences. To him, the self not only comprises the personal psyche with the ego-consciousness and the subconscious, but also the collective subconscious and the higher consciousness. “The self as the ampler man protruding into timelessness corresponds to the idea of the primordial man, perfectly globular and bisexual, by virtue of the fact that he constitutes a reciprocal integration of the conscious and the subconscious. He could also be named ‘God within ourselves’. … The beginnings of our whole psychic life seem to spring off inextricably at this point and all highest and last goals seem to amount to it.” Jung declares the individuation process as goal of life, which is to say developing consciousness for one’s own self respectively becoming one’s own self by the ego being taken up in the self. “With the impression of the self, the goal of individuation is reached.”
The divine aspect
Spiritual literature talks as well about the self and a higher or true self, yet this self doesn’t interrelate much with the psychic structure like most psychoanalysts see it. However, like with Jung, there it is seen as manifestation of the original divine man that we once were and whereto we have to evolve again.
Jan van Rijckenborgh describes this primordial divine man as a microcosm with a sevenfold personality consisting of the material body, the vital body, the desire body, the mental body, the higher ego of mind, sense and conscience. The first four bodies form our mortal personality. The three last bodies exist only potentially, though the personality can’t yet perceive them consciously or express itself within them. They are the true self of man, i.e. his spiritual soul which has to descend into the first four bodies and unite with it. These three higher bodies are called the higher triad by H.P. Blavatsky: Manas – Buddhi – Atma. She denotes these higher three bodies as the higher self or soul of man. In “The Voice of the Silence”, she writes: “Before you may pass through the first gate, you have to unite the two within the One, sacrifice the personal to the impersonal SELF.”
The realization of the true self
In her book “The Seal of Renewal”, Catharose de Petri also writes that the lower four sacrifice themselves to the higher three through self-surrender. Furthermore, she writes: “Then the higher three will awake, and the lower four will be subject to a process of transmutation and transfiguration and will thus merge in the true man and will, together with the higher three, awake the primordial divine man to life.”
The union of the personal and the impersonal self is possible because of a connection between the higher triad of consciousness and the head and heart of man. Through these two spots, the spiritual soul is able to pour out its ethereal power with its higher vibrations into the lower bodies of the personality of man. The more man can stand back from the emotional hurly-burly of the world, the more he can perceive this power within his heart and react to it.
This psychic power motivates him first to cleansing his astral and mental body till this psychic power is embedded in his heart by means of soul birth. With the help of the spirit power descending into the head, man is enabled to work on the conscious realization of the spirit soul and to hand over the leadership more and more to it.
In this process, Jan van Rijckenborgh differentiates as well the “higher” self from the monad. The “higher” self is being defined as an outer shell of the microcosm storing up the experiences of all our earthly incarnations. This is the karma that has developed a conscience and persistence of its own throughout the course of the incarnations and has thus become a “higher” self. All the experiences of the past lives may be considered a huge wealth of experience, yet it must also be overcome just as the “lower” personality with the help of the spirit soul. “Then the form of the old higher self will vanish, and the old, long-ago extinguished lights of primordial man will radiate in the dawn of the new daybreak.” Thus, man-as a microcosm-gains the spirit soul, his true self.
 Kohut, Heinz, Narzissmus, Frankfurt a. M., 1976, p. 299
 Jung, Carl Gustav: Grundwerk C.G. Jung, Bd. 3, Olten, 1984, p. 250
 Op. cit. p.121
 Op. cit. p. 123
 Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna: The Voice of Silence (p. 75 in the German edition)
 Catharose de Petri, The Seal of Renewal, p. 26
 Jan van Rijckenborgh, The coming New Man, p. 151