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What is the Collective Unconscious & How Can Understanding it Help Us?

INSIDE: The collective unconscious refers to a deep segment of our psyche that connects all thoughts and behaviors of humankind throughout history. Uncovering the images that lie within can help us better understand our behaviors and beliefs to direct them towards a more fulfilling life.


The collective unconscious or "objective psyche" refers to a concept originally created by Carl Jung, who believed that our personal experience does not shape the deepest part of our minds.

In other words, a segment of the most profound part of our psyche is genetically inherited and is common to all humans. Therefore, the collective unconscious is responsible for a significant portion of our instincts, beliefs, and behavior without us even realizing it.

Let's discover more about the importance of this concept in our everyday experiences...

What is the Collective Unconscious?

The collective unconscious refers to the segment of our mind that connects each thought and behavior with all of humankind. All humans share certain knowledge as a result of ancestral experience.

Our daily thoughts shape our personality and direct our actions, but they are only a tiny part of who we are.

Whatever we manage to control from our consciousness only forms the tip of the iceberg of our deep psyche.

Further down is our personal unconscious, which is formed by personal experiences that we repress because they aren't as pleasant or organized as the ones we allow to manifest in our consciousness.

But it does not end there.

There's another segment far deeper than the mind. Here, you can find all of the imagery and knowledge of primitive cultures in the form of symbolic archetypes.

This collective unconscious is like a database filled with information that goes back to the origin of humankind, allowing us to experience things that are typical of our human nature.

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How Did This Concept Originate?

This notion came to Jung in the form of a dream. This Swiss psychoanalyst dreamt that he was inside a house where the first floor was nicely decorated and organized. This floor represented the conscious mind, the one we control and manifest in our daily experiences.

But then he moved to the ground floor and found it to be darker with medieval decorations. He related this to our personal unconscious, which is filled with past repressed memories.

Then, he realized that there was a darker and more mysterious basement filled with signs of ancient culture, skulls, and symbols, which represented the collective unconscious.

What Are the Main Concepts of the Collective Unconscious?

Understanding Jung's collective unconscious also requires us to dive into the concepts surrounding this notion.


Jung explains that the collective unconscious is manifested through universal signs, symbols, or patterns of behavior and thinking that make up the archetypes inherited from our ancestors.

Archetypes are functional units of the collective unconsciousness.

These cultural and mythological symbols seek fulfillment within the context of each person's environment and determine our degree of evolution.

For example, let's take the mother archetype as an example. This archetype is formed in the child's mind by evoking innate maternal symbols merged with the child's personal experience of a maternal figure who fits its archetypal template.

The combination of an archetype with each person's personal experience forms a complex, which is a functional unit of our personal consciousness.

For this reason, learning about the collective unconscious can help us better understand our behavioral and mental patterns.

Collective Unconscious

Here are the most common archetypes described in Jung's theory:

  • Anima - The symbol of an idealized female character who drives men to engage in feminine behavior patterns.
  • Animus - Represents the rational mind, a sense of courage, and desire. It symbolizes the masculine side of women.
  • Hero - Based on someone who starts with a humble birth and overcomes obstacles related to darkness and evil to achieve specific goals in life.
  • Persona - The mask we use to present ourselves to the external world and protect our vulnerable side. 
  • Self - Represents the core of our personality and psyche.
  • Shadow - Describes people's immoral and obscure aspects.
  • Trickster - Symbolizes a child who seeks self-gratification, becoming cruel and selfish despite other people's feelings about it.
  • Wise Old Man - Refers to the self as a profound philosopher with sound judgment and wisdom.

Complex Beliefs

Jung believed that all religions share the same core principles and, therefore, are a manifestation of the collective unconscious.

Our deep-rooted beliefs about spirituality, as well as morals, ethics, and concepts of right and wrong, stem from this ancient side of our psyche.


Jung believed that fears and phobias, such as a fear of dark, blood, and loud noises that manifest in people for no apparent reason come from the collective unconscious. 

These fears were not a product of past personal experiences but an inherited genetic feature.

For example, scientists sought to investigate why some children were afraid of the dark even though they had never experienced a negative incident associated with this phenomenon.

As a result, they discovered that their amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotions, responded exaggeratedly to darkness.

This was an innate response that was not triggered by any previous stimulus, demonstrating the existence of the collective unconscious.



Dreams represent universal archetypes that provide significant insight into the collective unconscious. The same symbols have similar connotations for different people. 

But even though the symbols and archetypes are universal, dreams are still highly personal and their interpretations require a deep understanding of a person's personality.

Freud believed that dreams were the manifestation of repressed wishes, but Jung went a little further, theorizing that they compensate for segments of our psyche that we don't recognize in our conscious existence.

Final Thoughts

The collective unconscious is a fascinating theory that helps us better understand our behaviors, fears, and beliefs that go beyond our personal experiences and affect our lives.

Jung invites us to appreciate the importance of all the cultural symbols that are part of human history and understand their impact on our conscious life.

After doing so, we will be more in control of our evolutionary path, one that leads to our highest self.

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What is the Collective Unconscious & How Can Understanding it Help Us

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