Jung’s Vital Relationship Between Ego and Self

Carl Gustav Jung said there were two centers to the human psyche; the ego and the Self. The ego is the center of consciousness and the Self is the center of the whole psyche; consciousness and unconsciousness.

These two centers are separate, autonomous identities that organize and attempt to bring coherence to the lives we lead. But the problem is, the relationship between the two of these centers is often out of whack.

In childhood, the ego and the Self are one, and the child experiences him/herself to be a deity. As the child grows and begins to act and think for themselves, an ego is formed; a new center of gravity, an idea of who they are.

In his book, Ego and Archetype, Jungian scholar Edward Edinger describes psychic growth as a process flowing from ego-Self separation to ego-Self reunion and back again in a spiral pattern.

A child stealing a cookie from the cookie jar is similar to Prometheus stealing the fire from the gods. It is a kind of daring that initiates ego development. It is a willful act against a reigning authority.

It is on the subject of authority that things get really interesting. For as it turns out, the Self is the reigning authority; “an autonomous inner directiveness” at work. There is an organizing force within you to which the ego serves. More often than not the ego goes against this authority too, wreaking havoc on one’s sense of wholeness and authenticity.

How can one come to recognize the Self and allow the ego to work for it and not against it? 

Edinger explains that the ego has to learn to relate to the Self without being identified with it. In other words, the ego must get cozy with the Self’s authoritative role. 

The trick is to train yourself to recognize yourSelf in the numinous ‘other’. This way your ego relates to the Self without being identified by it. 

When the ego relates to the Self without being identified by it, the ego-Self axis maintains its integrity.

Picasso likely saw himSelf in cubism and his ego served this higher calling. Jane Goodall likely saw herSElf in the social habits of chimpanzees. Martin Luther King saw himSelf in the suffering of his fellow man. 

When the ego recognizes the separateness and the authority of the Self a primary feeling takes over. Landscapes of creative possibilities open up. There is plenty of fire in the engine because the engine is authentic and the fire is real spiritedness.

The funny truth of the matter is that yourSelf is bigger than you! But in relating to this bigness with humility and a productive spirit, you become more you. Your nature smiles, along with the larger nature that surrounds and connects to it.


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