Unconscious. The totality of all psychic phenomena that lack the quality of consciousness. (See also collective unconscious.)
The unconscious … is the source of the instinctual forces of the psyche and of the forms or categories that regulate them, namely the archetypes. [“The Structure of the Psyche,” CW 8, par. 342.]
The concept of the unconscious is for me an exclusively psychological concept, and not a philosophical concept of a metaphysical nature. In my view the unconscious is a psychological borderline concept, which covers all psychic contents or processes that are not conscious, i.e. not related to the ego in any perceptible way. My justification for speaking of the existence of unconscious processes at all is derived simply and solely from experience. [“Definitions,” CW 6, par. 837.]
The unconscious is both vast and inexhaustible. It is not simply the unknown or the repository of conscious thoughts and emotions that have been repressed, but includes contents that may or will become conscious.
So defined, the unconscious depicts an extremely fluid state of affairs: everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do; all the future things that are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness: all this is the content of the unconscious. [“On the Nature of the Psyche,” CW 8, par. 382.]
The unconscious also contains “psychoid” functions that are not capable of consciousness and of which we have only indirect knowledge, such as the relationship between matter and spirit.
Whenever the unconscious becomes overactive, it comes to light in symptoms that paralyze conscious action. This is likely to happen when unconscious factors are ignored or repressed.
The demands of the unconscious then force themselves imperiously on consciousness and bring about a disastrous split which shows itself in one of two ways: either the subject no longer knows what he really wants and nothing interests him, or he wants too much at once and has too many interests, but in impossible things. [“General Description of the Types,” CW 6, par. 573.]
In general, the compensating attitude of the unconscious works to maintain psychic equilibrium.
The unconscious processes that compensate the conscious ego contain all those elements that are necessary for the self-regulation of the psyche as a whole. On the personal level, these are the not consciously recognized personal motives which appear in dreams, or the meanings of daily situations which we have overlooked, or conclusions we have failed to draw, or affects we have not permitted, or criticisms we have spared ourselves. [“The Function of the Unconscious,” CW 7, par. 275.]
In terms of typology, the unconscious manifests through the opposite attitude and the less developed functions. In the extravert, the unconscious has a subjective coloring and an egocentric bias; in the introvert, it can appear as a compulsive tie to persons and things in the outside world.
Jung attributed to the unconscious a creative function, in that it presents to consciousness contents necessary for psychological health. It is not, however, superior to consciousness; its messages (in dreams, impulses, etc.) must always be mediated by the ego.
The unconscious is useless without the human mind. It always seeks its collective purposes and never your individual destiny. [C.G. Jung Letters, vol. 1, p. 283.]
Consciousness should defend its reason and protect itself, and the chaotic life of the unconscious should be given the chance of having its way too – as much of it as we can stand. This means open conflict and open collaboration at once. That, evidently, is the way human life should be. It is the old game of hammer and anvil: between them the patient iron is forged into an indestructible whole, an “individual.” [“Conscious, Unconscious, and Individuation,” CW 9i, par. 522.]
© from Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon, reproduced with kind permission of the author.