The Mysterious Case of the 2nd Personality: a Psychological Detective Story

The Mysterious Case of the 2nd Personality: a Psychological Detective Story

One of the most profoundly interesting ideas in depth psychology is the second personality. In this post I will explore this idea of Jung’s, and consider its implications and  practical application.

In as much as we refer to the ‘second personality’ we must credit Jung with coining this phrase and articulating the idea. However, first, to better understand the dualistic nature of our inner life it will be helpful to consider Freud’s idea of the id and the superego.

OUR FIRST SUSPECTS: THE ID AND THE SUPEREGO

This is perhaps the simplest, most enduring and definitely one of Freud’s signature ideas. Freud described the psyche as being a contest for dominance between the instinctive, impulsive, infantile self, governed principally by the pleasure principle, which he called the id. Opposing the id is the superego. The superego is the voice of collective morality, of civilisation, of the law – judicial, moral, cultural, societal and divine.

The superego tells you what you should do whilst the id tells you want you want to do.

It can also be understood as the struggle that takes place in the ego, between the pleasure principle and the reality principle.

For Freud this was the means by which dreams and fantasies, including cultural products of fantasy such as myths and art can be understood. These were expressions of the pleasure principle. Society and reality, by its very nature, has a repressive effect on the id and pleasure principle. Initially this repression is handled by the child’s parents and educators.

We all remember this well no doubt from our own childhood. You can’t do this, you mustn’t do that, this is bad for you, that is forbidden…and so on. Even though most (all?) of these wants were the expression of our most sincere desires at the time. Later on we internalise this parental voice and it becomes the voice of our conscience or the superego.

Our entire adult lives become an intense struggle between these two opposing voices or personalities. It is the cause of much neurosis and the reason one ends up of the psychoanalysts couch. And yet it is essential to mental health and normal function; without desire there is no motivation to live, without a conscience we would be psychopaths.

SOME EARLIER EVIDENCE

Now this idea did not originate with Freud by any means. He merely (and I use the word here very loosely, for this was in fact a monumental achievement) put it in psychological terms. The idea of good and evil impulses battling for the soul of man has been around as long as the history of religion. This is a universal, archetypal, pattern that is found in all religious myths from the earliest to the most contemporary. This is often portrayed in popular culture as the competing angel and devil, each perched on an alternate shoulder, of the poor soul who must make a difficult choice.

THE UNLIKELY STORY OF ALIEN INTERVENTION (you can skip this part if you’re reading this in a rush)

The more you think about this dichotomy the more profoundly strange it seems. Of all the life forms on the planet only we as human beings face this dilemma. An animal follows its instinct and no one would think to fault it for doing so, not to do so would be ‘unnatural’. Even in the case where man intervenes and trains an animal, such as a circus animal or a working animal, to follow certain rules, at best it is being trained to delay the immediate gratification of its instinctive drive or that drive is being harnessed through the training. One does not imagine for instance that the animal does the right thing for the sake of its ‘being the right thing to do’.

Now I suppose there is an argument that says our conscience or superego works in much the same way, a form of delayed gratification. And if one considers many of the religious myths which grant everlasting life, paradise or some other reward to the devout it supports that hypothesis.

However I think that to suggest that the sole reason for morality in a human being is simplistic. Whilst the capacity for pure morality or altruism may be more developed in some than others, it is a distinct and recognisable quality of being human. We, as a species, have the ability to transcend the id (the instinctive drives) and to do something because we believe it is the right thing to do, serves a greater purpose, is for the greater good etc.

If we consider this fact along with many other features that are unique in us compared with other life forms on the planet it is quite mysterious. How on earth (or in heaven) did this come about? If we are to believe Darwin and the theory of evolution, we share a common ancestor with monkeys, and long before that were some form of (totally unconscious) amoebic single cell organism. And yet today we are capable of creations such as Beethoven’s ninth symphony and Van Gogh’s Starry Night, sending a manned spaceship to the moon, building the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and St. Peters Basilica and splitting an atom to create a doomsday weapon.

Yet when one seriously considers what a monkey or even a dolphin is capable of, animal lovers notwithstanding, you have to conclude it’s quite far down the evolutionary ladder from us isn’t it. In a certain sense at least. Admittedly an animal has a beauty, divinity and innocence that we have lost. But the question is how the hell did we get from there to here? Through evolution? Well call me an ignorant, naive fool but that must have been some seriously fancy evolution :).
Anyway it’s the best, most plausible theory we have and so the search continues for the missing link (s)…

One of the more outlandish theories, suggested by certain New Age authors, is the idea of an alien race that landed on earth at a much earlier time in history and intervened in the natural order; creating man from whatever came before man. Now whilst I don’t suggest you should take this idea literally, it is a pretty good metaphor for how radical the gap between man and his evolutionary ancestors is.

The point I want to highlight here is once again we see the existence of the duality of soul, between ourselves inasmuch as we are animals and part of the natural order and so governed by instinctive and organic life and our capacity for language, art, self reflection, consciousness, abstract thought, science, technology and the search for meaning and the existential dilemma that has come along with this.

FINALLY OUR PRIMARY SUSPECT: HERR DOCTOR JUNG’S SECOND PERSONALITY

Jung writes about a second, bigger, personality that he became aware of as youth in his biography Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

What I am here unfolding [about the second personality, the internal other]…was something I was not then conscious of in any particular way, though I sensed it with an overpowering premonition and intensity of feeling. At such times I knew I was worthy of myself, that I was my true self. As soon as I was alone, I could pass over into this state. I therefore sought the peace and solitude of this “Other,” personality No. 2 (ibid, p. 62).

Jung goes on to speak at length about this second personality in Memories, Dreams, Reflections and how the awareness of this internal other, so different from his conscious ego personality, affected him and constituted a kind of guiding light. I think it would not be incorrect to say that his idea of individuation is also informed by this inner experience.

Something along the lines that the individuated self is the realisation in consciousness and in one’s life of the presence of this second latent personality. So this is a radical break with Freud and earlier ideas about the tension of opposites between the id and the superego. For Jung one might better frame it as the possibility of psychological transmutation. That the conscious personality has a greater counterpart in the unconscious and this constitutes the idea of Jung’s second personality.

HOW REALISTIC AND PRACTICAL IS THIS IDEA?

Let us start by conceding that, like so much of Jung, it is a very romantic idea. I know for many prominent Jungians and post Jungians this idea has lost its appeal and is definitely not the goal of analysis. However I would speculate that the impulse for individuation still continues to motivate the majority of Jungian analysts in their work with their clients (or patients, I’m never sure :)).

It is a very dangerous idea.

The possibility that you are not who you think you are and have a ‘destiny’ is the kind of idea that can, and sometimes does, destroy lives. As we all know, only too well, it may sound very blasé to be average or normal, but actually that takes a hell of lot of work. And it doesn’t take much to deconstruct that edifice.
Juxtaposed against this consider not only the really big personalities throughout history, but everyone whose contribution to the world exceeds their personal interests must, in some sense or another, be accessing this 2nd personality.

The first personality, the conscious ego identity, is the smaller, personal self. Whereas the second personality, at least in Jung’s framing, has the possibility for original, creative and transpersonal (exceeding the personal domain) contribution.

If you think of any person who is in an official role, from a governmental clerk, a doctor, a mercenary, an actor to a politician, it is inasmuch as this person fulfils their official (non personal) role that they become a big personality. When I say ‘fulfils their role’ I mean brings their genius to bear on this role.
If we think of Moses, Albert Einstein, Alexander the Great or Jesus Christ it is not the subtle nuances of their personal and private self we celebrate but their genius in their role they chose to play.

Like so much in psychology and life we should not confuse ourselves by taking this idea too literally. This metaphor is not meant to suggest that two totally separate and autonomous selves reside in your breast. Rather it is a very useful metaphor to illustrate different capacities we carry with ourselves, one of which, in this case, is frequently latent and holds great potential.

So with the Suspect In Hand it is off to the Judiciary

With that I’ll leave you to ponder the following:
• Have you accessed your second personality?
• If yes, are you giving it the context, support and attention it needs to fully actualise?
• If not do you have any inkling of what it may be?
• Assuming you do (and you probably do if you really honest with yourself :)) what prevents you from accessing it?
• Following on for the last question, what would need to change in your life in order for you to access it?

If you found this post interesting you may want to look at these:
The Genius-Demon of Women: and the Challenge of Staying Sane after 35
The Birth of Self

Until we speak again,
Stephen.

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  • carol Reply

    I have on occasion become aware, of this startling other `me”.
    It feels much older, wiser and quite “pure” for want of words, cannot describe it. No, I don’t know how to access it at will and there were times when I have acted in this personality and look back and then I am amazed. I don’t think I have some great potential, but I have felt the presence of this other me, which I recognize as part of me (that I cannot explain either) but always thought of it as some sort of higher self or my spirit. Maybe when I really need to or when I am in a state of pure joy like when I go out early before sunrise and feel like part of everything around me, it draws closer…

    February 7, 2012 at 17:51

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