The Undiscovered Self – book review

The Undiscovered Self – book review

This book review is by Lynelle Pieterse, who manages the Jungian Book club and is on The Undiscovered Self, by Carl Jung. This is the next book that will be explored in the Jungian Book Club. Follow this link to join the Jungian Book club.

The book consists of a series of 7 essays. In 1957 Jung was deeply concerned about the Cold War and Communism. However, the content is also relevant for us in 2016.

  1. The Plight of the Individual in Modern Society p. 1-11

Jung discusses his grievance of mass-movements, specifically of dictatorships that ignore and deny the role and place of the individual and reduce the individual to an anonymous element of society. In such a society, the individual does not exist as an entity; individuals are one and the same. Jung warns, if the individual is unacknowledged and diminished by society he is vulnerable to the influence of institutions of power to manipulate him into serving their one-sided aims and policies. He spoke against the power of Russia, but he warned that it was prevalent in the West as well, and therefore also relevant today.

Are we then able to resist mass movements in society? He advocates that the unconscious nature of our psyche must be acknowledged so that we can resist the influence of the unthinking masses. The undiscovered self is an aspect of human existence that should be accessed so that we can gain self-knowledge and resist ideological fanaticism. To be able to do this, we must face the duality of the human psyche, and acknowledge the factions of both good and evil in us, and ‘hold’ the opposites in balance. When we do this, we will be able to resist the external powers, and the opposites that manifest in society.

“The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny…” (p. 2)

He gives examples and makes comparisons in the essays to show the importance of the individual life, of knowing oneself. He shows the negative effect that the power of mass movements has on the psyche of the individual:

“It is not the universal and the regular that characterise the individual but rather the unique.” (p. 3)

He warns that although science performs the function of creating some order, “The statistical method shows the facts in the light of the ideal average but does not give us a picture of their empirical reality.” (p. 5)

Theories tend to rob the individual of his value whereas it should be the individual who should be the true focus of the scientific investigation. He says one can only truly know the individual outside of theoretical assumptions and statistics.

 “Science supplies us with, instead of the concrete individual, the names of organizations and, at the highest point, the abstract idea of the state as the principle of political reality.” (p. 8)

Jung warns that the individual becomes a slave to the State and in so doing he is robbed of his judgement and responsibility.

  1. Religion as the Counterbalance to Mass-mindedness p. 13-21

In the second essay Jung compares the two institutions of State and Church and discusses the commonalities.

“The State has taken the place of God; that is why, seen from this angle, the socialist dictatorships are religions and State slavery is a form of worship.” (p. 17)

In this way external power is used to influence the masses as well as the dynamics of groups; using the element of fear to scare people into becoming obedient to their ideologies. For example, socialist dictatorships are worshipped in the same way as God is worshipped in formal religion. The State not only ignores the right of the individual, but has psychically taken away the metaphysical basis with which he orientates himself in the world. The individual can no longer influence his political environment based on his individual ethical decisions.

“Just as the addition of however many zeros will never make a unit, so the value of community depends on the spiritual and moral stature of the individuals composing it.” (p. 21)

Jung emphasises the need for rationality and says that reason and critical thinking are usually not ever-present, feature consistently, nor function in an integrated way in society. People seem to prefer being part of a group whose ideology is based on a fanatical view; where someone or something outside of them dictates their thinking and their actions, and provides absolute solutions.

  1. The Position of the West and the Question of Religion p. 23-30

Jung believes the ability to see clearly, to interact in an individual and personal way, is compromised by the call to mass thinking. This inhibits the communication of ideas and prevents the process of self-knowledge. He argues that the threat of the East is based on this form of mass thinking and this has become a danger to the West. However, he says, “one possibility remains, and that is a breakdown of power from within, which must be left to follow its own inner development.” (p. 24)

This is where the individual can play an important role; when her realises that self-knowledge, more specifically psychological insight, is the way to access his true political power.

Jung believes there is great danger in religious fanaticism which is akin to a psychic indoctrination almost impossible to get rid of. When men subscribe to religion instead of to an inner experience of themselves as they relate to God, they become trapped and are at risk of losing their individual identity as well as their sense of Self which resides within their psyche.

“The absolute State has an army of fanatical missionaries to do its bidding in matters of foreign policy… (p. 24)

He states, fanatics seem to ignore the fact that religion/dogma is no substitute for an inner, personal experience; that

“the antidote, should in this case be an equally potent faith of a different and nonmaterialistic kind, and that the religious attitude grounded upon it would be the only effective defence against the danger of psychic infection.” (p. 25)

The two primary powers in society at the time the book was written were the State and the Church. These mass institutions aimed to control the masses. Jung emphasises the danger of a creed as it manifests in the form of a public institution; it professes its duty to the State and yet masquerades as a quasi-relationship of man to God. But the Church in this instance adheres to ‘unreflecting belief’ whereas in the case of the role of a relationship, it is informed by the inner experience of the individual. Jung discusses the difference between the literal and symbolic interpretation of the Christian myth as it relates to the Creed and to true faith. Regarding the Marxist ideology and the State religion of the Church, he writes:

“The absolutist claim of a ‘Civitas Dei’ represented by man, bares an unfortunate resemblance to the ‘divinity’ of the State, and the moral conclusion drawn by Ignatius Loyola from the authority of the Church (‘the end sanctifies the means’) anticipates the lie as political instrument in an exceedingly dangerous way.” (p. 27)

The danger that results from this approach is that the individual’s freedom is taken away, both before God and before the State. The individual’s already fragile ability to function as an autonomous being is severely threatened by the imprisonment of his psyche.

  1. The Individual’s Understanding of Himself p. 31-49

Jung illustrates how individuals can arrive at a knowledge of the external world yet their minds remain an unknown entity. Man is a unique phenomenon that can externally be compared to animals yet internally the psyche of an individual is unique and different. He warned that there is a grave danger that the position and value of the individual will be lost in science and in statistics.

“the paradoxical evaluation of humanity by man himself, is in truth a matter for wonder, and one can only explain it as springing from an extraordinary uncertainty of judgement – in other words, man is an enigma to himself. This is understandable, seeing that he lacks the means of comparison necessary for self-knowledge. He knows how to distinguish himself from the other animals […] but as a conscious, reflecting being, gifted with speech, he lacks all criteria for self-judgement.” (p. 31)

Until he becomes conscious and seeks to know himself.

Jung continues to say that the individual’s psyche has not yet been fathomed, not even on a physiological basis. What he does know, however, is that the psyche harbours the phenomenon of consciousness.

“Consciousness is a precondition for being.” (p. 33)

He states the individual is the bearer of consciousness and he is the only being or entity who manifests the psyche on an empirical level.

“Firstly, the individual psyche, just because of its individuality, is an exception to the statistical rule […] Secondly, the Churches grant it validity only in so far as it acknowledges their dogmas – in other words, when it surrenders to a collective category.” (p. 34)

The aim is therefore to focus not on the influence of humanity but rather on the individual. The symbol of Christianity carries with it the importance of the individual in that the individuation process is akin to God’s revelation of himself to the individual.

There is a resistance in the world and in the thinking of modern man to afford the psyche its true position and give it the power it deserves. Even though the psyche “remains an insoluble puzzle”, the individual should not refrain from trying to discover himself. Jung says the resistance to acknowledge the psyche is based on fear, specifically on a fear of the unconscious. Even Freud was cautious about the aspects of the unconscious as the archetypal images that surface cannot be intellectually explained or controlled. Similar complex phenomenon arises in the field of medicine, and Jung uses the example of doctors who use statistics to find solutions; they base their research on similarities, generalisations and communalities to arrive at conclusions. Yet the individual, as with the unconscious, does not allow for this type of scientific measuring. There are more exceptions than there are generalizations; and reality exists out of irregularities. Jung advocates that one should aim for a balance between knowledge and understanding as is the case when a psychologist works with a patient. In the same way, the psychologist starts off from a basis of knowledge, but knows there is something more: “while respecting metaphysical (i.e. nonverifiable) convictions and assertions, […] will take care not to credit them with universal validity.” (p. 38)

The Church’s focus on mass action deprives the individual of an experience of a unique and personal salvation and stands in stark contrast to Christ’s invitation to come as an individual to his table.

“And are not Jesus and Paul prototypes of those who, trusting their inner experience, have gone their own individual ways, disregarding public opinion.” (p. 41)

Yet as humans we know that there is some form of safety in numbers; this is because we are forever prone to slip back into the juvenile position of eternal care where we do not have to face taking responsibility for a process of becoming independent. The mentality of the mass man is in a childlike state when the individual’s power is vested in another to secure his well-being. What he does not realise, because he is not yet conscious, is that the more power he offers up to the mass movement, the more he becomes disempowered and helpless. In the same way, the modern-day individual has become alienated from his instincts and therefore from himself. He feels deeply disconnected from others and subsequently projects the split that he feels inside of himself onto his outer world and onto his fellow-beings. Our continuous search for alternative gods (idols) in the form of relationships, work, money, the government, is a manifestation of our one-sided life. Jung compares this to the existence behind the Iron Curtain.

“And just as the typical neurotic is unconscious of his ‘shadow side’, so the normal individual […] sees his shadow in his neighbour or in the man behind the great divide.” (p. 46)

Jung believes dissociation in this form contains energy in the individual’s psyche the same way an instinct does in the biological world, yet “even though pathologically altered and perhaps perverted by the regression of energy, [it] contains a core of normal instinct, the hallmark of which is adaptedness. [It] appears as an ‘image’ which expresses the nature of the instinctive impulse…” (p. 48)

The content of our instincts present as archetypal images; they existed long before we did even before our bodies took on form. Jung emphasises if we are to restore our instinctive flow of energy, our psychic libido, it is essential that we acknowledge and apply these archetypal images to our life to address our current day (political) challenges.

  1. The Philosophical and the Psychological Approach to Life p. 51-62

Following the idea that we become aware that our flow of psychic energy yearns to be restored, we seek new ideas in the hope of arriving at a point of restoration.

“But even when, as rationalists, we feel impelled to criticise contemporary religion as literalistic, narrow minded and obsolescent, we should never forget that the creeds proclaim a doctrine whose symbols […] nevertheless possess a life of their own, because of their archetypal character.” (p. 52)

Jung advocates that reality exists in the individual’s psyche in the form of consciousness. Our ideas are formulated in the mind and are influenced by the outside world. However, in the outside world, if something remains stable there is no need to change it; it does not contain the ability for consciousness. Religion is an example of such a fixed experience – if it works for the masses, why change it? Yet the ever-present split between faith and knowledge challenges the integration of archetypal material once we become exposed to religious myths. This split is symptomatic of a split in our consciousness. The individual is a “social microcosm, reflecting on the smallest scale the quantities of society at large, or, conversely, as the smallest social unity, cumulatively producing the collective dissociation.” (p. 54)

Jung explains, we experience and reflect the collective situation which is split, and in the same way we have become suspicious of the original word pertaining to the Christian faith; to the myths that support the word.

Jung states that one’s relationship and experience to God is metaphysical (transcending physical matter or the laws of nature), meaning it presents only in the mind of the individual. Because this relationship is not empirically (by observation of the senses) experienced, it derives from the unconscious. Jung argues that this is the only true religious experience that man can hope to arrive at.

“…modern man can know himself only in so far as he can become conscious of himself […] His consciousness therefore orients itself chiefly by observing and investigating the world around him…”. (p. 57)

The danger exists that this activity is so exacting that we lose touch with our instinctive (intuitive) ability to orientate ourselves in the outer world. As we disconnect from this ability, a dissonance arises within us, and in turn we assert more power to the external world. We seek the wrongs in the external world, but replace them with other wrongs. “The consciousness of modern man still clings so much to outward objects that he makes them exclusively responsible…”. (p. 60)

The subjectivity of our conscious minds does not assist us in accessing our unconscious faction, the latter being solely objective in that it is not something that we can arbitrarily create – it presents itself without our doing. Jung believes the answer is for us to become conscious of our inner world; to access a second psychic authority that we integrate, to prevent a similar split between our inner and outer world.

  1. Self-Knowledge p. 63-74

Jung emphasises, the individual must access the power of his unconscious; true power resides in self-knowledge which includes knowledge of the unconscious. This knowledge is essential to arrive at a meaningful religious experience. Jung does not say that the unconscious is equal to God. He says that the problem of God is a transcendental one: “we are dealing with an anthropomorphic idea whose dynamism and symbolism are filtered through the medium of the unconscious psyche.” (p. 64)

The individual experience of God is a psychological one and it is primarily numinous in its quality, and therein lies its value for the individual.  He bemoans the fact that ideologies seem to determine the individual’s orientation in the world, that most people question the value of psychology, yet it is a key area if one hopes to understand the function of the individual’s psyche and what motivates him.

Jung warns against the ‘trahison des clercs’ – against the betrayal of the intellectuals. He says that it is a sad state of affairs when the presence of high intelligence excludes the ability to access the deeper values of human existence, i.e. of that of the heart. When man has not yet accessed his unconscious, he will deny that evil is part of every individual and admit that it can therefore manifest in mass movements; actually it will manifest in of all of humanity. The ‘popular lie’ will prevail that evil resides in the enemy outside of the individual, and in so doing he will project his shadow outside of himself. Such was the makings of the Colonialists with their view of their subjects.

“None of us stands outside humanities black collective shadow […] for only a fool can permanently neglect the condition of his own nature. In fact, the negligence is the best means of making him an instrument of evil.” (p. 68)

Jung refers to the creation of the atomic bomb; the result of dualism that existed in the collective and individual unconscious.

“So it is not the conscious effort alone that is responsible for the result; somewhere or other the unconscious, with its barely discernible goals and intentions, has its finger in the pie.” (p. 70)

The current war against terror can be viewed as an example of a similar kind of duality. The individual has a limited knowledge of himself when he believes himself to be good because he has not yet fathomed (and integrated) the duality of his inner world. He has split off the opposites in himself and has banished them to the unconscious. But it is exactly in this psychic space that the fullness of being human can be experienced; where the individual can become an agent of integration, bringing the opposites together as they manifest in the outer world. “Recognition of the shadow […] leads to the modesty we need to acknowledge imperfection.” (p. 73)

This modesty, more than any autocratic authority, ironically has the potential to bond human beings together in a profound and liberating way. Jung says, it is this conscious recognition and consideration that is needed whenever human relationship is established.

“A human relationship is not based on differentiation and perfection, for these only emphasise the differences and call forth the exact opposite; it is based, rather, on imperfection, on what is weak, helpless and in need of support – the very ground and motive of dependence. The perfect has no need of the other, but weakness has, for it seeks support and does not confront its partner with anything that might force him into an inferior position and even humiliate him.” (p. 73)

Jung emphasises that these are not meaningless words asking for an idealistic view of society. They are essential to infer the basic principles that should hold a healthy society in good standing.

  1. The Meaning of Self-Knowledge p. 75-79

With self-knowledge comes the ability to choose what is best for the individual. An integrated choice serves the individual better as it relates to his whole being and is therefore a more sustainable way of ensuring his needs will be met, individually as well as politically. Otherwise men will be led astray more easily by mass movements that disregard their true interests and alienate them from themselves.

Jung emphasises that individuals who live from a position of self-knowledge should inspire others toward living in harmony with their inner and outer worlds. He says the world will be saved by individuals who have a strong sense of their inner world and a commitment to live from a place where they are holding the opposites. Individuation resulting from this form of psychic integration will afford the individual a fighting chance towards creating a society of conscious individuals.


This book brings to the foreground the life of the individual’s psyche. It warns against the influence of mass movements in so far as institutions resulting from these mass dynamics, pose a danger to the psyche of human beings. The individual is key to saving the world from dictatorships that propose ‘sameness’ and a denial of the individual. The uniqueness of the individual should be protected; in all the world, there are not two people who are exactly alike – not even in families. Society should provide a place for the individual and ideally become a collective consisting of individuated persons. Of course, there is no simple recipe about how to discover the Self. What we do hear is that assumptions and statistics based on theories is not the space where the individual lives, and especially not an environment where he will individuate.

Jung argues that it is our individual consciousness and our ability to remain true to our experience of the conscious and to the unconscious which will ‘save’ us. If a keen curiosity and openness to knowing oneself is the result of reading this book, then Jung will certainly have achieved his aim in writing it.


Jung, C.G., 1958. The Undiscovered Self. Oxon, Great Britain: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


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