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  • Doubts and Conflicts? The Undiscovered Self May Be Calling…

    “The undiscovered self” might sound like an odd phrase. Some might find it downright distasteful. What do we mean when we talk about the undiscovered self? And what possible connection might it have with our doubts and conflicts?

    Photo by Ronald Sanchez

    Doubts and conflicts are something we all experience. However, the idea that they are connected to “the undiscovered self”, or that we even have an undiscovered self may be far less familiar territory. 

    It was C.G. Jung who really first introduced us to this idea of “the undiscovered self”. While others, like Freud and Adler had written a great deal about “the unconscious mind”, it was usually seen as a kind of holding pen or trash receptacle where unacceptable thoughts desires and emotions were disposed of. The idea was that if you could simply bring this material back into consciousness, then the conscious mind could acknowledge it, and more or less get on with business as usual. Jung’s take on the unconscious, and what people find there, which he calls the “undiscovered self”, is quite different.

    Welcome to the Undiscovered Self

    Jung is quick to remind us that

    Most people confuse “self-knowledge” with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities.

    He makes it very clear that there is much more to us than our conscious awareness. He also makes it clear that, unlike the views of, say, Freud or Adler, he is far from concluding that the conscious ego is fundamentally “running the show” in our lives. There are other aspects of who we are that are determined to have their say in how the show is run!

    We may find ourselves immersed in doubt about what we want in our lives, or deeply conflicted. It happens; it’s a normal part of human living. However, when it occurs, it may have a lot to do with parts of ourselves that we don’t know very well, if at all. Or, it may involve parts of ourselves that we find difficult to acknowledge.

    Example. “Ailsa” has tried extremely hard to make a good career for herself. She worked hard and exceled at business school plus additional specialized university training. She has then spent 12 years in positions of progressive responsibility, with a great deal of success. Now, she is suddenly feeling a strong sense of aversion to her job. “I just find it so hard to get up and go into work! I don’t understand it! I worked so hard to get here! What’s happening to me?”

    Situations like “Ailsa”‘s are very commonly experienced by Jungian depth psychotherapists. This type of thing can occur around work situations, but also around many other aspects of life, such as marriage or love relationships, being a parent, choices to move or immigrate, or a huge range of other major choices or commitments in our lives.

    [PLEASE NOTE: Client confidentiality is of the highest importance. The situation described above is not an actual client situation, but a construct based on very many clinical experiences.]

    The Undiscovered Self and the Shadow

    The undiscovered self is very tightly entwined with what Jungians call the Shadow Jung at one point defined the Shadow as “that which the ego does not wish to be.” It contains our repressed emotions, thoughts, desires, insecurities and fears, but also a wealth of other things that are unacceptable to the ego.

    When we come to profound doubts, conflicts, disorientation or other kinds of extremely demanding trials, there is a very good chance that something is coming up for us that the ego has a hard time accepting or dealing with. This can often occur in association with a time in our lives that is a major life transition.

    One approach that a person might take to times like this is for the ego to try to just power through. That part of our “I” that likes to tell itself that it is in charge and is running the show could simply choose to try and double down on its agenda. It might try to completely ignore the doubts, conflicts and whatever else has inconveniently bubbled to the surface, and just march forward in accord with the ego’s original agenda and plans. 

    Sometimes, people will do this under the banner of “The Power of Positive Thinking” or “The Law of Attraction”. At times in life, that approach might work very well, and might deliver good results.

    However, we may find that, at key times, that heroic “full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes” approach just won’t work. What do we do then?

    The Invitation of the Undiscovered Self

    In dealing with substantial doubts and conflicts, we may have no choice but to face them. It might well be that we have to acknowledge and listen to a part or parts of our self that we may have been ignorring or resisting, or which has recently emerged from the depths of the unconscious. 

    This may not be easy. We may even find it scary, because it may challenge the way that we’ve understood our lives, or the story that we’ve told ourselves about our personal journey. We may well have an extensive process ahead of us before we can find our bearings again. 

    On the other hand, this process of encountering the undiscovered self may well be a time of life changing revitalization and renewal. That scary and perhaps repellant process of coming to terms with our own shadow can often result in the emergence of a different and revitalized sense our own identity and in what brings vitality and meaning into our lives. 

    The undiscovered self may well be waiting in the wings. Encountering it may result in a radically different sense of who we are, and of what is fundamentally important in our lives.

    As an individual engages in the process of encountering, coming to terms with and possibly integrating elements of the undiscovered self, working with a supportive empathic and insightful depth psychotherapist can be of immense help. It may be essential to feel that we have support in this challenging, vital and inherently creative process.

    I wish you every good thing as you travel your precious and unique personal journey,

    Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and 

    Jungian Analyst 

    Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

    © Brian Collinson, 2023