Schizophrenic Visions as Manifestations of the Collective Unconscious

Karen Leblond

Augustana University College


A paper submitted to Dr. Jayne Gackenbach as part of the course requirements for Psy 473 (Sleep and Dreams), April, 1997


"The unconscious is the name given to the ‘container’ of the ‘something’s’ which are able to interfere with the normal conscious directions of life." This basic description of the states of being reflects the view of the conscious/unconscious dichotomy; a view held by Western thought for a considerable period of its history. Attempts to define this dichotomous relationship has been argued from various standpoints with little success as one soon realizes that the distinction is insufficient and simplistic. The concept of the states of being was drastically altered when Carl Jung abandoned the notion of the dichotomy by introducing a division of the psyche into groups. More importantly, he was able to justify his claims, particularly through his work with schizophrenics, whose visions he postulated as being empirical manifestations of the unconscious. In order to see if this evidence is valid, one must examine Jung’s theory of the states of being, as well as its parallels with the visions of schizophrenics and the dreaming of "normals".

When examining Jung’s description of the states of being, one discovers that the definitions of the terms are relatively consistent with previous descriptions. Rather, a unique and distinguishing feature of his teaching was his division of the contents of the unconscious as well as his explanation of its relation to consciousness. Essentially, the underlying difference was Jung’s contention that the relation between conscious and unconscious states emerged from separations in energy thresholds. This accounts for the fact that material in the unconscious is not as easily recoverable as it explains that the items in this area are at a deeper level with a much higher threshold. Therefore, one would require more activation in order to bring these items into consciousness. This analogy of the states of being as defined by energy thresholds in turn refutes the dichotomy, viewing the states as comprising a comprehensive continuum. "For it is rather the case that every psychic content is to some degree unconscious and that consequently the psyche is both conscious and unconscious at once...."

"According to Jung, the most important groupings of the psychic contents are Consciousness, the Personal Unconscious and the Collective Unconscious." Jung’s notion of the deeper levels and energy thresholds also applied to his division of the unconscious into the personal and the collective. The personal unconscious was identified as residing closer to the surface of consciousness with a threshold lower than that of the collective unconscious as it "...comprises personal experiences that have been repressed and forgotten." These psychic elements have essentially fallen out of consciousness and may therefore be considered as being near consciousness. "In other words, the top layer of the unconscious is bound up with the personal characteristics of the individual, and for this reason Jung calls it the ‘Personal Unconscious’: its contents and the way they are grouped are different in each individual."

The notion of the personal unconscious is a relatively easy one to comprehend, but Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious is considerably more complex. Also called the impersonal, objective or transpersonal psyche, "...[Jung] defines the collective unconscious as the part of the psyche that owes existence exclusively to heredity, and not to personal experiences which had been conscious at one time and then disappeared from consciousness." Therefore, the contents of the collective unconscious reside much deeper within the psyche and, in terms of the analogy of the energy thresholds, possesses the highest threshold. Therefore, the contents of the collective unconscious are rarely accessible to the conscious mind. The uniqueness of this level of the psyche is also in that it belongs to every man in general, reflecting an inherent part of its nature. This deeper level of the psychic contents results in a reflection of the macrocosm as it "...constrains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution’s, born anew in the brain structure of every individual."

As a result of the deep threshold and inherent nature of the contents of the collective unconscious, Jung further hypothesized that these contents manifested themselves through archetypes. "As a general rule, the unconscious aspect of any event is revealed to us in dreams, where it appears not as a rational thought but a symbolic image." Therefore, the concept of archetypes consist of "...primordial images and patterns of symbol formation which recur throughout mankind." These symbols allowed for the representation of the content of the collective unconscious in one’s dreams. In fact, he felt that "...dreams are the most frequently and universally accessible source for the investigation of man’s symbolizing faculty." This most likely arises from the fact that in a dream state, consciousness is not present to protect the ego from the manifestations of the unconscious mind.

Jung’s discovery of the collective unconscious and the function of archetypes arose from his own dreams and visions, but more importantly from the investigation of the fantasies of his schizophrenic patients. Jung’s interpretations of the visions of schizophrenics is an excellent example of an empirical manifestation of the unconscious, providing justification for his division of the psyche. "Jung became increasingly fascinated by the psychotic ideas of mentally ill people, and particularly of schizophrenics, and it was in fact his interest in this material which culminated in his discovery of the collective unconscious."

The basic tenet of the connection of schizophrenic visions to the collective unconscious is that "...although [schizophrenics] have gained an access to the collective unconscious, they have been, figuratively speaking, swallowed up by it so they have lost the ability to function as an ego and relate in a practical way to the objective world." This ability to be "swallowed up" is related to a predisposition resulting from an initial psychological problem which has been present. In fact, Jung felt that whether or not the problem gains momentum and eventually results in schizophrenia is dependent on the disposition of the personality of the individual in question.

The problem that may consequently initiate schizophrenia is evidence of the connection to the collective unconscious. According to Jung, the problem may arise from an ignorance of the content of one’s dreams, whose function is to "...compensate for the deficiencies of their personalities, and at the same time it warns them of the dangers in their present course." This compensatory function of dreaming is particularly related to Jung’s contention of psychosis as "...a mental condition in which formerly unconscious elements are given the value of a real factor to an extent that the take the place of reality." In actuality, this compensation may reside within the boundaries of reality, but someone who is mentally unbalanced will try to defend themselves against the elements manifested by their unconscious, refusing to accept its compensatory significance. This consequently reinforces one-sidedness which essentially results in an unhealthy personality. In contrast, Jung contends that a comprehensive personality is requisite of a healthy balance. This one-sidedness works in a "vicious circle" as the ignorance of unconscious manifestations will result in an intensification of the unconscious to serve in a compensatory capacity. As a result, the contents of these manifestations will become more distorted and "...the forms in which they will become visible and audible will become increasingly bizarre. Since the material we are dealing with is derived in the unconscious, its language will be peculiar in any case; however, owing to the resistance of the conscious mind, it will become even weirder than before."

This description of the struggle of the conscious and the unconscious mind in the schizophrenic is particularly relevant through its reflection of the existence of a collective unconscious. "The elements of the collective unconscious are most easily seen in dreams and fantasies because these things are the least controlled by a conscious sense of the limits of real life and, as we have said, they are most apparent in all cases of serious psychoses." This also accounts for the bizarreness which is characteristic of the visions of schizophrenics as the general symbols manifested by the collective unconscious are so far removed from a particular individual that they may appear as being beyond comprehension. This, in turn, demonstrates that the conscious mind resists anything conscious and unknown, and their greater oddness also shows how the conscious psyche tends to resist them more. Therefore, these oddities will be most likely to appear "...when one is relaxed and off guard in dreams or day-dreams...and also in serious cases of mental disturbance."

The description of the manifestations associated with the primary symptoms of schizophrenia are not only relevant through their example of the presence of the collective unconscious, but also through their connections to and implications for normal dreaming. For example, the unconscious material associated with a "normal personality" is identical to that of schizophrenics. The primary underlying difference, as previously discussed, is in the reactions associated with this material, resulting in its emergence into the conscious world. As evidence, Jung cites the frequent occurrence of latent psychoses. In fact, "...we find that same analogy existing between the primary dreams of schizophrenics and the dreams of normal people. You can even say that the dreamer is ‘normally insane’. Both the personal and the collective dream material is present in the symptomatology of schizophrenia, though collective material seems to predominate." As a result, one can describe schizophrenics as passing their lives in a dreamlike condition.

Overall, "...[Jung] regarded the schizophrenic process as an archetypal, instinctive reaction which is distorted by grotesque, absurd and chaotic associations." This inevitably results in a split between the ego and the complexes because the schizophrenic resides in and experiences the unconscious as a normal stimulation. This emerges as a complete split and disintegration in their personality as they lose a coherent connection with a comprehensive psychic totality. "It is the curse of the schizophrenic that he no longer fights for his unity, but prefers to identify himself with the unconscious content."

It is clearly evident that the schizophrenic serves as an example of what Jung hypothesizes to be the division of the unconscious state into two psyches. The struggle between the conscious and unconscious mind resulting in this circumstance of visions characteristic of schizophrenia also suggests that the compensatory function of dreaming plays a key role in the development of this disorder. Specifically, it suggests to the "normal" dreamer that the manifestations of the unconscious as present in dreams should not be ignored. If so, they may manifest themselves in various ways, including the individual becoming consumed by the unconscious message as in schizophrenics or the realization of what the unconscious had attempted to forewarn. Therefore, one of the most important messages that can be derived from Jung’s theory of the states of being is that one should not resist the unconscious mind as the two exist together in the universe as a comprehensive reality.


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Meier, C.A. (1984). The Unconscious in Its Empirical Manifestations. Boston, MA: Sigo Press.

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Shelburne, W.A. (1988). Mythos and Logos in the Thought of Carl Jung: The Theory of the Collective Unconscious in the Scientific Perspective. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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