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Category Archives: On Personality, Self & Ego

“Making good”, as understood by the old ethic, with the attendant repression of evil and obedience to convention, is often enough no more than an easy way out, which shirks peril and clings to established security. Yet “where peril lies, grows the remedy too”, and the voice of the new ethic, or so it seems, is determined to accept both peril and remedy at the same time- since the one is not to be had without the other.

This in itself makes it perfectly clear that the way of the new ethic is anything rather than a “way of making one’s own life easier”. Quite the contrary. To surrender the moral certainty about good and evil provided by the old ethic, stamped as it was with the approval of the collective, and to accept the ambiguity of the inner experience is always a difficult undertaking for the individual, since in every case it involves a venture into the unknown, with all the danger which the acceptance of evil brings with it for every responsible ego.

-Erich Neumann (Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, p. 108)


The great, to some extent ultimate, task posed here is that of understanding fear in all its forms as an instrument of the Self. Fear of the unknown and of all that is ego-alien turns out to be fear of the unknown aspects of “one-Self” and of “one-Self” as the unknown. In this sense the transformation process of becoming one-Self again and again embraces new unknowns, indeed, ever-new worlds of fear-inspiring unknowns.

In development through the archetypal stages, the individual must overcome fear with each transition from one phase to another, which, of course, always means the new phase of an existence unknown until that time. In this context we cannot take up the various ways in which men and women overcome fear, nor can we address the striking and as yet not well understood fact that the manner in which the ego overcomes fear is symbolically “genital,” i.e., is coordinated with the specific form of the genitals. Thus the male form of overcoming fear is active, intrusive, and pugnaciously heroic just as the typical form of fear appears as “castration” fear. Conversely, women’s fear is the fear of rape, and her way of overcoming fear is not activately heroic but passively heroic, accepting and incorporating it in her surrender to fear.

But always and independently of any of its forms, overcoming fear represents a specific form of integration in which something alien to the ego, some piece of Not-I, is recognized and realized as one’s own. Thus the man experiences the Terrible Feminine in its character of anima and transformation as belonging to his own psyche, just as he experiences the maternal and elementary character as “his own,” and only after assimilating all these aspects of the feminine will a man attain to his own authenticity as a human Self that is male and female simultaneously. Only when the “pure masculinity” of the patriarchy has been overcome through this process of transformation does a man overcome the fear in which his “pure masculinity” screened itself from the otherness that appeared symbolically as feminine. The same holds true for woman and her fear of the Masculine, which she has only concealed by her identification with the animus world demanded by the patriarchy.

In this experience of transformation the human individual becomes conscious of the relentless power of the Self, which recasts all phases of development as well as all ego-conquests of the outer and inner worlds into aspects of Self-realization that manifest from the very beginning as automorphism, as a tendency at work in the psyche. When the personal Self that manifests as a fear-inducing world assaulting the ego from within and from without is integrated, not only the one who fears and the one who overcomes fear but that which arouses fear can be seen as belonging together. Just as the good and evil gods in Bardo Thodol are one and turn out to be only projections of an underlying third thing, here we are led to experience the unity of Self and world. Destiny in its unity of inside and outside that arouses fear from without and from within turns out to belong to humankind and to be the living experience of the personal Self. World events appearing from outside as much as inner, fear-inducing phenomena of the psyche prove to be disguises of the Self. Inner and outer realities that at first appear strange and hence frightening are later experienced and “unmasked” as belonging to one’s very own authentic being, and thereby lose their foreign as well as their fearsome character. In this transformation the ego experiences that it belongs fundamentally to the Self, and that, in the form of the ego-Self axis, this “belongingness” has determined the entire development of personality on a new level. When the ego grasps the degree to which the Self directs fear and uses it as a “tool for transformation,” it also experiences itself embraced by the Self’s demand for transformation. In this way, however, the ego unmasks its own annihilation through fear and recognizes it as a process of negation brought about by something unfamiliar that proves itself to be one’s most essential nature, and one gains a paradoxical security in the Self that creatively forces the ego into continual transformation. As the ego becomes the transparent exponent of the Self, this agent of transformation, the Self, becomes one’s most treasured essence that remains fearlessly creative throughout all transformations. Only in this way does fearlessness arise for the ego that no longer clings to itself but rather in transformation surrenders and devotes itself to the Self as to its “own.” Thus the ego-Self axis becomes humankind’s guarantee of a creative existence, i.e., of an existence of transformation. Despite this ego-Self unity, however, the opposition persists in which the ego, as a smaller part, is subjected to a Self that is existentially superior to and more than a match for the ego. This means that the ego must necessarily continue to experience fear. Fear disappears only when the ego has come to that stage of the conquest of fear in which the human being’s sense of security lies in existing not only as an ego but, in a mysterious and numinous way, also as a Self that guides the personality through all ego-phases and turns all of the ego’s fear-constellations into stages of transformation in which existence reveals itself as an unending metamorphosis of aspects of the creative.

– Neumann (The Fear of the Feminine, p.278-281)

A large part of education will always be devoted to the formation of a persona which will make the individual “clean about the house” and socially presentable, and will teach him not what is, but what may be regarded as, real; all human societies are at all times far more interested in instructing their members in the techniques of not looking, of overlooking and of looking the other way than in sharpening their observation, increasing their alertness and fostering their love of truth.

Every kind of restriction may be imposed by the collective. But whether it is a case of a taboo in a primitive tribe, a social convention or a moral prohibition, whether it is a question of not mentioning certain subjects or of not admitting certain facts, of behaving as if certain non-existent entities in fact existed or of saying things which one does not mean or not saying things which one does mean– every time it makes one of these demands the collective will be guided by certain principles which are vital to its development and to the development of consciousness. Without these values they could not exist– or such, at least, is its firm conviction.

The ego will receive the reward of moral recognition by the collective to the exact extent to which it succeeds in identifying with the persona, the collective facade personality– the simple reason being that this facade personality is the visible sign of agreement with the values of the collective.

– Erich Neumann (Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, p. 38)

The ego complex is a content of consciousness as well as a condition of
consciousness, for a psychic element is conscious to me so far as it is related
to the ego complex. But so far as the ego is only the center of my field
of consciousness, it is not identical with the whole of my psyche, being
merely one complex among other complexes.

– Jung, Psychological Types

The third type of hero does not seek to change the world through his struggle with inside or outside, but to transform the personality. Self-transformation is his true aim, and the liberating effect this has upon the world is only secondary. His self-transformation may be held up as a human ideal, but his consciousness is not directed in the narrower sense to the collective; for in him centroversion expresses a natural and fundamental trend of the human psyche, which is operative from the very beginning and which forms the basis not only of self-preservation, but of self-formation as well.

We have followed the birth of ego consciousness and of the individual all through the archetypal stages whose climax was reached in the hero’s fight with the dragon. In this development a constant increase of centroversion can be detected, tending toward consolidation of the ego and the stabilization of consciousness. It gives rise to a standpoint, indeed a rallying point, from which to combat the dangerous fascination of the world and the unconscious–a fascination that lowers the level of consciousness and disintegrates the personality. Both attitudes types, introversion as well as extroversion, can easily succumb to this danger. Centroversion, by building up the conscious ego and by strengthening the personality, tries to protect them and to counteract the danger of disintegration. In this sense, the growth of individuality and its development are mankind’s answer to the “perils of the soul” that threaten from within, and to the “perils of the world” that threaten from without. Magic and religion, art, science, and technics are man’s creative efforts to cope with this threat on two fronts. At the center of all these endeavors stands the creative individual as the hero, who in the name of the collective–even when he is a lonely figure standing out against it–molds it into shape by molding himself.

– Erich Neumann (The Origin and History of Consciousness, p.220-1)

The beginning can be laid hold of in two “places”: it can be conceived in the life of mankind as the earliest dawn of human history, and in the life of the individual as the earliest dawn of childhood. The self-representation of the dawn of human history can be seen from its symbolic description in ritual and myth. The earliest dawn of childhood, like that of mankind, is depicted in the images which rise up from the depths of the unconscious and reveal themselves to the already individualized ego.

The dawn state of the beginning projects itself mythologically in cosmic form, appearing as the beginning of the world, as the mythology of creation. Mythological accounts of the beginning must invariably begin with the outside world, for world and psyche are still one. There is as yet no reflecting, self-conscious ego that could refer anything to itself, that is, reflect. Not only is the psyche open to the world, it is still identical with and undifferentiated from the world; it knows itself as world and in the world and experiences its own becoming as a world-becoming, its own images as the starry heavens, and its own contents as the world-creating gods.

Ernst Cassirer has shown how, in all peoples and in all religions, creation appears as the creation of light. Thus the coming of consciousness, manifesting itself as light in contrast to the darkness of unconsciousness, is the real “object” of creation mythology. Cassirer has likewise shown that in the different stages of mythological consciousness the first thing to be discovered is subjective reality, the formation of the ego and individuality. The beginning of this development, mythologically regarded as the beginning of the world, is the coming of light, without which no world process could be seen at all.

-Erich Neumann
(The Origin and History of Consciousness p.6)

Now the pupil had become a teacher, and as such he had mastered the major task of his first period in office: the struggle to win authority and forge an identity of person and office. In the course of this he made two discoveries. The first was the pleasure it gives to transplant the achievements of the mind into other minds and see them being transformed into entirely new shapes and emanations — in other words, the joy of teaching. The second was grappling with the personalities of the students, the attainment and practice of authority and leadership — in other words, the joy of educating. He never separated the two, and during his magistracy he not only trained a large number of good and some superb Glass Bead Game players, but also by example, by admonition, by his austere sort of patience, and by the force of his personality and character, elicited from a great many of his students the very best they were capable of.

– Hesse ( Glass Bead Game)

In the town where I was born lived a woman and her daughter, who walked in their sleep.

One night, while silence enfolded the world, the woman and her daughter, walking, yet asleep, met in their mist-veiled garden.

And the mother spoke, and she said: “At last, at last, my enemy! You by whom my youth was destroyed–who have built up your life upon the ruins of mine! Would I could kill you!”

And the daughter spoke, and she said: “O hateful woman, selfish and old! Who stand between my freer self and me! Who would have my life an echo of your own faded life! Would you were dead!”

At that moment a cock crew, and both women awoke. The mother said gently, “Is that you, darling?” And the daughter answered gently, “Yes, dear.”

– Kahil Gibran

63. THEORY OF PERSON. A truly synthetic person, is a person who is many
people simultaneously—a genius. Every person is the seed of an infinite genius.
They may be divided into numerous people, and yet still be one. The true analysis
of the person as such, brings forth people—the person can only be isolated, split
and divided into people. A person is a harmony—not a mixture, not motion—not
substance, like the “soul.” Spirit and person are one. (Force is the cause.)
Every personal expression belongs to a specific person. All expressions—of
the person at once belong to the nonspecific (universal) personality and to one
or several specific personalities.
E.g. an expression, as a human being, citizen, family man, and a writer, all at
the same time.

– Novalis  (Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia, p.10)

76. (THEORY OF EDUCATION). Faith—absolute acceptance of an activity
awakening principle (object), is to be expected from the child (subject).

PHILOSOPHY. The beginning of the ego is merely ideal.—If it had to begin, then it
had to begin in this manner. The beginning is already a later concept. The beginning
originates later than the ego, thus the ego cannot have begun. Consequently,
we see that here we are in the realm of art—yet this artificial supposition is the foundation
of a genuine science that always arises from an artificial fact. The ego should
be constructed. The philosopher prepares, creates artificial elements, and thus tackles
the construction in this fashion. This is not the natural history of the ego—the ego
is not a natural product—it is not Nature—not a historical being—but rather something
artistic—it is art—a work of art. The natural history of man is the other half. The
theory of the ego and of human history—or Nature and art, will become united in a
higher science—(the theory of moral development)—and be reciprocally perfected. / Through
morality, Nature and art will become mutually armed into infinity./

– Novalis