Carl Gustav Jung

The Theory of Symbols

Brief Backstory

Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and founder of the school of analytical psychology. He proposed and developed the concepts of the extroverted and introverted personality, archetypes, and the collective unconscious. The issues that he dealt with arose from his personal experiences. For many years Jung felt as if he had two separate personalities. One introverted and other extroverted. This interplay resulted in his study of integration and wholeness. His work has been influential not only in psychology, but in religion and literature as well.


Jung was born on July 26, 1875 in Kesswil, Switzerland, the only son of a Protestant clergyman. At the age of four his family moved to Basel. Jung observed his parents and teachers and tried to understand their behavior, especially that of his father. Jung had a lack of faith and was expected to continue the family tradition of being a clergyman. He instead went to The University of Basel from 1895-1900. Before deciding to pursue medicine Jung studied biology, zoology, paleontology, and archaeology. But also looked into philosophy, mythology, early Christian literature as well as religion

The Theory of Symbols

Jung believed that symbol creation was a key in understanding human nature. Symbol, as defined by Jung, is the best possible expression for something essentially unknown. He wanted to investigate the similarity of symbols that are located in different religious, mythological, and magical systems which occur in many cultures and time periods.


To account for these similar symbols occurring across different cultures and time periods he suggested the existence of two layers of the unconscious psyche. The first of the two layers was the personal unconscious. It contains what the individual has acquired in his or her life, but has been forgotten or repressed. The second layer is the collective unconscious which contains the memory traces common to all humankind. These experiences form archetypes. These are innate predispositions to experience and symbolize certain situations in a distinct way. There are many archetypes such as having parents, finding a mate, having children, and confronting death. Very complex archetypes are found in all mythological and religious systems.


Near the end of his life Jung added that the deepest layers of the unconscious function independently of the laws of space, time and causality. This is what gives rise to paranormal phenomena. The introvert and the extrovert are the main components of personality according to Jung. The introvert is quiet, withdrawn and interested in ideas rather than people. While the extrovert is outgoing and socially oriented. For Jung a person that had a healthy personality can realize these opposite tendencies within himself/herself and can express each. Dreams serve to compensate for any neglected parts of the personality.