self SELF:
The Archetype

Edward C. Whitmont, The Symbolic Quest: Basic Concepts of Analytical Psychology (New York: Putnam, 1969) 42-43:

When the expressions of the objective psyche are interpreted symbolically and are then put to the test of reality in living experience, we find that they not only function autonomously but that this functioning also appears to have a definite interactive relationship with the rational, conceptualizing, conscious mind. This relationship is one of complementation or compensation, inasmuch as it tends to counterbalance vital deficiencies or critically one-sided tendencies of the conscious standpoint.
Such unconscious complementation or compensation implies, however, an inherent direction or goal. Complementation or compensation for something missing or exaggerated presupposes a totality-configuration or wholeness pattern, even though this may manifest itself in a distorted or deficient way. This purposive wholeness pattern which Jung postulates and calls the Self (at variance with the general usage of the term as synonymous with ego) is conceived—and here again we use symbolic language—to be a superordinated personality which encompasses and meaningfully directs conscious as well as unconscious functioning.

The Self draws its power exclusively from the collective unconscious; it is transpersonal rather than personal and is not conditioned by a person's individual experiences. The Self is both:

Symbolism in Dreams and Narratives: Because the Self is the most complex of the archetypes of individuation, its symbolism is the most rich and varied. All symbols of the Self include the characteristics of power and impersonality; symbols of the Self are never peer figures, nor are they strongly individualized, vividly personal, or strikingly sexual beings. The Self may be symbolized by:

Self Projection: Because the Self is so powerful, it contains both the concepts of Good and Evil. It is only projected onto transcendental figures, either images of God or the Devil, or religious leaders who are divinized by their followers.

Self projection

Possession by the Self: Because the Self is associated with the deepest levels of the collective unconscious, it is extremely powerful. When possessed by the Self, the ego loses control of the personality through positive or negative Inflation (literally meaning "blown into"). Positive inflation results in megalomania as the ego identifies with the power of the Self and is carried away by the unconscious (in myths, this can be symbolized as deification; Herakles, for example, loses his mortal body in the funeral pyre but his spirit is carried up to Olympus by Athena). Negative inflation results in annihilation of the ego, which is completely overpowered by the Self, resulting in a state of complete withdrawal or catatonia (in myths, this can be symbolized as being swallowed up by a monster, turned to stone, etc.).

Self possession

Integration of the Self: Because of its unconscious, transpersonal nature, the Self can never be truly integrated by the ego. What the ego must learn to do surrender its need to always be in control by recognizing the value of the Self's guidance and deferring to its superior wisdom. In myths this is often symbolized by the ego-bearer's learning to trust the mystical figures who are directing him/her even when their advice seems dangerous and contradictory. On the other hand, the ego must always maintain a safe distance from the unconscious, recognizing the dangerous power that can never be defeated or controlled.

February, 1999
Barbara F. McManus
Topics, Assignments, Notes