Our Inner City

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.



Our “Inner City”



For the most part our consciousness, in true Western style, looks outwards, and the inner world remains in darkness. But this difficulty can be overcome easily enough, if only we will make the effort to apply the same concentration and criticism to the psychic material which manifests itself, not outside, but in our private lives….

                                                                                                            Jung (1943)[1]


… I take the line that the world is outside and inside, that reality falls to the share of both, I must logically accept the upsets and annoyances that come to me from inside as symptoms of faulty adaptation to the conditions of that inner world….

                                                                                                            Jung (1943)[2]


Just as outwardly we live in a world where a whole continent may be submerged at any moment, or a pole shifted, or a new pestilence break out, so inwardly we live in a world where at any moment something similar may occur, albeit in the form of an idea, but no less dangerous and untrustworthy for that. Failure to adapt to this inner world is a negligence entailing just as serious consequences as ignorance and ineptitude in the outer world….

                                                                                                            Jung (1943)[3]


            Because the things of the inner world influence us all the more powerfully for being unconscious, it is essential for anyone who intends to make progress in self-culture (and does not all culture begin with the individual?) to objectivate the effects of the anima and then try to understand what contents underlie those effects. In this way he adapts to, and is protected against, the invisible. No adaptation can result without concessions to both worlds. From a consideration of the claims for the inner and outer worlds, or rather, from the conflict between them, the possible and the necessary follows….

                                                                                                            Jung (1943)[4]


…The anima is …[in] the inner world, where she functions as the medium between the ego and the unconscious, as does the persona between the ego and the environment.

                                                                                                            Jung (1942)[5]


            Toward the end of a recent dream class, in which I mentioned the concept of the “inner city,” a student asked me to recommend some books on the topic. I drew a blank. I knew that Jung himself mentioned the “inner world,” in the quotes above, and Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp named his Jung-related publishing house “The Inner City Press.”[6] But books on it? I have not been able to think or, or discover a single study of the topic. Herewith, to respond to my student, a short essay on Jung’s idea.           

            First, as the quotes above indicate, Jung did not use the term “inner city:” He wrote of our “inner world,” and Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious embraces the entire world and all its cultures. I like Sharp’s use of “city” instead of “world:” It feels less overwhelming. In my experience many students new to Jungian dream work find even the idea of an inner city to be a lot to absorb.


Jung on Our Inner and Outer Realities


            Ever the realist, Jung recognized that our Western culture, with its Extraverted bias,[7] is oriented to the outer world—the physical, tangible, material reality studied by science and assumed by most people to be all there is to life. With his recognition of the reality of the psyche[8] and the intangible realm, Jung knew this was a truncated view.

            As human beings we live on both the material plane and the psychic or intangible plane. Things happen on both planes: We eat and work and interact with family, friends, co-workers and others in the outer world. We fantasize, dream and experience intuitions, feelings and thoughts in the inner world. We get an inspiration for a work of art, or an idea for an invention first on the inner level, which we can then work to manifest tangibly in physical reality.

            Jung was adamant that, if we wish to broaden our sense of ourselves and to “individuate,” we must shift from the Western view of denigrating intangibles and come to appreciate and strive to understand our inner reality. Living with only the identity formed through early life, under the influence of parents, teachers and peers, we operate from our “persona”—the “mask” we wear as a result of our socialization and enculturation.[9] But this is only part of who we really are, and, in many cases, it is not even a true part: We may be living an inauthentic life. To determine how authentic or inauthentic the persona is, we must look within and get to know other parts of ourselves. We might regard these parts as inner characters—like people that inhabit a city we can discover lying within. Before discussing some of these characters we should define the word “city.”


The Idea of “City”


            The dictionary defines “city” as “a large and important town…the community of the inhabitants of a city; people living in a city…”[10] Being “large,” a city has many people living in it, often from diverse backgrounds, providing a cosmopolitan flavor to the place. Our English word “city” comes from the Latin civitas, which meant to the Roman a node or hub of civilization.[11] Cities are sites of culture and sophistication.

            Cities tend to be dynamic places, attracting creative and innovative people, so it is not surprising that most of the changes that occur in a society begin in cities. Urban areas spawn novelty because population density fosters the exchange of ideas and the proliferation of different perspectives. City residents are far more likely to be exposed to avant-garde thoughts or new ways of living, working or thinking than are people dispersed out in the countryside.

            Cities can be provocative. That is, there is more likelihood that a person will encounter or cross paths with people very different from him/herself in a city than in the more homogenous rural area. Some of these encounters may provoke surprise, confusion or lack of understanding of the other. Foreigners, social rebels, cultural saboteurs and other “outliers” turn up in cities much more frequently than they do in small towns or villages. Likewise, change agents and those seeking progress or societal betterment tend to congregate in cities.


Our Inner City


            All these features of cities can be applied to the “inner city” that lies within us. Just as a literal city has many different inhabitants, with diverse backgrounds and interests, so we have within a variety of different energies or characters that differ from our conscious persona or sense of self.

            Our inner city is dynamic, i.e. it can be a source of our growth and change. It is also creative and innovative: it will bring new things into our lives, as we become more aware of it and mine its resources. The characters of our inner city will provide us with different perspectives on life and our problems, helping us grow past blocks and obstacles. These characters help to open us up to new modes of responding to life’s challenges, often in surprising, unexpected ways.

            Contact with our inner city and its inhabitants can be provocative, disturbing our complacency, rousing our ire, stirring our resistance. In such times, we may not like what we see, the inner people we meet, the circumstances that a dream or meditation brings up to consciousness. We can become confused, finding ourselves wandering around in the “cloud of unknowing,”[12] often for days or weeks, much as we can get lost in an unfamiliar city when directions prove inadequate. There aren’t very good “directions” for navigating through our inner city, but there are some common features.


Some of the Common Inhabitants of Our Inner City


            The feature Jung wrote about most frequently was the anima (in a man, animus in a woman).[13] This is our “contrasexual side,” and it shows up in dreams as people of the opposite sex. Conscientious attention to one’s dream life will turn up lots of anima/animus figures that populate our inner city. As we notice and work with these dream figures we can get to know our “inner partner,” and thus can better equip ourselves to live with and relate to partners in outer reality.

            Perhaps more problematic than the anima/animus is the shadow. This inhabitant of our inner city turns up usually as a same-sex figure, often with traits or characteristics or behaviors that are very different, even scandalous to our persona-ridden ego.[14] If we are white, the shadow may appear as a black person. If we are socially adept, polite and “proper,” the shadow might be rude, crude and slovenly. If we live in a sober, conservative way in “real” life, the shadow might be a rebellious, radical change agent, pushing the boundaries of what is possible or permissible. The ego often dislikes these inner characters, but often they hold the promise of great growth, if we are willing to engage with them.

            Two figures Jung felt hold great promise for our growth: the parental imagoes.[15] We all have a “real life” mother and father. A parallel set of parents live in our inner city, as “images” we unconsciously created during childhood. These images may be more or less similar to our real mother and father: they are how the archetypes for “Mother” and “Father” got realized through our outer-life experiences of our parents. In his own life Jung learned how important it is to wrestle with our inner parents[16]—a task that can go on even if our parents are no longer alive in outer life. The imagoes live on in our inner city, and maturing into our individuated self often requires that we work out a new relationship with our inner mother and father imagoes.

            Just as cities have their dogs, cats, birds and perhaps a few feral animals, so our inner city is populated with a range of non-human beings. When animals show up in dreams, we might be presented with aspects of our instinctual nature. With dogs, this can be our more domesticated instinctual side;[17] with cats, the more independent side.[18] Snakes may allude to our healing energies,[19] birds, our spiritual aspirations.[20] Jung would have us take any person, object or being in a dream as referencing a part of ourselves,[21] so all the figures—human, animal, plants or object—can give us insights into ourselves.


Why Bother with This?


            Which is one reason to give time and attention to our inner city. We can expand our sense of ourselves by recognizing the reality of our inner world and all the energies—the characters and actors—that live in it.

            We can become more self-aware when we understand that we have within all the various figures that people outer cities. “As without, so within:”[22] Just as cities hold people from all classes, walks of life and cultural background, so we have a myriad of inner inhabitants that can provide us with different perspectives on life and our situation. This can make it easier for us to understand and appreciate those who are quite different from us.

            If we are willing to work with our inner characters we can become more creative, more compassionate (because we own our shadow side, and so are less judgmental), more open to change and growth. Some inner characters may function as “spirit guides,” others as goads to our waking up.

            Another reason to take up the challenge of discovering our inner city is that it fosters better parenting. Jung was quite clear that, if you want to be a good mother or father, you must get wise to yourself and get your own act together. Failure to do so means your children in all likelihood will carry your unconscious and will live out your own unlived life.[23] By wrestling with your inner mother and father imagoes, you lessen the chance that your children will replicate your parental complexes in their own lives.




            Jung rejected any type of “cookbook” approach to working with the unconscious,[24] so he would not condone an explicit description of the “normal” or “standard” inner city: he would deny there was such a thing. Rather, each of us manifests an inner life that is unique. All we can say is that everyone has an inner city, full of interesting inhabitants familiarity with whom can provoke our growth and facilitate the process of our individuation.

            A regular dream work practice, meditation, active imagination and the observation of synchronicities[25] are some of the ways we can discover and get oriented to our inner city. As we do so, we come to appreciate Jung’s insight and understanding that the psyche is real; it lives within us; it holds riches we can mine indefinitely; and it offers us an exciting adventure, when we explore our inner world.




Bair, Deirdre (2003), Jung: A Biography. New York: Little, Brown & Co.

Bolen, Jean Shinoda (1979), The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and the Self. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Cirlot, J.E. (1962), A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library.

Hall, James A. (1983), Jungian Dream Interpretation: A Handbook of Theory and Practice. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Harding, Esther (2003), The Parental Image: Its Injury and Reconstruction. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Jung, C.G. (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Keirsey, David & Marilyn Bates (1984), Please Understand Me. Del Mar CA: Prometheus Nemesis Books.

Russack, Neil (2002), Animal Guides In Life, Myth and Dreams. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Sharp, Daryl (1991), C.G. Jung Lexicon. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Three Initiates (1912), The Kybalion. Chicago: Yogi Publication Society.

von Franz, Marie Louise (1972), The Feminine in Fairy Tales. Dallas TX: Spring Publications

________ (1980), On Divination and Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Wolters, Clifton (1961) ed., The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works. Baltimore: Penguin Books.


[1] Collected Works 7, ¶317. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[2] CW 7, ¶319

[3] CW 7, ¶326

[4] CW 7, ¶327

[5] CW 13, ¶223, n. 15.

[6] For more information on this publishing house, go to their Web site: www.innercitybooks.net

[7] Seventy-five percent of Americans are Extraverts; Keirsey & Bates (1984), 25. Jung found American society’s level of Extraversion stimulation but also exhausting; CW 10, ¶957.

[8] On the reality of the psyche, see the blog essay “The Psyche is Real,” archived on this Web site.

[9] Sharp (1991), 97-99.

[10] World Book Encyclopedia, I, 360.

[11] Lewis & Short (1969), 346.

[12] “The Cloud of Unknowing” is the title of an anonymous 14th century mystical treatise; for the text and introduction to it and other mystical works, see Wolters (1961).

[13] Sharp (1991), 18-25.

[14] Ibid., 121-125.

[15] Ibid., 96. Cf. Harding (2003) and the blog essay “Jung and the Problem Child,” archived on this blog site.

[16] Jung had both parental complexes—negative father and negative mother. For more on Jung’s biography, cf. Bair (2003) and the six-part essay “Jung the Man,” archived on this blog site.

[17] Cirlot (1962), 10,13,84.

[18] von Franz (1972), 186.

[19] Russack (2002), 51.

[20] Cirlot (1962), 26.

[21] CW 7, ¶130.

[22] This is the Hermetic Law of Correspondence; Three Initiates (1912), 28-30,113-135. This book is now in the public domain and can be downloaded in full from the Internet.

[23] CW 6, ¶307.

[24] Cirlot (1962), xlvi=xlvii; cf. Hall (1983), 8,80.

[25] For more on synchronicities, cf. Bolen (1979) and von Franz (1980).

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