Jung on Self-Partnering

“The symbols of divinity coincide with those of the self: what, on the one side, appears as a psychological experience signifying psychic wholeness, expresses on the other side the idea of God. This is not to assert a metaphysical identity of the two, but merely the empirical identity of the images representing them, which all originate in the human psyche,…”                                             Jung (1959)[1]

The self … functions as a union of opposites and thus constitutes the most immediate experience of the Divine which it is psychologically possible to imagine.”              Jung (1954)[2]

“I have called this center the self. … an unknowable essence which we cannot grasp as such, since by definition it transcends our powers of comprehension. It might equally well be called the ‘God within us.’…”                                                                                             Jung (1935)[3]

“… the self is our life’s goal, for it is the completest expression of that fateful combination we call individuality,…”                                                                         Jung (1935)[4]

“… it becomes increasingly clear that numina are psychic entia that force themselves upon consciousness, since night after night our dreams practice philosophy on their own account. What is more, when we attempt to give these numina the slip and angrily reject the alchemical gold which the unconscious offers, things do in fact go badly with us, we may even develop symptoms… and the moment we face up to the stumbling-block and make it… the cornerstone, the symptoms vanish and we feel ‘unaccountably’ well.”

Jung (1952)[5]

“Any form of being out of tune with the entelechy of the Self—even though its intents are not directly accessible to our awareness and have to be intuited by trial and error—constitutes a one-sidedness and creates pathology.”                                                                            Whitmont (1993)[6]

“Emma Watson says she’s ‘self-partnered,’ the latest redefinition of ‘single’,”

Bonos (2019)[7]

The idea for this blog essay came to me when I read a recent article about Emma Watson’s redefinition of “single.” She is describing herself not as “single,” but “self-partnered.”[8] Given my immersion in Jung, I immediately thought of Jung’s dual sense of “self,” i.e. “self” as a term referring to oneself (e.g. “self-development,” “self-awareness”) and “Self” as the term for “the God within us.”[9] Watson was using the term in the first sense, but I began to investigate Jung’s works for how we might consider the idea using the second sense. What would it mean to be consciously Self-partnered? How might such a relationship show up in life? And what might be the benefits and advantages in such a partnering? I will consider each of these questions in turn, but first we must clarify Jung’s meaning of “Self.”

Jung’s Definitions and Descriptions of “Self”

Jung provided a formal definition of the Self in volume 6 of his Collected Works:[10] “As an empirical concept, the self designates the whole range of psychic phenomena in man. It expresses the unity of the personality as a whole.”

Elsewhere in his writings Jung offered other ways of describing the Self, e.g. as “a supraordinate concept,”[11] “the source of energy,”[12] “the secret spiritus rector of our fate,”[13] “a transcendent unity,”[14] “the antithesis of the subjective ego-psyche,”[15] “the inner controller,”[16] “the archetype of unity,”[17] “a psychic reality,”[18] “an a priori existent out of which the ego evolves,… an unconscious prefiguration of the ego,”[19] “the point of reference for the unconscious psyche,”[20] “your innermost center and periphery,”[21] “the source of life,”[22] and “our life’s goal.”[23]

Being “our life’s goal” the Self is “the completest expression of that fateful combination we call individuality.”[24] As “the apotheosis of individuality,”[25] and “the essence of individuality,”[26] Jung saw the Self as central to the task of individuation: It is “a determining factor”[27] in fostering our stepping out from the herd and developing our unique set of gifts and talents.

This calls to mind Jesus’ parable of the talents[28] and, with his background as a pastor’s son and his interest in Gnosticism, Jung regarded the Self as “a supraordinate, semi-divine figure…”,[29] “an unknowable essence which we cannot grasp as such, since by definition it transcends our powers of comprehension. It might equally well be called the ‘God within us.’…”.[30] Jung cited the Japanese concept of Ryochi in this context, Ryochi being the “… ‘God within us’ who dwells in every individual.”[31] and he likened the Self to “… the Indian idea of the Self as Brahman and atman….”.[32]

Sprinkled through Jung’s works are descriptions of the Self. One major feature is its totality or wholeness, the Self as “the total personality,”[33] “an all-embracing totality,”[34] “an archetype of wholeness,”[35] “the totality composed of the conscious and the unconscious,”[36] “a combination of opposites,”[37] “the image of the whole man,”[38] “the teleios anthropos,”[39] “a psychological experience signifying psychic wholeness.”[40] which includes “ego-consciousness, shadow, anima, and collective unconscious in indeterminable extension.”[41]

The Self is “indeterminable” because it “cannot be fully known,”[42] since “psychic contents cannot be observed in their unconscious state, and moreover the psyche cannot know itself.”[43] It also confounds the ego mind with its paradoxical nature: “The Self,… is absolutely paradoxical in that it represents in every respect thesis and antithesis, and at the same time synthesis,”[44] in its ability to combine opposites. One of these opposites is the unique/individual-universal/collective dichotomy. With our ego mind, we see these are irreconcilable opposites, but the Self contains both: It seeks the development of our unique set of traits and talents, while it also relates us to the whole of humanity.

As “the God within us” the Self is numinous. It is holy and, like all archetypes, has intent. It intends our wholeness, wants us to “get our act together,” to realize our full potential and toward this goal, it can be quite compelling.[45]

I discovered this in 1983, when I had the first of my “voice-over dreams,” telling me that friends would die, relatives would die, I would give up everything and my life would be transformed. Naturally I did not want to hear this: my ego wanted to feel it was in control, knew who I was, where I was going in my career and life. But the Self can be very forceful, and over the following 22 years it worked a transformation in me that left me feeling much happier, healthier, and far more uniquely myself.

What It Might Mean to be “Self-partnered”?

Jung came to be “Self-partnered” in his life, as I did. What does it mean? I think the first component of Self-partnering is the recognition that the Self exists. For both Jung and me this came unbidden, and this might be true for everyone, since the ego does not relish being relegated to a subordinate position. Something happens in life that forces one to confront some inner energy/being/essence that is far wiser than one’s conscious mind. Some part of me knew that friends and relatives would die. How was this possible? As you might imagine, I was both clueless and felt like I was losing my mind.

I did come to see the limitations of my mind, my ego mind: over years of such experiences I came to realize that my ego mind is pitifully small, way out of its depths when compared to the Self. So another component of being Self-partnered is building a track record of encounters with the Self. I did not find this easy, perhaps because I had spent so many years living in my head, honing my rational, logical Ivy-League-trained ego mind. It took a long time before I had to admit that I was playing the game of life with a very small deck and, for my own benefit I had to begin to include the Self in my goal-setting, future planning and ambitions. I had to lose/give up the belief that my ego could run the show. There was another wiser, more competent part of me that would do a better job with that.

A third component of living Self-partnered is the result of the second: Trust. Trust is not built in a day, and this is especially true in our materialistic society, which dismisses anything intangible as useless foolishness. Over years of tentative relinquishing of ego control I came to see that I could ask for guidance of my “Inner Friend” (the term I came to use for the Self)[46] and it would be forthcoming (more on this below) and this built trust. We each have within the wisdom, guidance, advice and direction we need. But the Self never violates our free will, so we have to ask. And what we need shows up. How? That’s the next question.

How Might a “Self-partnered” Relationship Look?

There are many ways to describe a Self-partnered relationship. It has phases, and they look different. As I noted above, the first phase is usually shocking: the Self intrudes on our ego reality in some way. Jung put it this way: “the experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego.”[47] The ego feels way out of its depths, because it is. In this first phase, we are likely to resist (I did), but then things tend to go badly. My analyst (when I finally found a Jungian analyst to work with) suggested that I try to “be more open to the unconscious.” This means making a conscious effort to change.

In doing this I discovered that the Self is very patient. As long as I set the intention to be open, to try to comply with my “marching orders,” I could ask for help, for further guidance, for support, and I found it appeared. The key was to relinquish the resistance.

How did help appear? I found there are essentially two types: inner help and outer help. Inner help became a major way for me: Just as the initial contact with the Self came in a dream, so a large part of help comes for me via dreams. Rarely these dreams are just a loud voice. Much more common are dreams full of symbols that relate to the Self. Jung provided a long list of these in his essays, e.g. shapes (circles, spheres, squares, crosses, squares, clocks, the uroboros [the snake biting its tail]), gems (rubies, diamonds), elements (gold, water, fire), religious symbols (the lamb, dove, snake), animals (the elephant, horse, bull, bear, birds, fishes, snakes, tortoises, snails, spiders, beetles, eagles, vultures, ravens, crabs, butterflies, worms, lion), flowers (especially the lotus and the rose), trees, mountains, lakes, ships, angels, the rainbow bridge, the phoenix, stones[48] (the lapis philosophorum being a key transformative symbol associated with the Self in alchemy).[49] Initially I knew nothing at all about any of this and it was only in my analysis that I began to read Jung, work with my dreams, and had my analyst point out to me these meaningful symbols. Attention to my dreams became (and still is) a major way for me to attune to the intentions the Self has for me.

Other forms of inner help come from meditations, making mandalas[50] (a meditative spiritual practice that helps to focus my mind as shapes and colors emerge from the end of my pen or brush as I sit in an open creative mental space), and observing my body’s inner workings (which, if I disregard these observations, will show up in some form of discomfort or ill health).

In outer life, help comes in many ways. One of the most striking for me has been synchronicities. Edgar Cayce noted that, when we are aligned with the Self’s guidance, we will notice synchronicities often in daily life. I could offer many examples but one will suffice. In the Fall of 1988 I had a dream telling me to develop my intuition. By that point (3 years into my analysis) I knew how to respond: be open. But I was clueless as to how to develop my intuition. So I asked for help. I was willing, but needed direction. I wrote this request in my dream journal, and then waited, watching for a response from the Self. A few days later (the Self, in my experience, does not usually keep us waiting for long) I got a call from my friend Karen who wondered if I would be interested in doing a labor exchange. She had a friend who wanted to write a book but didn’t have the time to write, and she wanted to work with someone who had written books, in exchange for a course she was offering. I asked Karen what the course was about. “It’s about developing your intuition.” I agreed to the labor exchange.

Another way help comes is via angels.[51] These can be real-life angels who show up just when you need them (e.g. my friend Amy driving by just when my van caught on fire: she drove me home), or miracle angels (e.g. when I stupidly tried to move a huge refrigerator and suddenly a very large strong man appeared, moved it before it fell on me, and then just disappeared).[52] In cases like this, I am made acutely aware of just how loving and supportive the Self is, and these outer life experiences have served to foster an attitude of gratitude in me. I also try now consciously not to do stupid things–no need to overwork my angels!

I have also found that what seem to be tragedies or unfortunate events in outer life, like breaking my leg, often turn out to be blessings. This is not obvious initially, of course, but when I remember to ask “What am I to be learning from this?” I get insights and come to recognize the gifts or positives in the experience. In the case of my trimalleolar fracture, within hours of my fracture, I became aware of the dozens of people who cared about me! Without my asking for help, over three dozen people stepped up to bring me my mail, take out the garbage, do my banking, drive me around and bring me food (I ate better in those 11 weeks than at any other time in my life!). Less dramatic, of course, are the countless little events in daily life that offer the opportunity to reflect on what the Self intends, what lessons it wants me to learn.

The second phase in my case (and maybe for most people) was lengthy. This might be labeled a reorientation phase, when we slowly make the shift from living out of ego to living in conscious alignment with the Self. In this phase time and again I was tested, my ego mind felt defeated, my plans fell apart, things went awry. But I regrouped, sought the Self’s help, and gave up my willfulness. In this interval I slowly came to appreciate Islam’s core idea, embodied in its very name: “surrender,” or, more specifically, “the perfect peace that comes when life is surrendered to God,”[53] or, as Jung put it, drawing on his years of fluency in Latin, Deo concedente,[54] if Allah is willing. I propose something, and then say Deo concedente, intending by that to relinquish my ego’s will to the Self’s desire for me.

The third phase is the result of the second: Enough experiences of regrouping, asking for help, and then watching what happens lead to developing a sense of trust. With trust in the Self and its constant support we get to the point where we internalize a locus of security. No longer is security something “out there,” e.g. in having lots of money, a high-paying job, a rich spouse or sugar-daddy, social status etc. All these externals can be lost, so they are not true security. But when we have come to trust the Self we have done what Jesus advised: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”[55] When we have developed an ongoing relationship to the Self to the point where we trust it, we feel safe, and this is a key benefit in being Self-partnered. What are some others?

What Might Be Some Benefits in Being “Self-partnered”?

Feeling safe is a major benefit, with obvious implications for our health and well-being: less anxiety, better sleep, “a reduction of useless inhibitions and suchlike disturbances,”[56] “an increase of vitality,”[57] and our feeling “unaccountably well.”[58] When we partner with the Self we can experience “liberation and relief,”[59] enjoy new insights, new attitudes and new perspectives on life and our actions.[60] We enjoy greater confidence, have a clearer sense of our integrity,[61] and can laugh at some of the absurdities of life.

If we fall ill (and the Self sets the timing, patterning and intentionality of an illness),[62] our dreams can offer up numinous images and these “can produce astonishing cures… Often they bring back a piece of life, missing for a long time, that enriches the life …”[63] because the Self doesn’t work only on the physical plane: It works on the emotional, intellectual, and imaginative levels, to heal the body, mind and spirit. In such situations of illness, we need to remember that the disease is meant to help us develop new outlooks, meanings and attitudes (as I noted above, when I ask what I am meant to learn from this).

Sometimes life pulls us into the “underworld,” as in the myth of Persephone and Pluto. This is unwelcome and unpleasant, but it is precisely in this place of inner darkness where we, like Persephone, find our power and potential for growth. The unconscious also holds our creativity, and it is a place where we may meet Pluto, the numinosum that can bring about “a change of consciousness”[64] via our encounter with this aspect of the Divine. Persephone became the Queen of the underworld, and we can likewise be enriched through our visits to our inner world (“Pluto” after all means “riches” in Greek).[65] We can find our inner riches when we venture into the unconscious.

How to do this? In my life, I was introduced to this idea in my analysis, and I soon learned to value my dreams, as one way the Self speaks to me. Our dreams are one way we venture into the unconscious every night (although we don’t always remember our dreams). As I began to give more time and interest to my dreams I found I was able to remember more of them, as if the psyche was responding to this change in my ego’s attitude by giving me greater recall.

Eventually I discovered that I can incubate dreams–I ask for dreams (usually in reference to a problem or issue, or for a course I want to develop) and write the request in my dream journal. Then I make sure to go to bed at my usual time, with dream journal handy, and I plan my next-day schedule to make possible waking up slowly. Mercurius, the psychopomp that serves up messages from Pluto’s realm, usually comes for me in this semi-sleep time, when I am not fully awake nor fully asleep. It is often an interval when all sorts of insights and creative ideas come to me.

A less conscious way we venture into the unconscious is during an illness, when we feel weak or depressed. While he recognized depression is unpleasant, Jung valued it for the abaissement du niveau mental which accompanies it: our consciousness is much closer (lower) to the unconscious in such times, making it easier to touch into the healing potential of the Self.[66] The Jungian analyst and homeopath Edward Whitmont has written about this at length, and he relies on the Self often in his healing work with patients.[67] “Healing” is not limited to physical healing: Jung, Whitmont, Marion Woodman[68] and other Jungian analysts recognize that the Self can heal neuroses and psychoses just as effectively, even miraculously, as it can the body.[69] Thanks to an “experience of the numinosum”[70] (aka the Self) Jung saw how neuroses can be cured: contact with the Self results in a change of consciousness, and we never go back to being as we were.[71]

Other benefits of Self-partnering include achieving a more balanced perspective on life,[72] i.e. overcoming one-sidedness, being able to hold the tension of opposites, a skill which Jung felt was so important for both mental health and effective living. Another benefit is developing an appreciation of “entelechy,” i.e. the recognition that our lives have an innate goal, a purpose and direction we are meant to grow toward.[73] No longer do we sit mired in despair, wondering what we are meant to do or what life means; rather we recognize the “evolutionary needs” of our personality as these emerge.

Conclusion

We are living in tumultuous times, when it is harder than ever for people to feel safe and secure. Every day things seem to become “curiouser and curiouser,” as Alice said in Wonderland. For this very reason it is more important than ever that we recognize, come to know, and develop solid trust in the Self. I feel grateful to Emma Watson for her redefinition, although I doubt she defined “self” in Jung’s sense of Self as the God within. But she gave me the idea for this essay. I hope it has encouraged readers of this blog to partner up with their Self. Trust your Self. Lose your fear.

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this essay.

Bibliography

Anderson, Joan W. (1992), Where Angels Walk: True Stories of Heavenly Visitors. Carmel NY: Guideposts.

Aquilina, Mike (2009), Angels of God. Cincinnati: Servant Books.

Bonos, Lisa (2019), “Emma Watson says she’s ‘self-partnered,’ the latest redefinition of ‘single’,” The Washington Post (November 5, 2009).

Byrne, Lorna (2011), Angels in My Hair. New York: Harmony Books.

Dourley, John (1981), The Psyche as Sacrament. Toronto: Inner City Press.

Editors of Guideposts (2012), Dreams of Angels: True Stories of Heavenly Messages. New York: Guideposts.

Hobe, Phyllis (2009), Angels in Disguise. New York: Guideposts.

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.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1977b), Psychology and the Occult. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1964), Man and His Symbols. New York: Dell Publishing.

Kreeft, Peter (1995), Angels (and Demons). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Moolenburgh, H.C. (1992), Meetings with Angels. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Otto, Rudolf (1958), The Idea of the Holy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sharp, Daryl (1998), Jungian Psychology Unplugged. Toronto: Inner City Press.

Smith, Huston (1986), The Religions of Man. New York: Harper & Row.

Whitmont, Edward (1993), The Alchemy of Healing: Psyche and Soma. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Woodman, Marion (1985), The Pregnant Virgin. Toronto: Inner City Press.

[1] Collected Works 10 ¶644. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[2] CW 11 ¶396.

[3] CW 7 ¶399.

[4] Ibid. ¶404.

[5] CW 12 ¶247. Numina is a Latin term for things that are numinous, i.e. things that have divine qualities or origins. Since the Self is divine, its actions and intentions are numinous and put us in contact with energies that transcend the limits of our ego consciousness. As this quote indicates, it is not uncommon for the ego to resist or reject these energies, and if/when we do, things do indeed “go badly with us.”

[6] Whitmont (1993), 115.

[7] Bonos (2019).

[8] Ibid.

[9] CW 7 ¶399. In this essay I will capitalize the word “self” when it refers to the inner divinity, although Jung did not do so in his books and essays, as illustrated by the quotes from Jung that open this essay.

[10] ¶789.

[11] CW 9ii ¶1.

[12] Ibid. ¶203 note 35.

[13] Ibid. ¶256.

[14] CW 9i ¶264.

[15] CW 9ii ¶296.

[16] Ibid. ¶348.

[17] CW 12 ¶30.

[18] CW 11 ¶233.

[19] Ibid. ¶391.

[20] CW 18 ¶1158.

[21] Ibid. ¶1638.

[22] Ibid.

[23] CW 7 ¶404.

[24] Ibid.

[25] CW 9ii ¶115.

[26] Ibid. ¶116.

[27] CW 11 ¶394.

[28] Matt. 25:14-28.

[29] CW 10 ¶633.

[30] CW 7 ¶399.

[31] CW 6 ¶370.

[32] CW 9ii ¶348.

[33] Ibid. ¶115.

[34] Ibid. ¶350.

[35] Ibid. ¶351.

[36] CW 10 ¶621.

[37] Ibid. ¶640.

[38] CW 11 ¶154.

[39] Ibid. ¶755. Jung defined this as “the whole man,” but the Greek contains a richer meaning. Anthropos is an archetype referring to the human being (man or woman) who has achieved his or her full potential. Throughout the Gospels Jesus referred to himself as “huios tou Anthropou,” “the son of the Anthropos.” Teleios is an adjective meaning “complete,” in the sense of “having reached one’s destined end or goal.”

[40] CW 10 ¶771.

[41] CW 14 ¶129 note 66.

[42] CW 9ii ¶9.

[43] CW 10 ¶779.

[44] CW 12 ¶22.

[45] CW 11 ¶397.

[46] I came to use this term after reading Marie-Louise von Franz’s essay “The Process of Individuation,” in Man and His Symbols, which Jung edited shortly before he died in 1961. In this essay von Franz refers to the Naskapi Indians’ concept of Mista-peo, their inner Great Man who sent them dreams about where to hunt and what animals to seek. This sounded very much like my experience of getting dream guidance, and I decided that I too would get a name for my dream source; Jung (1964), 162-163.

[47] CW 14 ¶778. In the original text Jung italicized this sentence.

[48] Cf. CW 9i ¶315; CW 9ii ¶s297,318,340,354,356; CW 10 ¶s621,771,805-806; CW 11 ¶276; CW 12 ¶s255,265,305; CW 13 ¶s304,364; CW 14 ¶s283 & 296.

[49] Jung wrote at length about the Philosopher’s Stone in his alchemical works: CW 9ii, 12, 13 & 14.

[50] CW 9ii ¶60. For beautiful illustrations of Jung’s own mandalas, see his Red Book in the facsimile edition.

[51] CW 12 ¶305.

[52] For more examples of how angels show up in the lives of real people cf. Anderson (1992), Aquilina (2009), Byrne (2011), Editors (2012), Hobe (2009), Kreeft (1995), and Moolenburgh (1992).

[53] Smith (1986), 295.

[54] Cf. CW 9i ¶277, CW 11 ¶448, CW 12 ¶450 note, CW 14 ¶86, CW 16 ¶385 & CW 18 ¶1631 for Jung’s use of this Latin term; it means “with God granting, yielding or agreeing.”

[55] Matt. 6:19.

[56] CW 13 ¶436.

[57] Ibid.

[58] CW 12 ¶247.

[59] CW 13 ¶342.

[60] Dourley (1981), 45.

[61] Woodman (1985), 30.

[62] Whitmont (1993), 126.

[63] CW 18 ¶594.

[64] CW 11 ¶9.

[65] The Greek ploutos means “wealth, riches,” and Plouton, the god, means “wealth-giver;” Liddell & Scott (1978), 648.

[66] Jung studied with Pierre Janet in Paris, from whom he got this term and the idea that the lowering of the mental level can make it easier to contact the unconscious. For how it relates to depression, see CW 7 ¶344.

[67] Whitmont (1993).

[68] Cf. ibid. and Woodman (1985).

[69] CW 13 ¶436.

[70] Dourley (1981), 50. The concept of numen and its related terms “numinous” and “numinosity” Jung borrowed from Rudolf Otto, referring to the qualities inherent in the Self that make contact with it both fascinating and terrifying. Having had numerous encounters with the Self, Jung could say with conviction that “the experience of the Self is a defeat for the ego.” I can say the same: My ego has felt so puny, so inadequate, so limited whenever I have contact with the Self. Cf. Otto (1958).

[71] Whitmont (1993), 125.

[72] Sharp (1998), 96.

[73] Whitmont (1993), 115.