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The Inner Journey by Barbara Hannah

Although one might think the ego would be the easiest of all Jungian concepts to speak of, I always find it one of, if not the, most difficult.

It belongs indeed in the conscious realm in contrast to other terms such as anima, animus or Archetype but, for that very reason, one finds oneself in the position of Baron Munchhausen who had to pull himself out of the bog by his own plait!

One must try to confine oneself to giving a formal description of the ego, for every other way of looking at it would have to allow for individuality, which is the main characteristic of every ego.

Every ego is different, even unique, so that one can only sketch the main general characteristics very roughly.

Any insistence on specifics would do violence to its individual character.

In order to make a start, we will begin with a short summary of Jung’s description of the ego in Aion.

The ego, as a content of consciousness, is a complex of intricate factors.

On the one side, it is founded on physical sensations, which are yet perceived psychically from within, and, on the other, on the totality of unconscious psychic contents.

These two fields are the foundation of the ego and the ego itself is their point of relation.

The ego is presumably brought into existence by the collisions of the body with the environment, and once a subject is present goes on developing by

collisions with the outer world and the inner world.

It is individually unique and is the center of the field of consciousness. As such it is the subject of all our efforts at adaptation.

On the other hand, it is not the center of our personality, although we are often under the illusion that it is.

The common assumption which regards the ego as representing not only the center of our personality but everything that we are, was challenged long before the time of either Freud or Jung.

But it is an idea which dies hard, and even today it is a great shock to the average layman when he realizes he is not the master in his own house, that he must reckon with other wills than the one he identifies with in his own field of behavior.

When we study ourselves objectively, we have to realize that the ego is only one among many complexes that exist in our personality, though it is indeed the nuclear center of our field of consciousness.

It has a very high degree of continuity and identity, which normally increases in the course of life, but which is also inclined to become more and

more one-sided.

As Jung has made particularly clear in his essay, “On the Nature of the Psyche,” there is nothing we can really call consciousness on the animal or primitive level, but only a kind of luminosity.

Most of us can probably remember a time in our own childhood when our consciousness was on a similar level, when we questioned neither ourselves nor our surroundings, but just accepted things as they were, like an animal.

If we look back on those days, we can also remember the emotional moments and incidents that woke us up to a realization of our separate existence.

At first, the experience we gain in the usually painful way is like little separated sparks of light in the sea of a general consciousness.

Slowly connections appear, resemblances between these experiences, for instance, and gradually these separate sparks cluster together and form a kind of island that we call the ego complex.

The ego complex is not, of course, identical with the field of consciousness, which last is more than the function or activity which maintains the relation of the ego with other psychic contents.

Everything which is not related to the ego is, for that particular person, unconscious.

Consciousness is capable of indefinite extension, whereas the ego complex is more or less bound by the laws of space and time.

To use a rather cheap illustration, we might liken the ego to an operator at a telephone exchange, and consciousness to a net of telephone wires all over the world.

Obviously this operator can only be connected with one or two wires at the same time, and the ego complex is in much the same position. ~Barbara Hannah, The Inner Journey, Page 70-72