The four elements of the Human Psyche

Updated: Mar 21

In Jungian Psychology, the general model for the human psyche involves four key elements.

These can be studied in two ways.

Firstly, when we look at them them from a kind of close up perspective, these elements are essentially like individual layers to our personality; each of which will affect us in their own unique way.

But, additionally, when we step back a moment to see them all from afar - we realise that these elements are actually all part of an interlinking whole too. Meaning that each aspect is constantly in interaction with the other three.

In that sense, these four elements can imagined as similar to a compass; where we have north, south, east, and west as distinct "cardinal" directions . . . but, in the end, all directions eventually lead back to the same place.

Element 1: The persona

This is our external personality. I.e the side that we tend to present to the world.

And, in truth, it is often substantially different to who we really are on an internal level — due to our desire to fit in to our surroundings, personal duties/responsibilities, or possible deeper insecurities.

However, this is not to say that the Persona is always a kind of lie.

Sometimes, it may very well manifest as an extension of our inner self. But, again, it is only a surface level insight into who we really are. And in all cases, it is the route of our self consciousness. Because, in effect, the persona is a side to ourselves that we are aware of showing to the world. Thus, we will always carry a certain amount of worry about how it is being perceived.

2. The anima / animus

These two terms are relating to the same concept - just in it's masculine and feminine form.

So, Anima is the term for the feminine personality traits that naturally occur in every male. And similarly Animus relates to the masculine personality traits found in every female.

How the effect of the Anima/Animus shows itself can be very different in every individual.

Sometimes, people have a tendency to supress the opposite sides to their personality, for fear of ridicule amongst their peers.

Whereas, in other cases, individuals may go out of their way to heighten their attachment to this element - simply because they are wanting to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

And though Jung's original focus with this side of the Psyche relates very much to masculine/feminine energy . . . I tend to believe the concept goes even further still.

So, for example, every devout religious believer will still have traits of a skeptic hidden in their depths.

Just like every megalomaniac will have traits of self doubt in their psyche too.

Because no personality trait ever exists in isolation. Where one trait is found, the opposite must be in existence also. (Much like Newton's theory that every action has an equal and opposite reaction)

3. The shadow

This is the so called “hidden” side of our personality — containing a mixture of personality traits that we ourselves have hidden/suppressed . . . and, more so, the sides to us which we do not even know about yet. Maybe because we have never understood ourselves properly . . . or maybe because life circumstances have never yet brought these things to the surface.

Thus the shadow is stereotypically seen as something of a fearful place . . . housing our repressed urges, nightmares, and destructive energies.

But, at the same time, it is also the home of our creativity too. Because, essentially, when we create any kind of art, we are often directly bringing our darkness into the light.

4. The self

Here, we start to come closer to the centre of our being. An element that, much like the shadow, is routed in the unconscious - but, nonetheless, is the closest link we have to the psyche.

The self is often referred to as our “true” or "authentic" side. But, while this is correct in the sense that it is a manifestation of our natural predispositions . . . we must always remember that all four of these elements represent a true and authentic side to our psyche too.

Thus, The Persona - even when it is built on a lie - is no less real than The Self. And both will impact our life in more profound ways than we realise.

It is just that The Persona is a kind of mutable reality. Subject to change, depending on conscious choice, or external events.

Whereas The Self is much more secure. The kind of reality that is unchanging - no matter what life may bring to us.

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