What Is The Psyche And The Inner Self?

What Is The Psyche And The Inner Self?

What is psyche? Where does it emerge from? What are its components? These quintessential questions have existed since generations. Many philosophers, theorists and researchers have tried to explore its meaning. Our ‘self’ emerges from our "psyche". The Greek word ‘psyche’ is commonly referred to as ‘soul’. We develop a certain image of ourselves as we grow. We tend to perceive our existence peculiarly. Our psyche is not just a product of our subjective characteristics but also the socio-cultural context in which we are brought up. In western society, psyche or soul was deciphered into two paradigms, physicalist and mentalist. The perspectives of thinkers were interpreted based on these two paradigms. The physicalist paradigm of the psyche put a focus on biology. According to this perspective, psychological phenomena are a consequence of biological functions. The mentalist view believed that biology doesn't have much role to play in psychological functioning. The first mentalist psychology was given by Plato. He is known for raising the question of the connection between psyche and body. He interpreted psyche as the realm of vast knowledge.

Psyche has a historical meaning attached to it. The term psyche originally meant "butterfly" in Latin. Psyche was a magnificent Greek goddess who was cursed to fall in love with an ugly and despicable man. Instead, she fell in love with a young God called Eros(Cupid) who was instructed to kill her with an arrow. The symbol of Psychology (Ψ) was also inspired as a result of Psyche's butterfly wings. For a long time, Psychology was referred to as the study of the soul. Aristotle also played a role in understanding the concept of the psyche. He wrote a book on psyche called "Peri Psyches" in Greek which means "on the soul". He tried to understand the relationship of psyche with the body, spirit and cognitive abilities like comprehension, logical reasoning, motivation etc. He believed the notion of 'psyche" gave meaning to human behaviour. Today, it's a science which takes into account both mental and behavioural activities of a person or group. Psyche is a representation of our innermost unconscious self. It's segregated from the mind or brain. It's a separate entity which makes us who we are. It influences thought patterns, opinions, values, emotions, feelings and personality. It's what differentiates one from a million other souls in the world. Yet it's an abstract entity which has no physical form. What is the core of one's being? It's their psyche. One's present condition is based on the hidden sources present in the depth of one's psyche. These unconscious reasons haven't come out into the consciousness and at times it can be significantly distressing. This phenomenon gave birth to Depth Psychology propounded by Eugen Bleuler. The unconscious mind is a reservoir of desires and fantasies which are not aware of the conscious mind. Carl Jung, an earlier advocate of Sigmund Freud described psyche as -

"By psyche, I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious."

Carl Jung agreed with Freud that the answers to why we behave the way we do, lie embedded in our unconscious awareness. Our everyday life events make up only a small portion of our consciousness. The reason behind our behaviour is a part of our psyche which constitutes our unconscious awareness. Jung also believed that "Image is psyche". He gave the concept of archetypes which are defined as certain behaviour which are pre-existing in every human being's psyche. It's universally stimulating energy which affects not just behaviour but dreams and fantasies too. There is an archetype for God, mother and father which are all based on an individual's cultural upbringing. As different cultures possess a different meaning of these archetypes. He believed psyche could be broken down into three smaller sections - Ego, Personal Unconscious and Collective Unconscious. The ego is the core of the psyche where conscious awareness resides. Ego is responsible for what is important enough to surface into our consciousness, the remaining information is a part of the unconscious sphere. The personal unconscious consists of disturbing childhood experiences repressed in memory. It's called 'personal' because it's a part of an individual's history. Thus personal unconscious is also a part of one's psyche. Jung discovered that all human beings share a part of the psyche which is common. It's called the collective unconscious. All human beings are known to share certain unconscious experiences which are universal and psychologically inherited. The concept of archetypes has emerged from the collective unconscious. Psyche or mind in the most general form is interpreted as one's soul without any contamination by religion or culture. Psyche is a depiction of one's inner world and self is the end product of our uniqueness. Our comprehension of self has only evolved through our experiences. Our sense of self determines how we perceive our lives and its various aspects such as social relationships, autonomy, personal characteristics, parenting styles. Self was described by Heinz Kohut, the pioneer of self-psychology as:

"The self is like all reality not knowable in its essence. We can describe the various cohesive forms in which the self appears, can demonstrate the several constituents that make up the self and explain their genesis and functions. We can do all that but we will still not know the essence of the self as differentiated from its manifestations.

According to Kohut, the self formulates in a child when a healthy narcissistic behaviour develops through the interaction with primary caregivers. Jung on the other hand believed that self stems through individuation which refers to insight about oneself. There are two versions of self. One is the "ideal self" which indicates our desire of who we want to be. Other is "real self" which refers to who we are at the moment. Our sense of self when we were a child and our sense of self today is not the same. Disturbances can arise when there is an incongruence between the real self and the ideal self. Individual's sense of self has a powerful effect on a person's feelings, behaviour and emotions. A lot of emphases is being put on embracing one’s authentic self. The authentic self is our true self. Research indicates being one’s authentic self leads to higher levels of other aspects of self, such as feelings of self-worth, subjective well-being, self-concept and hope. Being one’s authentic self also leads to a reduction in negative emotions. It’s brought to light that the authenticity of self brings about greater acceptance of oneself and drastically reduces the need for validation from others. Understanding oneself can be comforting when present behaviour or feelings can be given meaning and when their origin is finally known. This can also bring about an existential meaning for the individual as the nascent of understanding one’s presence on the earth becomes clearer. A therapy called logotherapy especially works on this principle of understanding one’s being with the universe. 

As we grow, we tend to abandon the psyche that existed within us during our childhood due to experiences perceived as trauma. If we take a minute and turn our attention inwards to our deepest innermost self, then we may attune to our innate self; which in turn becomes a part of our conscious being. We will again be able to connect with our innermost self which was abandoned. The experiences will come into the light which made us bury our psyche. It might bring about a spiritual revelation in some of us. It's essential for one to be connected to one's psyche or else it will express itself in one's unconscious experiences through dreams, irrational fears and other psychological disturbances. If we don't acknowledge these unsettling experiences in our past then they will transform into fear and anxieties which will very much hamper our everyday functioning. To heal from all the threatening, anxiety-provoking or traumatic experiences we need to be able to acknowledge the existence of these experiences. Healing will occur only if we start with our psyche. Sometime or other in life we will have to introspect with the hope to understand the working of our mind and self. Our personality is only a persona, it's not the real portrayal of our psyche. Only when we explore our psyche in its most raw form is that a real change or healing process can begin. Being aware where certain worries, fears and doubts stem from is the first step to understanding one's inner self. Be curious about yourself, explore your inner workings and let your inner self free. Ask yourself -  ‘What makes your inner self smile?’ Let your guard down and enjoy being alive at the moment. Be your inner self and let it paint the canvas for you. Give it wings and let it fly.

About the Author

Akanksha Singh
MA Clinical Psychology student.

I'm currently pursuing a Masters in Clinical Psychology from Amity University. I completed my bachelor's from Jesus and Mary College in Psychology-

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