Jung's concept of the collective unconscious has often been misunderstood. In order to understand this concept, it is essential to understand his idea of the archetype, something foreign to the highly rational, scientifically-oriented Western mind. Here is a useful analogy: the collective unconscious is the DNA of the human psyche. Just as all humans share a common physical heritage and predisposition towards specific physical forms (like having two legs, a heart, etc.) so do all humans have a common psychological predisposition. Our physical predispostions are determined by our DNA, while our psychological predispositions are stored in the collective unconscious. Like the human genome project that took on the tremedous labor of analyzing the information stored in the human DNA, Jung took on the even more extensive task of exploring and attempting to discern the mysteries stored in the collective unconscious. However, unlike the simple, quantifiable information that composes DNA (in the form of coded sequences of nucleotides), the collective unconscious is composed of archetypes. In sharp contrast to the objective material world, the world of the archetypes can not be adequately understood through quantitative modes of research. Instead it can only begin to be revealed through an examination of the symbolic communications of the human psyche--in art, dreams, religion, myth, and the themes of human relational/behavioral patterns. Devoting his life to the task of exploring and understanding the collective unconscious, Jung discovered that certain symbolic themes existed across all cultures, all epochs, and in every individual. Together these symbolic themes comprise "the archetypes of the collective unconscious."

The shadow:

The shadow is an unconscious construct that is defined as the diametrical opposite of the ego. The shadow represents everything that the conscious person does not wish to be identified with. For instance, someone who identifies as being kind has a shadow that is evil. Conversely, an individual who is evil has a kind shadow. The shadow is not necessarily good or bad. It simply counterbalances some of the one-sided dimensions of our personality. Jung emphasized the importance of being aware of shadow material and incorporating it into conscious awareness.

Anima and Animus:

Jung identified the anima as being the unconscious feminine component of men and the animus as the unconscious masculine component in women. (Many modern day Jungian practitioners believe that every person has both an anima and an animus). Jung stated that the anima and animus act as guides to the unconscious unified Self, and that forming an awareness and a connection with the anima or animus is one of the most difficult and rewarding steps in psychological growth. Jung reported that he identified his anima as she spoke to him, as an inner voice, unexpectedly one day. (Interestingly, Jung's anima voice was the voice of a former patient with whom Jung had an open affair.) Oftentimes, when people ignore the anima or animus complexes, the anima or animus vies for attention by projecting itself onto others. This explains, according to Jung, why we are sometimes immediately attracted to certain strangers: we see our anima or animus in them. Love in first sight is an example of anima and animus projection. Moreover, people who strongly identify with their gender role (e.g. a man who acts aggressively and never cries) have not developed any significant relationship with either their anima or animus.