What is Soul?

The phenomenon of the soul has always been a hot topic and curiosity for mankind. Since the time of ancient philosophers, we have thought deeply about what it means to be alive and the significance of the soul.

As you read my posts, you may notice I often make reference to the soul. But just what is the soul, especially to a psychologist, more specifically, depth psychologists (clinicians who deal with your most profound Self)?

In the field of psychology, soul is another word for psyche, which stems from Latin. The psyche (in the psychological field) refers to psychic energy that is completely unconscious and derives from instinctual needs and drives; therefore, the soul is the internal and profound world of your being - the part of you that perhaps hides your fears, hopes, wishes, or dreams, which you may not want anyone else to know; likewise, these things may also be something of which you may not be consciously aware.

Why is it important to know about the soul? As Socrates indicated, “Know your Self,” and admonished, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

It is so important to know the deepest reaches of one’s soul that revered thinkers such as Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Carl Jung dedicated their lives to studying the the most profound aspects of mankind.

Freud never understood soul in a metaphysical or religious sense. For him, it was strictly a psychological feature; albeit, the most essential one of human existence.

Nietzsche viewed the soul as one’s entire inner world. He believed feelings, thoughts, and experiences an individual refuses to process, becomes internalized (into the soul [psyche]), and leads to neuroses.

Jung, who was a disciple of Freud, also regarded the soul as the internal world of humans. However, unlike Freud and Nietzsche, who believed suppressed and repressed feelings and thoughts led to mental illness, Jung viewed the soul’s objective as geared towards wholeness. Therefore, he didn’t see emotional issues as a pathology, but as unconscious regulation of stored experiences tending towards individuation, which he defined as the process of an individual developing as a separate being from the general, collective psychology. Therefore, the goal of individuation is the development of the individual as a separate personality from others.

However, be aware that individuation is different than individualization, which is propelled by the ego, and thus may result in a rigid character. Jung’s concept of individuation is described as finding one’s own way on the basis of the Self, not the ego, and does not disregard collective values, which are frequently asserted by the Self. The individual way, according to Jung, is achieved only by connecting to one’s own already ongoing psychological process on both an inner and outer level.

The best way to describe the state achieved in individuation is the maturation of consciousness, where those who fully understand their Self, continually confront areas of their soul, including their shadow.

Therefore, as a psychologist, the soul to me is not necessarily an entity. It is any inwardly significant message conveyed by an inanimate object, such as a house, book, or painting. It is also the most profound part of you that holds thoughts and feelings in the shadows, which perhaps you don’t want anyone to know or see (maybe not even you) - where your most genuine Self can be found, waiting to individuate and self-actualize. Because remember, as Socrates said, “Know your Self,” because “[An] unexamined life is not worth living.”


Credits: All photos - Quang Nguyen Vinh

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