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The Individuation Process
Journey To Wholeness

"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside awakens."....Carl Jung

The Path to Individuation - Go To:     Becoming Individuated     Steps in the Individuation Process     Midlife-A Crisis of Transition     Individuation and the Union of Opposites

Individuation - A Transition

The individuation process is a term coined by psychologist Carl Gustav Jung to describe the process of becoming inwardly whole, discovering one's true self, beyond the mask of the persona and ego centered life. The goal is of coming to know, giving expression to, and harmonizing the various components of the psyche. It is a process of becoming the unique individual one always has had the potential to become. In Jung’s Process of Individuation we have a map by which to measure our individual journey, a map to a discovery of that true self which when realized will manifest itself in the outer personality.

"Who am I"? The individuation process provides us with some clear guidelines in defining that true person, beyond what is consciously known or perceived. But first you need to understand a few terms or terminology frequently used in Jungian psychology.

The Ego
What is the ego? We often think of the ego as "I" or "me", referring to what we think is who we really are? Jung's concept of the ego is designated as the area of personality of which one is consciously aware. Conscious awareness includes all that one is aware of concerning self and the environment of the person's life, inner and outer. This includes thoughts, feelings, fantasies, sensations, and emotions as being (assuming that one is aware of them) elements of conscious awareness. The ego’s centrality is the result of its functioning as mediator between the “inner” personal and collective unconscious urges and the external environmental demands from authority figures (e.g. parents) and societal norms. An oversimplified definition of the personal unconscious is that it is the storehouse of repressed material and latent personality potentials that may or may not manifest in one’s lifetime.
More reading: The Four Ego Functions

The Self
Another important term is the Self which is often confused with the ego. As the ego is only a temporal structure that gives us an identity in this life, the Self is from a higher order than the ego. The Self is that what we are in essence, those aspects that let one realize and attain the highest level of existence in a lifetime. In psychological terms, it encompasses the conscious, the unconscious, and the ego. The Self is the central archetype in the collective unconscious, like the Sun is the center of the solar system. The Self is the archetype of order, organization and unity. It unifies the personality. The Self is our goal of life, because it is the most complete expression of the highest unity that we call individuality.

Conscious and Unconscious
What we also have in common is a conscious and an unconscious. With the conscious we are able to experience everyday life. Consciousness is what we perceive with our biased ego {as described above as a function of the ego, thoughts, feelings, etc.}. Consciousness is the ego, the personality built around the outer environment so to fit with the social demands and peer pressures. Consciousness is no more than half of who and what we really are. The conscious being is often weak, given to submit to the urges and desires of the body and waking mind. Usually thought of as the center of life, conscious knowing or waking knowledge, it is built upon a foundation of unknowing, bricks and mortar that is the unconscious.

The unconscious is a part of ourselves that kind of remains in the background, but is in no way inactive or inert. The unconscious is composed of hidden aspects of ourselves that continue to work on the conscious and thus on our everyday life, although we are not mostly not aware of it. The unconscious is a regulator that is capable of bringing the life into balance. But more than that the unconscious will often lead us away from that harmonious being we wish to be. Unconscious tendencies can be stronger than our conscious, and can even go against our will. They can be controlling of the conscious life, possessing the individual and 'pushing' the person to act in a particular manner without a conscious knowledge of the source. When we act or react in a flare of anger we will often feel sorry afterwards. When we act in a manner that is contrary to the basic principles in one's life it is often prompted by unconscious tendencies that stem from early life experiences. We are consciously unaware of the tendencies but the governing experiences have made a home within the unconscious and are capable of surfacing anytime during life when those original experiences are awakened. The stimulus for these awakenings are various but when there is an investigation of the person's life, especially the early life including the earliest years, there can be a recognition of the stimulus. This investigation is the individuation process, a self examination of oneself and one's life.

Personal and Collective Unconscious
Jung divided the unconscious in two parts: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The personal unconscious is Carl Jung's term for the Freudian unconscious, as contrasted with the collective unconscious. The personal conscious only belongs to yourself. It is the collection of subliminal perceptions, repressed or forgotten memories, wishes, and emotions in an individual. The memories of the personal unconscious can be evoked, although they cannot be totally controlled by will. It is where the psychic contents which are either too weak to reach consciousness reside, which can be actively suppressed by the ego because the latter is threatened by them. Sometimes an accidental association will bring them to light. Sometimes they appear in dreams and fantasies. Hypnosis can also reveal them.

Collective Unconscious
Jung coined the term “collective unconscious” to refer to that part of a person's unconscious which is common to all human beings, as opposed to personal unconscious, which is unique to each individual. According to Jung the collective unconscious contains archetypes, which are forms or symbols that are manifested by all people in all cultures. The collective unconscious might be described as patterns that are in the unconscious because of evolution, rather than because of the individuals experience. Jung described the collective unconscious as "unconscious images of instincts themselves." This is one of Jung's most original contributions to psychology. Underneath the modern surface of the mind lurks the original primitive mentality of our ancestors, complete with vivid stories and symbols that have a natural appeal to us and seem to appear unbidden in our dreams and fantasies.

Becoming Individuated

To Jung individuation means becoming an in-dividual, it implies becoming one's own self. We could thus translate it as "self-realization." The average person is content with limited horizons that do not include knowledge of the collective unconscious. When there is the realization and an understanding of the collective unconscious the life opens up to the true influences that make up the life. Those influences and experiences that shape the life, those stored within the personal unconscious, have the greatest affect on the later stages of life. But the collective experiences we all share with mankind also have its influences. To understand these influences and incorporate them into the life is to open the doors to becoming a truly whole person, finding a balance in life where the outer ego personality is at ease and in accord with that true inner self. More than anything else, a truly individuated person becomes that 'inner being', letting the Self take control of the outer self and resisting the temporal urges and desires of the ego mind. For Jung this requires a recognition of the creative aspects which in turn manifests into a spiritual being, this being the highest aspect in life.

The ultimate 'individuated' person is situated in a life where creativity, or that thing in life that fulfills the soul's deepest desire, is the goal if not the life itself. This usually occurs at midlife or later. The first stages of life, birth through early adulthood, are 'forward looking', focused on building and maintaining an ego personality, fitting in with the social norms, marriage, career, and outer sources of fulfillment. At midlife this begins to change. The children become independent of the parents, the career is established, the marriage either enters into accepted routines or ends in divorce, outer sources of fulfillment no longer are enough to satisfy, and the ego enters into a crisis phase. Added to this is the realization of death, no one lives forever. Life is at the midpoint, halfway and beyond to conclusion. We begin to look back instead of looking forward. What we find is often total dissolution. We either begin a search for meaning or continue to live in a 'wasteland' of what could have been, what should have been.
Further Reading: Personality Set for Life By 1st Grade, Study Suggests

A Beginning

The individuation process begins with becoming conscious of the Persona, the mask we take on in our every day life. The task is to remove the mask and see the real person. The 'secret' thoughts we all have, thinking to ourselves, the deepest thoughts beyond what placates the ego, those experiences from living life that have formed who we are, this is the true person. Much of it is 'hidden' within the personal unconscious because of the emotional pain that it causes. More of it is never realized because of the neglect of the collective instincts within the psyche. To remove the mask and let 'it all out', this is the beginning of self-realizing the person within. It is often very frightening {and thus repressed}. The experiences from early life always have less than satisfactory results, psychological neglect if not physical harm. These experiences do not go away, they are stored within the unconscious and more often than not hold sway over the conscious life. It is the uncovering and discovery of these life long influences that put a person on a path to healing. Removing the mask to discover those unconscious contents that are 'secretly' governing the conscious life. This involves primarliy the personal unconscious recognizition of experiences. But the ultimate discovery is the 'bliss' in life, that thing the soul wishes for, the spiritual concept Jung states most of his patients discovered when they dared ventured into the depths of the unconscious soul.

Complexes: The Fundamental Elements of the Personal Unconscious

What makes up the Personal Unconscious. Carl Jung’s answer is Complexes. A complex – also called by Jung a “feeling toned complex” – is the group of associations organized around a particular archetype in a given individual’s psyche. Hence, for example, those qualities that, due to a particular person’s unique experience with nurturing caregivers, were associated with their Collective Unconscious’ mother archetype make up the mother complex in that person’s Personal Unconscious.

Since we have a number of archetypes in our Collective Unconscious, we also have a number of related complexes in our Personal Unconscious. Some may be accessible to consciousness, while others may be exiled from awareness as a result of trauma. These complexes may assert themselves at various times, thrusting related material into consciousness. In doing so, the complexes may even create the experience of an array of sub-personalities within the individual psyche, a phenomenon, central to the Internal Family Systems model, known as multiplicity of mind. Indeed, many of Jung’s later interests and ideas originated from the seed planted by a very early powerful exposure to multiplicity of mind in which, as a young boy, he suddenly experienced himself as containing a second personality, that of a wise old man.

At times, perhaps as a result of a particular trigger, a complex may not only inject material into awareness, but may hijack the Ego and exert a powerful control over the psyche. Such an event - analogous to the blending of an extreme part with the Self or the hijacking of the cortex by the emotional brain may be Jung’s way of describing the process that ignites our defense mechanisms. Whenever we are acting in ways disconnected from our usual character or out of proportion with the reality of our present situation, it is possible that a complex has been activated. Among the many complexes in our Personal Unconscious, two – the Ego and the Persona – are of particular importance to Jungian psychologists.
Further Reading: Jung's Psychological Types

Archetypes: The Fundamental Elements of the Collective Unconscious

According to Jung, every human being is born with a psyche that expects to engage with particular forces and influences and to undergo certain life milestones typical, evolutionarily, of the human condition and experience. For instance, our psyches have evolved to expect us to be born, to expect us to have parents, to expect us to encounter particular types of other people and creatures with which we share the earth, to expect us to have children, and to expect us to eventually die. These fundamental psychological expectations have become embodied, Jung claimed, in a common set of basic tendencies in the unconscious that predispose us to generate particular ideas, concepts and imagery related to them. He called these tendencies the Archetypes.

As we go out into and encounter the world, Jung taught, these archetypes then “actualize,” as particular individual experiences organize themselves around the various “pegs” provided by the archetypes, determining the specific qualities that any given person associates with that particular archetypal concept. So, for example, when we engage with an early nurturing caregiver, those qualities and ideas that we perceive as related to that figure – kind or unkind, warm or distant, beautiful or ugly, blonde or brunette - associate themselves with the mother archetype and, through that combination, form our particular conception of what a mother is. A similar process plays out as real world material interacts with archetypal influences related to other subjects ranging from the hero to the wise old man.

It must be noted that the resulting “archetypal” ideas, concepts and imagery, which drive us to deduce the existence of the underlying invisible archetypes, are not themselves the archetypes. The archetypes themselves consist only of the potential and tendency to create these and, of their own, have no substance. To help us understand this slippery distinction, Jung used the analogy of an animal’s instincts. Imagine that we discover, without exception, a particular instinct that motivates birds of specific type to carry out a certain behavior. Clearly, because we observe that all birds of that species share this instinct, there must be some common underlying genetic, anatomical or psychological structure that generates the universal impulse among these birds to carry out this behavior. However, that underlying structure itself is not the instinct, but rather – like the archetype – simply a hardwired tendency for such a behavior.

Jung recognized a number of such hardwired tendencies in the human Collective Unconscious. However, certain of these archetypes took center stage in his model of the psyche.

These most fundamental archetypes include The Shadow, The Anima & Animus, and the Self.
Steps in the Individuation Process/Analytical Psychotherapy

During Analytical Psychotherapy, the client is assisted in connecting with various complexes and aspects of the psyche. However, in particular, the process focuses on the further integration of two major complexes.
Techniques of Achieving Individuation

Analytical Psychotherapy may employ a wide range of techniques in order to bring to awareness and explore elements of the psyche. However, the most common methods include: