What is individuation?
Developed by Carl Jung, the concept of individuation has various facets:
- It is the procedure by which we become individuals. We claim our uniqueness — our likes and dislikes, values, tastes, personality, viewpoints, interpretations, interests, goals, habits, idiosyncrasies, habits, purposes, philosophy of life, our place in the world, our way of doing things, and our style (even in mundane matters such as fashion and hairstyle). Individuation is essentially the same as “ego development.”
- It is the fulfillment of our potential and our destiny. When we come into this world, we probably have neither a totally “blank slate” nor a totally predetermined fate; instead, we probably have “tendencies” and “possibilities,” which are like the features on a home’s blueprint. Our personal decisions determine the extent to which we enact those tendencies and possibilities, in the individuation process.
- It is one of the natural drives of life. Carl Jung said that the drive toward individuation is as powerful as the drives of sex and hunger.
- It is a human process, not a religious process. We do not try to be perfect, nor do we try to conform to traditional religious ideals (such as “goodness”), although Jung said that we can examine the religious journey as an analogy and model in our psychological journey of individuation. Although individuation is not a religious process, it is a spiritual process; we are learning about the archetypes of life as we express them personally.
- It is a universal process. Individuation — the novel consummation of potential from a basic framework — can be seen in various forms:
- Groups of people evolve into distinct families and corporations and cultures.
- Our physical body individuates. We all have the same basic parts, but their shape is slightly different for each of us.
- We can discern individual traits among natural phenomena, e.g., snowflakes, flowers, trees, etc.
- Individuation does not lead to total autonomy. On the contrary:
- We discover our similarities with other people. As we define ourselves, we recognize the same emotions, longings, challenges, and archetypal foundations that occur in other people.
- We learn that the various parts of ourselves do not exist in isolation; instead, they are parts of systems which extend within ourselves, and outward to society. For example, when we explore our individual emotional needs, we realize that many of them can be satisfied only through interactions and interdependence with other people. As Carl Jung said (in The Practice of Psychotherapy), “Individuation is an at-one-ment with oneself and at the same time with humanity, since oneself is a part of humanity.”
- Individuation enhances the quality of relationships. Our relationships become more intimate, because we are reaching out as a distinct person, not from a position of vagueness and superficial role-playing.Techniques for individuation.
- Archetypal field-work.
- Self-talk. For example: “I enjoy being a unique individual.” “I have distinct tastes regarding every part of life.” “The differences between myself and other people are interesting.” “Variety is the spice of life.”
- Directed imagination. We can visualize ourselves expressing our pleasant idiosyncrasies to an accepting audience.
- Energy toning. The energy tones include courage, exuberance, playfulness, creative flair, etc.
- The “as if” principle. We can act as if we possess the qualities which we believe are representative of “who we really are.”
- Intuition. Intuition guides us in the selection of our unique qualities. We intuit that a particular trait is right for us.
- We develop our ego. The individuation process is the development of the ego, i.e., our human self. As we refine our ego, we question (and perhaps discard) the ideas and roles which have been suggested by other forces:
- External forces. These forces include parents, teachers, peers, religion, society, traditions, victimizers, and other external forces. We can reject the “participation mystique” in which our identity was submerged within our groups, e.g., family, culture, “isms,” etc. (Participation mystique is necessary in youth, before the ego is strong enough to support individuality, but it is abandoned in later stages of development.)
- Internal forces. These forces include a-field elements which we have adopted into our ego. If we re-evaluate these elements, we might decide that we would prefer to put them into the shadow, while accepting the opposite qualities into the ego; for example, we might decide that we would like to put our “shyness” into the shadow, to allow our natural friendliness to emerge.
- We develop our persona. The persona is the part of us which we present to the world; it is our individuality in society.
- We cultivate courage. Individuation can be difficult and painful. Although we seem to have an instinct toward psychological growth, we also have drives toward security and stability, so we often resist growth (and the changes which ensue) unless it is unavoidable. Growth can be difficult; it can be frightening; it can be experienced as a “death” of our old ways and our old relationships; it can evoke the existential aloneness of one who does not “go along with the crowd.” And it can hurt; as Jung said, “There is no birth of consciousness without pain.” But he said that the pain and the adversities are necessary because they force us to re-assess our values, self-esteem, and courage. Individuation is a journey of conflict, as we continually assert our individuality against the internal seduction toward psychological placidity and even regression, and against the external demand for social conformity and “adjustment.” But the refusal to allow the individuation process can be even more painful; we experience psychological stagnation and crises, and even neurosis or psychosis (according to Jung).
- We learn the difference between individualism and individuation. Jung said that individualism is an intentional exaggeration of differences, while individuation is a personal consummation of our common archetypal traits.
- Archetypal field-work.