Friday, December 4, 2009

Essays - Components of Individuation: Part I - What is Individuation?

“Individuation” is a term often associated with Jung and his psychology. In this four-part essay we are going to define “individuation” and discuss some of the benefits, elements and requirements for achieving individuation (Part I). Then we’ll examine several components of it, specifically the locus of control (Part II), the locus of authority (Part III) and the locus of security (Part IV).

What is “Individuation”?

Our English word comes from the Latin individuus, meaning “undivided” or “individual.”[1] The dictionary defines “individuation” as “the process leading to individual existence, as distinct from that of the species.”[2] This definition applies the term to both animals and humans. Jung’s usage focused on humans and the concept became central to his approach to psychology.[3]

Jung recognized the importance he placed on individuation in his 1921 definition of the term:

The concept of individuation plays a large role in our psychology. In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual... as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation... having for its goal the development of the individual personality.[4]

In later years, Jung amplified his definition in a series of essays, describing “individuation” as

... the process by which a person becomes a psychological “in-dividual,” that is a separate, indivisible unity or “whole.”[5]

...the better and more complete fulfillment of the collective qualities of the human being,...[6]

... practically the same as the development of consciousness out of the original state of identity.... It is thus an extension of the sphere of consciousness, an enriching of conscious psychological life.[7]

... becoming an “in-dividual,” and, in so far as “individuality” embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one’s own self. We could therefore translate individuation as “coming to selfhood,” or “self-realization.” [8]

Jung felt this process of “self-realization” was a “natural transformation,”[9] something that “the unconscious had in mind,”[10] something meant to develop our individual personality.

Jung also regarded “individuation” as a solution to what he considered one of the major problems facing modern people: How to link up consciousness to the unconscious; how to bring our ego mind (consciousness) into a working relationship with our inner terra incognita, our unknown inner terrain.[11] Concern about this problem was not unique to Jung: thousands of years ago Taoist and Buddhist practitioners had also seen its significance. Jung recognized this when he noted that “... the individuation process ... forms one of the main interests of Taoism and of Zen Buddhism.”[12] Coming from a Christian background, as the son of a Protestant minister, Jung also recognized a Christian relevance to the concept, when he described individuation as “... the primitive Christian idea of the Kingdom of Heaven which ‘is within you’.”[13]

Aware of Western culture’s vaunting of individualism, Jung took pains to stress the difference between “individualism” and “individuation.” The former concept is ego-driven and fosters selfishness and lack of concern for others. (Think of the bumper sticker that celebrates “Looking out for #1!”). Individuation is very much the opposite: Over the years of inner work the process requires, the person experiences repeated crucifixions of the ego as the ego confronts and assimilates contents of the unconscious. This long-term process

... brings to birth a consciousness of human community precisely because it makes us aware of the unconscious, which unites and is common to all mankind. Individuation is an at-one-ment with oneself and at the same time with humanity, since oneself is a part of humanity.[14]

So, far from being selfish, an individuated person feels deeper responsibility to support and serve others and to foster peace, wholeness and integrity in the world.

Some Requirements of the Process of Individuation

Mention of crucifying the ego brings up the subject of what individuation entails. It’s challenging, a task for heroes,[15] not for the faint of heart or for those who can’t stand against the crowd and be different. Divisio (being divided not only from others but also within oneself), separatio (being separated not only from family, friends and collective society, but also from the person you used to be), solutio (watching the structures of your life dissolve), discrimination, self-knowledge, “a positive torture”[16]—these are just a few of the hardships likely to be faced in this work. Jung was being honest about the task when he warned “ always every step forward along the path of individuation is achieved only at the cost of suffering.”[17]

Why such difficulty? Jung gives several reasons. First, we grow up under parents and society, striving to become what is expected of us and the result is what Jung called the development of the “persona,” or mask. In many cases, the persona is not our true self. We have had to compromise, adapt, even, in extreme cases, betray our authentic nature. The process of individuation requires getting wise to this mask, that is, we have to face the fact that for years (if not decades) we have been living a lie.[18] And then we have to give up this lie, put down the mask and begin to change our life so as to live more aligned with our authentic being. Such change almost inevitably elicits remarks (maybe even protests) from those who know us best, those most deeply invested in how we used to be, those likely to be most affected by our shifting the parameters of daily life, i.e. our family and closest friends.[19]

Second, individuation requires heroism because it is hard to be different, to step out of the mainstream conventional reality and march to one’s own drummer. The work is not a herd phenomenon. You aren’t going to find many people doing it.[20] For this reason Extraverts, who tend to resonate with the collective and appreciate group activities, find the process harder than Introverts.

A third difficulty comes from the self-knowledge that is part of the process. “Self-knowledge” means becoming conscious of the unconscious: facing our shadow and becoming aware of the reality of our “inner partner,” the animus (for women) or the anima (for men).[21] The work of individuation takes us through the “swamplands of the soul”[22] in the nigredo phase mentioned in an earlier essay.[23] While Jung was clear that the unconscious takes to us the attitude we take to it,[24] for most people it takes a while (if it ever happens at all!) to develop a cheerful attitude toward the unconscious.

By this point you might well be wondering “Why bother?” Yes, Jung put great emphasis on achieving individuation but if it’s so difficult, why make the effort? Jung suggests multiple benefits.

Benefits of Achieving Individuation

Let’s mention the personal benefits first. Jung was explicit that the work of individuation was

... absolutely indispensable because, through his contamination with others, [the human being] falls into situations and commits actions which bring him into disharmony with himself.... there is begotten a compulsion to be and to act in a way contrary to one’s own nature. Accordingly a man ... feels himself to be in a degrading, unfree, unethical condition.... deliverance from this condition will come only when he can be and act as he feels is conformable with his true self.[25]

Achieving individuation allows us to be and act in conformity with our true self.

There are other personal benefits. If we stay on the path, stick with the work, we come to enjoy a widened circle of consciousness.[26] Our sense of separateness ends and we gain broader, more intense relationships with others.[27]

We also experience the apocatastasis mentioned in the previous blog essay—that “restoration” or reconstitution of our being that makes the travail of the apocalypse seem well worth the suffering.[28] Life works better. We feel deep in our bones that what we are doing, how we are living, with whom we are living (our new circle of friends) is what our soul intends for us. The quality of the people we draw into our life is better (“like finds like”). We know that the employment we take up has purchase on our soul. Our values mesh with our lifestyle and our actions speak our soul purpose.

We feel liberated from the unconsciousness of our parents, which permits our feeling “... a genuine sense of ... true individuality.”[29] At the same time as we experience a greater feeling of freedom from our past, we also experience an “... absolute, binding and indissoluble communion with the world at large.”[30]

Which brings us to the societal benefits of individuation. Time and again Jung stressed in his work that individuals matter (see the essay on “Jung’s Timelessness” in the archive of this blog). Anyone of us could be “the makeweight that tips the scales,”[31] and so, in our taking up the task of individuating, each of us is undertaking “... a healing with with universal impact” and “... laying up an infinitesimal gram in the scales of humanity’s soul.”[32] Given the critical nature of our time (as described in earlier essays), Jung would regard no individual activity to be more meaningful and useful than becoming individuated.

In the second part of this essay, we will examine one of the most basic components—a prerequisite—for individuation: internalizing a locus of control.


Hollis, James (1996), Swamplands of the Soul. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Jung, Carl Gustav (1971), “Psychological Types,” CW 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sharp, Daryl (1991), Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms and Concepts. Toronto: Inner City Books

- Submitted by Sue Mehrtens

[1] World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, I, 1003.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jung, Collected Works, 6, ¶757. As has been the convention throughout these blog essays, CW will hereafter be the abbreviation for Jung’s Collected Works.

[4] Ibid.

[5] CW, 9i, ¶490.

[6] CW, 7, ¶267.

[7] CW, 6, ¶762.

[8] CW, 7, ¶266.

[9] CW, 9i, ¶234.

[10] CW, 91, ¶530

[11] CW, 9i, ¶523 and 620; cf. Sharp (1991), 67.

[12] CW, 91, ¶602.

[13] CW, 7, ¶373.

[14] CW, 16, ¶227.

[15] CW, 9i, ¶281.

[16] CW, 11, ¶411.

[17] Ibid.

[18] CW, 7, ¶310.

[19] Jesus recognized this when he warned that from now on there will be a mother against a daughter, father against a son, etc.; Luke 12:51-53.

[20] CW, 6, ¶761.

[21] CW, 7, ¶310.

[22] This is the title of a book by James Hollis that examines in depth the journey to individuation; Hollis (1996)

[23] The 4 phases of alchemy—the nigredo, albedo, rubedo and citrinitas—were described in the three-part essay “Jung’s Prophetic Visions and the Alchemy of Our Time,” posted to this blog in January, February and March 2009.

[24] CW, 16, ¶329.

[25] CW, 7, ¶373.

[26] CW, 11, ¶401.

[27] Ibid. and CW, 6, ¶758.

[28] CW, 11, ¶401.

[29] CW, 7, ¶393.

[30] CW, 7, ¶275.

[31] CW, 10, ¶586.

[32] CW, 16, ¶449.

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