Friday, December 4, 2009

Essays - Components of Individuation: Part II - Internalization of a Locus of Control

Components of Individuation:

Part II—Internalizing a Locus of Control

In Part I of this four-part essay we noted that a pre-requisite for achieving individuation was internalizing a locus of control.

What does this mean?

Defining “Locus of Control”

I encountered the term “locus on control” in the works of Jungian analyst and astrologer Liz Greene.[1] It refers to the placement (locus) of one’s sense of responsibility or power. In the normal course of child development, the locus of control gradually shifts over time from the parents to the adolescent until the mature adult recognizes and takes up his/her responsibility for living as a well-functioning adult in society.

Jung’s consulting room was full of people whose personal development from child to adult was not normal. Jung’s clients had parents who were negligent, slothful, neurotically anxious or soullessly conventional.[2] Or their parents were clingy, and, as a result “... exercise an extremely bad influence over their children, since they deprive them of every opportunity for individual responsibility.”[3] Others of Jung’s clients were scarred from years of carrying their parents’ unconscious complexes, and, lacking the wherewithal to assimilate that complex, they remained stuck in “infantilism.”[4] Other clients had lived unconscious lives, “carried by society and to that extent [were] relieved of [their] responsibility.”[5] Whatever the personal history, the core situation was the same: externalization of a locus of control, an abdication of personal responsibility.

Jung on Responsibility, the “Blame Game” and the “Search for the Magical Other”

Jung’s writings are replete with calls for individuals to recognize and take up personal responsibility:

... the maturing personality must assimilate the parental complex and achieve authority, responsibility, and independence.[6]

… you could treat yourself if you don’t succumb to the prejudice that you receive healing through others. In the last resort every individual alone has to win his battle, nobody else can do it for him.[7]

... every man is, in a certain sense, unconsciously a worse man when he is in society than when acting alone; for he is carried by society and to that extent relieved of his individual responsibility.[8]

The bettering of a general ill begins with the individual, and then only when he makes himself and not others responsible.[9]

Making others responsible is what some call playing the “blame game.” When we play the “blame game,” we blame others for our current situation, and these “others” are most often our parents or other adults who played a prominent role in our upbringing. Jung provides an example of the blame game in “Symbols of Transformation:”

Faced by the vast uncertainty of the future, the adolescent puts the blame for it on the past, saying to himself: “If only I were not the child of my very ordinary parents, but the child of a rich and elegant count... then one day a golden coach would come and... take... his long-lost child back with him to his wonderful castle,...[10]

Clearly, Jung was familiar with this fruitless fantasy. He probably had many patients who were into playing the blame game. He recognized it as a morally lazy and ultimately frustrating endeavor,[11] as he explained to a Swiss Fräulein in a letter of 23 January 1941:

There are a whole lot of facts in your letter which you’ll just have to face up to instead of tracing them back to the faulty behavior of other people…. There are countless people with an inferior extraversion or with too much introversion or with too little money who in God’s name must plod along through life under such conditions. These conditions are not diseases but normal difficulties of life. If you blame me for your psychological difficulties it won’t help you at all, for it is not my fault you have them. It’s nobody’s fault. I can’t take these difficulties away from you, but have merely tried to make you aware of what you need in order to cope with them. If you could stop blaming other people and external circumstances for your own inner difficulties you would have gained an infinite amount. But if you go on making others responsible, no one will have any desire to stand by you with advice.[12]

As long as we see our problems as “out there,” caused by others, as long as we focus on assigning blame, we are refusing to face our own responsibility for dealing with the hand that Fate has dealt us.

This is not to say that Jung absolved parents of blame. He was quite blunt that most children who were brought to him with psychological problems were not the people he really needed to treat. Most of the time “problem children” were carrying their parents’ complexes and

In a case like this what would be the sense of talking to the child?... Such a procedure would ... burden her with a responsibility which is not hers at all, but really belongs to her parents....[13]

Jung would then try to treat the parent or parents, but sometimes the parents didn’t want to hear that their unconsciousness was the real cause of their child’s problem. Rather than take up analysis with Jung themselves, they would leave.

It is not uncommon for people to have experienced poor parenting. Lots of us have come away from our youth scarred, warped or injured from all sorts of tragic events. Jung was explicit that, whatever our personal histories, the key to successful living is accepting that, as adults, we are responsible for the rest of our lives. If in some way or ways our life is not working, blaming others will only keep us stuck in our “stuff.”

Likewise, searching for the “magical other” who will transform our reality and bring us happiness is another trap that will keep us stuck. James Hollis, Jungian analyst and prolific author, wrote on this “search for the magical other” in his book The Eden Project. He describes the “Magical Other” as that person who “will lift from us the terrible weight of our freedom and responsibility.” But he notes that “no one can ever do that.”[14]

Given our “culture of longing,”[15] we don’t want to hear this. I encounter many people in my work who continue to search, year after year, for a “magical other” who will solve their problems, relieve their loneliness, fix their finances, or serve as a buffer from the cold world outside. These people don’t want to hear that responsibility for all these complaints rests with themselves. They continue to externalize a locus of control.

Why does this matter?

There are several reasons why this matters. First, externalizing a locus of control infantilizes.[16] Jung is explicit about this. Living without taking responsibility for one’s life keeps us immature. It stunts our growth and thwarts our development.

Second, externalizing a locus of control fosters our gullibility and impressionability, at a time and in a culture where a finely honed faculty of discrimination and a critical mind are essential. Lacking an inner locus of control, we become prey to sly politicians, lying business people, shrewd salesmen and slick con artists eager to sell us a line or bilk us of our fortune.

A third reason why internalizing a locus of control matters relates to the Jungian concept of projection.[17] When we look at our life and see problems—situations that we don’t like, relationships that aren’t working—and then expect or demand that others change, we are projecting our own unconsciousness on to others. A very common example of this is the following: A Persephone woman[18] comes into my office complaining that her husband is a wastrel, spends all the money, leaves her little to buy food and pay the rent, and acts more or less like a little kid (he’s a puer). Her response to this situation is to wait, hoping that he will grow up. She is expecting him to change. She is projecting her own power (and puer) on to the husband, refusing to see that she is the only person in this situation who is likely to bring about a change. Days, weeks, months, even years may go by in this classic scenario, until one of three things happens: the husband dies (possibly having bankrupted the family one or more times first); the finances become so precarious that, faced with the imminent loss of their home, the woman kicks the husband out and takes up the challenge of living her own life; or the woman wakes up to the reality of her projections, internalizes her locus of control, takes back the power she projected on to her husband, and sets about creating a reality that works for her. This last is, of course, better than the other possibilities, but also the least likely, given that it requires the Persephone woman to make a descent into her inner underworld to access and assimilate her power.[19]

A final (and, to Jung, the most important) reason why internalizing a locus of control matters is that externalizing a locus of control precludes individuation. We will never be able to liberate ourselves from the wounds of parental complexes until we stop playing the blame game and take responsibility for healing our lives.[20] We will never be able to move into the fullness of our being as long as we keep searching for the magical other who will remove all our problems and create a world of bliss. The most basic of all components of individuation is facing the reality that “My life is mine and nobody else’s; I am responsible for what my life becomes; I am in control of my destiny and I can determine my future.”

No change is possible unless we change. As Gandhi reminded us, “we must be the change we wish to see in the world.” No one else is going to make it happen but us. And no one but us can internalize our locus of control.

Just as important to individuation as internalizing a locus of control is internalizing a locus of authority. That is the subject of Part III of this essay.


Bolen, Jean Shinoda (1984), Goddesses in Everywoman. New York: Harper & Row.

Greene, Liz & Howard Sasportas (1987), The Development of the Personality. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser.

Hillman, James (1979), The Puer Papers. Dallas TX: Spring Publications.

Hollis, James (1998), The Eden Project: The Search for the Magical Other. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Jung, Carl (1956) “Symbols of Transformation,” Collected Works, 5, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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

________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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

Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Neumann, Erich (1956), Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Perera, Sylvia Brinton (1981), Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women. Toronto: Inner City Press.

von Franz, Marie-Louise (1970), Puer Aeternus. Boston: Sigo Press.

-Submitted by Sue Mehrtens

[1]Greene & Sasportas (1987), 58.

[2] Jung, Collected Works, 17, ¶91. As has been the convention throughout these blog essays, CW will hereafter be the abbreviation for Jung’s Collected Works.

[3] CW, 17, ¶107a.

[4] CW, 17, ¶91, 220 and CW 7, ¶263.

[5] CW 7, ¶240.

[6] CW 8, ¶36.

[7] Letters, I, 126.

[8] CW 7, ¶240.

[9] CW 9i, ¶618.

[10]CW 5, ¶34.

[11] CW 18, ¶1398.

[12] Letters, I, 292.

[13] CW 17, ¶220.

[14] Hollis (1998), 79.

[15] Ibid.

[16] CW 7, ¶263.

[17]CW 17, ¶225.

[18] The Persephone woman is a frequently-found case of the “good daughter”—complaint, obedient, diligent and conscientious, but immature and unconscious of her own personal power, which she projects, most commonly on to her partner. Because she is, in essence, still a child, she tends to attract the child-man (Latin puer), an archetype characterized by spontaneity, irresponsibility, financial profligacy and a focus on having fun. See Bolen (1984), for a portrait of the Persephone woman, and von Franz (1970) and Hillman (1979) for a portrait of the puer.

[19] As the myth of Persephone and Pluto suggests, Persephone’s abduction by Pluto was ultimately for her benefit, as it transformed her into the Queen of the Underworld, that is, it brought her to an awareness of her power. Just as the myth entailed an act of force so in the life of a Persephone woman the “wake up” is usually brought about by some forceful, striking, unpleasant event. Neumann (1956) and Perera (1981) are two books, of many, that describe the process of descent into the underworld.

[20] CW 7, ¶373.

- Submitted by Sue Mehrtens

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