Updated: Sep 13
Without doubt, one of the most influential psychologists of the last few centuries is the Swiss born Carl Gustav Jung. Jung is still heavily cited today amongst prominent psychologists and philosophers, and his work spans multiple (seemingly separate) fields of thought and study – from the rigours of applicable science to the realms of esoteric metaphysics and spirituality. For those on the journey, the work of Jung remains a priceless tool in becoming whole, and dare I say – may play a part in the murky waters that is defining and striving for ‘enlightenment’.
Most notably, Jung was renowned for his work involving the psyche, shadow, integration, unconscious, dreams, archetypes, symbolism and the concept and process that is individuation. This post will focus on the latter mentioned concept of individuation – what it is, an overview of its process, and its part in individual self-development as a holistic practice.
Integration and understanding of our shadow aspects of self are a vital part of the individuation process.
Not for the faint of heart.
To Jung – individuation was more than a practice only confined to the psychological realm. To him, it encompassed the mystical, spiritual and philosophical components of a human being. Painting in broad strokes, the process of individuation can be seen as the attainment of self-actualization through the realization and integration of the conscious and unconscious aspects of one’s self (I use a small ‘s’ here when writing self as to not conflate with the more commonly used capitalised ‘Self’ in spiritual contexts – mainly referring to one’s highest Self or consciousness, awareness, God etc..) In the process of individuation, we integrate all aspects of our personality of which we are currently not conscious of – the parts that remain hidden for various reasons: protection, shame, guilt; even those parts of ourselves we wish not to look at, the parts we cast aside, wishing in some way, that they cannot be us. There are three main stages amongst the individuation process: the shadow, the anima/animus and the Self.
The shadow, as previously mentioned, represents all the parts of ourselves we have shun, turned away from, cut off, denied or ignored. In the process of integration, these parts are welcomed, looked at and integrated into consciousness, so to become truly whole. It is to know our aspects we wish were perhaps not there, and to exert our ability to control the whole range of our capacities.
The anima and animus represent the unconscious feminine and masculine aspects of our psyches. They do not necessarily refer to only those shadow aspects; they may also be a positive form of their respective branch. For example, a healthy anima within a man displays the man’s capacity for tenderness, understanding and nurturing. Alternatively, repression of the anima may see a man act impulsively, erratically, emotionally turbulent and possessive. This is true of the animus in the female. We can see positivity in the form of its expression through strength courage and vitality, while repression of it may translate as aggressiveness, ruthlessness and corruption. In the context of individuation, both the anima and animus are to remain un-repressed, and allowed to be integrated into consciousness and action through healthy understanding and control.
The Self (big ‘S’) is the archetype of the realised human, the transcendent and embodied – the whole. Jung himself described the Self (borrowing heavily from Eastern philosophy and spirituality) as the “totality of the whole psyche”. In this way, it is distinguished from the ego – our main conscious modus operandi that we take to be ourselves.
Jung talked of many methods and tools to utilise in the process of individuation, and was heavily in favour of dream work: expressing his idea that dreams serve as a function of the unconscious to speak to us in symbols on issues or aspects of self that require attention. This language is non-linear and often fantastical, drawing on personal and archetypal symbolism in it’s expressions and messages. That is perhaps a topic too deep for discussion in this post; though, I will note one main symbol and its common representation – that of water, especially bodies of water (seas, rivers etc) as representing the unconscious and even one’s emotions. Things like colour, clarity and contents of the water then come into play and provide some insight into the dreamer.
Anima & Animus: A key component to the process of individuation.
In summing up, Jung often stated that the Individuation path is not necessarily a safe one, and definitely not one for the light hearted. It is wrought with danger, fear and even terror: for it takes courage, strength and tenacity to venture into the areas of self we dare to tread.
I will leave the post with a quote from Jung on the subject that perhaps will shed some insight into just what he thought of the process of individuation:
"The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are"