Dr Kaye Gersch PhD.  
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Couples therapist
Clinical Supervisor

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Individuation: by Dr Kaye Gersch PhD


This article builds on the quaternity of psychological types as proposed by Jung. The stone that Jung carved at Bollingen, which you see illustrated here, contains the symbols of individuation.  


Jung said, in CW 18, 1641 “I must, however, pay attention to the psychological fact that, so far as we can make out, individuation is a natural phenomenon, and in a way an inescapable goal, which we have reason to call good for us, because it liberates us form the otherwise insoluble conflict of opposites. It is not invented by man, but Nature herself produces its archetypal image. Thus the credo 'in the end all will be well' is not without its psychic foundation. But it is more than questionable whether this phenomenon is of any importance to the world in general, or only to the individual who has reached a more complete state of consciousness, to the “redeemed” individual".  (CW 18, 1641)



Individuation and the shadow, the persona, the inferior function and the religious question. (Much of the following is adapted from the Collected Works of C.G.Jung, vol. 18, paragraphs 1084 -1106)


Jung says we must pay attention to the psychological fact that, so far as we can make out, individuation is a natural phenomenon, and in a way an inescapable goal, which we have reason to call good for us, because it liberates us from the otherwise insoluble conflict of opposites.  It is not invented by man, but Nature herself produces its archetypal image. Thus the credo “ in the end all will be well” is not without its psychic foundation.  But it is more than questionable whether this phenomenon is of any importance to the world in general, or only to the individual who has reached a more complete state of consciousness, to the “redeemed” man in accordance with our Christian tenet. We could say, then, that the foundations of Christianity lead us toward Individuation.


However, Jung says elsewhere that individuation is the opus contra naturum. Jung “contradicts” himself all the time, especially between his earlier and later works. This apparent contradiction occurs because he continues to approach issues from different angles.


All of the psychological functions are represented in our approach to individuation, that is feeling, thinking, sensate and intuition.  This is one of the requirements of individuation itself, that we not be one sided, that we develop the inferior function(s).


The ultimate test is, “What will serve us in the hour of our death?” Dr Barbara Davies was the personal assistant of Marie-Louise von Franz in Zurich for 12 years.   Dr Davies says she learned many things from von Franz, but she learned most from the manner of her death, through the absolute embodying of individuation, which shone through every moment of von Franz’s long dying process.  What Dr Davies learned most from von Franz’s Individuation was not dependent upon the nod of approval from the father, ie Zurich, or even directly the work of Jung. It was not dependent on the big organization where power and other complexes confuse the work and the workers, but grew from her own inner process.  Some of the best Jungians that I know have not been trained in Zurich, and they retain a freshness that hasn’t become a dogma. 


Individuation centres around “the Self, which is the wholeness of the personality, the principal and archetype of orientation and meaning.  If all goes well individuation is harmonious, but it cannot tolerate self-deception.  Much dream and analytic work is about self-deception.  In Individuation, the Self becomes that which we are oriented towards or answerable to, rather than the ego, the collective, our professional body, or any outer authority.  The Self requires that we establish our own ethics, and the ready-made ones, no matter where we get them from, are not sufficient.


The dictum of the Delphic oracle, “Know thyself,” is the key.  By raising the personal unconscious to consciousness, the Individuation process makes the subject aware of things of which he is generally aware of in others, but never himself.  In this sense one joins the human race, by discovering that one really is like others, and not exempt in some way.  Mostly, however, knowing one’s self entails a process of differentiation - from other, the world, the collective, into an awareness of being an essentially unique individual.  One also allows the other this uniqueness.  Withdrawal of projections, expectations, attributions and judgments is a result.  Measuring others by collective mores is no longer possible.  We want to know them for themselves.  We cannot seek for validation from the collective, because we will no longer find it.  Or if we do, we are in danger of “loss of soul”.  Neither can we allow ourselves to merely imitate others.  This is why the creative arts of all kinds, from gardening to cooking, to painting to writing, become essential accompaniments to individuation. 


The persona, is a part of the collective psyche, part of an ideal image based upon what the society has designated as ideal.   In the persona, that which appears to be individual is in fact collective.  James Hillman attempts to differentiate between the two when he talks about style rather than fashion.  Fashion is a collective movement, style is something we have for ourselves -  or not!


For Jung the process of individuation was solitary, and lonely.  He said: “The consequence of my resolve (to follow the inner images) and my involvement with things which neither I nor anyone else could understand, was an extreme loneliness.”


Individuation is not a process of the intellect.  Jung realized the conflict between his professorship, and the world of the intellect, and his own inner imperatives, and when he was required by his own process to follow the inner, he had to leave the outer, and at this point he left his work at the university.  Often we have to make a conscious decision to follow the inner, and make a choice about the outer involvements which are too expensive for us.  If the individuation process has been delayed, or is very strong, and if we have not made the conscious choice to follow the inner, the psyche, via the unconscious, might even impose a period of inwardness upon us., through, for instance serious illness or accident This is what Jung meant when he said that when we do not make peace with the requirement of our life, Fate intervenes. The so-called midlife crisis is often, if not always, a call to Individuation, if we can recognize it.

Individuation requires a heroism which cannot be seen from the outside.  Many of the myths, including all the hero’s journeys, are about Individuation, including being cast out of society, being alone, etc.  Remember, however, that a triumphant return is also part of the story.  Patience, perseverance, devotion, self-sacrifice: these are demands of individuation which, if not fulfilled, are the cause of neurosis. Put another way, neurosis is an indication that we are resisting the Individuation process.


Relationship with the unconscious

Individuation requires an engagement with the unconscious, as well as our conscious achievements. This suggests a relationship of give and take, not a domination of one by the other.  If we allow the unconscious to dominate us, we can either feel puffed up with all the stuff we know, all the stuff we are privy to, and the ego gets in on the act and gets very self-confident, or we feel oppressed and crushed by the weight of the unconscious and thus lose self-confidence.  Much analytic work centres about achieving a reasonable dialogue with the unconscious.  The process of dealing with the unconscious in an ethical sense is one of dealing with either a minority or majority that has equal rights, equal value.

The opposites. It is human nature in an unrefined or undeveloped form, to take sides. This is played out in football team allegiances, political parties, and styles of psychological inquiry! Fundamentalisms of every kind espouse one view at the expense of another. Nietzsche escaped the collision of the opposites by going into the madhouse.  Taking the high moral ground is an example of how we escape our own personal opposites.  The truth is always more complex than one view.  We often feel more comfortable when we project certain values which we abhor, onto others.  Jung said that the first step towards individuation is to withdraw our projections, and claim these unwanted values back.  The unwanted values, or rejected aspects of self consititute the Shadow.


The Shadow. Individuation begins with awareness of one’s own shadow. The shadow is that which does not fit in with the laws and regulations of conscious life.  The shadow contains the inferior or fourth function which acts autonomously towards consciousness and cannot be harnessed by the conscious mind.   One has to admit to tendencies which are in the shadow and allow them some measure of realization, of living them out.  One then goes against the conscious persona, and self-loathing may well result.  But without self-reliance, individuation is unthinkable.


What is the difference between individualism and individuation?

Individualism means deliberately stressing and giving prominence to some supposed peculiarity rather than to collective considerations and obligations.


But individuation means precisely the better and more complete fulfillment of the qualities of the human being, since adequate consideration of the peculiarity of the individual is more conducive to a better social performance than when the peculiarity is neglected or suppressed. 


The idiosyncrasy of an individual is not to be understood as any strangeness in his substance or in his components, but rather a unique combination, or gradual differentiation, of functions and faculties which in themselves are universal.   Individuation, therefore can only mean a process of psychological development that fulfills the individual qualities given; in other words it is a process by which an individual becomes the definite, unique being he in fact is.    In so doing one does not become “selfish” in the ordinary sense of the word, but is merely fulfilling the peculiarity of one’s nature, and this is vastly different from egotism or individualism.


Individuation aims at a living co-operation of all factors.  But since the universal factors only appear in individual form, a full consideration of them will also produce an individual effect, and one which cannot be surpassed by anything else, least of all by individualism. The aim of individuation is nothing less than to divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona. 


Why is the psychology of religion important to our inquiry into Individuation?

The archetypes of religion are some of the strongest influences upon our conscious and unconscious minds, regardless of which country we live in.  We project upon religion, whether we are or have been “true believers” or are “lapsed” or atheists.  It is useful for us to know what we are projecting and why. Jung suggested that we have to be humble enough to go into the religions of our culture to make this inquiry.


There are some factors within a religious tradition which assist the individuation process, and some which mitigate against the individuation process and we need to know the difference. Religion catches our instinct toward the sacred, the Grail myth, and can represent effectually or misrepresent disastrously what we are working towards, that is the direct relationship with the Self in a personal way. We can examine the Christian religion in such a way that we understand the psychology behind it - we can even say it was the psychology of previous times. What we once took literally ie as metaphysical truth, we can now apply symbolically.  Indeed, that which we were once enslaved by when we took it literally, as symbol can set us free.


“The loss of gnosis ie the direct knowledge of ultimate things, weighs more heavily than is generally admitted. Gnosis refers to the sense of absolute certainty of knowing something of great value as a result of experience, and of being unshakeable in this confidence; Heidegger refers to this as “taking to mind and heart and keeping at heart.”  Such knowing might not be expressed in logical, discursive terms.”


The symbols of the Self cannot be distinguished from the God image.  Individuation is the correct relationship between the ego and the Self.  Christ, then, can be understood as a symbol of the Self and the descent of the (the unconscious) as the Self- actualization of man. 


Jung makes the important point that the “gifts of the holy spirit” are somewhat mixed and not always to be desired (by the ego). That is, we might not at all like the changes which are required of us by the dictates of the Self - that is it might appear to be destructive and at the very least , disruptive.  It is also not related, necessarily, to good conduct or good moral behaviour.  Not moral, but ethical. Morality is gained by following a code of prescribed behaviour. Ethics is gained by individual choice, opposition, and culpability. 


Individuation and religious terminology, ie Christian symbolism.  Instead of using the term God, you can use “unconscious”, instead of Christ “Self”, instead of incarnation “integration of the unconscious”, instead of salvation or redemption “individuation”, instead of crucifixion or sacrifice on the cross “realization of the four functions or wholeness”. I think that it is no disadvantage to religious tradition if we can see how far it coincides with psychological experience.  On the contrary it seems to me a most welcome aid in understanding religious traditions.


The unconscious is the “stream of lava, and the heat of its fires reshaped my life,” according to Jung. (Memories, Dreams and Reflections, p 199)   We are compelled to go through this process of the unconscious, being carried along by the current.  All the paths that we follow lead back to the centre, to the Self, and the mandala is the representation of this, and the centre is individuation.


What is the role of analysis in Individuation?

Analytic work is a microcosm of Iife, or the crucible in which individuation is conducted. At first the analysand adapts to the personality of the analyst, ie through the importance of the relationship itself, and this is personal.  The second aspect is the process of gaining understanding and this is impersonal. Ultimately Individuation is not adaptive, because “the demand for individuation is against all adaptation to others” (CW 18, para 1091-1094). Put another way, conformity must be broken with, and thus guilt arises. Love is ultimately the key, to discharging the guilt.


At first the analyst is the representative of faith and love, later “humanity itself takes the place of the analyst and to it is offered expiation for the guilt of individuation.”  Jung says the analysand must offer a ransom in place of himself, that is he must bring forth values which are an equivalent substitute for his absence in the collective sphere.”  The man who cannot create inner values should sacrifice himself consciously to the spirit of collective conformity.   This is very often the case - people could be “married to an ideal”, for instance. Only to the extent that a one creates objective values can one individuate.    Individuation is exclusive adaption to inner reality rather than collective conformity.


Values are won by the conquest of inner realities.  Stepping into solitude, into the cloister of the inner self.  Whoever cannot do this must re-establish collective conformity with a group of his own choice.  What society demands is a conscious identification, a treading of accepted, authorized paths.  Only by accomplishing an equivalent is one exempted from this. (ibid 1095-1099)


The next step is for the individual to cut himself off from the God-concept and become wholly himself.    Jung saw “God” as a representation of the Self, and an externalization of it.  When one brings this within, the God without becomes irrelevant.  This is not necessarily a conscious process or a willing one, but is nevertheless a natural consequence of individuation, where projections are withdrawn, including the projection of “God”.  (ibid.para 1103)

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