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.