Individuation

Individuation is a term that is linked with Jungian psychology. It refers to the process of becoming one’s self, to becoming whole and distinct as opposed to being part of the collective. Individuation is a key concept in Jung’s contribution to psychological and personality development. While many of us may live lives without having to look too closely at the riddles of our identity, others may find that at certain times it is necessary to look behind our persona, the mask of our ego identity, and not just to look at the deeper sense of the self that lies within us, but actively allow that self to emerge.

I use the term ‘individuation’ to denote the process by which a person becomes ‘in-dividual’, that is a separate indivisible unity or ‘whole’.

Jung, CG Collected works vol 9i, para 490

Individuation, Maturity, and Psychological Experience

Typically, as we mature, our psychological experience involves our attention and identity becoming fixed upon particular ideas of who we are, what is important to us, and so on. Over time, these experiences can become linked to rather narrow notions of who we are.

Individuation refers to the possibility that we might be able to give up our attachment to narrow senses of ourselves, and to connect with a deeper and more sustaining area of ourselves; the Self with a capital S.

Developing ego consciousness is a necessary part of the process of psychological development. In Jung’s model, the self is at the centre of the individual, and the ego is part of the external presentation of the person. Throughout life we may go through a series of ego identifications that we gradually relinquish as we mature and turn our attention to the self, the centre of ourselves.

Individuation and Ego-Identification

Typically we can become stuck at various points of ego identification and see our identities as fixed. When all goes well that may be unproblematic, but sometimes we are forced to adapt, relinquish, and give up aspects of our identity as we adapt to changes in our circumstances.

For Jung psyche is an organ of adaptation that works throughout life to help us continue the evolution of ourselves so that we can continue to grow, and give up our fixed attachment to how we see ourselves and how others see us. Because if we remain too rigidly attached to particular ideas about who we are and what is important to us we may become inflexible, like trees that cannot bend to the pressure of wind and erosion and who in the end must fall. The process of individuation is an organic acceptance of ongoing change, it is a healthy process.

The process of individuation is a circumambulation of the self as the centre of the personality which thereby becomes unified.

A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, Samuels, Shorter and Plaut

In psychotherapy, through paying attention to our creative impulses, to our dreams, we may become conscious of areas of ourselves that have long been neglected. Traumatic events that were too difficult to process at the time can force unhealthy, sometimes near pathological adaptations upon us. When this happens we live as though we have adapted to the event (perhaps a complex childhood bereavement, perhaps a traumatic bereavement later in life, divorce, redundancy, personal betrayal and so forth), but actually, this is a false adaptation. What has happened is that a false self has developed and it is that that now stands in for us as a defensive shield. Its original intention is to protect us from being exposed to further psychological injury.

Individuation and the False Self

In psychotherapy, we might come to recognise that the problems our clients face are to do with the fact that the false self, once essential to survival is now getting in the way of the person being able to live a creative, authentic life. With care and patience we might find that in the safe and confidential therapeutic space, the false self can be relinquished and the client may start to identify with a deeper, truer part of themselves; their true self. The old ego identification can be relinquished as the underlying deeper truth of the person starts to become evident.

Not all fixed ego identifications are formed from pathological and complicated life events. Sometimes the process of life leads us to develop fixed immobile personalities that serve us well for a long time but which in the end get in the way of our development. Individuation is the work of finding ways to relinquish these fixed identities and to start to grow and develop again.

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Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of how to pay better attention to these kinds of questions about ourselves.

By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of understanding how to relate to yourself and others, how to start living more fully again, and how to start to have healthy relationships with yourself and other people.

The chance to reflect on ourselves, our feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed, and what you can change.

I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years.  My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live. 

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.


Email: toby@tobyingham.com