What is individuation?
Developed by Carl Jung, the concept of individuation has various
It is the procedure by which we become individuals. We claim
our uniqueness -- our likes and dislikes, values, tastes,
personality, viewpoints, interpretations, interests, goals,
habits, idiosyncrasies, habits, purposes, philosophy of life, our
place in the world, our way of doing things, and our style (even
in mundane matters such as fashion and hairstyle). Individuation
is essentially the same as "ego development."
It is the fulfillment of our potential and our destiny. When
we come into this world, we probably have neither a totally "blank
slate" nor a totally predetermined fate; instead, we probably have
"tendencies" and "possibilities," which are like the features on a
home's blueprint. Our personal decisions determine the extent to
which we enact those tendencies and possibilities, in the
It is one of the natural drives of life. Carl Jung said that
the drive toward individuation is as powerful as the drives of sex
It is a human process, not a religious process. We do
not try to be perfect, nor do we try to conform to traditional
religious ideals (such as "goodness"), although Jung said that we
can examine the religious journey as an analogy and model in our
psychological journey of individuation. Although individuation is
not a religious process, it is a spiritual process; we are
learning about the archetypes of life as we express them
It is a universal process. Individuation -- the novel
consummation of potential from a basic framework -- can be seen in
Groups of people evolve into distinct families and
corporations and cultures.
Our physical body individuates. We all have the same basic
parts, but their shape is slightly different for each of us.
We can discern individual traits among natural phenomena,
e.g., snowflakes, flowers, trees, etc.
does not lead to total autonomy. On the contrary:
We discover our similarities with other people. As we define
ourselves, we recognize the same emotions, longings, challenges,
and archetypal foundations that occur in other people.
We learn that the various parts of ourselves do not exist in
isolation; instead, they are parts of systems which extend
within ourselves, and outward to society. For example, when we
explore our individual emotional needs, we realize that many of
them can be satisfied only through interactions and
interdependence with other people. As Carl Jung said (in The
Practice of Psychotherapy), "Individuation is an at-one-ment
with oneself and at the same time with humanity, since oneself is
a part of humanity."
Individuation enhances the quality of relationships. Our
relationships become more intimate, because we are reaching out as
a distinct person, not from a position of vagueness and
Self-talk. For example: "I enjoy being a unique
individual." "I have distinct tastes regarding every part of
life." "The differences between myself and other people are
interesting." "Variety is the spice of life."
Directed imagination. We can visualize ourselves expressing
our pleasant idiosyncrasies to an accepting audience.
Energy toning. The energy tones include courage,
exuberance, playfulness, creative flair, etc.
The "as if" principle. We can act as if we possess the
qualities which we believe are representative of "who we really
Intuition. Intuition guides us in the selection of our unique
qualities. We intuit that a particular trait is right for us.
We develop our ego. The individuation process is the
development of the ego, i.e., our human self. As we refine our
ego, we question (and perhaps discard) the ideas and roles which
have been suggested by other forces:
External forces. These forces include parents, teachers,
peers, religion, society, traditions, victimizers, and other
external forces. We can reject the "participation mystique" in
which our identity was submerged within our groups, e.g.,
family, culture, "isms," etc. (Participation mystique is
necessary in youth, before the ego is strong enough to support
individuality, but it is abandoned in later stages of
Internal forces. These forces include a-field elements
which we have adopted into our ego. If we re-evaluate these
elements, we might decide that we would prefer to put them into
the shadow, while accepting the opposite qualities into the
ego; for example, we might decide that we would like to put our
"shyness" into the shadow, to allow our natural friendliness to
We develop our persona. The persona is the part of us which we
present to the world; it is our individuality in society.
We cultivate courage. Individuation can be difficult and
painful. Although we seem to have an instinct toward psychological
growth, we also have drives toward security and stability, so we
often resist growth (and the changes which ensue) unless it is
unavoidable. Growth can be difficult; it can be frightening; it
can be experienced as a "death" of our old ways and our old
relationships; it can evoke the existential aloneness of one who
does not "go along with the crowd." And it can hurt; as Jung said,
"There is no birth of consciousness without pain." But he said
that the pain and the adversities are necessary because they force
us to re-assess our values, self-esteem, and courage.
Individuation is a journey of conflict, as we continually assert
our individuality against the internal seduction toward
psychological placidity and even regression, and against the
external demand for social conformity and "adjustment." But the
refusal to allow the individuation process can be even more
painful; we experience psychological stagnation and crises, and
even neurosis or psychosis (according to Jung).
We learn the difference between individualism and
individuation. Jung said that individualism is an intentional
exaggeration of differences, while individuation is a personal
consummation of our common archetypal traits.
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