Individuation Process: Learn to Master Your “Self”

Individuation Process

The psyche according to Carl Jung develops in several stages and attains its optimal state through the individuation process.

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” – Carl Jung

What you experience in your waking consciousness is a portion of your whole psyche, only a spoonful of water from the ocean of self. Your whole self is the total of all parts of your psyche – the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. 

The individuation process starts with suffering because suffering brings pain and pain causes change. In folklore, movies, and life this reality is immutable.

What brings suffering is not the pain itself but how you deal with it. Your unhealed suffering creates tension in your psyche resulting in a state of disharmony between your two polarities of energy. The yin and the yang. The shadowy side is the yin while the yang is the white side. 

Yin Yang, Individuation process

The Chinese however, instead of viewing them as opposites view them as complementary forces that function within a greater whole represented by the circle around it. 

Three Dynamics of the Psyche

To fully grasp the individuation process, you first have to understand the structure of your psyche. It has three dynamics – ego, persona, and shadow. 

Your identity is your ego, it is your perception of you, the center of your consciousness. What you label yourself with creates the sense of “I” – your ego. It is not a constant complex though and it changes as you grow. 

Persona, on the other hand, is characterized as the mask you wear to present yourself to society. It is only a glimpse of your true personality formed as a protective shield, to satisfy your innate tendency of being likable and belonging as a part of a group. 

The shadow is the unattended or ignored aspects of the psyche, the result of subsequent repressions manifesting under stressful conditions. Though difficult to identify sometimes, it often reveals itself through dreams.

Jung calls these dynamics the archetypes. He also highlights various other archetypal complexes that make up our psyche. 

What are Archetypes?

If indeed there is a “self” as described by Jung, that surpasses our conscious self and extends into unconsciousness, it must contain information about the universal patterns of collective human psyche development. Jung calls these universal patterns the archetypes. Since these are complexes of the collective unconscious, therefore in effect, they are truly unconscious.

According to Jung, all archetypes are present in our psyche, unlike the modern idea that classifies people into 12 archetypes. Jung’s psychology is about finding a way to regulate the balance between the various archetypes so that you can ultimately become your whole “self”. 

Joseph Campbell popularized much about archetypes in his book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” He described the individuation process with eight character archetypes that an individual encounter in his or her journey of life. Erich Neumann too held similar ideas. In his book, “Origins and History of Consciousness”, he compared psychic development to the journey of a hero.  

The archetypes, however, do not represent any particular order of psyche development. These are merely different forms of self or soul expressions. 

5 Stages of the Individuation Process:

This process is individualistic as no one’s experience is the same as the other. However, it also reveals a collective commonality or archetypes that Jung found in folklore, myths, minds of “psychic” patients, and in the symbols of dreams, etc.

Stage I: Suffering

“Without pain, there would be no suffering. Without suffering, we would never learn from our mistakes. To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life.” ― Angelina Jolie

Pain is the stimulus that triggers the mind to think differently, to perceive something that is beyond its comprehension. What you do not want to accept gets repressed in your psyche and since no energy is ever lost, it manifests as pain.

Change of environment or a change of situation is likely to cause discomfort. For eg., a new job, a death of a dear one, or a near-death experience can function as triggers for individuation.

Clare Graves, a professor of psychology, Union College, New York, found in his work that encountering complex existential problems increases one’s consciousness. 

Stage II: Integrating your Shadow (Ego)

The idea of the shadow may not be as alluring as it sounds. It mainly refers to the unconscious fantasies that form when emotions get repressed over time. The more emotions you repress, the more it strengthens your shadows. After reaching a threshold, it manifests as a projection of your unconscious fantasies.

In today’s society especially, this imbalance of energy in the psyche is quite common. We have a disconnected worldview where we embrace hate instead of love and prefer ourselves over others. Consequently, as a result of this, our lives feel meaningless. 

When you experience childhood trauma, feel violated, humiliated, or your psychological needs are not fulfilled you develop a psychological complex. Over time, you may unconsciously associate certain life experiences with these complexes resulting in a pattern of your life. 

Unless you accept your shadows, your psychological development will be impeded. But integrating your shadows is not as difficult as identifying them. You see, shadows are elusive, they are unconscious thought patterns that reveal themselves in the subtlest of ways.   

When you observe yourself neutrally and accept your flaws instead of judging them it will result in the integration of your shadows.

Stage III: Anima/Animus (Order)

This is a stage where you become aware of the polarities that drive the motifs behind your actions. Your psyche too like all energy systems strives to maintain harmony. 

Anima is the feminine component in a man while the animus is the masculine in a woman. You have to learn to integrate your polarities to become a master at embracing your whole “self”. 

The anima and the animus make the whole self of the human psyche. This balance is seen in everything around us from the balance in nature to the creation of the universe (matter, anti-matter). 

In simple words, you have to get aware of your left brain, right brain impulses and balance them out. For instance, if you are an analytical person you may have to give your creative side a push to maintain this harmony. 

As Jung says, “the unfaced and unfelt parts of our psyche are the source of all neurosis and suffering.”

Stage IV: Wise Man (Social)

This is the stage when you extend the appreciation of life gained from stage III through a feeling of ecological empathy. Thus, you realize that cooperation is much sustainable and less energy-consuming than competing. As a result, you transcend this duality of life.

You begin to appreciate every person for who they are and recognize the uniqueness in all things. In this process, you realize how subjective values are. Through this understanding of duality, you learn about the meaning of life and in a way share the same desires as the creator. 

“The archetype of wise old man first appears in the father, being a personification of meaning and spirit in its procreative sense.” – Carl Jung

At this stage, people get along with others, form communities and organizations that serve the greater good. 

Stage V: Self/One Consciousness (Freedom)

The self is the archetype of wholeness. In this stage, your consciousness extends from a limited perspective to an everlasting higher perspective. 

This is your whole self that emerges after you integrate your anima and animus archetypes. It is a new version of you that Nietzche calls the higher man.

You embody the uniqueness that makes you “YOU”. It is the ultimate state of self-acceptance

Jung often describes self as the archetype of the creator. Meaning, in this stage you begin to perceive the world as God would perceive it. This idea is very similar to the teachings of Kabbala. 

“Be silent and listen: have you recognized your madness and do you admit it? Have you noticed that all your foundations are completely mired in madness? Do you not want to recognize your madness and welcome it in a friendly manner? You wanted to accept everything. So accept madness too. Let the light of your madness shine and it will suddenly dawn on you. Madness is not to be despised or to be feared, but instead, you should give it life.” – Carl Jung 

Why do we individuate? 

It is my opinion that the ultimate aim of the individuation process is the collective evolution of a species and history supports it. We have innumerous pieces of evidence in literature, folklore, myths, arts, etc that show how humanity has evolved to reflect a worldview. For instance, until Copernicus proposed his heliocentric model people believed that the earth was flat. 

So, you see, individuation is just as inevitable as evolution. However, the positive evolution of society is only possible when a threshold of people realizes who they truly are beyond the conditioning of society. This will lead them to take actions that are in alignment with what truly matters rather than based on materialistic needs. 

Also, I should warn you that this process is not very simple. Its roads are filled with blocks where life itself becomes a test. But if you can confront your shadows, and learn the lessons, your contentedness in life will know no bounds. 

How do you individuate efficiently? 

Consciously or unconsciously you are individuating every single day. Nevertheless, sometimes tackling your life problems may get mind nerving. This is true especially for the younger age groups as they lack the skills and the advantage of experiences of the older ones.  

Following are a few techniques that can make your individuation process easier:

1. Vibrate at a high frequency

Your vibration is your energy state. When you feel good about yourself and your life you vibrate at a high frequency.

Indulging in activities that make you happy, eating high vibrational foods like fruits and vegetables, being healthy and in harmony with yourself are few ways that’ll make you enjoy the flow of life.

You may not always be your best self but the more you discover yourself, the more you integrate your higher self.

Life will always have its highs and lows but if you want to individuate smoothly, try making higher-highs and avoiding lower-lows.

2. Cultivate self-acceptance

Since the individuation process demands extensive self-discovery which is not always easy for everyone, cultivating self-acceptance is almost obligatory. The deeper you dig into your psyche the darker it gets. However, dark does not always mean bad or evil. It simply refers to the aspects of you that are yet to be brought to light or awareness.

When you begin to accept your flaws and stop perceiving them as something outside of you, you are accepting yourself. It does not mean that you should stop improving yourself, it only means that accepting your flaws will help you attain the neutral perspective required to transmute it.

3. Be optimistic

Some days may be more difficult than others. And since this process requires constant shedding of the old layers and integrating the new, being optimistic will help you flow through it.

You can be optimistic by focusing on learning and appreciating your strengths and not pondering too much upon your weaknesses. When you learn the art of letting go, life becomes fun. You stop taking life too seriously and find happiness in the “active engagement with the world”, as the Stoics would say.

Nietzsche believed that happiness is epiphenomenal, meaning a secondary byproduct. He proposed that happiness is in the coherence of life. To him, a coherent life is the one found in meaning, dedicating one’s life to deeds that at least in their own perspective is heroic.

In simple words, when you enjoy life to the fullest for what it is and are in harmony with yourself, you become more optimistic about life.

Is There an End to The Individuation Process?

The individuation process extends throughout the lifetime of an individual. The more layers your peel, the closer you get to your authentic self. Indeed its kindergarten stages are tumultuous but you can attain mastery over it through self-discovery and acceptance. You eventually become skilled at overcoming your problems and begin to perceive them as challenges. In this way, you individuate by unveiling the meaning of your life. 

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.” – Carl Jung


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