How to become a person – Jung’s individuation

how to become a person

Answers are to be found in the theory of individuation of Carl Gustav Jung. Process of individuation is a term from the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung which describes process of becoming aware of oneself, one’s own functioning and the ways in which we can discover one’s own inner self.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

~William Blake,

Auguries of Innocence

Since the beginning of the mankind there were people interested in the most intriguing question “Who am I?” . This question does not have an easy answer. However, Jung’s process of individuation offers some clear guidance. In order to understand it, one has to understand some of the basic concepts Jung used.

Ego. A conscious part of ourselves. Are we all acquainted with ego? What is ego? Ego is a centre of consciousness, but that is not all that we are like many people believe. It is actually a function enabling differentiating between oneself and the others. It is a structure which gives order to one’s psychological qualities, in order for one to be able to grasp oneself and one’s action meaningfully. It gives one a sense of unity. With a conscious part, we are able to experience everyday life.

Each one of us also has an unconscious part of the psyche. This is the part that somehow stays in the background, working tirelessly but outside of our conscious awareness. The fact that we are not aware of it does not mean it is inactive. A lot of unconscious processes happen automatically. Unconscious consists of hidden aspects of ourselves which continue to influence conscious and thus our everyday life. It was Sigmund Freud that conceived the unconscious as the primary motivator of the human behavior and in this sense his idea was revolutionary.  What Jung added to the idea of the unconscious was the collective unconscious, meaning ideas we collectively unconsciously share as a species. For example, the idea of the mother, of love.  

 It is the idea of psychoanalysis to bring the unconscious into the conscious and thus make one more aware of one’s behavioral patterns or wishes, aims and thus to give one more control over one’s life.

The subconscious also functions as some sort of balance- it is not always possible to be what we want to be in life. There are environments which don’t allow one to exist authentically. Internalized norms and beliefs stop one from doing that. However, the psyche aspires towards the balance. So in some cases, the unconscious is what will affect our behavior and action in compensating ways. This unconscious tendencies can be stronger than our conscious part and can sometimes appear to be going against our conscious mind. .

Jung split the subconscious into two parts: the personal unconscious and collective unconscious. Personal unconscious belongs only to one person. This is a group of subliminal perceptions, repressed memories, wishes and emotions of any individual. Memories can be recalled by association, and sometimes they appear in dreams and phantasies. They can also be uncovered by hypnosis. Collective unconscious is that unconscious which presents a repertoire of repressed of the culture in which we live.

One another part is a self. Self is often confused with ego. As the ego is the time structure giving us identity in this life itself, so self is often more than ego. Self is, according to Jung, that what we are in our essence. In a psychological sense, it is a conscious part, subconscious part, and ego. It unifies a personality. Self should be our goal in life since it is the fullest expression of the higher unity called individuality.

Collective subconscious

The collective unconscious is an important concept in the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung. We all share the collective subconscious. That means it is like a giant reservoir of archetypes which divides the whole humanity. It is available to anyone. In general, collective unconscious consists of characteristics which a lot of people share, and which, in Jung’s opinion, we inherit by birth. These archetypes are the result of many experiences of life which we share as human beings and which are repeated: the seasons, life, death, etc. These are the symbols of the experiences of the humankind.  

The content of these archetypes is basically in the unconscious. It can be transformed by making it conscious. The ways in which it is transformed depending on the level of consciousness of the individual in which the archetype is lifted into the conscious. Archetype is experienced as picture and as an emotion. It can manifest itself as a sort of behavior directed towards others. It is especially recognizable in typical and important human situations such as birth and death, adolescence, extreme states of fear, or experiences of fear. During these life stages and experiences, archetypes often appear in dreams.

The shape of the archetype is only partially determined. Its content is the primordial image that can be formed only when it becomes conscious and therefore can be filled with the material from the conscious. Therefore, archetypes, when they become conscious, can be shaped, for example, into myths and fairy tales, depending on the cultural background. The fairy in Europe will be dressed in medieval or Renaissance-style clothing, while in the east it will wear ancient Oriental clothing and look more like a gin. But despite the various manifestations, the background content remains the same wherever you go. Archetypes are like frames. The frame will remain the same, but the image that appears inside the frame will depend on the circumstances.

Archetypes cannot be dismissed. They will always manifest. When a society undergoes change, the manifestation of its archetypes will also change. They will take a different shape, another image will be inserted into the frame. Archetypes are neutral in themselves, with no value judgments attached to them, but can be interpreted in a positive, negative or neutral way.

The Path of Individuation

Individuation in Jungian terms means becoming your own person, an individual, fully integrated personality. It is a process of self-realization through which a person integrates those contents of the psyche that they can become aware of. It is a quest for wholeness. It is an experience that can be viewed as the revelation of the divine within or the revelation of the totality of one’s self. This path does not usually happen painlessly since, in order for it to happen, one needs to accept many things one would usually run away from. For example, it is not easy to accept that we don’t really like someone related to us or that we are selfish. Or that we hate a friend. Once a person accepts the content of his unconscious, he has attained the goal of the individuation process, in conscious connection with everything he lives, with the whole cosmos.

Jung believed that individuation is a natural process inherent to a human being. It cannot be challenged from the outside but occurs from within. Just as the body can deform or become ill with a lack of nutrition or movement, a person can become deformed with a lack of experience or education. Related to that, Jung often emphasized that our modern world does not provide enough opportunities to experience the archetype of the shadow. When a child expresses his or her animal instincts, parents usually punish him or her. Punishment does not lead to the destruction of the shadow (suppressed tendencies), because it is impossible, but leads to the suppression of this archetype. The shadow recedes into an unconscious state, primitive and undifferentiated. Then, when the shadow breaks through the barrier of repression, and it happens from time to time, it manifests itself in devastating, pathological ways.

The first step of integration is the individuation of all aspects of personality, which is called the process of individuation. There is another phase that Jung calls a transcendent function. This function has the capacity to integrate opposing aspects of personality. The goal of transcendence is to realize all aspects of personality as originally conceived in the center of the person and to develop potential unity. Transcendence is a means of realizing the unity of the archetype of the self. It is becoming aware of all of our hidden potentialities and how they combine to make a unique personality. How does the individuation process evolve

Becoming aware of the Shadow

The process of individuation begins with the awareness of Persona, the mask we wear in our daily lives. Afterwards, we become aware of the shadow, the suppressed parts of the ego. These are all the parts of ourselves we have cut off from our conscious perception, usually due to environmental pressures – familial or societal ones. For example, maybe our family thought it was not right to be selfish, so we repressed selfishness. Or maybe our society thinks that being loud is not a good characteristic, so we repressed voicing of our opinions. This is by no means an easy process. It usually takes years of self-work.

Anima/Animus

In the second part of the Individuation Path, we become aware of Anima and Animus. For Jung, Anima is the inner woman in every man, while Animus is the inner man in every woman. Jung’s ideas were to be considered in the cultural context of his time. He thought every man should become aware of his inner feminine side, while every woman should become aware of her inner masculine side.

These stages do not necessarily take place chronologically or separately. They may and often do overlap.

It is important to emphasize that Jung saw this process and path of individuation as the purpose of life – to become who one really is. It is a path through which a person separates herself from all the imposed tendencies in her life and strives to become the unified authentic and unique being one really is.

Iva Paska