Since it has been many years now since I have delved into Jung’s idea of individuation, I thought it might be nice to spend an evening allowing Jung’s words to refresh my memory. In the early nineties, Jung’s ideas became the seeds within me that would burgeon into what I now consider to be an ever-spiraling soul-house.
The concept of individuation plays a large role in our psychology. In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual (q.v.) as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation (q.v.), having for its goal the development of the individual personality (Jung, Types 448).
Jung’s theory of individuation is a very Western approach to psychology. Individualism is a mainstay of Western culture because, according to the general Western consensus, the individual alone has the ability to reason, and the ability to choose freely. Of course, these days we are accustomed to discussing a collective consciousness, which could, I suppose, point to a kind of collective reasoning. But Jung claims that individuation is a process that distinguishes a person from the collective. He also claims it is a process that has a telos, or a goal. This makes me uncomfortable.
I am vexed by stereotypical Western notions like linearity. I have written before about John Climacus’ notion of the scala paradisi, which I am not fond of. I wonder how much this image had to do with the West’s obsession with linearity? I’m sure the idea was around much earlier than Climacus,but he seemed to popularize it to a certain extent.
Jung stresses that individuation must not be understood as a linear development, but as a “circumambulation of the self” (Jung, Memories 196), that is, the movement is toward the center, which Jung says is the Self. One of the symbols in alchemy which represents this process is the Ouroboros, the serpent which devours its own tail. This means that the process is circular and self-contained, according to Jung. Still, though, the idea of a telos, an end-point for the psyche, this mystical center, bothers me considerably.
In Jung’s thinking, the path to individuation is characterized by the constant conflict of opposites, which, of course, produces psychic energy. One must bring the opposites into complete union in order to succeed in individuation. This means that the conscious and unconscious become integrated and assimilate the ego, after which the Self emerges. In alchemy, this union is known as the coniunctio. The coniunctio is symbolized in various ways in alchemy. One such symbol shows a king and queen in a hermaphroditic union. In Jung’s mind, this represents the union of opposites, and, more specifically, the union of anima and animus, the male and female aspects of the unconscious. Jung claims that these must be integrated in order to achieve individuation.
One problem I have with Jung’s theory today is this: back in my early days of reading Jung, I still believed that a person developed gradually, linearly, until, at some point in one’s life, the process would be complete and integration would be achieved. All projections would be withdrawn and life would be rosy. I was fragmented and I yearned for wholeness. I think I was more of a humanist back then. I believed strongly in the possibility of perfecting one’s life and human potentiality. I know that Jung never meant the process to be thought of as linear, but I was stuck in the mud of my culture.
So, Jung believes the goal of individuation is to pull all the fragmented aspects of the psyche together into one complete whole. But what if fragmentation is itself a product of individuation? That would certainly throw a monkey-wrench into the works.
The complexes that will not be integrated force recognition of their autonomous power. Their archetypal cores will not serve the single goal of monotheistic wholeness (Hillman, Fire 40-41).
The idea of the Self seems to be Jung’s inclination to monotheism. I must agree with Hillman concerning Jung’s theory of individuation. “We are compelled to step away from an ideal norm of man and a statistical norm of man” (Hillman, Revisioning 88-89). There are many personalities within us. Our dreams reveal many sides, many beings. That’s just naturally the way we are wired. There is no integrated human who is perfectly whole. This is a fantasy of the heroic Western ego.
Hillman, James. A Blue Fire. Ed. Thomas Moore. New York: Harper, 1989.
Hillman, James. Re-visioning Psychology. New York: Harper, 1975.
Jung, C.G. Psychological Types. trans. H.G. Baynes. Princeton: Bollingen, 1971.
Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. trans. Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Vintage, 1961.