Thoughts on Jungian Individuation


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.


Works Cited

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.

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Jung’s Coniunctio: The Chymical Wedding and Heraclitus











In the workings of alchemy, the reconciliation of Sol and Luna is often referred to as The Chymical Wedding. Carl Jung’s theory of the conjunction of polarities in the psyche borrows heavily from this teaching.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, tells us that “the way up and the way down are one and the same” (qtd. in Wheelwright 78). The idea that opposites complement each other and are actually the same is still alive today in Jungian psychology. As we will see, Jung relied heavily on the interrelatedness of opposites to explain his entire psychological theory. This article will attempt to show the Heraclitan influence in Jungian thought.

The philosophy of Heraclitus is one of the most fascinating examples of thinking in the ancient world. He may have been influenced by Eastern philosophies seeping into the Mediterranean region. He was certainly inspired by the Pythagorean and Milesian thinkers. He was rumored to be a pupil of Xenophanes.

Heraclitus understood the world to be a place where nothing remains fixed; everything is in flux and is constantly being transformed.

One of the main aspects of his teaching is that “opposition brings concord,” and “out of discord comes the fairest harmony” (qtd. in Wheelwright 77). What he means by this apparent contradiction is that both positive and negative realities are required in order for harmony to exist. Justice is exhibited by the striving of one thing against another, for in this striving there is agreement or harmonia. He points to the bow and the lyre to illustrate his point. The strings of a bow and lyre require tension in order to operate harmoniously. If the bowstring were not tightened, an arrow could not be shot. Similarly, if the lyre strings were not tightened there would be no beautiful music. There is harmony in the shooting of an arrow with a bow, and in the music of a lyre, just as there is a certain harmony in the world. The discord which we experience is merely the process whereby unanimity arises. Heraclitus teaches that the consensus is not obvious, but concealed, for “hidden harmony is better than the obvious” (qtd. in Wheelwright 79).

Heraclitus believed that fire, which he seems to identify with God, or the world process, is the source of all becoming. “It throws apart and then brings together again; it advances and retires. Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed” (qtd. in Wheelwright 70-71). To him, fire was the perfect symbol to describe reality.

Regarding the human soul, Heraclitus believed it is impossible to ascertain its limits, in the sense of our understanding the depths of the soul. He said, “You could not discover the limits of the soul, even if you traveled by every path in order to do so; such is the depth of its meaning” (qtd. in Wheelwright 72). Here, we have an indication of a similarity arising with what we in the modern world call depth psychology, of which Jung’s Analytical Psychology is an example. Depth psychology is based on the theory of the unconscious mind, i.e., that there are things in the mind which we are not consciously aware of. Sometimes our conscious minds will thrust something which is too painful to bear into the unconscious. These things can then fester in the unconscious, affecting our conscious attitude. For example, certain emotions can be repressed and can influence behavior, many times causing mental distress. The main point here is that Heraclitus recognized the boundless depth of the human psyche some twenty-five hundred years before Freud and Jung.

As in the Heraclitan doctrine, Jungian psychology stresses the existence of a conflict of opposites, or enantiodromia. This is a term which Heraclitus used to describe the endless to and fro process of the eternal flux. The opposites are at war with each other, but in this conflict there is harmony, for both positive and negative need one another. Jung based his theory of compensation on this principle, claiming that the conscious attitude, at times, must be balanced by gaining awareness of certain unconscious processes. According to Jung,

Just as all energy proceeds from opposition, so the psyche too possesses its inner polarity, this being the indispensable prerequisite for its aliveness, as Heraclitus realized long ago” (Jung 346).

A good example of what Jung means lies in an explanation of his doctrine of the anima and animus.

For Jung, all human beings have both male and female characteristics. For instance, all men have a female element abiding in their unconscious minds. Similarly, all women have an unconscious male element. One’s conscious attitude is usually dominated by those characteristics belonging to whatever sex one happens to be. The opposing characteristics, if not recognized by the conscious mind, can bring about many problems in the conscious attitude. For instance, a man who is not aware of his anima may experience irrational moods, peevishness, and bad temper. (Bennet 122). A woman who represses her animus may, for example, not respect the feelings of others because she is overly rational (Bennet 130). For men, Jung called the female image anima. For women, the male image is the animus. These are Latin words which both mean “soul.” Anima is feminine; animus is masculine. If one set of characteristics is dominant, the opposite will manifest itself in dreams, possibly hinting at how the conscious attitude should be adjusted so that balance can be restored to the psyche.

Another area where Jung was influenced by Heraclitus is in his personality typology. Again, he utilizes the Heraclitan principle of enantiodromia to explain why people have different personalities. He begins with the distinction between what he terms introverts and extroverts. Basically, the introvert is characterized by a flow of energy inward; the concentration is on the subject. The extrovert’s energy flows outward, into the world; the concentration is on objects and other people. Every person has both characteristics within them, just as in the anima/animus doctrine. One of the two, however, will dominate the conscious attitude.

Each of these basic attitude types consists of four functions: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. As in the introvert/extrovert distinction, one of the opposites will be dominant. For instance, someone may be an extrovert who is thinking-oriented instead of feeling-oriented. This person might also be guided more by his intuition than his senses. Another may be an introvert who is feeling oriented, and who relates more to sensation. Using this procedure, Jung was able to study human beings in a more precise manner. The Myers-Briggs Personality Test, used by psychologists today, is based on Jung’s typology.


Bennet, E.A. What Jung Really Said. New York: Schocken, 1966.

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. New York: Vintage, 1965.

Wheelwright, Philip. The Presocratics. Indianapolis: ITT, 1966.

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