The Depth Coach | Individuation: Navigating the Road Home (Part 2 of 2)
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16 Apr / Individuation: Navigating the Road Home (Part 2 of 2)

In part I of this blog, we discussed the origins of the term individuation and its development as a central idea in the psychology of C.G. Jung. Having explored where Jung acquired the idea, we can arrive at a more lucid interpretation of its psychological meaning. We also suggested that individuation constitutes the personality’s tendency to differentiate and build up a core of individuality over time. In this way, Jung recognized that conscious individuation takes place via a synthesis between unconscious and conscious contents. When the ego consciously confronts the unconscious and assimilates its contents, the result is an increase in wholeness and by extension a broader view of individual and world. One could say then that individuation is an opus contra naturum, which does not conform to the demands of the collective psyche.

It is also important to point out that ego is only one part of the whole owing its provisional position to a supraordinate reality known as the self (Fig. 1). Which Jung similarly echoed: “The ego discovers itself as being a mere appendix of the self in a sort of loose connection” (1996, p. 39). With an awareness of the self (i.e., gnosis) the personality achieves a broadening and deepening of its conscious -ness. By kindling a light in the darkness, we are better prepared to navigate the journey of individuation. Although we never reach state of equilibrium between the ego and self, through knowledge of the unconscious we can learn to cooperate with the parts of our personality that heretofore have remained hidden. As Jung says, “In the final analysis the decisive factor is always consciousness, which can understand the manifestations of the unconscious and take the position towards them” (1961/1989, p. 187).
Figure 1. Jung's Model of the Psyche.

Figure 1. Jung’s Model of the Psyche.

Jung (1928/1953) further suggested that “The development of individuality can never take place through personal relationships alone, but requires a psychic relationship to the collective unconscious” (CW7, para. 519). This passage suggests that individuation means little outside a relationship, whether an inner one or outer one, which is an important distinction. On the one hand, the conscious personality relates to the inner domain of thoughts, feelings, subliminal perceptions, sense-impressions, moods, etc. On the other hand, the conscious personality relates to the external world which consists largely of social norms, collective values, and organizations of varying sizes (tribes, communicates, nations, etc.). Whereas the persona dictates how the individual presents oneself to the external world, the soul-image (i.e., anima/animus) mediates one’s relationship to the collective unconscious. The trick is relating to these images without identifying with them and in order to accomplish this feat one needs to develop the right social and ethical stance towards the collective psyche. Thus, one should be able to consciously relate to the collective psyche (i.e., the domain of consciousness and the unconscious) without identifying with it. Jung (1928/1953) aptly makes this point:

The danger, therefore, of falling victim to the collective psyche by identification is not to be minimized. Identification is a retrograde step, one more stupidity has been committed, and on top of that the principle of individuation is denied and repressed under the cloak of the individual deed and in the nebulous conceit that one has discovered what is truly one’s own. In reality one has not discovered one’s own at all, but rather the eternal truths and errors of the collective psyche. In the collective psyche one’s true individuality is lost. (CW7, para. 478)

One should then go to great lengths to avoid identifying with the collective psyche, which would be counterproductive to the aims of individuation.

Figure 2. What does individuation mean to you?

Figure 2. What does individuation mean to you?

Thus, what does individuation mean to you, the average person, who on a daily basis tries to make sense of his life’s journey? We all have asked ourselves this very question, albeit have framed it through our unique life experiences and associated values (Fig. 2). What this means to the individual and how he or she applies that knowledge to life and world is, in my view, the most important question. Jung (1928/1953) dedicated an entire essay (“The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious”) to explaining what a person does with the unconscious. What ultimately arises from what one’s own confrontation with the unconscious underscores the meaning of the individuation process, which unfolds differently for all of us.

Because individuation is a capstone concept, which relates to some degree to every major concept in Jung’s psychology, it is important that we discuss how its relates to some of the other core ideas introduced by Jung—archetypes, complexes, the unconscious, typology, etc. Although individuation does not occur in a fixed order or sequence, I have suggested a tentative outline for the individuation process. Put differently, the following steps can facilitate, though not guarantee, progress along the individuation journey.

Seven Steps of Individuation:

  • Honoring the psyche – I know what you are thinking. It all sounds rather solipsistic. After all, what is the psyche and why should I honor it? The psyche is not metaphysical concept nor a transcendental postulate. We experience the psyche every day and Jung (1921/1971) suggested the following:

    What indeed is reality if it is not a reality in ourselves, an esse in anima? Living reality is the product neither of the actual, objective behavior of things nor of the formulated idea exclusively, but rather the combination of both in the living psychological process, through esse in anima. Only through the specific vital activity of the psyche does the sense-impression attain that intensity, and the idea that effective force, which are two indispensable constituents of living reality. (CW6, para. 77)

    What Jung is suggesting above makes any ontological argument superfluous. What matters most is the living psychic reality that is supplied to us a priori. For the psyche is the only medium that lacks any Archimedean point beyond it. In a paradoxical way, what is experiencing the psyche is the psyche itself.

  • Becoming one of many – Recognizing that the psyche is pluralistic is a good start. Just as the individual belongs to a greater whole, the ego provisionally coexists among a legion of other psychic realities that frequently disrupt the sphere of one’s conscious awareness. The personality is really a community to which the ego belongs. Individuation is not about strengthening one’s identity with his/her ego. On the contrary, individuation entails acknowledging the plurality of the psyche, which suggests that the ego is one complex within the total psychic economy of the personality. We must aspire to recognize the otherness in ourselves and integrate the various other psychic contents that orbit just beyond the ego’s sphere of consciousness. Recall that the psyche could be viewed as a self-regulating system that seeks optimal functioning of all its parts. In this way, individuation occurs when all the psyche’s systems are optimally aligned and the path to wholeness is clear and relatively free of any obstacles.

  • Owning one’s shadow – One’s encounter with the shadow archetype plays a crucial role in the individuation process. Just as Mephistopheles was essential to the individuation of Faust, the shadow provides a counterbalance to the ego, which ultimately assured Faust’s own salvation. The shadow then has the capacity to deepen the personality’s awareness of its divided nature. One cannot mend the rift between ego and shadow until one first acknowledges that it is there in the first place. The more one attempts to subjugate the shadow the more myopic one’s view of reality becomes. As Von Franz (1978) suggested, “A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps . . . living below his own level” (p. 175). Integration of the shadow is instrumental to eventually coming to terms with the self. A cursory reading of Faust reveals that Mephistopheles was really a harbinger of the self. If nothing else, owning one’s shadow widens the footpaths of individuation making the trek toward wholeness more manageable.

  • Relating to one’s soul-image – As discussed in a previous blog, the anima and animus are constrasexual soul-images with populate the deep interior of the psyche. As a functional complex, the soul-image mediates one’s relationship with the unconscious, and in this way, could be viewed as a gatekeeper of the collective unconscious. One could also say that the soul-image mediates the idea of Eros or the psyche’s capacity to relate, which Jung viewed as a feminine principle. Because one’s development is dependent on a range of social and collective factors, no person individuates in a vacuum. Case in point, if the persona adopts an intellectual attitude toward the external world, the soul-image will take on a sentimental one. In this way, the persona has a compensatory relationship with the soul-image. Because our self-knowledge (Gnosis) is deepened through the relationships we develop with others, one cannot individuate in isolation. Jung was reported to tell his students that “You cannot individuate on Everest” (Jung as cited in Hanna, 1976/1998, p. 290), which underscores this very point. Anima and animus facilitates one’s ability to adapt or relate to the inner world and can lead to awareness of the greater whole—the self.

  • Developing the inferior function – In Jung’s theory of types the inferior function is the most underdeveloped of the four functions and its development is essential to the individuation process. Because it is the most underdeveloped function type, any conscious effort toward exercising the inferior function can a greater functional range of the personality. When the inferior function is not cultivated as a function, the personality cannot run optimally. We can get by with the use of only one or two functions, but we miss out on a whole range of possible experiences. Just like the shadow, the inferior function wants to be expressed through the personality. Jung (1928/1953) wrote that “The essence of the inferior function is autonomy. It is independent, it attacks, it fascinates, and so spins us about that we are no longer masters of ourselves and can no longer rightly distinguish between ourselves and others” (CW7, para. 85). The drawback is that the shadow can work in tandem with the inferior function to sabotage the intentions of the ego less the ego makes a conscious effort to develop this function. Many type theorists suggest that in order to properly differentiate the inferior function, one must do so by way of the auxiliary and tertiary functions. Exercising the inferior function, especially in contrast with our superior function, can help the personality reach a higher order of awareness.

  • Learning the language of symbolsSymbols, as indicated in another blog, are the best possible expressions for something unknown. In this way, they could be viewed as guideposts or road signs throughout the individuation process. It is as if the archetype of wholeness, the self, transmits signals to the ego which arise into consciousness as symbols. They also tend to spontaneously appear during the course of individuation. Symbols are important because they suggest an a priori order in which the ego tends to try to emulate. Jung (1928/1953) aptly expressed this point:

    The symbol is not a sign that disguises something generally known. Its meaning resides in the fact that it is an attempt to elucidate, by a more or less apt analogy, something that is still entirely unknown or still in the process of formation. If we reduce this by analysis to something that is generally known, we destroy the true value of the symbol; but to attribute hermeneutic significance to it is consistent with its value and meaning. (CW7, para. 492)

  • Acknowledging the Self – Through its knowledge of the self, the ego recognizes its provisional position in the world. For as Jung (1940/1959) indicated: “The goal of the individuation process is the synthesis of the self” (CW9i, para. 277). It seems to me that one needs to be able to mythologize his life, and see it in a larger context, which includes a supraordinate reality. One does not have to be traditionally religious to achieve this attitude, just human, just human. Again, many people believe that Jung’s postulate of an archetype of wholeness borders the metaphysical, however, Jung would suggest that it is purely an empirical concept founded on the experience of the psyche.



Hannah, B. (1998). Jung: His life and work: A biographical memoir. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s sons. (Original work published 1976)

Jung, C.G. (1953). The Relations between the ego and the unconscious. In V.S. DeLaszlo (Ed.), The basic writings of C.G. Jung. New York, NY: The Modern Library. (Original work published 1928)

Jung, C.G. (1959). The psychology of the child archetype. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C.G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 9i). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1940)

Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological types. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C.G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 6). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1921)

Jung, C.G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections. Aniela Jaffe. (ed.) Richard and Clara Winston. (Trans.) New York: NY: Vintage Book. (Original work published 1961)

Von Franz, M.L. (1978) The Process of Individuation. In C. G. Jung, Man and his Symbols. London: Dell.

  • Paracelsus

    I feel that most of the population is at the front step in terms of the path to individuation. Sadly, our society, for all its merits and faults, doesn’t appear to foster a true drive/need/urge for personal individuation. Instead, those around us are more often motivated by inherent physical urges instead of rational, conscious reasoning. Thus, you have a large swath of the human race that is therefore highly vulnerable to adverse influence on their unconscious (think PR, religion and advertising on every corner).

    But it doesn’t have to be this way. If the Ego is replaced by the Self then we could all become Heroes in the movie of our very own lives! For this to become a reality (and why so few reach this attainable goal) is that the immense unconscious must be incorporated within individual consciousness. “One must be a true hero to reach the Self. After all, you are overcoming the greatest obstacle of all – yourself.”

    This kind of journey is the selfsame trail that must be undertaken to become a human being; one who has lived life to the fullest. Each individual’s own sacred Grail quest. Surely most will falter and the path to Montsalvache will be strewn with those found lacking, but at least they tried. Worse are the Ignavi, those who never attempt to individuate.

    • The Depth Coach


      Because individuation is a natural tendency of the human soul, it’s going to occur whether the ego is conscious of it or not. People are driven by a whole range of libido factors, which usually surface as symptoms rather than symbols. If the ego is not driving the chariot, then some other archetypal principle will do so in its place. The draw back about unconscious individuation is that we have very little control of how we individuate and relate to the whole range of psychic reality. The ego needs to learn how to function in concert with the self. The ego needs to accept provisional position to the supraordinate reality that really calls the shots. It is not meaningless that Jung opted to kill the hero at the outset of Liber Novus. In order for something new to be born in the psyche, the hero (Siegfried) had to die. One doe not need to pursue only the path of the hero to arrive at the self, there are many more routes. Lastly, I agree that figuratively speaking, each of us has a responsibility to search out the Grail, for Montsalvache beckons just beyond the distant horizon. Let us heed the call. That is what individuation is really about, developing an ear to the music that others do not or wish not hear. Thank you.

  • Minh Saecho

    I like what you say more about individuation process. The steps are help me to understand better how I know self better. Thank you for very good blog article. -Minh

    • The Depth Coach

      Minh, Thank you for your kind response. I am glad you enjoyed the blog.

  • Sherry S.

    I really liked where you went with this one. My only recommendation is to discuss more cross-cultural variants of what Jung called the archetype of the wholeness or the self. I think this would help articulating the general idea to an international audience from different cultures.

  • Bill Jackson

    I have been doing some research on the Self in relation to Jung’s psychology. It said that he borrowed the idea from Hinduism. I guess their is a concept called the atman in Hinduism that roughly accords with Jung’s concept of an archetype of wholeness. The only drawback about this stuff is it is so multilayered and philosophically dense, but interesting nonetheless.

    • The Depth Coach

      Bill, Thank you for your comments. Yes, Jung was partially inspired by the idea of the atman (inner self or soul), which constitutes a supraordinate principle. If one were able to ask Jung directly about his reasoning to select the term self, Jung would likely relate it back to some of these Eastern ideas, as well as present it as an empirical idea founded on experience and observation. One can see Jung’s thinking headed in this direction both in Symbols of Transformation (i.e., Psychology of the Unconscious) and some of his observations in The Red Book. Yes, Jungian psychology and its related areas of inquiry are very multilayered because they deal with a range of fields and disciplines. Any serious study of Jung’s psychology requires real work.

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