One of the main tenets of Jungian psychology is the concept of Individuation. Individuation is striving for wholeness of the personality. Jung adopted the term from Aristotle and others who wrote of the principium individuation is, the process by which the general becomes ever more particular as it develops. Each individual has an opportunity for development that is unique. The terms individual and individuation are not synonymous. One individual sunflower is slightly different from the next, but one individual human is noticeably different from the next. The physical manifestation of two sunflowers and two human beings create individual differences. However, human beings also have personalities and each human personality is often vastly different from the others, with considerable differences in consciousness.
Jung noticed that sometimes a person may exhibit more than one personality. A man acts one way behind the desk and another way behind the wheel, or a woman is experienced one way by her colleagues and another way by her family. Jung thought that such alternate person alities residing within one person revealed unconscious parts of the human psyche that lie just below the surface of awareness and strive for expression. Becoming aware of those unconscious parts, owing them as aspects of one’s humanity, and more fully developing the personality is the process Jung named “individuation.” The developmental form of individuation occurs natur ally in the course of a lifetime. The assisted form of individuation is the more deliberate attempt to consciously strive for wholeness.
Individuation is always to some extent opposed to collective norms, since it means separation and differentiation from the general and a building up of the particular—not a particularity that is sought out, but one that is already ingrained in the psychic condition. The opposition to the collective norm, however, is only apparent, since closer examination shows that the individual standpoint is not antagonistic to it, but only differently oriented.*
Each individual human is a separate being. The more the ego is involved in the process of individuation, the greater the opportunity for the pursuit of wholeness. Someone who is individuating is consciously striving for wholeness by extending consciousness and assimilating unconscious aspects of personality. Life creates a set of circumstances, consciousness creates an ego with a capacity for awareness, and memory stores an experience. When the ego is assisted to attend to unconscious contents that intrude on consciousness, individuation may be more pronounced, and the personality more whole.
Individuation and Groups
Jung’s focus on the individual movement toward wholeness leaves us with many questions about developmental movements in collectives. Jung acknowledged that within analytical dyads, the interactions could further the individuation of both analysand and analyst. It is a small step from an analytical dyad in which the analyst facilitates an assisted individuation of the analysand to a family group with its mixture of developmental stages, conscious and unconscious interactions in which the parents may be more conscious than the children. Members of a family experience simultaneously a strong pull toward the collective of the family and a push toward the develop mental form of individuation of the individual. The observation of the dynamics of small groups is in many ways similar to the work of the family systems practitioners. In addition, some Jungian analysts have explored the relationship between the process of individuation and participation as a member of a group.
In a 1983 article entitled “Individuation and Group,” Jungian analyst Robert Strubel reviewed Jung’s position on the individual, the collective, adaptation, and individuation. Strubel recalls Jung’s position on the collective as it relates to groups:
“The social attitude does not come into operation in the dialectical relationship between patient and doctor, and may therefore remain in an unadapted state…
The danger of individual analysis is the neglect of social adaptation.”
Statements like these suggest that Jung experienced adaptation and individuation as opposites, or at least appreciated the tensions between them. However, Strubel demonstrates that at other times, Jung was aware that individual and group are interdependent.
“The natural process of individuation brings to birth a consciousness of human community… Individuation is an at-one-ment with oneself and at the same time with humanity, since oneself is a part of humanity. Once the individual is thus secured in himself, there is some guarantee that the organized accumulation of individuals in the State…no longer consists of an anonymous mass but of a conscious community.”
Strubel identifies structural aspects of a group that he likens to structural aspects of an individual psyche. Strubel maintains that it is part of the individuation process to join and leave groups, to feel bound to them, then leave them. He holds that individuation always engages the individual with the collective in the search for meaning.*
Individuation and the Collective
Other Jungian analysts have explored the connections between individuation and larger groups where the influence of the collective is more pronounced. In a paper entitled “The Social Relevance of Jungian Concepts,” Jungian analyst Irene Lüscher reflects upon the works of C.G. Jung for their meaning to society, community, and the collective. She notes that three tenets of Jungian psychology deal with the relationship of the individual with the collective: individuation, self, and collective unconscious. We have previously explored the meaning of the term individuation as wholeness.
“Jung used the word self to reflect an individual image of wholeness: The self is not only the center, but also the whole circumference which embraces both the conscious and the unconscious; it is the center of this totality, just as the ego is the center of consciousness.”
Post-Jungians tend to use self to mean the individual center and circumference, and Self to indicate the collective center and circumference. The collective unconscious may be thought of as psychic contents that belong to a group, community or to all humanity—the inherited or shared elements: The collective unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual.
Individuation and Typology
The degree to which one participates in collective activities may be influenced by typology. Jung was the first psychologist to exert a considerable effort to understand individual differences. In Psychological Types, first published in 1921, he explored differences in typology resulting from ego orientation (inward vs. outward) and modes of perception (thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition). Earlier typologies by the Greeks and Chinese and later versions by students of Jung seem to vali date that individual differences can be observed and fall into qualifiable categories. Perhaps most important for individuation is the issue of extroversion versus introversion. Extroverts tend to direct their energy outward—toward others—the group, the collective. Introverts tend to direct their energy inward—toward inner impressions of others. Introverts interact differently with the collec tive and contribute differently to the culture than extroverts. The individuation journey of an extrovert may be quite different from the individuation journey of an introvert. Extroverts tend to participate more frequently in group activities. Introverts tend to participate in more solitary pursuits. Wholeness for an extrovert may include finding comfort in solitude. Wholeness for an introvert may include learning group participation skills. Introvert or extrovert, individuation always occurs in relation to a collective backdrop. In the post-modern world, developing one’s typology often occurs in relation to organizational life.
Methods of Individuation
Jolande Jacobi, a Jungian analyst who wrote several books in the 1940s including The Way of Individuation identified six overlapping methods of individuation beginning with the natural biologic process versus the assisted process. Jacobi was especially adept at summarizing what Jung had written and developing models that clarified Jung’s work.
Jolande Jacobi’s Model of Individuation*
- Natural process—course of human.
- Assisted process—analysis or method.
- Individual way vs. Initiation by participating in collective event
- Gradual, many small transformations vs. Sudden, shattering experience
- Continuous development over entire lifetime vs. Cyclic process reoccurring
- in unchanged form
- Only the first phase is accomplished vs. Both phases follow in sequence
- Prematurely interrupted by outer circumstances vs. Undeveloped process in
- atrophied form vs. A sick or defective process
Note that Jocobi acknowledges that “participating in a collective event” can be a means of individuation. Participation in collective events is one method deliberately employed to initiate the novice into the sacred rites of the culture. Participation in collective events may concurrently initiate members of a collective into a culture or sub-culture. Most everyone in the United States in my mother’s generation can remember exactly where they were on December 7, 1941, the day they heard Pearl Harbor was bombed. Most everyone in my generation can remember exactly where he or she was on November 21, 1963 when President Kennedy was a ssassinated and on July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon. Most everyone across the world in my daughter’s generation will remember where they were on September 11, 2001 and Christmas Day, 2005 when the tsunami hit in the Indian Ocean. The collective events of one generation may be different from the collective events of the next generation. The subsequent generation may not remember the collective events of the previous generation. Individuals are able to reflect on how the collective events of their era changed their life course and worldview. In some ways, each generation and culture is initiated into its own collective, which may be one reason why history seems to have to repeat itself. Lessons and initiations may have to reoccur, to be experienced over and over—two steps forward and one step back—for evolution to occur. Perhaps collective lessons, because they are archetypal, simply must repeat forever. Either way, participation in collective events can have the power of an initiation that contributes to the process of individuation.
Events with collective impact need not have a collective focus. Events with an individual focus may involve the collective as participants. A marriage ceremony unites two individuals in a legal union, but also reinforces collective values among the guests. A graduation ceremony is another example of a formal collective event that marks the commencement into collective life. Collective events need not be formal to contribute to individuation. Organizations are a venue for informal collective experiences. Shell, Nestle, IBM, USB, Nike, IKEA, Microsoft, the local grocery store, and the C. G. Jung Institute, hire employees and generate outcomes. The standardized processes of global merchants and local organizations create experiences that may result in either numbing collective adaptation or individuation by participating in a collective event.
Individuation involves consciousness of both the personal and the collective. As the ego develops in the first half of life, it arcs up and away from the self. The trajectory of the ego into the outer world eventually creates a distance from the self that is experienced as a tension or longing. Tension provides an impetus for individuation. Like a spring, tension energizes the search for that which is longed and missing. An immature personality will suffer more from the changes that mid life brings. On the other hand, an ego that has moved far away from the self may be aligned with the persona. Mistaking the persona for the ego or the self eventually results in disillusion and disappointment. Finally the greater the distance between the starting position of the ego at mid life and the end position at full maturity, the more sudden the shifts of individuation will feel. The ego suffers during individuation because the ego has to move aside for the rest of the personality to emerge. Individuation requires a strong ego, but a strong ego does not move aside easily.
The process of individuation can create problems for the ego. The ego may defend itself from the discomfort of entering the outer world by splitting off from the self. The ego can also fragment into more than one personality. Or the ego may fall under the influence of powerful forces, unconscious complexes–uncontrolled impulses, addictions, or psychoses– and stay stuck, regressed or possessed in a perpetual state of relative unconsciousness. The developmental process of individuation may be seen as a series of four births—the physical birth of the infant, the emancipation of the adolescent ego, a potential for birth of a new spiritu ality at midlife, and the deliverance from the physical that is death. Although Jung tracked the full life trajectory, it was the midlife period and beyond with the change in emphasis toward the spiritual that most interested him.
Aspects of Individuation
In her book on individuation, Jacobi identifies five aspects of individuation: psychological, characterological, sociological, psychotherapeutical, and religious. In her model, the psychological represents development of the human psyche, the characterological represents the maturation of typology, the sociological represents integration with the collective, the psychotherapeutical represents the ability to work with one’s complexes and move away from neuroses, while the religious represents the development of a relationship with the suprapersonal. I propose to add to Jacobi’s model a biological aspect, a cultural aspect, and a relational aspect.
Jacobi combined all collective activities into the sociological category. I differentiate between the sociological and cultural categories to allow separate observation of the spheres of economics and the arts. Into the relational sphere, I group attitudes toward oneself, others, the unconscious, and the process of individuation. A circular model of individuation supports what is called a spider diagram technique, an ability to note which aspects are more developed than others and which aspects may be asking for more connection with consciousness. A circular model allows an individual to assess where he senses further development would contribute to wholeness. See Figure: Modes of individuation, Personal and Collective.
The Collective Ground of Individuation
Jung’s earlier works addressed the process of individuation — while his later works more often addressed of the contents of individuation— elements of collective experience that the personal unconscious may tap into along its individuation journey. Jung’s life and his works reflect the tension inherent in the opposites of collective wisdom versus individual experience. Jung believed that an individual needed to stay connect ed to the collective experience even while individuating: “Identification with the collective and voluntary segregation from it are alike synonymous with disease.” I propose that individual and group co-evolve, that individual consciousness and group consciousness emerge as part of an interactive process. Individuation is the process of harkening to the intensely personal inner meanings, bringing them into the wholeness of the personality, and contributing meaning back into the culture via human relationship. Individua tion occurs on a collective ground. Organizations offer an alchemical container for individuation &*8212; of the individual. Organizations may well offer an alchemical container for an increase in organizational consciousness and wholeness.
Jung maintained that individuals contribute to the evolution of the collective heritage, to the collective wholeness, by virtue of their individual differences and their unique contributions to culture. I propose that if the nature of collective wholeness is unconsciousness and that the nature of individual wholeness is consciousness, when an individual contributes to the collective, he must be contributing a bit of conscious ness of the collective. Collectives must have a capacity for some level of conscious ness that has waxed and waned over the ages in eras of progression and regression.
For example, if a once-conscious matriarchal culture gave way to a patriarchal culture
but is now reemerging for reconsideration, there may exist an opportunity to expand
collective consciousness by holding both masculine and feminine in awareness. Of course,
there exist simultaneously the opposing forces that would pull collective consciousness
back into another Dark Age.
Jung, 1971, Definitions, in Psychological Types, CW 6, para 761.
Strubel, 1983, Individuation and Group, in Money, Food, Drink, and Fashion and…,
Jung, 1976, Letters II, 217.
Jung, 1954, Psychotherapy Today, in The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16, para 227.
Strubel, 1983, Individuation and Group in Money, Food, Drink, and Fashion and…,
Leuscher, 2001, The Social Relevance of Jungian Concepts.
Jung, 1953, Introduction, in Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12, para 44.
Jung, 1960, The Structure of the Psyche, in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,
CW 8, para 342.
Jacobi, 1967, The Way of Individuation, 79.
Jung, 1960, The Structure of the Unconscious, in The Structure and Dynamics of the
Psyche, CW 8, para 485.