Through a Jungian Lens

See new site URL –

Individuation – a Lifelong Process

with 4 comments

Individuation - a Lifelong Process

Individuation, a term coined by Carl Gustav Jung, can be described as a journey from the familiar past to the unknown future, a lifelong journey which has as its goal, the realization of one’s fullest potential as a human.  This is a journey which requires us to become more aware of ourselves, to become more aware of ourselves in relation to others, and more conscious as humans.  This explanation is by no means fully representative of the process called individuation.   However, it will serve to provide an alternative and legitimate viewpoint for human development.

To fully understand the process of individuation, it is essential to have some understanding of some foundational concepts upon which Jung constructed his theory of life stages.  Jung proposes that every individual is born with an innate personality, a template of possibilities.  For Jung, there is no tabla rasa, no blank slate upon which a human self-creates who they are.  This template has universal components, which have crossed boundaries of time, distance, and culture.

These components have been identified as archetypes.  The archetypes are universal functions which appear as guiding patterns that enable one to draw sense from the unknown thus allowing for an apparent increase in awareness of self, others, and the human community as a whole.

Jung’s work and research provides us with a unique viewpoint regarding the developmental process for adults.

Based on the concept of individuation, humans are born with personality.  Jung states:

Behind a man’s action there stands neither public opinion nor the moral code, but the personality of which he is still unconscious.  Just as a man still is what he always was, so he already is what he will become.  The conscious mind does not embrace the totality of a man, for this totality consists only partly of his conscious contents. (CW XI, par. 390)

Humans progress from one task to another task, from one stage of a personal (yet paradoxically universal) development to another.

This progression in a Jungian context is similar to peeling the layers of an onion, discovering more about who one really is, becoming more conscious of oneself.  The intriguing part of this peeling the layers of an onion, is that one peels from the core outward, expanding the conscious centre, an act that is more holistic.

Johari Window - Teleometrics 2003

The notion of becoming more conscious of one’s self, is one that is echoed frequently in the field of developmental psychology.  Of special note would be the Jo-Hari Window (Teleometrics, 2003) which serves to illustrate the natural and experiential process of one’s increasing self-awareness.  However, the Jo-Hari model, created by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, is simplistic in comparison to the Jungian model.

In the Jo-Hari model, there is no potential for the ego to be informed by the unconscious.  The only way the unconscious contents can be uncovered is through interactions with others and through disclosure by the self to others.  The Jo-Hari model does serve an important role in explaining important relational and intentional work for increasing one’s awareness of self.

It is easy to understand the biological aspect as we parent and teach through the years noting the development of skills and the deepening of personality.  It is also relatively easy to understand how one becomes wiser with age because of one’s lived experiences as well as one’s learning based on the lived experiences of others.  What is not so easy to understand is how one matures with regards to the unconscious.

In broad strokes, human development moves from developing awareness (consciousness) that is both biological and social, development that marks the first half of life, to the second stage, that of cultural and spiritual development.

The transition from one stage to yet another is transformational in nature, at times engendering a sense of crisis in identity.   Jung uses the analogy of alchemy where there is a transformation from base material to a pure material through a reductive process, a purification process.  In modern day terms, we characterize this with the term “mid-life crisis.”    The process involves loss, a necessary loss if one is to move forward into the realm of what one can and will be.

This process recurs over a human’s lifetime a number of times.  Historically in a number of cultures, this process is marked with rites of passage.  For example in one culture, a child moves to the world of procreative adulthood through rites of puberty;  in another culture, the rite is marked by a birthday where the child reaches a designated age of majority; in a third society, the rite is marked by a graduation ceremony.  Though the rites are markedly different, the effect is the same.  One aspect of self is given up in order for the human to move forward.

Other rites of passage are evident in modern North American culture where there is a shift from concern with self, the first level to the concern with other.  This transition is marked through a rite called marriage or other forms of commitment to another person.  Another rite of passage is that into parenthood.  With the passage from parenthood to grand-parenting, there is a curious shift in consciousness, a shift that can only come with generational distance.  The rites of passage noted above are not by any means inclusive, they are meant only to be illustrative of the concept.

In our professional lives as educators and as leaders, we can act upon the learning community with an intentionality based on an understanding of the individuation process, with a fuller awareness of the stages of the human psyche as it interacts both consciously and unconsciously in our school communities.


4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I find this subject fascinating, and sometimes confusing at times. However, whether I understand it or not, it is a process that I am going through. Sometimes I feel as I am in, as James Hollis calls, The Middle Passage. I’m searching, searching, trying to find who I am … today … that next layer of removing social and parental expectations and values to individuate and discover (more of) true self. It’s a life-long process, to be sure and certainly fascinating!

    I listen to a lot of Joseph Campbell, and it is a shame that we have, as he says, lost our mythical moorings. Myth is an important guidepost, or mile marker, I think.

    Great write-up, Robert!


    February 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    • I am busy building my myth, telling my myth. I struggle with the words that might describe the “energies” both dark and light energies. With photography I can approach the myth through metaphor, better than I can with words, as long as I don’t get caught up in the concreteness of the images. The numinous must given its voice and image. Thanks for stopping by and commenting good friend.


      February 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm

  2. Thank you, Robert! I am always drawn to your writing, and appreciate your thoughtful insight. I think individuation is the overarching concept that keeps me coming back to Jung. I struggle with staying true to my self in this world, while simultaneously acknowledging and embracing the collective unconscious. I feel strongly that some of Jung’s concepts have been bent to validate other agendas, and when I feel doubt, I look to his texts. The quote you found elucidates the situation perfectly for me!

    In my own life, I tend to gravitate toward those who are rigorously themselves, yet remain open and curious about other’s individual journeys. I love the synchronous, meant-to-be, heartening moments come our way, when we can embrace each other for our similarities AND our differences. At midlife, I’ve spent time vacillating between the points on your first chart, and have found that loss is both inevitable and not the end of the world. I’ve found myth to be absolutely necessary to my own self-development; fairy tale even more so. I come away from this post with even more curiosity about what the road ahead will hold…

    I am grateful to you, Robert, and will keep reading! (If I think of anything else, I’ll post again – you definitely hit on my most recent “passion pursuit!” Maybe sometime I’ll write & you can see what you think. A mini-collaboration.)

    Thank you, Robert! Blessings!

    P.S. – I love your comment above: “The numinous must be given its voice and image.” Amen, hear hear, huzzah, hallelujah!!


    February 16, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    • Stephanie, I am glad that you have found my blog site of worth. I know that I value your presence here, on Twitter and on Facebook. I would love to hear more of your stories along the way as I continue my journey with you and so many others who have met me here on this journey. I wrote this particular piece seven years ago as part of a training for those who were going to be principals of schools in Canada, a part of the final course. I found this document on my external hard drive where I have backed up older writings and thought it was time to share them here. Thanks for taking the time to speak out personally. 🙂


      February 17, 2012 at 11:42 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: