I Just Want To Feel Whole: Jung On The Individuation Process
I Just Want To Feel Whole: Jung on the Individuation Process
Creating an Ego
What Is Jung’s Individuation Process?
I Know You Are, But What Am I?
Hunt Down What’s Hiding In The Shadows
But Why, Why Do I Continue to Suffer?
How Can I Feel Whole?
The Ebb & Flow of Life
Individuation Process Tools & Resources
Anyone interested in mainstream psychology is likely to hear about Carl Jung, the Swiss psychotherapist who founded psychoanalysis. Jung was an insightful, brilliant man, and his work has impacted my life greatly.
This article discusses what Jung called individuation, or the search for wholeness.
Isn’t that what we all desire?
To feel whole? At peace? Loved?
I know that’s what I desire, but I didn’t come close to experiencing that for many years. And, in some areas, still have work to do.
Chances are you do too.
Jung proposed that feeling emotionally/mentally whole was the aim of each human. He proposed we started off feeling “whole” as a baby, but then began “fragmenting”, losing touch with the “true” self.
Let’s look at this idea closer.
Creating An Ego
Essentially, you arrive on planet Earth as a sacred spirit (some call consciousness) suited up in a body. For the most part, you have a clean slate. (Though many believe we arrive with some patterns, archetypes, karma, etc.)
From there, your parents, society, peers, school, etc. begin to condition you. Your primary caregivers are the first to help your mind “grow an ego”, so-to-speak.
You learn what’s considered right and wrong.
You’re programmed to fit in.
And, those emotions, experiences, thoughts, behaviors, dreams, etc. that don’t fit or you get flack for?
(Like being told to stiffen your upper lip when you’re sad or calm down when you’re mad)
You push them out of your awareness, into what Jung called the shadow side, or unconscious part of your psyche.
I like how Robert Bly puts it in his book entitled, “A Little Book on the Human Shadow”.
“When we we’re one or two years old…energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy. (I love that) We had a ball of energy, all right, but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball. They said things like, “Can’t you be still” or “It isn’t nice to try to kill your brother.” Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the parts of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents love, put in the bag.”
Over the years, we continue to fill that bag up with all those things we don’t want to see or can’t see within ourselves.
Like feels of shame, unworthiness, pain, uncomfortable sensations like anxiety, fears, and so much more.
And that bag is fuller than most people think, especially by the time you reach adulthood. Many bags are ripping at the seems, as evidenced by the masses willingly admitting they’re drowning in anxiety, depression, addiction, and so on.
In fact, research indicates that we operate more from the unconscious than conscious part of the mind. We tend to believe the unconscious thoughts that flood the mind, like “I am not good enough” or “I am a failure” or “I suck at relationships” or “I am not worthy”, and so on.
Those thoughts were acquired somewhere along life’s journey and they went right into the unconscious, or the shadow bag. But they’re not true.
They’re part of the false identity…the old self…the carnal nature.
Joe Dispenza adds that about 70% of the population spends their life living in chronic stress, survival mode.
This means that much of the time, they’re thinking thoughts and feeling emotions of insecurity and fear – as if a tiger was about to pounce on them and eat them for dinner.
Logically, they know they’re not in that kind of danger, but unconsciously, at the nervous system level, the SYSTEM believes this and pumps out stress hormones as a result. Unconsciously, they’re identifying with the false construct of their ego and their “shadow bag”.
In other words, they’re mostly asleep to reality, lulled away from it in those early years of life.
That they are NOT their thoughts, emotions, memories, stored trauma, feelings, or even their ego identity.
In reality, they are (which includes you and I) are divine, sacred spirit. Consciousness. Holy Being.
What Is Jung’s Individuation Process?
When I was young, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Isn’t this what we ask children beginning from a young age?
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
While that’s all good and well, as it’s wise to prepare for the future, but what if we also asked,
“Who do you believe you are now? Who will you be when you grow up?”
Sure, maybe most kids won’t understand these questions, especially if the parents don’t know who they truly are…
Christians tend to get this, teaching their children that they are spirits created by God. There’s plenty of helpful teachings in the Bible about where we came from (Powerful, Loving Source) and who we are as “children” of that Loving Source. Having spent over a decade studying the Bible, I’d have to say there’s a lot of nuggets there that can help us along life’s journey.
Then there’s my love of psychology, so let’s get back to Jung.
Jung saw many people in his therapy office over the years and learned quite a bit about humans.
He coined the term “individuation” to refer to the process of human development.
He witnessed a lot of the population growing from teenagerhood to adulthood, but many were mainly growing physically. Other areas of their life they were seriously lacking. They neglected to deep dive inside to work on mental, emotional, and/or spiritual growth, and this manifested as some sort of inner pain.
To “individuate”, one begins to separate from the self-identity that others projected onto them, such as parents and society.
Think of a teenage boy who loves to draw and paint, yet has been told from the time he was a toddler that “art is for sissies.” He secretly signs up for art as an elective at school, determined to go with his gut sense of who he is outside of his parents.
He’s “individuating”, gravitating toward his true passions and desires – not toward what his parents conditioned him to believe about himself.
Maybe he incarnated here to create rapturous art that adds value and gives hope to humanity.
“I Know You Are, But What Am I?”
By the time I was a late teen, I was feeling a lot of emotional pain and had no idea why.
So, I did what most teens do. I looked to my peers, alcohol, nicotine, and sports to numb my pain and fill the “hole in my soul”.
Little did I know (or probably could have really understood at the time) was that I was journeying through a “self-realization” process and life, in its wisdom, was trying to get my attention through those negative feelings.
To begin journeying back…to start to “individuate” from my early conditioning or programming in a more conscious manner…
To begin the “inner healing work” or “shadow work”.
Jung taught a great deal about the self-realization (who the heck am I?) process and professed that throughout life, we’re nudged to integrate aspects of our true self that we disconnected from earlier in life.
(Remember, those parts we repressed, rejected, or disowned.)
Jung says about the individuation process:
“The only meaningful life is a life that strives for the individual realization — absolute and unconditional— of its own particular law … To the extent that a man is untrue to the law of his being … he has failed to realize his own life’s meaning.”
In other words, if you want to find meaning and purpose in your life, work toward figuring out who and what you TRULY are. To the extent that you’re identifying as someone you are not (your false concept of who you are; ego/shadow), you’re lacking in feeling meaning and purpose.
Hunt Down What’s Hiding In The Shadows
In Robert Bly’s, “A Little Book On The Human Shadow”, he talks about exiling, hunting, and retrieving the shadow. Is a great little book that helps you get a clear view on how we exile parts of ourselves and then later how life gives us opportunity to hunt down and retrieve them.
Shamans have been doing this for eons, except they call it “soul retrieval”. They journey into the spiritual realm and help people track where they lost parts of themselves. They “retrieve” and integrate them, which helps them feel less fragmented and more whole.
Eventually, the aim is to take the time to delve inside do an inner journey where are you pull out and investigate what’s been hiding in your unconscious and integrate it back into your consciousness.
It’s like the first half of your life you’re busy building up your ego identity based on a whole lot of external influences. According to Jung, the second part of our lives ought to be more about reflection, contemplation, and the journey to start answering questions about why we feel the weight of inner pain that we do, suffer as much as we do, keep repeating patterns that cause us to feel shame, anger, hopelessness, loneliness, and so on.
This turning inside and embarking on this more serious inner journey is what starts a more serious individuation process.
But Why, Why Do I Continue to Suffer?
I’ve tried to find my authentic self plenty of times on my life journey. The trajectory of Jung’s human development theory I walked step by step.
Build an identity based on outside influences.
Stuff a whole lot of emotions and parts of my “self” in the shadow-side?
Play the roles I thought I should play, such as loving wife, perfect mother, dedicated Christian.
Forget who I truly am as luminous, powerful, divine spirit?
Feel the weight of all those parts I relegated to my shadow bag?
And so on.
I’ve played various roles and identified a great deal with my ego identity. Before I experienced the first dark night of my soul in my mid-30s, I truly thought I had myself together and my life together. I unconsciously wore plenty of masks letting everyone know that I was a happy wife, great mother and excellent Christian.
Ah, the good life.
Well, expect for the fact that I was increasingly dealing with anxiety, depression, sexuality confusion, codependency, and could not feel “God” at all.
I was largely living unconsciously with a lot of tension in my psyche. Repression was my favored defense mechanism, stuffing my shadow bag more and more.
I went to my pastor, but he just gave me a few scriptures to meditate on.
That did not help at all, which reminds me that I believe every church should have a trained therapist available to help parishioners deal with past trauma, abuse, neglect, conditioning, and so on.
Rather than reach out for help from a therapist who could maybe help me start hunting down my shadows (the childhood trauma, etc.), I opted to divorce my husband and come out of the closet, foolishly thinking this would free me to feel all peaceful and happy.
Au contraire, these decisions busted open my shadow bag…my emotional dam burst…and I was an emotional and spiritual mess.
But this story is for another time.
Let’s get back to Jung and individuation.
How Can I Feel Whole?
How can you feel less pain? Suffer less? Feel better?
I like what A.H. Almaas says:
“Your conflicts, all the difficult things, the problematic situations in your life are not chance or haphazard. They are actually yours. They are specifically yours, designed specifically for you by a part of you that loves you more than anything else. The part of you that… has created roadblocks to lead you to yourself. You are not going in the right direction unless there is something pricking you in the side, telling you, “Look here! This way!” That part of you loves you so much that it doesn’t want you to lose the chance. It will go to extreme measures to wake you up, it will make you suffer greatly if you don’t listen. What else can it do? That is its purpose.”
So, perhaps you’re first step toward less suffering is to realize that the pain you’re feeling has an important message for you. The anxiety is calling you to revisit your past to see just when you started to disconnect from your emotions and push them down into your shadow bag. When and why did your nervous system get locked in a “survival mechanism”, feeling intense fear and threat?
The depression is calling you to witness with compassion those parts of you that you unconsciously or consciously banished to your shadow bag.
The inner pain, confusion, rage, shame, etc. aren’t out to destroy you.
They are parts of you that seek to be faced, heard, and loved…not to justify anything challenging you’ve been through…but to be integrated…brought back into your whole self.
The more you illuminate what you’ve relegated to your shadow-side, or the unconscious, and welcome it back into your whole self, the more healed and whole you will feel.
And, the greater revelation that you’ll have that the ego and shadow side were (are) a construct that you’ve been creating since you were born.
They’re not the real you.
They’re not the spiritual you.
When you can truly understand this from your spiritual essence, you’ll realize that those parts of you weren’t even real.
They were (are) illusion…the false self. Or, from Christ’s claim, “the carnal self”.
The whole process of creating an ego/shadow/unconscious part is simply an evolutionary process to help us survive.
I’ll cover more on that in another article.
The Ebb And Flow Of Life
Life is about creation.
It’s about the light and dark.
It’s about coming to experience the dark and the light.
There are certainly phases, stages, hills, and valleys, and along the way, and we experience a lot of things – positive and not-so-positive.
I’ve experienced deep pain and a host of negative emotions, as I’m sure you have too.
But I’ve also experienced so much goodness and love.
Amid personal suffering, it’s not always easy to see what’s going on or how to get out from under it. Experiencing healing and wholeness, and truly understanding who we truly are, is an “awakening” journey.
My best advice no matter what your age or situation is to remain committed to your unique path toward healing, whether that’s a religious path, spiritual path, mystical, Eastern philosophy, Shamanic, and so on.
And, know that you don’t have to navigate your life alone.
In hindsight, I wish I would have started seeing a therapist in my late teens. A good therapist.
And stuck with it for a very long time and as necessary through my life journey.
Please don’t feel any shame in reaching out for help from a professional who can help you face, feel, and heal those parts of you that have been tripping you up. Allow them to help you do some inner inquiry to track just how you split off from your true self (spirit) and what kind of ego construct you’ve built along your journey.
Then, allow them to help you deconstruct it with love and compassion.
So you can identify less with that false self that’s suffering…and more with the luminous, powerful, wise, loving spirit that you TRULY are.
That’s what I’m continuing to do and I hope you will too.
May we all increasingly remember who and what we truly are…
Sacred, luminous, beautiful, powerful spirits with infinite potential.
Sending you love,
“Psychological development in all its phases is a redemptive process. The goal is to redeem by conscious realization, the hidden Self, hidden in unconscious identification with the ego.” Edward Edinger
Further Resources & Tools
Individuation (Good article over at GoodTherapy)
Inner Healing Work: What is it and Why Do People Fear It?
Into the Wild Shadow Work Journal
Inner Work by Robert A. Johnson
Find a therapist over at Psychology Today