Individuation, the Psychological Rebirth
Carl Jung And His Theory Of The Psyche.
Individuation is a psychological concept that was first introduced by the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. It can be defined as the achievement of self-actualization through integrating the conscious and the unconscious parts of our mind. Its aim is to become aware of who we truly are without any filters or barriers, and reach our full potential by acknowledging all parts of our mind. or as Jung prefers to call it ‘’ psyche”.
According to Jung, most people do not understand the role that the unconscious part of their minds plays in their lives and how it controls and manipulates their actions. So it is their duty to discover it through bringing it to the conscious realm and becoming aware of it. As he said: ” Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
The psyche, based on this theory, has two parts. The conscious, which is the part that we are aware of. And the unconscious is the part that controls our life and behavior behind the scenes because of our unawareness. So the process of individuation consists of bringing parts from the darkness of our unconscious into our conscious side in order to prevent it from controlling us.
Consciousness: The Aware Part of Our Psyche.
Consciousness is the part of our minds that we know through our thoughts, emotions…,etc and the center of this side is ”ego.”Now, what is ego? It is a projection or a reflection of the ”unconscious” and a result of social conditioning. Our ego is like a cloud that appears to have a form, but it changes constantly. It is the mask that we wear to hide our true ”self” from ourselves. It is not solid but a misinterpretation of who we are and who we should be based on some idealized traits and false notions that differ from one person to another according to the context and the environment. Unfortunately, we over-identify ourselves with our Ego to believe that it is us.
Ego is shaped through our growth. When we were brought to the world we had no sense of self, and no association with different names and opinions (which gradually develop to form our ego). As we grow older, our brains become more conditioned according to our environment. So the first part of the individuation process is to learn how to separate our ego from ourselves and understand that it is not our identity, but just its external layer.
Some people misunderstand this concept of individuation as getting rid of our Ego, but that is impossible. Our ego is essential for us to survive in society, it is what gives us the subjective experience of life. The aim of individuation is not to get rid of it but rather identify it, understand it and control it. In order to do that, according to Jung, we have to go through ”Ego Transformation”, which means reconstructing our ego( thoughts and beliefs) all over again in a healthy way without identifying it as who we are.
People tend to resist this transformation because it represents a threat to their identity and the foundation of the character that they adapted for too long. This ego transformation does not happen deliberately. It happens when you realize that your beliefs contradict with reality through a hard experience, which may lead to an identity crisis, or even as what some people call an existential crisis. which ends up with the rebirth of a new healthy ego.
Persona Is Not Who You Are.
Persona is a reflection of our ego. It is the mask we wear to hide our real selves from the others. The more comfortable we are around some people, the less it conceals parts from our real character. If you have ever wondered why we subconsciously act differently around people, it is because our ego dictates how we should act according to the context. Some people may face trouble trying to understand themselves through judging this persona which may lead to confusion and the question of ” Who am I between all of these faces?,” but they are merely a reflection of the ego.
The Unconscious Realm, the Hidden Side of Yourself.
It is the main and the leading part of our psyche. It is made of many archetypes and each one of them has a role and an effect. The unconscious projects itself into our lives without our awareness, it controls our behavior while we think that we are fully aware and responsible for our actions.
The unconscious produces our thoughts that we display through our ego, but we identify ourselves as the thoughts while ignoring its real source. For example, some people go through traumatic experiences in their childhood, take as an example ” physical abuse,” it makes them feel unworthy of love as children. This part of their lives is hidden in the unconscious part, but this traumatic experience comes from the unconscious and projects itself on the ego as thoughts like ”I am worthless, I hate myself, no one will love me…,’’ Unfortunately, the individual starts believing what his ego repeats regardless of its validity.
A huge part of our personalities is built throughout our childhood. It is trivial to analyze this phase of our lives in order to understand ourselves and see how our belief system or ‘’ego’’ was shaped.
The Shadow, Are Humans Inherently Good?
Would you describe yourself as a good person? According to Jung, it is wrong to identify ourselves as good or bad because we are inherently flawed. How so? As we mentioned before, the unconscious part is made of archetypes. However, we will discuss one main archetype which people refer to as ”shadow”.
The shadow is the dark side of your personality, and by dark, we do not necessarily mean negative, but it is hidden and repressed somewhere in our unconscious. It consists of both negative or positive qualities that your ego considers as unacceptable, so you have subconsciously disowned them through time. Because ego does not know what is right and what is wrong.
It is a survival tool that aims to keep you away from any potential danger even if the threat is not real. For example, as children, some of us tried to express our feelings of anger and sadness, but our parents taught us that we should be ashamed of those feelings because they may not be socially validated. We hide sides of ourselves because we fear judgments and need to fit in, which creates a false sense of self that is made of these beliefs, thoughts, and conditioning.
This idea leads us to repress those unwanted sides and reprimand our negative feelings by denying them, in order to gain the approval of people in our environment. We think they are gone but they are still there accumulating in our unconscious. We also hide positive characteristics. For example, we give up our hobbies and creative side because of people’s judgments and outlook on them as useless, which is wrong in this case. Another example may be how we are forced to repress our aggressive tendencies that are natural instead of unleashing them in a healthy way through martial arts for instance. This may lead to unwanted outbursts of anger, or an unexpected violent reaction to different matters despite our calm nature. Jung says that we have a dark side that needs to be recognized and accepted in order to control it. He says:” No tree, it is said can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell”.
Shadow Work: How Do We Control Our Darkness?
After becoming aware of our ego, we start to understand how our thoughts are a product of the unconscious. Then we move to the next step which is the Shadow Work.
Shadow Work is the process of exploring your inner darkness, it uncovers every part of you that has been disowned, repressed and rejected and not displayed in public. Shadow work is one of the most important parts of in-depth psychological work. Carl G Jung used this method in his analysis because Jungian Analysis encourages us to seek out our shadow. It is liberating and would enable the individual to discover who he really is and reach his full potential using the traits that were oppressed before. We should proceed by accepting the fact that we have flaws and hidden parts that need to be worked on without feeling ashamed because the refusal to accept our dark side is a refusal to accept our entire being.
The first thing to do is to recognize that our shadow is whatever qualities we deny in ourselves. We hide the parts that we judge in others. In psychology, this is called projection. We are not aware of our projection, our egos use this mechanism to defend itself (to defend how it perceives itself). Our false identities of being “good” keep us from connecting to our shadow.
We should observe our thoughts and ideas and try to recognize their source. our shadow is elusive, you can not see it directly but you can detect it through training yourself to observe what gives you a strong emotional reaction. Sure, your classmates might be aggressive, arrogant, inconsiderate, or impatient, but if you don’t have those same qualities within you, you won’t have a strong reaction to their behavior. Look for every trait that you judge someone for, it must be hidden within you. In other words, You are indirectly judging yourself through that person, otherwise, it would not bother you.
Reaching inner peace requires knowing all our sides and accepting them, and this makes us at peace with others as well in spite of their flaws. Realizing that people’s judgments towards you are just a mirror of their own darkness could also help you to stop caring about their opinions since they do not reflect you. As Jung said: ” Knowing your darkness is the best method to deal with the darkness of other people”.
Another method is using art and any creative activity like painting, for example, to express yourself because it explains a lot about your shadow and your repressed desires and traits. Writing is also a very effective method, journaling and trying to write your thoughts spontaneously without processing them through your ego could surprise you with what you will read and discover afterward. You have to observe and analyze the repetitive patterns in your words. We can also reflect on our childhood and remember how we used to be before we had to obey and conform to society’s rules. Children are free spirits, what are the traits that you had to get rid of?
The best and the hardest method to understand our shadow is to analyze and understand our dreams. Dreams are a message from our unconscious that is not filtered through the ego. They explain our situation but they also require efforts to decipher their symbols.
Uncovering the Self, the Final Stage of Self-actualization.
The individuation process requires other steps that come after the shadow work, but the final result that we are seeking is to find the” self’‘, which is who we truly are without the layers of the conscious or the unconscious. It is not something that we try to reach because it is already within us, but is something that we reveal with time through this self-discovery journey.
We humans have this innate desire to chase perfection which differs from one person to another based on the social norms for example. Each one of us has an ideal self that he wants to reach, but Jung says we should try to reach ‘’Wholeness,’’ not ‘’perfection.’’ Wholeness is the unity of the parts of our psyche to reach the self.
The process of individuation may not sound exciting, who would want to discover their dark side? We always try to focus on the positive traits that make us admirable and successful, but channeling and controlling the shadow can help us immensely in our personal and social life to reach inner peace and self-acceptance. For Jung, it is the noblest goal in life. As he states:” the best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.”