What is Individuation?

Carl Gustav Jung

Individuation or Individualism?

Maslow and Self-actualization

Personality Type and the GCI

What is Individuation?

Who am I?
Why am I here?
Where am I going?

These are among the questions that stimulate the journey to your authentic self and unique potential. The founder of Analytical Psychology, used the term individuation to describe personal development toward your unique and authentic self.

Individuation is a term used in the social and life sciences to identify the process of uniting disparate elements into an integrated whole; it also refers to differentiating individual attributes from the attributes of others. For Jung, individuation is both. You acquire a unifying balance while developing your unique individuality.

Individuation is the big and sacred work of a lifetime, an evolution toward a deeply held image of wholeness. Jung termed that image the archetypal Self. He found many themes consistent with that idea in both western and eastern traditions: Plato's Forms and the daimon of Socrates; Lao Tse's Tao; the Hindu Self; Christianity's spiritual formation; the ka of the ancient Egyptians.

As you become more deeply oriented to the image of wholeness within you, you also become more oriented to the community around you. The strength and vitality of the whole social fabric depends on the robust development of each individual. The family, the group, the organization, the city and the nation flower to the degree that people develop their unique individuality.

The culmination of individuation is not self-absorption but a purposefully oriented life. You are guided via trial, serendipity, storm, struggle, joy, contentment, ambition, patience, generosity, good and hard luck, to the ultimate destination of individuation—a consummate, uniquely differentiated life in community.

Carl Gustav Jung

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was one of the creators of modern depth psychology. He is the founder of Analytical Psychology, the discipline that pays homage to value of the soul and the collective unconscious as indispensable resources for the developing individual.   

Jung’s quest to understand and find meaning in life extended well beyond the discipline of psychology; he studied literature, the arts, history, Eastern and Western philosophy and religion, mythology, sociology, anthropology, alchemy, and languages. Not only conversant with several modern European languages, he also read Sanskrit and Latin.

Jung was a modern renaissance man; few individuals have attained the depth and breadth of his many inquiries. His work sprung as much from Kant, Schopenhauer, Plato, and Heraclitus as it did from his rigorous empirical observations as a scientist and clinician.

He cautioned that Western culture was far too reliant on science and intellect; he advocated attending to the symbols of the numinous collective unconscious.  He regarded a living connection to spirituality and the soul as essential elements of a meaningful life.

Jung originated or enhanced many pioneering ideas: archetypes, the self, the collective unconscious, complexes, synchronicities, extraversion and introversion, psychological types, individuation, shadow, anima and animus, and dream interpretation among others.

The conscious ego patterns that he termed psychological types were for Jung merely the tip of a very deep ice berg. His book, Psychological Types, was written early in his long career. It presents congealed ideas about predispositions of ego-centered consciousness—a “psychology of consciousness” as Jung termed it.

Yet, the book also formally portrayed the constellation of ideas that constituted his newly conceived model of the psyche as a whole. The psychology of consciousness was born as an integral element of his new analytical psychology emphasizing an attentive connection to the influence of the collective unconscious. 

The congealing theme in all of Jung’s work, Individuation, is a tribute to the preeminent importance he assigned to the developing individual. That purposeful development, when orchestrated in harmony with the vivifying patterns of the archetypal unconscious, provides the essential meaning for a life well lived.

Individuation is the process whereby the undifferentiated and disparate becomes differentiated and whole. It is a term he may have borrowed from Nietzsche who in turn had been inspired by Emerson to promote the value of unique individuality as a central aim of life.

The overarching goal of Jung's work was the reconciliation of the life of the individual with the world of the supra-personal archetypes of the unconscious.  Jung asserted that psychological problems were not merely difficulties to be overcome or repressed, but opportunities for individuation through which the individual could develop a more deeply integrated relationship with the life of the soul.

Jung placed preeminent importance on individuation, not just for benefit of individuals, but ultimately for the well-being of society as a whole.

Individuation vs. Individualism?

Jung's term individuation should not be confused with the term individualism. Though similar sounding, they are as different as a chestnut horse from a horse chestnut.

Individuation indicates full and balanced growth as a fully contributing member of community; individualism suggests imbalanced self-centeredness with little meaningful connection to others.

Jung was fond of saying that “no one individuates on Mt. Everest!” Even for the most introverted people, the journey to wholeness and balance must include relationships with others. One does not differentiate oneself from thin air; rather one discovers a unique and whole identity in relation to the unique individuality of others.

The term individuation has two meanings, both drawn from the life sciences. One is to develop the uniquely differentiating qualities of the individual; the other is to congeal many diverse elements as a unified whole. Both apply to Jung's concept of individuation, for in the process of developing one's unique identity, the many conflicting inclinations of the psyche are unified through a central, transcendent self.

Individualism suggests a one-sided ego-centric orientation over the interests of others. With the unifying growth inherent in the process of individuation, ego-centric one-sidedness gives way to a richer and more fulfilling relationship to the world at large.

In this way there arises a consciousness which is no longer imprisoned in the petty, oversensitive, personal world of the ego, but participates freely in the wider world of objective interests. This widened consciousness is no longer the touchy, egotistical bundle of personal wishes, fears, hopes, and ambitions…; instead, it is a function of relationship… bringing the individual into absolute, binding, and indissoluble communion with the world at large. (CW 7, par. 275)

Maslow and Self-Actualization

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist regarded by many as the father of humanistic psychology, is best known for his hierarchy of human needs. Pursuing his own path of inquiry in America, Maslow arrived at conclusions about human development that were remarkably similar to Carl Jung's in Switzerland.

Maslow referred to the full flowering of individuals as self-actualization.He observed that self-actualized people experience transcendence where they are not only aware of their own potential, but also the fullest potential of human beings at large.

Maslow taught that individuals are motivated to move toward "self-actualization"—to grow towards what is already in the 'organism' as potential. He believed that peak experiences provide a pathway to personal growth, integration, and fulfillment. Peak experiences are unifying and ego-transcending, bringing purposeful integration to the individual.

Maslow noted several characteristics of people who had successfully pursued navigated self-actualization. Among them, were the following:

Reality-centered: They address facts and conditions realistically, rather than denying or avoiding them.
Problem-centered: They look for solutions rather than playing the victim or surrendering to difficulty.
Humble: They exhibit a profound respect towards others. They tend to enjoy ethnic and individual diversity.
Tolerant: They enjoy and appreciate ethnic and individual diversity.
Compassionate: They take a genuine interest in others, showing authentic compassion and humanity.
Ethical: They have a strong ethical core born of a spiritual orientation that is seldom constricted by conventional religion.
Means-centered: They see the means as an end in itself; "the journey is more important than the inn."
Intimate: They prefer knowing a few people well to knowing many people superficially.
Creative: They are spontaneous, inventive and original; they have an ability to see things, even ordinary things, with wonder.
Autonomous: They enjoy relative independence from enculturation and successfully resist social pressures to 'fit in.' They are quite comfortable being alone.
Humorous: They enjoy humor and will joke at their own expense, but do not use humor to degrade others.
Authentic: They avoid pretentiousness or artificiality; their values are 'natural' and flow effortlessly from their personalities.
Transcendent: They successfully bridged common dichotomies; they could be masculine and feminine, spiritually oriented and physically oriented. They experienced more peak experiences than most people—moments of transcending oneself, being in touch with the greater resonances of life

Taken as a group, these attributes illustrate that full self-actualization requires developing a broad spectrum of gifts. The goal of self-actualization is to transcend a one-sided compass orientation and to embrace the more mature and holistic orientations of the entire compass.

For Abraham Maslow, this is the compelling aspiration of human life—self-actualization. Growing to one's full and unique potential generates its own sustaining energy and enthusiasm.

Personality Type and the GCI

The term “personality type” has gained much popularity. It refers to a classification of people according to their common characteristics. Several personality assessments are available. These self-assessments provide useful information for self-understanding.

The GiftsCompass™ Inventory (GCI) is a personal self-assessment but it does not attempt to describe personality types. It can serve as a useful companion to personality assessments, especially those derived from the original work of Carl Jung. If the results of a personality type assessment are unclear, the GCI can illustrate the underlying oppositions for it illustrates all of the types preferences, not just the primary and secondary.

Personality, as Carl Jung used the term, refers to a uniquely authentic self, the full expression of which is a fundamental purpose of life. Though the journey to individuality is very personal and always unique, predispositions that come most naturally to people tend to have some commonality.

Jung referred to natural predispositions as "psychological types— habitual reliance on particular cognitive functions. (In Jung's terminology: extraverted or introverted thinking, feeling, sensation or intuition).

The GCI refers to those cognitive functions as gifts. The GCI depicts the gifts that tend to come most naturally to a person, as well as those that are less "conscious." Knowing and using preferred gifts builds self-esteem, confidence, and respect from others while it provides core strengths for the full expression of one's unique individuality.

Yet preferred gifts alone do not determine one's personality. In Jung's model, the full expression of personality occurs as one becomes more whole, and as the less conscious functions become increasingly accessible.