Carl Jung’s concept of individuation defines a stage of conscious maturity that is based on: autonomy, differentiation, and authenticity manifested in self-expression defined by our unique, individual nature. In my last post on dreams, I focused on creating a conscious shift from preoccupation with externalized activities, outer busyness and ego identification to cultivation of silence and inner meaning achieved through a deepening relationship and exploration of our dreams. Jung teaches that as we develop this relationship with our unconscious, which speaks to us through dreams and other creative expressions: painting, writing, etc., we are engaging in a personally transformative process of becoming.
The stage of individuation is a final stage in our developmental paradigm. We have discussed character types that outline healthy and problematic aspects in our earliest stages of development starting in infancy: from the first stage of merger, bonding and attachment, to the separation/differentiation phases as toddlers, preteens and teenagers. We launch from our family of origin to leave for college, travel, exploration or career and learn to adapt to adult reality: relationship, child rearing if appropriate, satisfying work, creative enterprises and/or entrepreneurship. A strong ego is necessary to traverse reality and source all the necessary aspects of a successful life. We strengthen our confidence and our skills of managing and gaining mastery of the varied elements needed to succeed and thrive.
At this point, we are ready to shift from conscious emphasis on the external world that often defines us through external objectives of: social accomplishments, recognition, success, image, and status, and begin our contemplation of suprapersonal values and priorities. We deepen into our discovery of the self and transcendence of the ego to allow a wiser more integrated view – inhabiting the collective world as an integral part. This last developmental stage begins after age 35. Although individuals may start this quest in an earlier stage – or due to a necessary focus on resolving personal obstacles – they reach individuation later in life or never attain this mature stage.
Individuation begins with challenges to an egocentric view of life. Later life challenges expose the vulnerability of a small ego-centered perspective and therapy offers a transcendent viewpoint with a paradigm of integration into a greater whole. In the second half of life, emphasis on the earlier ego development phases, if accomplished, shifts to other objectives. With aging, the transformational movement continues incorporating a spiritual or suprapersonal perspective. Values of this nature can start quite early in life for those that are inclined in this direction and co-exist alongside the growth of the functional ego.
Transformative psychologists and Jungians reference ‘the call’, when the objective psyche compels us to go beyond the limitations of the ego. This is a necessary phase in the maturation and development process. Many adults stay in an immature relationship to life – children in adult bodies. Jung called that the puella and puer complex – forever Peter Pan, forever Cinderella. The maturing psyche can transition to a larger perspective and dreams can move the psyche along if the therapist engenders this perspective.
Jung’s approach creates a context that transcends preoccupation with mental illness and psychopathology to support the therapist and client in an engagement that traverses a larger transformational vision. It includes both the individual as well as the universal context of man’s transformational capacities of consciousness. This context is critical to my method as the paradigm of internal psychic development and transformation is an ultimate progression of treatment for many. Healthy, activated, successful individuals can engage in a transformational process through therapy and achieve a higher level of integration. Consider therapy in the analogy of a retreat at an ashram or spiritual center. Therapy and dream analysis provide the opportunity for the objective psyche to take the place of an external guru as it provides deep guidance from the inner self. We can listen to our inner self, learn from our dreams, experience the universal context we are embedded in of transformative potential and allow the collective wave to carry us forward. We enter the universal world of archetypes, shamanic travels and expanded consciousness. Dreams are a profound way to access our transformational capacity and traverse other dimensions.
Not all dreams have the same significance. There are big and little dreams. Some dreams are limited to daily life concerns and are important to analyze but do not presage major life transitions or directions; other dreams are vivid and inspiring and can be remembered throughout one’s life. Significant dreams impact the patient and help create transformation. These dreams contain symbolic images that have come through human evolution and are consistent across cultures. Having these symbols accessible to the therapist helps distinguish the important dream from the less significant. Through Jung’s analysis of mythological motifs, he discovered the collective unconscious that is beyond the individual’s subjective, associative context and which provides a database across time and cultures that illuminate certain dreams.
Significant dreams can occur during key developmental phases: youth, puberty, onset of middle age (36-40), and closer to death. These are dreams illuminating important life passages; they are more difficult to interpret as the dreamer’s subjective input is not as relevant because the dream is not personal but reflective in collective themes. A universal problem that hasn’t been considered by the patient’s conscious mind is introduced or dramatically inserted by the unconscious. These dreams represent universal human issues rather than problems of personal equilibrium. It is the universal quest of conscious development that is demanded of the patient by the individuation process. To put it another way, the ego that has dominated earlier development – as a strong ego is needed to establish mastery — now transfers greater authority to the Self for the next developmental phase, the stage of transformation of consciousness. We can shift toward a universal process of conscious development. Call it spiritual development – a larger-than-ego context upon which to base our life is accentuated at certain times and marked by significant dreams to encourage this expanded awareness.
The little ‘I’ is pushed to become part of the larger wholeness of mankind and that creates an inner wholeness with an expanded perspective and maturity. Jung calls this a push toward wholeness. Our one-sided conscious life is corrected by the unconscious universal that moves us toward union of the whole psyche. For Jung, the objective psyche is the spiritual guide as the integration of the conscious with the unconscious creates a state of wholeness. The ego is moved from its state of early dominance into a station reflecting the wisdom of integration. This may lead to behavioral changes reflecting changing values: emphasis on giving back to society, becoming a more responsible and loving person in every area of one’s life, involvement in the community, helping others, working intensively in creative projects, becoming an elder or a mentor, and deepening silent contemplation and ease as one relaxes into greater trust in self, others and the larger whole.
Jung discussed the on-going life initiation process toward individuation. We experience multiple ordeals, initiations and rites of passage throughout our life. Translating events into this framework is quite helpful as we can get caught up in the tumult of a difficult life situation and don’t see that it is an initiation – a vehicle of developing consciousness. If we can stand outside for a moment to see a larger context, it is both relieving and puts us in harmony with a bigger picture of transformative learning.
During the individuation phase, we may have illuminating experiences that bring these ideas closer and we may feel an excitement as our consciousness expands. We learn a larger perspective of a seemingly mundane event. In the event of an illness, the patient can view the challenge through the lens of inevitable change, development of courage, and surrender. Be aware of the synchronicity of events as they guide us beyond our conscious will. We stand outside and can see the larger forces at play. Therapy is an alchemical oven that burns everything down to base materials and then synthesizes the basic elements into gold. These are alchemical metaphors that offer a vision of integration on a higher level.