Individuation (Analytical Psychology)

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Carl Gustav Jung considered individuation to be a step or process that leads to a partial disengagement from the control of the unconscious and from collective rules and norms and feelings. This process is accompanied by a development of the rapport of the ego to the self, through an ever closer recognition of the forces and figures that structureat first without our being aware of itour representations and behavior.

The earliest version of this notion can be found in Gérard Dorn, in the sixteenth century, then in the Goethean conception of the novel of apprenticeship (Bildungsroman ), as well as in the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche. However, in his writings of the second decade of the twentieth century, Jung gave it a whole different meaning and significance, inscribing it into his own experience, then integrating it with the successive stages of his thought on the relationship with the unconscious.

Jung mentions individuation for the first time in 1916 in his Seven Sermons to the Dead and in an essay entitled "Adaptation, Individuation and Collectivity." In the first of these, the emphasis was on the imperious need for everyone to undo the obscure envelope of their origin, distinguishing and differentiating themselves from it, to learn how to live as a unique being, separate and alone ("einzelsein," he wrote). In the second work he stressed the debt contracted and the price to pay by anyone who distances themselves from the common knowledge and collective norms of a group.

These works showed the impact of Jung's own experience on his work after the break with Freud (during the period of 1912-1918). His experience led to the emergence of images that, under the influence of the emotions he was feeling, gradually took on voice and shape: individuation for him was not only a necessity and a principle, on the basis of which a human being is constituted in his singularity, it is also a workJung soon was to call it a process (ein Prozess ), and even a work of long duration (the ancient alchemists, whom he studied from 1935-1936, referred to it as their opus )which one can learn to accompany, support, and even provoke.

From one phase of his work to another, Jung was always very specific about the stakes and the risks (of exaltation, or inversely, of depression, or even psychotic breakdown) of individuation, as well as its modalities, notably in the clinical conditions of analytic practice, and its effects, possible or anticipated, on the future of man and on that of the unconscious itself.

In 1918, he started working on some empirical exercises in graphics that made him experience a decentralization, which he later realized was close to that produced by the use of mandalas, as well as the destabilization of the ego produced by Taoism. His reflections on the conditions of symbolic life for us today came from these studies, and also from his later analyses of the history of Christianity and his encounters with Amerindian and African religions. This includes his conception, a rather fluid one, of the self in its relations with the ego: what is at stake presently in individuation can be all the more clearly grasped as one becomes aware of its projections in ancient systems of representation and practice.

Also, from his publication of The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious, in 1928, and with the help of his analyses of alchemical literature and iconography, Jung explored the diverse stages that mark the individuation process : recognition of "the shadow" or "shadows" proper to each, the more or less upsetting or mediating effects of "the anima" or "the animus," and especially the experience of the "Self."

Finally it should be noted that the Jungian reflection on individuation was part of a frequenting of the unconscious that constantly assumed its compensatory capabilities and its capacity to maintain conjoined contradictory attitudes and even givens. From this perspective the quaternary model of psychic functioning that he introduced in his Psychological Types (1921) was deepened and enlarged in the forties and fifties to apply to the analysis of opposing movements (in the direction of incest and inversely towards differentiation) that are stirred by the transference, expanding also to include a reflection on the conditions for an integration of the feminine, and on the question of evil.

Consequently, the Jungian problematic of individuation has provided access to and perspective on certain collective issues, but its pertinence for cultures with a different history this is unknown.

Christian Gaillard

See also: Analytical psychology; Compensation (analytical psychology); Ego (analytical psychology); Extroversion/introversion (analytical psychology); Self (analytical psychology); Transference/counter-transference (analytical psychology).


Gaillard, Christian. (1995). Jung. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Humbert,Élie George. (1983). Jung. Paris:Éditions Universitaires.

Jacoby, Mario. (1990). Individuation and narcissism: The psychology of the self in Jung and Kohut (Myron Gubitz, and, in collaboration with the author, Françoise O'Kane, Trans). London: Routledge. (Original work published 1985)

Kast, Verena. (1992). The dynamics of symbols: Fundamentals of Jungian psychotherapy (Susan A. Schwarz, Trans.). New York: Fromm International. (Original work published 1990)