Carl Jung and the Individuation Process

Carl Jung with a cliched “wise man” pose that so many intellectuals of his era adopted. (Mircea Eliade was another).

Ever since he was a child, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was an introspective person, always trying to make sense of his day and nighttime realities. So it’s not surprising that he coined the term “individuation” to represent a life-long process of self-realization.

For Jung, the ultimate goal in life is not about repressing evil and striving for perfection but rather, attaining some kind of balance and ‘wholeness.’

As followers of Jung, Jungians try to know what they see as the deepest, darkest corners of themselves and thus become aware and responsible instead of ignorant and reactive.

Individuation involves coming to grips with various personas and inherited impulses that can obscure but, for Jung, are also aspects of the entire self. Healthy individuation progresses through various stages, symbolized and possibly aided by esoteric systems such as kabbala, alchemy, and the Tarot.

Jung says individuation gives us a new perspective on the cultural relativity of social norms. Instead of blindly following or rejecting social expectations, we choose to either conform or in some instances help to creatively transform the world around us. That is, the successful person adapts to society in a manner appropriate to their unique psychology.

A seeker may become quite introspective at some point in the journey but this hopefully does not result in a permanent withdrawal from the responsibilities of life. Instead of spinning off into space, as it were, individuation ideally melds instinctual, societal, and spiritual forces into a more integrated way of living.

There are many problems and debates concerning Jung’s theory that I need not elaborate on here.

Allow me to say, however, that Jung rarely displays a mature appreciation of the idea of spiritual intercession and the related belief that sin (Hindus would say karma) may transfer and be cleansed through prayer.

However, Jung is not entirely ignorant here. His work on alchemy and the psychological dynamic of transference provides a glimmer of hope. Jung talks about an (seemingly elitist) ‘hermetic circle’ and believes that personalities may mysteriously intermingle like a kind of alchemical reaction but that’s about as far as he goes.

For deeply prayerful and spiritually mature individuals, Jung is not altogether wrong but arguably stuck at a kind of muddled, kindergarten level when commenting on the dynamics of the spiritual life. The American guru Ram Dass implied as much in his work and advanced contemplatives in diverse faith traditions probably would agree.¹

¹ In an article about David Cronenberg’s film A Dangerous MethodJim Slotek describes the Jungian idea of synchronicity as “Jungian spookiness.” But for contemplatives around the world and throughout history, meaningful coincidences are often taken as evidence of our essential interconnectedness and, in the largest sense, God’s plan. As Colin Wilson once put it, perceiving meaningful coincidences is healthy, not scary.

Note – This has been revised from a 2011/09/13 entry. The first two links in Endnote 1 are now dead but I include them just in case anyone wishes to track down the quote.

Related » Faeries, Karma Transfer


One thought on “Carl Jung and the Individuation Process

  1. Something happened to the 3rd link in Endnote 3 in the transfer from Think Free to I fixed it now but the first two links are still dead, as they were at the time of revision.

    12:51 p.m. – just tweaked the opening paragraph. No change in meaning.


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