Opinion Psychology

The Road to Individuation

Image result for evil self

It is easier to live in a comfortable illusion and believe that people are basically good, and that you are too. Taken to an extreme, this can become pathological. The person that does not want to see reality for what it is does not solve their problems, but only compounds them.  

Where bad eyesight can no longer see the evil impulse as such, on account of its refinement,-there man sets up the kingdom of goodness ; and the feeling of having now gone over into the kingdom of goodness brings all those impulses (such as the feelings of security, of comfortableness, of benevolence) into simultaneous activity, which were threatened and confined by the evil impulses. Consequently, the duller the eye so much the further does goodness extend ! Hence the eternal cheerfulness of the populace and of children ! Hence the gloominess and grief (allied to the bad conscience) of great thinkers. – Nietzsche, The Gay Science 

Your shadow is the dark repressed side that dwells within your unconscious. It represents the part of you that you have, knowingly or unknowingly, refused to acknowledge. 

“The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly—for instance, inferior traits of character and other incompatible tendencies.” – The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung

The Persona 

Transcending your persona is very difficult. Jung identified two ways in which your persona manifests. The first is by unwittingly mimicking the behavior of your same-sex parent. The second is by identifying fully with your profession or social role.

You start out as a blank canvas, and with time, society pressures you into crafting a persona – a mask that you wear that allows you to behave in ways that converge with the expectations of others. And this process involves several stages of iteration, until eventually, the persona that you have created dominates your identity – at the expense of the socially unacceptable parts of your nature.

The Puppet 

At this point, you are not fully developed. You are Pinocchio – a puppet being manipulated by uncontrollable social forces.

“His consciousness therefore orients itself chiefly by observing and investigating the world around him, and it is to its peculiarities that he must adapt his psychic and technical resources. This task is so exacting, and its fulfilment so advantageous, that he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being. In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where the products of his conscious activity progressively replace reality.” The Undiscovered Self, Carl Jung

Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning lectures start with the story of Pinocchio, a wooden puppet created by the toy-maker Geppetto.

Pinocchio and Gepetto
Pinocchio and Gepetto

Pinocchio has no personal identity at first, foolishly falling for the deceptions of the wily fox, but eventually, after going through many trials – he cultivates his own identity, listening to his conscience (Jiminy Cricket), and rebelling against the malicious forces that tried to suppress his independence, and turn him into a beast of burden. In the final scene, Pinocchio rescues his father from the belly of the whale.

Interestingly, his ability to speak was given to him early on, suggesting that his ability to speak should not be conflated with his ability to speak freely. Similarly, you have a voice, but it is not necessarily authentic.

The human being as Persona is a bleak representation, but a truthful one. Like Pinocchio, your salvation depends on your ability to transcend your persona and develop your individuality. Practically, the way to do so is to manifest the parts of you that you have been repressing. This is what Jung calls ‘Individuation’ – it involves recognizing and integrating your inner self.


“The oldest of all is the instinctual foundation. Anyone who overlooks the instincts will be ambuscaded by them, and anyone who does not humble himself will be humbled, losing at the same time his freedom, his most precious possession.”– The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung

The existence of repressed thoughts can be destructive to a person’s life – they can result in neuroses as well as many other psychological diseases. Jung believed that the problem the modern man faces is that he is alienated from the myths and rituals of his ancestors – these stories served an important function. They awakened the unconscious ideas that were being repressed. Through their expression, you are able to give your unconscious its due. Many psychological difficulties emerge from not doing so.

Myths imbue our lives with meaning, and they connect us to archetypal ideas that we have a deep, unconscious longing for. Jung believed all of this because he noticed a peculiar pattern that he could not explain otherwise. His patients when asked to draw pictures, would paint symbols that were thousands of years old that corresponded to psychological ideas that Jung was familiar with, but that the patient wasn’t familiar with. The consistency with which this happened meant that it was not possible for the contents of the unconscious to be the result of merely personal experiences – they had to draw on stores of information that were much older. Jung believed that all of us are endowed with these ideas since birth.

The primitive mentality does not invent myths, it experiences them. Myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings, and anything but allegories of physical processes. Such allegories would be an idle amusement for an unscientific intellect. Myths, on the contrary, have a vital meaning. Not merely do they represent, they are the psychic life of the primitive tribe, which immediately falls to pieces and decays when it loses its mythological heritage, like a man who has lost his soul. – The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Jung 

More than that, he believed that knowing your specific ancestry mattered. If you are from Europe, the ideas that you should seek to identify are those of Christianity since it was Christian symbolism that dominated the psyche of your forefathers. While someone from India should seek the symbolism of Hinduism or Buddhism to connect with the archetypal ideas of his ancestors.

According to Nietzsche, the loss of myth is not easily substituted for by science or rationality. Society will seek to restore the remnants of the past, they will struggle to survive without them.

Here we have our present age bent on the extermination of myth…. Man today, stripped of myth, stands famished among all his pasts and must dig frantically for roots. – The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche

Individuation is the process by which the individual becomes whole – that is, able to incorporate all the elements of his self, conscious and unconscious into her life. The archetypal elements that you will find in religious symbolism is a means to connect with the unconscious self, this is a way to counter our natural inclination towards repression.

The Shadow

“Everybody should do in their lifetime two things. One is to consider death, to observe skulls and skeletons, and to wonder what it would be like to go to sleep and never wake up.  The other thing to consider is that you are totally selfish. You don’t have a good thing to be said about you at all. You are an utter rascal.” – Alan Watts

One of the things we repress is the shadow – the dark, sinister side of our character – the side we hide in public. They are the socially unacceptable thoughts, the aggressive desires, the forbidden ideas – they are the raw products of the mind.

The problem is that when you do not recognize your capacity for evil, you will tend to project it outwards onto to others. When people are unaware of their own dark sides, they will point towards an enemy, and blame them for the evil that exists. Racism and xenophobia find fertile ground in the mind of a person who believes himself to be pure and incorruptible, that under no circumstances, will he resort to cruelty or evil.

 “I want to call to attention one fundamental principle that underlay all his work and was most extraordinarily exemplified in Jung himself as a person. And this is what I would call his recognition of the polarity of life. That is to say his resistance to what is to my mind the disastrous and absurd hypothesis that there is in this universe a radical and absolute conflict between good and evil, light and darkness, that can never be harmonized.”- Alan Watts

Jung recognized that the proclivity for evil was just as human and universal as the proclivity for good is. And it is this recognition that will allow people to resist the temptation to simplistically frame reality as consisting of good versus bad. Unfortunately, political discourse often takes this form.

The main task of the psychotherapist is to do what is called, ‘to integrate the evil.’ To, as it were, put the devil in us in its proper function. Because you see, it’s always the devil, the unacknowledged one, the outcast, the scapegoat, the bastard, the bad guy, the black sheep of the family. It’s always from that point that generation comes. In other words, in the same way as in the drama, to have the play, it’s necessary to introduce the villain, to introduce a certain element of trouble. So, in the whole scheme of life, there has to be an element of the shadow, because without the shadow, there cannot be the substance. – Alan Watts

Politicians do not behave as if they are aware of their shadow, they act as if they are leading the fight against tyranny and corruption, by reassuring their supporters of their pure intentions, and by weaving a comforting nationalistic narrative. If your country stands for liberty, freedom, and democracy – then it must be the case that those act in the name of your country are acting according to these values.

And I think this is the most important thing in Jung. That he was able to point out that to the degree that you condemn others and find evil in others, you are to that degree unconscious to the same thing in yourself, or at least the potentiality of it. – Alan Watts

If you believe yourself to be a good, pure person with no bad intentions – that you are bewildered when you hear of people who are actively trying to destroy everything around them, then you are unaware of your shadow.

“Do you believe,” said Candide, “that men have always massacred each other as they do to-day, that they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, brigands, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, ambitious, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools?” “Do you believe,” said Martin, “that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they have found them?” “Yes, without doubt,” said Candide. “Well, then,” said Martin, “if hawks have always had the same character why should you imagine that men may have changed theirs?”

Candide, Voltaire 

Anima and Animus

Recognizing the shadow is an important step towards individuation, but there are other elements which you should also recognize. Jung calls these the anima and the animus.

I should only like to point out that the inferior function is practically identical with the dark side of the human personality. The darkness which clings to every personality is the door into the unconscious and the gateway of dreams, from which those two twilight figures, the shadow and the anima, step into our nightly visions or, remaining invisible, take possession of our ego-consciousness.

The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung 

If you’re a man, you have a feminine unconscious (anima). If you are a woman, you have a masculine unconscious (animus). While people readily acknowledge their shadow, they are much less willing to acknowledge the unconscious of the opposite of sex in their psyche. Control by the animus results in rigidity and dogmatism,  while domination by the anima results in carelessness and complacency.

The danger is that the struggle between these opposites creates tension, and when you fail to acknowledge the tension between your conscious and unconscious self  and do not allow it to take place – when you fail to recognize that you are not either good or bad, masculine or feminine, cerebral or emotional, you bring forth the culmination of a psychological crisis.

Jung talks about several methods for expressing the hidden parts of your character, or the weaker sides. Some of his patients drew images – even though they had no artistic ability – that tried to communicate some of the thoughts of the unconscious. This is a form of free association.

By expressing thoughts out loud, or in written or image form, the unconscious emerges. When you write, you are not conscious about everything you are going to write about. The words seem to appear out of thin air. But it is your unconscious that is the producer of these thoughts and ideas, and your consciousness is responsible for regulating this content.

Your brain consists of two hemispheres, the right hemisphere is responsible for creative thought, while the left brain is responsible for analytical, linear thinking. Certain activities such as drawing and writing activate your right hemisphere, while others such as calculating and arguing activate your left hemisphere. It is possible to repress your unconscious thoughts if you abstain from using your right-hemisphere. If you only tend to urgent matters that require your conscious attention, and do not allow you unconscious to manifest itself in any form, then you are disrupting the natural psychic struggle to take place.

Jung believed that mythology was another way of navigating the realm of the unconscious, since mythological ideas already existed there. To make this clear, it is important to understand the difference between Freud and Jung.

Freud believed that the unconscious was made up of the personal repressed thoughts and feelings. Jung disagreed, he believed that in addition to the thoughts that were personally repressed, the unconscious was made up of the thoughts of our ancestors – ideas that we have biologically inherited.

The ramification of not recognizing your shadow is that the repressed parts of your subconscious will eventually find a way to manifest themselves in real life, in ways that you are unaware of, and that often destructive. Your shadow will not fade away – it will maliciously take control.

“Whether primitive or not, mankind always stands on the brink of actions it performs itself but does not control. The whole world wants peace and the whole world prepares for war, to take but one example” – The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung

The things we say we believe are not necessarily what we believe in practice. We may tell ourselves that it is better to abstain from this or that activity, only to see ourselves repeating these same activities the next day. According to Jung, this results from a conflict between your conscious and unconscious self. One is pulling you in this direction, and the other is pulling you in the opposite direction. This tug of war often results in confusion, it is hard to understand why your body seems to ignore your conscious demands. Are you, after-all, not the owner of your body?

That is why a certain kind of negotiation is necessary. You cannot be a tyrant to yourself. You must acknowledge that there is a part of you that is outside your control, and outside your awareness.

The False Self-Image

It’s easy to fall into the trap of emulating others or even emulating an ideal. It’s easy to fool yourself into believing that you are one dimensional (masculine, good, psyche), but recognizing that you have a capacity for being evil arms you with the knowledge that everyone has the capacity for evil.

If you were born in an impoverished country, and your neighbors, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends were killed by foreign invaders, you’re likely going to get in touch with your evil side, even get completely swallowed by it. A few years of desperate anger, deep confusion, and a few brainwashing sessions later, you’re a terrorist with a bomb strapped to your chest excitedly waiting for your turn to get your revenge on the world and celebrate in the afterlife.

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” – Voltaire

That’s what Carl Jung warns about. To become possessed by your unconscious is very dangerous, because you become a slave to uncontrollable forces, and it can lead you down an arbitrary path (socially determined) that could wreak havoc on society. That is the opposite of repression. It is when you make your conscious will subservient to the unconscious self.

I gave the example of a terrorist, and that has many forms – from high school shootings to global terrorist activities, but it can also manifest itself in less publicized forms, from domestic abuse to imprisoning innocent children in your basement for over a decade. In these cases, the conscious self is possessed by the shadow, rather than taking control over it, he surrenders to it.

When you’re young, you’re ignorant about your own nature. And as a result, you’re ignorant about the nature of others. So, you go through life mostly confused. You have secret convictions that are half-baked, suppressed, and dismissed by your superego. But you also have a false image of other human beings. You believe that people are either good or evil. You believe that you are either good or evil. When you discover that in reality, a duality exists, not only within others but within yourself, you become disillusioned about human beings.


It was better when you comfortably lived in a socially orchestrated bubble that preached a simpler narrative, one that represented people as one-dimensional cartoon figures. You mistake idealism for reality.

And when you are at this age, you have no choice but to conform to a socially acceptable standard. You don’t trust yourself. And when you look around you, it becomes immediately clear that you are not alone – most people find comfort in conformity, and in accepting the ‘wisdom of crowds.’

“The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses.” The Undiscovered Self, Carl Jung

It seems safe enough to become a mirror image of what society expects of you. So much so that you become an expert in rationalizing your need to adhere to those expectations and ideas. That is, until you have an identity crisis. You don’t know who you really are. The realization that you are “nothing but persona” becomes too painful to digest. Then you wake up.

The Folly of Pride

Most of the people you know have settled into their cocoon of confirmation bias. It’s likely that these people only read whatever confirms their own viewpoint, resisting the temptation to explore beyond the confines of their neatly selected ideas.

People who believe they have it ‘figured out’ are dangerous. Their well-concealed dogmatism evades you, but underlying their convictions is the belief that all is ‘good enough.’ That further understanding is unnecessary, that the pursuit of deeper knowledge is a futile affair reserves to the foolish and the weak. It is difficult to recognize this type of character. In Pinocchio, he is represented as ‘Lampwick.’

You may be suspicious that so much of real life can be related to a child’s story, and that is a fair criticism. As mentioned above, the conflation between reality and ideals is a fundamental error. But if you believe Jung, that archetypal ideas – whether through plot lines or characters can be psychologically healing. That such ideals are necessary for us to connect with the basic story that it embedded within our unconscious, then you can appreciate a myth or story without literally believing in it – in the same way you can appreciate the emotional impact of a song without changing your life plans because some of the lyrics suggested that you should do so.

An archetype is a timeless representation of inevitable patterns of human behavior. We will always have wise sages, warriors, and tricksters. Joseph Campbell, in ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ identifies the main archetypes and shows us how they are represented in different cultures through myths and stories.

To Jung, archetypes were, and still are, living psychic forces that demand to be taken seriously. They are the unfailing causes of neurotic and psychotic disorders. behaving like neglected or maltreated physical organs.

The Lampwick character in Pinochio is sinister, because he impels Pinocchio to discard his responsibilities – to ditch school and live in pleasure island, where he can smoke, eat candy, and play games for the rest of his life. The assumption that Lampwick makes is that everything that needs to be known is already known. Lampwick is confident, and is quite proud of himself.


But pride is the most dangerous intellectual disease there is. When you are prideful, you overvalue your own intelligence. You become capable of the most extreme acts of stupidity. You are willing to stand in the face of reason and believe that while everyone else in society has been fooled, you haven’t, and you never will. This is the most capricious form of defenselessness against error and the antithesis to growth.

“Pride is ugly in all men, it is worse than cruelty, which is the worst of sins, and humility is better than clemency, which is the best of good deeds.” – Al-Jahiz

When you’re aware of your ignorance, capacity for evil, tendency to repress subconscious states of the self, you begin to work to remedy your own flaws. Further, you easily recognize such flaws in other people who might possess the charm, charisma, and wit to coerce others into following their lead. As sinister as he was, Lampwick was only a child, who was misled by the evil Coachman. But Lampwick was misled because he lacked awareness. He trusted the Coachman’s words, and because he was ‘nothing but persona’, he parroted those same words to Pinocchio.

By rejecting pride, you refuse to accept the flawed aspects of yourself that are within your control. You become proactive in choosing what you want to integrate into your personality, and you begin to easily recognize the flaws of others.

“It is this fear of the unconscious psyche which not only impedes self-knowledge but is the gravest obstacle to a wider understanding and knowledge of psychology.” The Undiscovered Self, Carl Jung


It is a most painful procedure to tear off those veils, but each step forward in psychological development means just that, the tearing off of a new veil. We are like onions with many skins, and we have to peel ourselves again and again in order to get at the real core.”

 Visions: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1930 -1934, Carl Jung

The integration of your shadow requires you to reject pride and your persona. It requires you to accept the reality of your nature – with its flaws, and construct a self-image that is far from idealistic, but unique, realistic, and authentic. But what is individuation? And when do we know we are done? 

The process of individuation never ends. It is a lifelong mission where we are always trying to acknowledge our inferior and hidden sides, whether it is the persona, the shadow, or anima/animus. 

The Ego and the Self 

Jung makes a distinction between the ego and the Self, and this is a key point where he and Freud disagree. Freud thought that all energy was essentially sexual, so for him, acts of creativity and achievement were all manifestations of libidinal energy, redirected towards different goals. But Jung saw energy as existing in its pure form within us, and it could be used for libidinal, creative, or aggressive purposes – but there was nothing essentially sexual about this energy. 

Jung also believed in a Self, which was passed down to us by our ancestors. He discovered this by noticing that his patients had dreams in modern times that uncannily resembled ancient representations of the unconscious (art and dreams). The only explanation for Jung was that these images came from the collective unconscious – which each person has. The Self is the psychic manifestation of this collective unconscious, it is the core of the individual’s psyche, and it is unknown to the ego. 

The things that come to light brutally in insanity remain hidden in the background in neurosis, but they continue to influence consciousness nonetheless. When, therefore, the analysis penetrates the background of conscious phenomena, it discovers the same archetypal figures that activate the deliriums of psychotics. Finally, there is any amount of literary and historical evidence to prove that in the case of these archetypes we are dealing with normal types of fantasy that occur practically everywhere and not with the monstrous products of insanity. The pathological element does not lie in the existence of these ideas, but in the dissociation of consciousness that can no longer control the unconscious. In all cases of dissociation it is therefore necessary to integrate the unconscious into consciousness. This is a synthetic process which I have termed the “individuation process.” – The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung 

Freud not only linked energy to the libido, but he also linked the unconscious to the libido (the Oedipal Complex, Infantile Sexuality etc…), whereas Jung didn’t.

Jung believed that energy, creativity and dreams were mystical, that we didn’t understand how they developed, and that we couldn’t reduce them to basic scientific facts. That is, if an artist achieves a creative breakthrough, or a person has a dream that is archetypal – we cannot say simply that these are manifestations of redirected sexual energy, there is something much deeper in play. 

Individuation is our conscious attempt (our ego’s attempt) at integrating our collective unconscious, it is the search for the Self. 

It is where you have identified your unconscious nature, and allow it to manifest itself.

Your shadow is integrated when you allow it to contend with your consciousness, and while your consciousness should defend itself through reason, the chaotic unconscious should be allowed to have its way too, as much as can be tolerated.

This means open conflict and open collaboration at once. That, evidently, is the way human life should be. It is the old game of hammer and anvil: between them the patient iron is forged into an indestructible whole, an “individual.” 

The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung 

How to Individuate 

The term individuation is something that occurs naturally as the individual grows older. In the same way that physical development does not require conscious intervention, but proper nutrition and exercise can help the process, there are certain things you can do to help the acceleration of individuation. 

“The difference between the “natural” individuation process, which runs its course unconsciously, and the one which is consciously realized, is tremendous. In the first case consciousness nowhere intervenes; the end remains as dark as the beginning. In the second case so much darkness comes to light that the personality is permeated with light, and consciousness necessarily gains in scope and insight. The encounter between conscious and unconscious has to ensure that the light which shines in the darkness is not only comprehended by the darkness, but comprehends it. 

– Answer to Job, Carl Jung 

Jung observed the same archetypal images in insane people as he did in neurotic people. But in neurotics, these images were dormant, while in insane people, they were openly expressed. It is not the image that is the problem, but lack of integration between the conscious and the unconscious.

A Dialectical Procedure 

This disintegration results in loss of conscious control over the unconscious. Archetypes are relatively autonomous – they have their own objectives. It is not possible to integrate them through rational methods. A dialectical procedure is required.

This was one way the individuation process could be accelerated.  Jung described it as a conversation with one’s good angel. 


Another way to accelerate this individuation process is to study your dreams. By recording your dreams and studying their contents over a long period of time, you are making yourself more aware of the realm of the unconscious and the images and content that it contains. 

“That passion is better than stoicism or hypocrisy; that straightforwardness, even in evil, is better than losing oneself in trying to observe traditional morality; that the free man is just as able to be good as evil, but that the unemancipated man is a disgrace to nature, and has no share in heavenly or earthly bliss ; finally, that all who wish to be free must become so through themselves, and that freedom falls to nobody’s lot as a gift from Heaven.”

Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, Vol. I. of this Translation, pp. 199-200

4 replies on “The Road to Individuation”

[…] There is an eternal war between ‘what-is’ and ‘what-ought-to-be’. There is no question that people have a natural proclivity for evil, and the sooner they come to accept this, the safer it will be for them and for the rest of us. There is nothing more dangerous than a person who thinks themselves pious, and unconsciously obliges… […]

[…] You are capable of self-destruction. And comically enough, you will brush off this fact- ironically acting doubly irrational in the process. You think that you can control the ways in which you destroy yourself. You think that if you avoid alcoholism, drug addiction, cigarettes, gambling – and a handful of other vices – you are home free. But those are just the obvious ones. The formidable forces of destruction are not written on pamphlets or presented to you in infomercials. They exist deep inside you. They are your false beliefs. And they are your shadow. […]

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.