Becoming Whole: A Jungian Guide to Individuation (Book Review)
Individuation is a path of awakening, not a final stage or an idealized state. People transform from shedding their old skins. They undergo a continual metamorphosis or they decline in their refusal of dealing with realities. In individuation, one is conscious of living fully, aware of the unique patterns that run through their lives.
They grow from dealing with their personal struggles: illnesses, death, an underlying restlessness, emptiness. Something from within is calling for a change.
They will question themselves and their parents, teachers, friends, priests, and role models. Accepted wisdom doesn’t seem so wise anymore. They will be critical of their values, asking what love is, what violence is, what is true and false, whether the values that they’ve been taught are consistent, moral, or merely an illusion. They will dig at the turmoil of their existences, at what is meaningful, at what gives them a higher purpose.
Educational systems generally teach students to accumulate facts and ideas and the “right” types of belief. Students trained to build a body of knowledge, to test well, to question only what is acceptable to question.
Individuation isn’t about gathering more knowledge, but about letting go of old prejudices. It’s about cultivating wisdom through engaging in life fully, reflecting on experiences, and bringing what is learned into a new stage of living.
When people give up their roles as victims, when they can learn from and appreciate what is different rather than feel hostile toward outsiders, when they can “create an inner culture of questioning and seeking,” they’re living fully with their consciousness.
To do this, there first needs to be an acknowledgement of pain, suffering, illness, death, alienation, and so on. Rather than hiding or avoiding these aspects of life, in themselves and in others, they must be present to these realities.
It is hard to confront these ideas. People are often taught to function in acceptable ways and to shun what is deemed as wrong, from their families, cultures, and societies. Or they rebel from what they’ve been traditionally conditioned to accept and react negatively to what challenges them. What is perceived as unacceptable, what people refuse to identify with, is pushed into the shadow of their personalities.
It takes determination for a person to confront their complexes. People will usually resist what they consider to be taboo, unfavorable, or strange. Even though a complex can be a vessel for transformation, it’s easy to judge and complain and hide from unwanted feelings of anger, fear, guilt, and shame.
People refuse to see the same faults in themselves that they see in their enemies.
Negative complexes are painful to acknowledge. They can sidetrack one’s progress, embarrass or shame them, add to a present neurosis, or lead to physical troubles, if not worked on. Too much anger or fear, exaggerated feelings of self-righteousness, a judgmental attitude, are often signs of a complex.
Journaling, self-reflection, dream analysis, and mindful engagement, among other techniques, are daily practices that can help people to learn about their complexes.
Complexes can be big or small. To confront them directly is to reorient one’s consciousness. In order to transform as a human being, one must be willing to let go of past and present systems of belief. One must accept the death of their current values, ideals, goals, dreams, and attachments, in order to move on.
One can relate to a complex in a few ways. They can be unconscious of it, identify with it, avoid it, project it onto others, or confront it. If one is brave enough to confront their own complexes, they must accept its existence first. That doesn’t mean they should fall into fatalism or act from an urge of what they’re feeling.
Opening up to its existence, allowing themselves to experience its dimensions, will strengthen their character. Rather than attacking a complex (like the war on poverty, war on drugs), one should be compassionate toward themselves, embracing their feelings and thoughts. They can write an uncensored report of what they’re going through, reflecting on its history, without giving that report to anyone.
Journaling is helpful to bring a complex into a more objective light. One can remove its undefined form from within and then express it in external form. This can aid in psychological distance for self-reflection.
To accept a complex means to admit its “existence, power, and emotions” but that doesn’t mean to welcome or enable it. Many people, however, are afraid of what they’ve rejected from their identities, what they’ve suppressed for so long. They fear death and change. They’re resistant to growing up, finding independence from others, whether in the form of their parents or lovers, communities or cultures.
They don’t know how to be alone with themselves.
To discover the shadows within and integrate them, to discover that “inner relationships are the foundations for our outer ones,” to find courage through self-sacrifice, over and over, again and again, is a liberation from the past. A transformation of the old into the new.