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Steps of the Individuation Process

The individuation is an autonomous process of accomplishing of the individual wholeness experienced as a psychological completeness. In Jung's terms, the individuation means the realization of the Self, which is the conjunction of the conscious and the unconscious. In the practical accomplishment of this goal, the interpretation of the dreams plays a dominant role because dreams are the expression of the unconscious, both of the personal and of the collective one.

It is possible to establish a set of steps which take to the final goal.

1. The first step is the assimilation of the shadow. In Jung's psychology, the shadow represents the negative (dark) side of the ego. In other words, it represents the ethical aspects which are rejected by the ego and which are projected in other persons as belonging to them. The assimilation of the shadow means the acknowledgment of these moral deficiencies as being part of our own personality. The shadow can appear in dreams in the form of close people - friends, relatives, and work colleagues - who present critical behavior features from our point of view. For example, a person having a turn for alcohol or misanthropy, can incarnate our own inclinations of this type and show up in our dream as a known character - friend or a relative.  His presence in our dream makes us uncomfortable and we automatically reject him/her as undesirable.

2. A second step is the confrontation with the anima (for a woman, animus). Anima is the man's femininity and generally speaking his emotional side. The anima archetype controls the relationship between man and woman in different stages, from the mother-son relationship to the marriage. The anima can symbolize different experiences, from the woman who wakens the eros of the man, to the spiritual guide or the supreme goddess (Isis, for the Egyptians, the Virgin Mary for the Christians).

3. The third step is the encounter with the archetype of the Wise Old Man. This image embraces our inborn wisdom, the meaning, the significance; it is the spirit or the spiritual (not to be confused with the intellect). The wise man symbolizes a distinct thinking, completely unknown by the ego, a universal and timeless wisdom.

He can take the form of a guru in our dreams (Buddha, Ramana Maharshi), professor (Albert Einstein), doctor (Sigmund Freud), priest (Albert Schweitzer) etc., in short, any public figure with authority, offering advices or teachings. Jung states that this archetype manifests itself in difficult life times (which trigger the individuation process) and which offer basically a bridge from the initial difficulty to a balance state, felt as a salvation.

The end of the individuation process can be signaled through the vision of the mandalas, which are the diagrams that draw schemes of the Self, of the psychic wholeness. These mandalas are spontaneous, individual visions which have to be understood and integrated in the mental context of each of us.

An essential point has to be emphasized: the individuation process is generally not a process which can be completed in a given time frame. The unconscious cannot be completely assimilated - it is practically infinite in its manifestation. This is the reason why the process can take a life time or it can finalize itself after the death!

The road which takes us to the accomplishment of the individuation is not a direct one, but one with deviations and extremes (enantiodromia ) which place the individual in contradictory positions and often cause unbearable moral sufferings.

Finally, the individuation process does not seem to be a necessity for all people. This explains why all dreams that indicate this process show up to a minority characterized by introversion and interest in spiritual life.

In his famous autobiographical book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung begins with the sentence: My life is a story of the self-realization of the unconscious.*

So what he understands through individuation is not a fulfillment on the ego level, such as a respectable professional career, a successful marriage, financial success etc., but a complete actualization of the potential of the unconscious, which goes beyond the limits of the social life, towards the spiritual fulfillment.

However, Jung points out that, parallel to his effort to accomplish the individuation process, the individual has to maintain contact with the reality through a minimum of social integration.

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*C. G. Jung - Memories Dreams, Reflections, Random House, New York, 1973, p. 3.

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Read also:
- What is the individuation?
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What is the collective unconscious
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About anima
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About animus
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The archetype of the Wise Old Man

- The appearance of the archetypes in dreams is approached in our Jung and Dreams, email course. Click here to learn more.


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