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We need each other and we harm each other. We serve each other and threaten to devour each other. We yearn to rely on each other, and we profoundly disappoint each other. We can’t live with each other and we can’t live without each other.
Psychoanalytic models struggle with these conflicting demands. Fairbairn speaks of mature interdependence, Jung speaks of individuation, Winnicott speaks of the capacity to be alone. None of these are individualistic solutions to the dilemma of simultaneously needing each other and needing to protect ourselves from others.
Individuation is not individualism. Individuation is the fulfillment, the living out of one’s central calling, remaining conscious of our choices and our path even while powerful instincts and archetypes or external mandates to conform to cultural and community values try to take us over and steer our course.
Individuation is the lifelong process of collecting together all of your splits, projections, dissociations and repressions so that you have some understanding of your strengths and weaknesses and a clear idea of what gifts you may legitimately offer up to others.
Individuation does not assert individualism as a core value.
Individuation means that each one of us has specific and unique skills, which we must offer up to our community and to the wider world, and perhaps to God if such theistic notions resonate.
Individuating is embarking on a psychologically lonely exploration of what about you is specific to you. Individuation means you can’t default to what the collective says you should be but must discover what you have to give specifically.
Individualism is asserting your right to do “whatever you want” while individuation is uncovering obligations to others that are specific to you. Individuation means working to align with your soul, not to merely satisfy ego-appetite or a drive to power or status. Individuation calls on us to uncover our most honest, authentic Self- and Other- respecting service to the collective.
Individuation is threatening to social control, conformity and is generally devalued by the dominant culture. The highest goal of individuation is not complete autonomy: It is a mature, responsible, compassionate relationship to the larger world. The individuated human being is threatening to those who want systems and institutions to define our core values.
We often punish, exile, imprison, crucify, assassinate, or devalue humans who have committed to walk an individuating path. Individualists amass resources with no concern for the impact on others. Souls engaged in individuation are those who can tell us when we have agreed on norms that are destructive or incomplete. Those engaged in individuating unsettle us, they don’t accept our assumptions or premises. Souls engaged in individuation are often those who don’t do things “the normal way” as they are exploring callings that ignore society’s incentives and chastisements. We sometimes call individuators foolish, failed, stubborn, willful, contrarian. We sometimes lock up souls in the processes of Individuation and call them “mad.” We often don’t recognize the route of those engaged in individuation: they have let their soul guide them down uncommon pathways. They don’t fit easily in to institutionalized systems. Or they have left such systems behind them, shed like a skin and moved beyond.
When individuation is pursued, when the bravest souls dare to step over the electric fence of societal approval and disapproval, they often end up serving the deepest, unrecognized disavowed needs of the community.
There is extraordinary pressure – when a soul is discovering how it is meant to both pursue its essence and serve its community – to give up the project of individuation entirely. We are often convinced that it is wisest to pursue culturally sanctioned markers of enfranchisement and success, especially if we have something to give that others can’t easily recognize. There are a handful who pursue these profoundly specific personal processes – for the good of themselves and others – whose bravery is celebrated, whose generosity is rewarded. They may become reluctant leaders, heroes, even martyrs. But there are many more who are thwarted in these processes, derailed, attacked, silenced, traumatized, defeated by their environments for daring to be loyal to their soul’s calling.
The process of individuation is sometimes marketed by those who spiritualize “prosperity” as a golden road to success. And sometimes traditional forms of success descend, for a time. But more often individuation is never externally rewarded at all. Individuation and its attendant behaviors can only be pursued (never achieved) for one reason: because it is necessary to be simultaneously right with oneself and offer up the best you have to offer to the world around you. This often demands sacrifice. No, it always demands sacrifice. If sacrifice is not involved, it is not individuation.
Individuation can only be pursued as an end in itself- never as a means to an end. Individualism on the other hand- is entirely about engaging in means to one’s individual satisfaction. It is likely that we are all engaged in individuating in small ways now and then, and other times when we consciously or unconsciously succumb to the economic and societal pressures to live out individualistic ambitions and appetites. Individuation means developing the capacity to observe yourself while powerful instinctive templates, ruts in the collective road, threaten to suck you in. To pursue individuation is to hold onto as much consciousness as you can in the face of cultural and archetypal, societal and instinctive pressures.
It is easy to become despairing when the collective actively devalues or obstructs the processes of individuation. But it almost always does. If the greatest moral heroes, masters and the gods themselves could not escape being devalued by the collective how can we? To discover what you have to give, what you must live out, and then to offer it up even if it is rejected or ignored – simply because it is your soul’s purpose. That is individuation.
We may be blocked, or thwarted. The individuation process offers no guarantees. We will at some point encounter insurmountable obstacles and then we must accept and dig more deeply to find a deeper clearer sense of our soul’s purpose. We may even have to accept that what we believed was our calling was not, or that a purpose has been served, a chapter has been closed and it is time to discover a new purpose. Individuation does not inherently lead even to internal success or victory. It often leads, in fact, to surrender. But ultimately, the individuating soul is sacrificing external comforts and approbation (even if they end up receiving them) and facing powerful internal fears and anxieties to give the world their most personal, valuable gifts.
Participating in the processes of individuation increases one’s awareness of and responsibilities to confront the shadows of the collective. It requires ego-strength and sufficient differentiation and distance from the unconscious to recognize its symbols and signs and symptoms, and then, to listen, contemplating their messages. Individuation means grounding powerful instinctive energies from within and without while holding on to your humanity.
Individuation is what allows us to resist ego-inflation. Individualism is a grandiose denial of inalienable interconnectedness. Individuation maintains awareness of limitation, vulnerability, fallibility, and humility.
An archetype that is always dangerously present in individuation processes is the Sage, the Guru, the Healer, The Wise One. All archetypes are bivalent – with positive and negative aspects. The Guru, the Healer can also be a Snake Oil Salesman, a Huckster a Cult Leader, a Manipulator. When we are possessed, overcome by an archetype, or when such images are projected onto us by others, we may unconsciously exploit instinctive energies for power, or personal satisfaction. When we confuse our finite fragile humanity with a powerful species-wide instinct, we can be capable of great destruction or megalomania. Archetypal energies tempt us to believe that we are greater, more powerful than we are. The only antidote is humility.
So this is part of the journey of individuation too. To hang on to our humanity when instinctive archetypal energies are activated. Such archetypes surge up from within – and our society and culture instinctively pull for them, assigning them to us whether they serve us, match us, mirror us individually or not. An incomplete, oppressive, collectively imposed archetype is a stereotype. This is also the work of individuation: To be aware of the gifts and dangers of archetypal energies – how they can serve and malform us, help and harm each other.
It is very hard to make something a personal value when it isn’t a cultural one. It takes a great deal of psychological and emotional labor. The process of individuation is learning withstand without internalizing both the positive and negative projections of others as we simultaneously labor to take back all that we project out and on to others. To work to see others as clearly and compassionately as we see ourselves. And the reverse.
Here is what individuation will never do: Make you normal. Make life easier. Make you less lonely.
Here is what it gets you: A chance to feel well-used and self-regarding at once. The clarity that comes from facing your best and worst self without turning away or collapsing. The ability to tell your own small piece of the truth, and to offer it up to the world for whatever it may be worth, and to stand side by side with others, all in our own skin, responsible for ourselves and to each other, alone together.
I recently had the opportunity to talk out loud on the phone with a friend I’ve been talking to in my head and that I’ve known through social media for over a decade. We talked about how, and why we try to hold empathy for those who see reality in diametrically opposed ways. (And talking to her in real life was just as lovely has it has been talking to her in my head.)
When I asked Martha to help me with my empathy, she started with the topic of grief. If you are like me, struggling with empathy as the world seems to split apart at its social seams, Martha’s perspective may help guide you back to a version of yourself that you can live with.
She suggests that the anti-science, narcissistic, antisocial Covid deniers are displaying a collective grief response. We are all grieving the loss of big things and small things. But some of us are rushing into a collective denial of death and loss. That grief wears differently on people, depending on what self they brought to the grieving process. And living in an individualistic society that values health as a moral good is not helping.
Dr. Cottom had her own astute reasons for trying to preserve her empathy, and I encourage you to read her thoughts.
When empathy atrophies, so does curiosity.
When empathy dies, so does humility.
Most of us do not know when we are using solid reasoning or when we are caught up in rationalizing. Our thinking function is conscripted by a visceral reactive certainty a lot – maybe most – of the time. This instinctive certainty can be a formed or malformed response that may either allow us to react quickly to threats in our immediate environment, or may cause us to profoundly misperceive reality. Our discernment is distorted by such things as traumatic history of betrayal, violation or harm by authority figures, by disinformation, by exploitation and oppression and manipulation.
Most of us test our reasoning out with others for confirmation, and almost all of us, in the throes of a trauma or fear response, will seek out reference points and relationships that validate our gut instincts.We are all capable of, and regularly get swept up in a flock that is flying in the wrong direction.
There are bad actors and those who embrace explicit cruelty in every community. Psychopathy is an archetypal, and therefore universal aspect of the self. Evil exists in anyone and everyone and in our own selves. Evil is not merely manifest in “the other.” And there are lots of folks who are just lost and panicked whether they admit it or not, and everyone is looking for some body of thought to hang onto as “good and true.” There are many kinds of wounds, many kinds of reflexive, instinctive unexamined responses, many different shapes to our collective fears, many kinds of projections and everyone yearning for simple, clear, concrete moral binaries to save them in the midst of a whirlwind.
We all have and will be tempted to grab at a falsehood, cling to it and demand that it be true until we are forced to come to terms with the uncertainty of it all. I’ve seen it in myself and others and in the entire flock more times than I can count, and through other frightening, deadly and novel diseases.
We are a messy confused, reactive, frightened, aggressive species. And we are most dangerous when we are certain.
This essay explores Jung’s Visions, Notes on the Seminar 1930-1934, Lecture 9, December 8th, 1930, pp 155-157 (To read the Visions essay series from the beginning please start with Seminar #84 )
The next vision is long and Jung’s discussion of it is cursory. This essay, (and the following to be post at the end of the month) will primarily focus on my own amplifications and questions regarding this content.
I beheld a man on horseback riding over a mountain stream. The rider looked down and saw a man baptizing himself in the water below. He took from his saddlebag a few grains of wheat and threw them upon the water, and it sprang into fully ripe stalks.
The banks beside the stream became steeper until at last the rider found himself in a narrow defile of rock. He then came out into a plain, in the full sun light, and I saw that the man on horseback was the (American) Indian (from her previous dreams). Before him was an ancient city, white, with many domes.
A great crowd was gathered in the square. The (American) Indian looked up and saw in the sky a golden sun. Then he saw the crowd was worshipping the sun. There was also a fire, and near the fire a fountain. The Indian held his face and body over the fire and then stood up unharmed.
Then the crowd shot arrows at him but without harming him Finally an arrow hit him in the left leg below the knee; he pulled it out and blood flowed.
The Indian then returned to his village, was welcomed and all the animals come out from the woods and the fish throw themselves on dry land
Characters: The indigenous man who has been a guide or psychopomp leading her through these visualizations, a crowd of sun worshipers who then attack the Native American man, the villagers that welcome him home. The dreamer/visioner is present only as “beholder”
Exposition: The psychopomp grows corn stalks magically after seeing a man baptized.
Turning Point: He moves through a dark, narrow passage and comes out into a wide open plain.
Lysis: He is attacked in this open plain, but the attacks are futile, causing only a glancing injury. He returns to his home and his community and the animals celebrate and welcome him.
One point we must touch upon is the role of the therapeutic relationship and its influence upon the content that the dreamer/visioner is producing. Jung has already clarified that it would be a clinical error to associate the guide or psychopomp in these visions with himself as the therapist. This would intensify the dreamer’s idealization and dependency upon the therapist, and the dreamer would be less likely to recognize this symbols as aspects of her own psyche. This is her inner guide, her internal leading, a piece of her own soul leading her through trials and toward her inner home.
But an idealizing transference to the psychotherapist exists nonetheless. The dreamer entangled in their own complexes, and the dreams and visions they produce, can be profoundly influenced by the desire to be pleasing or fascinating to the therapist. Such active imagination and contemplative exercises are closely related to self-hypnosis, and even the therapist’s activated curiosity or excitement about an image can operate as a post-hypnotic suggestion, encouraging the dreamer to produce more and more such content. In this way, Jung often seems “taken in” or swept up by the richness and intensity of the visions, and one wonders if his cursory treatment of this vision is in anyway influence by a sensation that the dreamer may have (unconsciously) produced this complex vision, almost over-loaded with archetypal content, to try to fascinate him. If/When a therapist sense that the dreamer is producing dreams to bring the therapist close, rather than to follow their own trail of symbolic content, it is important for the therapist to step back from taking an active role in amplification, to modulate their excitement, and to leave the images and symbols in the dreamer’s lap to find meaning in for themselves.
The next issue we need to highlight is the process and influence of cryptomnesia on the dreaming and associative process. Cryptomnesia – the resurfacing of a forgotten memory –may feel like one’s own idea or production when it returns. I wrote about a small experience of a forgotten memory here: where a rhythmic phrase, divorced from its origins, floated up into my awareness and I was grateful that something about it felt so deeply familiar that I googled it and discovered its source, rather than inadvertently plagiarizing it in my writings.
I recently tweeted about a dream I had on twitter, where I was served a sweet and starchy tropical fruit pudding that I identified as “poi” and that I ate with my fingers. I have never had poi to my knowledge, and have no conscious awareness of ever being told what the ingredients are or how one should eat it. I had no idea as I shared the dream if it was proper or offensive etiquette to have eaten it with my fingers. Yet, someone quickly confirmed that poi is a fruit pudding with starchy tarot root intended to be eaten by hand. This could seem like some synchronicitous event – information emerging from the “collective unconscious” or some deep, universal archetypal symbol – that I had no way of knowing about – but it is far more likely that when I was 5 years old in 1969, the tenth anniversary of Hawaii’s statehood that my kindergarten included some information about Hawaiian culture in the curriculum to commemorate the event. My psyche relied on an image, stored in my memory banks, to represent an experience of pleasurable, healing nurturance.
I suspect that there are some significant images that may rely on such cryptomnesias in this vision, as well as some parts of this vision that may have been unintentionally produced to enthrall Jung.
We will look more closely at these elements and that the archetypes presented in this vision in the next essay.
NOTE: This essay is one of my Seminar Essays which are generally only available by subscription behind a paywall. This one is posted publicly both as a sample and for use in teaching and for workshops I facilitate on these subjects. More information on this twice monthly essay series available by clicking here.
This is an educational/experiential workshop designed to support therapists and counselors, artists and creatives, meditators and those engaged in spiritual practices and anyone who wants to learn to work with their dreams in service of healing, creative or contemplative processes.
Workshop sessions will be convened via Zoom on Friday’s at 9:00AM Pacific, 10AM Mountain, 11AM Central and 12PM Eastern for one hour, over 10 consecutive Fridays.
Meeting dates: Fall/Winter session dates:
October 8, 13, 22, 29, November 5, 12, 19 (off on the 26th for holiday) December 3, 10, 17
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