The process of individuation

The idea that the psyche, like the body, is self-regulating implicitly assumes that there is something within both body and mind which 'knows better' than the conscious self. We are accustomed to the fact that fatigue, hunger, or lack of sleep are physical messages to which we have to listen, and which constitute restraints upon what we might wish to accomplish. We are less attuned to the signals coming from within our minds. Jung pioneered the analysis of middle-aged patients whom Freudian analysts rejected as too old to benefit. Many of these patients, having achieved conventional success, were not suffering from a clinically definable neurosis, but complained that life seemed senseless and aimless. Through the analysis of dreams and phantasies, Jung started such people on a journey of personal psychological development which he named the process of individuation. This might be described as a kind of Pilgrim's Progress without a creed, aiming not at heaven, but at integration and wholeness.

Most of Jung's later work is concerned with the process of individuation. Jung became more a guru than a doctor or scientist. As he himself acknowledged, the concept of individuation has subjective origins. Early in childhood, Jung began to have doubts about the Christian faith which his father taught; in adolescence, he finally abandoned it. But, like others who have been brought up in a strongly religious atmosphere, Jung found it hard to live without a faith.

After his break with Freud, Jung passed through a psychotic episode, which lasted throughout the First World War. He was nearly overwhelmed; but his illness taught him that, at the same time at which his mind appeared to be disintegrating, a healing process was proceeding which was striving to make sense out of chaos and achieve a new integration. He himself wrote: 'The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life—in them everything essential was decided.'(5) He found that he had to submit to being guided by something within himself which was independent of his conscious intention. Could this be the psychological equivalent of God—a kind of 'God within' rather than a 'God out there'? Jung wrote:

Among all my patients in the second half of life—that is to say, over thirty-five—there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has really been healed who did not regain his religious outlook. This of course has nothing to do with a particular creed or membership of a church.(6)

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