The Individuation Journey and The Symbol Formation Process

The Individuation Journey

Recently, I got married and my wife and I had the amazing opportunity to visit Mendoza, in Argentina. This region is famous for producing a few of the best wines in the world, currently, two vineyards are ranked in the top 10. Naturally, we had to visit them. During these tours, it’s common to learn about the story of the family and how everything came to be, as well as their process of making wine. However, there’s one story that stood out, the tale of Alejandro Vigil and the creation of his bodega El Enemigo.

At the time Alejandro was entertaining the idea of creating his own bodega, he was already a renowned winemaker. He was and still is the main consultant of the bodega Catena Zapata, currently number one in the world. However, despite his undeniable talent, he was unsure if he could have his own bodega and many doubts flooded his mind. One part of him wanted to dare and produce a new unique kind of wine, while the other was afraid of failure and committed to remaining small.

One of Alejandros’s best friends witnessed him struggle and told him: “You should name your new bodega El Enemigo (the enemy), because what you’re afraid of lives within and you must overcome this inner struggle”. At that moment, Alejandro understood that he was the one standing in his own way and dared to take the first step. He confronted his own shadow and today, El Enemigo occupies the 9th position in the world.  

This is a great story to illustrate the individuation process and the confrontation with the shadow, because one thing that few people realize is that it must take place in the real world. When people embark on the self-knowledge journey, there’s an initial tendency to withdraw from the external world and spend a lot of time alone reflecting on who we truly are. In fact, many people completely isolate themselves. Although this is only natural in the beginning, this conceals a deep resistance to fully engaging with life and having real experiences, self-knowledge becomes just another coping mechanism. 

While we’re learning about our traumas and trying to theorize about why we are the way we are, or why our parents did such and such thing, we have an illusory sense of accomplishment and control. We feel like we’re the next Freud or Jung about to change the world, but there’s a problem, it’s just a theory, it’s just another rationalization disconnected from reality. It’s just another way to avoid facing our darkest and deepest parts, and it’s just another way to avoid making tough decisions and taking a stance in life.    

Carl Jung gives an amazing example in the collected works, there was this extremely intelligent guy who wanted to be analyzed by him. He claimed to have read all of his books and even produced an essay about his neurosis. Well, Jung was intrigued and accepted to see him, in fact, he told the guy that his essay was so good that he could even publish it, however, he wanted to know more about his personal life.  Obviously, this stroked his ego and he went on talking about his life, apparently, he traveled a lot and lived a luxurious life despite not making a lot of money. Jung continued to ask questions and found out that this guy was manipulating a poor woman who worked as a teacher to pay for his expenses, she believed they would be together eventually, but he was just leading her on with his lies.

Jung didn’t measure his words and told him that producing a thesis on his neurosis is useless if you don’t have a real moral confrontation. The guy refused to see that he was taking advantage of this woman and said Jung knew nothing about psychology. I know this is laughable, however, it happens all of the time. People do everything they can to avoid dealing with the real problem and making an actual change, they get so enamored with their neurosis that they even learn all the right psychological terms to justify their lack of action. Hammer this in your head, you’re not going to solve anything intellectually, theories are just meant to bring clarity, change happens with actions in the real world.

In Jung’s words: 

“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. They will practice Indian yoga and all its exercises, observe a strict regimen of diet, learn theosophy by heart, or mechanically repeat mystic texts from the literature of the whole world— all because they cannot get on with themselves and have not the slightest faith that anything useful could ever come out of their own souls. Thus the soul has gradually been turned into a Nazareth from which nothing good can come. Therefore let us fetch it from the four corners of the earth—the more farfetched and bizarre it is the better! I have no wish to disturb such people at their pet pursuits, but when anybody who expects to be taken seriously is deluded enough to think that I use yoga methods and yoga doctrines or that I get my patients, whenever possible, to draw mandalas for the purpose of bringing them to the “right point”—then I really must protest and tax these people with having read my writings with the most horrible inattention” (C.G. Jung – V12 – §126).

Jung explains that the individuation process takes place in holding a paradox between the demands of the external world, the persona, and the demands of the inner world, the soul. This means that we have to find a balance between exerting our individuality while making concessions in our relationships and contributing to society. Also, our self-knowledge pursuits are meaningless when they’re not brought to the concrete world. Just like the story of Alejandro Vigil, his confrontation with the shadow demanded that he dared to create something new, and not only “create” an imaginary bodega in his mind. The individuation process is about getting our hands dirty and paying the price to become who we truly are, it isn’t static and it doesn’t have a fixed and final goal,  it’s an ongoing process and an ideal to be pursued.

Here, I believe it’s important to demystify the “myth of being cured”. Many people sell this idea that we should be above any suffering and someone who overcame their traumas will live in “eternal bliss”. What a bunch of crap! This conceals a childish attitude to be above the human experience and to be shielded from reality. It’s just another cop-out, and if you find someone saying that they live in this eternal peace you can rest assured that they haven’t even begun healing and are living in fantasy land. The individuation process demands that we let go of these fantasies of being a special snowflake and become more human. It’s about achieving completeness rather than perfection.

Sure, by dealing with our shadow we will become more conscious and less reactive, and many things that used to produce suffering will dissipate. We can uncover true self-confidence, autonomy, and authenticity, and all of that translates into simply being happier and having better and healthier relationships. However, we’re still human and suffering is part of life.

For instance, pretending to be okay when someone important to you has died is just schizophrenic. Instead, we must learn to accept these emotions, respect our own time, and better direct them. Feelings and emotions are an important compass in our journey and dissociating from them will simply perpetuate a fragmentary existence. In fact, every time we deny a portion of ourselves we’re producing these fragments, the funny thing, is that the exact things we judge as bad or inferior, are the ones that can redeem our souls.

Jung calls this process of “becoming complete”, the symbol formation process. “The saving factor is the symbol, which embraces both conscious and unconscious and unites them” (C.G. Jung V6 – §466). As with everything in Jungian Psychology, this is a dialectical procedure between the conscious and unconscious, in which, we allow what once has been demonized by our conscious judgments to become part of our personalities again.

“Oh but you don’t know my shadow it’s too dark!”. I get it, I’ve been there, I’ve done that… The first encounter with the shadow tends to be horrifying, it feels like we “touched evil”, however, it’s daunting because it announces the death of our current personality. This is the moment we realize we must change and that everything we knew about ourselves might be wrong. This produces uncertainty and fear of the unknown, as people have the tendency to remain in a known bad situation than to open themselves to new possibilities, even though it might free them. It’s an illusory sense of control.

Furthermore, we have to remember that we’re still judging our shadow with the conscious values that created it, that’s why we must strengthen our ego-complex little by little, and over time, once these contents become conscious, they’re transformed. For instance, overwhelming anger can be turned into the ability to say no and place healthy boundaries. But for it to happen, we have to cultivate an open attitude toward the unconscious and start seeing these parts differently, also knowing that truth lies somewhere between the unconscious perspective and your conscious judgments. By entertaining this paradox, a new truth starts emerging, one that’s capable of uniting the opposites into a higher unit, Jung calls that the transcendent function. In Jung’s words, ”The psychological “transcendent function” arises from the union of conscious and unconscious contents”. […] It is called “transcendent” because it makes the transition from one attitude to another organically possible, without loss of the unconscious” (C.G. Jung – V8 – §145).

As we’ve seen, a strong ego is capable of holding and entertaining opposing and complementary truths at the same time. This attitude toward the unconscious is what allows us to be guided by the Self and eventually achieve a sense of completeness. But again, the Self only inspires us to follow a certain direction, it’s up to us to accommodate it in our daily lives. The individuation journey is about living the truth of our souls in our creative endeavors, in the work that we do, and in the relationships that enrich our lives. Finally, it’s about living your pistis. In Joseph Campbells’s words, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you truly are”.

Read NextThe Shadow Integration Process

Rafael Krüger – Jungian Therapist

Start your journey with Katabasis – The Shadow Integration Manual

Sign Up For The Audacity Newsletter

Esse website utiliza cookies

Para otimizar sua experiência de navegação, usamos cookies. Ao continuar no site, assumimos que você concorda com nossa Política de Privacidade.