Exile and Individuation by Stephen Foster, Ph.D.

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 In general, it is the process of forming and specializing the individual nature; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a differentiated being from the general collective psychology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation, having for its goal the development of the individual personality.   

C.G. Jung, C.W., Vol. 6, para 757

 There are times when I feel like an exile in my own land, not just because I am an immigrant, but also because the individuation process can be a lonely, isolated and difficult road to travel.  The tension between following a collective group, or cutting away to pursue one’s own interests and one own heart creates a strong internal “pulling apart” in the psyche.  Jung said that this tension creates the flow of psychic energy; pulling energy out of the unconscious to fuel new creative acts.  If we are conscious, or courageous and can hold this tension for enough time, Jung reassures us that the transcendent function will be fired up, like a capacitor, ready to discharge a symbol.  When this symbol is encountered by the ego, it will lead to greater consciousness and an expansion of the psyche.  However, it is easy to forget the body in this process.  The tension I have describe is contained within our physical form, and we react to the tension as we might respond to any “complex[1],” with sweaty palms, tingles in our body, a cloudy mind and a churning stomach.

These bodily feelings are also present when we are excited or stimulated by something new. Psychologically, leaving the collective evokes fear, and powerful feelings of rejection and alienation.  But it is also the seed or precursor to something new and wonderful.  Edward Edinger[2] cites William James[3], who describes this place of alienation as a forerunner to “numinous experience.”  What Jung might call a numinous experience of the Self: a transcendent or transpersonal experience.  This all sounds very grandiose, but in simple words, making a move away from the collective, and treading one’s own path is fueled by energy from the unconscious, which supports us and provides the energy and inspiration to become an individual, even in the face of criticism and rejection from those in positions of power within the collective.

Often, others misunderstand one’s choices and actions that lead to a new path, especially if they are entrenched within a collective system, hold positions of authority or are invested with power (by self or others).  One often has to endure a hurtful backlash from one’s choices to take a new path.  The key point here is that when one makes the choice to go in a different direction, “the road less traveled” as describe by Frost[4], one is actually not treading a new path alone, but following the unseen new ways created by so many others before.  Like Jung, you may feel compelled to listen to your unconscious, to take a new direction in your life, and to become a more individuated human being.  Like the Hermit card in the Tarot, you may feel alone and alienated; yet the Tarot deck leads to the World card, and Jungian work assures us that these steps away from collective psychology lead us to become more of who we were meant to be.



[1]           Jung defined a complex as an autonomous feeling tone collection of images.

[2]           Edward Edinger, Ego and Archetype, Shambhala Press, Boston, page 52

[3]           William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, Random House, NY, page 150

[4]           The Road Not Taken, Mountain Interval, Robert Frost, 1920