Who am I? Who am I, really?
It’s the question we often ask ourselves and usually find difficult to answer with total and authentic honesty. Instead, we opt to conform: to do what we think is right and be the kind of person we believe will be most accepted by our peers. As I wrote about recently, why we care about what other people think of us goes back to the biology of our primal ancestors. Therefore, when someone tells you to disregard what others think and “just be yourself,” you are, in a way, working against an internal need to be liked and accepted by your peers.
Carl Jung wrote extensively about the process of individuation, which, in short, is the layered process of finding your true, authentic self. In a nutshell, individuation is when you recognize and acknowledge your persona (the personality that you present to the world) and integrate it with the contents of your unconscious mind, including your shadow (the disowned and hidden part of you that exists in the background of your everyday life). By connecting to your inner voice – your authentic self – you become conscious and aware of your true vocation. This is the journey toward the person you are meant to be…this is your journey to wholeness.
But how do we get there? How can we work toward individuation so that we may live the lives we are destined to live and be the people we are meant to be?
As adults, we have a more challenging road toward individuation than children since we have spent decades layering on the defenses that keep us stuck in our persona masks as we push away from the unconscious. However, at some point, the unconscious will bleed through and cross the boundary into consciousness. These are the moments when you may make that Freudian slip, have that accidental loss of temper, or that unaccountable misbehavior. Only by taking back your disowned and projected shadow material do you have an opportunity for self-actualization. By following these simple tasks, you can listen and hear your authentic voice and begin the process of individuation.
- Acknowledge the limitations that have been placed on you in your childhood. Moving forward often requires looking back. Did you really enjoy those years of dance competitions, or did you only continue because it made your parents happy? What experiences did you miss out on earlier in life that you regret now? Take some time to sit with your unconscious, and listen to what you think about your history and what you would have done differently with that awareness.
- Immerse yourself in a multitude of experiences and remind yourself of the interests and hobbies of your youth. As the saying goes: it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. Read, paint, attend concerts, scuba dive, and attend cooking classes. Trying a variety of new things, even things you think you might not enjoy, allows you to discover inner talents and passions you may not have known existed when your parents or even your spouse was calling the shots.
- Practice everyday mindfulness. There is a reason so many people turn to yoga and meditation, and it is not just for the health benefits. These practices allow you to learn how to be more mindful and reach the unconscious in ways you may not otherwise be able to. Meditation, mindfulness, Chi Gong, Yoga, Tai Chi, Tai Kwan Do, and so on are all ways to access your unconscious in a safe, unhurried space – a space in which you can connect and listen to your inner voice without interruption of the outside world.
- Write in a journal. I’ve written before about the benefits of journaling. When you combine the inner work of journal writing with the goal of individuation, connect to your unconscious with direction and purpose. This allows you to unlock your unconscious from within and pour out into your writing. Your journal can be your mirror, reflecting your true self – how you really feel about people and situations.
- Seek counseling. As an adult, it is often difficult to ask yourself the questions that need to be asked and to face the hard truths you must face on your own. Professional counseling can help you catch a glimpse and discover the patterns of your life by connecting and working with your unconscious.
An important step toward individuation is a willingness to recognize and acknowledge your behavior patterns. Once you begin to work toward your authentic self, you can begin to live as only you can live and be the person you are meant to be. Then, what others think about you won’t bother you. No one can tell you who you are when you discover your true self. If you take back and integrate your disowned shadow material, you will reunite those parts of yourself that you have projected onto others. This completion of the whole you gives you the full thrust of your power. Now you can find your destiny and your authentic vocation through individuation.