Who am I? Who am I really?

It’s the question we often ask ourselves, and usually find difficult to answer with full 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 through the process of 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.

  1. 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 on 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 really think about your history, and what you would have done differently with that awareness.
  2. 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, 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.
  3. 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, how to reach the unconscious in ways you may not otherwise be able. 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 the interruption of the outside world.
  4. 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 gives you the opportunity to unlock your unconscious from within, and pour out into your writing. Your journal can be your mirror, reflecting back your true self – how you really feel about people and situations.
  5. 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 the patterns of your behavior. 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. When you discover your true self, no one else can tell you who you are. If you take back and integrate your disowned shadow-material, you will reunite those parts of yourself that you have projected out onto others. It is this completion of the whole you that gives you the full thrust of your power. Now you can find your destiny, your authentic vocation through individuation.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.com since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Amazon.com. Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.