Individuation is the psychological transformational process which is one of the hallmarks of Jungian psychology.
“According to Jung, “There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self” (Jung & Jaffé, 1989, p. 214). It is easy to confuse individuation with individualism. Indeed, they carry some innate similarities, as both ideas point to what is specific to the individual and separates them from the collective. It is my suggestion that the difference between the two lies in the relationship of the individual to the collective. Individualism, as the word itself implies, places the focus on the individual often without regard to the collective. According to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, individualism is characterized as “pursuit of one’s own goals without reference to others” (individualism, n.d.). In this understanding, the focus of individualism is precisely on its relationship, or lack thereof, with the collective. Individuation involves working with aspects of the self, interiorly, as well as in relationship with the collective. In regard to the relationship with the collective, rather than not referencing how the individual intersects with the collective, the individuation process helps to precisely define the ways in which the individual is a part of the collective.” (Bridge, 2018, p. 113)
Often I think we live in a world where there is an ongoing tension between the individual and the collective. In fact, I would suggest that that tension is actually a competition. Some argue that there is no place for individualism within a collective. I seem to be hearing that a lot more these days than I did in the past. It seems to be somewhat widely accepted that all social ills can be addressed and resolved without any attention to the individual. To suggest otherwise can result in vehement opposition. Perhaps there are those who also fall squarely on the side of individuality and engage in behavior that has no reference to its impact on the collective.
I think we are seeing that play out right now during the novel Coronavirus Covid 19 in the simple act of wearing a face covering while in public social settings. I find the prevalent resistance to being asked to adhere to this simple directive in the name of social responsibility to be astounding. There are so many people who are exclaiming that their individual rights are being denied by being required to adhere to this one behavior in the interest of social responsibility. Perhaps this is to be expected in a culture that has claimed individualism as a basic tenet. On the other hand there are groups within this same society that would always proclaim that the collective holds sway over the individual. How often has one heard the dilemma of sacrificing an individual for the benefit of the whole? Actually, that is a conversation that is current in regards to how many deaths from the virus are simply collateral damage in the attempt to restore economic health for the collective. How many people should be sacrificed in order for business to return to what it was before the pandemic?
The difference with individuation would be the encouraging of individuals to strive to live authentic lives while being aware of where that particular life fits in to the whole of society. In the current case of mask wearing, for example, I am aware that I am most likely not infected as I have pretty much been isolated from the start and I take the prescribed precautions so it is extremely unlikely I am infected. We are told that the wearing of masks is to protect others from us, not us from others, so since it is unlikely that I am infectious, I could argue that as an individual I do not need to wear that mask. But I do. In this example I am acting in a way that is in accordance to the needs of the collective rather than my own circumstances.
More deeply in individuation, however, the individual does the inner work to develop personally while determining where the fruit of this work may most effectively positively impact the collective.
Jung, C. G., & Jaffé, A. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Bridge, D. (2018). Tending Aging Souls Through Connection with Nature: A Depth-ecopsychological Study, Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpinteria, CA