Exploring the MBTI and Myers Briggs Personality Types and applications | Personality Pathways

Questions, Quandaries, and Queries about Personality Type with Lenore Thomson

What did Carl Jung mean by "individuation?"

Lenore Thomson Bentz . . . on Personality Type - Volume 1, No. 2.

Have a question about Personality Type or Carl Jung's Theory of Psychological Type? Send them to Lenore at lthombentz@aol.com. She will respond in this ongoing "Dear Lenore" column.

Questions Addressed in this issue:

Am I an unconventional Type?
Are Jung's mental functions like abilities or skills?

What did Jung mean by "individuation?" [this page]

Question: If individuation doesn't mean developing all our functions, then what is individuation? -- Irene C., Jersey City, NJ

Lenore Answers: Think about the psyche as a kind of ecosystem. Our ego-identity, our sense of who we are, is like a small island that's erupted out of the vast intrapsychic sea.

In order to develop that island, we've diverted its sources of water and energy to our means of survival in the existing environment. This isn't the way the island would have developed naturally. We've changed its natural outcome, we have a hand in supporting some forms of life and not others. This is what it means to differentiate a function. We've diverted our emotional and instinctual capital to our needs and interests in a particular time and place.

This differentiating process occurs as we participate in the structures of our particular culture and find out what we're good at and what we like to do. Jung describes this as individuation's first half, but I'd almost want to call it "individualization." We're establishing a functionally oriented ego-identity, a vehicle for accomplishing the biological tasks of youth.

A type profile is useful because it "gets us outside" the ego-identity we've been establishing and helps us to look at our pattern of choices objectively. This discovery can be liberating and vindicating, particularly when our preferences are not those of the majority. It enables us to validate our own point of view, to recognize what's important to us, to see the limitations or coercion of a current environment, and to accept the differences between ourselves and others.

But a type profile can't tell us how to develop further. It's just a model that shows us what's been happening so far on our little island. Sure, once we're looking at that model, it's possible to see that the island offers more potential than we've been using. But willfully improving our ecology isn't going to make us whole. It's going to expand and strengthen the island's existing architecture. In other words, acquiring skills associated with undeveloped functions doesn't complete us psychologically; it makes us more adaptable in the outer world.

In general, it's real life that pushes us, again and again, to take responsibility for the choices we've made and to grow, intrapsychically, from their consequences.

For example, I was just reading an article about a man who spent all his money on alcohol and cigarettes so that it became necessary to give up his car and ride a bike to work instead.

At first, he hated it, but, little by little, he found that he was enjoying the freedom it gave him to explore different routes home. Then a group of bikers asked him to join them on trips, and he found that in order to keep up, he had to smoke less. And the more involved he became with his new friends, the more he realized he'd been wasting his life sitting at home with a bottle.

It seems to me that this is the sort of thing life throws at us when it's time to grow. We live with the consequences of our choices, and they re-shape what we are, so that we're experiencing life in a different way. This man didn't develop neglected Sensate skills by learning to ride a bike; and he couldn't have developed them as a prophylactic against addiction. He grew, body, mind, heart, and soul from authentic life experience.

As far as I can see, this is the way growth normally occurs in the first half of life -- gradually and naturally, in the course of making our investments and deriving satisfaction from them, or recognizing that we aren't in control. We soak up information, make choices, develop strengths, fail and try again, find pleasure, get disappointed, and discover what we're made of when our limits are tested.

Type theory can help us to understand this process in ourselves. It can also help us to recognize that appropriating reality comes in many different flavors, each with its own purpose and value. Such knowledge can change lives. It can help us to see why some institutionalized methods of education or change don't work for everyone.

There is a point, however, when the instinctual investment the ego is designed to facilitate no longer results in further growth. The ego is only the center of consciousness. Individuation's second half is about unifying our conscious life with our unconscious life, establishing a totality. This can't happen by hauling up more instinctual resources and putting them to work on the ego's projects. It's the other way around: We're making our conscious potential more available to the Self, the psyche's actual center.

In terms of the island analogy, rather than improve our little piece of land, we begin to recognize that our ecosystem is part of an entire world that includes unseen ocean depths and revolves around the sun.

Individuation's second half reverses the selective, outward-directed aims of youth; it's an inner venture that has outward consequences, and most people aren't called to take it in a deliberate way. Even people who feel called to take it aren't necessarily capable of managing it on their own.

The few individuated people among us, however, have given us the fruit of their labors -- by way of religion, science, and the arts, producing images and ideas that combine the deepest instinctual common ground shared by all of us with the highest of human aspirations. These images normally offer the rest of us enduring sources of conscious/unconscious unification in collective terms.

Jung's fear was that western culture was losing its way in this regard, losing its very soul. When the disparate parts of life cannot be held together, we become trapped in our fractured little worlds, asserting the categories of separate identity. Jung feared that we would be overwhelmed by the compensating activity of the unconscious psyche, and he set out to teach people how to venture inward with respect for the immense power of the unconscious realm.

By "venturing inward," I don't mean engaging in Introverted forms of cognition. I mean making contact with parts of the psyche that are more fundamental than the ego. Trying to annex them into consciousness is like trying to put the ocean and sunlight into a pail.

Communicating with these aspects of the psyche occurs by way of imagination, which picks up information at the edges of our cognitive life and makes it available to consciousness in images -- whose nature is both elemental and universal. This is why Jung guided his patients' individuation by way of dream work, sand play, art, active fantasy, and other pursuits that engaged them creatively. The fruit of this enterprise isn't more skill; it's greater humanity, people who can hold the chaos together within themselves and give us the courage to do it as well.

Individuation, for this reason, can make us less adaptive to our time and place, whereas acquiring more functional skills usually makes us more adaptive in terms of a specific culture. That's why individuation is not usually undertaken in any active way until the second half of life, when the tasks of youth have already been accomplished. If the process liberates skills that we can associate with less-preferred functions, they're likely to be different from the ones we'd have sought, and we're inclined to use them not for ourselves but for the betterment of society.

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Next Section - Psychological Orientation & Cognitive Skills

Lenore Thomson is author of "Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual" and the former editor of the Jungian Journal Quadrant and a lecturer with the C.G. Jung Foundation in New York City.

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Lenore Thomson Personality Type an Owner's Manual
"Personality Type: An Owner's Manual" by Lenore Thomson

A layman's guide to understanding Personality Type and the theory of Psychological Types originally proposed by C. G. Jung. Lenore Thomson was the former editor of the Jungian Journal Quadrant and a lecturer with the C.G. Jung Foundation in New York City.
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