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What Is Individuation + Why Should You Care?

What is individuation

Individuation is distinguishing one thing from all other things. In Jungian psychology, it is "the process of transforming one’s psyche by bringing the personal and collective unconscious into conscious. Individuation has a holistic healing effect on the person, both mentally + physically." source

In other words, individuation is carving out your own identity through a process of self-discovery + inner work. It is unravelling the subconscious parts of yourself to gain greater clarity on who you are. By doing this, you naturally distinguish yourself from other people.

The Exist Better logo is a nod to individuation - merging the darker, subconscious material with the lighter, conscious material to create a new, unforeseen wholeness - a meeting in the middle:

individuation self

Subconscious + Conscious = Self

Psychologist Carl Jung referred to the whole individual as the "Self." When you do the work to integrate these separate aspects of yourself together in union, you begin to untangle the war within yourself - the self-sabotage, the berating thoughts, the confusion + lack of direction in life. The chaos and the drama of being you starts to disappear, replaced by a sense of calm + self assurance. In other words, you begin to know yourself for the first time.

We also refer to this simply as 'healing' because much of our subconscious material is painful. It holds us back in life because we are repressing it, denying it, or fearing it. Most of us do this without any awareness, and so it's a fairly innocent pattern.

However, as humans suppress aspects of themselves year after year, decade after decade, century after century, it has a cumulative effect - both individually + collectively. Such widespread suppression of entire aspects of our psyche has caused major destructive tendencies. Everything from telling a white lie to starting an international war can be traced back to humans being unwilling to examine themselves + sort through emotions responsibly.

This is why despite all the research we've done, all the technological innovation, and all the medical discoveries, we still have no 'cure' for benign negative emotions like depression + anxiety. We are plagued by them. Millions of people today identify as having a mental health disorder, and suicide rates have risen sharply since 1999.

I say this not to bum everyone out, but to drive home the point that the emotional work needed to heal ourselves is largely NOT being done. And we're seeing the painful results of this everywhere. People do not have access to the kind of information they really need to heal + empower themselves, and some of the information that circulates in the mental health system does more harm than good (e.g. people heavily identifying as broken, disordered, weak, and defective). Rather than empowerment + self inquiry, Western culture pushes pills to get rid of symptoms. This is the societal epidemic - repression.

When we repress, we stay trapped in negative emotion and disempowerment. When we individuate, we access freedom.

Rather than further condemning the aspects of our psyche that are causing pain + problems, we must learn to nurture, listen, + be radically open to these parts of us.

This may sound controversial, but the reason we have such a hard time with this in the Western world is because we are uncomfortable with femininity - all of us. We de-value practices like nurturing, being receptive, deeply feeling, and slowing down to tune into our intuition. We obsess over getting things done, executing things logically, and charging forward - all positive masculine qualities that have been pushed into overdrive in order to avoid emotional issues.

Rather than trying to "fix" our "broken" minds, what is needed is more tolerance, compassion, + patience with the more troubling emotions we feel. Then, they will stop running our lives, almost like magic.

So how do we do this? How do we literally go through the process of individuation and come out the other side more "whole?"

Choosing a Conscious Lifestyle

In the Shadow Workbook, I talk about building a lifestyle around your healing + growth. This includes a few specific components which are absolutely necessary for success. You will not need to execute these perfectly, but you will need practice and repeat:

1. An ideological shift

You cannot gain the things you want in life without first consciously adopting a belief system that supports you. The ideological shift itself will not cure you of all your psychological pain, but it is a necessary step to individuation + healing.

Freud talked about the ego and shadow aspects of the human mind, but his work could only get his patients so far. Why? Because he judged the shadow as bad. He saw human nature as dark and evil, and believed his patients were broken. Jung parted ways with Freud with the understanding that shadow is a part of all of us, and there is hope. It is not pure evil, but a lack of consciousness that causes all of humanity's pain.

In the Shadow Workbook, I also talk about the 'rules of shadow work,' which include basic things that you must acknowledge to have success on this path. These include things like: Emotions are not bad. We do not need to judge them or ourselves for having them. We do need to practice feeling them fully. We do need to be present rather than numbing out in order to gain insight. Negative emotions are not mistakes. They occur for very specific reasons and are never random/crazy nonsense.

These statements may sound obvious to some of you, but these beliefs are not fully integrated in our society right now. Many still do not believe these things at all.

Without integrating these beliefs, you will stay stuck in the cycle everyone else is in - trying to 'fix' yourself + get rid of negative emotions by force.

2. Literal practices

This is the meat of creating a conscious lifestyle - adopting tangible practices that are effective + enjoyable for you. This is where you will see the most progress and positive change in your life. These practices can include meditation, self-inquiry, journaling, specific shadow work exercises, EFT or any emotional release technique - even exercise or doing art can be part of your practice.

For specific shadow work exercises, you can check out my Shadow Workbook or do some research into what exercises other practitioners recommend. The most important part is making sure the practices you choose are enjoyable to YOU. At the end of doing your practices, you should feel BETTER, not worse, CLARITY, not confusion, and PEACE, not chaos.

Ultimately, we are always in a process of individuation. There is no end; there is no graduation day when we reach total enlightenment. Our evolution + learning continues throughout our lifetime - if we are up to the challenge.

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