The classical idea of individuation in the Jungian picture of the soul assumes that each person is basically unique and that the process of individuation is one of reclaiming that uniqueness from the social mass - one differentiates oneself from ‘the collective’.
The implication is that I am a single indivisible item: I am an individual. I am single, indivisible and unique. However divided I may seem, I am potentiality, a single whole identity.
The process of individuation is one that involves me as a whole and any change that occurs effects all my characteristics, complexes or sub-personalities. In any case, these are really only illusionary separatenesses. They are not in fact identities at all, even thought they sometimes behave as though they are. They are all really parts of me and the individuation process is one where they become integrated into the single identity that I truly am.
I think that is a fair enough summation of the concept of individuation as we picture it from the Jungian perspective.
I would like to quote something that Henry Corbin said about individuation. He said, ‘It is not your individuation, it is the angel’s individuation that is one’s task’. Put another way, you could say that what individuates are the many selves 'within'. What becomes more independent, decisive and clear, are these imaginative viewpoints which the angels or gods represent. It is the imagination that individuates.
These intriguing remarks reminds us of something Hillman said: "When Jung defines individuation as a ‘process of differentiation’ and differentiation as ‘the development of differences, separation of parts from the whole’ it means realising our differences from every other person. But it also means our internal differences deriving from our internal multiple persons."
Technically, these ‘multiple persons’ are what we call our complexes and Corbin’s remark suggests that these have a divine connection: the archetypes personified are the 'angels'. So that if we take the principle of individuation in an archetypal rather than a personal sense then we have to look at the idea that individuation means the complexes becoming who or what they really are. The task is not our individuation but theirs.
Now this is all very well if we are thinking in socially acceptable areas. No one minds our ‘good’ complexes individuating in me. No one will object to the Muses individuating and turning me into a divinely inspired poet like Keats or Shelley or a musician like Bach, Mozart or Handel. No one will mind Apollo turning me into a doctor inspired by the memory of Hypocrites or Aesclepios. The sense of the numinosity of great purpose in these things will have us all nodding our heads. Good stuff. The stuff of civilisation.
But what about some of the other complexes and the divinities associated with them? What about Dionysos or Eros in their less sentimental and more disruptive moods? What about the vitriolic jealousy of Hera or vicious punishing moods of Aphrodite when she is slighted?
OK, so coming down to earth, put it this way: what about my boozing, what about my wandering eye for women, what about my jealous and possessive complexes? Worse still: what about my sadistic streak, what about my fancy for young boys, what about my temper, what about my Little Murderer? These are all parts of me. They impinge upon my frail humanity. And they all have a mythic or divine counterpart. Do each of these have to realise themselves - individuate, become who they really are?
If we are going to take the polytheistic psyche seriously, these are not silly questions. We are going to have to take such considerations seriously and see what they mean. What about psychopathic murder and rape, what about child sex abuse and ethnic cleansing? Are these the horrors in the seething cauldron of the id that Freud glimpsed and which gave him little hope for the future of civilisation; are these the barbarities that Melanie Klein saw in her darling little boys and girls?
No wonder we want an elevated self or an omnipotent God to hold down this lot - I want the good-guy in me to individuate, not that gruesome crowd of malcontents from the underworld. Perhaps we should try and educate the bad parts of me. OK, who is going to be the educator? Does that seem a question with an obvious answer? If so you must be quite sure who the goodies and the badies are. You're lucky!
But what am I going to do with my Little Killer - and all the other permanent inmates of that Insane Asylum I call my soul? My Little Killer! Are we going to individuate him or put him in a padded cell. Prozac maybe?
Now, you see, we have gotten into all this fuss because we have just imagined my Little Killer literalising himself or as we say ‘acting out’. We are all prepared for it because we think that imagining something is the same as doing it, or as so damned close it doesn’t matter! We dare not let my Little Killer individuate, that is, allow him to be whoever he really is, because we are literal about the imagination. Imagining it is doing it. Coveting thy neighbour’s wife is as bad as laying her - the danger of fancying her will lead to it. We’ve been taught this for many centuries.
Ever since the polytropic psyche disappeared at the beginning of our era we have been literal about the imagination. Pop psychology view of fantasy is that it is just another literal mechanics. Press button ‘A’ for effect ‘B’. You can make your life wonderful by simply imagining the right images. But, unfortunately, for the same reason, if your son wants reads comics or wants a gun for birthday it could turn him into a killer. And pornography is the reason there are so many sexual offences. Or so they say
To individuate my Little Killer I have to honour him and in doing so I honour the drama of human life, counting myself a part of it. To individuate my Little Killer is not to cure him of his murderous temper. But to realise what he actually is. He is a death dealer. One who sees life from the perspective of death and Hades. He cannot enjoy life because he can see through it to its meaningless. Remember that one of the rivers of the Underworld is the Styx, the River of Hatred. I need the perspective of death and his cold hatred of life to save me from a demented clinging the world of daylight. However all this may be, it is true that my Little Killer is a lot deeper than he is characterised by the 'social worker'. (She, incidentally, is also a killer - but in a quite different way.)
What about really bad things like sadism, murder, revenge, psychopathic coldness, brutality. It is true there are things in the soul which are inhuman. Or rather they are beyond what we would like to call humane. But on further reflection we really have to enlarge our meaning of ‘human’.
All the evil deeds that humans have done are human. Such things also have their mythical roots and are reflected in the archetypal behaviour of the gods. These things must not be forgotten - they have to be saved from repression. Not simply as reminders of what we shouldn’t do, distancing ourselvesfrom them. Not remembered simply as ethical signposts, or integratable shadows - but as dark angels to be honoured as and for who they are. Didn’t Rainer Maria Rilke say: "Don’t take my devils away because my angels will leave too".
Individuation means that my devils must individuate too. I must know them well. I must bring them onto my imaginal stage, otherwise my play will only be half-human, a sick sentimentalism replacing my rough humanity. And the gods will not thank me for doing so. As likely as not they will use me as the unknowing instrument of torment where I, in all goodness of pure intention, will wreck havoc on those around me. There are none so unthinkingly cruel as those who are compulsively kind and who project their devils onto others.
I’ll finish with a quotation from James Hillman:
The contemporary euphemistic word ‘human’ perversely
neglects (the) misanthropy that is also human. Even if we neglect
history and look at contemporary events, our view of the human must
include how humans actually behave; it must include their psychopathology.
If we are to fulfil the humanistic ideal by becoming fully human,
then we are obliged to remember that the process of that becoming
means saving the unforgivable. By saving I mean remembering, keeping
the pathologized experience and its images safe in memory. The process
of individuation or the work of soul-making is the long therapeutic
labour of lifting repression from the inhumane aspects of human