Soul Sessions by CreativeMind

3 Challenges of Individuation

November 21, 2023 Debra Berndt Maldonado and Robert Maldonado PhD Life Coach Training and Personal Transformation Experts Season 7 Episode 188
Soul Sessions by CreativeMind
3 Challenges of Individuation
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We explore the subject of individuation, the path towards self-realization and integrating our conscious persona with our personal unconscious. In this episode, we discuss the 3 primary challenges that pit the individual against the collective:

  • The individual self versus society
  • The ego versus the masses
  • The Self versus the world


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INTRO  00:00

Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin. 

Debra Maldonado  00:27 

Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions. I am Debra Berndt Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. I have a great episode for you today — I can't wait to get into it with you, Rob — about individuation, the three challenges of individuation. Before we begin, I do want to remind you, if you're listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, or any other podcast services, don't forget to subscribe so you can't miss an episode. It's gonna be a great series on individuation and the importance of it.

Robert Maldonado  00:57

We're continuing the whole conversation we've been having about Jung’s contribution to psychology, to the world, to our work. We want to mention a couple of guests that we recently had on the program that really make our programs special for us. Dr. James Hollis, thank you so much for being on the show, people are still talking about the conversation we had with him. Then Linda Davies, the great author of so many wonderful books, she's a dedicated student of the CreativeMind Process.

Debra Maldonado  01:38

I loved both of those interviews. If you haven't listened to them, look in previous episodes and catch up, because they're really wonderful. You don't want to miss it. The three challenges of individuation. If you are familiar with Jung, you've heard the term “individuation”, but some people may have just found us. Let's pretend they know nothing about individuation. Let's define it first before we get into it.

Robert Maldonado  02:03

This is the cliff notes individuation. The main idea is that we're not this persona that we identify with. Jung believed that it's an important function we carry out in society, that we create and develop this persona, but that we’re meant to individuate, to become much more than our persona.

Debra Maldonado  02:32

When we think of persona, think of it as your conscious personality. Most people stop there, they think “I'm going to improve what I'm aware of about myself, become more self aware.” But they think it's the conscious part that they're aware of. Jung in his wisdom said there's a whole other part of us that's unconscious. That's really what we're doing with individuation. It’s being able to look beyond just that persona, that conscious personality, and shining up the ego, polishing up the persona, but discovering who we are inside on a deep level.

Robert Maldonado  03:08

That process Jung talked about begins with looking inward into the personal unconscious. The personal unconscious, many people have heard about the shadow, that's where it resides. It means there's a component of the psyche that holds onto our past memories, conditioning, emotional experiences. Until we're able to integrate that content that's in the personal unconscious, we're split against ourselves, we are creating with one hand and destroying with the other because we're not fully integrated. Jung's idea was that there's a psychological process that must take place in life beyond early adulthood that integrates these two halves of our psyche, our conscious mind and our personal unconscious. That process leads us to self-realization, to the understanding of the self in us as much bigger aspect of life than merely the persona, the role that we play in society.

Debra Maldonado  04:27

Most of the conscious personality by default is our conditioned self, the way we were shaped by the world, family, or events in life. We create this conscious personality, we believe it's who we are, but that is what the concept of the ego is. It’s a sense of I, a sense of individual me in this body, but everything you assume about yourself in the world is based on something you learned early in life and didn't question. The things that don't fit that conscious personality go into what you call the shadow, which is the parts of ourselves that we don't identify with. That's what we're doing, bringing back all parts of ourselves, becoming more whole, not in a healing way where something's broken, but more like seeing the big picture instead of just seeing a sliver of something. Imagine you read a book, and you just read the first page. The first page is this terrible tragedy that was unfolding. But you didn't read the rest of the book, and the rest of the book is the heroes going off and having challenges, overcoming obstacles, transforming, being their true self. We miss out on that adventure of life if we just read the first chapter or the first sentence of our book. There are three challenges for individuation.

Robert Maldonado  05:47

Certainly a lot of challenges but these are three primary challenges that pick the individual against the collective. Beyond the individual psyche, or the individual concepts of persona and shadow, which is still a personal concept, it's still about your personality, things that didn't fit into that personality. But beyond that, Jung had a concept of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious isn’t unconscious, it's not that it's asleep, it’s not that it's not doing anything. He chose that term because he meant we’re unconscious of it. It’s very much active, playing out in the world. The collective is the society, the world. 

Debra Maldonado  06:43

If we want to see our collective unconscious, we could look at the world and see the plays playing out. All the archetypes, all the patterns in the world are connected to us in some way.

Robert Maldonado  06:54

It's very much what we call culture, society, the world, the internet, all the symbols we see filter through this medium of the internet. That’s the collective unconscious playing out in society, in the world. There is this tension, Jung was always talking about the tension, the dynamics. What causes something to be so electrified, so full of energy is that there are two opposing elements, opposite poles that are charging each other. The charge in individuation is often between the individual, what's going on in our personal life, and the collective, both conscious and unconscious. The first one is the individual in society. We're born into a society, a culture, a family. The family, of course, is part of that culture, that society. All parents, we see it in across the world, in every culture, teach you the language of that society, that culture, they teach you the values, rituals, beliefs, often not directly, but we're like little sponges. Some of us that have worked with kids know we're absorbing tons of data continuously through our senses. Our mind is designed for absorbing that information and holding on to it, it stays within us.

Debra Maldonado  08:40

If you think about a child, they look at the parents as god-like figures. Whether we like it or not, we absorb their ideas, their personality traits, where they express power. Even if we disagree with it, we align with it in a way. We don't even consciously choose it. It's an adaptation, we assume we’re like them, they’re like us. We have an alignment with it, creating a bond of love with the parent that creates us, becoming a carbon copy in a lot of ways, not only genetically. We have the genetics, but the experience and interaction with the environment, how they saw the world, how they thought about money, about relationships, how they thought about God, values, friendships, what to talk about, what not to talk about, to be affectionate or not to be affectionate, to be smart or to be playful. We think all these things are our personality, but a lot of our personality is shaped by the personalities around us.

Robert Maldonado  09:52

The more we learn about genetics, the more we understand these things are passed on genetically, or through the genetic code, and also through the epigenetic code. The epigenetic code is a layer on top of the genetic code that passes on predispositions towards stress, the experiences are our ancestors had in society is coded in the epigenetic code. It's not part of the genetic code, it's not how your body is going to be built, like the color of your eyes and the color of your hair. It has more to do with those experiences and what the responses were to those experiences. War, famine, times a plenty, all those things are encoded and then passed along. We can think of our inheritance from our parents, our culture, our ancestors as a set of predispositions that are going to play out whether we like it or not.

Debra Maldonado  11:07

Whether we're conscious of them or not. Have you ever tried to go against the will of your family, or go against the will of friendships? A lot of us have that experience of growing up with your friends from high school or college, then you go and have your life, go back five years, ten years later, and they don't fit in. It’s weird, like you’ve outgrown them. But if you stayed in that town or with these friends, you're more likely to stay in that thinking. Being around your family, how entangled you’re with your family, not being able to make a decision unless you think your parents are going to approve. We have that tension, we have these desires. I always wanted to start my own business, and no one in my family did. I always hear my mother and my father's voice “You have a good job, why would you leave?” We all have that. That's what's in us even unconsciously, a part of us, that tension of “Do you really want to go there?”, those places where we feel stuck, we have desires we can't express. That’s what we're experiencing, the tension between our true self wanting to be expressed and the unconscious patterns that are saying that's not a good idea, it’s scary. Everyone has it. Every hero's journey, there's always been this feeling of fear, the hero has a trepidation about taking that journey. I'm not the hero I think I am. Can I do it? We all feel that and that's that pressure. Let's go with the flow, stay with the course, then everyone will be happy, no one will judge you because you’re doing what everyone else tells you.

Robert Maldonado  13:00

Jung at this point talks about a moral dilemma we encounter in becoming our true selves in the process of individuating. Essentially, we’re moving away from all that inheritance. We're saying “Thanks, but no thanks, I can make up my own mind about who I am and what the meaning of my life will be.” Think about that, we're taking the whole process that generation after generation has played out and saying “I can think for myself, I can think outside of the inheritance pattern and make my own decisions.” This is real free thinking, this is real freewill. This isn’t rejecting the society. It's not the same as rebelling or going off to live in a cave and saying “I'm not going to participate.” That's not the same thing. First of all, it's not rejecting the cultural norms and the social standards. It's accepting them, but understanding that they are socially constructed, they're not necessarily inherent in our being, as the way it should be.

Debra Maldonado 14:27

When you're talking about it, it reminds me of an idea I learned early on about individuation. We tend to identify with our behavior, labeling ourselves. I did something good, I'm a good person. I'm successful, I'm a successful person. I'm a failure, I'm a failure. We tend to attach label to our results in life. What we want to do is we want to break away from “I understand why I'm pulled to act this way because I don't want to be this person, the shadow, I don't want to be the loser, I don't want to be unaccepted, or I don't want to be alone.” Realize that's why I'm acting that way, seeing that it’s just an idea in the mind, it's not even real. We tend to think these things are so real. Everyone agrees now, since you failed that thing, you're a failure. That's how you're identified and kind of tattooed with it, instead of thinking that these are just loose concepts that we frame and collapse into. Our bodies and our identities, we think they're solid, but they're really not. Part of individuation is challenging these ideas, these cultural norms, and what they really mean. To be nice, what does that even mean? Does it mean to lie to someone and tell them they look good, even though they have toilet paper on their shoe, but you're not going to tell them because you don't want to be mean? Silly things like that where sometimes you can say what you really feel and that's actually a nicer thing than lying and pretending everything's okay. It's about opening up the curiosity of these labels and ideas and questioning them. It’s part of individuation. Then you decide what you want to be. What do I want to express? How do I want to act outside of that pattern? 


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Robert Maldonado  17:10

There are parallels in other philosophies, especially in Taoism. You see this idea that the society gives you a way of behaving, a way of being in the world that conforms to society. It helps you get along with others. But the Dao often mentions that what if we depend on our inner nature instead of these external rules? Wouldn't that be a better way of expressing our natural goodness, our natural inclination to help others and to get along with others in a genuine way? That's the key right there. It's a more genuine way of being in the world, of being good, being productive, doing your work in the world than following external rules. There is some good data on research that shows that extrinsically motivated behavior is not going to feel really good for us psychologically because the rewards and punishments are out there. Someone's holding a gun to us and saying “You should behave well, because otherwise you're gonna get punished. You're gonna get rewarded if you behave well, if you do your work.” Individuation means that you decide what your life is going to be about, what your work is going to be about, how you're going to do things. It doesn't mean you're going to break the laws and break the norms of society. But it means that you're going to do these things on your own terms.

Debra Maldonado  18:56

You're actually more moral when you are conscious, because you see businesses or people that get caught up in their conditioning, they get desperate for money and end up doing unscrupulous things, with their taxes or something. They unconsciously sabotage or hurt other people through their own ego building. The charismatic leader who hurts people because they're caught up in their ego. That’s an example of “I'm getting all this success, but I'm hurting people.” You're not even conscious of it. You're actually closer to your moral compass when you're aligned with your soul than when you're an ego.

Robert Maldonado  19:40

Jung mentions that the individuated person will always be under suspicion by the people that are not individuated because they understand intuitively that this person is not following the rules. They're not playing by the same rules that everyone in society is playing. They’re outside that extrinsic motivation imposed on them. There's a little bit of resentment.

Debra Maldonado  20:13

When you're extrinsically motivated, you don't have any power. It's not satisfying, like you said, It feels like you're constantly on the gerbil wheel chasing the next thing.

Robert Maldonado  20:25

That's another layer of it, it reminds them they’re subjected to the yoke of society whereas somebody that's individuated is freeing themselves or on the way to free themselves from it. That's in a nutshell the first challenge, there's a tension between the individual and society that's going to play out when you start to individuate.

Debra Maldonado  20:52

You have to resolve that conflict. The next one is the ego and the masses, which is the groupthink but in a bigger way. Before, we only had our friends we’d get information from, maybe our local newspaper or local news, maybe the cable news, in the 80s you started to see a bigger groupthink happening. But now with the internet, you have these masses and subgroups of people that all believe something. If you fall into that group, if you don't have a strong ego, you're gonna align with the masses and not have any individual ability to think for yourself. Your thoughts get absorbed with the masses, you lose your sense of identity and your identification comes with the masses. This happens in cults, where they can't think for themselves, it's the guru that tells them everything, the way things are, and they blindly follow. This happens in companies. When I was in New York, starting my career, working for an entertainment company, the whole ethos of the masses in the group was to work 80 hours a week. You don't question it, you just go with the flow. You're not saying “Is this really something healthy for human being?” We get caught up in it. That's the way things are. We're swept away by the masses, not wanting to question because then maybe we’re asked from the group. But if you have a strong ego, that's where you get to resist. We talk about evolving from the ego, but you need a strong ego in order to individuate.

Robert Maldonado  22:34

It's like having a strong body. You want a strong, healthy body but you don't necessarily want to identify just as your body. It's the same with the ego. You need a strong ego, but you don't necessarily want to leave there and over identify as ego. But the ego has these particular challenges, because we need it first of all to survive. The two primary functions the ego gives us is one, the ability to survive without necessarily thinking about it. Instinctively, we protect ourselves as children, intuitively, we find ways to create a sense of identity, a sense of self through the ego. But the second function is beyond survival. It is social fitting. It gives us a mirror as to what people are thinking about me, how they see me. This is a very powerful aspect of the human mind. It protects us in the social group through constant mirroring and reflecting on what the other person's saying through their body language, their motions, their intonation, through the way they shook my hand or didn't shake my hand. It’s automatically doing all this stuff. A lot of people go a little nuts, because they start listening to that little voice and they think it's real, they think it's telling me something absolutely true about who I am.

Debra Maldonado  24:18

Mind reading, seeing what other people are thinking. But this is the danger of losing yourself to the masses as well because if you don't have a strong ego and constantly need support and love from other people, if you find a group that you feel support and love you, even if they could be dangerous, not a healthy group, you're just accepted in that. You don't want to leave. Like a family group or a group that may be believing in weird stuff, and you're like “But I'm accepted in that group. I'm going to stay here.” The ego wants that approval, that's another way we get pulled into that group thing as well.

Robert Maldonado  25:01

It's such a powerful need. This is where family enmeshment comes in. We see people unable to break away from the emotional sphere of their family. That's enmeshment. Or you see people that join gangs, because they're not getting the social reciprocity in other groups. People need this, it’s a human need, therefore they'll seek it out in any group that’ll give it to them. Often gangs give people that opportunity to become part of a group and be accepted.

Debra Maldonado  25:40

There are groups that are very uplifting. There’s churches, and communities, even coaching groups that are really positive, but you have to keep your own individuality, or you're going to identify with a group and have no personal power. That's the thing. You want to check in and say “Do I have personal power in this group? Am I feeling that my voice is being heard or that I can have a counter opinion, I can disagree with things?” That's a safe group, it's more open and less blindly following the guru.

Robert Maldonado  26:17

In individuation, the internal challenge is “Can I let go of this function?” Not to get rid of it, we don't want to get rid of the ego. But to put it in its right context. This function that has helped me so much, first of all to survive, then to develop this sense of myself in relationship to groups, how can I let go of that? Jung says, there's going to be a period of disorientation where you're not going to feel like you know what's going on, because you're so used to relying on the sense of self that the ego gives you, or your self identity. Individuation is going beyond the ego.

Debra Maldonado  27:09

Countering the ego, and the ego knows your passwords and all the security code. It's that battle inside.

Robert Maldonado  27:18

The ego will try to reason with you and say “Why would you destroy or abandon this persona, me, the ego that has helped you survive and create the sense of self? Why would you abandon this for the unknown, which is individuation?” Individuation is like the hero's journey. It's going into the unconscious, exploring the vast aspects of the psyche that are uncharted, unexplored to this point. That process is what is challenging about the internal structure of individuation.

Debra Maldonado  28:04

Internally and externally, there's always a power struggle with our internal power versus the world. Also the ego’s power against the power of the self, which is our true self. Now let's go to the self in the world, number three. This concept of the self is the biggest, it's not the self, the ego, I think of it as more the true self or the true personality that it's expressed through, the divine, this universal part of ourselves that's not touched by our personal experience in the world, our true power. We gave up that as we became human. The first part of life we projected that power externally to our parents and to the world. Now in midlife, we start to reclaim that power that's our birthright.

Robert Maldonado  28:55

What Jung is describing is a spiritual psychology, for lack of a better word. It's spiritual because it's moving beyond the evidence of our senses. The ego is built on the evidence of the senses. It's giving us, like Freud said, the reality principle. One of the primary functions of the ego is to test reality, what is real to me. Often, for lack of a better way of seeing ourselves in the world, we depend on the evidence of the senses as reality. We say “What I can touch, what I can experience directly through my senses must be what is real”, we base our life on that. There's nothing wrong with it, it leads to survival. That’s how we survive in the world. We find the sweetest fruit, the plants we can eat, the things we can have.

Debra Maldonado  29:52

Housing, the person that can tolerate us to marry. A family that accepts and loves us for who we are.

Robert Maldonado  30:03

The problem, Jung says, is that it’s not the totality of who we are. It's a simple question. If you ask yourself “Where do dreams come from?” What is the purpose and meaning of dreams in human life? If the evidence of the senses is all we’re meant to live out from, there wouldn't be any need for that. What is the purpose of poetry, literature, arts, this ability to create symbols that transcend our experience of the world? There would be no need for that, if all we were meant to do was to live in a physical appearance of the world. The evidence of the senses, Jung says, is not where we're meant to stay. It's not where we are meant to live our lives, it is a preliminary survival strategy that is only there to provide a platform for which then we launch this bigger project of self realization. In Eastern philosophy, this is called self realization, meaning realizing there's a consciousness that is providing awareness of your life, that is the true you. The true aim of your life is the realization of this consciousness in your life.

Debra Maldonado  31:32

The challenge, just to tie it to the challenge again, is that the ego is constantly creating a separation with you and the world. The challenge is to realize the world is a reflection of your internal experience. That's the challenge. First you have to come to terms with your social group, then you have to not get swept up in the masses. But the most important one is this number three. You realize that you are the consciousness, this experience itself, which is a more advanced concept, but that's actually where individuation is leading. It's not just “I overcome my patterns from my life. I have a happy, positive new future.” But it's actually realizing your true nature, which is really profound.

Robert Maldonado  32:23

It is not like Maslow's stage of self actualization. It is much more like the Eastern philosophy’s idea of transcendence, of enlightenment. Enlightenment is not what some people think of, like acquiring a new state of mind or a heightened state of awareness. It’s the contrary, it's understanding that this awareness you are right now is the absolute reality. There's nothing to gain. It's more of dissuading your mind from being so attached to the ego and over identification with the persona. I realize I've been the self all along, I've been this higher self all along, it's simply that I've been identifying as the wrong thing.

Debra Maldonado  33:21

That reminds me of The Wizard of Oz, it's coming on during the holiday season. “Dorothy, you had the power all along.” We struggle so much. I know from my early life and personal development, it's trying to fix myself so I can get these outer things. The evolution of that is holding your mind that can create your reality. That's great but what if your mind is a reality. It’s not separate, that’s the key. It's so hard for us because the ego constantly tells us “You're just this little tiny person, the world is so big, you're not that powerful. Look at your past, look at who you are.” It wants to identify with who you were versus who you're becoming. Individuation is about creating an image of someone becoming a true personality, someone who is not living from the ego anymore, but living from that deeper truth that I am actually one with everything. When you're there, you don't feel this wanting or yearning, you just have a knowing and that's really profound. Once you realize it, it's really hard to go back. It's like taking the red pill, you can't go back now. You start to see the matrix, you see the true nature of things, which actually gives you so much more freedom.

Robert Maldonado  34:36

But the challenge here is that through the senses the world appears separate from us, independent of us. From my perception, my sense is that if I close my eyes, or if I walk out of this room, this room will continue to exist here in the way I'm seeing it and experiencing it, independent of me. That’s an illusion. It's a total illusion that the mind creates. Of course, we buy into it, because that's the way it appears. The appearance is so seamless that we just assume it must be an absolute reality. The Upanishads, which are the true explanation of consciousness, that has been given to us through humankind, through the Vedas and the Upanishads, say “You mistake the unreal, the sensory experience, for the real. You believe that that is an absolute reality, you believe that the appearance of the world the way it appears to your senses is real, and that your consciousness, your awareness is unreal.” In Western psychology, we call it epiphenomena. We think consciousness just rises out of the epiphenomena of all these neurons in the brain firing, this thing that appears, it's extra, it's unneeded. But in Eastern philosophy, it is the opposite. The foundation of experience of human life is this consciousness that predates human awareness. Everything arises within that human consciousness. This self realization, this individuation process is leading us towards the challenges. The obstacles presented on our way to get there are there to make sure that we get there in the right way.

Debra Maldonado  37:00

We have to have the duality to see both sides for us to have an experience of it. The dark and light, good and bad, pain and joy, all those things. We need both, because that's how the energy works. But if we could see both sides, we can resolve the conflict between them, then rise above it, because you can't just be on one side, like a seesaw, I'm gonna stay on the side that’s up, I don't want to go to the downside. But if you see both sides, you can create equanimity, as they call it in Buddhism, where you're seeing the dark and light as the same. Then you can create from a higher place versus the ego, which creates from good and bad, right and wrong, pleasant and unpleasant. You’re actually evolving to create from another part of your mind. Most people don't ever have that experience, they live in the duality and create out of moving away from what's unpleasant, without really understanding why it’s unpleasant in the first place, questioning why it’s so good to have that. What you want to do is question, that's what individuation brings. To tie it up, the three challenges are first, you have to break away from your individual culture, the personal unconscious, deal with how society, your culture shaped you.

Robert Maldonado  38:20

Not by rejecting it, but by understanding.

Debra Maldonado  38:24

Having compassion for the people who raised you, because they were conditioned too, they were passing on what their parents shaped them to be, and their parents shaped them to be. It’s a telephone game until one person in the lineage says there might be a better way. That's the first challenge. The second one is ego in the masses, to have a strong ego, because you don't want to have a weak ego, where you're just a chameleon, going wherever the flow of the masses is. You need to have a sense of I, a strong sense of individuality on a conscious level. Then you can really start to change your life. The third is seeing the truth of who you are, what consciousness is, what we call self realization, or self actualization is more that you're not your ego. That's real and that you’re pure consciousness.

Robert Maldonado  39:19

It puts the world in the right context. You start to understand that there's a powerful relationship between the nature of your mind, the nature of your consciousness, and the nature of the world. But they're actually one thing, not two things. They both give rise to each other, the world creates the appearance of the individual in the world, and the individual gives rise to the appearance of the world.

Debra Maldonado  39:56

I hope you begin your journey of individuation. You could start by just asking yourself “Why am I doing what I'm doing? Is it something I was taught? Am I making this decision clearly? Who taught me how to be this way? What am I assuming about a certain group or culture that I feel I disagree with? Where did those ideas come from?” You're starting to question what you believe, what your values are, and start to make decisions for yourself. I think that's a really good first step. We'll see you next week on Soul Sessions. Of course, before we go, I’d love for you to subscribe to our channel and not miss a single episode of Soul Sessions. Thank you very much, have a great rest of your day.

Robert Maldonado  40:42

See you next time.

OUTRO 40:45

Thank you for joining us. Don't forget to subscribe to CreativeMind Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Session. See you next time.

Challenge #1: The individual vs. society
Challenge #2: The ego vs. the masses
Challenge #3: The Self vs. the world