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How to Pursue Individuation
Using the Johari window as a template for exploring Jung's model of the psyche and pursuing individuation
If you’ve ever studied psychology, you may have heard of the Johari Window. The Johari window is a tool created by (Jo)seph Luft and (Harry) Ingham that is meant to serve as a model for improving self awareness.1 The window consists of four quadrants: known to self, known to others, not known to self and not known to others. Someone analyzing their perspective in relation to others may use the window to plot information as a basis for considering how to improve their communication patterns.
While reading Carl Jung’s Liber Novus, it occurred to me the same four-quadrant framework could be used to explore a deeper region of self-awareness consisting of Jung’s primary archetypes: The anima/animus, the persona, the Self and the region where individuation occurs.
I believe the process of individuation to be akin to what’s hit the public lexicon as ‘waking up’. It is the ongoing process of recognizing how little you know about yourself. Like the original blind quadrant in the Johari window, I put forward this model to explore our own blind quadrants.
Let’s start with the axis definitions.
The ego is the personal self, consisting of the notion of ‘I’, memories and personal experiences. Its primary concern is self preservation. When a person’s present state of self is well fixated, then an ego will be furthermore concerned with maintaining the personal self’s perception in the minds of others.
The collective unconscious is the impersonal self. The mere belief it existed is what drove Jung out from under Freud’s influence. Whereas Freud believed the entirety of one’s total ‘Self’ was composed of their lived experiences, Jung believed in a more objective and primordial region of the psyche that existed in all of humanity. The collective unconscious is believed to be separate from an individual’s personal unconscious.
There are 2 things that cause the collective unconscious to become active in an individual:
A crisis in an individual’s life that leads to the collapse of their hopes, aspirations and/or expectations.
Times of great social, political and religious upheaval in the outer world.
More on #2, wisdom suppressed by the prevailing attitudes of the masses accumulates in the collective unconscious. Intuitive individuals become aware of this and try to communicate these suppressed ideas into discernible ideas. This promotes a redeeming effect on their own psyche, but at the expense of becoming disoriented in the short term—thus, the awakening of the collective unconscious in that individual.
Now let’s explore the quadrants starting with the
Upper Left Quadrant: Self
This region represents the aspects of the psyche that are known to both the ego and the collective unconscious. Those aspects combined comprise of the Self with a capital ‘s’ that represents the unified subject of your conscious experience. Transcendence and inclusion of unknowns to expand the radius of the Self is a recurring idea on the path to individuation.
To begin this process, we can explore next the
Upper Right Quadrant: Anima / Animus
The anima/animus is how the subject is seen by the collective unconscious. In the same way how with others we have an ability to perceive traits they are lacking perhaps more easily than they themselves, Jung thought this same pattern could be applied to the unintegrated portions of ourselves as perceived by the collective unconscious.
“With these reflections one gets into an entirely new world of psychological experience, provided of course that one succeeds in realizing it in practice. Those who do succeed can hardly fail to be impressed by all the ego does not know and never has known.”2
The ego fails to recognize these portions of the psyche because they are the regions that have been suppressed by cultural values. The anima is the female spirit repressed by the male. The animus is the male spirit repressed by the female. Jung believed integrating the anima is a crucial step for males in developing compassion while for females, successful integration of the animus is a key to the capacity to think deliberately. Jung also believed until the anima was integrated, men were unable to experience love without siphoning it from external sources while for women, he exchanged love for meaning.
Jumping down, we have the
Lower Left Quadrant: Persona
The persona is someone’s mask or role in the minds of others. As mentioned above, when the ego is sufficiently preserved in the mind of the subject it will extend its attempt to preserve itself in the mind of other subjects. The problem is that the evolution of the subject is an ongoing process, and so to expend energy projecting a version of this subject into the minds of others is similar to sailing over the ocean with an anchor in tow. As the unchecked ego updates its internal model, it expends unnecessary effort to continue updating this external model, the persona.
It’s for this reason the persona is said to be the portion of an individual’s psyche mistakenly regarded as that individual. When analyzed by the subject putting forward this persona, it is a projection quick to dissolve.
Finally we have the
Lower Right Quadrant: Chaos
Everything that is unknown, but also everything that can be known. This is what makes it the path to eternal wonder, and the area where individuation occurs.
Exploring the unknown is the path to Individuation
“The aim of individuation is nothing less than to divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona on the one hand, and of the suggestive power of primordial images on the other.”3
So how can one go about divesting the self from their persona and integrating their anima/animus? In the case of the persona this is done through straightforward analyzation while for the primordial images, this is done through something called hermeneutics.
Analyzation of the persona can take many forms. For me, the most helpful way of doing so has been through journaling and especially what Jung termed ‘automatic authoring’—this is a practice of writing at the pace of thought while working to avoid time for pause where the egocentric mind will catch up and filter what makes it to the paper. This exercises authenticity to instill it as a habit.
If you continue to analyze your persona in different settings and exercise authenticity, you come to the point where your persona could be said to be dissolved. When faced with this scenario, a subject has 3 options:
Regress in psychological development to restore the persona.
Accept what Jung calls ‘Godlikeness’. This is the state of false superiority created by annexing portions of the collective unconscious and continuing to manipulate this projection.
Continue projecting only the authentic self through interactions with the outer world. Be the same person everywhere you go, and with everyone you interact with.
Both one and two are causes of anxiety and depression. This is because regression to the default persona and manipulation of its projection come at the cost of ignoring the falsity of the projection and living that lie.
Have you ever felt the guilt after an interaction coming from analyzing your behavior in the moment? This is a healthy recognition from analyzing the persona put forward during the interaction that is meant to be learned from. While a persona can be a useful tool in certain settings, exercising it has an inverse correlation to authenticity and moreover the path to individuation. It is sort of like the Two Wolves tale, where a grandfather uses the analogy of two wolves fighting to represent the battle between light and darkness inside ourselves. When asked which one wins, the answer is always ‘The one you feed.’
Hermeneutics is the practice of analyzing parts of a whole in order to produce a more true explanation of the whole from those parts. “Hermeneutics” comes from the Greek word for interpretation, and hermeneutic analysis is something you do every time you read a book, watch a movie or most broadly, examine something separate from its initial context.
The most prevalent example for this is the Bible. The Bible is a text for whom we do not know with certainty the initial intended audience nor the author and yet it is perhaps the text most commonly looked to for applicable wisdom ever written. We believe it was written some 3400 years ago, and it lies in the same category as works like the Vedic scriptures or Homer’s Odyssey.
Where the meaning of content is left up for debate, there is an opportunity for hermeneutic analysis. The way this applies to the integration of the hidden parts of the psyche is that by looking at where we find meaning where it is not objectively stated, we find clues to what our subconscious sees to be important context. Perhaps the most pure example of where to perform a hermeneutic analysis is in your dreams. Dreams sometimes take us on wild journeys through the night with no explanations other than those we offer upon examining them with our waking consciousness after the fact.
To give this form of introspection a try, start simple by writing about a dream, movie or book with an ‘as it pertains to you’ line of inquiry and reflection.
Individuation is the process of exploring chaos in order to discover something new and to become something new. This newness begins and expands from the confines of one’s own psyche. To be an individuated person in Jung’s terms means to have successfully integrated the conscious and unconscious facets within oneself through the exploration of your own internal chaos. It seems to me the obvious path to continued growth is to carry on this exploration of chaos from without.
Many philosophically skewed authors suggest the virtue of an individual comes from becoming something unique and individuated, even at the expense of what might be considered at the time to be good. From Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil to Robert Pirsig’s metaphysics of quality, the message is the same: the thing that is morally changing is higher on the pecking order than the thing remaining the same, even if that sameness is good in the moment. Pirsig’s way of articulating the transcendence of what is good at the time is helpful for clarity on this point. In the metaphysics of quality, he breaks good into 2 categories: static and dynamic. On a separate axis from good is morality, and so we can look at the dynamic as proposals and ask also if they are moral to determine whether they are behaviors or things of ‘quality’ worth preserving. One way to determine if a dynamic good is immoral is to measure the degree to which it infringes upon the freedom of others—thereby inhibiting their individuation process. If a dynamic good is immoral, then it will be cast out, and if it is moral, eventually, it will become static, and things of more up to date quality will eventually take its place.
The least moral form of static good manifests as imitation.
“If you live life according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself. So live yourselves.”4
You need to know what you are that is unique to live as that thing and cease imitation. This can be a daunting process because just like how fear lies in uncertainty from without, so too is this the way fear can arise from within. Exploration in any domain where we are uncertain requires effort that many people choose not to expend. It might be so that even more effort is required to explore our internal depths than something like trekking in an unexplored jungle.
For whatever it’s worth however, I believe that effort to be profitable. I hope for a world with more willingness to expend that effort, because I truly believe that it would be a better world.
The first step is as simple as realizing you have a blind quadrant. The second, is being curious.
Be good out there.
Send me signal on Urbit: ~padlyn-sogrum
“The Johari Window Model.” Communication Theory, 29 Jan. 2013, https://www.communicationtheory.org/the-johari-window-model/
Jung, C. G. Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 2). Princeton University Press, 2014.
Jung, C. G. Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 7. Princeton University Press, 2014.
Jung, C. G. Liber Novus. W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.