You may be familiar with author Henry David Thoreau’s saying, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
Thoreau metaphorically advises one to ‘be yourself,’ but what does it mean to step to one’s own music?
Psychologist Abraham Maslow used the term self-actualization to describe what he believed to be the final level of psychological development. At this stage, the full personal potential of the individual is realized.
Carl Jung offered the concept of individuation as a psychological process that makes one truly a unique, genuine and passionate being.
Jungian author Murray Stein explained individuation as “the inner union of pieces of the psyche that were divided and split off by earlier developmental demands and processes.”
“Demands and processes” refer to childhood wounding in which authentic parts of ourselves were repressed into the unconscious. During individuation, our outward personas – who we think we are – are introduced to our repressed shadow material. The task is to meet, take ownership and reintegrate these ‘bad’ or undervalued parts into our beings and apply them in our outer world.
Individuation involves separating ourselves from conformity and from the collective. Thoreau stated, “Let everyone mind his/[her] own business, and endeavor to be what [s]he was made.” Indeed, individuation promotes choosing from an internal reference point rather than relying upon the collective norms of what we ‘should,’ ‘have to’ or ‘must’ do. As we detach from mother, father, family and society, a loss of dependency results in personal suffering.
The sometimes painful price one pays as we continue to individuate on our journey is accepting that we are truly alone. The reward is moving towards living a life larger than our egos and the collective norms. We end up living a life more aligned with who we truly are. As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu stated, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
Often people think individuation is self-absorbing, ego gratifying and selfish. To the contrary, it is about becoming a mature adult, responsible for our actions. As we break free from family and societal beliefs that once bound us, we are able to offer to others and community our genuine selves. As Jung stated, “individuation does not shut one out from the world, but gathers the world to itself.”
- What are the ‘shoulds,’ ‘have to’s,’ and ‘musts’ that have influenced and continue to influence your life?
- What are the parts of yourself – the traits, labels and roles – that prevent you from stepping off your existing path onto a new, more soulful path?
- What qualities of yourself do you know deep down that you could offer to self, family and community? How do you feel when you think about what you could give?
- Society and family have a huge influence in how we live our lives. How might the family, peers and community you live among react to any change or path redirection you are contemplating?
- What fears surface as you contemplate increased awareness and honouring of your true desires and living more aligned to your true self?