Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
These lines from Robert Frost’s poem, ‘The Road Not Taken,’ suggest that there are two roads in life – a personal, individual and less travelled one and a collective, popular one where most people have chosen to tread.
From a depth psychological perspective, when we choose the path that takes us away from the usual way, we have chosen the path of individuation. Jung used the term individuation “to denote the process by which a person becomes a psychological ‘in-dividual,’ that is, a separate, indivisible unity or ‘whole.’”
Jung believed that there is something in the human psyche that perseveres to bring about our “true personality” – who we are born to be. However, how do we undertake the process of individuation?
As adults, we are (supposedly) free to make choices based upon who we truly are and not those determined by societal, familial, cultural or religious doctrines.
Individuation, as Jungian analyst Jolande Jacobi states, “demands the rejection of those prefabricated psychic matrices” in which we have lived our lives. The ‘shoulds,’ ‘have to,’ ‘musts,’ expectations and obligations are questioned and replaced by ‘wants,’ passions, ‘feels right to me,’ and compassion for self and others.
The task is to make conscious all the possibilities we were born with that were split off and repressed through childhood wounding. We now turn inward, towards the wisdom of our intuition, body symptoms, feelings, and images from dreams. We scrutinize the patterns in our behaviour. We begin to choose from within, something most of us are not practiced in doing.
Jacobi writes in her book, ‘The Way of Individuation,’ “In the individuation process it is always a matter of something obsolete that must be left behind to die in order that the new may be born.” This concept resonates with Goethe’s line, “Die and become. Until you have learned this you are but a dull guest on this dark planet.”
As we individuate, the falsity of previous beliefs, roles, personas and how we have lived our lives fades and dies a much-needed death. Dreams often bring images of dying, death, burials and funerals.
Individuation gives permission for everyone to live according to his or her own direction, passions, and unique fullness despite being different from the collective norm. As Jacobi states, individuation “can make meaningful the lives of those people who suffer from the feeling that they are unable to come up to the collective norms and collective ideals.”
As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu stated, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” What role, belief or habit do you need to let go of in order to step closer to who you truly are?