For Jung, the self is the central archetype, the core of the totality of the unconscious and consciousness. It is like the Sun in a psychic solar system where the other archetypes and complexes are like planets orbiting around it. But let us not confuse the self with the ego. The ego is the conscious part of our psyche, which allows us to recognize ourselves as individuals separate from the environment. The self-self, on the other hand, is a broader entity that encompasses both the ego and everything beyond it: the shadow, the anima or animus, and the collective unconscious.
How do we arrive at the Self according to Jung?
One of the goals of life, according to Jung’s vision, is the process of individuation, which is basically the realization of the self. It is an inner journey, a journey through which we integrate the different parts of our psyche. It is not just a matter of knowing ourselves better, but of achieving a kind of inner balance and, ultimately, realization. This realization is not a static state, but a continuous process of transformation and self-reflection.
Now, how does one come to realize the self? This is where other Jungian concepts such as the shadow and the archetypes of anima and animus come into play. The shadow is that part of us that we would rather not see: our dark impulses, our insecurities, our contradictions. And the anima or animus are the qualities and psychic aspects opposed to our gender that we need to integrate in order to achieve greater wholeness. In this process of individuation, we confront and hopefully integrate these aspects to bring us closer to the self.
Practices for Self-Realization
The basis for self-realization is self-reflection and self-knowledge. This can be done through a number of practices, although the most authentic practice is life itself, living in a way that is conscious of how we act and think at all times.
Before we begin to describe some of the most common practices for self-realization, let’s talk a little about the basics we have mentioned.
Self-reflection is like your internal compass. It’s the act of stopping, looking inward and asking yourself, “What’s going on here?” It could be as simple as analyzing your emotions and thoughts at any given moment, or as complex as reviewing your patterns of behavior over time. The important thing is that you are taking a step back, observing yourself from a certain distance. In Jungian terms, you are allowing your ego to relate to other aspects of your psyche, be it the shadow, the anima/animus, or even broader archetypes. This practice gives you an enormously valuable perspective that can help you deal with the complexities of life and bring you closer to the self.
Self-knowledge is the treasure you gain from all this introspective excavation. It is the cumulative understanding of who you are, how you operate and what you really want and need. If self-reflection is the compass, then self-knowledge is the map you draw with it. This map will guide you through the maze of life and help you make decisions that are more in tune with your true self. Without this map, you are, metaphorically speaking, walking in circles.
For starters, therapy is an excellent way to begin the individuation process. Not only because it offers you a safe space to explore your feelings, thoughts and dreams, but also because a good therapist can act as a kind of guide through the darker, more enigmatic regions of your psyche. Therapy is especially helpful if you choose an approach that values psychic depth, such as Jungian analytic psychotherapy, although my beloved existential psychotherapy also has much to contribute in this regard.
Meditation and contemplative practices can also be incredibly helpful. Not only do they help you cultivate a calmer, more focused mind, but they can also facilitate deeper experiences of self-awareness. They can help you become more aware of your thought and reaction patterns, which is fundamental to any individuation process. In the Jungian tradition, you might even use a form of active meditation to dialogue with different aspects of your psyche, including your archetypes and complexes.
Another very powerful practice that is very helpful in this process of self-inquiry is reflective writing or journaling. I’m not just talking about documenting the events of your day, but deeper writing about your inner thoughts, feelings and experiences. This practice can help you become aware of your complexes, your shadows and other elements of your unconscious that may be affecting your behavior and emotional well-being. It is like having an ongoing conversation with your self, and you will be surprised how many insights and realizations can come from this simple exercise.
Creativity is another avenue to individuation. This can include any practice from painting and music to creative writing or sculpture. The creative process allows you to express and explore parts of yourself that you may not be able to easily access through cognition or conversation. When you immerse yourself in a creative activity, you often put yourself in a state of flow that is highly conducive to introspection and self-knowledge.
Carl Jung (as well as Freud and many other psychoanalysts) placed enormous importance on the content of our dreams as an avenue for exploration of our psyche. Dreams are like coded messages from the unconscious that can offer valuable clues as to what aspects of your psyche need attention. You don’t have to be an expert to get started; simply write down your dreams as soon as you wake up and spend some time reflecting on their possible meanings. Over time, you may begin to see patterns or recurring themes that offer you clues about things that are going on inside you that you were not aware of.
Relationships with others
Finally, our relationship with others can also become a great practice for introspection. Although individuation is in many ways an inner journey, it is not a solitary process. We are all part of a social and cultural context that influences who we are, and our relationships can act as mirrors that reflect aspects of our self that we may not have seen. Maintain healthy relationships, be authentic in your interactions, and pay attention to how you behave with others and how others react to you. All of this will give you valuable information about your current state on your journey towards individuation.