Source: C. G. Jung & M.L. von Franz (edit): “Symbolit, piilotajunnan kieli”. Finnish translation of “Man and his symbols” (1964). Published by Otava. Printed in Spain 2003.
Intepretations and citations from chapter 3, M-L. Franz: “Individuaatioprosessi” (Individuation process), pp. 160-164
The Self can be understood as the central organizing principle of the psyche. It’s not the same as “me” or the Ego, e.g. part of the psyche a person is conscious of. Self belongs to the unconscious and has a vital part in the individuation process. It is the fundamental and essential aspect of our personality, a center of our psyche. By creating a connection to our Self we can grow as individuals and become a person we were meant to be, achieving our personal maximum.
How I intepret Jung’s writings, the individuation process begins from the Self, it being something already inside us but hidden. Aristotle spoke about inner potential or we could say in Jungs case “psychic DNA”, that is just waiting to actualize itself. Like a pineseed has inside its DNA the coded structure of the future pine tree, our psyche contains the potential and creative map of possibilities, which we can make come true in our lives. However, Jung points out that this potential is not necessarily same as the life and personality we will make actual in our lives. An individual can remain a “stump” or live someone elses life than his own, following rules and concept for “good life” other than the ones that would suit his personality the best. Actualization of the Self is not dependent on the good starting points or optimal conditions in life: as a pinetree grows by adapting to the external conditions of the place the seed happened to land on, also a person will develop differently depending on his time and place of birth, geographical, sosioeconomical and emotional context. Whatever the context is, basis for this development lies within the individuation process, and the individuals ability to actualize his unique wholeness of the psyche through it.
Individuation process is real only if person can become conscious of it and create a living connection to this process. If a person can free himself from all the purposeful goals and wishes for his life, he can enable the creative Self of the psyche to participate in the individuation process. This requires aiming to achieve (psychologically) a more deeper, fundamental way of being and living in this world. To allow one’s personality enough room for growth, one must abandon attempts to consciously plan one’s life according to utilitarian standards. (This kind of thinking is unfortunately not supported by our western culture. Individuals life is more likely seen as a conscious process, and people are encouraged to make life goals and plans how to achieve these goals)
Bringing the individuation process to the ordinary life, we could image two individuals, Peter and Paul, for example, and how they can or could enable individuation process in their lives.
Peter comes from a background of lower-mid class or working class, and is raised to believe that a good life means getting a job, getting married and having two kids. If Peter is not capable of questioning his conscious, planted beliefs of what he should do with his life, he might actually get a profession as an engineer, move to sub-urbs and establish his life on family-file and having two cars and a dog, feeling somehow empty inside. Without any true connection to his psyche, his Self would try to send him messages that he would be better suited to a life of a spiritual teacher travelling around the world, in avail.
On the other hand, Paul, who comes from an old family of artists and academics, might be tempted to try a career as a writer, even though for him, a “simple life” working and raising a family would suite better. If Paul is able to establish a true connection to his Self, his individuation process can start and continue to its peak. By taking time to listen to his self, maybe via intepreting dreams or going to psychoanalysis, he could create a life that would fulfill his personal potential and make him a mature personality. In his book Jung mentions having met an elderly woman, who by outer standards hadn’t achieved much in her life (a fact that woman herself complained about being someone that “hadn’t done much with her life”) . However Jung could see that despite her difficulties in life, woman had been able to somehow develop into a mature personality and be in balance with herself. He told the woman an ancient Chinese story about a carpenter and an oak, a story which enlightens the purpose of life: fulfilling one’s own destiny. Woman understood the story immediately and felt relieved. She realized that her life had been a good one, even though in general standards it measured as “not having achieved much”.
Fulfilling own destiny is the biggest achievement anyone can make in his life. According to Jung this requires surrendering to the individuation process and unconscious Self, that acts as a guide towards your real potential.