Jung and the Social Implications of Individuation

Jung and the Social Implications of Individuation


            Earlier essays on this blog site[1] described some of the components of individuation and defined it as

… a developmental process which begins in the adult individual, usually after the age of thirty-five, and if successful leads to the discovery of the Self and its replacing of the ego as the personality center. Individuation is the discovery of and the extended dialogue with the objective psyche of which the Self is the comprehensive expression.[2]

Perhaps because it seems similar to “individualism,” or perhaps because American society is so biased toward that philosophy of “each for himself,”[3] many people assume that individuation implies a preoccupation with oneself, selfishness and social isolation. But this is not true at all. Far from fostering selfishness and self-absorption, individuation promotes a greater sense of social concern and responsibility in the person who has taken the spiritual journey. This essay seeks to clarify Jung’s attitudes in this regard, beginning with his warnings about the dangers of immersion in the “mass psychology”[4] of groups.


Jung on the Dangers of Groups


            In the essay “Jung’s Timeliness and Thoughts on Our Current Reality,”[5] we noted Jung’s concern about how easily individuals could become identified with groups and thus loose their individuality, as well as their personal moral stance. Over and over Jung decried the tendency for the psyche of the group—the collective psyche—to overwhelm or submerge the individual’s psyche, especially if the group is large. Jung felt that the larger the group, the more readily the individual would get lost in it,[6] and the lower the level of morality that would manifest. So Jung concluded that

…every man is, in a certain sense, unconsciously a worse man when he is in society than when acting alone; for he is carried by society and to that extent relieved of his individual responsibility.[7]

Jung felt that, even when a large group was composed of “wholly admirable persons,” it would still have the “morality and intelligence of an unwieldy, stupid, and violent animal.”[8] Clearly, Jung had little use for large groups!

            Not just large groups were at issue: Jung also recognized that the person undertaking the path of individuation would have to “differentiate”[9] him/herself from smaller groups—the family, circles of friends, ethnic and other collectives.[10] This is because individuation requires giving up persona stuff—the host of social expectations and inauthentic roles that the individual has acquired unconsciously over time.

            Does this mean that Jung expected individuated people to live in some sort of social isolation? Not at all.


Jung on the Consequences of Individuation


            Jung recognized that human beings are social creatures and society is a “necessary condition”[11] for us. Each of us is part of the whole web of life and the process of individuating makes one aware of this wholeness and the unity of all. The process also makes us aware of the unconscious, which—in Jung’s concept of the “collective unconscious”—is common to all humankind. The individuated person is “at-one-ment”[12] with him/herself and also with humanity. Working toward individuation leads us to a deeper sense of connection with others and fosters a desire to serve others.

            But because the process of individuating entails being “born out” of identity with family, tribe, ethnic group etc.,[13] the individuated person does not fall back into his or her original social network. Time and again as I work with students at the Jungian Center I hear them note how they have found themselves creating new friendships and new social networks. Their old friends seem not to have similar interests or outlook. “As within, so without:”[14] having changed inwardly, individuating people discover that outer life also changes, including their social contacts and friendships.


The “Leading Minority” and the Need for Community


            “Leading minority” was Jung’s term for those awake,[15] those persons who had undertaken to look within and become conscious of the unconscious. Both then and now, there aren’t a lot of people who have done this. Western society, and especially American society with its strong ESTJ bias,[16] is not inclined toward introspection or introversion. People stepping out of the mainstream to discover the unconscious and develop their individual uniqueness are few and far between, and they often wind up feeling “different” or isolated, until they link up with like-minded individuals.

            Toni Wolff, Jung’s “friend and collaborator”[17] saw this need to link up with other individuating people and got Jung to agree to the formation of the Psychology Club of Zurich. Funded with a gift of 360,000 Swiss francs from Edith Rockefeller McCormack in 1916,[18] the Club provided Jung with the opportunity to do a “silent experiment”[19] in group psychology. Jung also saw it as the antidote to the “onesidedness”[20] of the analytic process.

            Jung noted that “Human personality is certainly not individual only, it is also collective,…”[21] and we need contact with others. Years later, as Jung Institutes were created in various cities around the world, there has been the “spontaneous phenomenon”[22] of similar clubs being formed by analysands and others interested in Jung and his ideas.

            One such club recently formed at The Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences. The shared experience of Jung and his deep effect on individuals committed to their growth has brought people together to share fun, fellowship (and food!), as well as stimulating intellectual exchange of Jung-related ideas. Such clubs become for their members what Edward Edinger called an ecclesia spiritualis,[23] a spiritual gathering of those “called out” from the crowd.

            If you are reading this essay in some place far from Vermont, and you need the fellowship of others on the path of individuation, here are some ways you might go about finding others who share your interests:

1. Google “Jung Institutes” and you will bring up over 1 million sites related to Jung, some of which will put you on to a locale near you. There are Jung Institutes (i.e. formal organizations of certified Jungian analysts who train therapists to be analysts) in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Toronto. Many, if not all of these institutes run programs for the public where you can make contacts and develop social networks.

In addition to these Institutes, there are dozens of less formal groups (i.e. not set up to train future analysts)—Jung Societies or Friends of Jung. A cursory scroll through the Google site revealed such groups in Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Claremont CA, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Eugene OR, Fairfield County CT,  Houston, Montana, New Orleans, Port Townsend WA, San Antonio, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Seattle, St. Louis, St. Paul and Waco TX.

2. If you don’t live near any of these cities/states, you might find like-minded people interested in Jung through “new age” bookstores, natural food markets, alternative healing centers and their bulletin boards.

            The old adage “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” applies here: when you are ready and aware of your need for the fellowship of others also on the path, such people will appear in your life. Just set the intention to find them, and you will.




Edinger, Edward (2009a), “Individual & Society,” in George Elder & Dianne Cordic, An American Jungian: In Honor of Edward F. Edinger. Toronto: Inner City Books.

________ (2009b), “Jung Distilled,” in George Elder & Dianne Cordic, An American Jungian: In Honor of Edward F. Edinger. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Jung Carl (1960), “The Psychogenesis of Mental Disease,” Collected Works, 3. Princeton University Press.

________ (1956) “Symbols of Transformation,” Collected Works, 5, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Keirsey, David & Marilyn Bates (1984), Please Understand Me. Del Mar CA: Prometheus Nemesis Books.

Shamdasani, Sonu, “Introduction,” in Carl Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009.

Three Initiates (1912), The Kybalion. Chicago: Yogi Publication Society.







[1] “Components of Individuation, Parts I-IV,” blog essays for November ’09, December ’09, January 2010 and February 2010.

[2] Edward Edinger (2009b), 95.

[3] World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, I, 1003.

[4] Jung railed repeatedly about mass psychology; see, e.g. his Collected Works 3, 513; 5, 104; 9i, 225,228; 10, 448,453,457,460,477,536; 16, 4; 18, 369,1315,1351,1386. As has been the custom in previous of these blog essays, Collected Works is hereafter abbreviated CW.

[5] Posted to the Jungian Center blog site for July 2009; see the Center’s blog archive.

[6] CW 7, ¶ 240.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Edinger (2009a), 199-200.

[11]  CW 16, ¶ 223.

[12] CW 11, ¶ 799,817-818.

[13] Edinger (2009a), 200.

[14] This is the Hermetic Law of Correspondence. For further explanation of this law, see Three Initiates (1912), 28-30, 113-135.

[15] CW 18, ¶1393.

[16] Seventy-five percent of Americans are Extraverts and Sensates; Keirsey & Bates (1984), 25. The “T” stands for a preference for Thinking, the “J,” a preference for Judging.

[17] These are the terms used in his “Introduction” to Wolff’s “Studies in Psychology,” CW 10, ¶887. She was, in reality, far more than just his collaborator and friend: she was his mistress and muse.

[18] Sonu Shamdasani, “Introduction,” The Red Book: Liber Novus, p. 205.

[19] CW 10, ¶887.

[20] Ibid., ¶888.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Edinger (2009a), 202.

[23] Ibid., 204.