Course 303

Course 303
Individuation, Differentiation, Compensation & Adaptation
Individuation and Differentiation

In our previous courses in Jungian theory we have studied the elements, or structures of the psyche. In this course we will explore the dynamics of the psyche. In particular, we will examine how the different psychic structures work together to bring about healing and transformation.

As we recall, Jung understood that the ego is driven to assimilate as much of the Self as possible. Said another way, the human psyche is moved to become conscious of its essential wholeness. In religious, or spiritual terms, this might be said as “aligning with inner Truth,” “developing a Buddha nature,” “living in the image of God,” “living in the Tao,” and so on. While the ego is gripped by the need to become more and more consciously aware of this wholeness, it also struggles desperately to hold on to its current sense of identity, or who “it is.” These oppositional motives create a great tension, which is discussed in depth in our course on symbol formation.

Jung called the process of aligning the ego with the Self, individuation. Individuation requires the individual to reduce the separation between personal consciousness and the collective unconscious and the central archetype of the Self. This is accomplished by integrating the shadow into consciousness. As we recall, the shadow consists of material that has been in the domain of consciousness. This psychic material is unacceptable to the ego so is repressed back into the psychic area we call the shadow.

So, let’s be clear. Integrating refers to bringing the shadow elements into the domain of consciousness. Individuating concerns the realignment of the ego to the Self, which as we know, is a difficult and perilous process. Thus, integrating is a necessary prerequisite to individuation, but they are not the same psychic process. Integrating shadow elements into consciousness is not individuation. This can be confusing, but technically the terms mean very different things.

To review our prior studies, the domain of consciousness is made up of the four functions – thinking, sensation, feeling, and intuition. Jung identified the four functions as the fundamental modes of perception through which inner and outer world information enters the domain of consciousness. Jung concluded that reducing the size of the shadow requires a clear separation and awareness of each of the four functions. He called this process differentiation. In his later work, Jung emphasized the differentiation of the four functions less, and focused instead, on the broader issue of differentiating between what is conscious and what is unconscious.

Let’s take a look at some diagrams of the psyche to help illustrate these dynamics

 Diagram 1

In this diagram the domain of consciousness is illustrated in the yellow area at the top. Notice that the ego is only a small part of this larger area. The shadow, or personal unconscious, separates the collective unconscious from the areas of consciousness. The Self is both the center of the psyche AND the totality of the psyche, itself. As the central archetype of the psyche, the Self encompasses the collective unconscious.

 Diagram 2

This diagram illustrates the shadow, which separates the area of consciousness from the collective psyche. When new psychic material from the collective unconscious emerges into the domain of consciousness and is intolerable to the ego, it is forced down into the area known as the shadow. This occurs when the current ego identification becomes aware of psychic qualities, experiences, etc., that do not fit within its existing limits. The ego has no way of dealing with this information, without having to deny or eliminate part of its current identity. Rather than undergoing the psychic work necessary to integrate the new material, the ego identifies it as “not self,” or denies it as real. The ego cannot tolerate acknowledging this aspect of the personality, so represses it in the shadow.

The shadow thus, consists of material that has been in the domain of consciousness, but has been pushed back into a less conscious position.

 Diagram 3

This diagram illustrates the dynamics of integration and individuation. In the process of integration, the ego assimilates the material that has been cast off into the shadow. Said another way, the ego becomes able to tolerate aspects of the personality that were formerly intolerable. For example, someone who was formerly unable to tolerate his or her anger will have repressed this psychic material to the shadow. He or she would deny being angry, and the anger would leak out in unhealthy ways.

In the integration process, the ego is better able to accept this formerly unacceptable, unattractive, repulsive aspect of the personality. To continue our example, the dynamic of individuation involves the ego’s acceptance of the fact that the anger is a part of the personality. This process requires that the conscious position accept the anger as a part of itself. To integrate the anger the individual must differentiate perceptions of his or her experience that have resulted in this unacceptable emotion. As integration proceeds, the area of the shadow, lessens, and the ego is more accepting of the psyche’s less conscious contents.

The individuation dynamic occurs as the ego aligns itself to the Self. As the individual continues to differentiate life experiences, he or she becomes more aware of the Self as the source and goal of life. This alignment is often called the “ego-Self axis,” referring to the degree of the conscious relationship of the ego to the Self. Individuation is not what is known as the transcendent function, which we explore in depth in Course 304. Individuation is the ego’s acknowledgment of the power of the Self. The transcendent function concerns the radical transformation of the ego.

Implications of the Ego-Self Axis

As we saw in our diagrams, the individuation process has to do with the quality of the relationship of the ego to the Self. As individuation proceeds, the ego-Self axis strengthens, resulting in the individual’s growing  acknowledgment of the role of the Self. The conscious position recognizes the Self as a power higher than itself, and respectfully listens to “messages” from the Self.

The callings of the Self are not like a direct telephone line that conveys rational, fully conscious contents. Rather, the callings from the Self are in the language of the unconscious and are communicated through the four functions. A person who is well-individuated is receptive to the language of the unconscious, knowing that he or she is being directed to a greater conscious embodiment of the Self.

To honor a power greater than ourselves brings meaning and relevance to our passage through life. As the ego aligns with the Self, it grows increasingly conscious of an underlying purpose to existance and events. Although the ego is not fully conscious of what current life experiences necessarily mean, the ego places more faith in the guidance of the Self. The ego softens its authority, opening to direction from the Self.

Individuation is not an easy process. It demands courage to surrender to the unknown, in order to grow and change. In addition, honoring the directives of the Self is a lonely undertaking. The individual’s inner truth is not necessarily recognized or valued by family, the community, or the broader culture. In such circumstances it take tremendous strength to live, as the Taoists would say, in right action.

Individuation in Sandplay

Sandplay therapy supports and facilitates individuation in many ways. Shadow elements emerge out of the personal unconscious in sandplay, leading to their integration into consciousness. Much of sandplay involves working with the shadow, particularly in the earlier phases of a process. The safety and the freedom of the sand tray and the well-trained clinician create the perfect circumstances for material that is unacceptable to the ego to emerge. Creating the Sandplay allows the psyche to move and re-order the shadow elements that stand in the way of greater growth and development. This process is facilitated by the softening of the consciousness that occurs in sandplay. The ego is less in the way, and the psyche goes about its work.

Engagement in the sand inherently acknowledges the centrality of the Self. Allowing what needs to emerge in the sand tray to become visible only happens because the ego in some way recognizes that there is more to itself than it currently knows. The ego gracefully steps aside in sandplay. If we contrast the fluid appearance of symbols in Sandplay with the act of consciously creating a known scene, or picture in a sand tray, we can clearly understand how the psyche is being guided by the Self.

Sandplay also honors the directive qualities of the Self.  The sandplayer generally begins to work in the tray with no idea of what he or she wants to create. Even when someone says that they know, …”just what they want to do,” it nearly always becomes more than the client’s conscious intention. Going to the sand tray says that I trust that there is more to me than I know, and I am willing to allow it to emerge. By trusting that something will and does emerge in the tray, the ego honors the Self as a guiding force.

Ultimately, individuation is about relationship. Because individuation is about the quality of the relationship between consciousness and the Self, the strength or frailty of this inner world relaionship is reflected in every aspect of the individual’s contacts with both inner and outer world experience. This applies to relationships with other people, and with nature and material goods. It also applies to the individual’s relationship to his or her inner world, and appropriate care of the individual self in all ways.

In Sandplay work, the individuation process can be tracked in the changes and development of the quality of the relationships between the elements in the tray. We will examine this more closely in our work with Aaron’s case.

Compensation and Adaptation

Compensation is an interesting dynamic of the psyche that has to do with the ego’s association with the collective psyche. Compensation concerns the individual’s conscious relationship to his or her inner world.

Recall Jung’s observation that the psyche has a natural dispensation to grow and develop. Said another way, the psyche seeks to further the process of aligning the ego with the Self, and to integrate as much of the Self as possible in to consciousness. As the Self is the central archetype of the psyche, all healing, growth and development of the psyche are characterized by a balanced relationship between the ego and the Self. That is to say, when and where the ego lines up with the Self, it achieves a central point of balance, and the psychic energy is harmonious and centered. However, where the ego is not in harmony with the Self, there is psychic imbalance, and tension and disharmony occur in the psyche. This imbalance results in tension between the misaligned ego and the Self. Let’s look at this from another angle. Because the psyche wants to move toward Self, toward the center, the off centered position of the ego disrupts the equilibrium of the psyche. The psyche attempts to restore balance through compensation. The dynamic of compensation works to keep the unconscious a vital and active presence in the individual’s psychic life.

In those places where the ego is not aligned with the Self, a compensatory energy, or product, emerges from the collective unconscious to attempt to restore balance. It is important to recognize that the compensatory product is not what the ego needs to become aligned with the Self. The compensatory product is rather, an energy that is equally opposite the ego’s misaligned position. Thus, the compensatory product is equally misaligned to the Self. This restores a form of balance in the psyche, however it is an artificial one. The false balance created by two equally misaligned psychic phenomena is highly charged and not at rest in the Self.

Perhaps we can use an analogy of a teeter-totter. The board is still and at peace when it is at rest on its center pivot point. The conscious position is balanced and at peace when the ego is properly aligned to the Self. So when psychic products align with the Self, we can think of them as sitting above the central balance point. Let’s take a look at a graphic illustration of this point.

Illustration 1- When the conscious position aligns with the Self

When a psychic event is off center, it is like a heavy weight (ego) that moves toward one end of the board. This throws the board (psyche) way out of balance. This is the condition of the ego that holds a conscious position that is not aligned with the Self.

Illustration 2 – When ego (conscious position) is not aligned with the Self

Placing an equal weight on the other end of the board restores an artificial form of balance. This is what the collective unconscious does when the ego is not aligned with the Self. In an attempt to bring the psyche back in to balance, the unconscious generates an opposite, but equally misaligned psychic product of the same energetic charge of its counterpart.

Illustration 3 – The unconscious produces a compensatory product in an attempt to restore balance in the psyche

Returning to our analogy, with equally heavy weights at both ends of the board, the board does return to a type of balance, but at a great cost. The great weight at both ends puts the board under terrific tension. So, it is not a truly harmonious, centered balance, as when the board sits quietly on the pivot.

Illustration 4 – Great tension builds up in the psyche

In the psyche, this condition results in two powerful, but equally misidentified conscious positions. This initiates the ego’s fluctuation between the two opposing identities. The ego is not able to hold both in consciousness at the same time. In our example, consciousness shifts from one end of the teeter-totter to the other, but cannot “sit” on both ends of the board at the same time.

Illustration 5- Enantiadromia: Ego (conscious position) alternates between the opposite identities

For example, a person cannot see him or herself as worthless and extraordinary at the same time. Both ego identifications are misaligned, but equally so. Thus, the ego bounces back and forth between the alternating identifications. Remember, this is not a conscious process. Rather, it is a natural dynamic that arises out of the psyche’s need to maintain balance. While the ego identifies with one pole of the spectrum, the other remains unconscious. Then without “reason” the ego switches identification to the other pole, the exact opposite of its previous identification. Jung called this fluctuation enantiadromia, a process wherein anything carried to its extreme will turn in to its opposite.

This alternation back and forth continues until such time that the ego is able to hold both poles in consciousness at the same time, bringing the ego to a standstill. When this occurs, psychic energy builds up and descends into the unconscious to activate the material the ego needs to resolve the conflict and to properly align with the Self. This concerns symbol formation, which we examine in Course 304.

Illustration 6Psychic energy is forced down in to unconscious to find and release the psychic product needed to resolve the ego’s conflict

Compensation in Sandplay

Compensation occurs in Sandplay, however without the dramatic clarity of our teeter-totter example.

In Sandplay the psyche opens at the exact “location” of its imbalance, or wound. The process of constructing the sand tray moves the psyche through the phases it must pass to properly align the conscious position with the Self. This may involve remembering and healing, and/or accessing new psychic material to expand the ego’s conscious acknowledgment of the Self. This may also appear as a classic struggle between the opposites that we described with our teeter-totter. This is known as the transcendent function, which we discuss thoroughly in Course 304.

I use the terms remembering and healing to describe Sandplay process that has to do with recalling and reviewing past wounding. This process concerns acknowledgement, grief and acceptance of the psychic wounds that the client has suffered in the course of his or her development. This type of process is distinguished from the polar opposition of enantiadromia wherein new psychic material emerges in to consciousness.

Remembering and healing is a vital and valuable piece of Sandplay process. This form of process may be the primary work that a client undertakes in his or her Sandplay. Remembering and healing also occurs in Sandplay in conjunction with the psychic change and development of the transcendent function.

In some Sandplay processes we do witness the appearance of powerful opposing forces prior to psychic change. Some times these forces are identifiable by archetypal constituents, such as good mother, bad mother. In other instances the opposites may appear as a balanced polarization of positive and negative forces without reference to the archetype being accessed in the sandplay process. We see this with armies of good guys and bad guys facing each other in opposition, or in equal confrontations between dark and light figures. In these examples, the polarization manifests energetically as positive and negative poles, with particular reference to the nature of the work the client is undergoing. In any case, when a powerful polarization occurs in the middle of a process, change follows. The polarization is usually followed by the appearance of new, re-ordered psychic material.

Let’s look at some case examples of both remembering and healing, and the appearance of polar opposition prior to change.


Whereas compensation concerns the ego’s relationship to the inner world, adaptation has to do with the individual’s conscious relationship to outer world circumstances.

In addition to a healthy inner life, a second goal of the process of individuation is to encounter each life circumstance that one confronts with conscious responses and actions in harmony with the Self. Adaptation challenges the individual to use every aspect of daily life as an opportunity to grow in greater alignment to the Self, the center of all being. Describing adaptation seems quite simple. However, the subtler ramifications of the process are daunting. Adaptation demands that we approach each outer world circumstance with an attitude of willingness to allow it to teach, or inform us in accord with this central truth.

To approach life with this intent demands that the ego have the strength necessary to remain aware, along with the vulnerability to be informed by the unconscious. In order to do this, the conscious position must grow beyond its tendency to hang on to what it knows, and position itself to surrender and change. As we have learned from our prior studies, this is terrifically threatening to the ego.

Adaptation redefines unpleasant, or difficult life events. Instead of approaching them as “bad luck,” etc, they become opportunities for the growth, which is necessary for our continued individuation. Of course, it is the most difficult circumstances that hold the greatest possibility for psychic growth and development. The process of adaptation can be very difficult, indeed.

Adaptation extends far beyond the individual’s personal development, when we consider that the archetype of the Self is the source of all being, and the goal of all being. With this awareness, any and all action that the individual takes that is harmonious with the Self quite literally impacts all of manifest being.

Adaptation demands that we become aware of this as an actual fact. Looked at this way, adaptation becomes a solemn obligation for each of us to do our parts by acting in concert with life and wholeness, as opposed to counteracting against it with opposition.

In the Chinese Taoist tradition, adaptation is referred to as “right action.” This in no way implies predetermined rules or modes of being. To determine what response is appropriate arises out of the circumstance of what the tradition refers to as the “time.” This means that the individual must be fully alert to both inner and outer conditions in each moment. Only with this level of awareness, is one able to be in right action.

The fact is however, that we tend to act with dullness of consciousness, out of routine and habit. We deaden our awareness to the point of seeing the same things all of the time, foregoing opportunities to be informed, to change and grow. What adaptation essentially means is that every moment of existence offers the potential for connection to the Self.

Adaptation does not appear as such in Sandplay, because sandplay primarily holds inner world contents. Perhaps the process of remembering and healing is closest to adaptation, because it has to do with integrating past wounds as a part of experience, and re-aligning with the Self. Looked at this way, remembering and healing might be thought of as a form of retroactive adaptation. This may be a stretch of the imagination. More properly considered, Sandplay prepares the individual for the task of adaptation by re-aligning inner world psychic contents to the Self. The sandplay client is then able to carry this centered awareness of the Self out in to his or her daily life.

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