On Ego, Self, and the Individuation Process: Elie Humbert

“Narcissus directly experienced an insatiable quest for the self and acute anguish in the face of everything that threatened his self-image. Jung took up Narcissus’ subjective experience and discovered the Ichhaftigkeit (“ego attachment”) within which the subject is caught. This internal force seeks the constitution of an ego complex around which it wants all of psychic life to revolve. Before the ego differentiates itself by relating to the unconscious, it is in a state of Ichsucht (“ego addiction”) (C.W. 14, par. 364), a turning of consciousness upon itself. The danger then is that the image of the world and the image of the ego risk becoming confused with one another.

Ichhaftigkeit (C.W. 11, par. 554) might well dominate the individual psyche if its own one-sidedness did not give birth to the shadow, which becomes in turn an independent complex opposed to the ego. The ascendancy of the shadow (of which the return of the repressed is but one aspect) overturns the organization of the ego. Jung analyzed the transformation process that then begins. Rather than focusing upon narcissism, he studied the conflicts, sacrifices, and mutations that mark the successive moments of the subject’s formation.

Jung insisted on the fact that becoming conscious puts the ego in jeopardy. A 1941 text reflects what he himself had lived through thirty years earlier:

The integration of the contents split off in the parental imagos has an activating effect on the unconscious, for these imagos are charged with all the energy they originally possessed in childhood, thanks to which they continued to exercise a fateful influence even on the adult. Isolation in pure ego-consciousness has the paradoxical consequence that there now appear in dreams and fantasies personal, collective contents which are the very material from which certain schizophrenic psychoses are constructed. (C.W. 16, par. 218)

Even while it endures such an ordeal, the ego cannot escape from an inflation, be it a negative or positive one. While relating to its own solitude and to the psychic elements it integrates, the ego either allows itself to become possessed by an upsurge of psychic energy or defends itself from this energy by identifying with its own conscious boundaries. Is there no way to avoid these two false solutions?

But at this point a healthful, compensatory operation comes into play which each time seems to me like a miracle. Struggling against that dangerous trend towards disintegration, there arises out of this same collective unconscious a counteraction, characterized by symbols which point unmistakably to a process of centering. This process creates nothing less than a new center of personality, which the symbols show from the first to be superordinate to the ego …The center cannot be classed with the ego, but must be accorded a higher value… for which reason I have called it the “self.” …the experience of the self has nothing to do with intellectualism; it is a vital happening which brings about a fundamental transformation of personality. I have called the process that leads to this experience the “process of individuation.” (C.W. 16, par. 219)

Thus by becoming conscious and by withdrawing projections, the ego is led into a state of either inflation or deflation. Neither of these states is resolved unless an unconscious center of the personality to which the ego can relate is brought to life.

…Influenced as he was by alchemy, Jung focused less upon images and more upon processes. The conjunction of opposites, with all that it implies of separation and differentiation, provides the schema with which one can understand the activity of the Self. Jung summarized this activity using three concepts: (1) becoming follows upon a compensatory movement; (2) wholeness consists of the relationship of consciousness with the unconscious; (3) psychic organization evolves according to the law of differentiation.

When referring to the concept of wholeness, which Jung used frequently, one must recall that the English word totality obscures the original German meaning. Jung rarely used die totalitat but almost always die Ganzheit (ganz, ganzwerden). Now the root prefix ganz does not signify “total” but “whole.” It would be better to translate Ganzheit by the English “wholeness.” Far from aiming to become, possess or experience everything, the Ganzheit is correlative to the experiences of dissociation and fragmentation. Jung specified that Ganzheit is not a Volkommenheit, not “a total achievement, perfection.” To individuals who feel the presence of two beings within themselves, Ganzheit appears as a possible unity. It is in the sense of a possible unity that the experience of the Self resolves the dissociation of consciousness from the unconscious and allows the subject to be whole.

…the Self is the true center of the personality from which the ego, by its goals and values, is alienated. Thus the ego must sacrifice its values and goals if it is to submit to the orientation of the Self. This sacrifice is brought about by the recognition of the shadow, and will have the characteristics of what some will later call a symbolic castration. Sacrifice differs from symbolic castration, however, because sacrifice does not culminate in the mere acceptance of human limitations and death but leads to a living relationship with the unconscious subject.

…What is at stake in the analytic process is not the death of the ego but the sacrifice of Ichhaftigkeit (“ego attachment”). Not only does the ego not disappear, but the conflicts that it goes through release it from imaginary states and allow it to come to its own reality.”

Excerpted from Humbert, Elie, C.G. Jung: The Fundamentals of Theory and Practice, Chiron Press, 1988, pp. 61-64.

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