From Fractured to Whole: Individuation and the Ouroboros
In some ways, all of us are fractured, a collection of selves that can be at odds with each other.
The dreamer self might wrestle with the practical self.
The self that strives to please others might be in competition with the self that resents the burden of having to conform to people’s expectations.
When we come to peace with our many selves, accepting them rather than denying them, we can integrate them and feel less fractured and more whole. Carl Jung called this process individuation. We may never get to the “mountaintop,” that is, we may never fully heal from all the traumas we have experienced that caused us to feel fractured. Even so, we can make progress toward individuation.
As you think about your own life, there may be selves you have denied. What are they? Maybe there’s a self that makes you feel ashamed or inadequate. If you stopped denying its existence, you might be able to see that self differently and relate to it in a new way, seeing its positive aspects. You might reclaim the upsides to that self and start feeling less fractured.
Like many people, I have a self that learned early on to compartmentalize my feelings. I repressed the part of me that was mythopoetic, that longed to feel my emotions without shame, that loved poetry and mythology and wanted to ask the big, unanswerable questions like where did we come from before we were born and where will we go after we die. I saw that self as impractical and inconvenient. It was going to get in the way of my reaching my goals, so I pushed it aside. After many years, I finally stopped denying it and began exploring how it had helped me deal with trauma and challenges I faced in my work. Now, I could be conscious of it and relate to it differently, which helped me stop compartmentalizing my emotions in my relationships—something that hadn’t been very positive. Reclaiming that self that had been split off helped me to live more authentically. I discovered new interests and even a new career as a Jungian analyst. I began to learn about shamanism and eventually, I became a shamanic practitioner.
Individuation has sometimes been depicted as an ouroboros, and as I was sitting at home thinking I might write something about individuation, I looked up and saw that a snake had climbed into a space next to my window. As I pondered how it got there, I couldn’t help noticing that it looked as if it were eating its tail: An ouroboros, a symbol of wholeness, had appeared synchronistically. Once, I would have thought, “That’s a strange coincidence…” and thought no more of it. However, because I not only am a Jungian analyst but have been in analysis myself, I recognized that synchronicities like these are worth appreciating and pondering. What’s more, my shamanic work has taught me that there are hidden connections among events past, present, and future. Sometimes, I wonder if we are standing at an intersection of all of these when synchronicities occur. I thought about all of this as I watched the snake in my window.
Maybe this snake arrived to remind me to recognize the value of every self, even those selves that we think are impractical or inconvenient.
Maybe it arrived to say, “Keep writing. Keep sharing what you have learned as a healer working with people who took the journey of self-discovery, healing, and transformation. Do this so you can help others.”
Maybe it climbed into the window space for no particular reason. I have learned not to take myself and my thoughts too seriously, so I admit, the snake’s sudden and symbolic appearance might just be a meaningless coincidence that I’ve projected meaning onto! Still, its arrival inspired me to write about going from fractured to whole, the hero’s journey of individuation.
As you think about any selves you have denied, imagine what you might feel if you were to reclaim them and their positive qualities. Maybe like the ouroboros, you are not just “chasing your tail” when you reflect on your past and on what you deny about yourself but are instead doing important work: striving to move from feeling fractured to feeling whole and healed.
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Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, is a retired clinical psychologist and Jungian analyst, a businessman, and a shamanic practitioner, author, and philanthropist funding over 60 charities and more than 850 past and current Greer Scholars. He has taught at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and been on staff at the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being.