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Jolande Jacobi : Individuation and the "change of life"

Alphonse Legros - Le Penseur

Jolande Jacobi

The Way of Individuation

The Two Main Phases of the Individuation Process

"Both variants of the individuation process can be divided into two main phases containing numerous sub-divisions: that of the first and that of the second half of life. Each phase is the opposite of the other, but stands to it in a polar relationship. Their duration, the kind of task that has to be solved in them, and the depth and intensity of the experience vary with each individual.

"At the stroke of noon the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values that were cherished in the morning," says Jung.

The transition from one phase to the other is of special importance. The "change of life" is a conflict between the onset of biological ageing, expressing itself in the psychic functions as well, and the urge and possibility for further spiritual and psychic development. It is a critical situation in which one has reached the zenith of life and, suddenly or gradually as the case may be, is then confronted with the reality of the end — death.

Often a "balance account crisis" arises at this point.The word "crisis" is very apt: it comes from the Greek, krinein, which means "to discriminate" and also "to decide". For here the great reversal takes place, which Charlotte Bühler has termed the "change of dominance", because it can give life an entirely new direction. Involuntarily one takes stock of one's assets in life, a sort of final reckoning is made regarding what has been achieved and what has still to be achieved, and this results in an unmistakable credit and debit account. At the same time one sees equally clearly what was missed and should still be recovered, as well as all the things that can be recovered no longer.

To look such truths in the eye is a test of courage. It demands insight into the necessity of growing old, and the courage to renounce what is no longer compatible with it. For only when one is able to discriminate between what must be discarded and what still remains as a valuable task for the future will one also be able to decide whether one is ready to strike out in the new direction consciously and positively. If the "change of dominance" fails to appear, the psyche knows no rest; it gets into a state of discontentment and uncertainty, finally ending in neurosis. Everything cries out for readjustment. That is why these years are rightly called the "change of life".


Often the transition from the first to the second half of life is accompanied by other kinds of disturbances and serious upheavals. Divorce, change of profession, change of residence, financial losses, physical or psychic illnesses of all kinds characterize the readjustment or forcibly bring it about. Naturally a great deal depends on one's situation and on whether one is prepared in advance for the coming change. The less mature a person is when he reaches the change of life, the more powerfully the upheaval will affect him, provided of course that the change sets in at all and he does not remain stuck in an infantile or pubescent state; this can lead to a smouldering, chronic neurosis.

There are indeed people— and perhaps they are in the majority — who slip into the second half of life slowly, almost unnoticeably. But they seldom attain the same broad maturity of personality as those who have to begin life's afternoon with much toil and suffering, and are thereby driven to an intensive reckoning between the ego and the unconscious components of the psyche. This also gives them a better chance to attain psychic wholeness. Hence difficulties in life, sudden entanglements, dangers and tests of courage, all of which have to be faced and conquered, form as it were an organic part of the analytical work. These years of change should not be understood only as a shifting of accent, but also, in the deepest sense of the word "change", as a transformation.

The extent, intensity, and duration of this transformation vary from individual to individual. Nevertheless, the discovery of a new life-form which goes hand in hand with the successful conduct of life as a whole depends on the degree to which a person is gripped by this transformation, adopts a positive attitude towards it, and is able to accomplish it. Very often the capacity for such a transformation does not depend on the objective bigness or smallness of the personality, but on the extension or "reconstruction" of its psychic "dimension". It is a question of moving from an "ego-centred" attitude to an "ego-transcending" one, in which the guiding principles of life are directed to something objective, and this can be anything from one's children, one's house, one's work to the state, humanity, God.

The transformation can, according to Charlotte Bühler, be either sudden or gradual. It can take place in a short time or require several years. The greater the difference between the initial and the end situation, that is, the greater the areas of experience encompassed by the transformation, the more sudden it will be. On the other hand, the smaller this difference is, the more gradually the transformation will take place. It then has the character of a slow process of maturation and psychic approfondissement. The possibility of a maturation and rounding out of the psyche is in principle inherent in every individual. Whether he is able to accomplish it or not depends on the inhibiting factors which stud the path of man's outer and inner life.

The important thing is not the widened scope which consciousness attains, but its "roundedness". In alchemy the "rotundum" is a symbol of wholeness and completeness which expresses concretely what is meant in a metaphorical sense with reference to the psyche. It is therefore a matter of indifference whether the rotundum be a big or a little one; what alone matters is the "roundedness", i.e., a state in which the greatest possible number of man's hidden qualities are made conscious, his psychic capacities developed and condensed into a unity. This is a goal which generally can be reached — if at all — only in life's late evening. Generally speaking one can say that whereas the first half of life is, in the nature of things, governed and determined by expansion and adaptation to outer reality, the second is governed by restriction or reduction to the essential, by adaptation to the inner reality.

"Man has two aims," says Jung. "The first is the natural aim, the begetting of children and the business of protecting the brood; to this belongs the acquisition of money and social position. When this aim has been reached a new phase begins: the cultural aim."

"A young person has not yet acquired a past, therefore he has no present either. He does not create culture, he merely exists. It is the privilege and task of maturer people, who have passed the meridian of life, to create culture."

And one can add with Schopenhauer:

"Life may be compared to a piece of embroidery, of which, during the first half of his time, a man gets a sight of the right side, and during the second half, of the wrong. The wrong side is not so pretty as the right, but it is more instructive; it shows the way in which the threads have been worked together."

Once firmly anchored in one's profession, with the family founded and one's position in the outer world secured — a situation which applies primarily to the man and becomes acute for a woman only when house and home are in order and the children provided for — one is faced with the question: What now? What's all this leading to ? For a moment, still veiled in the mists of the future, a premonition of the questionableness and transience of all existence rise up in one, something one had not thought of before. This question, growing ever louder, may present itself already at the end of the thirties. But once the forties are past, it becomes more and more urgent and is increasingly difficult to brush aside.

Naturally there are also people who even in their youth seek more for the meaning of life, for inner spiritual values, than for the external, the material, the earthly. They are the introverted, the seekers, the quiet and reflective ones, who nevertheless in the end feel they

are the losers, because the promises of youth have flown away, because the first half of their life was actually lived under the sign of the second, a situation not lacking in tragedy. Many

artists and scientists, however, have derived from such an unusual fate inspiration and strength for the creation of spiritually important work."

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