“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth.” – Abraham Maslow
Individuation can be defined as the continual process of developing one’s unique voice. It involves differentiating yourself from others – of “knowing thyself” as a separate individual. It includes embracing and celebrating your authentic self. This is a simple definition; yet, in reality individuating is typically complex and the journey demands not only a physical investment but at times an intensely emotional one as well.
If we look at the lifespan of a person, there are numerous transitions – or turning points – every man and woman must approach. Some expected, others not. Journeying through childhood, adolescence, the young adult years, and beyond, involves going down paths lined with hundreds of contrasting doors, each of varying shapes and sizes. Some doors are easy to unlock while others require a lot more effort. Opening certain doors of course means rejecting others and behind each wall awaits even more openings – choices and pathways to be decided upon. This labryinth called living presents us with endless decisions to be made, both externally and internally. From the careers we choose and places we live to the beliefs and values we hold, we have the option of determining our own direction, reflexively shuffling through the easiest opening, standing still, frozen in the doorway, or perhaps awaiting for others to push us along, relieving the burden and pressures of deciding…
And this is why individuating, knowing yourself, becomes so necessary. It is not so much about which doors we choose as it is about how we choose them. Recognizing that your own unique personhood matters directs the way you move through life and approach transitions.
Individuating from Other Voices
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
We do not travel through life alone, thankfully. Our early guides – parents, teachers, siblings, grandparents, neighbors (etc.) help us find our footing in the very beginning. As we move forward, these voices do not typically disappear, they are often imprinted and stay with us. Later on, new ones are added: church/religion, school, friends, classmates, colleagues, bosses, roommates, associations, spouses, (etc.). These groups matter since they often deeply affect the way we see the world.
Individuation does not necessarily mean rejecting the messages, values, and beliefs encouraged by others. Instead, individuating means shedding our attachment to them out of apathy, expectation, guilt, and/or fear. Recognizing that it is completely natural and okay for your journey to look differently than those who have gone before you or even walk next to you invites the empowering experience of moving forward, open to the journey rather than shrinking, shaky in the pressence of overwhelming pressures to “be perfect” and “choose correctly.”
Individuating & Healing
So why does individuation matter? Why is it worth noting?
Because through discovering your voice and letting go of some idea of “doing life the right way” we can more kindly love ourselves where we are at and for who we are – the good, the flaws, and every messy thing in between. And when we arrive at that wonderful place, we can afford ourselves the healing experience of replacing self-doubt and self-hatred with self-compassion and love.
Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.