Individualism

Individualism means deliberately stressing and giving prominence to some supposed peculiarity rather than to collective considerations and obligations.  But individuation means precisely the better and more complete fulfilment of the collective qualities of the human being, since adequate consideration of the peculiarity of the individual is more conducive to a better social performance than when the peculiarity is neglected or suppressed.   

Individuality is indeed an a priori datum, but it only exists unconsciously as a specific “pattern” or “predisposition” determined by the genes.  The realization of individuality does not come about eo ipso, since it unquestionably requires a coming to terms with the environment, with which the individual often feels unable to cope.  A degree of adaptation, however, is absolutely indispensable, since man is not only a solitary and isolated creature but also a collective being who requires relationships with others.  He is already by nature attuned to such relationships.  For this reason the true individual personality consists of a union of these two opposing tendencies.  The conflict between them and their reconciliation requires the development of consciousness.  The process of psychological individuation is, for that reason, also a process of becoming conscious, a process which evolves conjointly with the confrontation of the individual with the outer world on the one hand and of the individual with the objective inner world (the unconscious) on the other.   TGL 85

Cont’d … In reality, the process of individuation begins at birth with the physical separation from the mother.  The development of consciousness progresses with increasing encounters with the outer world.  Normally this adaptation to the surroundings is the task and content of the first half of life.  In the second half, the problem is that of becoming aware of the inherent individuality and its realization (…).  TGL 85

Since the individuality of the psychic system is infinitely variable , there must be an infinite variety of relatively valid statements.  But if individuality were absolute in its particularity, if one individual were totally different from every other individual, then psychology would be impossible as a science, for it would consist in an insoluble chaos of subjective opinions.   Individuality, however is only relative, the complement of human conformity or likeness; and therefore it is possible to make statements of general validity, i.e., scientific statements.  These statements relate only to those parts of the psychic system which do in fact conform, i.e., are amenable to comparison and statistically measurable; they do not relate to that part of the sstem which is individual and unique.  The second fundamental antinomy in psychology therefore runs: the individual signifies nothing in comparison with the universal, and the universal signifies nothing in comparison with the individual.  There are, as we all know, no universal elephants, only individual elephants.  But if a generality, a constant plurality, of elephants did not exist, a single individual elephant would be exceedingly improbably.   TPoP 5

When, as a psychotherapist, I set myself up as a medical authority over my patient and on that account claim to know something about his individuality, or to be able to make valid statements about it, I am only demonstrating my lack of criticism, for I am in no position to judge the whole of the personality before me.  I cannot say anything valid about him except in so far as he approximates to the “universal man.”  But since all life is to be found only in individual form, and I myself can assert of another individuality only what I find in my own, I am in constant danger either of doing violence to the other person or of succumbing to his influence.  If I wish to treat another individual psychologically at all, I must for better or worse give up all pretensions to superior knowledge, all authority and desire to influence.  I must perforce adopt a dialectical procedure consisting in a comparison of our mutual findings.  But this becomes possible only if I give the other person a chance to play his hand to the full, unhampered by my assumptions.  In this way his system is geared to mine and acts upon it; my reaction is the only thing with which I as an individual can legitimately confront my patient.   TPoP 5

… since there are countless people who are not only collective in all essentials but are fired by a quite peculiar ambition to be nothing but collective.  This accords with all the current trends in education which like to regard individuality and lawlessness as synonymous.  On this plane anything individual is rated inferior and is repressed.  In the corresponding neuroses individual contents and tendencies appear as psychological poisons.  There is also, as we know, an overestimation of individuality based on the rule that “the universal signifies nothing in comparison with the individual.”  Thus, from the psychological (not the clinical) point of view, we can divide the psychoneuroses into two main groups: the one comprising collective people with underdeveloped individuality, the other individualists with atrophied collective adaptation.  The therapeutic attitude differs accordingly, for it is abundantly clear that a neurotic individualist can only be cured by recognizing the collective man in himself – hence the need for collective adaptation.  It is therefore right to bring him down to the level of collective truth.  On the other hand, psychotherapists are familiar with the collectively adapted person who has everything and does everything that could reasonably be required as a guarantee of health, but yet is ill.   It would be a bad mistake, which is nevertheless very often committed, to normalize such a person and to try to bring him down to the collective level.  In certain cases all possibility of individual development is thereby destroyed.   TPoP 7

   Since individuality, as we stressed in our introductory argument, is absolutely unique, unpredictable, and uninterruptable, in these cases the therapist must abandon all his preconceptions and techniques and confine himself to a purely dialectical procedure, adopting the attitude that shuns all methods.   TPoP 8

   However, the great characteristic of Europe is recognition of personality, of the individual.  There is no culture in the world with a tradition of portrait art comparable to that of the West - think of Rembrandt.  There is a deep meaning in the individual.