Jason E. Smith, Jungian Analyst
For Jungian Psychology, mental health does not mean an absence of difficulties in life. It means, rather, the capacity to continue to develop our potential and to grow emotionally and spiritually over the course of our lives. When this process of growth, called individuation, is blocked due to some kind of life crisis, we experience emotional and psychological distress.
Rather than find some way to absorb the many blows that life can bring -- and so grow from them and be transformed by them -- quite understandably, we resist them. We try to ward off suffering by throwing ourselves into work, by starting new relationships or ending old ones, or through some form of short-lived entertainment. But these strategies do not work over the long term and we are forced to either constantly seek ever newer distractions, or to finally pay attention to the health of our emotional lives.
Individuation is the process of becoming what we are meant to be, that is, it is the expression and fulfillment of our individual and unique potential, as well as the ongoing development of our most authentic self. These unique potentials exist within us and form a kind of pattern of who we might become, just as the oak tree exists as a pattern within the acorn before it grows. This pattern is largely an unconscious one.
One of the great contributions of C.G. Jung was to articulate the language, so to speak, of these unconscious patterns, as well as to develop ways to become aware of these patterns. This language is the language of images, which appear in dreams, waking fantasies, and creative activities like painting and writing. By taking the language of the unconscious seriously, we can begin to integrate our unique potential, a process which brings renewed vitality and engagement with life.