Carl Jung’s Process of Individuation, Psychodynamic Theory and the Neuro-Susceptibility of Addiction: A Clinical Integrative Approach to Healing

Psychodynamic theory asserts that the symptomatology of substance misuse issues are indications of deep-rooted problems that developed within the individual’s childhood. Individuals coping with stressors and trauma by abusing alcohol, drugs, relationships and practicing addictive behavioral patterns may be suffering from repressed associations concerning their fundamental sense of identity, autonomy and self-efficacy. Much like Joseph Campbell’s, “The Hero’s Journey,” Jungian Psychology is a narrative based model of treatment that places emphasis on discovering the archetypes or tropes we manifest throughout our self-development.

Depth Psychology and the Individuation Process 

The only journey is the one within.” – Rainer Marie Rilke 

It appears that individuals in the field of depth psychology focus on a relative model of self-development that aligns closely to a model of self-actualization.

For instance, Jungian analyst Anthony Stevens writes in Private Myths (1996):

Individuation is the process, simple or complex as the case may be, by which every living organism becomes what it was destined to become from the beginning.

Prior to undergoing the process of individuation, psychoanalysts assert we must pioneer our identities to a point of completion. When we are adults and do not recognize our fundamental neurosis or dysfunctions we can be impaired with a false sense of identity. We may believe there is nothing wrong with us, however, our actions and words do not tell the same story. Many individuals struggling and coping with substance misuse problems are unconsciously participating in behavior that is self-destructive and can be a symptom of suicidality.

Understanding the ways in which we as individuals and as a society cope with our traumas by means of numbing our current experiences is a basis for depth psychology. It is in the process of universally accepting our responsibility for our own perils and pain that we are able to identify how we’ve cut off managing to feel our total experiences. For instance, depth psychologists believe the process of “dissociation” is an individual’s inability to integrate their mind and their body. The effects of somatization on complementary disorders like anxiety, PTSD and depression help illustrate the dimension of dissociation.

The stages of individuation begin with the archetype of the shadow

The Shadow Archetype 

The Shadow Archetype is the archetype we have yet to meet fully within our present-awareness. This archetype is inherent in how we respond to other individuals around us. For instance, many times, an unhealed shadow archetype will unconsciously subvert our success through jealousy, maliciousness, and deceitfulness. Understanding how discourse in pathology can play into how we enact the shadow archetype will be beneficial for understanding why an individual with substance misuse problems might be coping with their experiences and manifesting their behavior through self-destruction. Many times, the shadow archetype may appear in our dreams if we have unprocessed experiences that have not been categorized or processed into a formalized sense of reality. For instance, for many children who have been sexually abused there is a large sense of repression for a trauma this violating. The shadow archetype becomes an integral illustration of the child’s psyche. It is how the child continues their life in retrospect to the devastation that has imbued their physical, sexual, mental and spiritual safety. For many trauma survivors, coping with alcohol and drugs is an essential defense mechanism built to sustain the repression of the experiences they were exposed to.

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is an essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it, therefore,. as a rule, meets with considerable resistance. Indeed, self-knowledge as a psychotherapeutic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period. (Jung, 1976)

 The Anima/ Animus 

The anima and animus represent the masculine and feminine figures in our lives that created substantial harm to our ego or psyche. Through the process of individuation, these archetypes can be manifested in how we replay our sense of compassion towards ourselves and others. For instance, the animus may represent the symbolic image of the “man on a white horse.” While the anima character may be illustrated through portrayals of the “witch” or the “evil step-mother.” These psychological manifestations are seen throughout the identities we develop in our lives. Our identities, whether they’re inherent to our core sense of self, discern our relationship to the waking world. If these identities are not connected to who we are, we may be enacting a script of callousness, coldness, and ambiguity towards the collective whole. Without introspection into our sense of wellness, we are unable to process or feel empathy for the narratives of other individuals lived experiences. The numbing process of addiction is the basis for this process. Addiction presents itself in ways that disable the addicted to participate in intimate relationships that meet the needs of other individuals. While many might see this process as a pure act of selfishness. It is important to understand the defeating attitude of an individual who has not fully accepted the dark and the light within their relationship to archetypal personas associated with their “mother” and “father.” When we are unable to see the dark and light (the humanity), in our caretaker’s experiences and within ourselves, we are not able to fully integrate the shadow archetype with the anima/animus.

 The Self 

The Self-represents an individual’s perception of themselves within the dimension of wholeness. The self represents the healing of narratives illustrated through an individual’s relationship with themselves and the outside world. It is a concrete representation of the completion of the “Hero’s Journey,” and a relative enactment of the transcendence of emotional pain and dysregulation.

When an individual is integrated with the self, they’re able to understand their total narrative in conjunction with the stories they play in their head. An example of this looks like the unique and different stories we tell ourselves. These stories are highly infused with negative experiences or projections all making up our developmental timeline. If we’re feeling unlovable, that might be the narrative of the child who was never picked up. Or if we’re hating another individual that might be the narrative of the child who was abused. It could represent the teenager who was beaten. As we develop into adulthood, we categorize our experiences and create different narratives surrounding ‘the self’ that has been abandoned or cast into the ‘shadows.’ Understanding how narratives can be triggers to substance misuse is an important aspect of healing the behavioral manifestations of the disorder. Identifying and healing our various selves helps increase our capacity to tolerate pain and hardship. Discovering the self or voice that has been shamed is an important step in offering self-compassion to their narrative so we can integrate them within our story.

You can be many narratives within one lifetime: the bully, the geek, the princess, the slut and the whore.

Finding empowerment within those narratives is a crucial step to seeking reclamation of all of our chosen identities.

How can the slut and the geek integrate?

How can the druggie and the angel make amends?


Neurological Susceptibility to Addiction and How to Utilize Jungian Transcendence 

Gaining awareness into the etymological underpinnings of addiction is an important misnomer to break when we conceptualize the history of the disease. Without incorporating awareness about the basis of the disease model, then misconceptions about the addicts journey for recovery will be diluted with undeserved biases and prejudices. Understanding the conceptualization of a multi-strengths approach to treatment will help incorporate the nature of depth psychology into the addiction treatment model.

Addiction is a hereditable disorder that impacts the entire system. Coping with symptoms of craving is hard to relinquish due to the under-regulated prefrontal cortex and reward-learning that is composited within the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is located within the mid-center of the brain and is associated with areas that are connected to behavior, learning, and memory. The intense memory of the “high” that is developed by the drugs and the susceptibility of addiction due to the underactive portion of the prefrontal cortex in individuals makes self-regulation incredibly difficult when controlling strong urges for usage.

However, understanding the stress-responses and an ability to fully integrate the “selves” narrative into treatment is an important step in re-wiring the reward circuit in the brain. Neuro-plasticity is an important aspect of conquering the reward-learning by re-establishing a stronger connection to core parts of one’s identity and self. When we are able to disregard the narrative or label of the alcoholic and focus on the substance itself while healing our identities – we’re still acknowledging the powerlessness of addiction while letting go of identities associated with toxic narratives that need help being integrated with ourselves.

When we are able to fully develop a coherent sense of self, we’re able to pick and choose how we want to co-operate within society. Whereas, before the process of individuation we’re presumably escaping reality. Understanding the narratives and the stories of victimization, isolation, and co-dependency we play in our lives will help liberate us from addiction.




















Beck, A. T. (1991). Cognitive therapy: A 30-year retrospective. American Psychologist, 46(4)

Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Stevens, A. (1996). Private myths: Dreams and dreaming. London: Penguin.

Jung, C. G. (2015). Aion: Researches into the phenomenology of the self (p. 145). London: Routledge.


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