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Growing into our authentic self

Individuation, Carl Jung suggested, is the alchemical ‘Great Work’ of the second half of life, and it’s the process by which we grow into own most authentic self as we journey into elderhood. When we’re younger, we’re guided by norms that are imposed by family and society, striving to become what is expected of us; the result is the development of what Jung called the persona: the mask which we present to the world. But the persona rarely reflects our true self, because over the years we compromise, we adapt; we pretend to be something that we’re not – and along the way, in some fashion or other, we begin to betray our authentic nature. The process of individuation, then, is the process by which we begin to understand, in the second half of our lives, that the way we’ve been living is not the way that we need to live now – that we need to change, in order to live in a manner that is more aligned with our passions and our longings, with our ‘calling’, and that unique gift which each of us has to offer the world.

And so the purpose of the second half of our lives is to grow into the person that we were always meant to become. Jung believed that ageing fulfilled a necessary function, saying: ‘A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own …’

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