top of page

Personal Growth
‘The Journey of a Lifetime’

Carl Jung, who developed a theory of psychological type, wrote that ‘it is the journey of a lifetime to become oneself’.  For him, type was just one set of clues about how we function as human beings - and understanding your type preferences is only the beginning.

True, there are only 16 combinations in the Jungian personality model. But you are unique, because your preferences interact with everything else about you - your race, gender, sexuality, family history, sporting interests (or lack of them), height, weight…everything.  

Personal growth from a personality perspective refers to the ongoing process of self-improvement, development, and maturation that individuals undergo throughout their lives. It involves enhancing various aspects of your personality, mindset, and behaviour to achieve greater self-awareness, better relationships with others, emotional intelligence, resilience, and overall well-being. This concept is closely linked to the field of psychology. The MBTI instrument and various other type instruments are useful tools to explore how your personality changes and evolves over time.

An excerpt from James Johnston's book, Jung's Indispensable Compass. Published with permission by the author. 

Becoming Whole

For Aristotle, 'The Middle Way', was the golden mean, the way between extremes to happiness, “the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world".

Buddha, the “awakened one,” observed that undue attachments lead to suffering and that the balanced middle way of right living leads to broadened consciousness, emboldened compassion, and a vivified reverence for life.

Lao Tse (Tzu) spoke reverently of the Tao (Way) as the source of harmony, a way that includes the complementary opposites yin and yang.

For Confucius, the way was a balanced life of personal growth and communal responsibility.

For Carl Jung, the middle way leads to wholeness - a way between the opposites that integrates and transcends them; the way of individuation; the way to the realisation of the whole personality.

The Middle Way to Unique Personality: A Jungian perspective..

"And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth".


We are born predisposed to certain ego attitudes; no tabulae rasae are we. If we are born with introverted attitudes, we are initially oriented to the inner world and the contents of the collective unconscious. If we are born with more extraverted attitudes, we are initially oriented to the outer world and the contents of sensory experience. We do not choose our predispositions; we notice them.

We gain ego strength from our early predispositions. Our ego’s dominant attitude becomes that of our persona, and we grow into more complex adults. We acquire our social armour to go out into the world and are more fully equipped to make our way. We are no longer so open and naive, we are streetwise and will not be as easily duped as children. We are on guard. The persona provides a personal mask to adapt and promote ourselves in a challenging world.

Early in adult life, if we have been fortunate, we have discerned our best gifts and applied them successfully in the world. Perhaps we have gained acumen, acclaim, or recognition. We may have found a life partner, someone attracted to us for our best and most natural qualities. As we gain friends with values that reinforce our own, along with familial relationships, we may feel affirmed that we have found our place in the world. As our ego grows in strength, if our favoured gifts have met the world successfully, all may seem well.

The first half of the lifelong drama arrives at a sort of intermission in midlife, with the theatre fully constructed and oppositions established; the audience has long been seated and the chief actors have polished their roles. A sturdy persona guards the apron of the conscious stage, positioned to defend and supplement the lead actor. A strong and confident ego plays the lead role of consciousness. Numerous complexes lurk behind the scrim in the personal unconscious, where they have been developing since early childhood. A shadowy figure has formed on the unconscious stage as antagonist. The soul (anima or animus) on the apron of the unconscious stage, having been instrumental in life-changing choices in the first half of life, now prepares to facilitate greater access to the illusive treasures that have been largely unconscious.

If transformation is to extend into the second half of life, the persona must lower its defenses. The sturdy armoured comrade whose role was to support and defend the ego in the first half of life can become a prison guard in the second half. For the unique individual to find a balanced position midway between both audiences, less dependent on the lead ego attitude, the persona must give up its role, for it is too deeply identified with the one-sided ego.

The persona is always identical with a typical attitude dominated by a single psychological function, for example, by thinking, feeling or intuition. This one-sidedness necessarily results in the relative repression of the other functions. In consequence, the persona is an obstacle to the individual’s development. The dissolution of the persona is therefore an indispensable condition for individuation.

The ego, so long enjoying the limelight as the chief actor, must recognize the aim of the second half of life - the transformation to the true self. It becomes increasingly apparent that the ego/persona identity is a false self that must now make way for the true self at the centre. The ego has played its favoured roles, and knows them well, but is too one-sided to pilot the way of the emerging personality.

Hence it is impossible to achieve individuation by conscious intention, for conscious intention leads infallibly to a conscious attitude, which excludes whatever does not fit in with it.

The emerging personality will be forged in the crucible of opposing attitudes. Compensatory shadow attitudes, often opposing the ego’s favoured orientations, will seek their own integration into the life of the individual. The developing person will gain greater access to both the audience of the manifold world and the collective unconscious.

If all goes as scripted, the shadow will be accepted on the conscious stage, the persona’s “personality” will relax its social mask, the soul’s “personality” will more readily mediate the contents of the unconscious, and the audience of the world will be the beneficiary of a more authentic person, attuned more fully to their collective welfare. These are the essential and recurring themes in the production to ensue. It will be a story of repeated death and rebirth in which the individual grows more whole with each resurrection. Though the elements of the process may be similar for everyone, the path and destination are unique for each individual.

The process of realising one’s true personality defies generalization or full description, for it is an experience beyond the domain of purely ego consciousness. We know when we are caught in the paralysing tension of opposites, and we know when we have been liberated from that tension, but these are experiences that can hardly be explained objectively.

Analogies, like the ones Jung used, help to describe what the “coming to birth of personality” actually feels like: “It is as if a river that had run to waste in sluggish side-streams and marshes suddenly found its way back to its proper bed, or as if a stone lying on a germinating seed were lifted away so that the shoot could begin its natural growth”.

Within the human psyche is a latent drive to become whole. Unconscious contents are seeking consciousness as the essential personality seeks realisation. It is a teleological movement toward authentic individuality. Jung himself felt this urge intensely:

"My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to experience itself as a whole". (Prologue, Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

That path to authentic individuality may at times seem unpredictably erratic, aimless, or even retrogressive. It can be like walking on a labyrinth: the path may not seem to make logical sense or have any purposeful direction, yet in its roundabout way it delivers the individual to the centre. There are no dead ends on a labyrinth, but there are also no shortcuts. Once on the labyrinthine path, as circuitous and confusing as it may seem, the destination at the centre is secure.

If the ego stubbornly goes its own way, with a one-sided resistance to individuation, the path could become like a maze. Unlike the labyrinth, there may be many shortcuts, but there are also many dead ends. Crucially, there is no centre.

A Labyrinth
A Labyrinth
A Maze
A Maze

Jung’s close associate Marie-Louise von Franz spoke of the pathway to wholeness as a spiral. As the spiral ascends, the individual becomes more real.


"It is a spiral not a circle. The movement does not go in circles; it goes forward in spirals".

This means that you always return to the same point but on a higher level. For instance, if you meet a person who has individuated, you can say: “Oh, this is still old John Smith" - completely, in the true sense of the word. He is still the good old John Smith I once knew, but he is on a higher plane. There is something more mature, more conscious, more calm, and whatever he was is more intensely there and more real. This higher consciousness is something you feel about another person. You have a feeling that this is the same old person but somehow he is more worthy, more intense, more real, more himself. But it is something you can only feel.


The process of individuation, as Jung articulates it, is quite extraordinary: the outcomes are not readily predictable. The spiralling up is not so much an additive process as a process of a transformational integration. The union of opposites in one individual engenders greater “wholeness” and a sense of becoming more real, more true to oneself. One may have the feeling that “I used to be different, but now I am the same”.

In his book Transformation: Emergence of the Self, Jungian analyst Murray Stein likens the process of individuation to the formation of a butterfly that astonishingly transforms from caterpillar, to pupa, to butterfly. Each form is a manifestation of the same creature, but none follows logically from the other or is at all predictable. Yet the latent pattern for the fully formed butterfly is already present in the caterpillar. The final destined form as a butterfly is the imago - an underlying pattern of ultimate potential present in each of the creature’s manifestations.

Similarly, individuals have a kind of imago - a unique personality that may not begin to emerge until after the “chrysalis” of midlife, when the ego-centred identify defers to the emerging whole personality. In this transformative journey of individuation, the types become progressively engaged, more as a collateral consequence of individuation than as an aim unto themselves.

Attempts to develop and exercise the shadow types build ego strength and may help an individual to become more adaptable and versatile; yet that exercise is like growing the size and strength of the caterpillar. Consciously developing the shadow types is an ego-driven exercise. But the ego does not guide individuation: the unpredictable transformations of individuation are directed by the archetypal Self.

Knowing your type is the beginning of a journey to understand and manage yourself.  It can be a key tool to help you develop emotional intelligence - the ability to manage yourself and your relationships creatively and courageously.  

Check out our resources for all sorts of articles and insights here. We have a range of resources available to help you explore your development from a personality perspective. Or find a type practitioner who can help you reflect and grow here.

bottom of page