“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Individuality Is Duality
In division and duality; in-division-duality: individuality.
Although individuality has many redeeming qualities, and is, in fact, one of our major developmental tasks throughout the lifespan, it is as well loaded with problems. Individuality is the source of feeling alone, isolated and estranged. It is the source of conflict, both internal and external. Individuation can be a painful process as one separates from close attachments including family, friends, jobs, cherished beliefs and socio-cultural self-perceptions.
Our sense of an individual self is formed only in contrast to that which is perceived to be ‘not-self.’ This fundamental perception of ‘self’ and ‘not-self’ is a hard-wired phenomenon. Very early on in childhood, without any promptings or learning, a child begins to perceive itself as distinct and different from its surrounding environment, and other people. The quest to “find myself” or, as some might say, “to create myself,” so prominent in the adolescent years, and beyond, is a manifestation of our important underlying developmental task of individuation. The progress of societies is, in large part, due to the efforts of individuals who stretch the norms and expand our horizons. Individuals are those who tend to stand out above the crowd, and not without peril. For, as it is said, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Individuals tend to stick out, and they tend to take a lot of hammering from those enmeshed in the way things are.
Duality can be found throughout our everyday experience. Hot water is opposed by cold water. The other side of up is down, in-out, high-low. We often find meaning in our experience only in contrast with opposites. Superior has no real meaning unless it is in contrast to inferior. A teacher has no real value without a student. There is no parent without a child or a leader without followers. The individual contrasts with the collective, even though the individual arises out of the collective just as a single wave arises out of the ocean. Sinners and saints, heroes and villains, good and evil, heaven and hell…..they are each two sides of one coin giving definition to each other. In a similar fashion, there is no distinct, definitive “I” without the “not-I.” This “not-I” is the outside environment, in general; which includes “you.” “I” and “You” are opposites. I and You are in division, and duality. There is this fundamental split between “I” and “You.” Of course, at much deeper level of physical reality, and consciousness, this duality does not really exist. It is an appearance, a phase or stage of our development in consciousness. Modern quantum physics, and ancient mystic seers, suggest the fundamental nature of existence is a unified whole, undivided and non-dualistic. Nevertheless, a dream, while it is occurring, is very real, just as is our experience of individual consciousness.
This framework of “I” and “You” is the basis for all attachment, and separation, experiences, and injuries. Attachment/separation injuries occur throughout childhood, and even into adulthood. A child on their first day of school crying when the parent leaves experiences a mild, or in some cases, severe, attachment injury. In some cases, attachment injuries can develop into significant separation anxiety. The loss of a job, the death of a spouse, or a pet, the disappointment of expectations unmet and the dissolution of cherished beliefs are all injurious events based on the separation from our attachments. Even the the experience of being born is a separation experience not without traumatic overtones. And let’s not even go to the archetypal injury of our separation from Eden. Who has not fallen in love (attachment) and then out of love (separation). Attachment and separation are huge overarching themes throughout our lives that arise from individuality and played out in our relationships. Our attachment theme can be represented by the statement two lovers might make: “Where ever you go, I go.” And, our separation theme can be represented by the statement two ex-lovers might make: “I go my way, you go your way.”
These injuries do play a role in our relationships and may prevent a person from intimacy for fear of the hurt that may come. Avoidance of commitment, domestic abuse, extra-marital affairs and even promiscuity can be attributed, at least in part, to attachment injuries. There is no cure for attachment/separation injuries; but, they can, and do, heal. The saying “feel it to heal it” applies to these injuries and it does require some courage to face and feel the hurt within us. Crying is not uncommon in this type of healing and there may be no better balm than the salt-water tears that fall from our eyes as we emote away the pain with wailing.
Despite the higher ideology of a unified consciousness and our individual self being an illusion, which in truth it is, the pain and hurt felt within the self is significant and cannot be denied. If there is a silver lining, it is that these injuries bind together “I” and “You.” The basic attachment/separation injuries, traumas, hurts and pains that come from individuation, we all experience, and that therein can be an avenue towards compassion.