What is Individuation?

Photo by Håkon Grimstad on Unsplash

What is individuation?

Individuation is the process where we become our own person. In our young adulthood, which usually spans from late teens through twenties, a lot of questions about our identity and worldviews naturally arise.

These questions include:

  • What do I value?
  • What jobs or careers bring me joy?
  • What types of people do I feel more comfortable and safer with?
  • What environment supports me?
  • Who do I want to have intimate relationships with?
  • What is my sexuality and gender identity?
  • What racial/ethnic/cultural group(s) do I belong to?
  • What gives me a sense of purpose?

Of course, becoming an adult is an ongoing process that begins when we start to be able to self-reflect on events and information input. The questions above are deep and essential for anyone in any stages of their lives, and to be clear, they are not meant to be answered by thinking just for a few minutes. These are the type of questions that we carry on our minds throughout our lives. However, they hold more importance during the transition to adulthood, as the reflection process on the questions will help you learn who you are and what life you want to live.

What can complicate or stunt the individuation process?

Unfortunately, we are not born with a manual on “how to be a human,” let alone “how to become an adult,” so we naturally stumble in the process and look for guidance that is available to us. When we don’t find the right guidance or no guidance at all, the individuation process can get complicated and create stress. If we are discouraged to separate ourselves from our home base or even punished for attempting, this also can stunt the process. Unfortunately, some collective cultures do not value individuation process and it is embedded in the parenting that children are part of parents and are supposed to comply with the inherited value system.

Let’s take a look at Amanda.

Amanda is a 25-year-old female who works as an account for a tech company. She and her family emigrated from China and settled into the US when she was 3 years old. She and her two brothers have always known that their parents had a hard life back in China, as well as in the US, to support the family and keep the children safe. Thanks to their dedication and her hard work, Amanda was able to graduate from college, manage to get a higher degree, and land a well-paying job. But it was not a smooth sailing for her, due to a limited support and high expectations from her parents, as well as cultural differences she experienced.   

It all came to the surface about 2 years ago when Amanda wanted to move out and get her own place to live by herself. By then she had worked for her company for 6 months and felt good about her achievement and felt secure enough to support herself. Besides, she wanted freedom to invite her boyfriend over as much as she wanted, now their relationship is getting serious. The reasons she did not express explicitly include: The stress from her mother’s criticism of her appearances, arguments about her parents’ unreasonable criticism of her boyfriend, pressure for further financial success, and constant comparison with their friends’ children. The differences in pollical views and their behaviors driven by high anxiety also drive her crazy. She loved her parents and appreciated all they have done for her; however, she wanted out so that she can breathe. But then she felt guilty for wanting to move out. She felt stuck and trapped and didn’t know what to do.

It is only natural that a person wants to have their own space and create their own life as they like. Amanda is fully equipped to take on that challenge, thanks to her parents’ and her own hard work. For the most part, she accepts that her parents will not change, and she respects their life choices. What she asks for is the same: Acceptance of who she is and respect for her choices.

If you can relate to Amanda’s struggles, here are some helpful tips:

  • Work to establish financial independence, when possible.
  • Keep a level of physical distance and yet stay in touch with your family, if desired and possible.
  • Recognize the internalized voices that are not supportive and build workable relationships with them.
  • Recognize the voice of YOUR truth and learn to nurture it by re-parenting.
  • Take steps and put in work to build your life the way you want, across various areas.
  • Work on building the types of resources that nourish you.
  • Bring self-compassion to this challenging process and give yourself lots of pats on the shoulders.

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